Thank god for Tourette’s

Tim Howard is all over the news now with his spectacular effort in goal the other day. Here is a short article in which he talks about faith in Jesus and his Tourette syndrome.

The couple of lines I’m going to have a look at are, “That said; living with Tourette’s is not easy. But God has blessed me with the gift of athleticism as well.

He has done some powerful things in my life through the combination of these 2 gifts.”

The power of positive thinking really is wonderful. In Tim Howard’s case it lets him believe that Tourette’s has been a blessing from god because in overcoming the difficulties Tourette’s presented in his life he has learned skills and encountered opportunities that he otherwise would not have. It sounds so inspirational, but what’s wrong with this view?

For a start, Tim Howard doesn’t consider that if god is giving out blessings, then god could have handed out the very same skills directly to Tim, and cut out the middle man of Tourette’s. Hoping that someone learns important skills by encumbering them with diseases, injuries or genetic defects seems an awfully inefficient means of life coaching for a deity. After all, if the recipient fails to learn the skill, then essentially they’ve been left with a handicap for no good reason.

Next, Tim Howard fails to consider that the only reason he’s learned how to cope with Tourette’s is because he has access to a modern medical system which can identify the problem and prescribe a course of treatment. Were he not to have access to such a system simply because of the chance of his location then he may not see Torette’s as such a blessing.

Also, you’ve got to wonder how Tim Howard feels about getting treatment for Tourette’s. Once a handicap is seen as a blessing, then does undertaking treatment for the handicap, or having it cured, interfere with god’s plan? Likewise is charity in fact in opposition to helping the recipient learn the lessons that god has in store for the receiver? These are of course ridiculous exaggerations, but I’m only picking up and drawing the long bow which Tim Howard put on the table.

Last, I wonder how Tim Howard would view other afflictions much more serious than Tourette’s. With enough mental fortitude we may indeed be able to look on the bright side of life no matter what life throws at us, but I’m sure most people would decline the blessing of terminal cancer or Alzhemier’s no matter what blessings accrue by side effect.

17 thoughts on “Thank god for Tourette’s

  1. Marco

    I think that is an empty way to look at how his handicap, or anybody’s handicap, no matter how severe can be a “blessing”. It’s like if in Age of Empires style game, for some reason your software couldn’t be taken out of hard mode – Although frustrating because you couldn’t get through the levels, It allows your skills to improve more so than if you got through easily. Then when you get your software doctor to cure the issue, you see the fault as a blessing because you are so much better than you would have been if the software had worked.

    The point is that it is only relevant when you don’t have a choice or “cheat” available to you. A good software programmer (playing God) will put these handicaps in for good reason, and make sure the cheats are not easy to find.

    Sure – people will give up on games that seem too hard, but that is not the programmer’s fault.

  2. winstoninabox Post author

    Marco, I’m not sure what you mean in the first line by an “empty way”. Any person can certainly look at a handicap in a positive light, there is no disagreement there. And certainly adversity can teach us in ways that prosperity never can. But the issue with Tim Howard’s faith-based outlook is that his handicap, and by extension any handicap, have been actively given to the recipient. That agency greatly changes the dynamic from a naturalistic approach in which life has dealt you a tough hand, but you’re going to make the best of it. What I’ve posed are not unreasonable questions and what ifs based on there being a supernatural being that chooses to do what we would consider cruel harm needlessly for the purpose of teaching a lesson.

  3. Marco

    The way is empty if it makes you feel better that a “misfortune” is a random event, than if it is part of a mysterious complex grand scheme. Sometimes one has to be cruel to be kind, and whether it is fate or God’s will, adversity can be both cruel and a blessing.

  4. winstoninabox Post author

    Surely emptiness is in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure Tim Howard doesn’t feel it empty, but likewise I’m sure there are probably thousands of Scientoligists with handicaps who feel the same way, and they don’t beleive in anything remotely similar to Jesus.
    I’m not interested in judging their beliefs, but rather their claims and what follows from them. So yes, adversity can be both cruel and a blessing, but as I said before its very tenuois position to claim that the affliction is a blessing when it has been actively forced onto someone. The only reason that it’s thought so in this case is that it’s a god who is the agent. Were someone’s kneecaps to be smashed in with a hammer neither the injured party nor the the courts would accept a defense that it was done as a blessing for the person. And if they did agree it was the work of Jesus, well…

  5. Marco

    Well, I guess a belief system that applies a purpose to what is a torturous affliction. Like the application of electric shock therapy, rather than cases of torture. If the intent is unknown, and defence in a court of law irrelevant, why believe that the affliction has no purpose?

  6. winstoninabox Post author

    You’re confusing the purpose for which the doctor or torturer applies the electricity for the purpose that the person themselves gives it. God may well have a grand scheme in mind for handicaps, but that scheme is not revealed at all. If someone wishes to believe that there is one, then they can. But there is no evidence that there is. And if the outcome is meant to be for the betterment of the person then like the two examples you give, it is an imprecise and painful, with the outcome in doubt. A deity ought to be able to do better.

