Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Does God Hate Deaf People? Toward New Bible Based Bigotry

In addition to the black civil rights movement, my own Asperger advocacy makes use of the models of Deaf advocacy and the gay rights movement. Both are examples of groups that have been able to bring mainstream respectability to something traditionally looked down upon by society. I admire the gay rights movement in that they were able to get themselves off the listing as a psychological illness. The Deaf community, going back even to the nineteenth century, has been successful, through the creation of sign language, in forming a deaf culture and by so doing has helped redefine how we think of disability, creating a social model of disability. Once you have a culture with language, literature and artists then you can longer be defined by what you lack, say hearing, and can insist on being treated like every other culture. Furthermore the Deaf community has in the case of chochlear implants been able to fend off attempts at "curing" them even from the mainstream medical establishment.

In advocating for myself and others on the spectrum, my goals are first to get away from the medical model used by groups such as Autism Speaks, where autism is a disease to be cured, and move toward a social model of disability, where autism is viewed as an alternative and equally valid way of processing information and dealing with the world. This is neurodiversity. In the long run I would hope to see certain elements of the autism spectrum, like Asperger syndrome, taken off  the diagnostic list and turned simply into another social and cultural group.

In talking about neurodiversity with people, I make frequent use of both the Deaf and gay models. For obvious reasons, when I am in more conservative company I shy away from talking about gay rights and focus more on the Deaf example. Who would object to the idea that being deaf is a culture no different than Spanish, Irish or Jewish, that one could create a perfectly functional society without the use of hearing and that there is nothing wrong about being deaf that is in need of being cured? I was mistaken in this assumption.

I was recently talking to a religious person about Asperger syndrome, using the Deaf example, when the person responded that being deaf went against nature; God created people with ears so, therefore, lacking the use of one's hearing was a defect not intended by God. I pressed the person, arguing that hearing is not necessary for living one's life and that perhaps human beings will evolve away from being dependent on hearing. (Bats still have eyes even though they rely primarily on a biological sonar to see.) At this point that person retorted that the Bible spoke about deafness as an impairment. I let the conversation end by noting that I was not talking theology and that, under a secular system of politics, it is irrelevant. I would have liked to continue and ask the person whether they were willing to follow through with the implications of their views. Should we allow Deaf people to do such non-Bible sanctioned activities as voting, serving on juries or even as witnesses? What business have Deaf people in thinking they can create their own non-sound based language? Was it among the languages used after the Tower of Babel? Might all this Deaf culture really be a secular liberal plot to undermine our Bible based traditional aural values?

I am used to the Bible being used to object to gay rights. Apparently there are those who might consider using it against the Deaf. I guess we should be grateful that the issue of Deaf rights has flown below the radar screen of certain people otherwise we might end up with a defend the sanctity of aurality movement.  

1 comment:

Clarissa said...

"God created people with ears so, therefore, lacking the use of one's hearing was a defect not intended by God."

-This is a very strange argument. Who, then, creates deaf people, according to this person? Isn't the general assumption that either all life is created by God or none? It's hardly possible to argue that some people are created by God and others by. . . aliens? the devil?

In reality, some people have such low self-esteem that they go through life searching for groups or individuals they can believe are inferior. Religion is completely accidental here. It's just a tool to explain their need for this sense of superiority.