About Ableism and Other Imposition of Worldviews

Recent tributes honoring the life and death of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking have reignited a long time debate on the topic of “ableism”. Images such as this one depicting Hawking free of his wheelchair and walking among the stars are among those sparking a lively debate about ableism.

For me there are really two parts to this debate. What is or is not appropriate in an expression of one’s feelings about the death of a celebrity? And separately does this particular tribute or other similar statements made in tribute to Stephen Hawking really represent ableism.

If you’re not familiar with the term “ableism”, it is a type of prejudice which denigrates those with physical disability in favor of those who are able-bodied. It is a type of prejudice that has parallels to racism and sexism.

Before addressing the claims of ableism, I’d like to address the issue of celebrity tributes in general. When a celebrity dies, we often see tributes to them which are not necessarily in tune with the deceased’s particular beliefs or wishes. We saw the same thing when Steve Jobs died. A number of cartoons depicted him in heaven and/or being in the presence of God which would have been contrary to his Buddhist beliefs. Here’s a page with a good sampling.

http://w99.suretech.com/16846/Steve_Jobs_Remembered_in_Cartoons

There was similar controversy during this year’s Super Bowl halftime concert by Justin Timberlake who projected an image of Prince onto a large screen. Prince had specifically said he did not want to appear as a hologram after his death. Although not technically a hologram, it did have a sort of ethereal holographic feel to it.

The Steve Jobs tributes were undoubtedly disrespectful of his religious beliefs. The criticism of the Super Bowl depiction of Prince was probably a little bit nitpicky especially since it wasn’t really a hologram. Furthermore it was not complicated by religious overtones. But was there anything similarly inappropriate about this particular tribute to Hawking?

This article from time.com documents his beliefs about God and an afterlife.

http://time.com/5199149/stephen-hawking-death-god-atheist/

In various statements, he made his atheist stance quite clear. This included his disbelief of any sort of afterlife. His beliefs about God confused people because he had written famously that if we understood how the universe worked that we would glimpse “the mind of God”. He later made it clear that he was speaking much more metaphorically. For him God was not a particular being with which one would have a personal relationship. Rather God was a metaphorical concept of the manner in which the universe worked. He did not believe in a being like God who was responsible for creating it. He was instead saying that to have knowledge of the universe would give you a godlike perspective.

Similar confusion surrounds statements from Albert Einstein when he famously said “God does not throw dice” in expressing his difficulty with the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. In a recent biographical TV series “Genius”. Einstein is not portrayed in any way as a religious person or a man of faith. His defense of the persecution of his own Jewish people appeared to be more based on human rights concern rather than devotion to his religious heritage. It’s pretty clear that Einstein was speaking metaphorically about God rather than from a position of faith.

While this image of Hawking walking among the stars isn’t as blatantly as religious as those depicting Steve Jobs in heaven talking to God, it does presuppose a type of afterlife which Hawking pretty clearly had rejected. The Time article quotes an interview in which he says

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” he told the Guardian. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Personally I consider myself a man of faith and a man of science even though many find these two disciplines to be incompatible and mutually exclusive. Without getting into that debate, I have to also say I have the deepest respect for those who are devout atheists or agnostics because at one point in my life I was very much an agnostic and I appreciated those who respected my beliefs.

On the other hand, such depictions are an expression of our own personal beliefs about the person. They are an artistic expression of the artist’s reaction to the death of someone they admired or respected. I believe in an afterlife despite the lack of scientific evidence. That is the nature of faith. I tend to believe that heroes of mine who happened to be atheists such as Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Asimov who have led exemplary lives and contributed to the good of the world are enjoying Paradise in an afterlife despite their disbelief in an afterlife while here on earth.

So in some respects the image in question expresses my beliefs about the fate of Prof. Hawking whether that image reflects his beliefs or not. Despite his espoused atheism and his expression that religious beliefs were fairytales, I would not describe him as blatantly anti-religion or radically disparaging of those with religious beliefs along the lines of someone like comedian Bill Maher. I would hope that he would understand that such a depiction expressed the artist’s wishes for him rather than be offended by it.

