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9 April 2008updated 27 Sep 2015 4:08am

Blind unbelief and blind faith

John Hull discusses negative images of blindness in the Bible and society and how these need to chan

By John Hull

I lost sight in middle life, and when I read the Bible again, as a blind person, it was very different.

In Matthew 23, for example, Jesus calls his opponents ‘blind fools’. Why not ‘ignorant fools’ or ‘stubborn fools’? Why use my state as a term of abuse? In John 9, the restoration of sight to the man born blind is clearly an allegory of a move from unbelief to faith.

There are many negative images of blindness in the Bible. But, you might reply, they are only metaphors. Why take them so seriously? Well, it is because they are images from your sighted world, and have the effect of marginalising my world.

But surely blindness is a rather negative state? Who would be blind, if there was a choice? Yes, indeed, but does that justify the constant criticism of blind people? The blind world is ignorant in many ways, but knowledgeable in others.

Blindness is used in everyday speech as a metaphor for ignorance, stubbornness, lack of discrimination and insensitivity. He struck out in blind rage. She was blind to his love. They showed a blind disregard for the welfare of others. Dozens of these expressions occur every day in speech and in print. Does this matter? If you take such things for granted, if they sink into your subconscious mind, when you lose your own sight, you interpret yourself as ignorant, foolish and the rest. This is why loss of sight is not only a huge change of life and awareness, but a massive loss of self-esteem.

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Moreover, is this not an example of a persistent discrimination against this group of people? Is this consistent with the ideals of a civilised society? And yet such expressions are so deep that we hardly ever notice them. Not everything about blindness in the Bible is negative. Paul says that we must walk by faith and not by sight, which suggests that blindness may be a kind of model of faith. Nevertheless, it is time to purge our language from the negative expressions and the attitudes behind them.

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The problem is not only in scripture and in daily life — it is also in many of our best loved hymns.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

Here is another version.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That brought me to the light.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was black but now I’m white.

Would we not consider the last line insulting? So why not the last line of the usual version?