On being special

May 13, 2008 | Human Life | 43 comments

The other day I saw an interesting lesson on the children’s show Ni Hao, Kai-Lan. (Not that I ever let my children watch television. When my kids get restless we take nature walks and do educational arts and crafts. I just happened to catch the show because I was, uhh, doing some research on slacker parents who let their kids watch TV. I would never resort to desperately grabbing the remote and imploring my children to “LOOK AT THE GLOWING SCREEN WHILE MOMMY COLLAPSES ON THE COUCH.”)

Anyway, Kai-Lan is a little girl with a friend named Rintoo, and in this particular episode Rintoo isn’t feeling special. Kai-Lan and her other friends seem to have an instinctive feeling that Rintoo must be special somehow, and spend most of the episode trying to figure out why that is. After some searching, they finally figure it out. At the climax of the episode, Kai-Lan announces that she has found the source of Rintoo’s specialness! I suppose it was too much to hope for that she’d quote directly from the Catechism, since it’s kind of hard to rhyme “man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life” and “it was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity.” But I was surprised and distressed at what she came up with: he’s fast. That’s what makes him special. And she went on to tell her young viewers that the next time they’re not feeling special, they should remember what they’re really good at, and know that that’s what makes them special.

Anyone else find that disturbing?

As I watched the little characters dance around and celebrate the various demonstrable skills that supposedly made each one of them special, I was guessing that this wasn’t going to be the episode where Kai-Lan’s slow, obese, mentally ill, physically disabled friend was introduced, because then things would get really awkward.

Though I don’t attribute any malevolent intent to the show’s writers, I think the sentiments they express in this episode belie one of the disturbing logical results of a completely secular worldview. It’s an interesting look at what happens when we take part of the natural law that’s written on our hearts — in this case, the fact that every human is special — and try to explain it without God. Kai-Lan and her friends know on some level that Rintoo is definitely special; and yet they are products of a secular culture which teaches that every truth must be provable by scientific methods in order to be accepted, that if you can’t provide an equation or an experiment to validate its truth then it cannot hold much weight.

There are two main definitions for special: one is “regarded with particular esteem or affection” and the other is “superior in comparison to others of the same kind.” The first is the more pure definition when used to describe the inherent state of each human being. But you can’t get there by looking at the material world alone. In order to confine specialness to the realm of the observable and the provable, you must go with the later, twisted understanding, which leaves you with a malleable definition of what it is to be special. In Rintoo’s case, what if the setting of the episode were moved to the U.S. Track and Field Team’s practice arena? Or what if he became disabled and were no longer fast? What if, for that matter, all of humanity got together and agreed that being fast was not a good trait? Would Rintoo still be special? Chances are, he has other things he’s good at. But what if he didn’t? What if he were the dumbest, ugliest, most rejected, immobile person in the world with not a single thing to offer his fellow man? Would he still be special?

Without God, the closest we can get to explaining the truth of each individual’s specialness is to say that they posses certain exceptional skills or qualities that are currently valued by other human beings, or to perhaps note the fact that each person is different by virtue of their unique DNA. But neither of those statements are accurate articulations of the full truth — and somewhere, deep down inside, we all know it. The problem is this: the reason every single one of us is inherently special — even the most flawed, the most unproductive, and the most decrepit among us — is because we are special to Someone. It’s because we are loved. And you can’t prove love.

As I know from personal experience, when you confine your search for truth to that which can be measured and calculated and observed, you rule out gaining a deep knowledge of love. And until you find love, you can never know God (who is love), and you can never fully understand exactly why it’s true that we are all indeed very special.

What’s the big deal? It makes Kai-Lan and Rintoo feel good to think that they’re special because they can run and jump. Why is that so important that it would make me exert the effort to lift my head from the mound of pillows on the couch and take sharp notice at this message (if, hypothetically, I were to by lying on the couch while the kids watched TV)?

Here’s why:

Right now, the dark implications of the secular definition of what makes each person special are easy to ignore. Here in the Western world, we live in a time of unprecedented stability, peace and abundance. It is only certain types of people whose specialness we have motive to disregard — the severely disabled and people who live in their mother’s wombs — and they are voiceless. But as soon as any elements of our society are destabilized, next time we are thrust into a situation of widespread shortage and fear, there will be a lot more pressure to disregard the value of other people’s lives. And if we continue to see our fellow human beings as special based on arbitrary, flexible definitions that are ultimately rooted in human opinion, the devaluation of human life will spread to even more segments of society. And that’s really, really scary.