Inappropriate tributes to the dead which disrespect their beliefs and desires are a mild form of prejudice. They are an imposition of one’s own worldviews onto that of another. I think they are relatively minor offenses but there are other forms of prejudice that are more destructive. Racism, sexism, religious intolerance, LGBT intolerance and ableism are all impositions of one’s own worldview one to another.

Perhaps it is disrespectful of Hawking’s atheist stance but is that image ablest? What constitutes ableism? Is it the same as other forms of prejudice such as sexism or racism?

Apart from this particular image, there have been other statements such as “He is finally free of his burden”. While I don’t have links to such statements, I don’t doubt that they exist. And in some respects claims of ableism about such statements are more credible than the charges against this particular piece of art.

I can understand how people who are especially sensitive towards ableism might see that expressed in this image but I do not. Let me explain upfront that anything I’m about to say should in no way be construed to discount ableism as a real and destructive thing. Ableism exists and it needs to be confronted in the same way as any form of prejudice. However I really believe some of what is labeled as ableism is unjustified.

Ableism, racism, and sexism have much in common. They are all distorted worldviews which unjustifiably proclaim the superiority of one group of people over another. They denigrate and dehumanize classes of people. They are born of ignorance. They are born of fear. In extreme cases the purveyors of these prejudices are blatant and unapologetic. But the most insidious forms of these prejudices are those in which the believers are unaware of their innate negative biases.

I believe that this subtle unconscious form of prejudice constitutes 99.9% of ableism. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who would openly speak out against people with disabilities in the same way that we see unapologetic denigration of races, religious beliefs, women, or sexual orientation. It takes a pretty hard core Nazi-like person to speak disparagingly of the disabled.

It is common for people with prejudices to deny them. We have seen obvious racists declare “I am the least racist person you’ll ever find.” The most misogynistic men will proclaim their love and respect for women. Religious bigots full of intolerance hypocritically express a devotion to love fellow all human beings.

In contrast, I believe that when most people have an ablest attitude, they are genuinely unaware of the mistake of their perspective. They are almost always uninformed well-intentioned people who lack the knowledge or perspective to see the mistake of their attitude. Unlike racism, sexism, or religious hatred, people expressing ableism are more often genuinely unaware of the hurtful nature of their misperceptions. Expressions of ableism rarely are an exposure of underlying core beliefs of the person in the way that other forms of prejudice are an expression of basic character flaws. They are more easily educated and converted away from their mistaken understanding of people with disabilities.

Ableism is most often expressed in the form of pity towards the disabled person. They feel sorry for us in our horrible condition. Despite the inappropriateness of the pity and the hurtful nature of being pitied, such expressions come from a legitimately well-intentioned motivation. The condescending attitude comes not from an egotistical sense of self superiority but from a genuine misunderstanding of what it’s like to have a disability.

All prejudice is driven by fear of loss. White supremacists fear the loss of their power and perceived superiority. Sexists fear the loss of their male dominance. Religious bigots fear that alternate belief systems challenge their own beliefs and sense of certainty.

But in the case of ableism, it is the genuine and legitimate fear that someday they will end up with a disability of their own. There is a sense of awe and amazement that someone can persist in spite of a disadvantage which they themselves believe unsurmountable. The fear driven amazement is expressed in condescending, hurtful, and even dehumanizing ways. So even though ableism is not as inherently evil in its origins as other forms of prejudice, the effects of it are no less destructive.

All forms of prejudice are harmful. That harm is very personal to its victims. Prejudice must be confronted, exposed, attacked, denounced and discredited. Although it is difficult to eradicate among its believers, through thoughtful education its spread can be halted. But in our zeal to do so, there is always the risk of seeing such prejudice were it doesn’t really exist.

I am reminded of the joke about the guy who goes to a therapist and the therapist administers an inkblot test. “What does this image remind you of?” the therapist asks. The patient replies “sex”. “What about this?” Again he replies “sex”. As each abstract image is shown to the patient he replies “sex”. The therapist says “Mr. Jones has it occurred to you that you’re obsessed with sex?” Jones replies “Me? You are the one with all of the dirty pictures!”

Sadly in the face of all the real sexism, racism, and ableism… Some people find it where it does not exist. In some respects I think that may be the case in this particular circumstance. I don’t think this particular image is an expression of even subconscious ableism.

