The Right is the Hand of God
Want to challenge the idea that natural variation violates God’s will? Start with hands.
Imagine being told from a young age that something inherent in your wiring is inferior or perhaps sinister. Your teachers tried to beat it out of you by smacking your wrist, but all of their attempts have failed. Your church leaders keep accusing you of working with the Devil, but you protest that it’s perfectly natural. Your parents stay up late at night agonizing over their mistakes. Doctors try to “cure” you although you know you are not ill. You try to protest that this is just the way you are, that it’s not evil in any way, but this only serves to kindle the hatred of those around you.
You are left-handed in the Middle Ages.
The word “left” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lyft”, which means a variety of things ranging from crippled to untrustworthy. In other languages, the same unfavorable connotations are evident. In expressions like the use of “left-handed wife” to refer to a mistress or “coming out of left field” meaning that something unexpected happened, we still have a subconscious tendency to refer to the left as the side of the other or the undesired.
The Bible contains 100 mentions of the right hand that are all positive and 25 mentions of the left hand that are all negative. However, when the Bible refers to left-handed people, left-handedness is seen as a spiritual strength rather than a weakness. Ehud’s left-handedness enabled him to sneak a sword in to kill the oppressive king Eglon. In a similar fashion, every member of a group of 700 left-handed Benjaminite men “could sling a stone at a hair and not miss”.
Despite these positive references and the widespread availability of the Bible, left-handed persecution endured well into the 20th century. American psychoanalyst Abram Blau thought that left-handed children would develop severe developmental and learning disabilities if this “problem” was not corrected soon enough. However, the opposite became evident as stuttering and left-handedness were studied in conjunction with each other. Lucille Duke and Wendell Johnson, students of Lee Edward Travis conducted a study of 16 subjects, 14 of whom were left-handed and forced to become right-handed. They attributed the stuttering “emotional disturbance” and inadequate brain lateralization.
Their findings did not come without pushback. When all 16 subjects began using their hands according to their natural preference, their stuttering stopped or subsided substantially. Others came back with findings that stuttering and left-handedness weren’t inherently connected, but that stuttering and handedness retraining were. These links were strengthened by studies in Catholic schools in the 1980s since they resisted progressive educational ideals that clashed with this practice.
Despite developments in researching hand preference, some countries took more extreme measures to prevent left-handedness. Spain, Italy, and then-Soviet countries made right-handed writing compulsory in schools while in Albania, left-handedness was a criminal offense. Even these countries came around on hand preference as time went on. Thanks to a body of dedicated researchers and evolution in social attitudes, left-handedness is generally accepted as a natural variation rather than an illness or a character deficit.
Nowadays, we might think that such irrational hatred something that’s not an illness or a conscious choice doesn’t make much sense. However, we’re way closer to those times than we think. Christian schools still have the right to expel LGBTQ students for openly expressing their sexuality and/or gender identity. As someone who was one of those students who feared expulsion, I wonder when Christian institutions will look back at history and realize how many people they have harmed with their rhetoric.