Open Letter from a Blind Disciple to a Sighted Saviour: Text and Discussion

 

 

 

John M Hull

 

In Martin O’Kane (ed.) Borders, Boundaries and the Bible, Sheffield, Sheffield Academic Press 2001, pp. 154-177, ISBN 1 84127 148 9

 

 

 

Section 1: Introduction

 

When I wrote about the miracles of Jesus more than twenty-five years ago, I approached the problem from a historical critical point of view.[1]  I was primarily interested in the world out of which the text came.  I tried to set my work within the context of similar critical scholarship and that is why there were lots of footnotes.  It did not occur to me to ask how blind or deaf people might react to my discussion of the healing miracles.  In that respect, things have not changed much.  Whilst writing my Open Letter to Jesus (Section 2),  I  studied about a dozen articles written in the tradition of critical-historical exegesis[2].  I  noticed as a blind person what I had not seen when I was sighted, that the people, presumably mostly sighted, who write articles about the symbolism of blindness in the Gospels never seem to reflect upon the implications of this for blind people. 

 

In my Open Letter to Jesus, I deliberately adopted a different approach.  I concentrated not upon the world out of which the texts came, but the world which the texts tended to create, the horizon towards which they seemed to point.[3]   I tried to bracket out my previous familiarity with the Bible, to forget the meaning which many of those passages had had for me in my former sighted life, and to allow the biblical speech (I did it all on tape) to fall into my consciousness like rain upon the dry ground.[4]

 

It did not seem to make any difference to my response to the text, as I heard it, whether the words of Jesus about the Pharisees being ‘blind fools’ are due to Matthew's editorial construction rather than being close to something Jesus may actually have said.  For the same reason, I did not always study the gospel parallels and variants, in cases where a saying or story appears  more than once.  I simply responded to what my tape-recorder was reading to me. However, in describing  how a particular blind person reacts to the Bible, I believe that I have shown something about the Bible in general and not only something about myself. 

 

My method of interpretation is typical of post-modern responses to the meaning of the Bible.[5]  Now that we have learned from Asian, African and South American biblical interpretation, to say nothing of feminist and black readings, we realise that the tradition of European biblical scholarship has European characteristics.[6]  Just as we have  theology which represents the interests of the people with whom we stand in solidarity, so we have the Bible which sustains that solidarity.  All knowledge is within the circle of human interest, and there is no unmotivated truth.[7]  Nevertheless, when we understand that the knowledge and the truth about the Bible is driven by the socio-historical position of the commentators, and that ‘the meaning of the Bible’ is necessarily a cultural artefact, we are invited to put that meaning against the meanings of the Bible from other socio-cultural positions.  The sighted truth about the Bible may be true and yet not all the truth.  In so far as it is not the complete truth, we are misled if we absolutise it. 

 

This, then, is an attempt to relativise or pluralise the Bible.  Without denying the truth that the Bible is mainly a book for sighted people, I want to relativise that truth by making it obvious, and by stating the obvious to relativise it.[8]  The truth that the Bible is a book for sighted people is related to the truth that the Bible is also a book for blind people.  If the Bible is relatively a book for sighted people, then the Bible is also relatively a book for men, and for hearing people, and for white people, and for wealthy people and so on.  Is there no end to this process of relativisation?  Is there, after all, no absolute truth in the Bible? 

 

If there is an absolute truth, it is not to be found through a process of artificial and often unconscious absolutising, but through a proliferation of many meanings until everyone's meanings are gathered in.  This is the way that the Bible becomes truly ecumenical, truly catholic.  We do not know how many more perspectives there might be.  We do not know how many new groups and new cultures will hold up the diamond of God's word and give it a new twist, so that new patterns and colours flash forth from it, but if the Bible is to be a book for all people, this process cannot be arrested.  It is necessary that all those who are spoken to by the Bible should have an opportunity to reply, and thus the conversation which is within the Bible can enter into conversation with us today, and through offering a voice and a hearing to everyone, we can create a community of genuine free speech.[9]

 

In what sense can we say any longer that the Bible is the Word of God?  When I hear Jesus saying that the blind cannot lead the blind because they will both fall into a ditch, is that the word of God to me?  When the Bible as a whole and the gospels in particular, every one of them, tell me that as a blind person I represent disobedience, unbelief, ignorance and sin, am I to take that as God's word to me?  This is not a word of acceptance, of forgiveness and of liberation, but a word of rejection, of oppression.  In order to translate this into the word of God, we need to take out the disparaging metaphors.  The truth to which faith witnesses is that our ignorance, sin and disobedience prevent us from responding to the love of God made known in Jesus Christ.  It is not necessary that this witness of faith should be cast into the form of the metaphor of blindness.  This is surely a case where the metaphor kills but the spirit gives life.

 

There are Christians who say that they believe the Bible to be literally true.  Such Christians may find it difficult to recognise the metaphor of blindness and may be obliged by the nature of their faith in the authority of the Bible to adopt a condemnatory attitude toward blind people.  This is the stark choice facing the Biblical literalist: if you accept the Bible literally you will be more likely to accept uncritically the negative image of blindness in our culture. 

 

We may make a similar comment about the speech of Jesus himself.  When Jesus is reported to have said that the blind cannot lead the blind because they will both fall into a ditch, he means that people without understanding cannot become teachers of others without understanding because in that case neither will finish up with any understanding. It is not necessary to the truth spoken by Jesus that the metaphor of blindness should be used.  When Jesus warned that the salt would be no good if it lost its saltiness, he was not speaking only about salt but about the presence of the teaching of the Kingdom of God in human lives.  Nevertheless, we have to face the fact that to Jesus is attributed the use of a disparaging metaphor, a belittling and demeaning description which has oppressed and marginalized blind people down the centuries, because most Christians even when they saw the truth beneath the metaphor did not explicitly reject the metaphor, and therefore the text continued to collaborate in the building up of the cultural artefact in which blindness is belittled.  As a free person in Christ and as a Christian blind person I lay this solemn charge against the Bible and against its sighted Christian interpreters.

 

Jesus used the metaphor, or the New Testament tradition attributed the use of the metaphor to Jesus, because the metaphor not only illustrated the truth but was believed to contain the truth.  It was believed that blind people tended to be foolish, ignorant and inconsistent.  If Jesus had said "The blind cannot lead the blind because they will both fall into a ditch but they don't really, I'm only trying to make a point", the whole impact of the saying  would have been lost.  It would be like saying that the salt would be no good if it lost its saltiness - but it would be really.  

