A few days ago, I republished a post from a few years back on food allergies. This was mostly because I am still sorting things out in my new WordPress surroundings, and wanted to see how to repost something. Tinker with this, click on that, you know. A new commenter had just referenced that old post, so I just reloaded that one, just for grins. But it has generated some fresh discussion, as these things always do, some in the comments, and others with me in real time.
I know that when I write on things like this, I routinely try to qualify what I am saying, so that nobody can say I am mocking the sick and the infirm, or being hard-hearted toward those who are truly hurting. But those qualifications can be taken (as some have taken them) as simply a pro forma sort of thing, giving myself plausible deniability, in case someone’s feelings get hurt and I wanted to have something to point to while maintaining that I didn’t say that. But no, I really believe my qualifications. So in this instance, let me frontload them, and then after that move on to the basic points I am seeking to make in these posts.
So here is a full paragraph of qualifications, and a longish paragraph it is too. First, I understand that these things operate on a sliding scale — it is not the case that you either go to the hospital all swoll up with your life on the line, or your problem is entirely imaginary. Some allergies are very serious immediately, while others should be filed under certain foods “not agreeing with” your constitution. There are food allergies, with varying degrees of seriousness, and there are food intolerances, with varying degrees of seriousness. The law of love should govern in all instances. Hosts should be thoughtful hosts, and guests should be thoughtful guests. Also, when it comes to particular cases and instances, with people I deal with directly, I am not trigger-happy in offering the suggestion that the problem might not be “real.” Actually, the problem is always real in some way, but it is sometimes not real in the way that everybody first thought. But if I am counseling someone, for example, and begin to suspect that some kind of self-delusion is going on, it will usually take me months to get to the point where I would suggest that directly. There would be a lot of other ground to cover first. And what this means is that I am not making snap-diagnoses at a distance of particular individuals in any of my posting on this subject.
I have been dealing with people in pastoral ministry for decades, and have pretty much seen it all. I have seen enough to know that there is a true category out there of hypochondria, and there is another category of people who are genuinely sick — and some of them with illnesses that are quite mysterious, and hard to pin down. Now the fact that I believe there is such a thing as the former category does not mean that I deny the existence of the second, or the seriousness of what people in the second category face, or the difficulties they confront when they are afflicted with something that might look to outsiders like they are making it all up. To all such — my heart goes out to them, and they don’t have worry about any snide comments from me. I have never been talking about them.
This being the case, why do I run the risk of being misunderstood by some with a genuine ailment? When I am attacking abuse in this area (as I frequently do), it is because I have seen the real damage, in real time, that play-acting can do to marriages, families, and friendships. I have also seen a situation where someone in genuine pain just soldiers on through because she will not be lumped in with those who have their boutique allergies. This is a situation created by the fakery, and not by recognition that there is such a thing as fakery and/or self-deception.
Here are the principles I am most concerned about:
1. The first point is that table fellowship is one of the most important ecclesiastical issues found in the New Testament. We need to remember that, and act accordingly. Some of the fiascoes I have seen were the result of ignoring that truth. We have gotten to the point where there is widespread disruption of such table fellowship, and I simply think that more of us should act like it is a big deal. Just to be clear on the point, genuine food allergies, etc. do not disrupt table fellowship because they provide an occasion for love. The disruption is caused by manipulation and selfishness, which is the opposite of koinonia fellowship.
2. The second issue concerns the nature of knowledge. I could care less what other people eat — provided they are having a good time with it. But I care very much about truth and verification. I care very much about irrationality being given a free pass simply because it is what Smith or Murphy “are into.” Once the principles of unreason are well-established in our midst, we will find that we cannot turn them off with a switch, simply because we are now dealing with something more serious. We are to love the Lord our God with all our minds, and I have to say that I have seen some striking instances of that not happening. The post hoc fallacy is not the queen of the sciences.
3. The third point concerns frequent abdication on the part of fathers and husbands. Many times, emotional and spiritual issues show up in the lives of women as food issues, and the men involved are often too weak, or cowardly, or defensive about their own causal role, to address it in the way they ought to. Women are prone to be deceived (1 Tim. 2:14), and men are prone to let them be deceived. This is an area where I have seen radical unsubmissiveness on the part of some wives, and radical cowardice on the part of some husbands, conspiring together to destroy families. The food is just a symptom; the real problem is located somewhere else entirely. And wives, don’t read this and go off to demand that your husband tell you if this is true. It might not be, but if it is, you are unlikely to get a straight answer from him. Get on your knees and ask the Spirit if it is true. He’s not afraid of you.
4. And last, if any reacted to my earlier use of the phrase boutique allergies, and assume that anyone who uses phrases like that must be attacking you individually, then this illustrates the heart of the problem with “qualifications.” There is no good reason I can think of for someone with a real broken leg being defensive on behalf of someone who is faking a broken leg. To make the point bluntly, referring back to my second concern, if I write that Smith is faking his broken leg, it is not germane to the discussion to post a picture of your son, who is not a Smith at all, with the bone sticking out. My belief that there is such a thing as a boutique allergy industry does not mean that I believe that you are a customer. I mean, I don’t even know your name. But those shops are out there, and they do have customers.
But let me return to my earlier qualification. I really believe that there are many genuine food allergies and intolerances. I myself react quite poorly to sixteen sausages in a row. Um . . . joke . . . didn’t mean to make light of . . . no, no, not really . . . sorry.