43 Comments

  1. SuburbanCorrespondent

    For some reason, this reminds me of some of “men without chests” in Lewis’s Abolition of Man. And not just because I feel like showing off that I read it…

  2. Anonymous

    Did you see this on First Things website? http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=1065 : “So lots of things are bad for trees, and plants, and flowers, and often that gives us no reasons whatsoever, certainly no moral reasons. In my view, fetuses that die before they’re ever conscious really are a lot like plants: They’re living things, but there’s nothing about them that would make us think that they count morally in the way that people do.” That came from Princeton philosophy professor Elizabeth Harman.

    Read the whole piece.

  3. Scott Lyons

    Little Kai-Lan just needs some good catechesis. She probably isn’t even old enough to be in CCD, Jennifer. Be patient with her.

  4. Clavem Abyssi

    Interesting post.

    The show in question (I’ve never seen that show but that message is ubiquitous in TV-land) makes the following two claims:

    1) everyone has unique special gifts, talents or abilities, either in a uniquely superlative degree or some unique combination of gifts

    2) one’s self-worth is based on the identification of the gifts claimed to exist in #1

    The contradiction seems to be this. The gifts referred to in #1 are accidental or extrinsic. They may or may not exist; they may come and go; their value may change depending on circumstances, tastes, needs, etc… The self-worth referred to in #2 is essential or intrinsic, since “self” refers to essence or being. What is essential cannot be based on what is accidental because essence precedes accident.

    It reminds me of those who want universal rights without reference to God. “Castles built on clouds”.

  5. Jennifer F.

    Suburbancorrespondent – I haven’t read that one yet, but it’s high on my list. Thanks for reminding me about it!

    Anon – I’ll definitely check out that article. Amazingly, Harman’s statement used to be my point of view as well.

    Scott – Excellent. I look forward to the episode about redemptive suffering. 🙂

    Clavem – Wow. What a concisely-stated, deep, excellent point. How about if I just email you the password to my blog and you can take over from here?

    Hey, I actually replied to all comments so far! This is a historical moment.

  6. Thomas

    Good that you note that people are special because they are special to “Someone”, not “someone.”

    If an individual were only special because he or she was special to one or more non-divine persons, those persons could always later decide to no longer consider that person special.

    Unless we are held as special by one who is will never cease to consider us such, our status as special would always be in jeopardy.

  7. lyrl

    As individuals, we are better able to care for others if we are in good shape ourselves. As a family, we are better able to contribute to society if we are strong as a family.

    If one values a healthy society (and we all as individuals benefit from a healthy society), it makes sense to support the family unit regardless of belief in God. And if one values the family unit it makes sense to value its individuals. Humans are special to each other because we’re family.

    And only as a strong, healthy society can we start to expand our horizons beyond humanity. If we did not take care of other humans, regardless of talent or ability, I don’t think there would be much hope for the rest of creation.

  8. Amy

    You are absolutely right. It is disturbing when these ideas seem to infiltrate the shows we *hypothetically* watch while we’re cooking dinner, the shows on PBS or whatever that we for whatever reason trust.

    You might like the “Psalty” videos. I used to listen to his records as a little girl, and now my girls love him. http://www.psalty.com He is a blue singing songbook (think Christian Barney) and has great Biblical messages for kids.

  9. Louise

    Jen, this is an excellent analysis, and one that is sorely needed today. It’s true that the idea that “special skills” are what give us worth has completely infiltrated our mindsets, and it’s tragic that children are given this message. It is good and right to recognize our talents as unmerited gifts from our Creator and to be thankful for them, but as soon as we mistakenly base human worth upon those gifts, the comparisons become obvious and our weakest members become disposable.

  10. elizabeth

    I completely agree with your underlying argument that human beings have worth beyond what can be measured by society’s yardstick. However, I don’t think “Ni Hao, Kai-Lan” was really wading into the debate about what gives a human being intrinsic dignity. I think what “Kai-Lan” is trying to instill in its viewers is the all-powerful American concept of self-esteem, that you should be lauded for being fast or smart or pretty or whatever. And that makes me as uneasy as your argument makes you. That our children’s fragile self-esteems must be coddled and nurtured at all times at the expense of learning some of life’s more difficult lessons. (Or are we really saying the same thing?)

