Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More on Secular Humanism

 A thoughtful reader offered the following comments:


I think that most of my friends who are secular / atheist are committed to creating a world in which children like these are protected and cared for, by supporting economic development, fair practices, working to end poverty.

I admit that this work is more broad than taking the dramatic action of personally adopting a severely disabled child. That does not mean that their contribution to society is less valuable.

Working as a doctor who provides primary care in a suburb is also less dramatic than working as a doctor in a war zone. But suburban children need doctors too. Both are moral choices. We cannot know the ultimate reward for either choice.

I absolutely agree!  That is why I think that that kind of work must be a part of the effort.

Religion, like any ideology, is a powerful force. It can be used for good or for evil. It can motivate people to take great moral action or it can encourage people to be small, selfish, petty and judgmental. Many people use religion in both ways simultaneously -- great generosity towards others like them and great hatred of those who differ, even slightly.

I think this is true about human nature in general.  Yes, religion is a tool, like fire, or a knife, which can be used to create or to destroy.  Obviously, in trying to apply this tool to the purpose at hand, I am not condoning the abuse of the tool.  Also, the purpose of this thread is to figure out alternative strategies for those who are not comfortable wielding this particular tool.

In light of those extremes, is there really something wrong with a rational philosophy of "enjoy life, be kind to others, do no harm"? Should we prefer great good and great evil or a more balanced approach?

Sorry, but I think that this is a false dichotomy.  Of course there is nothing wrong with generic benevolence.  At the same time, I think that it is worthwhile to encourage ourselves and others to go beyond that to whatever extent is appropriate.  I don't believe that this is a zero-sum proposition -- that any good action is inevitably met with an equal and opposite (bad) action.

As Jews, we are *not* commanded to take extreme actions to support others. Give first to your own family, then to your community, then to your city, then to the world. Those who exceed this are noteworthy and admirable, but it is not the standard by which everyone is judged.

An ideal Jewish society, IMHO, is not one in which every individual person adopts one of these children. It is one in which every single one of these children receives compassionate, loving, appropriate care in their family of origin.

 True.  Where I think that the present initiative is appropriate is that the notion of "our community" has become in many ways global.  The world is far more interconnected than it once was.  We are in fact challenged to address needs that would not have made it on the radar in Biblical times.

An ideal society does not have superhuman men and women engaged in amazing feats of compassion.

Why not?  They need not be the majority, but I think that we absolutely do need "everyday heroes" that inspire us all to be our best selves.

 It is one in which public institutions and policies are guided by compassion such that every family with such a child receives the support they need.

Absolutely!  Again, I think that social action in-country is a very important component of the work.  However, I think that adoption serves 2 purposes in this.  First, it rescues the kids that are in dire straits right now, before waiting for the social change to take place.  Second, by demonstrating to society that those children are in fact wanted and valued, these adoptions can catalyze the change in attitudes that we want to bring about.

While you may find few atheists / secularists adopting special needs children, you will find many atheists looking for ways to make people's lives better through science, engineering or public policy. Engineers design wheelchairs and scientists discover new drugs and treatments. One change to a state regulation could mean the difference between a child whose parents can keep them at home and a child who is institutionalized.

These contributions are significant. They are moral actions to help better our world. Do not dismiss them because you prefer dramatic action at the individual level. Both kinds of action are needed to create tikkun olam.

I agree completely!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Jewish Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf