Do We Suffer Spiritual Allergies?

What has caused allergies to soar over the past century?

A recent New York Times piece suggests that Amish farmers may represent the answer; they have one of the least allergic populations in the developed world. Studies indicate that is because they breathe barnyard bacteria, live with dirty fingernails, work in the “liquid gold” of fresh cow manure, and drink unpasteurized milk.[1]

Furthermore, according to the “hygiene hypothesis,” the fact that we live in sanitized and airtight environments means that our immune system no longer fights germs as it once did. Being “underemployed,” it has apparently shifted its resources over to picking fights with innocent bystanders – like dust, pollen, or pet dander.

I wonder if that could also explain cultural or spiritual “allergies.” Something sure seems to make people fight fairly harmless stuff in the environment. Like the names of sports teams. Or the President’s golfing frequency.

In a parallel to the evolution of hygiene, most people throughout history lived in great danger, worked very hard, and fought harsh and tangible enemies – like droughts, volcanoes, plagues, Huns, etc. Naturally, you just wouldn’t attack your neighbor’s religion while helping him save his cattle in a blizzard.

Now we live in extraordinary safety and sanitation, “work” at computer screens, and “fight” concepts.

That could be why, for several years, I’ve felt like a pig at the opera; I see and hear the production, but I don’t understand anything. For example, I can’t comprehend the anger and militancy on any side of social, economic, political, or religious issues. They all seem like allergens. I know the arguments. What I don’t get is the polarization and animosity. It’s seems as illogical as going into seizures when a cat enters the room.

I often think of Maple and Cecile Chinn, my grandparents. Born at the end of the 19th century, they were farmers for most of the 20th. They rode out the Great Depression, helplessly watched their infant daughter die of pneumonia, suffered devastating losses of livestock and crops, and sent three sons halfway around the world to face very real enemies.

Sometimes when I struggle and groan at my computer, navigate airports, or fight with tech support on the phone, I suddenly feel like they are watching me. And they have zero idea what I’m doing or why I’m so troubled. Then I realize that they endured the Depression; I endure airport security. They lost a child; I lose cellphone signals.

That’s why I wonder if our spiritual immune system may be misreading harmless allergens as threats. It certainly seems like modern life keeps everyone tense, offended, and quick to fight. We are on full alert – too many news broadcasts begin with a BREAKING NEWS banner over ominous end-of-the-world music. I sometimes think we watch the screens of our lives for instructions on what to fear and who to hate.

Today we tend to live in sterilized, protected, and homogenous clusters of ideas, values, heroes, and enemies. We do not engage cultural or spiritual “bacteria,” and we seem unable to climb into another person’s or people’s story. We are – I am – curiously incurious.

Many years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

We could all spend the rest of our lives contemplating (hopefully with friends) the depth and breadth of those words.

Perhaps it is coincidental that Paul lived and wrote in a raw and raucous time. He walked roads of mud and manure, spent a lot of time in prison, was often and severely beaten, suffered shipwrecks, and faced many life-threatening opponents. He certainly did not live in philosophical or cultural sterility. His writing reveals an eager and curious mind.

Maybe he was so busy with real life that he had no time for spiritual allergies.


[1] Moises Velasquez-Manoff, “A Cure for the Allergy Epidemic?” New York Times (November 9, 2013)

14 thoughts on “Do We Suffer Spiritual Allergies?”

  1. OH, this is so very good! I have heard that because we live in such a “clean” world that we are harming ourselves.
    Also, that because the doctors have been giving antibiotics for every illness that we are not giving out body a chance to fight the sickness and build up a resistance to the illness. That in the long run hurts us more.
    I love this parallel you have drawn. It is so insightful and thought provoking. Love it!

    1. I thank all of you for your insightful comments and for, well, engaging the subject! You are my teachers. Imagine, harvesting bee stingers. I could have lived another 60+ years without knowing that had I not written this. And thanks for the media recommendations — Stanley and Krauthammer.