 

The traditional authority of the Bible is now challenged on ethical as well as scientific grounds.   The authority of the Bible must be evaluated in different ways.  The Bible is a conversation into which we, who hear it, are drawn.  It is a conversation in which we hear many voices-  the rich and powerful, the poor and the oppressed.  The Bible is the word of God because in it the voices of the poor and the oppressed have never been silenced.[10] We hear the voices of sighted people and, now and again, in a softer tone, the voices of blind people.  The Bible is the word of God because when we understand it in terms of its own variety and not through the perspective of our own enclosed biological and social conditions, it speaks to us not only as sighted people and blind people but as people.  The biblical question is what we do with our sight, and what we do with our blindness.

 

I have chosen the genre of the Open Letter because it is an effective medium through which I can illustrate clearly and in an autobiographical way how I, as a blind person, react to the theme of blindness in the Bible and, in so doing,  ensure that the Bible reveals its riches to everyone and not just to the sighted.

 

Section 2:  Open Letter to Jesus

 

Dear Jesus,

According to the Gospel of Matthew, you used the expression 'blind' as a term of abuse.  When you were attacking certain groups of people you described them as 'blind guides' (Mt. 23:16), 'blind fools' (v.17), and 'you blind Pharisee' (v.26).  You have given your authority to those down the ages who have disparaged others through references to visual loss.  Whenever a Member of Parliament criticises a government minister by saying that he or she shows a blind disregard for the welfare of the people of this country, whenever a sports journalist describes a cricketer as having struck out blindly with the bat, or an academic recommends blind marking, the impression is reinforced that blind people are stubborn, callous, lacking in self control or just plain ignorant.  It would have been so easy for you to have called them ‘careless guides’, ‘stupid fools’, or ‘stubborn Pharisees’.  If you had spoken in that way, then the disparaging image of blindness, which has caused blind people so much pain, would not have received your permission and encouragement. 

 

When I discuss these sayings with your sighted priests and other well meaning friends, they defend you by pointing out that your use of the expression 'blind' is only metaphorical, but I cannot understand how this is supposed to help.  In general, the gospels show you as being sensitive and attentive to blind people (Mk 8:22-26; 10:46-52), so I cannot imagine that if the guides, lawyers and Pharisees were literally blind, you would have been so tactless as to refer to their blindness when criticising them.  Indeed, the problem is created precisely by the metaphorical use of blindness to suggest ignorance, stupidity and insensitivity.

 

Another point which your sighted friends make is that the disparaging use of blindness is confined to Matthew.  The comparable passages in Mark and Luke do not use the expression 'blind' (Mk.12:38-40; Lk. 20:45-47).  We can conclude, the argument goes, that these references are to be attributed to Matthew himself or to the tradition upon which he was drawing, and not to you personally.

 

Well, perhaps that helps a little, but on the other hand I am not at all sure that there are many sayings in any of the gospels which represent your actual words, and in any case, the offending words are part of scripture, part of the picture which the first evangelist offers of you.  When we hear these words read in church, we respond by saying ‘praise to Christ Our Lord’.  So whether you actually used the words or not, or said something like them in Aramaic, if not in Greek, you are nevertheless implicated in these texts.

 

The problem goes deeper than the mere disparaging use of the word 'blind'.  When you referred to the blind guides, you illustrated the point by saying that they strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel (Mt. 23:24).  In other words, the guides are fussy about details but overlook important things.  This illustration becomes more significant in the context of the eating habits of blind people.  If you sat with me at a table, Jesus, would you notice that although I managed to eat the last pea on the plate, I completely ignored my glass of wine because no-one had told me it was there?  Would you notice how I bit into the little pat of butter wrapped up in paper, which had been placed on top of my bread roll, and failed to notice the bowl of sauce into which I was supposed to dip my carrot sticks?  You will remember, Lord, how in the early days of my blindness when I was desperately trying to appear to be independent, I went along the buffet table indiscriminately, finishing up with sherry trifle on my roast vegetables.

 

The same sighted person's observation of blind people's behaviour is evident in the remark about first cleaning the inside of the cup and then the outside.  The blind Pharisee is accused of washing the outside of the cups but ignoring the inside (Mt. 23:25).  If you came to my office and shared a coffee with me, Jesus, would you be watching nervously to see whether the coffee cups were nice and clean?  After all, the only way a blind person can know this is by feeling the inside of the cup, but most people do not like to drink from a cup the inside of which has been felt by someone else's sticky fingers.  A blind person has to wash the cup every time to make sure it is clean, or keep the clean cups in a different place, or turn them upside down when they are washed.  These techniques illustrate the difficulty of cleaning the inside as well as the outside.  The fact that these observations are coupled with the accusation of blindness indicates that the word 'blind' is not used casually or accidentally, but arises from detailed observation of the behaviour of blind people.  Oh dear, that makes it worse.

 

The truth is, that in the days of your earthly ministry, my Lord, you were a sighted person.  You naturally grew into the view of blind people which your sighted society conveyed to you.   For example, Matthew says that you said of the Pharisees "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit" (Mt. 15:14).  I wonder that you should have said this, Lord, because your own experience of blind people leading each other suggested otherwise.  In his ninth chapter, your evangelist Matthew describes how two blind men followed you and caught up with you when you entered into a house (Mt. 9:27-31).  They must have followed the noisy crowd as it passed by, and managed to catch up with you when you finally went into a house.  They did not fall into a pit or a ditch.  Moreover, it is more difficult to attribute this saying to Matthew than to you yourself, since Luke also reports it. ‘Can a blind person lead a blind person? Will they not both fall into a pit?’ (Lk. 6:39).  Luke introduces this comment as being a parable, but the parable would have derived its force from the fact that it was a genuine belief held amongst sighted people about the behaviour of blind people.  You, my Lord, are described as participating in this general belief, but this says more about the assumptions and the prejudices of sighted people than about the actual behaviour of those who are blind.  Blind people depend upon familiarity.   A blind person who was familiar with a certain route would offer to lead a blind stranger along that way.  I have myself led blind people many times, and have in turn been led.  We have never fallen into ditches, been run over on the road, or fallen down stairs, although I admit to an occasional confrontation with a rose bush.  It is when I am being led by a sighted person that I sometimes have bad experiences.  As I am walking through a department store the floor suddenly slides away from me and  I almost lose my balance.  ‘Sorry’, my sighted friend says.  ‘I forgot to tell you that we are going down on the escalator’.

