Below are some reasons I think Evangelical Christianity is ableist (prejudiced against individuals with disabilities).
Biblical portrayals. In the Bible, individuals with disabilities are portrayed as objects of pity who are broken. This is particular true in the gospels. After a cursory reading you come away with the idea that the only way to be accepted in society is by a miracle of healing. This kind of thinking trickles down to the churches where modern notions of individuals with disabilities as people OK the way they are generally haven’t taken hold.
False hope of healing. Some churches believe if you just pray hard enough and have enough faith, your disability will be healed. This adds a whole new layer of hurt on a life already burdened by disability. Suddenly your faith is being called into question because you didn’t have enough to receive healing. Miracles rarely, if ever, happen.
The Pollyanna effect. There’s this current within Christianity to try to focus on silver linings and try to use them to justify the clouds because, after all, life is supposed to make sense backwards. It’s easy to have a romantic notion of suffering when you observe it from afar. After all, life is a story and there are challenges but those who suffer learn something won’t be worse for the wear. Unfortunately a disability actually makes your life worse in ways that cannot be romanticized, partly because of all the relationship and vocational opportunities you’ll lose out on. Also, there is this idea that individuals with disabilities are supposed to put on a happy face, despite the circumstances and are supposed to somehow overcome and do something heroic with their challenge (like the guy with no arms and no legs who pulls himself up in front of a crowd). Individuals with disabilities are just people like you and me. They aren’t heroes and they aren’t wallowing in self-pity and despair their whole life.
Intolerance. Christians generally have an aversion to people who are different (which individuals with disabilities definitely are). Part of this makes sense because if you look different that means you might think different and thinking different is frowned upon (especially when you think differently about God). Another part of it is just xenophobia and the fear of the unknown. It’s easier to function in a comfy little bubble and pretend brokenness doesn’t exist except in third world countries. Christians want to be happy and upbeat—there’s almost an aloofness in the whole thing.
Experience of God. Following the voice of God to me is just beautification of intuition. But to Christians (particularly Evangelicals) it is a way of life. It works well for the mentally healthy, God tells them what drapes to go with the new carpeting and stuff. Once you start telling mentally ill people to heed the voice of God things get very different. You are just giving them fodder for their next psychotic break. It’s a sad state. I think it has to do with the fact that religion wasn’t made to survive every test case (like when you engineer a car battery that has to work in a huge range of temperatures). Religion was just made to appeal to the experience of the dominate majority.
Sometimes it’s difficult to be an artist because what happens when you have your training is you learn to draw and you learn to look and you learn to listen and observe and then in this process you grow this very tall antenna and then you start collecting all this information and then you have this buildup in your heart and your soul and you try to speak it and you find that people are oftentimes not interested, don’t get it, or afraid of what you’re saying.
The party line is cognitive behavioral therapy combined medication will do a whole lot of good for people with mental illness. I’m sure it works for some people but not me. A large part of that reason is I’m bipolar (cue sound of career being destroyed) and a dirty little secret of any mental illness worse than depression is they often can’t give you the most effective depression medications because it will trigger psychotic episodes. Add to that the fact that a lot of the things therapists say make no sense to me at all. Some follow below.
You have innate worth. Yes, in a paid helping professional’s office you have innate worth, but once you walk out their door things are different. You can lay claim to self-worth but nothing will come of it unless others recognize this claim as legitimate. What exacerbates self-worth issues is the disparity between claimed and effective self-worth. You may think you’re worth something because your mom and your therapist think you’re so great but in the world where what car you drive and how you look are what matters your claims of self-worth won’t be recognized. Then there is this cognitive dissonance because you have been primed to think you are entitled to self-worth. This is a result of two systems, the helping professional’s and the real world’s, both working the exact opposite of each other.
You need to compartmentalize. This is a curious thing to say as one of the symptoms of someone with a mental illness is the inability to do so. If the underlying depression and OCD is not effectively treated (which it isn’t with me) than this is a useless thing to say. People with mental illness are generally self-absorbed and take things personally so training them to be otherwise is difficult if not impossible. Take rejection for an example—the rejection should not be taken personally, it just represents the sentiment of the rejector at that particular time. Just taken as a single event ignoring everything else one could take this view. But in the aggregate, once you compare the amount you are being rejected by that particular person verses how much others are, things get different. Add to this the fact that culture has gotten nastier and personal attacks are more common and you see it’s hard enough for mentally healthy people to compartmentalize not to mention those with mental illness.
Go out of your comfort zone. Once again for this advice to be helpful depression and OCD have to be way under control. If you dare go out of your comfort zone and things turn out not OK or bad you will be reminded of it constantly for a time proportional to the amount of discomfort the risk took. For example if you tried asking a girl you liked out and things went bad you will be reminded of it constantly—the more you liked her the longer you’ll be reminded of it. Therapists will tell you the reward of going out of your comfort zone is worth the risk but for people with depression and OCD the risk is a lot greater and more immediate.
