"I deal with being the most hated person in school daily because my glass eye is a 'slap in the face to God'." -- Emily Moore.Emily Moore is a 17 year-old high school student in Florida who, because of childhood retinal cancer, lost an eye. The other day, she posted a photo of herself on Tumblr with a brief account of her story:
"This is my all-time favorite picture. I’m so proud of myself. I have no depth perception and I’ve taught myself to play volleyball. I take so much pride in my team and all the hard work I put into it. No one truly understands how cancer [works] unless you yourself [have] it. You can’t imagine how I feel on a daily basis. Vomiting, weak, tired, groggy, grumpy, hormonal…every fucking day. 6 days out of 7, I’m sick. I push through though because I can’t let my team down. I still go to school and manage to maintain a 4.6 GPA. I still work to contribute to paying for my radiation. I volunteer at the shelter to make my life mean something if/when I go. I deal with being the most hated person in school daily because my glass eye is a 'slap in the face to God'."Christina Stephens, a blogger, read Emily's Tumblr story and then contacted her, asking her to elaborate. According to Emily (via Stephens), most of the people in her school are supportive of her, but a group of about two dozen students have, over the past two years, physically and verbally abused her.
"I don’t care what anyone says. I’m proud of myself."
"They said god wanted me dead and that’s why I’ve gotten cancer (now) three times.", Emily reported. At one point, she was also pushed down a stairs and fractured her heel. And, according to her, "the school isn't helping."
As you might imagine, Emily's story is generating much controversy at sites like The Friendly Atheist and other blogs. Many of the comments seem focused on the notion that god cannot be too great if he's tried to kill Emily three times and has failed all three times. But, beyond that, there have been some predictable comments about the cruelty, hypocrisy, etc., of the two dozen or so Christian Students, whose religion seems to many people so at odds with the student's treatment of Emily.
Now, I suppose volumes could be written about the psychology of the two dozen or so Christian students -- volumes that might reach beyond the students themselves to shed light on all of us, on human nature itself. I will, however, spare my beloved readers the agony of listening to me lamely attempt a comprehensive review of all that might be said here.
Instead, I wish to focus on just one aspect of this: How we humans seem able to use any ideology -- regardless of whether it is a religious ideology like Christianity, a political ideology like Marxism, or any other kind of ideology -- to encourage, justify, and facilitate our many sickening abuses of each other.
Among other things, the story of Emily put me in mind of an anecdote that Jiddu Krishnamurti somewhere relates. As a young man, Krishnamurti left his native India to study in England. While in England, he tasted beef. His father somehow heard of it, and -- when Krishnamurti returned to India after several years abroad -- his father refused all physical contact with Krishnamurti. He would not even hug him at the airport on his return home. The reason: According to his father's religious beliefs, the meat had made Krishnamurti impure.
I think the reason Emily's and Krishnamurti's stories should be important to us is because they reveal how we humans use ideologies to justify our abuses of each other -- in small, day-to-day ways. We are all familiar with the use of ideologies to justify abuse in monstrous ways. The genocides of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and others were all crucially inflamed by ideological justifications. Without those justifications, it might have been impossible to mobilize so many people to kill so many other people.
But perhaps we really don't understand just how easy it is to fall into abusing someone because of an ideology if we do not see that process playing out on a small scale, as well as a grand, for there is something weird about the psychology of ideological thinking. People would doubtless abuse others even without ideological justifications for doing so, but ideological justifications can all too often be like dumping gasoline on a fire. They can accelerate and enlarge the abuse.
The twenty-four or so students who torment Emily might torment her even without their apparent conviction that god is with them and against her. But their belief that god is on their side surely facilitates their abuse of her. It would seem only commonsense to suppose it makes any doubts they hold that they might not be doing the right thing -- makes those doubts much easier to dismiss. And it would seem only commonsense to also suppose that their beliefs can encourage them to go further than they might otherwise go.
I sometimes wish the human brain came with an owner's manual. At birth, we should be handed a rather extensive book on how to deal with all the myriad ways our brains can mess us up. And a prominent chapter in that manual should deal with how ideological thinking can so easily cross over into abusing each other in ways both great and small.
That's my two cents on Emily's story. But what do you yourself make of her story?