It depicts Hawking walking among the stars out of his wheelchair. As evidence that Hawking might not have been offended by the image in that way, I offer up the fact that he had booked passage on a Virgin Galactic flight into outer space where he would experience zero-g. In his New York Times obituary linked here there is a photo of him about halfway down the page showing him out of his wheelchair floating in simulated zero gravity. He is on board a so-called “vomit comet” airplane which flies a parabolic arc inducing a freefall. The smile on his face and the fact that he did not go about this adventure while continuing to be strapped into his chair (which he could have done) tells me that an image of him floating free from his chair would have in no way offended him. While you might point out that the artwork in question depicts him upright rather than floating at an odd angle, I don’t believe that’s a significant difference.

While I am sympathetic and respectful of those whose anti-ableism sensitivities are triggered by such an image, I think there is a significant difference between ableism and other forms of prejudice that make some of it unjustified. I do not believe that all expressions of dislike of a disability are necessarily a bad thing. I think they represent the reality that having a disability is legitimately an undesirable situation.

That doesn’t mean that everything about having a disability is bad. In my own tribute to Stephen Hawking, I explained that the reason that I so admired him and considered him a role model despite my natural tendency to avoid role models was that he had made positive use of his disability. Because of the limitations imposed on him by his physical condition, he adapted his methods of reasoning to rely upon mental visualization techniques rather than writing out derived equations as is the usual strategy. This gave him insights to the cosmological questions he was pondering that had escaped notice by other physicists in his field. So there was an aspect of his disability that was undoubtedly an asset. Recognizing that in some ways my disability is a God-given gift or from a non-theological perspective simply asset in my life, I felt a connection to Stephen Hawking. I wrote in my tribute to him “Understanding that Hawking had similarly turned his disability to his advantage was a conformational data point to prove my hypothesis that having a disability wasn’t all bad.”

The clichéd proverb states “When life gives you lemons… make lemonade” acknowledges the fact that lemons are sour but you can still make something good from them. It doesn’t deny the fact that your life has taken a negative turn. It only proposes that such negatives can be turned around into positives.

All prejudice presupposes an illegitimate or insignificant difference between groups. One race is considered superior to another race for no justifiable reason. Any measurable differences between races can always be justifiably explained as being caused by the effects of institutional racism rather than being justifiable reasons for racism. Sexism against women is not based upon the legitimate biological differences between men and women but is rather a defense of institutional and cultural domination of men over women. Hate against different religious groups or directed towards sexual orientation have their roots in belief systems rather than measurable superiority. Such prejudices are inherently subjective rather than objective.

But in the case of ableism, there are objective, demonstrable, measurable differences between able-bodied people and people with disabilities. These differences should not be used to denigrate the value and basic humanity of people with disabilities. Ableism is wrong. It is evil. It is real and should be confronted and stopped. But because people with disabilities are measurably different than able-bodied people, not every attempt to discuss these differences or to describe a disability in a negative light is in fact evil ableism.

In order to live a productive life with a disability, it is absolutely essential that one come to terms with one’s condition and to accept it as a part of themselves. It is okay to identify intimately with one’s disability and to embrace the positive aspects of it. But to deny that there are negative aspects to it is to deny reality.

I offer the following challenge to people with disabilities. If someone presented you with a magic button that you could push that would instantly remove your disability without robbing you of the insights, perspective, and giftedness that your disability has provided you, would you not push that button?

No matter how accepting I am of my situation… No matter how much I view my disability as not only an asset but literally a gift from God above. I would push that fucking button in a millisecond. My guess is that the vast majority of people with disabilities would do so as well no matter how deeply they embraced their current condition.

The difference between having a disability or being of a particular race or gender is that by its very nature it has the power to enslave you. The enslavement of race or gender is externally imposed. The enslavement of disability comes from the disability itself.

Did black people like being slaves? Do they enjoy the economic disadvantages imposed them by their race? Do they embrace being presumed guilty and gunned down in the streets by racist police? Of course they do not. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to be black or can’t be proud to be black.

Do women enjoy making 70 cents on the dollar compared to men? Do they enjoy the degradation and sexual abuse? Recent events show that we are finally listening to their expressions about the extent of this degradation. While they fight to be free of such limitations it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be women.

