“Maybe we ought to feel bad…”

“Kite,” by Brian Kershisnik

Part 5 of my series, “Intellectual disability in Mormon thought…”

We’ve been tying intellectual disability to the issue of “accountability,” and thus the scriptures which discuss little children, since the 1830s. Explicit discussion about intellectual disabilities in the eternal scheme of things went under the radar for the next century for reasons I attempt to outline in my thesis. But when the subject cropped back up again we picked up right where we’d left off. Bruce R. McConkie took the time in his Mormon Doctrine to add an entry on “Idiocy.” It simply said “See YEARS OF ACCOUNTABILITY.”1 This not only reminds us of the longevity of a by-then outdated term, but indicates that intellectual disability was at least on McConkie’s radar enough to merit inclusion. People with intellectual disabilities also play a supporting role in his 1977 Ensign article, “The Salvation of Little Children“:

What about the mentally deficient? It is with them as it is with little children. They never arrive at the years of accountability and are considered as though they were little children. If because of some physical deficiency, or for some other reason unknown to us, they never mature in the spiritual and moral sense, then they never become accountable for sins. They need no baptism; they are alive in Christ; and they will receive, inherit, and possess in eternity on the same basis as do all children.

McConkie’s discussion of intellectual disability does not appear to recognize degrees or different types. His definition of the “mentally deficient” is tautological.

Earlier in the article McConkie wonders if it is fair for little children to skip out on a mortal probation. Wouldn’t we all be better off dying young?

President Joseph Fielding Smith once told me that we must assume that the Lord knows and arranges beforehand who shall be taken in infancy and who shall remain on earth to undergo whatever tests are needed in their cases….It is implicit in the whole scheme of things that those of us who have arrived at the years of accountability need the tests and trials to which we are subject and that our problem is to overcome the world and attain that spotless and pure state which little children already possess.

Importantly, McConkie avoids explicit reference to the premortal life as an explanation for “their cases.” But he says it is “implicit” that people who don’t die young must need to encounter the trials of mortality. He refers to Joseph Smith’s teaching that many are “taken away in infancy that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth.”2 If this is so, how can it be the case that the “mentally deficient” are equated to “little children” who die before the age of accountability? Were they somehow less pure or lovely than little children who die, but slightly more pure and lovely than those born without obvious disabilities? At the same time, McConkie accidentally leaves the door open to the question of moral and intellectual development of people with disabilities. Can they still be considered to be experiencing mortality for the purpose of learning and growth? These questions create tensions when vestigial remnants of Joseph Smith’s teachings are placed alongside newer theological developments which were not originally discussed by Joseph. More often, they simply remain unacknowledged.

Although McConkie avoided directly attributing mental deficiency to premortal actions or decisions, BYU’s Andrew C. Skinner was less reticent in his 2005 book The Garden Tomb. Citing Elder McConkie, Skinner explains: “The same principles of resurrection and exaltation that apply to little children who die before the age of accountability also apply to those who are mentally handicapped or developmentally challenged in mortality.” Skinner asserts this reveals the meaning and message of Easter as the triumphant victory of Christ over sin and death. (McConkie’s Ensign piece was likewise written for Easter.) Skinner hedges, but still goes beyond McConkie by filling in the gap regarding why people are disabled:

What a different perspective we are given when we begin to understand more fully the Father’s eternal plan, his mercy and goodness, and the incomparable power of the Son’s atonement. Indeed, I am persuaded that we may have gotten some things backwards. Instead of feeling sorry for those who struggle with developmental disabilities, maybe we ought to feel bad that we weren’t more valiant in our premortal life and thereby worthy of the same immediate guarantee of exaltation that is given to little children and individuals with developmental challenges.3

Perhaps this isn’t the worst usage of premortality we’ve tried. Premortal valiance (or rather, the lack of it) was, of course, a fairly common explanation given for excluding blacks from the priesthood and the temple for quite some time. For Skinner, it is the premortally righteous ones, not the fence-sitters, who receive a physical mark on earth. But again, how can this claim be reconciled with Smith’s teaching that those who are too pure are taken from this wicked world before the age of accountability? Skinner is essentially claiming that if a person lives a long life as a disabled person, or dies as a child, the work required of “normal” adults must have already been completed; that way there are no exaltation freebies. We should feel bad that we are actually the developmentally delayed ones.

