No, this isn’t about Palin’s politics, but I almost wish it was. This time, we have a letter she wrote to her family before her fifth son, Trig, who has Down’s syndrome, was born. He was the center of a bit of a spat over a year ago with Family Guy that I blogged on in “Palin Versus Peter, or How Family Guy Makes Fun of ‘Retards’ (Not Really)” . Palin and her daughter Bristol both claimed that the show was making light of Trig’s condition and also taking a stab at Palin when a character with Downs syndrome in the episode “Extra Large Medium” said her mom was the former governor of Alaska. Even if the butt of the joke was Palin, she took it too seriously. But this time, she’s taking a position of sorts that, even with the qualification that it’s based on her personal belief in God, might be crossing a bit of a line.
In the email to family members looking forward to Trig’s eventual birth, she explains that Trig will be different, as well as a challenge to his parents and siblings, but will also bring more joy into his family’s life because of his special attributes, being mentally disabled in a particular way. She then makes a point that I think we all could agree on: just because someone’s flawed in one way or another doesn’t mean they’re not valuable as a person. The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, is how she ends this. She had already indicated technically throughout the letter that this was from another perspective, not her own. That would’ve been a better angle on this, I think. She could’ve said that God told her this and we could’ve given her some leeway. But she ends the letter by signing it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.” Of course, she doesn’t think she’s actually channeling God; I certainly hope not.
But even the mere presumption or appearance of talking from God’s perspective could be said to be a bit on the blasphemous side. Saying that God did all this planning about the birth of one baby suggests the same problems I observed with Rick Perry’s prayer celebration in “Idle Hands Are God’s Plaything”. When you think God cares this much about every event in your life, you’re giving yourself a bit too much entitlement in the eyes of a creator that’s supposed to treat everyone justly, fairly and impartially. That’s why God doesn’t usually spare believers when he throws a tornado through Joplin, Missouri. But then people start saying God was involved because a single church’s cross is saved. Pure coincidences are made to be the benevolent hand of the creator and even tragedies are accepted as God’s plan instead of supposedly the consequences of a sinful world, which is at least a simpler and more consistent explanation.
Palin’s problem here is not that she’s a Christian, since there are many Christians more than willing to believe such things like a snake originally had legs before it diversified from the common ancestor it shares with lizards today. Of course, they’ll jokingly reference the biblical story where the snake that tempted Eve is implied to have had legs which God then removed as punishment, forced to crawl on its belly and eat dust (not even getting into the second part, since it’s only a half-truth). Palin’s issue is a similar one to any theist that insists that God has an active part in human history. Faith healings, miraculous survivals or recoveries from cancer, the births of children, all these and more are prayed over and praised after the fact as God’s handiwork. No one’s saying you can’t be eager, happy, or just generally excited about things like a grandchild or sibling being born or grateful that the people you love have recovered from disease or survived a terrible event like a 400 mph funnel of wind that tears steel apart like tissue paper as it blows through their town. But, like many things, I think people are exaggerating what can be an already inspiring sort of occurrence.
The miraculous will happen, no doubt about that, but the nature of the miraculous is what is at issue here. When you view a child being born or see it soon afterwards as a newborn, you might be inclined to think of its birth as a miracle of sorts, but these days, a real miracle would be a child born premature surviving, which does happen. But if you take something more understandably amazing and unusual, like cancer going into remission suddenly, the miraculous nature is almost instinctively attributed to God or the power of prayer (or both). Just being grateful for the person’s healing is satisfactory enough for me, as a Buddhist. Many might call me ungrateful in that I’m not giving proper credit, but to be frank, I don’t see the hand of any divinity in such things, neither from a scientific/medical perspective or a more spiritual/philosophical one.
Things being unexpected or random do not imply a violation of the laws of nature or even some consistency through the perspective of a creator who sees everything. If such a show like House indicates anything, people’s diseases can have such a variety of etiologies (causes) that their sudden healing by a stroke of fortune in choosing a certain treatment is not anything related to the supernatural, but simply a part of the natural we don’t fully understand at the moment. Perhaps this is something we could agree to disagree on, but Palin just tends to emphasize these things in a way that makes other people look smart by comparison. But I live in the South where this sort of thing is probably pretty common as well, so I’m hardly being fair in criticizing a woman from the furthest north state in the U.S. who sounds like she’s from Canada sometimes. Concluding point being: while you might believe God works in mysterious ways, it seems all too convenient to have God’s mysterious ways work in your benefit more than in your suffering. Though of course, there is the recourse to the heaven option, so it’s not as if God’s completely absent when you feel such loss, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as saying, “Yep, God’s got my back,’ is it? Until next time, Namaste and aloha.