Monday, May 9, 2011

Rank Cruelty

He is laughing at your pain.

I worked for about a year in Morristown, NJ. They have a seeing eye dog training facility* in Morristown (or they used to), so I saw a lot of people training seeing eye dogs and a lot people being trained in using a seeing eye dog.

I was sitting on a bench in the park in the center of town during lunch, enjoying a truly spectacular spring day, when I woman with a seeing eye dog stopped in front of me. The trainer ran up to her (they would follow behind a little once the person was a little more familiar with the dog) and asked her what was wrong and she told him she was a little overwhelmed, just let her rest for a minute. I later learned that she was fairly new to being blind and hadn't gotten her confidence back about being out in the world.

Anyway, a woman walks up to her and starts petting the dog (do NOT pet the service dog) and babbling on about her uncle who was blind and never left the house and what a burden he was on the family and how nice that this woman was brave and outside. Yeah, srsly.

She left, and I said, "I'd much rather be blind than be that stupid," and the woman laughed. We chatted for a while and then she had to get back to learning to use a seeing eye dog and I had to get back to work. I really hope everything worked out for her.

I think of this woman, in our society today, when we don't abandon the blind or assume sinfulness led to their condition, when they have programs to read the internet to them, books on tapes and seeing eye dogs, being so nervous about the world when I read this:

"In regard to the man born blind (John 9), the question was asked of Jesus, “Who’s sin was it, this man’s or his parents’, that he was afflicted with blindness?” Jesus said it was neither. In other words, the question was a false dilemma. And those who asked it were trying to reduce to two options something that had more than two. There was another option. Jesus said, “It wasn’t because of his sin or his parents’ sin. This person was born blind so that the power of God and the grace of God may be made manifest.” That person was suffering not from persecution. His suffering was used by God to bring honor and glory to Christ.

I mention this instance because it is a clear biblical case in which suffering has theological value – not merit, but value – insofar that it is useful to the purposes of God.

That is so cruel. There is no glory there, only the sort of rank cruelty that is the privilege of the able. Only a person who has never suffered so could say something like that.

Think of this man, 2,000 years ago, born blind. Think of his life. There were no accommodations, no Americans with Disabilities Act, no organizations to help the disabled, no seeing eye dogs or canes. He was pretty much at the mercy of his family and a primitive, superstitious world. A primitive, superstitious world that viewed his disability as clear evidence of sin.

Imagine that you had the power to set things on fire with your mind. Imagine further that you proved it by setting a complete stranger on fire. And then, as they screamed in agony, you said, "Hey, this is all to make me look good, stop complaining." According to Jesus, that's exactly what he did.

That isn't glory, that is cruelty on a breathtaking scale. And these people celebrate it.

*At first I assumed there was some sort of wide scale industrial accident leading to a much higher than normal incidence of blindness, but I never go for the obvious answer first.


  1. Gentle Jesus being a dick? Hard to believe.

    My grandmum was a brittle diabetic and was blind for years. It's a freakin' horrible afffliction.

  2. I used to be one of those that believed this "for God's glory"...err...stuff(being polite). But there's no record that Jesus healed the man born blind. And furthermore, he was born that way, so he had to go his whole life to adulthood blind just so God could get some glory even if he was healed? He can't think of better ways to get it? Poppycock! I can't believe how mentally afflicted I've been. :(

  3. In my former life in PR, we did work for Lighthouse International. Their headquarters are on East 59th Street here. The building itself is really, really innovative, and the blocks immediately surrounding are noticeably accessible to the vision-impaired. It gives one a visceral appreciation for the privilege of being sighted. (Also makes one wonder why there aren't wider accommodations throughout the city like there are at 59th and Park.) ("Because money," yes, I know, thanks.)

    Anyhoo, my point being that, why does there need to be a creating deity that needs glory in order for human beings to look out for and give agency to other human beings?

    Oh, right, there doesn't.

  4. Hm. Not "give" agency. How about "not deny" agency. It's not as though the sighted go, "here you go, here's your ability to live independently, which you only have because I gave you." That would be a bizarre corollary to what Jesus is doing in this story. Or something.

    I'll just go away now until I can use English.

  5. Morristown was the first place I ever saw (oh, our language is so privileged,) encountered those crossing signs that include sound for the visually impaired. Maybe 5 years ago we got those where I live now and there are 3 intersections with them. One of them is not the biggest intersection where people cross to go to the mall- and the terminus point of every bus line.

  6. i remember FINALLY getting glasses when i was 8.

    i was able to read by holding a book RIGHT at my face - but i'm pretty sure the reason i don't like TV all that much is that, until i was 8, i couldn't see it.

    and i'm lucky - my vision, horrible as it is [i'm waaaaaaaaaaaaay beyond legally blind without lenses] *IS* correctable to 20/20 [with contacts. not glasses. because i have a LENS defect, not a mis-shaped cornea - which, btw, is why docs kept saying that my vision was FINE - they couldn't see any mis-shapedness. on the other hand, they kept telling my mother that i was "obviously retarded" [that being ok to use back them] because i "couldn't" read. when she'd shoot back "she reads just FINE if the book is close" they'd tell her she was just indulging in wishful thinking.]

    i can't imagine not even seeing SHAPES - i, at least, could SEE that there was a wall or whatever.

    and i'll tell you the truth - i would NOT trade. i'm in constant chronic pain of at least an 8 - but i wouldn't trade it for being blind. i'd lose my MIND if i couldn't READ and i'm incapable of paying attention to audio-books, i've TRIED, i can't.

    on the other hand - PF, have you ever been told that your pain is there to "help" people without those problems? that your suffering is an "example", and that it's your JOB to be graceful about being sick and disabled and "be a good little disabled person" for all the non-disabled people?

    because i swear i'm going to KILL the next person who tries to tell me that. DEAD.

  7. The idea that individual human beings might only be obligated to exist in terms of living their own life, and in so far as they're not injuring others, just doing whatever the hell it is they need/want to do in their own lives? I mean, the concept that that person over there does not exist for some purpose that is directly related to you, you, YOU???


  8. Well, Jesus was just following the example of his Daddy here, who hardened Pharaoh's heart to have an excuse to zap the Egyptians, for His own greater glory. It says so right there in the Bible, so it must be true.


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