Sunday, June 01, 2008

Religion and Morality

I remember reading a story by a Christian woman who had an ADHD son. At one point, she said that she'd read that ADHD kids were more often abused, and she could believe it, because if it weren't for her religion, she'd have abused her son.
As an atheist, I was deeply offended. If that's really true of her, I'm glad for her son's sake that she's a Christian. But I don't need to be afraid that some diety will punish me in the afterlife to avoid hurting a child. All I need is an awareness of how my actions will affect that child. The thought of breaking that child's trust, betraying that child and the pain it would cause, is enough to make me think I shouldn't abuse that child.
There's this stereotype among many Christians (and probably people of other religions) that you must be religious (preferably the same religion as them) to be a caring person. I could point at the religious people who do terrible things - the sexually abusive priests, the people who ran the Inquisition, etc - but many people claim those aren't really doing what God wants. Instead, I point to the people who don't sin, who in fact do good, but only because they want to be in heaven instead of hell. How moral is it really, to act good only for a reward?
If I knew for a fact that I'd go to hell if I didn't torture and kill a child, I would hate the God who set that rule, and feel that the moral thing would be to disobey Him. (I can't promise I would disobey him, but my idea of an ideal person certainly would.) But in the Bible, God allegedly told someone to kill his favorite son, and the man was about to carry it out when God said the equivalent of 'just kidding'. God was 'testing this man's faith', apparently, and the lesson is to trust that God knows best even if you really don't like what he's telling you to do. I'm not willing to give anyone that kind of power over me. (Certainly not the ordinary human beings who claim to speak for God.) I don't think someone so easily led into disobeying their own beliefs is a good person.
And those people who avoid doing something they want to do only because they think they'll get punished - they often don't really avoid doing it. They do it in secret, or they do borderline things which they excuse by emphasizing the differences (or simply deny). The first is not feasible if you really believe you've been told what to do by an omniscient being, but the second option is very likely to be done by devout believers who obey only because of heaven and hell.
So maybe that ADHD boy was being abused after all. Not by being hit or made to do sexual acts, but by his mother's looks, her comments, her rules, her body language. If a child has been taught, by their parents' behavior, that they are bad and don't really belong in their family, then they have been abused - even if such teaching is not deliberate. And you can't avoid that abuse just by thinking you'll be punished for it. You avoid it by cherishing your child, by working with yourself to avoid feeling so angry with them, by learning to enjoy being with your child.
Sadly, it's considered normal for parents to dislike spending time with their children. My father is excited when he has time off work to look after us. My mother misses us if she goes away to a conference without us. But recently I saw a joke in which a 6 year old boy who had two older brothers was asked what his mother did all day since he entered school, and said 'cartwheels' (turning cartwheels out of joy, because she doesn't have to look after him all day anymore). Children are considered a burden, worthwhile mainly because we grow up into 'real' people and can look after our parents in their old age. Parents say 'I wish you have a child just like you someday, so you know what it's like' and mean it as a curse instead of a blessing.

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Blogger Diane J Standiford said...

Knowing a person with a disability is "God"s gift to others---for growth and endless possibilities. Anyone who doesn't get that are to be pitied.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Gracenwilk said...

I can't speak for the woman you are quoting, especially since you don't give us more of the context in which she said it.

What I do know is that it is much more common for Christians to say that they are acutely aware that, in and of themselves they lack the power to do good-- for instance, I have heard parents of special needs children talk about their acute awareness that they understand the power they have for attending to these children in a loving way was quite beyond them.

I understand that is a more nuanced version of the story than is practical for a brief tirade against Christians. But in the real world it is an important nuance. This capacity to experience gratitude, to recognize that there are gifts that the universe gives us, things that we ourselves cannot explain and for which we experience unbounded wonder and joy. For me as a Christian it means gratitude that God has given me the capacity to be a good father to my children, an awareness that the challenge of parenting even a so-called normal child is somehow beyond me, but that LIFE has yet again responded to my faith-- good parents are automatons, good parents don't simply think and grow rich, compute the right variables and out pops "correct" parenting.

I suppose that your straw Christian was referring to some terror of punishment if she abused her child. I will tell you that I, who evidently have a bit wider experience with religious people of all types, don't often hear that odd assertion. The one I just described above is what I hear 99 times out of the hundred that the topic comes up.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

Yes, I've seen many Christians who have more stopping them from abuse than fear of punishment. My own parents are among them, as well as probably everyone in their congregation.

8:35 AM  

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