    The show’s producers might be excused for beating the self-esteem drum since a key demographic they’re trying to reach are adopted Chinese children living in the US. (While the show also aims to introduce Chinese culture to American kids of all types — much like Dora and Latino culture — many people involved in the show are also part of the adoptive community. The girl who does Kai-Lan’s voice was adopted.) So the whole thing is intended to be a self-esteem boost to a marginalized community.

    We watch it occasionally at our house. (I admit my heart leaps when I see my daughter dancing around to the theme music and pronouncing Mandarin words.) I wish there were more adults around to guide the youngsters with their dilemmas. If you notice, most children’s programming depicts worlds free of adults where kids run and act sassy and do as they please. Definitely NOT the message I want my daughter learning!

  11. ladyhobbit

    This is a great post, Jen. Your comments made me realize what I sometimes find disturbing in an author whom I truly admire, Madeline L’Engle, probably best know for A Wrinkle in Time. In her young adult fiction, we are invited to admire specialness in a way very like what you describe from the TV show. (L’Engle was an Episcopalian Christian, and her books have many positive aspects–I don’t want to give the impression that they are bad!) I mention this because L’Engle became well-known in the 1960s. This isn’t a new trend in our culture, but it is growing broader and more disturbing as time passes.

  12. Margaret in Minnesota

    I don’t have much to add to your well-reasoned argument, Jen, other than a hearty “Amen.” (Hey, it’s late.)

    This line of yours, especially, really resonated with me: And if we continue to see our fellow human beings as special based on arbitrary, flexible definitions that are ultimately rooted in human opinion, the devaluation of human life will spread to even more segments of society.

    Those arbitrary definitions will get us in trouble every time.

  13. Anonymous

    Hi Jen, It reinds me of the depressing message disguised as compassion in that Clint Eastwood movie about the female boxer. Once she was injured, the humane thing to do was to kill her. She only had value as a human being when she was in the ring with the crowd cheering her on. Yikes!

  14. Anne Marie

    WOW. Great post Jen.

    I watched Helen Alvaré on EWTN recently speak about the “Yummy Mommy” syndrome, which has a similar foundation. That being I have value because I am attractive to men. She had more to say about the phenomenon, but the foundation is the same principle.

  15. Anonymous

    Great post, Jen! I’m glad I’m not the only mom out there who philosphically analyzes kids’ shows! You are spot on in this case, I think. I like Mr. Rogers approach to being special much more: I think he just says, “there is no one else in the whole world like you” or something to that effect. Which is only a step away from saying the child is a unique creature willed by God. But of course, Mr. Rogers was really a very Christian man (and grew up in my own town of Latrobe, PA!)

    I spend way too much time analyzing kids’ shows myself; for instance, did you ever see Word World? It seems to me that it exhibits an almost sacramental understanding of language. In Word World, you spell a word, and lo and behold! the thing itself appears before you. The word really is the thing. Which is kind of cool–and makes for a cute kids show. SuperWhy, in contrast, is all deconstructionism and reader response (the kids have a problem, look for a solution in a book, and find the solution by entering the story and CHANGING it–well, hoo-ray.)

    But that should really be a post on my own blog–if I had one! 😉

    Sorry for the long comment! Great post!

    Elizabeth

  16. matthew archbold

    I remember writing on my blog once that my kids were watching television. (hannah Montana -pre porn days) And my comment box killed me for days about letting my kids watch television all day. And I’m actually pretty good about it but I definitely felt like worst parent in the world for a few days. But as long as you’re a terrible parent too I guess I can cope. Thanks for making me feel better 😉

  17. Martha

    This reminds me of a similar idea. I remember my 8th grade home ec teacher telling us all that “If you don’t love yourself, no one else will love you.” That was 20 years ago, but it disturbed me so much I still remember it. I remember thinking at the time, “God will,” but not being brave enough to say it in a room full of people nodding enthusiastically. I think she works for Oprah now… just kidding. Anyway, both those ideas have definitely been around for a while. I guess that’s the reason for the Methodist church’s billboards that say, “You’re special. Want to know why?”

  18. David

    Hi, Jen. Another interesting post! I realize that there is at least one point that I don’t understand, however, so I’m wondering if you can help me complete my understanding.