Of course, no record shows Smith himself teaching this etiology.  Perhaps this accounts for the rhetorical hedging above, the “I am persuaded,” “we must assume,” “it is implicit,” and “for some other reason unknown to us.” But the idea that people with intellectual disabilities are actually advanced premortal intelligences has apparently provided comfort to some family members, or to church members in general who would otherwise struggle to confront what seems to them to be a tragedy. On the other hand, these premortal speculations have not always been enthusiastically embraced by all members of the Church. In my study of various theological negotiations regarding intellectual disabilities I’ve struggled to analyze such claims while recognizing that they are desperately beloved by some and vehemently rejected by others:

I have a toddler with Down syndrome, and I utterly reject the he’s-retarded-because-he-was-extra-righteous concept. Such reasoning separates people like my son from the rest of us, and that’s unfair. He’s a person. He’s fundamentally the same as you and me. And apparently that’s a deeply uncomfortable truth for us to swallow.

And we’re scared stiff by random nature, so we come up with lines like “special kids come to special parents.” But how many of us want to be this special? (And if this were true, why are 90% of fetuses with DS aborted?)

I had someone tell me an anecdote about a Stake President “prophesying” that people like my son cast Satan out of heaven with their superpowers, and thus came to earth unaccountable so that Satan couldn’t get his revenge.

People, don’t perpetuate this crap, or anything like unto it. We don’t know why some people have Down syndrome and some don’t.

We think it’s such a tragedy for a child to have DS that we come up with an excuse for God. This only betrays our terrible prejudice. Labeling people as superhuman is just as discriminatory as labeling them subhuman.

Suggesting that my son is here simply to coast through life and be a lesson to others is an insult. He is here to learn and grow, just like the rest of us. If his accountability is limited or even nonexistent, that doesn’t neuter his mortal experience.

*climbs off soapbox*4

McConkie focuses mostly on a guaranteed future exaltation while Skinner more directly accounts for that future by pointing to a veiled premortality. By drawing such a stark boundary between “normal” people and “developmentally challenged” people, both of these good-intentioned theologians may be overlooking the very real, very mortal, very earthy and ongoing experiences of people with various disabilities. Perhaps even people like me and you.

Footnotes:

1. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1966), 372, 852. His entry on “Insanity” does the same. If anyone out there has a 1st edition and can see if this entry is also there I’d appreciate it.

2. McConkie refers to the polished version in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1977), 196–97. See the original notes in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 106-107.

3. Andrew C. Skinner, The Garden Tomb (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), emphasis mine.

4. Kathryn Lynard Soper, Comment #52, in response to Nate Oman’s “Mormonism’s Poisoned Theodicy,” timesandseasons.org, January 30, 2008. I try to uncover the origins of the “casting Satan out” folklore in my thesis, too.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Skinner, McConkie and JFS all seem to be grasping frantically in an effort to make sense of this. And I think it highlights the power of folk reasoning withing Mormon thought.

  2. To borrow from Feminism, “The height of the pedestal reveals the depth of the problem.”

  3. This brings into sharp relief how much of Mormonism’s 19th theology (with a few exceptions) was geared toward white Mormon men. Once you varied from that…women, “lamanites,” blacks, children, those with disabilities, to name a few of prominent “other” groups…the theology gets slippery, with makeshift patches made for questions that turned into folk doctrines.

  4. Stapley: “I think it highlights the power of folk reasoning withing Mormon thought.”

    …which makes it all the more interesting to me that the institutional church through the Handbook of Instructions currently tries to discourage such claims. But the discouragement doesn’t come in direct opposition to particular claims, but simply says leaders shouldn’t call it a blessing or a curse.

  5. marginalizedmormon says:

    LDS culture/organization is geared towards people with intellectual capacity. I know. Having someone very near to me who is ‘challenged’ cognitively–

    I believe he/she either accepted this challenge in order to grow in a particular way or–

    well, that is what I believe. The hardest thing for us has been to watch how he/she is treated by the culture in which we nurtured him/her. It’s a heavy rejection.