 

When I studied the New Testament as a sighted person, it did not occur to me that you, Jesus, were yourself sighted.  We were in the same world, but it did not occur to me that being sighted was a world.  I thought that things were just like that.  When I became blind, then I realised that blindness is a world, and that the sighted condition also generates a distinctive experience and can be called a world.  Now I find, Jesus, that I am in one world and you are in another. 

 

This knowledge came to me for the first time when I read the Gospel of John as a blind person, but even then my understanding was limited.  I encountered you in the Gospel of  John with a sense of estrangement, because I realised as I read the Gospel in braille, the first book in braille which I read after my loss of sight, that it was not intended for people like me.  I realised that sight and light were the symbols of truth and that darkness and blindness were symbols of sin and disbelief, and I realised the meaning of this symbolism in my heart, not just in my head.  When, as a sighted theological student, I had written essays about the symbolism of the fourth gospel I knew these things only from my scholarship, such as it was.  Now I knew them from my humanity, my blind humanity, but it had not occurred to me that the Bible as a whole was written by sighted people for sighted people.  I felt confused and alienated by John's Gospel, but I had not realised the reason for my reaction, because I did not know that sight and blindness generate different worlds of human experience.

 

When I return to your fourth gospel today, it is very clear to me that more than any other gospel it is a product of a sighted society.  In your presence, Lord, I read the first chapter.  Verse 4 tells me that you are life, and that your life was the light of all people.  Your light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (v.5).  The true light (v.9) which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.  No-one has ever seen God (v.18) and we (indicating your sighted followers) beheld your glory.  It is by sight that John the Baptist recognised you (vv.33, 34).  John was told that the one upon whom he saw the dove descending (v.32) would be the chosen one, and then he adds ‘I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God’ (v.34).  In verse 42, we read that you looked at Peter and said "so you are Simon son of John" and so on.  Now I notice the repeated invitation to "come and see" (vv.43, 46).  This is what you said to your disciples when they asked where you lived, and Phillip said to Nathaniel "come and see".  When he saw you, John said to his own disciples "behold the Lamb of God!" (v.29) and when you saw Nathaniel coming to you, you said "behold an Israelite indeed" (v.47).  You said to Nathaniel "I saw under the fig tree" (v.48).  In the eighth chapter of this your fourth gospel you say that you are the light of the world and that the one who follows you will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life (Jn. 8:12) but, my Lord, I walk in darkness every day and have done so for twenty years.  Yes, I know that you only meant it metaphorically, but it is not very nice to be regarded as a metaphor of sin and unbelief.  Sometimes the metaphor is so graphic, that I can't help feeling a twinge of pain.  "Are there not twelve hours of daylight?  Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.  But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them" (Jn. 11:9).  The assumption of this passage is that work is only possible during the daylight hours but for me the daylight hours are irrelevant.  It makes no difference to me whether I work by day or by night and my computers and tape recorders, like myself, know nothing of light or darkness.

 

There is another question which I want to ask you, Lord.  Do you believe that there is a connection between disability and sin?  Or, if not you yourself, then did your early followers believe this?  When you had healed the lame man who lay on the steps besides the pool of Bethesda, you said to him "Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you" (Jn 5:14).  To my mind, that clearly indicates that you thought there was a connection between his lameness and some sin or other, and when I read in Jn. 5:3 that in the portico lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralysed I cannot imagine that this comment applied only to the particular man or to lame people in general, but would also have been said if the healed person had been blind.  Similarly, when you healed the lame man lowered through the roof (Mk. 2: 1-12) you first said to him "your sins are forgiven".  It was only when the implications of this comment were challenged by those who heard it that you continued with the physical healing of the lame man.  It is difficult to resist the view that it was necessary first to get the sin out of the way before the disability could be healed.

 

When we read about the blind man in John chapter 9 the situation is different, but presents its own problems.  Your disciples anticipated a connection between disability and sin with the question "who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  You rejected this suggestion, adding "that God's works might be revealed in him" (v.3).  In other words, the man had been blind from birth not because of some parental sin but in order to create a sort of photo opportunity for you, my Lord.  When you spoke of God's works being revealed in the blind man, you were not referring to his blindness, but to the restoration of his sight.  The implication is that God's works cannot be seen in a blind person but only in a blind person becoming  sighted. 

 

Towards the end of the chapter we read that you said "I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind" (v.39).  Some of the Pharisees near you heard this and said to you "surely we are not blind are we?"  You replied "if you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, 'we see', your sin remains" (Jn. 9:40).  When you said "if you were blind you would not have sin" this seems to mean "if you were really and literally blind, you would have no sin, but now that you say, 'we see', your sin remains".  The sin lies not in the literal blindness but in the self-deception of those who believe that they have insight but do not.

 

Now, Lord, an important problem: why was there not a blind person amongst your followers?  I know that women and black people have been asking you similar questions about themselves, but even if there were none in your group of twelve, women can find models of faith in people like Mary and Martha, and there is always your mother.  As for black people, they can look to representatives such as Simon from Africa, who carried your cross and the Ethiopian traveller in the Acts of the Apostles.  What models of faith do we blind people have?  There is the man born blind in John, chapter 9  and there is Bartimaeus together with several un-named people, but the trouble is that they did not become your followers until they had left their blindness behind them.  This is why there was not a blind person amongst your disciples and why there could not have been one: you would have restored their sight and then they would no longer be blind.  Given your assumptions about blindness, which you shared with the rest of the society of your day, it could not possibly have been different.  After all, if a blind person was invited to follow you and did so whilst remaining blind, everyone would have been shocked, and I dare say that even you would have been embarrassed.  People would have said of you what they said of the Lazarus business.  "Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" (Jn. 11:37).  Could not this man (that's you) who opened the eyes of other blind people, have restored the sight of your chosen follower?  In terms of the assumptions of your day, it would have been difficult to find an answer to this question. 

