My wife, Patty, and I were reminded of just why truth matters when we visited our grandson’s school one afternoon.
Max, as some of you may know, is autistic. As he showed Patty and me around his special-needs school—a story I tell in my new book, The Good Life—I was more than impressed with his teachers. They get a modest wage and work long hours under intense conditions. Autistic kids are demanding and sometimes aggressive. Yet Max’s teachers radiated joy—and I understood why.
Whenever Max comes to visit, everything else goes on hold as I accommodate myself to his schedule and his needs. Learning to meet those needs has been one of the greatest challenges, but also one of my greatest blessings.
But as I stood that day in Max’s classroom, a troubling thought crossed my mind. Why does the public education system spend as much as $65,000 per year to tend kids like Max? He will never go to college and never get a productive job. I couldn’t help but think of Peter Singer, the famous utilitarian philosopher from
Singer and others, as a matter of fact, would argue against letting Max come into the world at all. And that argument has infiltrated our culture to an almost unbelievable extent. Ninety percent of couples who learn that their unborn children have a disability end up aborting them. Singer takes that mentality a step further, however, arguing that it’s ethical to kill these children after they’re born.
So the argument becomes—why should efforts like Max’s school, or taking care of very elderly people, continue if it’s in our power to make it unnecessary?
The person who says, “yes,” to Max now and in the future can reason only on the basis of something completely other than a cost-benefit analysis. In a utilitarian accounting, Max’s life is meaningless. Why, then, does he bring so much joy to his family and his teachers? Max’s autism is not a good thing—it’s part of the world’s brokenness—and yet that brokenness has been used to enlarge our capacity to love. Max brings joy into our lives through our sacrifices for him. Max himself knows a joy and wonder that puts me to shame. How does one account for this?
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