    Thanks for the read.

    Thought-provoking.

    I do believe my loved one is ‘choice’, but I don’t think that the choiceness brought the trial–

  6. If we are to “feel bad” that we aren’t disabled or gone before accountability because our righteousness was not enough, then one could argue that those leaders and prophets like Joseph Smith himself should never have lived. We deny ourselves the privilege of having righteous leaders.

    Joseph’s statement on premortal righteousness was a hope and a speculation. He explicitly stated that it is not doctrine.

    We must remember that there are two things that affect us: how we were before this life, and what difficulties we face being born on a fallen earth. Things just happen when we have mortality; physical issues, mental issues, emotional challenges; it’s what this life is about! We should never feel bad about how we were before; we should follow the gospel and commandments that tell us that when we follow in righteousness, we can be exalted. All have the opportunity.

  7. D. Wood: I think what we’re seeing is early attempts at “best-case anthropology,” with Anglo Saxon (Israelite) lineage being constructed as the apotheosis of human development on a trajectory to Godhood, who is “an exalted man enthroned in yonder heavens,” to borrow a phrase from JS. Armand Mauss traces the importance of “lineage” in Mormon thought from the 19th century to the present. He basically argues that factors like missionary success helped determine which races/ethnicities Mormons identified as Abraham’s seed. Mauss argues that the missionary impulse forced Mormons to encounter circumstances which challenged racialist explanations for ethnic diversity in the world and ultimately overturned claims such as that dark skin would turn light: “This purging of the preoccupation with lineage has been the gift of the world’s peoples to Mormonism” (All Abraham’s Children, 268). The best-case anthropology to which humanity is progressing in the plan of salvation now refers to more than the Anglo-Saxon House of Israel, it includes any and all peoples.

    If Mormonism has been overcoming past racialist understanding, we retain the best-case anthropology elements which view physical and mental disabilities as unwanted, tragic, and ultimately to be overcome. We also tend to disassociate such things from ourselves, except to the extent that they might teach us a lesson about charity or some such. In other words, we overlook our own present and likely future disabilities.

  8. #5, mm- “I believe he/she either accepted this challenge in order to grow in a particular way”

    The notion of a premortal selection of disabilities dates back at least to 1914 in a first-hand fashion (in a book which dates the idea to the 1850s). This is another theological move Mormons make drawing on tradition and scripture, although it’s not explicitly advanced in official Church publications.

    Marc, #6: We must remember that there are two things that affect us: how we were before this life, and what difficulties we face being born on a fallen earth.

    You raise two theological moves Mormons use to account for disability: premortal capabilities/decisions, and the risks of being born into mortal bodies on a “fallen earth.” This second move is interesting to me. I’m still trying to trace its origin and the circumstances surrounding it. Basically I try to think about why a certain theological option appears at any given point in time. What cultural assumptions create the theological pressure points which demand an answer? What cultural views make one particular answer seem more persuasive than another? So far, (and this is very preliminary) it seems to me that attributing disability to the vicissitudes of a fallen earth only became salient to the degree that intellectual disability was understood as being naturally caused, apart from the moral culpability of parents. At the turn of the twentieth century mental disability was linked to bad genes and immoral behavior–intemperance, sexual promiscuity, abortion, prostitution, etc. (This is why Mormons were disincentivized from drawing attention to disability within the community until the mid-20th century). As modern medicine increasingly disconnected disability from any particular moral decision (ie, attributing it to faulty chromosomes, accidents, contaminants, etc.), Mormons have increasingly been willing to highlight the basic risks of living on an imperfect earth as an explanation for disability, rather than being the result of any deliberate sin or choice. Still, some Mormons are more inclined to see the hand of Providence in even these seemingly random occurrences than others. What’s especially interesting is that I don’t think Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, and other leaders who were disinclined to accept scientific trends about human evolution which informed ideas about disability (inheritance, apparently random selection, etc.) ever appealed to the fallen earth idea. I’ve only peripherally examined the data from that period though.