 

Furthermore, if a blind person could not have been your disciple in the days of your earthly ministry, what is the situation of your blind followers today?  In spite of everything the theologians say about symbolism, most Christians tend to take the stories about you at face value, and a blind Christian is often made aware of the question, which hangs in the air unspoken: if your faith was genuine, would not Jesus have restored your sight?  I have been a member of various churches in which healing services have been held from time to time.  Although they have always emphasised that healing is intended in the general sense of a blessing, not necessarily or even at all a physical restoration or regeneration, I have never felt free to attend such services, because I think that my attendance would be read in an ambiguous way.  Some people might think that I was coming in expectation of the restoration of my sight.  Indeed, I have known Christians who belonged to more conservative congregations who have been harassed by an expectation of miraculous healing.  I have known Christians who, having become blind, have had to move to a new congregation.

 

You remember, Lord, the disabled people's church in South Korea, which I was invited to attend.  When I asked the people why they found it necessary to have their own church, they replied "because the people in the ordinary churches tell us that we make them feel uncomfortable".  You and I both know of similar stories from Britain, told by blind people seeking ordination to the Christian ministry.  Although many are accepted and welcomed, others are met with the objection that they would not be able to care for other people since they themselves require care.  Every time one of the stories about how you restored the sight of blind people is read out in church, blind Christians will imagine the thoughts of the congregation directed towards them with the question: if it happened to Bartimeus, why not to you? Of course, the modern miracle-working evangelists often tell stories of how you have restored the sight of blind people in their meetings.  You know that because of certain experiences of my own I am slightly sceptical about these stories, but perhaps it happens.  Am I not like Naaman the Syrian general who had leprosy, refusing to wash in the river Jordan because it seemed too easy?  All I have to do is walk down the aisle and be humble enough to accept the ministry of healing.  Perhaps, the voice of the tempter continues, it would not work for me, but I will not be any worse off than I am now. 

 

This is the dilemma which a literal interpretation of your healing miracles has created for me, and you know that I go for comfort and strength not to the stories of your miracles, which I find alienating and distressing, but to the experience of your apostle Paul.  He was given some kind of physical handicap which he called a thorn in the flesh, and there are some indications that it could have been a visual problem (1 Cor. 13:12; Gal. 4:13-15; 6:11).  Anyway, he prayed three times to you, asking that it should be taken away, and you said to him, "my grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:8-9).  Like Paul, Lord, I have no dramatic stories to tell, no accounts of wonderful happenings to amaze people with.  All I have to boast of is my infirmity, my weakness.

 

On the other hand, you know and I know that the stories about your miraculous healing, whatever may lie behind them, have been interpreted symbolically in the gospel traditions.  For example, in Mark chapter 8, there is a story about your healing of a blind man in two stages.  At first he saw imperfectly that people looked like walking trees.  After the second intervention, the man saw perfectly.  This story may contain elements of folk medicine but in the theological imagination of the evangelist, it seems very likely that it represents the limited understanding  which your disciples had in the days of your earthly ministry.  It was only after the Spirit came, and the church was formed, that a deep and true understanding of your nature and mission was achieved.[11]  There are many indications in the gospels that unbelief is spoken of as if it were a failure to see. When your disciples did not understand you, you said to them "Do you have eyes - and fail to see?" (Mk. 8:18) and the two disciples who walked with you on the Emmaus road after your resurrection were unable to recognise you because of their unbelief, but when you had broken the bread in their presence "their eyes were opened" (Lk. 24:31). 

 

The negative symbolism attached to blindness runs right through the Bible.  Samson, Zedekiah and Tobias were all blinded in circumstances associated with sin, folly or unbelief and the blindness of the wicked men of Sodom (Wisdom 2:21) and of Elymas the magician who obstructed the work of Paul in Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12), are specifically attributed to divine punishment.  The wicked meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope at noonday as in the night (Job 5:14), the children of treacherous friends will be afflicted with blindness (Job 17:5), the light of the wicked is darkened so that they cannot see (Job 22:11);  the Psalmist complains that since God has punished him, the light of his eyes has gone from him (Ps. 38:10), and he hopes that his enemies will be cursed with blindness (Ps. 69:23), those who have been forsaken by God complain that they grope 'like those that have no eyes' (Is. 59:10), and when the day of the Lord comes, God will bring blindness upon people, 'that they shall walk like the blind' (Zeph. 1:17). 

 

It is this legacy of blindness regarded as a punishment from God or as a metaphor of sin and disbelief which the New Testament inherits.  The most influential passage occurs after the story of the vision of Isaiah in the temple:

  'Go and say to this people "keep listening but do not comprehend.  Keep looking, but do not understand."  Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.'

(Is 6:9-10)

 

It is significant that this passage does not refer to blindness, but to the shutting of the eyes.  This is a more acceptable way of describing unbelief and disobedience, because sighted people may close their eyes deliberately to avoid seeing, whereas the metaphor of blindness is not only negative towards people who really are blind but suggests that the people concerned could not help their disobedience and their unbelief.  Is.:6:9-10 is

 referred to or quoted  in all four gospels and is used to support the notion that the people have deliberately shut their eyes so as not to realise the truth of the teaching of Jesus is retained in Mt.13:14-15 (compare Mk. 4:12 and Lk. 8:10). However, in John's Gospel, the metaphor of shutting the eyes is abandoned and instead the metaphor of blindness is used:

  'And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said "he has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn - and I would heal them"'                         (Jn. 12:39-40).[12]

 

 This is consistent with the emphasis in John's Gospel upon darkness and blindness as metaphors for disbelief (Jn. 9).  If any of the four evangelists had described one of your followers as being blind, it would have been a contradiction of the meaning of the symbolic universe of the ancient world as expressed in the Bible.

 

This negative symbolism of blindness was, of course, all too natural in a world where blind people suffered from an immense disadvantage, a world without guide dogs, white canes, braille and computers.  Nevertheless, I remain puzzled at the failure of the biblical authors to have any real insight into the lives of blind people.  There is no reference to the cleverness and ingenuity of blind people, who must find different ways of doing things; there is no reference to the sensitivity of blind people to sounds and smells.  Nothing is said in admiration of the intelligent hands of the blind weaver or the blind potter.  True, there are references here and there to the alleged charisma and intuitive knowledge of blind people, but this is a mere illusion of sighted people who cannot resist the thought that blindness is either to be associated with outrageous sin or with wonderful wisdom.

