Why Toni Braxton Is Wrong And Why It Matters

There are a few articles floating around the intertubes about Toni Braxton saying that she believes her son’s autism is due to the fact that she had an abortion.   I shared a link to the story and commented that her believing that God gave her son autism shows to me that her God is huge dick who punishes innocent children for their mothers’ mistakes.

I got a couple of comments on that post saying that I shouldn’t judge a fairly good religion by what some of its celebrity members have to say, or that not all Christians are crazy that way.

I shared the article again with the following reply:

This isn’t a knock at Christians, or believers of any religion. This is a comment on how someone can hold a deity in high esteem that is obviously not what most people would call moral. I know that not all Christians are like that, but the ones that open their mouths, the ones that are out there spouting this stuff (many are politicians and celebrities) are doing all Christians a disservice by representing their God as a merciless, capricious psychopath. I don’t think that Toni Braxton is a bad person, but I do think that she is deluded into believing that somehow she is to blame for her son’s condition. This puts unneeded guilt on her, and can’t help, to some extent, transfer some how to her son. This particular belief is causing emotional harm to her and possibly her son. These are the things about religion that gall me. I don’t personally care what anyone believes. What I do care about, and what I will continue to speak out about, are the harms, big and small, that come from irrational thinking like this. This includes people who try to spread beliefs like this using their positions (celebrity, politician, etc), and who push their beliefs on others, especially in the form of laws and social constructs.

A very interesting part of the story that isn’t hinted at in the headline is why the decision to have an abortion was a very difficult one.

The Raw Story mentions that she had the abortion because:

“…she found out she was pregnant when she was taking the powerful acne drug Accutane.

The drug, which shrinks and eliminates sebum-producing cells in the skin, was first used as a chemotherapy drug for pancreatic and brain cancers. Women are urged not to take the drug if they are pregnant or may become pregnant because the chemical attacks rapidly reproducing cells like those of a developing fetus. Embryos exposed to the drug can have severe birth defects.

The risk to unborn children is so great that doctors often prescribe two forms of birth control to women who take Accutane.”

That her decision was so wrought anguish is likely true of almost all women who have abortions and is something other articles I read about didn’t even bother to mention.

At the end of The Raw Story there is an update:

UPDATE: A reader pointed out that Braxton later said that her son’s autism diagnosis was incorrect. SFGate reported that the singer told People magazine, “I thought I was being punished for having an abortion. But I realized there is nothing wrong with my baby. He just learns differently.”

This, of course, is an inexcusable, but common, occurrence in today’s media.  Salon included those details.  The HufPo included the quote, leaving out the fact that her son doesn’t actually have autism, and mentions nothing about Accutane being the reason she decided to have the abortion.

There are two major things that bother me about this whole incident.

The media sucks at their job, assuming their job is to accurately report news.  This, however, isn’t the reason I am writing this.

The really important, and disturbing, thing is that Toni Braxton berated and punished herself because she believed that an all knowing, all seeing, supposedly merciful deity saw no problem punishing her innocent son because she had done something it didn’t like.  This is one of the places where religious belief and magical thinking can cause harm.   Most religions pile guilt upon followers for all kinds of acts, many harmless.  This guilt can taint a person’s entire outlook on life, how they feel about themselves, and affect how they relate to others.

How we feel about ourselves affects everyone around us.  This, in turn, can affect people around them.  Guilt, depression, anxiety all conspire to eat away at the chances we have to experience joy and love.  Now, I’m not blaming religion for all the unhappiness in the world, but as this case shows, religious belief can cause anxiety and unhappiness, and needlessly so.

Featured image by davecobb


Jay is a dad, husband, and pet lover. He has a degree in Theater Arts and works as a Unix systems administrator, mainly because he has a degree in Theater Arts. He used to be a single dad, but now he is married to the perfect woman. He has two teenagers, a daughter, and a step-son. He also has an adult son. He shares his home with his wife, kids, an Australian Shepherd, and a bevy of adorable chihuahuas. He is a skeptic and humanist and tries to contribute to spreading rationality by writing about skeptical topics. You can find samples of his writing on his personal blog at Freethinking For Dummies, the JREF blog, and in Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

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One Comment

  1. This kind of thinking makes me so angry, that autism (or other disability or disease) in an innocent child is retribution for a parent’s actions by a vengeful god. I am equally angered by the statement “God only gives special kids to special parents”. Gee, god, thanks for rewarding my “specialness” by giving my son autism, a life long condition that affects how he interacts with the world, and how the world interacts with him. Also problematic is “God only gives you what you can handle”. Spend a few days in my house and see how well I sometimes handle it. Or look at the statistics of abuse, murder, abandonment of disabled kids, and at the sky high divorce rate for parents of kids with autism. Sometimes it is far beyond a person’s ability to handle everything god doles out.
    My son’s autism is not a curse or a retribution and it is certainly not a gift for my specialness. I handle it the best I can, and I am extremely lucky to have a husband on the same page who is an equal parent. We are able to take care of our son and ourselves. Not everyone has this, I know. Our son is a happy, joy filled child, who has definite strengths, as well as some challenges that we work to understand and help him understand how special he is in his own right. It has nothing to do with a merciless, capricious psychopath.
    I also have a problem with how autism is often seen as the worst thing a parent can encounter. Anti-vaxxers seem obsessed with avoiding autism in their kids. Celebrities seem to find a diagnosis of autism untenable, and often say that their child does not have it (Toni Braxton, possibly John Travolta) or that their child was cured (Jenny McCarthy). Autism is a spectrum, as we all know, and many people with autism are able to live full, productive lives. Some will require lifelong care. An autism diagnosis can be hard to come to terms with (one’s dreams for one’s child are completely altered, and that hurts). However, for me, autism is not the worst thing that could happen to my son. This is abundantly evident at a pediatric hospital. A day spent at our city’s children’s hospital is enough to make and atheist out of anyone (it was a big part in my deconversion).
    Autism exists, its causes are multiple and not understood. Many people with autism find it to be a positive condition, giving them a unique perspective and high intelligence. It is neither a curse nor a reward to the parents of these individuals.

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