  9. DOLLY WRIGHT says:

    Thank you for this series. I’m always attracted to writings and actions that give voice and perspective to the individual and collective lives of people who cannot do it for themselves. Reminds me of the atonement.

  10. Quoting from the post: “But the idea that people with intellectual disabilities are actually advanced premortal intelligences has apparently provided comfort to some family members, or to church members in general who would otherwise struggle to confront what seems to them to be a tragedy.”

    That is the rationale for many teachings given us by (supposedly God, in the scriptures), our prophets, and apostles down through history. It is a relatively worthy justification–though not always–for teaching things either untrue or not really understood by the teacher–from ambiguous half-truths to outright falsehoods. Lying (defined as anything less than the full truth and nothing but the truth) is well-established and well-accepted as the better course by doctors, parents, and leaders of all types of organizations/communities (See: “Lying:Moral Choice, Public, Private. By Sissela Bok).

    I am quite willing to believe that these many teachers have taught us personal beliefs they may have even thought came from God. But, still, not true. One of my favorites is the completely illogical notion (Joseph F. Smith ?) that babies/children that die will wait in the afterlife as little children to be raised by their worthy parents (so be sure and stay worthy). Are they kept in complete unconscious stasis for 70+ years? What a waste of their time! What about their needs as individuals to learn and grow and be of service–to become like Christ, etc.? Similarly, the notion that our ancestors are stalled in the Spirit World waiting for us to complete the necessary, saving ordinances for them before they can go “on”!

    However, I would propose that simple logic (accepting my premises) clarifies the issue from the post (mentally disabled, unaccountable individuals are being given a blessing for their valiance in their previous existence).

    The premises…
    1-Agency is the law/principle (uncreated, not a gift from God) that is the mechanism by which we change ourselves (our character, our righteousness) in a positive or negative direction. It is our “will.” It is completely internal and not a function of some mystical power. It is inherent in humans of sufficient sentience.

    2-We are agents unto ourselves. We are solely responsible for the state of our righteousness (our character) at any point in time so long as we can “exercise” our Agency. You may recall Victor Frankel, a concentration camp victim of the Nazis. He wrote that although he had no freedom he always had a choice of how to feel about his treatment. Lack of knowledge (…of Good and Evil…the allegorical Garden of Eden dilemma) is the only condition under which our Agency is not active. We are then said to be “unaccountable.” Side note: Since the only “accounting” is the state of our character at any point in time, the only “record” being kept in the “Book of Life” is contained within the state of our character. There is no “day of judgement” when the “books will be opened.”

    Therefore, children too young or too disabled to know/understand “knowledge” and thereby use their will to become of higher or lower character/righteousness (kindness, honesty, etc.) have no Agency.

    There are certainly degrees of understanding. By definition if the actions and intents of a person are changing the nature/state of their character it is (intrinsically) because of their inherent Agency. The changes in our character “account” for such conscious choices and intents. Early church leaders chose the age of 8. In normal children, such maturity/”accountability” can occur earlier or later.

    And now my leap (rather than give pages of more such thinking and logic). If the reality of our existence includes my premises 1 and 2, why would God be controlling the nature and events of our lives here in the mortal state? Why would he need to have an individual plan for each of us–which is a widely-taught belief? Mortal life will present us with sufficient (or more than sufficient) challenges, tests, trials, etc. to “overcome” and thereby grow. We will exacerbate or alleviate the degree of many of these potential challenges through the quality of our life choices. Or, is He teaching us in the pre-mortal life: Be sufficiently good and valiant here and I will arrange for you to have either an early death or be born into a severely mentally handicapped body–and that will a be a great growth experience for your parents and loved ones.

    It seems to me that it is very helpful (emotionally, psychologically) to believe that He has planned our particular trials and will intervene (blessings) if we do what is required to receive a particular reward (or “award” as Stirling W. Sill called them). But, as with all helpful “lies,” that benefit doesn’t make it true.