I know this isn’t the most politically correct thing to say but we Americans indirectly subsidize the universal healthcare of Canada and the EU and other places—by protecting their asses with our military.
Why is knowing God so much better than knowing about him? How could you possibly know him without profound changes in your knowledge about him? What happens when your knowledge of God leads you away from the things you were supposed to know about him? And if so isn’t the initial statement just a rhetorical trick because sound doctrine always trumps religious experience?
Advertisers relish at the thought of their work washing over mentally ill minds. This is because mental illness is fertile ground for their messages to take root.
Depression: Studies have shown that people who value material things highly are more depressed than those who don’t. What we don’t know is if the depression is fueling the consumerism or vice versa. What is clear that people who have poor self-image (which advertising itself tends to exacerbate) are more likely to try to compensate for it by consuming things. Advertisers are in a win-win situation today because most people crave relationships and need them to not be depressed but most places you have to buy things that the advertisers are advertising to fit in and be accepted.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A mind with OCD is like a washing machine that turns the same things over, over and over again. A mind like this is fertile ground for advertiser’s messages. In a normal mind an advertiser’s message will come in, be analyzed a little, and brought up when necessary (for example a fabric softener ad will be recalled when one is in the laundry aisle of the supermarket). In a mind with OCD the advertiser’s messages get stuck in the tumble cycle. For example the new Gilette shaver that supposedly “glides” and has “less tug and pull” gets stuck in my mind because shaving wiry hair is a pain in the ass. I think the campaign is full of crap but that doesn’t stop it from entering my mind. The key here is things proven to be patently false (like most advertiser’s claims) will cycle in people with OCD’s minds. This is good news for advertisers.
Anorexia/Body Image: When was the last time you saw a fat person or an individual with a disability on a TV commercial (besides diet or wheelchair ads)? You don’t see these people because they don’t fit the ideal. We are a very looks-based culture–you live or die by what you look like. Prescient people internalize this and some starve themselves. It’s a disorder but it’s also a real rational response to cultural forces albeit a sad one. Advertisers love this demographic because they are particularly absorbent of the consumeristic culture around them and have poor self image, both things that make for an easy target market.
Anxiety: If you can create fear and offer some product or service that supposedly “cures” said fear you are in business. If someone is already anxiety-prone they are more susceptible to these pitches. Think how advertisers sell home security systems and even how the government sells war. In both cases it’s about some “they” that is going to attack us and destroy our way of life. Another example is how people afraid of impending economic collapse will buy more gold so you advertise gold places where anxiety-prone people are (Glen Beck, religious programming, etc..).
Many people who are mentally ill put a premium on how something makes them feel. It’s more about the sizzle than the steak. Interacting with a comfortable brand can be therapeutic. For example Tylenol may work better than the same medication with an off-brand label because there is something comforting about interacting with a strong brand.
The commodification of men (verses the decommodification of women).
The first thing you have is the oft-denied (but more often practiced) currents of the prosperity gospel flowing through most of evangelicalism. This falls on men harder than women. We are the ones looked on as money producing commodities. We are the ones who are judged the most harshly based on how much (or how little) God “prospers” us. This commodification of men is just a staple of our culture but there just aren’t any forces trying to beat it back within evangelicalism (at least not any I’m aware of). However, all kinds of forces are pushing for the decomodification of women—not viewing them as sex objects. This is a positive development but more needs to be done to help the male side of things.
“The Proverbs 31 woman is virtuous, the Proverbs 31 man is rich”
The passive-aggresiveness that rears its head all too often in Christian culture
There is a lot of negativity that goes along with daily life. Unfortunately evangelicalism tells people to turn off this negativity. Most people (rightfully) can’t handle it so they end up expressing their negativity passive-aggressively instead of expressing it through healthy channels. The non-confrontational nature of Christian culture is stifling and it is fertile ground for all forms of passive-aggressive expression. I think this behavior happens more among men than women (because men are naturally more aggressive and Christian culture is just muting this aggression turning it into something more ugly than necessary).
Thinking away your faith
It’s easy to lose your faith, easier than you’d think. Evolution, philosophy, German higher criticism, befriending people of other traditions—all these can put fractures that lead to later destruction. Christians will be quick to point out that evolution doesn’t contradict the Bible. But once you take evolution as truth the first 11 chapters of Genesis go out the window (at least literally). With regards to leaving the faith I don’t think being smart is a liability but I think thinking more than necessary is. At the risk of sounding sexist I would say men have minds that wander more.
Difficulty with sexual purity
It’s an uncomfortable truth, it’s harder for men to stay sexually pure than women. Men are expected to stay virgins deep into their twenties (sometimes past their sexual prime) in a environment of hypersexuality. This is task that not every man is up to… and for what? Christian marriages fail at the same rate secular ones do.