The desire to be free of the disadvantages of a disability is not an assault on one’s identity as a disabled person. Much of what is mistakenly labeled as ableism is NOT an expression in the belief of the superior value of able-bodied people over disabled people. It is a legitimate recognition of the genuine disadvantages of disability.

Many of the negative aspects of having a disability can be mitigated by changing people’s attitudes. By changing society. By changing negative stereotypes. By educating people. But having a disability is inherently, objectively, measurably a disadvantage. It is legitimate and non-ablest to point out these differences. It is legitimate to want to be free from these inherent disadvantages. And it is not only legitimate but praiseworthy to hope for others to be free of those disadvantages.

Part of the problem comes down to evolving terminology. We have evolved our language in such a way that it is driven more by the forces of arbitrary political correctness rather than logical reasoning. Words are abused in such a way that they lose their legitimate meaning. I’ve talked about this before in other essays but I will try to summarize my beliefs here.

I have a “disease”. It is a genetic neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2. It is part of who I am. I literally would be a different person without it because it is genetic. Other diseases are caused by bacteria or viruses such as polio or AIDS. Similarly there are medical conditions caused by outside forces. Cerebral palsy is typically a result of anoxia during childbirth. Spinal cord injuries come about by physical trauma. All of these are “medical conditions”. Short of a medical cure or some natural healing process, these don’t go away. They are an undeniable reality.

My disease and any other medical condition results in a “disability”. I am literally dis-able to do certain things. I can’t walk. I can’t take care of my personal needs. I cannot feed myself. I have virtually no use of my arms. These are things that objectively I cannot do. There is truth in the abused cliché “everyone has a disability.” You can’t fly without an airplane. You can’t lift 5000 pounds with your bare hands. You are literally dis-able to do these things. The difference is, you don’t expect to be able to do these things and nobody expects you to. Nobody else can either.

That’s where the word “handicap” comes into play. Unfortunately is a word that has fallen out in favor but it still has an important legitimate meaning and use. Your handicap is the way that your disability interacts with your environment. When a disability restricts you from doing the things you want to do and/or that the world around you expects you to be able to do then it becomes a handicap. Nobody expects you to lift 5000 pounds with your bare hands or fly like Superman. And even though it might be fun, that disability really doesn’t adversely affect your life. Being able to walk, care for myself, engage in the types of physical activities that most people is something that I could reasonably want to do and that the world about me expects me to be able to do.

People militantly declare “I’m not disabled”. Bullshit! That’s denying reality. You have a disease or medical condition. Willing it away or denying it doesn’t work. Short of a medical cure, you are stuck with it. Similarly that disease or medical condition gives you a disability. Again willing it away, denying it, ignoring it doesn’t work. Handicaps are different. Handicaps can be changed. You can overcome handicaps. Change my environment. Put me in an environment with curb ramps, elevators, accessible transportation. Provide me with affordable assistant technology such as wheelchairs, adaptive computers, alternative communication tools. Adjust society’s expectations of me. I can eliminate my handicap. These strategies will never cure my disease, remove my medical condition, or give me abilities that I will never have. They do eliminate handicaps.

One of my problems with the shift from the term handicapped to disabled is that it is applied to assistance programs. By establishing programs for disabilities rather than handicaps we are saying that the disability, in and of itself, entitles you to assistance. I know of people with disabilities who do not have a handicap and do not need or deserve any sort of assistance. Apart from medical research, no benefit or program is ever going to get rid of a disability. But appropriately administered government and private programs can and do eliminate handicaps.

Those who declare “I’m not disabled” or “don’t call me disabled” are denying reality. Scream that you are not handicapped and I will support you. On a good day neither am I. Deny your disability and you are living in fantasy land.

Denying a disability exists is one extreme. Denying the negative aspects of disability is another extreme. There has to be a middle ground in which you can embrace the giftedness of a disability and own it as part of your identity without denying the reality of the inherent disadvantages to it.

Anything that diminishes our humanity or is an expression of a lack of respect for our humanity and free will, regardless of what kind of -ism it is, must be challenged, intolerated, and eliminated. But crying wolf and unjustifiably accusing people of such denigrating attitudes where they don’t exist only serves to perpetuate that which we are trying to oppose.

Afterward

This note is added April 14, 2018.