  7. Marco

    To put it another way – Any belief system is better – ie. less empty than atheism in that kind of context. Anger at a deity because they could do better still implies a belief in the deity. A focus on “humanism” is of no help because our natural instinct is to attribute blame and a lack of a cure to others rather than searching in oneself for the strength to overcome. In some ways it still boils down to our different take on free will, and the extent of the omniscience of the deity in the mind of the believer – or in actuality. If our belief was a science, would we really be surprised to find that omniscience is just a close approximation to reality and is subject to some uncertainty due to the expression of free will? The scientific metaphor I have in mind is the physics of motion versus relativistic physics of motion. Another is Heidelbergs uncertainty principle.

  8. winstoninabox Post author

    “To put it another way – Any belief system is better – ie. less empty than atheism in that kind of context.”

    That’s your opinion. I wouldn’t agree. There are millions of people who don’t believe in a deity yet who they themselves believe are living a life equal to someone who does. If you wish to devalue that, based on nothing but your own belief that it is so, then go ahead. As I’ve said in one or our long ago conversations, people can hold onto other values such as family, country or even humanity itself, that give them equal motivation. I’m not criticizing Tim Howard for believing in god, that his belief and his alone, but rather following what that belief leads to in how he interprets his handicap.

    “Anger at a deity because they could do better still implies a belief in the deity.”

    Just no. I don’t believe in dragons, but I can talk about them. Especially if I’m playing Dungeons & Dragons. I can even talk about if these dragons are of good or evil alignment. I’m pretty sure you can do this too, Marco. When you talk about Skyrim, you know it’s just a game. This same with this. It’s a kind of “let’s pretend”.

    ” A focus on “humanism” is of no help because our natural instinct is to attribute blame and a lack of a cure to others rather than searching in oneself for the strength to overcome.”

    Leaving aside whether this is even true, then here’s what you’re implying – humanism is not as good as theism because humans can’t overcome their natural instincts. Fortunately, I’ve a little more faith in humans, so again I must disagree.

    I was rather hoping you’d address my previous reply which was to your electroshock/torturer example. I said you were wrong and why, but you just let it slide.

  9. Marco

    Re: Imprecise and painful.

    I addressed this in the sense that the motive behind electroshock was theoretically always to better the person. It was considered best practice and patients were willingly subjected to it. To me, it is not about the perpetrator knowing in advance what the results would be, but about the patient trusting that the “doctors” know best, and that trust being part of the process. For the person who doesn’t trust the doctor, all treatments are going to appear imprecise and painful. That is not to say that torturers do not exist, whose motive is to inflict pain and misery.

    1. winstoninabox Post author

      Yes, but in this case the doctor/torturer enters the room, applies the ‘treatment’ and leaves without saying a word. And no matter how many times this is done, the doctor/torturer never lets on the purpose of why. Is it for the patient’s benefit? Is it for the silent agent’s? Is it for information? The victim will never ever know the truth. That some turn this endless process into a narrative where the agent loves them and is doing it for their benefit is not at all surprising. Psychologically it is the least harmful fiction to invent.

      1. Marco

        Yes – That is correct. My point is that a narrative and “fiction” gives the greatest – lets say placebo benefit if it is believed to be the absolute truth. Those that already believe in God are pre-armed with this medicine. It may still be of benefit to invent a fiction on the fly as needed, but it will never work as well as anyone who has worked with placebos can attest. Atheists’ insistence with arguments that show that there most likely is no purpose to most suffering that is inborn is counter to strategies to cope with such suffering. Yes – it is my opinion that this is an empty way of looking at it. How do you cope with your own inborn imperfections/challenges?

      2. Chris Fellows (@cfellows65536)

        Re: ‘inventing a fiction on the fly as needed’

        Reminds me of this Borges short story.

        The ultimate nature of reality is not knowable, so all narratives we tell ourselves will be to some extent fictions. In that case we should chose the least harmful (physically, psychologically, socially) narrative which is not contradicted by experimental evidence.

        1. winstoninabox Post author

          I’m trying to get a post together on beliefs and claims, but have no time just at the moment. I’m hoping earlier next week will be be less congested with work.

  10. winstoninabox Post author

    Glad we see eye to eye on what we are talking about.

    ” How do you cope with your own inborn imperfections/challenges?”

    Everyone will find their own way. our existence is mortal and ephemeral , and that is a fact that is inescapable. We exist now, and when we are gone we are gone. Since having a son I feel the weight of that even more, because I have that knowledge and I see him living a life free from that burden. So if some wish to believe that they are part of some grand plan, then that is their belief. I can understand why they do. But personally I’d rather spend my life searching for real meaning and cope with the fact that this is unlikely to be found than give over to an obvious fantasy. Why do we feel the need to give it meaning… we are.

    1. Marco

      I like to think of it as “Our existence *appears* mortal and ephemeral”. It would have softened the blow somewhat if I had been given at least a hint or possibility of life after death when the certainty of death was explained to me. I rely on that to live my life from day to day, but not so much that I think it is likely better.

  11. winstoninabox Post author

    I don’t mind whatever someone believes with respect to that point. But one couldn’t claim that there is life after death. There is no evidence to support it. But certainly I’m sure that it gives many comfort to think so. I’m more of the opinion that I won’t worry about what I can’t change – one die, like billions of other living things before me, will be dead.

    However, I’m not comfortable with the eternal surveillance of and judgement that goes into deciding what one’s eternal fate will be. I do think the Christian idea is pretty creepy, and I really hope that if there is life after death, then that isn’t it.


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