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October 9, 2002

A Clan of One's Own

From: - 09 Oct 2002

Hacking through the jungle of identity politics.
By Charles Colson | posted 10/9/2002

A recent Washington Post Magazine feature recounted the tale of Gauvin Hughes McCullough and his deaf parents: Sharon Duchesneau, his birth mother, and Candace McCullough, his adoptive mother.

The article ignited a controversy, not so much because Gauvin has two mommies—sadly, that's hardly news anymore—but because Duchesneau and McCullough went out of their way to see that their child had what most people would consider a serious disability. The pair recruited a deaf friend as a sperm donor in the hope their son would be born deaf.

Several months after Gauvin's birth, an audiologist confirmed the "good" news: The baby was indeed deaf. The mothers were elated.

Why would parents, especially ones who have themselves experienced the challenges of being deaf, wish this condition on their child? After all, Gauvin already faces challenges aplenty simply because he'll grow up in a lesbian household.

The answer lies in the way that many deaf people (and others with disabilities) view themselves. Increasingly, they see deafness with a capital D—not as a disability but as a culture. They regard treatments for deafness, such as Cochlear implants, as a kind of cultural genocide.

Turning disabilities into culture may seem absurd, but the story of Gauvin Hughes McCullough is merely the reductio ad absurdum of the worldviews that define our age. These worldviews, collectively known as postmodernism, deny that truth corresponds to reality. Truth is simply one's subjective preference. But if reality is essentially unknowable, how do individuals make sense of the world?

Certainly not by recourse to universally applicable ideas about good and evil and about the meaning of human existence. Instead, the sources for what one sociologist calls the "webs of significance" are to be found through association with a particular group, which exhibits some common identity. That group identity then defines one's meaning for life and provides the basis to negotiate with those in power.

The result of this process is ever-increasing fragmentation of our culture into smaller (and often angrier) groups. The goal of what Princeton professor Cornell West calls the "cultural politics of difference," a.k.a. identity politics, is the trashing "of the monolithic and homogeneous in the name of diversity, multiplicity, and heterogeneity."

This may sound like idle ivory tower chatter, but the practical consequences of these ideas litter the cultural landscape. Americans are increasingly identifying with whatever group or subgroup empowers them to pursue their particular set of goals and grievances—be they deaf, gay, deaf and gay, or members of a particular race or sex.

This explains why, after publication of the controversial Post article, many defended the deaf lesbian parents. When I did a BreakPoint broadcast critical of parents deliberately designing disabilities for their kids, I received calls and letters accusing me of insensitivity.

I confess, I might be insensitive out of ignorance; I have never experienced what the deaf experience. But I'm not unfamiliar with or insensitive to disabilities. My daughter Emily is a single mom who is heroically raising Max, an autistic 11-year-old. Max is an unusually loving kid and a special blessing. Emily loves him just as God made him. But if there were a cure, Emily would, for Max's sake, grab it in a heartbeat.

Many people today, in what seems like enlightened diversity, fail to see that the behavior of Gauvin's parents reflects deep despair: despair that people from different groups can ever communicate fully with one another, and despair about the possibility of finding meaning apart from one's own little group.

The sad case of the deaf lesbians and their deaf-by-design baby offers Christians an apologetics opportunity: We must show why postmodern relativism is the cause of such despair and is at the root of much cultural restlessness. And then we must point the way out of the corner that postmoderns have painted themselves into.

Christianity acknowledges the differences between groups—but it also provides a basis for transcending those differences. While Christianity in Guatemala is different from Christianity in Grand Rapids, it is clearly the same faith. It's a faith that offers joyous hope—both eternally and in the here and now. And it doesn't demand the crassest form of self-centeredness: Deliberately visiting one's disadvantages on one's children.

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