Friday, September 18, 2015

Spiritual decay by any other name still spiritual decay.  We lose what we once were.

This might be human nature, not merely a jeremiad of cultural decay.  The so-called good ol' days contained violence, racism, ethnic hatred, and oppression, too.  And before them, the same.  Things fall apart.  Critics like to bag St. Augustine of Hippo and Augustinianism for gloomy dispositions and low expectations about human improvement, but hey, the guy and those who follow in his intellectual wake have a point:  we tend to muck things up.

That's where this blog piece by Dominican brother Paul Clarke, OP, makes a great contribution.  Among the many things Pope Francis' Laudato Si' indicts stands indifference.  We simply don't understand and feel the pain others experience.  Clarke:

The indifference that Francis is taking aim at is a kind of spiritual leprosy, a problem with our nerve endings where the concerns and pain of others fail to register. We need to feel pain if we are to avoid severely injuring ourselves. If I put my hand on a hot stove, it’s the searing pain that will make me (a) scream like a banshee as I (b) pull my hand away. The harm done is actually the burning skin on my hand, but without the pain, I might have left it there to char. That’s basically what’s so dangerous about neurological disorders that make you insensitive to pain (basically, imagine leprosy). For a hodge-podge of reasons that are cultural, historical, political, personal, and spiritual, we have a moral equivalent of leprosy. Where the suffering of others should cause us pain, we just don’t feel it.

Bingo.  Clarke's argument gets at this blog's title and inspiring notion--spiritual diabetes--through another, related, metaphor.  Both diabetes and leprosy involve rot;  one's internal and the other external.  Make no mistake, though, things decay in either situation and, Clarke makes a great point here, one of the significant and first results is...indifference.  We don't "feel" as we should or used to.  Healing starts with recognizing the interconnectedness of things--of life itself.  Clarke:

Laudato Si’ is an effort to integrate the splintered moral narratives into a single, spiritual frame, a dramatic portrait of reality in which the central character of the story is us. Pope Francis contests the logic of a “piecemeal” approach which treats man’s relationship with the earth as a series of discrete problems. Like Pope Benedict XVI, he points out that “the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since ‘the book of nature is one and indivisible,’ and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth” (§6).

Diet and exercise.  And the Theology of the Body.  We have bodies--from God!--and what we do with them matters, and we can learn to act correctly when, as Clarke reads Pope Francis (and thus his predecessors St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI), begin with an appreciation for interconnectedness.  What we put into our bodies and how we remain active (diet and exercise) are more than just physical practices;  they provide an avenue for understanding how to combat a very real spiritual pandemic: indifference.

Brother Clarke's piece is just one (the third) in a five-part series on Pope Francis' Laudato Si' in honor of the Pope's US visit next week.  Read it all here at the Dominicans' theology blog Dominicana.


  1. Indeed. I've been reading/studying Laudato Si’, and agree - a major point in that work is that 'everything connects.'

    About the "things fall apart" attitude, I think there are alternatives to complacent disregard for current problems - and expressing despair that we are utterly doomed because-things-have-never-been-so-bad-and-we're-all-gonna-die.

    Fashionable melancholia has its place, I suppose: but I remember the '60s, when we had real problems - *and* some folks were so into being relevant that 'being relevant' became a topic for sitcoms. ;)

  2. Great job proclaiming the Good News Jeff!

  3. Great job proclaiming the Good News Jeff!