Remember when some members of the Society of Christian Philosophers lost their minds regarding Richard Swinburne’s claim that homosexuality is a disability (see here)? Part of their outrage emanated in response to the idea that disability is a bad thing, something to avoid, remedy, or cure. Apparently, that’s “ableism,” something we are called to see as bad or oppressive. But I don’t think so.
As I see it, human beings are creations with a nature: There is human form of which we all share, something that directs us and our bodily matter to certain ends. For example, it is a natural fact that humans have two ears. Our ears have a telos, which, obviously enough, gives us the actuated ability to hear at the normal, human level. If a human being becomes deafened, then he has a depravation– that is to say, something went wayward in his natural development or within his body. His deafened ears are thus not a variation of human hearing, but a deviation, a sort of defection from how they’re supposed to be or how they’re supposed to function in virtue of his humanness. In his case, deafness is a bodily condition that impairs the natural function of his ears; and thus, he has a disability.
Notice that this account of disability is not pertinent to social or environmental conditions, measures for equity, or hurt feelings. What matters here is whether the natural state or function is impaired by his bodily condition. Not much else is relevant. Thus, on this account, even though there are deaf communities that have adapted well to their affliction, creating their own languages and cultures, which doubtlessly have their respective beauty, this idea that deafness is not a disability, or that deafness is merely a different way of being, is still wrong (see here and here). True, sometimes disability is a part of a person’s identity, as it is for some deafened persons (e.g., the culturally Deaf), but this is a social identity, which is always and necessarily subordinate to human identity. Consequently, neither deafness nor any other disability is a part of our human nature or identity. Of course, in saying this, we might hurt some feelings, and that always sucks, but to say something to the contrary, while still believing my depiction of human nature, is a false compassion. When we lie or cater to delusion, we only cooperate and perpetuate falsehood, and that is something contrary to right action.
In any case, given the above, to extent that a condition is a disability, it is in need of correction, betterment or assistance, preferably a cure. And why? Because goodness is found in living and functioning to our natural ends: It is good that humans can see, walk, hear, and think to the capacity and degree upon which we are intended. Duh.
What baffles me the most about this outrage is that the persons who objected to Swinburne’s depiction of disability are themselves Christian. What the heck is that? I mean, seriously, if they are Christian, and not just progressivists draped in Christian gowns, they should believe that God created us, that the world is orderly and rational, that conditions such as blindness and deafness are negative consequence of the Fall, and that these conditions should be healed. I mean, heck, such healing is the sort of thing Jesus himself did – a lot. His acts of healing were not just miracles, mere attempts to wow his audience and suggest his divinity, no; they were also acts of kindness and mercy, which implies that such acts of healing are, in fact, good. I am therefore baffled to hear Christians balk at a fellow Christian who depicts disability in a negative light, as if disability is not, in fact, a physical evil.
Get a grip, people. Disability sucks.
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