  11. Thanks for the comment, fbisti. One reason I wouldn’t use the word “lie” is because that word usually connotes intentional deceit. (Your typical dictionary def. bears this out, I’d guess.) Other than that I think your line of thought here is similar to what people like Skinner have been doing: reasoning from assumed premises to arrive at resolutions to theological puzzles. (The genesis of folklore?) In these cases (Skinner, McConkie) the exercise seems to be undertaken for devotional, homiletic, reassuring, pastoral reasons (you mention emotional/psychological benefits).

    It’s interesting to me that such pastoral concerns were entirely absent in the earliest published discussions of idiocy in Mormonism. I argue this is so in part because the “plan of salvation” as we’ve come to understand it created new theological pressure points compared to what the earliest Mormons were dealing with.

  12. In previous decades, the medical community would blame all sorts of things on parents. Developmental delays, speech delays, autistic conditions, all were due to cold parenting or mistakes on the part of the parents.

    The doctors would actually say this to the parents. When my aunt died of a congenital heart defect and heart infection in the 1950s, the doctor told my grandmother that it was her fault since she didn’t take her daughter in to the hospital sooner. She had to deal with the burden of guilt her entire life even though there was absolutely nothing the hospital could have done in the 1950s to save my aunt’s life. (But how could my grandmother have known this in the days before the internet.)

    When one of my uncles had a speech delay, the doctor told my grandmother it was her fault because she was a cold parent, totally disregarding the glaring illogic of that statement since she had several other children with normal speech patterns.

    These experiences are unfortunately typical. Chances are high, especially if you’re looking at the disability community in decades past, that parents have been told — either directly or indirectly — that they are to blame for their child’s condition.

    (By now this comment may seem rather tangential to the original post, but it isn’t.)

    Saying that a child was especially valiant in the preexistence is another way of blaming the parents. It’s telling them, once again, that they are to blame for the situation. Something they did or their child did created this hardship.

    (And hardship it is. There are physical, financial, social, and emotional hardships. And not inconsequentially, having a child with a disability means a lifetime of grieving the “what-ifs.” The grief is not always acute. We adapt. In time we step back from the edge of the grief, but it’s still there, lurking a little ways away like a huge dark canyon, but since we can’t live on the edge, we learn to live with it.)

    Blame is one of the five stages of grief (the five stages of grief apply to receiving diagnoses, NOT to grieving a death) and it can be damaging for someone to reinforce what the parents are already telling themselves, that they are somehow to blame.

  13. Thank you, Amy T. I agree that your remarks aren’t tangential. It’s absolutely true that parents were blamed for disabled children. The fact that blaming needs to happen at all indicates the level of discomfort people feel when faced with disabilities. Interestingly, the blaming often followed prescribed gender roles. Fathers were blamed either for providing faulty heredity in general, or they were blamed on the grounds that they drank alcohol, or smoked, or were sexually promiscuous, thus resulting in defective sperm, etc. Mothers were more often blamed for problems regarding the nurturing of children, as you said, cold parenting, etc.

  14. Amy T makes a good point about vicarious trauma and existential anxiety caused by the presence of Disability in the Plan of Salvation even for temporarily-able-bodied (TABs in Disability discourse) souls; this is laid bare by all the attempts to distance ourselves through shoddy treatment/outright neglect, flimsy folk rhetoric, &c. Blair, you work will go a long way toward explaining why the doctrine is relevant to everyone, regardless of the hand they were dealt.

  15. I do think it’s important for people to realize that some of their religious ideas sound, practically speaking, like they are blaming the parents.

    And here are some more notes.

    My family does not belong to the intellectually disabled community; by virtue of the birth of my youngest child, we belong to the heart community. By “heart community,” I mean the medical and support and advocacy groups surrounding single-ventricle congenital heart defects. These conditions are colloquially called “half a heart.” Only one side of the heart works, so parents either agree to termination after a prenatal diagnosis, allow the child to die shortly after birth, or put the child through a series of three or more open-heart surgeries that reroute the circulation.

    Although not involving the same theological issues, many of the issues of grief and the search for meaning in the heart community are similar to those in the intellectual-disability community. (Don’t miss Kathryn L. Soper’s amazing book Gifts.)