  2. Ed, very insightful and provocative. I certainly agree that we live anxiously awaiting the next “breaking news” so we can decide how we will respond from our spiritual, social or economic filter. I plan to use some of your thoughts in my Bible study lesson this Sunday. We are finishing a video series by Andy Stanley entitled, “Christian! It’s not what you think!”. If you get a chance check it out. Hope you and Joanne have a great holiday season. Blessings, my friend

  3. Oh, yes – there is nail here with a very, very sore head! This so perfectly captures a glaringly-ignored aspect of Tame spirit-life!

    I have a friend who suffers from inflammatory arthritis in his knees. He harvests bee stingers and sticks them into his flesh around the sore joints. His explanation – his immune system gets bored and starts fighting his own body, causing the inflammation. The bee stings give his white cells something more productive to do. He swears it helps, and I don’t disbelieve him – he’s not subject to bouts of raving stupidity.

    We have sterilized our theology to the point that God is no longer a force to be reckoned with, and we treat the symptoms of our allergic reactions with masking medications. Or we inject an artificial irritant to give our spiritual immune system something to keep it busy.

    Someone I know is writing a book that advises leaving the Tame behind (where allergies thrive), “… to venture forth from the manmade, to boldly wander in the Wild … [to] move into an untamed place [where] we can truly see, hear, feel, smell and know God.”

  4. Ed,

    I agree with Mike, this is the proverbial nail on the head. I was particularly smitten by the condition of being “curiously incurious”. Revisiting children, in the form of my grandchildren, I realize that children learn by asking questions. constant “Why?” from a child is how they learn, at least in part.

    So much to ponder and ruminate over here.

    Thank you Ed.

  5. A few decades ago John Powell sj wrote that maturity has to do with the ability to discern what is important in life. It is a real relief when we get to the point where we don’t waste energy following the hysterical mob and can focus on what really matters. By the way, Charles Krauthammer’s new book “Things That Matter” is a hoot.

  6. I don’t understand, I truly don’t understand why you have never been picked up and syndicated. I believe you can be the voice of Common Sense. Keep up the good work, my friend.

    1. Thanks, Tom. I appreciate your kindness. My late friend Bill Raspberry told me that I should pursue syndication. He told me how to go about it. I didn’t. Bill died. And I forgot what he told me. Tragic.

      But you remind me to find that path.

  7. Mary Ann Weakley

    Right on, Ed. As always, you go to the heart of the matter. Perhaps you, we, should begin a campaign to ignor the “breaking news,” both national and especially local. The negativity is poisonous. And it seems to matter not whether there is accuracy in reporting. What matters is being “first and only on Channel XYZ.” It brings to mind what I read recently, “Nothing is what it seems.” How sad that we let screens in our living rooms lead us to animosity and polarization.

  8. Ed,

    Thanks again for provoking my thoughts and considerations. I have been fasting for a little over 3 weeks now from talk radio. For years I have had the talk radio station selected in my truck. Bill Bennett on my way to work. Rush Limbaugh while I run home for lunch. Hannity when I leave work in the afternoon. I was thinking about Daniel refusing to eat the “dainty” foods provided by the king of Babylon…and how he believed that his countenance, after just 10 days of eating fruits and vegetables, would be more clear than those of his foreign counterparts. Such was the result of this short exercise. I had been in the dumps and fighting a foul mood for weeks when I decided to start this 10-day fast…now well into my 4th week. The constant diet of our 24-hour news cycles can affect our countenance and outlook on life. I am doing much better now – thinking more on things pure, holy, etc. while I drive my vehicle. Now, I need to regulate my steady “breakfast” diet of Fox News while working out on my Gazelle and Ab-lounger. Not, to mention my regular diet of Fox News as my “evening meal”. Well, it is now a little after 6AM – gotta get to my Gazelle before going to work. Maybe by the time that I get there I could decide to watch Joyce Meyers, Andrew Wommack or James Robison instead. The BATTLE rages on.

