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Darren Russell, a fellow theothanatologist, presented this speech at Deaf Way II in 2002.

Russell wanted to start discussing the relationship between religion and the Deaf world. But he was careful to note that Deaf culture and the Deaf world were not synonymous. Deaf culture describes how Deaf people are different from the rest of humanity. The Deaf world is a safe place for the Deaf, so they can feel fully at home.

Now, in order to discuss the relationship between religion and the Deaf world, Russell asked whether religion exist within that world. That took him into the jungle of religion, and he grabbed on Nietzsche's definition: religion is a teleological explanation. Teleology is essentially a presupposition that human life or the natural world has purpose - likely hidden. In the ancient world, teleology meant many different things. According to Judaism circa 800 to 150 BCE, teleology was essentially the belief in Divine Will. According to Hellenistic Greeks, circa 350 BCE, or specifically, Plato, teleology was the notion of Ideal Form. However, the Hellenic Greeks subscribed to Fate (Moira), which meant an existence without teleological explanation.

Teleology evolved since then: Platonism and Judaism merged and gave birth to Christianity. Christianity in turn was secularized as Western Culture. Pre-Enlightenment, circa 1650, the center of authority was in God, and in the Church. Post-Enlightenment, about 1800, the center of authority had transferred to human reason. Not long after, Nietzsche declared the death of God. He introduced a German neologism: Hinterwelt, which referred to the illusion of beyond this world, e.g., heaven. Hinterwelt can be translated into English as backworld or afterworld. Despite the Enlightenment, people still hung on to Hinterwelt. It is difficult for Western to abandon teleological explanations. In short, religion still lingers, even though God has died.

This brought Russell back to the opening question: does the Deaf world have religion? Not at all. Obviously, the Deaf world is not a backworld, it is a real world. He cited empirical evidence that Deaf people tended to cite Fate as the explanation for whatever turn of events took place. This was a return to the Age of Greek Tragedies where the belief in Fate was predominant. The Hellenic Greek conception of Fate (Moira) was unpredictable, as opposed to our modern conception of fate (Ming) as destiny.

There are several potential factors that contribute to the emergence of Deaf use of Hellenic Fate:

  • Deaf people are "fated" to be deaf; since that was completely random
  • Deaf people are almost always frustrated by communication barriers and experience constant oppression.
  • That led Deaf people to a fatalist mindset, resigned to accept their situation because they felt powerless to change anything.

Bottom line: it is true that Deaf people individually can and usually are religious. But the Deaf world itself lacks the resources for Deaf people to locate religious answers. They can only borrow resources from other older cultures when they feel the need for religious answers.

Edited by The Heretic
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