    I see that the worth of each person is based upon God’s unconditional love for him or her, but not how His love makes any of us “special”, unless that love is different for each of us in some way. Does God love me more than He loves others? I would guess not. Then how, exactly, can I understand that His love for me makes me special? If I describe myself (or anyone) as “special” using the first definition you provided in your post — in other words, that I am special because God regards me with *particular* esteem or affection – then what about God’s affection for me is particular, i.e., different than his affection for you or anybody else?

    Thanks, Jen! Your posts have led me to respect you much as a spiritually maturing Catholic.

  19. Anonymous

    I think the “My child is an honor student at XYZ school” is another manifestation of this distorted thinking. Judy

  20. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    I have been thinking lately on a family member who struggles with the thought of “making anyone feel special.” The line of thinking: it is inflating them, spoiling them, feeding insatiable appetities for self-esteem.

    And yet Scripture says we are to honor others above ourselves. Make people feel special.

    The truth of specialness must be rooted in the fact we are made in th eimage of God, that He loved us and fashioned us by His own benevolent Hand.

    Or, indeed, it all becomes very scary and sad indeed.

    Thank you, Jennifer…

  21. Katie

    This is an excellent post that really speaks to the heart of my conversion from pro-choice to pro-life. When my second daughter was born severely brain damaged it forced me to look head on at issues within the pro-choice paradigm that I had previously been able to ignore (though the aborting of babies with “problems” had always made me uneasy). Though my daughter has done very well, had she not, I knew that would not have changed my love for her, and more over, it wouldn’t have changed her intrinsic worth and value as a human being. Being agnostic/atheist at the time, these conclusions are part of what helped to bring me to God. Once I accepted that, becoming pro-life was a natural consequence.

  22. 'Becca

    I quote Mister Rogers:
    You are my friend.
    You are special.
    You are my friend.
    You’re special to me.
    You are the only one like you.
    Like you, my friend, I like you.

    That’s all there is to it: You’re special just because you are. Fred Rogers was a minister whose faith informed and inspired his work, yet he never mentioned God in his “Neighborhood”. Instead he spoke about the feelings we all have and the things we deep down know to be true. He showed people (and puppets) learning to be kind and humble. Basically, he taught and modeled Christian values without specifically labeling them as such. Some people say that makes it all useless because none of that means anything unless you know God is enforcing it. But I think that reinforcing children’s sense of rightness prepares them to understand what “God” is all about when they do hear the concept–kind of like the beginning of Mere Christianity, where C.S. Lewis makes the reader conscious of the rightness inside himself and then explains that that sense of rightness IS God.

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who hyper-analyzes the messages of children’s programs! There are some lousy, misguided writers out there. >:-( What did you say to your kids while you were watching this? My son sometimes gets annoyed with Mama’s ranting!

    Elizabeth, thanks for mentioning how disturbing it is that so many people think
    That our children’s fragile self-esteems must be coddled and nurtured at all times at the expense of learning some of life’s more difficult lessons.
    That ties right back to the discussion of selfless love a few posts back. When you believe that the main purpose of life is to indulge and glorify yourself, your self-esteem is fragile because your value is the sum of the material things you have and your status in the world; it could be lost at any time, and constant coddling and nurturing is required to maintain it. From that point of view, a person with a humbler sense of self who prioritizes helping others is a big sucker and must have terribly low self-esteem! But the thing is, when your self is small but secure, you don’t have to put a lot of energy into protecting it, and putting your energy toward other people builds up your self-esteem kind of in the background.

    I’m disturbed to know that there’s a show specifically for Chinese adoptees (Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, anyone?) that promotes such shallow, corrupt American values.

  23. elizabeth

    6:12 Anonymous — I have a wheelchair-using dear friend who was sick over the film “Million Dollar Baby.” And upon reflection, I see that was really what Jen’s post was about. I’m afraid this will be a more frequently occurring issue as the great mass of baby boomers ages and our secular society decides how to allocate medical resources. Who will make the cut and who won’t? What if the environmentalists gain enough political power to thin out the herd in order to make the world safe for flora and fauna? Without a basic agreement that people matter *more*, the world isn’t safe for humanity.

  24. Heather

    Okay, side note, my brain is not up to deep stuff today–short on sleep, surviving on coffee.

