Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why did god make me so dumb?

I just had a conversation with my mother about my younger brother. My brother has had diagnosed learning disabilities for a long time, and was never any good at school. My mom told me that he's known it for a long time too, and he felt really bad about it. She said that when he was younger, he asked her why god had made him so dumb.

I got pretty ticked off at this point of the conversation. Here is a kid who has been brought up to believe in god, not question its existence, who believes that this god decided to not give him the gift of intelligence. His brothers were all pretty smart, but he wasn't. Why had god chosen to give him learning disabilities and to consequently make him suffer through school the way he did? What had he done to deserve that?

It's important to note that my parents had recently separated/divorced. We didn't have all that much contact with my dad after that. So not only had his father left, but god was also picking on him.

My mother, being a believer, could not say, "God didn't make you that way, because god doesn't exist." So she did the usual, explaining about different people and different abilities. But I'll bet that did little to answer his question about why he had to do it with a brain which didn't run normally.

When atheists say that religion can be hard, and possibly even torturous, for a child's mental development, believers often scoff and insist that it does no damage. But for those among us who are born with one disability or another, or some other disadvantage, I say that it can indeed be damaging to believe that this all-powerful creature did it to you intentionally.

To be fair, perhaps there can be some comfort (no relation to Ray) in knowing that it is intentional, if you believe that god's plan for you doesn't require intelligence. But I think that's not useful to a kid suffering through not only the social and academic worlds of school, but also with a collapsing family life. It also doesn't do anything to explain why the kid has to have learning disabilities for the plan to work.

I'm pretty interested in comments on this one, if readers have any.


Anonymous said...

Telling him that he is disabled because of mistake is not going to be anymore comforting don't you think?

At least Christianity encourages compassion towards these people; "...clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." Col. 3:12

Compare this to survival of the fittest; "...and this led me fully to discuss the results of unconscious selection by man, which depends on the preservation of all the more or less valuable individuals, and on the destruction of the worst." (Darwin -IV. Natural Selection; or the Survival of the Fittest).

From a Christian perspective, someone might say, "Hey, I can't explain why you have a learning disability. But I can see the characteristics in you that are great, and I will get beside you and help you to achieve."

Where as an extreme example of the opposite, the Darwinian ideal of 'Survival of the Fittest' is shown in the holocaust.

"Code named "Aktion T 4," the Nazi euthanasia program to eliminate "life unworthy of life" at first focused on newborns and very young children. Midwives and doctors were required to register children up to age three who showed symptoms of mental retardation, physical deformity, or other symptoms included on a questionnaire from the Reich Health Ministry.

A decision on whether to allow the child to live was then made by three medical experts solely on the basis of the questionnaire, without any examination and without reading any medical records.

Each expert placed a + mark in red pencil or - mark in blue pencil under the term "treatment" on a special form. A red plus mark meant a decision to kill the child...The Nazi euthanasia program quickly expanded to include older disabled children and adults....Questionnaires were then distributed to mental institutions, hospitals and other institutions caring for the chronically ill.

Patients had to be reported if they suffered from schizophrenia, epilepsy, senile disorders, therapy resistant paralysis and syphilitic diseases, retardation, encephalitis, Huntington's chorea and other neurological conditions, also those who had been continuously in institutions for at least 5 years, or were criminally insane, or did not posses German citizenship or were not of German or related blood, including Jews, Negroes, and Gypsies." (http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/holocaust/h-euthanasia.htm)

I'm not sure if you're brother would have past the test or not; however, I know that if I had a learning disability, I'd rather be accepted and loved by Christians who had compassion for me than considered not fit to procreate by extreme atheists.

Anonymous said...

Should have proof read: past = passed. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Also, Germany wasn't the first country to try and eliminate illnesses from the population.

"Before Hitler, the United States led the world in forced sterilizations. Between 1907 and 1939, more than 30,000 people in twenty-nine states were sterilized, many of them unknowingly or against their will, while they were incarcerated in prisons or institutions for the mentally ill. Nearly half the operations were carried out in California. Advocates of sterilization policies in both Germany and the United States were influenced by eugenics. This sociobiological theory took Charles Darwin's principle of natural selection and applied it to society. Eugenicists believed the human race could be improved by controlled breeding." - http://www.ushmm.org/

Admin said...

Thanks for the comments. Assuming the facts are true, it is interesting. One thing religions can definitely do is encourage love for others, as opposed to a cold indifference. That's why atheists need humanism or some kind of guiding principle to keep society together.

Admin said...

Wait a minute..... the Americans who implemented the sterilisation policy were likely Christians (many Christians believe in evolution by natural selection, including the Catholic Church), or at least many of the group were Christians. Also, there is debate about Hitler's religious beliefs (which I hope to never get into on this site).

So the problem in these cases is not necessarily atheism, but could also be the failure to properly apply the principles of Christianity. This failure still goes on today with Christians banging war drums, the capital punishment issue, etc.

Anonymous said...

Can you please provide a link about the Christians involved in the pre-WWII steralisation?

