Who Belongs?

I recently told you about how some school districts are diverting money from children with special needs to cover budget shortfalls. One advocate called the diversions a “slap in the face.”

While she was speaking metaphorically, for some children the threat of actual violence is all too real. And it’s because our culture is increasingly unable to imagine sharing this world with people like them.

These are children with Down syndrome. As the Weekly Standard once put it, they have been “targeted for elimination.” The combination of genetic testing, abortion, and pressure by both physicians and insurance companies has resulted in an estimated 90 percent abortion rate for fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome.

All of this has happened despite the fact that people with Down syndrome can, with the proper assistance, live lives that are “strikingly normal.”

So why are they increasingly not being permitted to live such lives? The answer lies in the failure of our moral imagination and a culture shaped by materialism, which takes an increasingly constricted view of who does and does not occupy the “habitable world.” That’s how writer Lance Nixon put it in the most recent issue of Touchstone magazine.

That’s the phrase Nixon uses to describe those whom we regard as worthy of living side by side with us, those whose dignity and sanctity we uphold and defend.

Under the influence of a materialistic worldview, the boundaries of the habitable world are being redefined. Once inclusive of those created in the image of God-that is, all of us-membership in the habitable world is now being based on a person’s “output or performance.” Your inclusion in the habitable world is contingent on your ability to contribute in some material way to the larger society.

This puts the disabled and the elderly in the crosshairs. From a materialistic point of view, keeping them around may be too costly. Reducing their numbers would be a “rational” thing to do, especially in times of shrinking resources.

It’s hard to imagine a better illustration of why worldview matters. From the start, Christianity was derided as a religion of the “weak,” “foolish,” and “stupid.” In response, Christians affirmed in both word and deed that “the worth of the individual in Christ transcends and makes irrelevant” the accidents of birth that the world prized so highly.

This belief was the best guarantee the “weak,” including the disabled, ever enjoyed. It’s on display in places like L’Arche, a Christian community where “where people with and without disabilities share their lives together.” Founded by Jean Vanier, who has been rightly likened to Mother Teresa, it bears witness to an essential Christian truth: Not only are those with disabilities our equals before God, they have something to teach us.

As the theologian Amos Yong wrote, “Their lives embody the wisdom of God in ways that interrogate, critique, and undermine the status quo.”

Our materialistic, increasingly post-Christian culture rejects this. Just like in early Rome world, the wisdom of God today is regarded as foolishness. And just like in Rome, many today are eager to eliminate the weak. Their methods may be more “sophisticated,” but the result is no less lethal.

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  • Bruce Roeder

    β€œTheir lives embody the wisdom of God in ways that interrogate, critique, and undermine the status quo.”

    That is worth contemplating.

    How we treat the perfect babies and cutest, smartest children is not any particular measure of virtue. Those who are apparently just like us are easy to love

    It is how we treat the weak, the vulnerable, the unwanted, the not-quite-perfect that reveals our hearts.

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