|A collage to illustrate a bit of the man.|
Recently, he wrote in the Huffington Post on why God allows some to be born with mental or physical disabilities. This seems to be the payoff paragraph:
I have no idea why G-d would allow any child to come into this world with severe mental or physical disability. What I do know, however, is that He shouldn't. Children deserve to be born with all their faculties and with all their abilities. All children deserve to be healthy. Those who come into the world with mental handicaps are, of course, beautiful children, the equal of every healthy child, deserving of infinite love, equality and rights. Indeed, given their special needs they require more of our love, more of our attention. What they do not deserve, however, and what they certainly have never earned, is our contemptuous effort to justify their suffering and their challenges by ascribing them to some unknown and lofty divine purpose.This explanation is remarkable for several reasons:
- "I have no idea." This line of thinking might be considered refreshingly honest. Nevertheless, the statement runs counter to what religion is fundamentally supposed to offer: resolution into a larger, purposeful order. This statement confesses total ignorance where many others would soften the admission to "The Lord works in mysterious ways." I cannot see how such a confession would satisfy many people, who generally want to think of their clergy as knowing the intentions of the supreme being. Perhaps Boteach thinks confessing ignorance allows him to relate better to a person in pain, but I imagine that one reason a person would consult a rabbi is to be led from pain to a better sense of normalcy.
- "He shouldn't." I imagine that many Christians raise their eyebrows at this statement. They cannot handle criticizing the supreme being because it violates the celestial hierarchy. People have no standing and insufficient knowledge--allegedly--to challenge anything the Yahweh does. I find the audacity of the statement silly, mainly because it contradicts the earlier "I have no idea." You cannot claim that X is morally wrong while not knowing God's reasons for doing X--unless you care to admit that God can commit wrongs.
- "Children deserve to be born with all their faculties and with all their abilities. All children deserve to be healthy." This is bullshit. When Boteach says "All children deserve to be healthy," I hear the response from Clint Eastwood's character in the movie Unforgiven: "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it!" None of us deserves health, just like none of us deserves tallness, a zit-free adolescence, natural gifts in music, or x-ray vision. We "get" health by a fortunate convergence of body development, mental and physical traits, and external social perception of normal health.
- "Those who come into the world with mental handicaps are, of course, beautiful children, the equal of every healthy child, deserving of infinite love, equality and rights." I don't believe Boteach here. Maybe I'm unfair, but he comes across like the person who professes not to be racist--just before launching into a vicious black joke.
- "What they do not deserve, however, and what they certainly have never earned, is our contemptuous effort to justify their suffering and their challenges by ascribing them to some unknown and lofty divine purpose." Boteach is just posturing here with trumped-up moral outrage. Trying to justify suffering--and I by no means grant that disabled people by and large experience life as suffering--can hardly be called contemptuous. Many people justify suffering as a way to cope: we sympathize with a person or their family but don't feel like it's enough. I have no idea by what right Boteach describes disabled children as "suffering." Surely, he's projecting, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. Disabled people and their families find and make happiness. It happens all the time. What's more, plenty of so-called "normal" people are very unhappy.
Why does God allow the innocent to suffer? I have no idea. He shouldn't. But our job is to fill in the empty spaces G-d seemingly vacates in His universe and to act in G-d's stead, being as human and loving as we can.
The notion of God here ends up as a huge, unnecessary distraction. People need to step up and act, Boteach says. People must assume the role that otherwise would be reserved for God because God is apparently out of the picture. Boteach is but a scintilla away from jettisoning God altogether: God's not protecting innocents and not minding the store here on earth. Why keep the fucker?
Theology or atheology aside, Boteach's passage above shows the unfortunate fact that he focuses not on the disabled and the realities of their lives but rather on "normal" people like himself. He preaches to "normal" people, for "normal" people, teaching them how to sound properly enlightened. With this focus and armed with religious opinions, he wrote an article that he thought said something, maybe even something profound. The article actually added nothing but detritus.