Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation, and the Disabled

"The Ancient Era idealized physical and mental perfection" and "Aristotle wrote, 'As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live,'" reminds the Disability History Exhibit; of when and how change to this thinking came about, it continues:
    "For he who is least among you all — he is the greatest." (Luke 9:46) Jesus Christ (6 B.C. - 30 A.D.) showed compassion for persons with disabilities. In the New Testament Jesus is frequently credited with showing kindness and effecting miraculous cures of those who were lame, blind, and otherwise disabled. St. Paul directed Christians to "comfort the feeble-minded." Jesus also welcomed those who were poor and disenfranchised and treated them as equals....

    With the rise of Christianity, there was a gradual influence on how persons with disabilities were treated. By the fourth century A.D., the rise of Christianity led to more humane practices toward persons with disabilities. Infanticide (the practice of killing children) was discontinued, and helping "the afflicted" became a sign of strength....

    The Roman Catholic Church provided refuge to those in need, establishing orphanages, hospitals, and homes for the blind and the aged. Conditions at such institutions were custodial at best, and most children did not survive. Persons with developmental disabilities (together with those with mental illness) who could not stay with their families were often placed in monasteries, charitable facilities, hospitals, prisons, almshouses, pest houses, workhouses, or leper colonies. While there are a few good examples of residential care in the middle ages, most persons with developmental disabilities received basic care and shelter or no services at all....

    One event that had a profound effect on how people perceived disability was the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517 as an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church and ended with the establishment of independent Protestant churches. During this period, we see persons with developmental disabilities treated as subhuman organisms. Martin Luther (1483-1546) denounced children and adults with mental retardation as "filled with Satan." Luther advised that children with severe mental retardation should be drowned because they are ". . . a mass of flesh with no soul. For it is the Devil’s power that he corrupts people who have reason and souls when he possesses them. The Devil sits in such changelings where their souls should have been."

    As the authority of the Roman Catholic Church diminished, many of the charitable services it provided ceased to exist. The "poor and misfortunate," without the refuge of the church, became increasingly homeless in the growing cities....

    John Calvin (1509-1564) preached the notion of predestination, stating that God has already chosen who will and who will not be saved. Calvin's doctrine implied that people with disabilities were not among the chosen.

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8 Comments:

Blogger Tracy Fennell said...

Thank you for posting this, really brought something to my knowledge that I really hadn't thought that much about before.

2:43 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Me, too, and I'm in the midst of it bit. I stumbled across the site looking for a link about the T-4 euthanasia program.

Of course, Protestants have come around in the past five centuries. (It seems to me that there is a natural tendency for Protestants to drift back to Catholicism, leading towards a kind of perpetual reformation much like Trotsky's perpectual revolution.) An American Protestant friend pointed out that here in Korea the only places you can see handicapped people taking part in society is at churches. (I can't speak for Protestants but it's true of Catholic parishes.)

Sadly, I've even heard it suggested that this is evidence that Christianity is a false, or even demonic, religion.

Also, thanks again for that Chimayó holy dirt! We still have a hearty supply!

7:44 PM  
Blogger Lucille said...

Calvin's doctrine implied that people with disabilities were not among the chosen.

Citation?

12:29 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

The word "implied" implies that no citation is necessary. Worldly success pretty quickly became tied up with the doctrine of Predestination, rightly or wrongly.

12:43 AM  
Blogger Randall van der Sterren said...

Thank you, Catholic, excuse me, "Confucian" bigot. I have lived with cerebral palsy all my life -- and I'm a confessional Presbyterian. This claim that Calvin implying the disabled are non-elect is slanderous garbage.

4:06 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Mr. van der Sterren, my daughter lives with the same condition. Don't shoot me, I'm only the messanger. If you have theological problems with the claim, take it up with the authors, or feel free to explain them here.

I admit my ignorance of things Calvinistic, coming from a Lutheran background, but cannot help but see a direct line from Calvin to the Gospel of Properity and whatnot.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Tracy Fennell said...

I like the analogy to Trotsky's Perpetual Revolution, it's very true. And you are most welcome for the Chimayo soil. I haven't been up to Northern New Mexico in a couple years now...about time to take a week's vacation exploring around again ;)

7:13 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Mr. van der Sterren, you may be right the "claim that Calvin implying the disabled are non-elect is slanderous garbage" (I quoted it, but didn't make it), but yo have to admit there exists, as one theologian has said, "the hypercruelty of hyper-Calvinism," as described in this 25-year-old news story: Bennett backs aide called callous for comments on the handicapped. An excerpt:

"'They falsely assume that the lottery of life has penalized them at random,' Gardner wrote. 'This is not so. Nothing comes to an individual that he has not, at some point in his development, summoned.

"'When one blames his problems on external sources and thereby separates himself from a situation he has created, he is prevented from taking hold of and changing that part of himself which causes his difficulty. He becomes an ineffective malcontent who cannot evolve because he is separated from his source of change.'"

"Gardner appeared before the panel today, where she was grilled by Weicker about her contention that the "external circumstances" of the handicapped and others are linked to their 'level of inner spiritual development.'"

The article concludes by quoting, by quoting James Dunn, director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs:

"There is a hyper-Calvinism that is alive and well in the world that says, `If it is, it ought to be.' It's ridiculous. It's a distortion of Calvin's teachings."

11:57 AM  

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