    There are a handful of religious sentiments that are shared frequently within the heart community by Mormons and non-Mormons alike, and are felt to be helpful by many parents. I’ll paste in a much-loved little story. (Normally I don’t do kitsch, but this is one exception.)

    It’s A Beautiful Day Up in Heaven

    It’s a beautiful day up in heaven. Jesus is rounding up his tiniest angels to go live on earth and be born. One of the sweetest angels says to Jesus, “I don’t want to leave. I like it here and I will miss you.” He reassures the scared little angel that everything will be okay and that he is just going for a visit.

    He is still not swayed on this idea so Jesus kneels down and says, “How about if you leave half of your heart here with me and take the other half with you. Will that be okay?” The angel smiles and says, “I guess that will work.” But the little angel is still a little scared. He asks, “Will I be okay with only half of my heart?” Jesus replies, “Of course you will. I have other angels there that will help out, and you will be fine.”

    Then Jesus gives the angel more details about his plan. He says, “When you are born your mommy will be scared so you have to be strong, and when you feel weak just remember that I have the other half of your heart. Enjoy your time with your family, play and laugh everyday. And when its time to come back to heaven, I will make your heart whole again. Always remember that you are not broken, just torn between two loves.”

    And here is a link to a couple of poems by the “poet laureate” of the heart community, Stephanie Husted. (In her first poem, “angel” means a child who has died. Hearing that news is a regular occurrence in the heart community.)

    http://emmajanae.blogspot.com/p/poems-and-songs-for-hlhs-babies.html

    And one last note. From my six years in the heart community, I’ve learned that people often have very precious spiritual experiences associated with the death or disability of their children. We hold these experiences close to our hearts, and are particularly unlikely to mention them to people who have offered platitudes or have wounded us in some way (saying “let me know what I can do” and then disappearing, offering doctrinal speculations that contradict the parents’ spiritual experiences, etc.). I have great hope that the internet will continue to allow useful conversations among and between the intellectually-disabled, medically-disabled, and normally-abled communities that will lead to greater understanding and improve all our lives, including matters spiritual and ecclesiastical.

  16. AnnE and Amy T, thanks for bringing your voices here.

  17. We are all broken, so it seems somewhat foolish to engage in discussion about who might be more or less broken and why. In any case, our working definition of “accountable” is untenably imprecise and non-insightful. Sometimes it’s a dichotomy, other times it’s a continuum, and in both cases there is poor agreement on whether, and how, movement between extremes might occur. And all this trouble is before we even get into necessary and sufficient conditions for accountability. As for myself, I can’t even decide if I’m accountable for not coming up with better ideas on accountability than I have. The whole mental model the idea creates feels off to me, I think, because it relies heavily on a notion of choice that is not well delineated or, in my opinion, well founded. In my own mind, I conscientiously opt for an organic growth model, similar to how a gardener might view a crop of tomato plants. Some plants, for a wide variety of reasons, grow larger than others, but it would not make sense to hold the smaller plants “accountable” for their limited growth. I don’t have any idea how agency fits into this, but if you can offer me a solid definition of choice that precisely separates, say, my decision to order a vanilla shake from my proclivity for vanilla, and my buzz cut from my receding hairline, etc. then you’re a better thinker than I.

  18. BHodges. Thanks for your comment #11. I agree that “lie” has too strong a “deceit” connotation for it to be used cavalierly. In a positive sense (as much as that is possible to say), “deceit” is simply a word long connected to selfish motives, but it also includes knowingly not telling the truth for “good” motives. With regard to church leaders and God (assuming He had anything to do with what we term “scripture” and its many falsehoods), such motives are rarely the case (with pronouncements and teachings to the body of the church).

    I can see that you are, here at least, engaged in a scholar-like examination of the roots and origins of much of our Mormon doctrine and theology. That is laudable, and useful for gaining more understanding of how we got how we “were” and how we “are” now in the 21st Century.

    However (alert: thread jack) It does little for my personal, and not fully mature resentment of having been manipulated, propagandized, and indoctrinated for so long (over 50 years since I became “accountable”) by the “one true church.”. A famous quote comes to mind… “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” So, regardless of the motives, I see it as “not true” in the most complete meaning of the word true.

