Stunt philanthropist and YouTube’s second-most popular creator MrBeast teamed up with ophthalmologist Jeff Levenson to give 1,000 people free cataract surgery last year. The video of the event, which the YouTuber released earlier this year, inspired 766 people to donate $400,000 to SEE International, a non-profit providing eyecare and low-cost cataract surgery around the world.
Most people seemed to like the video for what it was — a wholesome story about people using their wealth and knowledge to help sick people. Others, however, claimed Levenson and MrBeast were ableist, or believe disabled people are less valuable than non-disabled people.
Critics’ position stems from the fundamentally flawed idea that disabilities are part of someone’s immutable identity. By healing or celebrating a person’s healing from disabilities, the argument goes, people are implying a disabled person isn’t valuable until they’re healed.
“The biggest problem with wanting to ‘cure’ blindness is that it reinforces a moral superiority of sorts by those without disability over those who are disabled,” journalist Steven Aquino explains critics’ argument in a TechCrunch article disparaging the video. Aquino further claims the video was made “for abled people to feel good about themselves and about disabled people striving to become more like them — more normal.”
Aquino’s argument is nonsensical. Not only does he impugn the motives of those helping people by restoring their vision, but he’s also claiming that all “abled” people think they are “morally superior” to people with disabilities. Neither of these claims are based in any kind of statistical, anecdotal or theological fact.
More broadly, Aquino and video critic’s falsely link disability, identity and morality in ways that confuse concern for human life with judgement.
Our identities are made up of the immutable characteristics Christ creates us with, like our sex. Disabilities can’t be part of our identities because they’re products of living in a fallen world — a distortion of the way God created people, rather than something he created people with.
Unlike our disabilities, our value as human beings is cemented in our identities. Each person is valuable because God creates us in His image, which means no physical, spiritual or mental ailment can detract from our worth.
In the same way, disabilities don’t have any bearing on our moral standing. I wouldn’t feel morally superior to a person who can’t walk because disabilities are part-and-parcel of our fallen world, not a reflection on someone’s character.
Because disabilities don’t have any bearing on someone’s value or moral character, it’s not judgmental or belittling to heal and advocate for the healing of disabilities — it’s an essential function of loving our neighbor.
Though it may seem silly to say, it bears repeating: disabilities are not good for people. They are result of living in a sinful world and reduce people’s quality of life.
Deafness and blindness, as common examples, often decrease people’s independence, ability to communicate, financial stability and physical safety — especially if these disabilities develop later in life.
This was especially true when Jesus was alive — which is why healing physical and spiritual disabilities was a key part of His ministry on Earth.
Acknowledging these facts does not mean disabled people aren’t valuable and can’t live fulfilled, rich lives; God frequently works through our physical, mental and spiritual infirmities to His glory. Nor does healing people’s disabilities — like MrBeast and Levenson — mean forcing people to get treatment they don’t want.
It does, however, mean Christians have a responsibility to heal disabilities — be it through prayer, supporting doctors and qualified professionals or doing the healing yourself. Be confident in following the Bible and Jesus’ example, because the kind of criticism leveled above is based in neither theological nor logical fact.