Also, I am aware that Hitler paraded behind a Catholic mask, and he often rallied up many German Christians (Lutherans) by saying "your Father (Luther) was against the Jews" (As good as most of Luther's deeds were, was unfortunately a raging anti-Semite). Because of this the Lutheran church funded many of his atrocities. My belief is that he didn't proclaim Christ sincerely but out of selfish ambition.

Your last comment; I whole-heartedly agree, while Christians like anyone else make mistakes from time to time, they should be applying their principles, as Jesus said; feeding the hungry, clothing for the poor, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison... Matthew 25
Those who come in the name in Christ (if they read their Bibles) would not rally to fight a war flesh in a foreign land; would not be willing to decide whether someone lives or dies, etc.

So yes, not just an atheist problem. It's a human problem (especially Christians who pick and choose parts of the Bible to support their selfish case). It's greed, selfish ambition, power... Things any human is capable of; see Lord of the Flies.

I'm a Christian; not just for a moral code, but because my own personal experiences have led to me having a relationship with Christ, which has changed my life. However, if it were just a moral code, if their is no God, I'm glad that it can ensure I live a life not for myself but for others; those not so well off. It gives some meaning to caring for others more than "it's a nice thing to do."

Putting others first is something everyone could live by, and the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, there will alway be those that don't want a world like this. And sadly, those people sometimes say they are Christians.

Admin said...

No, I can't provide a link. I haven't researched it. I'm merely basing that on the idea that there are few atheists in the US, and there would have been even fewer in the 1930's. So I'd assume that many of them were Christians.

But it's also based on the abuse of "inferior people" continued by Christians into much later days, such as residential schools for aboriginals in Canada and Australia, etc. There is no reason to believe that Christians would not have done such a thing as sterilising the disabled.

Admin said...

I didn't research far, only found a few bios on Wikipedia. I check a guy named Gosney, who is teems was one of the bigger advocates of sterilisation. It doesn't explicitly say he was a Christian, but it does say he helped to start the Boy Scouts of America in California. The Boy Scouts is a Christian group, and does not allow atheists. So I'm going to stick to my assumption that there were some Christians in the group of people who decided this was a good idea. Seems more likely than not.

And this might need another thread in another post, but you got upset at Christians who pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to follow. Ever read the Old Testament? Scary, violent stuff.

Anonymous said...

Yeah you're right it is. Discussed this with a friend of mine not so long ago. This might take up a fair bit of space but here are a few thoughts, please take your time to read it.

These are extremely important questions that few people get around to wrestling with.

First, the idea that God went through an identity crisis in between Malachi and Matthew isn't a Biblical idea. God is, as the writer of Hebrews says, "the same, yesterday, today and forever.' (ch. 13) It's a misconception that is prevalent in much of the church today that sees a change in God's nature and character in between the Testaments. And the idea is simply not in Scripture. Jesus' favorite book to quote from was Deuteronomy!

The reason people assume that God has changed, or rather, that God's ways have changed (which would imply the idea that God Himself changed) is because they see the Old Testament as bring predominantly about wrath and judgment and the New Testament as being primarily about grace and mercy. That's a silly idea. If anyone drops the ole "We're in the New Covenant now, God doesn't judge and is not wrathful" just ask them to do a Old Testament word search on love, mercy and loving kindness and then ask them to do a New Testament study on wrath, judgment, hell, condemnation and punishment. They'll see quickly that there is as much talk of wrath in the New as there is talk of grace in the Old. So the argument that that dispensation was about wrath and this dispensation is about grace is absurd. God has always been gracious and He has always hated sin.

This brings us to the question of "Why the violence of the Mosaic/Levitical Law?" That is, why was so much blood necessary? Why was God so obviously violent? Before answering the question it would be helpful to point out that God never stopped being violent - even after the Cross. God is violent against His most despised enemy - sin. What is sin? - Anything that belittles the glory of God's person. And God has always hated that which has belittled His glory and He always will.

So the answer to the question of "why so much blood and violence in the Old Covenant?" is answered most accurately by noting that God was accomplishing two things through the giving of the Law and the instating of the Priesthood: (1) Declaring His nature and (2) Foreshadowing the provision of His Son.

The violence of the Law doesn't reveal an bitter, vindictive, ruthless God who is out of touch with reality; but One who loves beauty and purity so much that anything that would stand in opposition to it is seen as horrendously evil. That's why the Law is so rigid and brutal. The smallest to the greatest sin is declared to be punishable by death! What does that tell you about God? - That He's an angry prick? No! That He loves beauty and He loves pleasure; and where sin abides, true pleasure cannot. The Law was given, as Paul says, to be a "tutor" or a "school-master" that was designed to "lead us to Christ." (Gal. 3:24) What would happen when the Law led us to Christ? - We would be "justified by faith" not "by the works of the Law." Why was the Law given in all it's brutality? - "To shut up all men under sin." (Gal. 3:22). He says then that the Law kept the world "in custody." That is, in bondage to condemnation.

Martin Luther said that God "hides Himself in the opposites to reveal Himself." "When He wants to take us to heaven, He takes us to hell; when He wants to justify us, He does so by condemning us." The Law did just that. It condemned all the world and held all men accountable to God.