    That said, I LOVE what CS Lewis wrote about this and agree with the firsdt comment that it is very similar–he also wrote about it elsewhere though my brain is too fried to remember.

    Also, Blue’s Clues and Dragon Tales had very similar issues. I HATE that. (And I have NO trouble handing the kids a movie if I need a nap or whatever–they usually wander off and do something else anyway.) I spent years getting over the I am somebody because I can do ___ syndrome. It took three pregnancies where I spent 4 months in bed unable to move or DO anything other than pray Lord have mercy repeatedly, then again when I messed up my knee and then had a week long migraine then a 2 week long horrible flu that meant that once again I lost all my identity and could only lie still and pray, “Lord have mercy.” Finally I got it (I hope–I REALLY don’t want to be in that place again.) We are who we are not because of who we are or what we do but because of our identity in Him and that is beautiful.

  25. The Koala Bear Writer

    Very scary indeed. There are a lot of stories of people who base their worth on something they can do, then are lost when they lose that ability. Like the lieut. in Forrest Gump who places his worth on being a good soldier, until he loses his legs… You are so right that our true worth comes from God.

  26. elizabeth

    ‘becca said — I’m disturbed to know that there’s a show specifically for Chinese adoptees that promotes such shallow, corrupt American values.

    Yep. That will be one of my main challenges as a parent – Reassuring my daughter that she’s just like her American friends and family while simultaneously making sure she’s not just like them! That the privileges of being American are nothing compared to the privileges of being a Christian.

    (Small point — the show isn’t specifically for Chinese adoptees. But it certainly seems like required viewing for parents in my social circle!)

  27. Memphis Aggie

    I guess I’m being contrary, but I think the entire idea of being “special” is a vanity. You had it right in that through God we know we have worth (the “many sparrows” in Matthew). However I think the desire to stand out, be unique in an identifiable way is pride. We are all simply workers in the vineyard. I aspire to be righteous not special.

  28. Jennifer F.

    David (and Memphis Aggie) –

    If I describe myself (or anyone) as “special” using the first definition you provided in your post — in other words, that I am special because God regards me with *particular* esteem or affection – then what about God’s affection for me is particular, i.e., different than his affection for you or anybody else?

    The way I see it, God regards each of us human beings with *particular* esteem as compared to other living things (not as compared to one another). Just like our children are *special* to us — which is not to say that we love any one child more than the other, but that our children as a group are special to us. So the “particular” part is not that one man or woman is regarded with more or less esteem or affection than the next person, but that each person is regarded with particular affection as opposed to plants and animals and other living stuff here on earth.

    To realize you’re special is to realize that you’re one of God’s children whom he loves infinitely, no more or less than any other human, but that you’re far more valuable than, say, a rat. That might sound silly, but in the purely atheistic mindset there is nothing particularly special about humans other than the fact that most of them tend to be more complex than other animals.

    People with a Christian background probably take that knowledge for granted, but the inherent specialness of mankind was not at all something that I acknowledged as an atheist.

  29. Kelly @ Love Well

    You’re so right, Jennifer — both in the post and this last comment. If you separate the value and inherent specialness of humankind from the value and inherent specialness bestowed on us by God, we have nothing. We are only evolved dust with nothing to distinguish us from the animals. Thus, the only medals we have to pin to our chest are the trinkets of speed, intelligence, beauty and the like that society esteems.

    And once those medals are rusted and worn, we have nothing.

  30. Anonymous

    I’m fairly certain that it is a matter of theology that God loves each of us in a special way — different from the way He loves any one else. We are all unique, and we are unique because He made us that way. Our love for God is supposed to reflect who He made us to be and therefore the relationship between us and God is, in fact, unique to each of us. Another way to say this is to say that God has shared Himself uniquely with each of us and we are supposed to show what we know to others. It is in some way, our job, to reflect God uniquely. BUT we don’t have to hunt for unique ways to show this. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments and my Father and I will come to you and we will live with you.” Every child you have you will have a unique relationship with. Same with God.

    As far as God loving some people more…. I’m pretty sure that that’s true and that Father Scalia once wrote an article about this for the Arlington Herald (which I include so you can try googling). I really struggle with this but I think it all has to do with some people loving God more than others. At any rate, it is also true that God loves you as much as you let Him so it’s not like he’s holding out on you. More like the other way around.

