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Autism: A Christian Perspective

  • Posted on March 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Faith is transformative. When you develop faith in something, your faith transforms who you are, how you see yourself, how you see the world, and what you do. The stronger your faith becomes the more transformative it becomes.

I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe He took upon Himself earthly flesh in order to be a living example unto us and in order to sacrifice Himself for our sins. I believe human beings are fallen: Fallible, corrupted, and imperfect. I believe human beings, at least in our earthly forms, are finite: All our abilities are limited, including and especially our abilities to observe and understand the world around us. I believe we are capable of greatness, for good or for evil. And I believe that evil is a real force in this world that affects us all.

These beliefs transform me continually. They shape how I see the world and they shape how I see my fellow human beings. Yet, I also believe in the freedom of mind, the freedom of thought, the freedom of belief (especially, but not exclusively, religious belief), and the freedom of speech.

I am a Christian, but I don’t expect you to be a Christian. I look at the world around me and see a multitude of beliefs and I am content. One of the beliefs I see is a conviction in science. There are people who believe in science the way I believe in God. I can’t do that. For one, according to my faith, that would be idolatry. For two, science is a man-made discipline, which according to my faith means it is finite, fallible, corruptible, imperfect, and limited.

The irony I see is that these beliefs are reinforced by science itself. Scientists have demonstrated their finite abilities to observe and understand the universe. They have proven themselves to be fallible every time they correctly apply the scientific method to reach a conclusion, which is later disproven by yet another application of the scientific method. Scientists have recognized the corruptibility of their discipline, whether intentional or unintentional, which is why they use double-blind studies—so their assumptions, predispositions, and inclinations are not as likely to influence their results. Scientists recognize the imperfection of their discipline—at least, they used to—which is why they call their conclusions theories, signifying that a proven theory is the best they can do to explain a given set of variables to the best of their abilities within their current limitations. Scientists recognize—at least, they used to—that theories have a nasty habit of being disproven and reconfigured over time. While I don’t understand advanced physics, I do know there are active (i.e., not disproven) theories that directly contradict each other alive in physics today. As per my limited understanding, these conflicting theories work to explain current observations and have mechanical application, but that they require a unifying theory that does not exist yet. I am, however, much more familiar and comfortable with the conflicting theories that abound in social sciences, like psychology and sociology.

Science provides us with a limited and imperfect way to understand the world we live in and the universe in which our world resides. As such, I respect it. But I do not, cannot, and will not put my faith in science.

Now, if this was a treatise against science, I would point out how inconsistent it is with scientific methodology and principles to assert that man-made global warming, i.e. climate change, and human evolution from animals are facts. A fact is something that we know actually exists, because it has been observed to have happened. We have NOT observed man-made global warming and we have not observed human evolution from animals. We have, however, observed facts which support the theories of man-made global warming and human evolution from evolution. The fact that even scientists have made these erroneous assertions is further evidence that science itself is corruptible.

But this is not a treatise against science. This is a post about autism. Really, it is. You see, science (i.e. doctors) tell us that autism is a disorder: The implication is that there is a “correct” order for a human brain to be in and that autism isn’t it. Science will tell us that autism can and should be cured. Science will tell us that people with disabilities are broken and that science can fix them.

My Christian faith tells me something else. My Christian faith tells me that my children were knitted together by God in the womb. My Christian faith tells me that the inherent people my children are is exactly who God made them to be, which is not to say “perfect,” because we’re all fallen. But, and this is a big BUT, God does not make broken people. Now, it’s true that people have free will and people have a tendency to break each other for their own sick purposes, but that’s a whole other thing having to do with abuse, neglect, and other forms of man-made trauma. The point is that my Christian faith tells me to love and accept my children as they are, to raise them up to be, to the best of my abilities, the people God wants them to be, and to treat them with charity, which is love not donations.

My faith also tells me that God can heal. Jesus Christ healed the sick, the infirm, the lame, the blind, and even the dead. According to my faith, I believe that if God healed my children they would still be autistic in the sense that there neurology would be profoundly different from “normal,” but that their neurological differences would no longer be a source of aggravation, discomfort, and frustration for them. Science, on the other hand, tells us that if my children were healed, then they would be normal.

Now, I know and freely admit that there are Christians who have a very different perspective from my own. This is a Christian perspective; not the Christian perspective. I also know there are scientists who have a very different perspective than the one, which in my experience is still dominant, which I’ve presented here—I salute you! I also know that I am just as limited and fallible as the rest of humanity and acknowledge, quite freely, that I very well could be wrong. But I also know that I’ve spent over a decade studying, praying, exploring, questioning, and informing my beliefs. I’ve tested this by everything I know and everything I’ve learned and I am confident that, within my own limitations, I can do the best for my children, for our society, and for the world by sharing my beliefs with others. It is only by sharing that we can instruct, edify, admonish, correct, and uplift one another. And we all need that, whether we know it or not.