    Yes, I know, ranting again, thread-jack. I haven’t thrown out the baby. But, the bath water is still very turgid with (insert your own here). In my words, I maintain that ours is in truth the church of Christ, but the Church is not “true”–that standard is too high and we humans “can’t handle the truth.”

  19. it's a series of tubes says:

    my personal, and not fully mature resentment of having been manipulated, propagandized, and indoctrinated for so long

    That’s odd. It certainly doesn’t come through in your postings.

  20. No prob, fbisti. I guess the main reason I wouldn’t use lie or deceit in regards to these folks is because I think they really do believe that what they are saying is in some sense true, representative of reality, etc.

  21. “Series of tubes” # 19…If I correctly grasp the meaning of your comment (it could be read as innocent, or not). Let me clarify that my having such resentment is not fully mature, not fully adult.. The resentment itself is quite ripe and mature.

  22. Blair, Mormon Doctrine 1st ed. has the same “see …” references for “Idiocy” and “Insanity.” I don’t have a recent edition to compare the wording in the entry on “Years of Accountability” but the 1st ed. does match what you’ve said here about that entry.

  23. “Perhaps even people like me and you.”

    Thanks for bringing this up. I think we often fit our theologies to popular diagnoses and classifications, forgetting everything’s a spectrum; we all could be called disabled somehow. If you extend the logic you’ve described beyond clinically disabled people, does it mean that the inventors, the scientists, the entrepreneurs, the literary masters were the most wicked in the pre-earth life, while the average Joe was somewhat more righteous? (Ironically, the anti-intellectualist streak that often affects Mormons would probably be gratified by that speculation.)

  24. Ardis, very awesome, thank you for that. I figured it had to be in that earlier edition based on the term itself. Even by then it was a bit out of date, but to put it in the 1960s edition for the first time would have been especially strange. I think it stands as a good example of something in MD that was, even at the time of its publication, out of its time.

  25. Any attempt to try and explain why some people were born with an intellectual disability and others starts from a flawed premise that persons with an intellectual disability are a homogenous group. Consider that:

    Intellectual disability can be used to describe people with Down syndrome, Traumatic Brain Injury, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alzheimer’s or as a result of the Whooping cough.
    Intellectual disability can be a genetic condition, occur during pregnancy, at birth, or occur at any point in life for a variety of reasons.
    A person with an intellectual disability may require intermittent or significant support.

    Any individual may receive personal revelation about the cause of disability in their own life, but to try to generalize that rationale to others just because they share a general characteristics just doesn’t make sense.

    Even to compare people with intellectual disabilities to children can be problematic. While there may be general similarities between the intellect of some people with disabilities and some children- there are also often significant differences (life experience, desires, peer relationships).

    Blair, your attempt to understand why and how so many of these urban legends exist is helpful- there are reasons people feel a need to come up with these explanations. If we can better understand those needs then we can do a better job as a community of saints in knowing how to support one another.

  26. I think the underlying assumptions that support the current interpretation is that as Mormons we believe in bodies as not being innately bad/evil/wrong, but surely this can’t the case when we’re talking about handicap ones. There must be some direct connection to the createdness from God to account for this, this couldn’t be part of “his plan”. This couldn’t have been the process that he allowed for the creation of the world where we would all be subjected to the natural processes of the material world.

    And of course are modern sensibilities reject the notion of the parents since — after all we’re punishable for our own sins and not Adam’s transgressions — then they must be to blame. Of course this gets flipped upside down to sugar coat it and its really a good thing but its the same logic.

  27. Well put, Christopher. I hope to address those issues in an afterword an in a later project after I’ve done the historical overview. Those considerations only barely fit into the very last part of the overview because official Mormon sources haven’t given them due attention until recently, and even then we have room to grow! I’m optimistic though.

    Thanks Carey. I think you’re right that our efforts to view the body in a positive way creates tensions when we think about disabilities of all sorts. The “best-case anthropology” that we tend to accept makes it hurt all the more when we don’t measure up.

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