Dubious Wisdom, Part 2 — Food and Fathers

While I doubt that the Westminster Confession, the Heidelburg Confession, or Calvin’s Institutes include the assertion that “correlation is not causation,” and I’m certain the Apostle’s Creed doesn’t, readers and followers of Doug Wilson learn early on, and are reminded often, that when things happen at the same time, it doesn’t prove that one caused the other. For example, Wilson would say that my wearing Birkenstocks did not cause a sunny, toe-warming day. And he’d be right. It’s an argument he uses often, if not always correctly.

The “correlation/causation” pony is generally trotted out to malign the reasoning behind concern over global warming and its cause, leftist economic theories, and the increased interest in food safety, ingredients, and origin. Usually the pony plows over the straw men Wilson sets up, and the audience applauds another perspicacious analysis of the issues of the day. Food and “food weirdness” has occupied his mind quite a bit lately, and we all know that Wilson thinks that such weirdness is getting worse; people might actually begin to believe doctors who suggest that dairy products aren’t good for little Johnny, or take charge of their high cholesterol by not eating meat. Worse, they might — it appears they actually DO — sometimes make those decisions without involving him.

What’s a powerful pastor to do but offer spiritual succor in the form of a diagnosis of wavering, withered faith?

And so we have Father Hunger, the miasma through which weak and immature believers wade as they read labels, change their diets, worry about E.coli, and try to go organic. Now, though, Wilson sees absolute causation in correlation — it’s clear that THIS has irrefutably lead to THAT. It seems that in this case — almost never in any other, but definitely, absolutely, in this case — the decreasing number of solid, patriarchal Christian fathers has caused the swelling tide of food-frightened nutrition neurotics. Fathers have failed over the last few decades, during which time people — all people, even people with loving fathers — have seen an increase in both information about and concern over what they eat and drink. Voila, and pass the sugar cookies.

In Scripture, Jesus talks about how even bad fathers wouldn’t offer up a snake when their children ask for bread; how much more extravagantly generous, then, is God to His children? Jesus is faithful. Our earthly dads might not be. When fathers fail, Wilson says, to “give bread” and instead give not-bread — stones, snakes, condemnation, harshness, neglect, abuse, etc. — people seek the “bread” they’ve missed, but they don’t believe they’ll ever get it. They’re sure their Father in Heaven just won’t offer it, and they become wary of the bounty set before them, circling the pot roast with trepidation and doubt. Unable to believe that God will give bread even when their earthly dads didn’t, people then are consumed as they consume — they worry, wonder, research, moderate, reject, switch to or gobble up because they themselves are consumed by the Father/father void in their lives. As fathers, and Christian fathers particularly, contribute to the Rejecting, Ineffective, Harsh Paternal Wasteland around us, society becomes hungry for something it can’t find and probably can’t really understand anyway.

This, evidently, is why people eschew Big Macs and fries and try to eat more salad. It’s Father Hunger, and its cause is evident because Pastor Wilson has told you so.

Now, I don’t have a seminary education, but I’m guessing that the classic pastoral approach to how people choose to eat is pretty much to let them follow their consciences — uncondemned and unanalyzed. Neither am I a professional historian, and yet I do know that in my five decades on this earth, new information about things like antibiotics in milk, bio-engineered corn, irradiated hamburger, resistant bugs, foodborne pathogens, trans fats, peanut allergies, lactose intolerance, the environmental impact of fast food production and consumption, heart disease and the beta-carotenes in my salad has increased enormously. I tend to use this information to help guide my food choices, and so do other people. Likewise, I’m not a dietitian, but I can tell when my gut rebels against one thing and when I feel better after eating another. And because my science background is non-existent, I rely on common sense to stop at a couple of Oreos even when I want to eat the whole bag. My son suffered a nasty case of food poisoning the week before his first birthday, so I scrupulously check out lunch meat and its packaging before fixing a sandwich, and imperfect parent that I am, I nonetheless toss it out when in doubt.

And I do all of this even though I had a kind, supportive, affectionate model and disciplinarian in my dad. I suspect that’s the case with a lot of label-readers, and if it isn’t, their loss isn’t achingly manifested through their munching on a celery stick.

Cause-and-effect is a difficult thing to argue. A lot of things happen concurrently without affecting one another — but sometimes, there is a THIS that does cause THAT. I might, for example, argue that as doctrinal discernment and Biblical literacy decline, people are much more likely to align themselves with bad teachers and ruthless pastors. Or I might point out that pastoral arrogance and over-control leads to a confused, weakened, unsteady flock. No coincidences here, just consequence.

A final example: Mocking one’s congregants and dispensing bad advice while teaching aberrant doctrine and enjoying the benefits of hierarchy and patriarchy makes the Gospel message look bad, really bad, to others. The cause is evident . . . and the effect is beyond lamentable, because it’s no longer an argument, a logical proposition, or an exercise in pastoral influence. Bad behavior from the clergy causes damage to real, live souls, and a bad shepherd can’t take refuge in claiming that it’s all the fault of other people’s dads.

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