           

One of the few indications of any close observation of the lives of blind people is in connection with the way that blind people walk.  "They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope at noonday as in the night" (Job 5:14).  Naturally, day and night are indistinguishable visually to totally blind people but the reference to groping is a typical sighted person's point of view.  Blind people necessarily use their hands to find things out and to protect themselves.  This is not a stupid, senseless groping but an intelligent way to respond to the blind situation.  A detail is added in Is. 59:10 where 'we grope like the blind along a wall, groping like those who have no eyes'.  Yes, we blind people do make contact with the fabric, we like to keep a hand on the rail, and if we are cane-users we need something to act as a tapping board.  However, this is no more than our way of glancing around, something sighted people do with their eyes, that we do with our hands, canes or with our entire body.

 

The impact of these observations upon sighted people is summed up in Zeph. 1:17:  'I will bring such distress on people that they shall walk like the blind'.  Blind people  generally worked and lived within their families. Blind craftspeople might perhaps be seen in the marketplace, but it was not until they got up to go that their peculiarities became obvious to the sighted passers-by.  Blind people do have a very visible kind of walk.  You, Lord, were aware of this fascination with the way that blind people walk when you made your comment about falling into ditches.

 

In spite of all this,  Jesus, you were not unaware of the typical sins of sighted people.  If I read your Sermon on the Mount, remembering that you were a sighted person, I can appreciate it as an attack on the sighted culture to which you belonged.

You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket but on the lampstand and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16).

 

These sayings are obviously addressed to a sighted audience, and the visual theme is continued in v. 28: 'everyone who looks at a woman with lust, has already committed adultery with her  in his heart' and this is immediately followed by the warning 'if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell'.  The eye is the instrument of adultery, so the tearing out of the eye, which makes this kind of adultery impossible, is equivalent to castration.  Do not blind heterosexual men desire women?  Yes, of course, but their desire is aroused through the erotic qualities of the female voice, which is inextricably bound up with the personality.  The sighted heterosexual man, on the other hand, may be aroused by the sight of the female body, which in picturesque form can be disassociated from the personality.  Thus the voice is erotic but the depersonalised body may be pornographic. 

 

In Matthew chapter 6, the attack upon the sighted culture grows stronger still.  It is because of appearances, the love of being seen, that sighted people fall into hypocrisy and falsehood, but you, Lord, suggest the limits of sight when you speak paradoxically of your Heavenly Father who sees in secret (Mt. 6:5-6).  That means your Father knows in a way that surpasses sight.

 

I particularly like the prayer you taught your disciples, because there is nothing in it that cannot be said by a blind person.  The reference to being led is particularly appropriate for blind people, and the prayer seems to suggest the superficiality and limited nature of the sighted culture (Mt. 6:9-15).

In Mt. 6:22f., you state:

The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

 

Not only is this a comment from a sighted prophet addressing a sighted world, but suggests the horror and revulsion which a sighted person may feel towards blindness.  Yes, indeed, the sighted world is full of show and vain glory, as you describe it when you speak of Solomon in all his glory (Mt. 6:29).  People should not be bothered about their appearance or their clothing.  The sighted world is preoccupied with these external things.  The saying about seeing the speck which is in your brother's eye but not noticing the log in your own eye continues the theme in visual terms, speaking of the self-deception which a sighted culture encourages (Mt. 7:3-5).

 

Although you were a sighted person, you were not immersed uncritically in the values and attitudes of the world of sight.  You were sharply aware of the temptations of vision.  I also notice the restraint which you showed in your dealings with blind people.  You were not at all like the modern healing evangelists, who invite disabled people to come to their meetings, and make a great show of healing them in public.  I do not read that you ever encouraged blind people to approach you; rather, it was they who sought you out.  A beautiful example of the tact and respect which you showed to blind people may be found in the story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus.  When he came to you, you did not assume that he wanted his sight restored but you asked him "what do you want me to do for you?" (Mk. 10:51). Now, a modern blind person would have replied "get me on a good training course where I can search the internet with voice synthesisers" but although Bartimaeus was not in a position to make this reply, it was at least nice to be asked.

 

When I turn to some of your other sayings, I get a better idea of your attitude towards blindness.  'When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous' (Lk. 14:13-14).  This is part of your teaching about the reversal of status between the rich and the poor. You are to extend hospitality to the powerless.  So far, I agree with you.  But your message is a mixed one.  You seem to take the low economic condition of blind people for granted.  We are amongst the marginalised.  We are invited to the banquet precisely because we have nothing to offer.  Would my hunger overcome my fear of being patronised in this way?  Are there no blind people who could be invited for their amusing conversation, or because they can play the piano while the coffee is being served?.  Blind people are invited because they can do nothing, offer nothing.  What we have to offer is our weakness.  When we are weak, the host is strong, whereas the attitude of Paul was that when he was weak, he was strong.  His strength lay in his own weakness not in the weakness of others.  When you told the parable of the great feast, the idea is slightly different.  The invited guests have refused to come to the banquet because they are too busy.  So the host says to his staff "go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame" (Lk. 14:21-25).  When this was done, there was still room, and the staff were told to go out "into the roads and lanes and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled" (v.23). In this story the disabled are invited not because they have nothing to offer but in order to fill the tables.  They are to be included not because they are disabled but because there is room.

 

I have found several relevant aspects of your life and teaching.  As a sighted person you seem to share the negative attitudes of your society towards blind people.  At the same time, you are highly critical of the values of the sighted culture in which you live.  On an individual basis you are sensitive and tactful towards blind people, and while acknowledging their condition of economic deprivation,  you insist upon their inclusion.  Nevertheless, you did not include a blind person in your closest circle.  In your presence blind people felt the hope and discovered the reality of the restoration of sight but you did not offer to blind people courage and acceptance in their blindness.  You would have led me by the hand out of blindness but you would not have been my companion during my blindness.

 

This is a cause of confusion and pain to me and many blind people, and those who have other disabilities.  You accepted the fishermen.  Even when they left their boats and nets on the shore, they would continue, in a sense, to be fishing.  You accepted the children, embraced them, and said that they were to be models of the Kingdom.  You accepted the ministry and friendship of women, even those who had a shady past, but blind people had to become sighted before they could follow you.

 

I am confused, Lord.  I am not only hurt and puzzled; I am offended.