Stephen Hawking was interviewed in an episode of Star Talk by host Neil Degrasse Tyson. The episode aired shortly before Hawking died. I just got around to watching it today. In it, Tyson asks “Stephen, you’ve been in that zero G airplane, I’ve always wanted to go. I wondered where it felt like for you.” Hawking replies (as they show photos of him floating in zero G smiling) “It was wonderful to float weightless free of my wheelchair. I could’ve gone on and on and on.” For me that definitively ends the debate on whether or not postmortem depictions of him free of his wheelchair are appropriate for not. The words “free of my wheelchair” are his words. And he didn’t say “it was a fun experiment one time”. Instead he said “I could’ve gone on and on and on.” Case closed.

Having a Prophet for a Friend

This is the third in a multi-part blog about my 2 week stay at St. Vincent Seton Specialty Hospital. Here is an index to all of the entries in this series.

Where did we leave off?

It’s been quite a while since my previous installment because I had a major computer crash that took a week or so to recover. Then I got distracted with other things. We are now up to Friday, December 16 which is the first weekend that I spent in Seton Specialty Hospital. I had a bit of a rough night the night before. Here was my early morning Facebook post at 8:17 a.m.

The plans for Friday were to try to get me sitting up in the wheelchair. Dad brought my wheelchair with him that morning because the physical therapist said I should be getting up. It turns out the therapists were pretty busy that day and they decided they couldn’t help. Dad didn’t really need much of any help getting me dressed and in the chair except that we didn’t have any experience operating their patient lift equipment. As it turned out since I had had a kind of rough night the night before I decided to just stay in bed and we would get me in the wheelchair on Monday when the therapists could help us. Here is another Facebook post from later in the day at 5:06 p.m.

My friends Rich and Kathy Logan were planning to come by to visit me that evening. I had Rich bring me a print out of my communication board because I had a quick update I wanted to get and I didn’t want to wait until dad came the next day. But before they came, I kept myself busy throughout the day working on a 3D printing project.

Remote 3D Printing

Although my specialized nurse call button was working okay at the new hospital, my hand holding that button wasn’t doing as well. At one point a few years ago I thought I had glued a metal ring on the side of it that I would stick my finger into that would help me hold that in the proper position. Somewhere along the way I lost the metal ring. It’s extremely difficult to get the button positioned exactly the way I needed it. Anytime someone moved me or had to take the button away and put it back it was always difficult to get it put back in exactly the right position. Rather than trying to have my dad come up with a new piece of metal to glue onto the side of the switch, it was going to be easier to design and 3D print a new piece.

My St. Vincent Call Button

I do all my 3D modeling in a program called Blender 3D. That program isn’t specifically designed for 3D printing. It’s used mostly for rendering and creating video games and doing photorealistic 3D models similar to what I create in POV-Ray. It’s free and open source and rather than learn one CAD program for rendering and another one for 3D printing I decided to just stick with Blender bback when I first got my 3D printer. So I downloaded a copy onto my laptop and begin designing a little ring that would fit on the side of the nurse call button. Once I had a prototype designed, I transferred it from my laptop to my desktop at home using Team Viewer file transfer features. I told dad when he got home that he should turn on the 3D printer. I would type messages to him on the screen of my desktop and I would initiate the 3D print. I have a WebCam pointed at the 3D printer so I could remotely monitor the progress of the print.

For many months I’ve had difficulty getting parts to reliably stick to the build plate. However just prior to going to the hospital I had installed a new Zebra Plate build plate on the printer that had been working wonderfully. It worked beautifully again when I was printing the part. I printed the part Friday night and dad brought it in Saturday morning. It turned out that I needed to put a little twist in the model so that the switch would be in the proper position. I actually printed 2 different versions at different angles but even the one with the greatest twist wasn’t quite enough. I printed a third version Saturday night and dad brought it in Sunday morning. The final version worked just fine. Here is a screen grab showing the part that I modeled in Blender 3D. It illustrates 2 different versions with a slightly different angle on the slot that fits onto the original switch.

Here are some photos of the final part attached to my nurse call button. The 3D printed part is in green plastic.


