I have always loved words, I believe, quite often the bigger, the better. I was better than most of my classmates at spelling bees. I learned words like the term for the miner’s lung disease or silicosis (Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicosis) in about fifth or sixth grade. Reading lots of books of different types, from textbooks to science-fiction, historical, fantasy, thrillers, and sometimes religious tomes increased my vocabulary, as did my work. I once worked for a priest who not only became a good friend, but consistently drove me to open a dictionary at least once a week to learn a new word he’d thrown out in dictation or conversation. That was the best job I’ve ever had.
Education for Ministry (EfM) has taught me many things, including lots of big, sometimes exotic words. I had somewhat run across the term scotosis quite a few times throughout my EfM life. This year, somehow, it struck me because of its applicability to the world we seem to be living in now.
Just about every dictionary I consulted defined scotosis as “intellectual blindness” and “hardening of the mind against unwanted wisdom.” After living through the year 2020, with its pandemic, political and social divisions, speeches full of hatred and encouraging violence, protests over brutality and racial stereotyping, and more examples of other kinds of divisiveness than I can count, I would have to say scotosis is a word all too applicable.
In the theological sense, scotosis usually refers to factionalism that refuses to acknowledge common ground or even the possibility that more than one belief, opinion, or stance. The Reformation began with Martin Luther’s 95 theses, but also with translations of the Bible being made and printed in the languages of the people, changes in the language and performance of the liturgy, and even rejection of some aspects of doctrine and replacement with new ideologies and teachings. Scotosis still shows itself in the theological realm with the splitting of traditional denominations into conservative, liberal, and moderate forms. Nondenominational churches are growing by the bushel basket full.
In our cultural life, treaties are made and broken. Ancient wars continue, and the hope of unity of thought and purpose seems to have flitted away like a butterfly in the breeze. Our country used to pride itself on being a melting pot of people seeking freedom and what we called the American Dream. Now it builds walls and reduces the quotas of refugees. Some groups seek to marginalize those already here in any way possible through denial of aid, healthcare, employment, housing assistance, education, and even social programs.
Scotosis gives me a word to describe those unwilling to be open to the concept of equality of any sort. Even something as simple as wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of a deadly disease is something that some people refuse to do because they feel it infringes on their freedom. Never mind that they risk infecting others – or even themselves. What is worse, in my opinion, is that when they gather, whether for church events, a party, dinner out, or even shopping without a mask, other like-minded people are infected and can become critically ill or even die, just because they wanted to assert their right to freedom from governmental, medical, or even common-sense restrictions.
Jesus met many people on his journeys with scotosis. The Pharisees and many Jews, both religious hierarchs and laypeople, rejected his teachings because Jesus’s words didn’t agree with orthodox tradition and practice of Judaism. Jesus used teachings such as the Good Samaritan to show how the common teaching of “love your neighbor,” also a fundamental concept in Judaism, should be displayed. The idea of an unclean and unorthodox Samaritan helping a Jewish man while priests and their followers walked by the injured man on the road, expanded the idea of who one’s neighbor truly was.
I wonder how Jesus would view our current situation were he to walk the earth right now (as he might be, who knows?). Would he approve of the hard-heartedness, greed, in-fighting, cruelty, and ignoring of just about every teaching he gave? Would he find the intellectual blindness simply to be being human? What would he think of the homeless, especially the homeless veterans, sleeping under bridges in the cold winds of winter? Or the children going hungry at school because social programs to help feed them have been cut? What about the penalizing of churches and organizations that set up feeding stations for the hungry? I seem to keep thinking of the same situations, time after time, and wondering why nothing ever seems to change – much, if any.
During Advent, as we wait to celebrate the birth of the one who taught love, kindness, and empathy, could it be a project simply to love without requiring reciprocation or expectation? Could we help calm the anxieties and tone down the rhetoric that have been so much a part of our year so far? Could we remember to give to the needy instead of focusing on how many gifts we can pile under the tree at our own homes? Can we crush the scotosis and open our minds to peace and hope? Can we practice the teachings of Jesus without regard to the race, culture, religion, political affiliation, orientation, or any other box we would typically put others in?
Scotosis is a kind of disease we need to cure, and its victims are those we need to heal. What better time to start than now?
Image: Jesus and the Doctors of the Faith, Artists: Circle of Jusepe de Ribera, 1630, from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats, who provide entertainment and aesthetics, even when asleep.