  9. Very good article Ed.. I was reminded of a time many years ago when I had developed severe enough allergies that I was taking 10 medications a day just to be able to breathe. While praying about it, I realized that to some degree, my allergies, that defensive stance against things that weren’t truly going to harm me, was an indication of where I was spiritually. As I learned to stop being so defensive, my allergies faded tremendously (a process of several years). So, yeah, as a society I believe we are very allergic, but we don’t have to be. We can radically pursue living the way God created us to live and let that stuff drop off of us.

  10. Ahhhchew!!! Oh man. Where’s the Kleenex? How about a Bible page instead?
    We live such protected lives, in a controlled, almost steril environment.
    When we go outside, we wear bug spray, Sun screen and Sun glasses for protection from the elements.
    We wash our hands, clothing and dishes with anti-bacterial soaps.
    Oh! Don’t forget to use the hand sanitizer when you go shopping.
    Are we afraid, or something?
    When a sixty second commercial runs extolling the merits of some fantastic new medication, forty seconds of it are about the benifits and twenty about the side effects and possible DEATH. Someone suffering from the ailment it relieves or cures is hot to trot to buy it. That’s business. There’s gold in them pills!
    I pondered the mosquito, according to Wikipedia, ” one of the most dangerous animals on Earth” [weasel words] what is their purpose?
    They are pollinators. They serve the little flowers that are too small for bees and moths and other pollinators. Is it possible that they give us small doses of anti allergins?
    Oh! Don’t forget to wear long sleeves and pants when you go out on a hot summer day to protect your self from those peskey little buggers.
    Fear!
    Humph!
    E

  11. Interesting thought!

    The world is sick and has been since the times of Adam. The allergies truly exist from those who are spiritually high minded to those who feel neglected and set apart from spiritual direction. Many have missed out or were not taught how much God loves us. God loves us so much that he gave his only son as a living sacrifice, so that we may ALL live.

    Oh yes Ed, there is a cure for all allergies. Those allergies that are prevalent with this generation are brought about by selfish neglect and personal ambition. King Solomon said vanity, vanity, all his vanities says the preacher. Many cannot accept spiritual enlightenment nor the gifts of the spirit. So here we sit, allowing all forms of media, and many public speakers and politicians slowly and sometimes directly pulling away the spiritual piece of love, humbleness, and a sound mind.

    The spiritual allergies ….are those allergies that can be spread from one person to the next. They can be hereditary or can be brought upon by each individual stance on individual freedom. They do not understand that yes you have choices guided by the carnality of mans thinking, but when you walk in the spirit of God, you allow the creator to walk with you, to be a friend and provide a cure for your own spiritual allergy.

    It is choice that pushes individuals to:

    Not accept the teachings of the Love of God for us.
    Not observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy
    Not loving God with all your heart and mind
    Not loving our neighbors as ourselves

    The allergies continue as long as we continue to turn and walk away backwards…as stated in the Old Testament. When we do so, the allergies persist from a state of spiritual darkness to a reprobated mind that does not see nor hear the word of God.

    My thoughts.

    phil

  12. Ed,

    I enjoyed reading your insights. I have thought for years that we Christians are so unconcerned about the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised, that we take all of that energy that would normally be used to make this world a better place, and direct it towards things we don’t like: one another and those opposed to our political or cultural persuasions.

    In the first century, the church was preoccupied with spreading the kingdom and staying alive. Now, because our enemy is not as obvious, we spend our time looking for warts in one another and finding things and people to hate. Iv’e believed for years that if persecution against the church was to arise in the U.S. it would have a three-fold effect: it would drive us to our knees, drive us into the arms of our brothers and sisters, and drive us out of the sanctuaries and into the communities with the intent of expanding God’s kingdom.

    In one sense, we have it too good! We need to be in the barnyard of germ infested people who are hurting and crying out for the reality of a gospel that if not delivered, they will die.

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