The use of a closed ring to put my finger through worked so well that when I got home I redesigned the way I use my pushbutton switches on my iPhone and my bedroom IR remote/alarm button. Prior to this, I had a 3D printed part that help to position the buttons my hand but they were just a couple notches to position my fingers. After my experience with the closed ring, I redid the part on my iPhone and remote switches to completely enclose one of the rings around my finger. I tried using 2 rings. I tried the ring around the index finger. But ultimately it works best with only one ring around my middle finger and just a notch for my index finger. Here are some photos that show the old and new versions of that switch. And some photos of it in use. A friend of mine from Facebook once described this as a Doctor Strange “sling ring”. It really made me mad when he said that. I wasn’t offended. I was mad that I didn’t think of the name first 🙂


Although this revised system worked fairly well throughout the rest of my stay at Seton, the way that the wire comes off of the switch would often get in the way of my wrist or my forearm. After I got home from the hospital I decided I would take the switch apart. And I would change the way the wire extends from the switch. I would redesign the ring. As I am writing this blog I’m also working on a new 3D printed part for the hospital call button. It will look more like the ones I use on my remote at home in that it will have a middle finger ring and a first finger notch. As I mentioned above, I could not hold both the call button and my remote buttons at the same time. Ultimately I hope to be able to resolve that problem as well for the next time I am in the hospital.

Having a Prophet for a Friend

That evening I was visited by my great friends Rich and Kathy Logan. I’ve known them since my college days and I was the best man at their wedding years ago. I took the opportunity to tell the story of everything that had happened while I was in St. Vincent’s Hospital getting the trach. They had visited me at St. Vincent but I was unable to talk during those visits so I had lots of stories to tell them. Basically they got a condensed version of my entire 14 part blog where I wrote about the St. Vincent stay.

When you lay around the hospital for days and you contemplate the friendships you have and legacy that you have built, you tend to think of things that had been left unsaid. While there really wasn’t anything significant unsaid between me and the Logans, there was one story I have been meaning to tell them for a long time and had not gotten around to it.

When I teach religion classes for the RCIA program at St. Gabriel, I teach a class about the Old Testament prophets. Normally you think of a prophet is a person who predicts the future. But that really isn’t the primary role of a prophet. Prophets are actually spokespersons for God. I described them as similar to the White House Press Secretary. Of course I used to use that example when we had decent people in that job. I would hate to equate a prophet of God with someone like Sean Spicer 🙂 Instead think of C.J.Cregg from The West Wing. But not only are prophets spokespersons for God, specifically their role is to call us back to God when we go astray. To remind us of our core principles when we tend to forget them ourselves. Typically a prophet says if you don’t shape up, things will go bad for you and if you do shape up things will go well for you. Whichever happens… their prophecy tends to come true.

As examples in my class I cite people like Abraham Lincoln whose Gettysburg address was a prophetic message that reminded us what we were fighting for in the Civil War. I also include people like JFK with his “Ask not what your country can do for you… Ask what you can do for your country”. Similarly prophets are dreamers. People who dream about what the world would be like if we would stick to our core principles. The primary example of course is Martin Luther King Jr. and his “I have a dream” address.

But I also give biblical examples of prophets who are personal friends. My favorite story is the story of Nathan who is a prophet to King David and who called him out when he killed one of his generals Uriah to cover up the fact that he was sleeping with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. I tell the class sometimes our friends are prophets for us who call us back to be the best versions of ourselves. To be the people that they know we can be. To be the people who made them want to be our friends in the first place. I explained that true friends are the people who can lovingly look us in the eye and say “You fucked up but I love you anyway. Now get your god damn shit together.”

Of course I don’t use that kind of language teaching the class… But you get the point.

So I told Rich and Kathy that when I teach that part of the class, they are among the friends I think of who are my prophets and to whom occasionally I have been a prophet. I explained that what I cherish most about our friendship was our ability to lovingly point out when we were being a real dick about something. I also confessed to them that I had not always exercised my role as a prophet to them out of the purest of motives. Sometimes I had been a bit self-serving in my role as a prophet and that was something which I regretted.

It wasn’t exactly a deathbed confession and I made it clear that it wasn’t. But it was nice to take the opportunity to thank them for being prophets for me and to say that I haven’t always been the purest of prophet for them even though I tried to be.