 

John the Baptist in prison sent messages to you asking if indeed you were the Messiah, or whether he should look for someone else.  At that time, you cured many sick people, you cast out evil spirits, and on many who were blind you bestowed sight (Lk. 7:21).  Then you said to the messengers "go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me" (Lk. 7:22).  This answer is intended to reassure John the Baptist, and we must presume that John would have been offended if you had not been restoring sight to the blind.  My position is just the opposite of his.  I am offended because you did restore sight to the blind, although I am very happy for the individuals who were thus restored.  What I want is inner healing, the healing that comes from acceptance, from inclusion, from the breaking down of barriers through mutual understanding, for an acceptance of different worlds, of different kinds of human life.  You seem to present a convergent model of normality but I want a divergent model.  This is why I am offended.

 

Nevertheless, your word comes home to me as it did to John in prison.  I am also to be blessed if I am not offended by you, but how can I help being offended?

 

Your evangelist Matthew applies to you the prophecy of Isaiah.  You were healing many disabled people and Matthew says that this was in fulfilment of the prophecy 'He took our infirmities and bore our diseases' (Is. 53:4 and Mt. 8:17).  But to perform miracles upon disabled people is not to take their infirmities and to bear their diseases; it is to remove them.  There is a difference between taking something away and taking something upon yourself.

 

As I read your gospels, thinking about these problems, I come upon a passage which I have known all my life, but it has never struck me before how relevant it is to my present life as a blind person.  After they had tried and sentenced you to be condemned to death, the servants of the High Priest began to spit on you, blindfold you and strike you, saying "Prophesy!  Who hit you?" (Mk. 14:65).  Luke describes the incident as follows:

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, "Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?"  They kept heaping many other insults on him (Lk. 22:63-65).

 

To be blindfolded is not to be blind.  To be a sighted person who cannot see is not the same as to be a blind person.  Nevertheless, it begins to come close to it.  In these moments of de facto blindness, did you begin to know blindness from the inside?  Did those words come back to you - 'blind fools'?  Now you yourself are treated like a blind fool.  Strangely, my indignation begins to die away.  My questions are silenced.  You have become a partner in my world, one who shares my condition, my blind brother.

 

Later in the same day, they crucified you.  From about mid-day, there was darkness over all the land.  It was then that you cried out "My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mk. 15:34).  In your agony and confusion, did you realise that there was an eclipse of the sun?  Or did you think that once again they had blindfolded you?  Or that perhaps you had indeed lost the power of sight?  Was that perhaps why you felt forsaken by God, the God of light, the sighted people's God?  I cannot help wondering whether, after these experiences, your attitude to blindness is somehow different.  On the road to Emmaus, the eyes of your two disciples were constrained, so that they were not able to recognise you (Lk. 24:16).  You walked the road with two disciples who were in effect blind.  Only when you broke the bread, were their eyes opened so that they could recognise you, and then you vanished from their sight (Lk. 24:31).  Again, they became blind as far as you were concerned, but now it is the blindness of recognition, no longer the blindness of a failure to recognise.  Sight has become more paradoxical. 

 

The Gospel of John  foresees the end of the sighted culture.  'I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer', and later in the same chapter 'a little while and you will no longer see me; and again a little while, and you will see me' (Jn. 16:10,16).  This awareness of the limits of sight is vividly expressed in the story of Thomas, who doubted your resurrection.  You said to Thomas, ‘have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe’ (Jn. 20:29).  Most people think you were speaking to second and third generation Christians, or those living far away from Israel, who never saw your earthly ministry.  However, these words can be regarded as a particular blessing upon your blind disciples. 

 

When I began to write to you, my mind was full of questions.  Then my confusion turned into indignation and then I wrote with tears when I realised that you not only died for me but you became blind for me. And what can I say to you now about the passages which offended and hurt me so much? Well, Lord, if I may say so without presumption, I forgive you. But is it not your role to forgive me? Yes, but perhaps our relationship is becoming more mutual.  Blind people, after all, do lead other blind people. You have been this way  before, so you are familiar with it. Take my hand, blind master, and lead me.

 

Yours sincerely,

John
Section 3. 1.

 

  Implications for the Education of both Blind and Sighted People

 

The attitudes of people in our culture towards blindness are shaped by the classical literature of Western society, reinforced by repetition in many novels and films.[13]  This cultural construct is further reinforced by the metaphorical use of blindness in everyday speech.[14]

 

This inherited set of attitudes and beliefs is ambivalent towards blindness.  On the one hand, blind people are thought of as helpless, pathetic, useless, ignorant or even stupid, insensitive and incompetent.  On the other hand, blind people are sometimes regarded as being strangely gifted.  They have amazing memories and may have a weird kind of foresight.  Blind people are regarded with a mixture of admiration, compassion and horror.  A sighted person, sharing these attitudes towards blindness, who loses his or her sight transfers inwardly all of the previous images and presuppositions about blindness.[15]  The blinded person now has feelings of horror and compassion towards the self.  All the helplessness and ignorance which were imputed to other blind people now recoil upon the self.  Thus blindness is a shattering blow to one's self-esteem.  This is reinforced by the attitudes of compassion and horror with which the blind person is now greeted by relatives, friends and above all, employers.  The blinded person comes quickly to agree that he or she might get hurt, will have to retire and  is no good at anything anymore. 

 

Of course, the shock of blindness is very great, since it is necessary for the personality to reconstruct itself around a different balance of the senses, and the reluctance to exchange one world for another is as profound as the reluctance to lose sight in the first place.[16]  Nevertheless, these elements of change in the inner and outer worlds of blindness are certainly accentuated and complicated by social attitudes towards blindness, built up over the centuries.

 

Since the Bible has been the principal source of cultural definition in Europe, it is not surprising that it is also the principal source of the cultural construct of blindness. 

 

The attitude of Jesus towards blindness has been the inspiration for the medical and social care of blind people in Europe and beyond.[17]  The fact that blind people were the objects of the healing ministry of Jesus, and that the recovery of sight was one of the main features of the coming of the Kingdom of God has undoubtedly led to improved conditions for blind people.[18]  At the same time, however, the negative images of the Bible have also been significant.  While the miraculous healing of blind people is obvious, external and memorable, the negative images of blindness in the Bible are subtle, often metaphorical, and almost unnoticeable.  The fact that the reader of the Bible is immersed within the cultural construct of blindness largely created by the Bible means that the attitudes towards blindness in the Bible are hardly noticed even as they are read.  There is no contrast between the construct of blindness in the Bible and that which is prevalent in our society.  As one reads the Bible, the attitudes in the Bible towards blindness are, so to speak, camouflaged by the lack of contrast between them and what we think about blindness anyway.  Thus what takes place is an unconscious process of reinforcement.  We read the Bible in the light of our cultural construct of blindness, which is at the same time replicated and reinforced by what we read. 

