Lent 2023, Day 8: We’re all in this together.

Photo by Accuray on Unsplash

I love this post by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg writing at her Substack, Life is a Sacred Text:

“Plonit lost her battle with cancer,” we hear, implying that if she only had fought hard enough, persevered better, she would have won. It’s her fault that malignant cells multiplied rapidly in her body, beyond the reach of our current medical technology. She didn’t fight hard enough. It’s her fault that she died.

Now scale that logic backwards and apply it to disabled people, chronically ill people, anyone suffering.

See the abelism now?

What a garbage theology.

Because if you dig down far enough it is a theology for so many people—even if so many of the people making the statements, asking the questions, aren’t conscious of it.

It’s a toxic, terrified, hegemonic attempt to answer the why.

It presumes that those on top are there not because systems are unjust and because they’re lucky, but because it’s some secret answer to the why.

It’s Santa Claus faith. This prosperity theology belief that the truly deserving never get any lumps of coal.

A theology of disability justice must, by necessity, go beyond this crude model that so many people have, consciously or not, absorbed from their upbringing, from the wider culture, from our media. From New Agey ideas like that people’s failures with regards to the “laws of attraction” or “Positive Thinking” (functionally the same thing; a substitute deity that answers prayers) to draw their illness or suffering to themselves.

If you’ve read my blog for even a small amount of time, you should know how much I loathe the Prosperity Gospel. Long before I became disabled, I couldn’t stand a doctrine that blamed people- even babies- for being ill while praising the rich for… being rich. It’s gross. And now as a disabled person, I truly believe it’s plain evil. Back to the rabbi:

I don’t believe that God “lets” people get sick. That God has a set of dice and is going, OK, Bob down there is going to get MS now, Millie really deserves pneumonia, maybe we’ll let Grace get good parking today. Nope.

For one thing, we have free will. From a theological perspective, that’s the most fundamental ingredient to humanity—the whole reason we even had the capacity to eat from that Tree of Knowledge of Good or Evil in the first place, and everything that’s defined us since.

Sometimes people use their free will in wonderful ways, of course. A lot of the time, thank goodness. Sometimes people use their free will in ways that hurt themselves, personally, to be sure—but neither God nor the mystical laws of attraction cause someone to get on their motorcycle when distracted or drunk, or to fail to follow all the safety protocols in the lab. That’s about human choice.

Much of the time, people are harmed because of a few individuals in power and the choices that they make—because a few heads of corporations reject the calls from railway workers to improve safety standards that lead to deadly derailments and disasters for the health of humans and planet. Because racist government officials neglect maintenance or proper procedures when providing water to majority Black communities like Flint, MI or Jackson MS. Because of gun executives who pay senators to look the other way as kids get slaughtered; as mayors and alderpeople choose to amp up the budgets of police departments that have proven time and again that racism and even murder are their M.O.; as government officials approve medication that, it turns out, isn’t really safe.

So often, though, people get sick or hurt because we use our collective free will in ways that cause massive collective harm.

Because both governments and society at large gives up on pandemic restrictions, leading to massive spread of a deadly, disabling disease. Because we don’t hold corporations accountable for their carbon emissions the way we must. Because we don’t push hard enough at those people in power to demand that they do what we know is right.

Because of so many reasons.

Can individual acts of piety save us from earthquakes, car accidents, or persecution?


Have more people become sick, disabled, and died because of social negligence around COVID-19 and the “natural” disasters caused really by climate ch

ange, aka human negligence (not so natural after all)?


Will these things continue to have the greatest impact on those who are already most harmed by the massive, unjust unequal distribution of wealth in this country and worldwide?


Our highly individualistic American culture loves to talk about how if I do well, I will get a cookie from God, I will get money, be free from disease, safe, I will be OK.

I, I, I, me me me me me. That’s not how this works.

There’s a reason that Jews pray in the plural. Not I, but we. Heal us. Grant us peace. We are grateful.

This is a collective project, people—this preventing of suffering, the alleviation of harm.

(And, of course, all people get sick at some point, but not all people have access to medical care.)

Each of our culpability, each of our roles, each of our actions for good or for bad are tied inextricably with the actions of our community, with all people. For better or for worse, we’re all in this together.

There’s so much more to read. Please do. Whether you’re Jewish, like the amazing Rabbi Danya, a Christian, like me, or Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, or None, we really are in this together.

  • Examine your beliefs: do you think people suffering are deserving of their pain? Do you think successful people are better or more deserving than those without? And that includes yourself- do you think in such ways about yourself?

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