There is a parable about a guy who goes to heaven and asked Jesus “What in your opinion was the worst sin that I ever confessed?” Jesus replied “Once you had confessed your sin, I didn’t remember it anymore. So I can’t answer that.” Like the true friends that they are, the Logan’s didn’t recall the incidents that I had recounted until I recounted them.

Scripture says “Faithful friends are life-saving medicine…” Sirach 6:16

I have no doubt that they and other faithful friends had been life-saving medicine for me.

My Internet Ad Worked!

Tomorrow night at my church St. Gabriel the Archangel, we are starting our fourth or fifth year of a program called Catholics Returning Home. It’s a six-week seminar for people who used to be Catholic but for one reason or another have drifted away (or run away) from the Catholic Church. We try to do whatever is possible to help them feel welcome again. My pastor Father Larry says that the second-largest religious denomination in the United States is ex-Catholics. As someone who grew up in the Catholic Church, left it, and then got back involved again I’m ideally suited to be the group leader. The past few years it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done at church.

Although we generally get three or four people each year, unfortunately last year we only had one guy show up and he wasn’t even Catholic. A Catholic friend invited him just so he could find out a little bit about the Catholic faith even though the program wasn’t really geared for him.

We’ve tried all sorts of ways to promote the program.

This year for the first time we tried Internet advertising using a feature called Google adwords.
Here is how it works… When someone does a Google search on a word like Catholic or Catholic faith or other pertinent phrases, our advertisement pops up next to the searches. The advertisement says…

Attn: Inactive Catholics
Feel at home in the church again!
Learn about today’s Catholic Church

You can select a specific geographic area to limit where the ad is shown. In our case the ad only appears in Marion County and in a 10 mile radius of our church which includes parts of Hendrics County. It has been shown just over 30,000 times. Fortunately we only have to pay for it when someone actually clicks on our ad and goes to our webpage promoting Catholics Returning Home. We have 54 clicks recorded in the approximately 3 weeks the ad has been running. The Evangelization committee (which is run by my mom) has paid $28.53 or just over $.50 per click. By the way if you see our ad, don’t click on it… it costs us $.50! Click the fake version of it above or here is a link to the page the ad would take you to…

http://www.stgabrielindy.org/features/crh/index.html

The great news is it works!

We just got a phone call from a woman seeking more information about the program. She and perhaps her adult son will be attending tomorrow night. We asked her how she found out about the program and she said she googled the word “Catholic” and there was our advertisement. Besides Google searches the ad also appears in various websites which are supported by Google advertising. Some of the people who clicked on our ad side in places like Catholic.org, online Catholic encyclopedias and other Catholic related sites.

Unfortunately sometimes the ad has appeared places we sort of wish it didn’t. A few weeks ago someone in the Vatican was interviewed and said that in modern times there are new ways to sin. Sin is that we didn’t even think about a few years let alone a few centuries ago. Among the things that were listed as new sins are “destroying the environment”. Normally I wouldn’t mind if our ad pops up next to such an article however online editions of two different British tabloid newspapers: The Times and The Telegraph ran articles which said something like “Recycle or go to hell Vatican warns”. Not exactly the image of the church we want to promote 🙂 It wasn’t just the terrible tabloid headlines but the stories themselves were chock full of inaccuracies about the teachings of the Church. Fortunately Google lets you block certain sites from showing your advertisements so I put a block on both of those tabloids.

I had tried doing similar advertising with various fundraisers at church. I promoted last years church festival poker tournaments and I’m pretty sure we got a few people showed up because of the advertising. I also tried it for a NCAA tournament team auction fundraiser we had a couple of weeks ago but I’m not sure that really attracted anybody. We did get some clicks but I don’t think anybody actually showed up at the event.

Anyway I think it’s really cool that the advertising really works. Believe it or not I get much more excited about saving souls than I do about playing poker despite the fact that I play a lot of poker! Now were trying to brainstorm other ways to use this advertising for other programs and events.

Anyway the Catholics Returning Home program starts tomorrow night and runs for six weeks. Say a prayer, wish me luck, cross your fingers, or whatever it is you do at your house that we get more people and that I do a good job in making them feel welcome in the church again. If you know anybody else who’s an ex-Catholic who might be interested… send them our way.