 

One might suppose that the moment one goes blind the truth of this collaboration in prejudice would become apparent.  One might imagine that a blind person reading the Bible would quickly detect the disparaging identification of blindness with ignorance, unbelief and sin, but recognition and identification seldom take place with such immediacy and such simplicity.  The blind person does not recognise the images any more than the sighted person does, and rather than pointing to the Bible as the source of the oppression, the blind reader points to himself or herself as the person described in the Bible. The blind person reads that Jesus called sighted people blind fools.  The blind person, especially the blind religious person, does not usually think that Jesus should not have used such language because blind people are not necessarily fools.  On the contrary, the blind Christian simply accepts what Jesus said.

 

The educational implications of this situation for both blind and sighted people are far-reaching.  It is essential  to develop a critical metaphorical awareness of the biblical text, which is contrary to the literalness too often preferred by the devotional reader of the bible.

 

  This attitude toward blindness has been constructed not only by the Bible but  by the self-enclosure of sighted people. It can be deconstructed by helping sighted people not to be enclosed within their sighted world.  This can be attempted through helping both blind and sighted people to realise their own unconscious constructs.  The techniques of personal construct psychology such as the pyramid grid are useful ways of doing this.[19]  Next, these constructs, having been brought to the surface, can be placed against the images and presuppositions of the Bible.  This involves a deconstruction of the cultural artefact through which we read the Bible, and also at a deeper level a reconstruction of the cultural artefact of the sighted world out of which the Bible came in the first place.

 

The Christian education of blind and sighted people in particular, and of so-called able-bodied and disabled people in more general terms is very much in need of such a liberating pedagogy.  As a result of such a process, blind people, whether religious or not, will be able to live with more self-respect and self-understanding.

  If sighted people can learn to adapt to the needs of blind people without patronising them, and if blind people can learn to accept sighted people without manipulating them, the new relationship of mutual acceptance between blind and sighted will have become a utopian whisper of a new world.

Section 3.2.

   Implications for a Theology of Blindness

At a conference where I had spoken about a biblical theology of blindness I was the object of a very funny satire which was presented to the members of the conference during a concert on the final evening.  My good natured critic, much to the amusement of everyone, proposed a theology of baldness, which would be inspired by my approach.  He presented several passages from the Bible which suggested a prejudice against bald people.  The bald Samson was a weak Samson; the boys ridiculed Elisha by shouting out "Get out, you bald head!" and in general, hair is regarded as an ornament and crowning beauty, hence to be without hair was to be dehumanised and ugly.

 

This clever parody made me re-examine my view of blindness. By identifying in detail the particular characteristics of one condition or another, we begin to grasp the fact that some human conditions are so radically different that they create different worlds.[20] A state of human life is a condition sufficiently distinct from others, and sufficiently radical to create its own world. Being a child is such a state, and male and female are also such states. A theology of blindness, or of any other major disability, may then be thought of as a theology of the states of life. Its theological antecedent may be found in the French school of mysticism in the 17th century associated with Pierre Bérulle.[21]  The human states are not so foreign to each other that mutual understanding is impossible, but on the other hand they are sufficiently distinct to create real challenges to self-enclosure.  Such states are generated through a combination of physical and social characteristics, and the balance between the physical and the social may well vary.  Skin colour can produce such states, and in societies which are acutely conscious of pigmentation there can be more than a dozen distinct social groups, each identified by a different skin colour.[22] However radical the different experience of life is for black and white people, this difference is the product of imperialism and has no secure ground in physiology as such.   Speaking purely psychologically, black and white people may experience life in very much the same sort of way.  That is not true of childhood, since although childhood is very largely a cultural artefact,[23]  there are necessary biological and developmental factors which would constitute childhood as a distinct state no matter what the character of the cultural construct.

 

The difference between a state and a non-state will be a matter of criteria which will be arranged along a continuum.  Blindness is undoubtedly a state of human life, since blind people live in a world of experience which is radically different from that in which sighted people live.[24]  The same may be said, perhaps even more emphatically, of the world of the profoundly deaf person.  Adults who do not grow taller than three foot six have an experience of adult life which is so radically different that this condition may be said to be world-creating, but to be a bit on the short side is not the same.  It is a sliding scale.  In a society of equal opportunities between men and women, the degree to which gender is a world-generating state will be somewhat minimised, although never entirely absent, but in societies where there is rigid gender stereotyping, the world of women may be very different from that of men.[25]

 

Baldness is not a world-creating condition in our society.  It is an attribute of a world but not a world.  It may be regarded as a loss, perhaps an embarrassment, and if it is the result of a loss of hair following chemotherapy, baldness could be a cause of acute distress.  Nevertheless, it remains a distressing feature of the sufferer's ordinary world, and does not throw him or her into the sort of reconstruction of reality which is necessitated by becoming paralysed from the neck down, for example.

 

A theology of blindness is an example of what might be called a theology of states or conditions.  It is similar to and yet different from feminist and black theologies.  Like them, it will have both negative and positive aspects; it will both denounce and announce.[26] A theology of blindness will try to expose and denounce the negative imagery which flows from the sighted world,[27] and it will at the same time try to relativise the taken-for-granted assumption of the sighted world that the sighted reality is absolute.  Being sighted is also a state. 

 

Next, a theology of blindness will be constructive.  It will propose that blind people reflect the image of God in their very blindness.  It will show that the metaphor of blindness suggests in a positive way the essential characteristics of the life of faith.  From a theology of blindness we can derive practical suggestions about social and political life.  These might include the techniques of taking one step at a time, and concentrating on the concrete particularities of  an otherwise overwhelmingly abstract problem.  A theology of blindness like any theology of disability will challenge prevailing concepts about what is normal.  The traditional view is that when the Kingdom of God comes, the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will be unstopped, and the lame person will jump like a deer.  A theology of blindness will show that instead of contemplating utopia in terms of a convergence upon a single image of normality, what we must converge upon is a wider acceptance of  varieties as being normal.[28] Normality must become inclusive.  This will lead us into a critique of other forms of exclusion, including the most powerful of all, the exclusion of the poor by the rich.  In some such way, a theology of blindness will offer a utopian promise of universal liberation.[29]

 

 

 

Note: I am grateful to the St Peter’s (Saltley) Trust whose generous grant enabled the production of this study.