    Jane M

  31. Anonymous

    And as far as the original post goes, I have HUGE problems with kids shows and especially with the whole — figure things out without a grownup part. It teaches kids such bad stuff about authority as well as everything else that people have said here.

    Jane M

  32. Marian

    Wow. What an excellent post.

    That hollow message about unique or superior qualities making each of us special is absolutely everywhere in Kid world, and it always strikes our family very uncomfortably. A couple of my children are the superachiever types. They just got the whole gift package. My eldest has disabilities and does not do well in the sort of things that people measure. To correctly frame these ubiquitous messages, we do want to appropriately delight in the gifts God has been pleased to give our children while pointing them back to the real source of their worth. Meanwhile, the message has already beaten my other child down as he searches for his “specialness” before we can even get to dmage control with him.

    Anyway, one very simple illustration my pastor used about our value to God has always crystallized the concept for me: He has a lock of his daughter’s hair from when she was a baby. Objectively, it’s a worthless fluff of hair. But it has immense value to him simply because he gives it that value, because his love for his daughter makes it precious to him.

  33. Eric and Wendy

    Great post! I have been lurking here for a little while. I am a cradle Catholic but my husband is a convert from agnosticism.

    We like your blog very much and we find it edifying. In particular, your commitment to the Office, really encouraged me to restructure my day. I don’t tend to comment because you usually have so many comments already.

    In light of this post, I’d like to tag you with a meme to list 6 unspectacular quirks!

  34. Martha

    Memphis Aggie,

    if one has grown up without much love and with a lot of suffering, it is incredibly comforting to be able to say, “I am a beloved child of God.” And I think that is what the Christian understanding of being special is. I am not special because of anything I have done, but after a whole childhood and adolescence of worrying that I was not good enough to be loved by anyone, man is it good to know that I am loved. And it makes it easier to have a relationship with the One I know loves me.

    And I’m sorry this is so long, but I want to second what ‘becca was saying about the value of Mr. Rogers even to those with no explicit understanding of God. I was sent to church and Sunday school every week, while my home life reflected very little understanding of God. I was an adult before I knew I was his beloved child. But I knew enough of Him from my church attendance that when I had things REALLY explained to me as an adult, I had an intellectual framework to put them in. Maybe I am the flip of Jen – I was taught about God intellectually but not experientially. Just a thought.

  35. lyrl

    [Each human is] one of God’s children whom he loves infinitely, no more or less than any other human, but [they]’re far more valuable than, say, a rat.

    Is that really the official Catholic view? That God loves humans more than He loves rats? I would accept that He loves them differently, but I would be disappointed to learn that the actual degree of love is believed to be less.

    The value I place on human life over animal life does not require that God love me more than He loves my pet bird or the chicken my husband had for dinner.

  36. Clavem Abyssi

    Lyrl:
    That’s a good question.

    The short answer is yes, the Church’s official answer is that God loves some creatures more than others, even going so far as loving some humans more than others.

    I refer you to the St. Thomas’ treatment of this question(http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1020.htm#article3). Thomas quotes St.Augustine in his argument, as well.

    Thomas’ argument hinges on his definitions of love, of which he provides two. One is a love of nature which varies in intensity, resulting from some preference, like how an Englishman loves the English more than the French. If we apply this sort of love to God, which we can only weakly, we must conclude he loves all creation equally, because he has no preference amongst his own creation, all of which is “good” by nature.

    Thomas’ second definition of love is that we love more the thing to which we will the greater good. Thomas has previously established that all goodness comes from God and that goodness in creatures is likeness to God. From this, we is forced to conclude that God does indeed love some creatures more than others, because it is undeniable that creatures vary in their goodness, that is, in their likeness to God. This is as plain as the difference between angels and devils, heaven and hell, saints and sinners.

    This should be no cause for envy or discord, either here or in Heaven, because we need to keep in mind that God’s love is a free gift. Even if God were to love no creature, this would be no offense to justice, because we cannot earn his love. As St.John tells us “This is love. Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for us.”

  37. Ruth

    This is a great post and an interesting discussion. I won’t attempt to engage in a theological discussion, but know from experience that, whether we like to admit it or not, some in our society devalue the lives of those created by God because of a nonconforming outward appearance, disability, inconvenience of their birth, etc. I am skeptical of arguments that say human beings don’t have inherent dignity and worth and make it conditional in its attribution, after spending time around those with severe disabilities.