On Why Pity Isn’t Charity

  • Posted on February 6, 2010 at 11:59 PM

Recently I had a discussion with an individual who described charity as giving that is motivated by pity, and used this definition in a Christian context.  I tried to explain to this individual why this was not the case.  Yet, this form of “charity” is so engrained in the American culture that she could not see the distinction I was making.  So, I’ll try here in hopes of being understood.

“Charity” as the word is used in the King James Bible is synonymous with Christian love.   Specifically, charity is defined as:

The highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection; the pure love of Christ.  It is never used to denote alms or deeds or benevolence, although it may be a prompting motive.

Holy Bible, King James Version, 1979, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

“Charity” when defined as Christian love is never pity.  Pity involves a sense of superiority:  when you pity someone, you look down on them and think they are somehow less than yourself; less fortunate, less talented, less valuable.  Less.

Matthew 25:34-40

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and too thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

While “charity” is not used in the Bible as an action, if it were to be an action, then this would be the actions of which it would speak.  The phrase the least of these my brethren is misleading, apparently.  Some people associate it with pity, because if they are the least, then are they not less than us?  Jesus, who tells the parable, is NOT agreeing that those who are in need are, as so many perceive them, of less worth than those who give; He is comparing the least of these my brethren with a King and as brethren of the King.  Giving unto them is not an act of pity; it is an act of charity.  It is not done because you pity them and look down on them; it is done because you love them and feel compassion for them.

Compare this passage with the following hypothetical scenario:

A woman walks into the church with a Crockpot of hot, home-made soup.  She sets up her offering on the table and gets to work preparing the space for the homeless who will be coming in.  It is 5:30 and very cold outside.  The doors are locked, but she hears the shuffling of people on the outside.  The doors will open at 6, so they have to get busy to get everything ready.

At 6 pm, the pastor opens the door and the stiff, cold people wrapped in layers of poorly mended and unclean clothes shuffle in.  He lines the people up along the buffet so they each can get their dish, while the woman busies herself filling bowls with the hot, savory soup.  The gentleman next to her is putting together sandwiches, some turkey and some ham.

“It’s so sad,” the soup lady says to the sandwich guy.

“I know.  Everyone’s shivering.  We should have opened the door earlier,” the guy says.

These words startle the lady.  “But we weren’t ready yet.”

He smiles at the young man who just made it up to them.  The soup lady hands him a bowl, and prepares another.  The sandwich guy asks, “Would you like turkey or ham?”

“Ham, please,” he says in a gravelly voice that sounds like it doesn’t get much use.  The man takes one of the sandwiches heaping with ham, and asks him whether he’d like mayonnaise or mustard.  Before the young man can answer, the soup lady pipes in, “You see, it’s just so sad that all these poor people can’t find work.”

The young man’s cheeks color, but she doesn’t see him.  His gaze goes dark and his shoulders slouch.  He takes his sandwich and his soup, his milk and his apple, and even his little cookie into a far corner and eats in silence in the draftiest part of the church hall, while families and individuals gather under the blowing heat from the vents.

When everyone is served, the sandwich man tries to talk to him.  But the young man shakes his head.  “She don’t know,” he says.  “She don’t think.”

It’s not an accusation, but his voice is full of sorrow.  Neither of them will ever know that this man works twelve hours day, six days each week, working two back-breaking jobs.  The soup lady couldn’t imagine it.  Yet, he comes to the soup kitchen, because he doesn’t leave himself enough to have more than two meals a day.  Even working so hard, he cannot afford to because so much of that money he works so hard to earn has to go to his mother’s medical bills and his children’s tuition into the one private school that takes children with special needs.

The sandwich man tried to show love; the soup lady only felt pity.  Pity is not about love.  Pity is about making yourself feel better by exposing yourself to the misery of those who are so much worse off than you.  They’re not people; they’re certainly not brethren.

This is why I see pity as being the cousin to bullying, not to love.  Bullying is about making yourself feel better, too.  Instead of the passive harm you do to people when you pity them, you’re harming people actively, intentionally.  That’s the only difference I see between pity and bullying.  You’re harming people either way; you’re looking down on people either way.

Love isn’t about you.  Love is about giving yourself to others.  You may be called to give your heart or your time, your money or your ear.  But you are called to give.  Love—the pure love of Christ—is about recognizing the humanity in others and celebrating it.  You give not out of obligation, not because you feel sorry for them, but because you recognize their need and want to share yourself and your possessions with a fellow human being.  That’s charity.  Pity and charity should never be confused.