[1] John M. Hull, Hellenistic Magic and the Synoptic Tradition (London: SCM), 1974.

[2]E.g. E.S. Johnson ‘Mark x:46-52 Blind Bartimaeus’, Catholic Biblical Quarterly Vol 40 (1978) pp. 191-204.

[3] Paul Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (Forth Worth: Texas Christian University, 1976), pp. 36f.

[4] The result is a hermeneutic similar to that which Kwok Pui-Lan describes as 'the Bible as a talking book'.  Kwok Pui-Lan, Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1995), pp. 40-43.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, The Bible and Post-Modern Imagination: Texts Under Negotiation (London: SCM, 1993).

[6] R.S. Sugirtharajah, Voices From the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World   (London: SPCK, 1995).

[7] Jürgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests  (London: Heinemann, Educational, 1978).

[8] Michel Pêcheux, Language, Semantics and Ideology: Stating the Obvious  (London: Macmillan, 1982).

[9] Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action (Volumes 1 and 2. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984, 1987).

[10] George Thompson, The First Philosophers (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1955), pp. 333ff.  Ernst Bloch, Atheism in Christianity: The Religion of the Exodus and the Kingdom (New York: Heider, 1972).

 

 

 

 

 

[11] E.S. Johnson ‘Mark vii: 22-26 The Blind Man from Bethsaida’, New Testament Studies 25 (1978), pp. 370-383.

[12] J.M. Lieu ‘Blindness in the Johannine Tradition’, New Testament Studies  34 (1988), pp. 83-95.

[13] Eleftheria A. Bernidaki-Aldous, Blindness in a Culture of Light (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1990); William R. Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism and the Blind in France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987); D. Kent,  'Shackled Imagination - Literary Illusions about Blindness’, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 83,  no.3 (1989), pp.145-50.

[14] The COBUILD Bank of English held in the University of Birmingham contained more than 750 examples of the word 'blind' from the pages of the Guardian newspaper on 23/10/98.  Of these, only 45% are literal.  In all but one or two cases, the remaining metaphorical uses are negative towards blindness.  13% emphasize blindness as ignorance, 12% as deliberate indifference, 28% as culpable ignorance (often severe and violent), and .02% refer to callous indifference.  The remaining 15% are miscellaneous negative expressions.  We read of 'blind and insensitive planning', 'blind blithering arrogance', and 'sheer blind obsessiveness'.  What use does the word blind serve in these expressions?  None, except for providing the satisfaction of using as an expletive a human condition the name of which happens to begin with the letter b.  These comments are not a criticism of the Guardian.  On the contrary, if a socially aware newspaper such as this expresses the negative image so vigorously, we may assume it to be used with less sensitivity elsewhere.

[15] A. Wagner-Lam and G.W. Oliver, 'Folklore of Blindness' , Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 88, no.3 (1994), pp. 367-276.

[16] Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 1962), pp. 81f.

[17] It is significant that prophets and evangelists have often sought to establish their credentials by healing or attempting to heal blind people.  An example is the attempt of the millenarian prophet Richard Brothers to heal the blind in 1788. See J.F.C. Harrison, The Second Coming: Popular Millenarianism, 1780-1850  (London: RKP, 1979).

[18] Gabriel Farrell, The Story of Blindness (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), p.150;  William R. Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism and the Blind in France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), p.8.

[19] Alvin Landfield & Franz R. Epting, Personal Construct Psychology, Clinical and Personality Assessment (London: Human Sciences Press, 1986).

[20] An outstanding medical psychologist, whose detailed observations have helped us to realise the character of these human states is Oliver Sacks. See especially his Awakenings, (London: Duckworth, 1973),  A Leg to Stand On  (London: Duckworth, 1984) and Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (London: Picador, 1991).

[21] A state is a feature of the life or being of Jesus which is 'concrete, permanent and independent of powers and actions, imprinted in the depths of the created being and in the condition of its state'.  Henri Brémond, A Literary History of Religious Thought in France, Vol.III.  The Triumph of Mysticism, (London: SPCK, 1936), p.56.  States are 'modes of being'. See  Eugene A. Walsh The Priesthood in the Writings of the French School (Washington D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 1949), p.7.

[22] In Haiti pigmentations may be significant by a ratio of 127:1 parts white to black.  In other words, if a person has one black ancestor seven generations earlier he or she can be categorised accordingly.  Thomas H. Eriksen, Ethnicity & Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives, (London: Pluto, 1993), pp.63f.

[23] Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood, (London: Cape, 1962).

[24] I have explored this theme in some detail in On Sight and Insight: a Journey into the World of Blindness (Oxford: One World, ).

[25] John Gledhill, Power and Its Disguises, Anthropological Perspectives on Politics (London: Pluto, 1994), pp.34-38.

[26] Paulo Freire. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London: Sheed & Ward, 1972), p.76 and The Politics of Education (London: Macmillan, 1985), p.57.

[27] Many examples could be provided to illustrate the negative image which blindness has in the Christian theological tradition.  The sermon 'Christ the Light of the World' by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is full of negative images of blindness.  Wilson Kimnack (ed.) Jonathan Edwards: Sermons and Discourses 1720-23 (Yale University Press, 1992), p.535ff.

[28] Jane Wallman, Disability as Hermeneutic: Towards a Theology of Community. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, University of Birmingham, School of Education 2000; for other recent writings on theology and disability, see Judith Z. Abrams, Judaism and Disability (Washington D.C: Gallandet University Press, 1998) and David A. Pailin, A Gentle Touch: From a Theology of Handicap to a Theology of Human Being (London: SPCK, 1992) and for a recent philosophical treatment Bryan Magee On Blindness: Letters Between Bryan Magee and Martin Milligan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

[29] I have tried to suggest the utopian symbolism of blindness in the postscripts of On Sight and Insight, p. 233f.

 

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