Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pat Robertson and Ableism

Pat Robertson says many inane, stupid, and/or offensive things. This is not news. I just want to point out the way that anti-disability language emerges out of a certain kind of religious discourse.

There's an idea that links disability to sin, that thinks of it as a punishment from God. It's an old idea, though not a consistent one in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. I actually work with a 13th-century text telling parents to rejoice if a child is born blind. I have problems with that too, but that's another post.

Here's Robertson, from Right Wing Watch (video at the link)
Pat Robertson says you must be doing something wrong if you can’t “heal” your son of deafness. After all, Robertson himself has healed deafness before, he said on the 700 Club today. Responding to a question from a mother who asked why her hearing impaired son hasn’t been healed despite her prayers, Robertson said that her son may be hindered by a “spirit of deafness.”
“I have dealt with people who are deaf and you rebuke the spirit of deafness and they get healed,” Robertson said. “I don’t know what you’re doing wrong.”

“Why don’t you try that and if it doesn’t work, try something else,” he said.
The language of "curing" is especially complex in the world of disability in general, but especially in Deaf Culture. Many deaf people consider themselves wholly equal with the hearing, partaking in a unique culture, with their own language and modes of expression, and resist the notion of curing deafness. Some refer to cochlear implants as genocide. For me, I like to think about medical technology and drugs ameliorating challenges, rather than curing, alongside reasonable accomodation and inclusion. This is part of  a much broader conversation.

But at the core of Robertson's comment is a problem with simplistic readings of monotheism, in which God acts like a human but with more powers (I'm reminded of the medieval Jewish writer Maimonides, who, in his Guide to the Perplexed, wrote that God is not simply superman). In that context, if God refuses to lift a curse of disability, it must be because you did something wrong.

Or, you know, you could just try something else.

And that's one of the things so infuriating about Robertson. Millions of people listen to him, and he's not even a consistent thoughtless god-as-superman theocrat. He's just spreading random acts of bigotry and, in this case, ableism.

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