    I have a tag on my blog called dignity and often treat the subject under that term.

    Too often we forget that, bottom line, we are spiritual beings. Until we recognize that, we will always have throwaway people of all ages, to my utter horror and I am sure, most of yours.

  38. Abigail

    I loved this post!

  39. TRS

    your post and all the comments are great! very thought provoking.

    The only thing left for me to add… is – if you want your kids to understand what special means, I recommend this book: You Are Special by Max Lucado.

    I wandered into a bookstore one day, read this book and just cried. It’s beautiful.

    http://www.maxlucado.net/shopping6.00/shopexd.asp?id=24211

  40. Nate

    Can I be a contrary voice here for a moment?

    I understand what you’re saying here, but I’m not sure I agree that ‘TV-land’ is saying what you believe it to be saying.

    I think it is an important Christian idea that each person is created to fulfil a unique calling or vocation – that we are in fact each ‘special’ in the sense of having a special gift. There is a reason we are each here, now, in this world, and it is not *just* ‘because God wills it so’, though that is also true.

    This, it seems to me, is exactly what Paul is saying when he talks about ‘you are each members of the one body’ and lists the various roles of body parts.

    So to tell a child ‘you are special because you can run fast; he is special because he can read well’, etc, doesn’t seem to me to be especially wrong or bad or unChristian. We *do* have unique abilities as people, we are not interchangeable cogs, and I think it is important to realise this. I’m a big fan of the ‘multiple intelligences’ concept in education, because I know that as a stereotypically ‘smart’ person I can score high on IQ tests, but really suck at things like spatial movement and reading of social situations, etc.

    Now, to say that our specialness IS AND IS ONLY what gives our life WORTH, now that’s something different, and much darker.

    But I’m not convinced, myself, that TV shows that say ‘you are special because you have unique gifts’ are trying to say ‘your live is ONLY WORTHWHILE because you have unique gifts’.

  41. Allison J.

    I just saw this today when you re-posted it, and I'd like to thank you for your thoughts. I work with children & adults with autism and other multiply disabled individuals. I once worked with a 60-year-old man with a profound developmental disability, who could not speak, dress, or toilet independently. He showed no particular sign of attachment to anyone around him. I blew bubbles for him one day as we sat outside and his face lit up…he staggered around trying to pop bubbles. I had been so frustrated with him up until then…wiping up his waste, trying to keep his clothes on…and in an instant when he smiled I think I saw him the way God sees him, and I was just overwhelmed with love.

    I think these people have a special mission on heaven and on earth. And I think that although they are not "useful" in the way we would consider them to be, I think they are essential to our salvation. I believe they are Christ Himself, come to teach us patience and unselfish love. And as we treat the ones whom the world deems the most "worthless" will determine how Christ Himself receives us.

  42. Lana

    to Allison J.,
    I don’t know if you’ll be back to read this, but as someone closely acquainted to many medical professionals, your comment struck me as truly profound. Imagine if all nurses, doctors, PAs, physical therapists, etc. saw their patients this way.
    You have truly been given a grace to be able to do your work in the light of this truth.

  43. politicalhousewyf

    As part of the Chinese adoption community, I can say that I think the fascination with Kai-Lan is just that it’s a tie to our daughters’ birth culture. It’s a rather shallow one. As others have said, the show is not just for Chinese adoptees, but it has a ready-made audience in that community. Like Dora, it’s a preschool level introduction to the culture and some phrases, but not in very substantial doses, which was disappointing.

    I usually overanalyze kids’ shows, too, but, to play devil’s advocate, couldn’t you say that yes, we all have a useful talent- even if it’s only visible to God? The disabled teach us mercy, compassion, and joy in difficulty. They can offer prayer. Sometimes, we don’t see our talent and feel discouraged, but it’s still there. We all have a calling to fulfill.

    Although the exact formulation (“you’re special because you can do x, y, or z”) is problematic, there is an underlying assertion that we all have something special about us. It’s not the catechism, but it isn’t an irredeemable start.

    And if anyone is looking for good Chinese culture cartoons, I highly recommend Sagwa, put out by PBS and based on a children’s book by Amy Tan, who also co-wrote many of the episodes. It has a few problems, too, but there was an awesome episode on transracial adoption (their cousin is adopted… and he’s a dog).

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