Monday, October 1, 2012

Slapping labels

Why does this blog have this name?  It dawned on me that this blog's name/label is intrinsically negative.  Several great Catholic blogs emphasize the positive:  Mark Shea, Elizabeth Scalia, Fran Szpylczyn, etc.  But not Spiritual Diabetes.  Oh no, this one has debut saying there's a problem:  "Look, over there!  People who suffer from a problem I don't have..."  

Hopefully, this blog will avoid such hypocrisy.  It will, though, examine popular American spirituality through the lens of dietary fads and prescriptions.  For several years scholarly and popular health publications have assailed the emergence of a diabetes epidemic.  Type II, or “adult onset”, diabetes is a disease you give yourself.  Overeating combined with the pervasive sedentary tendencies of American life makes a deadly combination.   As with diet, so with spiritual practice.  These discussions provide an analogical foundation for assessing a similarly “diabetic” disease crippling America's religious cultures.

Just as Type II diabetes results from overeating and a sedentary life, spiritual diabetes debilitates the soul by engulfing with spiritualities.  Saccharine spiritualities are not under the blade here, since whatever's saccharine is ultimately fake and a noticeably poor substitute.  Ultimately impractical and indigestible, several recent spiritual fads only exacerbate an already critical situation wherein the patient literally “believes” her/himself to death.  Examples range across the nation’s ideological divide and consume popular culture. The jokes describing “Jesusland” after the 2004 presidential election indicated the onset of spiritual diabetes as much as evangelical Protestantism’s unquestioning embrace of the Republican party and “prosperity theology”. Popular books like The Da Vinci Code, The Prayer of Jabaz, the Left Behind series, Girzone’s humanized Jesus of the Joshua books, and even Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz likewise represent the problem. 
Spoilt for choice, Americans consume spirituality in copious amounts but still lead sedentary religious lives.  Consequently we do not burn the “calories”—intellectually, liturgically, or simply living the Christian life.  This caloric deluge creates a diabetic condition wherein the spiritual diabetic suffers a great thirst for all things spiritual but never enjoys any lasting satisfaction.  With physical diabetes obesity prevents production of insulin, and the problem spirals out of control.  Something similar appears in spiritual diabetes.  Just as the diabetic’s blood courses with rotting sugar that cannot be converted, spiritual diabetics find themselves “awash in a sea of faith” (to paraphrase Jon Butler’s 1990 history of early American religions) but lacking any awareness of what causes their thirst.  They simply keep “eating”.
          The cure, it would seem, does not require spiritual starvation, but rather a new (and admittedly somewhat sobering) spiritual diet to correct the damage.  Just as starvation does not cure diabetes but kills the diabetic, spiritual diabetes cannot be eliminated through secularism or spiritual veganism. (Something for a future post...)  The Catholic intellectual tradition provides the best such spiritual dietary foundation.  The question is "Who can handle that sort of diet and exercise plan?"  The answer:  "Well, we all should..."


  1. >>Just as Type II diabetes results from overeating and a sedentary life<<

    No so fast, buster. SOME Type II results from overeating and/or sendentary life, but certainly not all. Diabetes is very much a "your mileage may vary" chronic disease. Don't make the same mistake as others who paint with a broad brush. Your blog has wonderful room for nuance and insight, but only if you don't believe the pablum handed out as research.

  2. This makes me reflect on my own spiritual diet and exercise plan. As a relatively new Catholic, I consume enormous quantities of Catholic information, but I am reluctant to do the exercise. I can't talk to people about my faith and find it difficult to pray and put the works of mercy into practice. I