The Blind, the Deaf, and the Lame Summary

by PammyMcB

Yong, Amos. (2007). The Blind, The Deaf, and the Lame: Biblical and Historical Trajectories. Theology and Down Syndrome – Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity. Waco: Baylor University Press.

The author covers the references to the blind, deaf, and lame in order to gain an understanding of the historical beliefs as they pertain to people with disabilities. The Bible does not address mental disabilities. Amos Yong states dualistic beliefs in “Disability” in Ancient Israel. Yong feels the Bible draws connections between the sovereignty of God and disabilities, and people with disabilities are to be cared for just as others who are marginalized are to be cared for. In ancient Israel, people with disabilities were considered unholy and imperfect. They believed disabilities were the result of broken covenants with God, and people with disabilities were not whole and could not be included in the kingdom of Yhwh.

In the next section, “Disability” and the Early Church, the early Church believed in inclusion only after healing. They felt that Jesus’ healing of those with disabilities meant people with disabilities should be pitied, and their future is secured by God alone. Jesus’ healings also led people to believe there was a direct connection between disability and sin. Therefore, many people associated disabilities with evil. Those with disabilities were marginalized and dependent on the grace of God in the gospels. However, it can be assumed the disabilities were only metaphors for the sins of man.

The next section, “Disability” in the History of Christianity, covers how the biblical accounts affected disability. Before Christianity in ancient Greece and Rome, most people with disabilities were included. Disabilities were treated as a family/civic matter. Not much was written about mental retardation in ancient writings, possibly due to high mortality rates, and the inclusion of people with disability. The ancient god of fire, Hephaestus, was crippled, but had magical powers. Therefore, many Greeks believed people with disabilities were thought to have amazing abilities. They often believed deformities were due to sinful parents, or omens, such as broken covenants with the gods. Therefore, they believed infants with deformities belonged to the gods. However, many with disabilities were still scorned, and Aristotle said deformities were caused by uncompleted pregnancies.

In the section titled The Patristic and Medieval Periods, we learn people with mental disabilities were included. For instance, Nicholas Thaumaturgos protected the feeble minded. Zotikos cared for discarded children who were to be put to death. A few Christians opened homes and hospitals for those with disabilities. Augustine believed God made the creatures of the world diverse to “manifest his glory and power” (31). Saint Dymphna was martyred by her insane father. Because her grave was a place of pilgrimage for those with mental disabilities, her resting place, Gheel, became known for its “tradition of caring for the mentally ill” (31). Hildegard of Bingen endured physical pains led to lack of mental maturation, which led to inspiration and service. Margaret of Castello completely gave herself to god after being abandoned by her family due to her disabilities. She performed more than two hundred miracles. Teresa de Cartagena was deaf by fourteen, and saw herself as an “admirable work of God” (33). She believed disability helps develop patience and other virtues. During this period, people believed that God is the creator of all things, even disabilities, disabilities are necessary to promote holiness, and the Church should help those with disabilities.

During the reformation and the early modernity, views on disability once again changed. Luther believed that people with disabilities were “mass[es] of flesh without a soul…the devil is himself their soul” (34). Therefore he believed people should drown or suffocate infants and children with disabilities. During the Renaissance, many believed deformities were cause by demonic activity. However, Paracelsus believed fools are restored by Christ, and they are not fools in their souls, just their minds, which makes them more pure. Paracelsus also believed after salvation, there will be no disabilities. Ambroise Paré believed there were twelve causes of deformities:

1) resulting from God, intended for God’s glory,
2) emanating from the wrath of God,
3) emerging from too great a quantity of seed, or
4)too little a quantity of the same,
5) being misshapened b the imagination of the pregnant mother,
6) by the narrowness/smallness of the womb,
7) by a traumatic pregnancy, or
8) by the mother’s fall,
9) deriving from other hereditary mechanisms or accidental illnesses,
10) rotten or corrupt seed, or
11) the improper mingling/mixture of seed, and
12) being changelings of the devil (36).

Paulus Zacchias identified intellectual defects as slow learners, who can be held accountable and can marry, fools, who can marry with permission from judges, but have difficulty learning, and stupid/mindless, cannot marry and exempted from penalties. John Locke believed humans are rational creatures. Therefore, those with mental disabilities are not human and incapable of reason. They are immoral and soulless; therefore can be killed as infants.

The final section covers the three notions of disabilities according to theology:

1) disabilities occur for God’s purpose, God creates all men, and people with disabilities are here to reveal God’s glory;
2) people with disabilities must trust in God, because suffering leads to holiness;
3) the Church must care for people with disabilities through charity.

The final section of Chapter 2 covers the new vision regarding theology and disabilities is required. Patty Burt, a person with mental retardation, has shown that through her disability, she was able to sort out what she learned from others and make up her own mind about religion. In religion, we are faced with a major dilemma. If we ignore conventional theology, we dismiss the views of people like Patty Burt. However, if we embrace conventional theology, we will be weighed down with ideas ingrained in historical tradition. Therefore, to move forward, we must reread biblical texts and look deeper for the positive representations of people with disabilities. Although the biblical stories are stereotypical, they also have a redemptive quality.

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