THE contrast between blindness and sight in our language
continually reassures sighted people that to be sighted means to be
sensible, knowledgeable, judicious, and rational; while to be blind
is to be the opposite of such qualities.
It is regrettable that the language of faith and worship
collaborates with this prejudice; indeed, the Bible itself is a
principal source of such negativity. Even Jesus is reported to have
used the word "blind" as a term of abuse (Matthew 23.16-19 "Blind
guides!"; 24-26 "You blind Pharisee!"); and in the hymn-books, it
is the sinful, the heathen, the idolaters, and the unconverted who
are blind. It is precisely because such language is metaphorical
that it is so persuasive.
But is not the metaphor based upon accurate observation? Is it
not true that blind people are ignorant and insensitive, clumsy and
undiscriminating? Whether blind people are like this depends on the
situation, the point of view, and the detail. A blind person would
certainly be a rather undiscriminating motorist, but would not be
blind at all on the telephone. A blind person is ignorant of facial
expression, but by the same token, cannot be deceived by
Blind people do become rather indifferent to reported details
that necessarily lie outside their experience. I listen with
patient interest to my friend describing a stained-glass window or
a painting. My interest is just as much in the reactions of my
friend as it is in the object of description.
Of course, blind people differ from each other as much as
sighted people do. While it is true that blind people cannot do
anything that sighted people cannot do, it may be the case that
blindness enables tactile and acoustic experiences to be absorbed
with greater concentration and intensity.
At any rate, we certainly cannot compare the experiences of
sighted and blind people point by point in this way, especially if
we are coming from a philosophy of normality that assumes a
deficiency model of disability. The Bible speaks of blindness as a
curse from God (Acts 13.6-11), or as a metaphor of unbelief (John
9.39-41). It speaks of those who, being blind, lead other blind
people into trouble (Matthew 15.14); but it never refers to the
skilful hands of the blind weaver or the blind potter.
On the other hand, the Bible also takes blindness as a metaphor
of faith, for "we walk by faith not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5.7);
and faith itself is "the evidence of things unseen" (Hebrews,
Not until the ambiguity of the religious and linguistic
traditions is more vividly realised will the unconscious
reinforcement of the exclusive world of normality be qualified.
The presuppositions, experiences and attitudes that I have
described must represent significant educational barriers between
sighted teachers and blind, or visually impaired, children. It is
an educational barrier because there can be no genuine dialogue
between a totalised world and that which is deemed to lie beyond
Mere human sympathy is insufficient. The sympathy that does not
challenge the absolute charac- ter of the totalised world must turn
into a condescending or patronising attitude, into the desire to
help, into a benevolence that simply fails to understand, or into
This is the last of four edited extracts from The
Tactile Heart: Blindness and faith by John M. Hull (SCM Press,
£25; CT Bookshop £22.50; 978-0-334-04933-3.