"But what about those who aren't Jews? Are they condemned by God too?" Paul's argument in Romans 1:18-3:21 revolves around this two-fold reality: (1) that God gave the Jews the "Law" so that it would condemn them and prove their true condition; and (2) that God gave the Gentiles the "conscience" so that it would condemn them and prove their true condition. Compare Romans 2:12-16 (Gentile guilt) with 2:17-29 (Jewish guilt) and then with 3:1-20 (universal guilt). The conscience does for the Gentiles what the Law does for the Jews - it tells them what they ought to do and then condemns them when they don't. Francis Schaeffer likened the conscience to a tape recorder. He said, pretend a tape recorder hung around you neck every day of your life and recorded every thought that popped into your mind concerning the wrong deeds done by others. Every time you heard someone lie the recorder would record you thinking "That's wrong, you shouldn't do that." He says, then imagine you going before the Judge, the Lord, telling Him, "I'm basically a good person." The Lord would say, "play the tape!" And on the tape would be you declaring the righteousness of the Law that was given to the Jews holding you guilty before God because you yourself broke every law that you judged others for for breaking! That's why Paul says that "all are without excuse" - Jew and Gentile (Rom 1:20; 2:1)

Secondly, the Law points to the necessity of a propitiation for sin; that is a sacrifice that would satisfy God's wrath an justice making forgiveness, grace and mercy possible. The blood sacrifices (of OT) pointed to THE blood sacrifice when the Lamb of GOD would be slain. The priests were to order the people to take their lamb before the altar placing their hands on it leaning up against it. They were told to plunge a knife into the animal spilling its blood. The bloody carcass was placed upon the altar and burnt with fire. And THIS was the way God told the Jews atonement was made - sinners stabbing a sacrifice and bleeding it dry before burning it. THE Lamb of God came in the flesh, and precisely on Passover we leaned ourselves upon Him and plunged our knives into Him before He became a Holocaust for our sins.

That act of atonement was not for our sake but for God's. God's wrath burns against sin (as the Law poignantly reveals) and must be satisfied before mercy and forgiveness can be dispensed.

So in short, the Law was so violent to (1) prove the offensiveness of sin and to (2) prophesy of the coming Messiah; the greater Issac who was sacrificed by His Father on Mount Moriah/Golgotha (Gen. 22).

Another thing to mention would be the Sermon on the Mount. That sermon (Mt. 5-7) blows most theories of Testamental differences right out of the water. Jesus says that adultery isn't sin; just looking at a woman is adultery. He says murder isn't the issue, anger is. Jesus takes the Law of Moses and doesn't "abolish it" but emphasizes the rigidness of it and "fulfills it" (Mt 5:22?). The Law of Moses says "Don't commit adultery lest you be stoned and killed." Jesus in the NT says "Don't even look at a woman with lust in your heart lest you be condemned to hell forever." See how Jesus goes for the jugular!

Last question: "Are we supposed to follow the Law? Isn't it picking and choosing to obey the NT and forget the OT?" Paul says that if we try and fulfill the Law, try and obey the Law so as to attempt to justify ourselves we will go forsaken and will be "anathema" or "cursed." We are justified by faith and not by the works of the Law (please see Rom 3:19-20). So to answer the question - NO we are NOT to enforce the Mosaic/Levitical Law. We don't forget about the OT by embracing Christ! We fulfill it! - Read Romans 3:26-31, specifically verse 31. Also, see Romans 8:1-3, specifically verse 3.

The Law is not useless; it is used as a tutor to lead us to Christ by condemning the nations. Christians should study the Law and see truths about God through the Law. In Romans 2:20 Paul says that the Law "is the embodiment of knowledge and truth."

MASSIVE subject. Long post. Hope you read it and that it helps.

Admin said...

I've got to give you credit, you make a lot more sense than most religious people do. I can tell that you're intelligent, have given it some thought, and found a (relatively) sane way to reconcile it.

However, have you ever considered that the whole thing is just made up, and that's why it is the way it is? :-)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Admin said...

I moved your comment out of this thread (it doesn't make any sense for the conversation to take place here), and gave it its own post!

Unknown said...

So where does this leave your brother? He was born with learning disabilities because nature was unkind to him. So he either gets to believe that God is cruel and didn't want him to succeed in life or he gets to believe that he is a biologically inferior mistake of nature.

What have you done for your brother in this instance? Or is winning the debate the only thing in the universe that you actually care about?!

Admin said...

Well sootheater, it leaves him without having to believe that an "all-loving" entity did this to him INTENTIONALLY. Even though it could have given him intelligence with no effort at all, it chose not to. Knowing that it's just a somewhat-random chance of nature (combination of parents' genetics, which sperm fertilised the egg, etc.) is not so disturbing and cruel. But I guess you like cruel?

And what have I done for my brother? You're overstepping your bounds here, my friend! You have no idea what I've done for him as he struggles through his problems and drug addictions, etc. He has repeatedly lied to me, abused my trust, stolen from me, but still I'm helping. I spent the last night of my most recent trip to visit with him in the hospital from his problems. My other brothers don't involve themselves with him anymore. Suggesting that winning a debate is the only thing I care about?! This comment was way out of line, and you can fuck off now!