23 October 2010

Immanent Justice

Belgian Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard made a stir recently by calling AIDS an example of "immanent justice".  It's an interesting concept - Jean Piaget thought that it was the natural assumption of children - what we call poetic justice is closely related.  I think the Archbishop only meant that AIDS was the natural consequence of certain sorts of behaviour.

Be that as it may, I am experiencing a bit of immanent justice myself (no, I haven't got AIDS!).

From the age of about 13 to 27 I smoked regularly, and, through most of that time, pretty heavily - for the last 6-8 years of that, probably at the average rate of two 20-cigarette packs per day.  At the end of 1969 I became a Christian, and in March, 1970, with intense prayer, I was given the grace to quit smoking.  I have not smoked since.  The statistics on smoking more or less seem to say that after this long a hiatus, my likelihood of lung cancer is not different from that of the general population.

There are other consequences.  Smoking damages the physical integrity of the lungs - and aging contributes to the process.  The consequence is an increased likelihood of COPD - "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease" - which typically takes one of two forms (or both of them :-)) - chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

Over the past year or two, I have had an increasing tendency to cough, without any actual infective disease for the reason.  The last few months have seen the business get worse.  As I am on leave this month - October - I decided to go to talk to my doctor about it (again - I have talked to her about it in the past).  She sent me for chest X-rays, had me come back.  It is her opinion that COPD is what is happening to me.  They are going to do some spirometry tests next week to try to determine whether I am in the chronic bronchitis range (upper lungs, basically), emphysema (lower lungs), or both.  There is no treatment except that some of the anti-asthma drugs - like Ventolin - can give symptom relief.

I am always a little leery of posting personal experience stuff here - what a drag, to listen to old men moan on about their illnesses, or carry on about their garden, or whatever! - but my children do read this, and rather than e-mailing each of them distinctly, I thought it easier to put it here once for all.  Oh, and some of my children smoke - you know who you are! - so you might want to think about this.  The damage caused by smoking is irreversible, but continuing smoking increases the damage.

Just a thought :-)

But the idea of 'immanent justice' - that things that happen to us as a consequence of what we do are not just problems we have to deal with, but the actual appropriate results of our behaviour - interests me.  Are these things actual justice - or just the unfortunate consequences of things, and if we could find a way of avoiding the consequences, would the things be all right?  I would say that at least the latter view is tenable.  I don't think smoking is a sin - except, arguably, because you know it is likely to damage your body, and that (deliberately or negligently damaging your body) is sinful.  Yet it is interesting that the concept of 'immanent justice' is not simply obviously wrong.

It is said that chewing betel nut leads to an increased danger of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, and stomach.  For the eight years that we lived in Yap, I chewed betel nut heavily (never having been one to do things in moderation, as my two-pack-a-day cigarette habit shows).  I wonder if I have some more 'immanent justice' awaiting me :-)

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