Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

God Lives Under the Bed

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on February 27, 2009

The following is one of those chain emails that has been making the rounds in Evangelical Christian circles. Enjoy it in its entirety. My annotated version follows it:

I think this is perhaps one of the BEST email ‘forwards’ I have ever read. I
hope you will enjoy it half as much as I have!!

Don’t start reading this one until you’ve got more than 3 or 4 minutes to
just ‘scan’ over it. It deserves some time for reflection.

GOD LIVES UNDER THE BED

I envy Kevin. My brother Kevin thinks God lives under his bed. At least
that’s what I heard him say one night.

He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped to listen, ‘Are
you there, God?’ he said. ‘Where are you? Oh, I see. Under the bed…’

I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room. Kevin’s unique perspectives
are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long
after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world
Kevin lives in.

He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties
during labor. Apart from his size (he’s 6-foot-2), there are few ways in
which he is an adult.

He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he
always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed,
that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every
Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.

I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever
dissatisfied with his monotonous life?

Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to
walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for
dinner, and later to bed.

The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly
over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.

He does not seem dissatisfied.

He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple
work.

He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before
dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for
his next day’s laundry chores.

And Saturdays-oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day my Dad takes Kevin
to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate
loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. ‘That one’s goin’ to
Chi-car-go! ‘ Kevin shouts as he claps his hands.

His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.

He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent.

His life is simple.

He will never know the entanglements of wealth of power, and he does not
care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs
have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.

His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When
he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in
it.

He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job
until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax.

He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others His heart is pure.

He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when
you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue.

Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry
when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere.
And he trusts God.

Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as
a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with Him in a way
that is difficult for an ‘educated’ person to grasp. God seems like his
closest companion.

In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity I envy the
security Kevin has in his simple faith.

It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge
that rises above my mortal questions

It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap . I
am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become
disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care

Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has
spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and
soaking up the goodness and love of God.

And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed
at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the
simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.

Kevin won’t be surprised at all!

When you receive this, say a prayer. That’s all you have to do. There is
nothing attached. This is powerful.

Just send this to four people and do not break this, please. Prayer is one
of the best free gifts we receive. There is no cost, but a lot of rewards.

This story disturbed me on many different levels. My initial reaction was to chuckle at how patronizing and blind to irony the writer is. I followed the writer’s suggestion and took “more than 3 or 4 minutes” to reflect on it. Upon reflection, it struck me that this story contains a few main narrative themes that inform the faith of many of the Christians I know. I decided that annotating the sections of the story that stood out to me would be the best way to demonstrate this:

monsterUnderBedI envy Kevin. My brother Kevin thinks God lives under his bed. At least
that’s what I heard him say one night.

The author’s envy is part of the main idea of the story. Keep it in your mind as we continue. The author then transitions to describing “the very different world Kevin lives in.”

He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he
always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed,
that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every
Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.

Prior to this, we learn that Kevin is a 30-year-old male with a severe mental disability. In this passage, the author places Kevin’s belief that God lives under his bed in the same category as two other things that are clearly false. Of course, if God is truly everywhere at once, as Christians believe, then He really does live under the bed. Maybe I’m just splitting hairs though. We’ll get to some more egregious examples of blindness to irony a little further on in the story.

I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever
dissatisfied with his monotonous life?

Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to
walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for
dinner, and later to bed.

The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly
over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.

He does not seem dissatisfied.

He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple
work.

He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before
dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for
his next day’s laundry chores.

And Saturdays-oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day my Dad takes Kevin
to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate
loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. ‘That one’s goin’ to
Chi-car-go! ‘ Kevin shouts as he claps his hands.

His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.

He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent.

His life is simple.

He will never know the entanglements of wealth or power, and he does not
care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs
have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.

The author appears to be attributing Kevin’s “monotonous” life to his disability, but I don’t see how this description of his days is any different from most people’s lives. This is where the author’s patronizing attitude towards Kevin begins to creep into the story. For instance, why would the writer wonder whether he is dissatisfied when he has a job and life like everyone else? Now, if he were stuck in the house all day, I could see wondering about this. Why does she say that he is “never discontent”? This is clearly false and patronizing. The writer is trying to create this idealized, white-washed version of life as a person with a mental disability. However, I am sure that people with disabilities get frustrated with things and feel all of the same positive and negative emotions that everyone else does. The only way this representation could get any more patronizing and offensive is if she were to just come out and say what she is implying: “retarded people are so happy because they are so stupid!” We will discover later in the story that this entirely fake representation of his life is being constructed to tie in with her idea about her religious beliefs.

His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When
he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in
it.

He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job
until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax.

He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others His heart is pure.

In this section, we are presented with the old Puritanical idea that connects purity and goodness with hard work. The author also continues the romanticized portrait of Kevin; he is someone whose “heart is pure” due to how “simple” he is–simple brain + simple work = pure heart.

Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as
a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with Him in a way
that is difficult for an ‘educated’ person to grasp. God seems like his
closest companion.

In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity I envy the
security Kevin has in his simple faith.

This is where the main theme of her story comes to a head. Note that the author negatively connects use of the intellect with confinement, instead of viewing it positively as a form of freedom that permits humans to explore the world they live in. We can observe other manifestations of this anti-intellectual Christianity in American society: the 97% of scientists who agree that global warming is a result of human carbon emissions are seen as nuts, Sarah Palin is seen as electable, etc.

Also in this section of the story, we can see why the author earlier created an idealized and sanitized version of life as a person with a severe mental disability; we are meant to connect mental disability to faith in God! The writer is actually saying to the reader, “In order to be a good Christian, you must function at the cognitive level of a seven-year-old.” This story is basically a variation of the lesson attributed to Jesus in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The author is creating a paint-by-numbers story with a concept that ties directly back to this verse. She accomplishes this by first painting her disabled brother as a child. To do this, she relies on generic concepts of childhood that view it as a time of innocence and purity. She greatly oversimplifies this concept and leaves out anything that would suggest Kevin is not as perfect as Christ himself. Ironically, the picture of childhood that she draws upon is not at all in agreement with the Christian doctrine of Original Sin. The whole reason that children should be hit (the euphemism “spanked” is their term of preference) is to “correct” their sinful nature.

It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge
that rises above my mortal questions.

Makes perfect sense: a thirty-year-old with the mental capacity of a seven-year-old has tapped into a realm of supernatural knowledge. The evidence for this is…um…well, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to believe it!

It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I
am.

I couldn’t agree more.

Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has
spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and
soaking up the goodness and love of God.

Here, the writer explicitly reveals the formula being used: mental disability = childlike innocence = perfectly suited to practice religious faith. The biggest, and funniest, irony is that the author completely misses how unflattering her portrait of the perfect Christian is. Could you imagine an essay by a scientist or a philosopher in which one is encouraged to function with the mental capacity of a person with a severe mental disability? After the laughter dies down, this story elicits nothing from me but sad shakes of the head.

And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed
at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the
simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.

Kevin won’t be surprised at all!

When you receive this, say a prayer. That’s all you have to do. There is
nothing attached. This is powerful.

Dear God, I pray this writer’s stupidity is not contagious.

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3 Responses to “God Lives Under the Bed”

  1. JN said

    (1) I can’t believe you actually read this. These are the crap emails my Grandma reads and forwards to my junk account.

    (2) I can’t believe you actually responded to it.

  2. The Chaplain said

    It’s amazing how much time I freed up once I stopped going to church.

  3. JN said

    …now you actually have the time to read chain mail.

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