Stephen McAlpine

Why Jewish Kids Don’t Have Peanut Allergies

Jewish children rarely have peanut allergies.

Come to think of it, very few people in my primary school had peanut allergies either.

There we were in the playground, hair to our collars, flared corduroys, white hi-tops, dreaming of the days when the internet would be invented, and stoically eating peanut butter sandwiches at lunchtime. Every lunchtime.  Almost to a child.

So why the onslaught of peanut allergies?

In short; the lack of any contact with peanuts whatsoever!   Reduced exposure to peanuts is one reason for the increase in allergic reactions, so it’s a vicious circle.

Speaking at New York University last month, the UK’s Former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, observed in a conversation with Professor Jonathan Haidt, that Jewish children are rarely allergic to peanuts.

Why? Because the favourite kiddy snack in Israel is made with peanuts. Immunity levels to the toxins peanuts contained increased with incremental exposure to, well, peanuts!

Lord Sacks was not focussed on peanuts.  He was focussed on the increasing fragility among university students, who cannot cope with ideas that are opposed to their own without either resorting to violence, or who become the  so called “cry-bullies” that Catholic thinker Rusty Reno speaks of.

The rise of no-platforming at universities; the need for safe spaces; speakers such as Jordan Peterson being shouted down at university settings; Christian groups on campus being told to vacate the public squares in case they quote the Bible and upset students; these are the signs of a deep fragility borne from little or no exposure to ideas that they don’t like.

It’s all a sign, according to both Sacks and Haidt, that it’s the parents who are nuts.  Children raised in bubbles, not afforded the rigour of pushback, never taught bit by bit to be strengthened and tempered against a future in which their views are going to be challenged, inevitably succumb to the intellectual equivalent of anaphelactic shock.

Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder, posits that some things benefit from repeated exposure to difficulties, because these are the means by which their “anti-fragility” is harnessed.  And he uses that peanut example too.

It’s tempting as the parent of a 17 year old who will be university bound (most probably in an Arts degree) in the next couple of years, to seek a similar pathway for my daughter.

How can I protect her from the nutty lecturers who positively salivate at seeing yet another young Christian step into their midst?  My immediate reaction is to hide her in cotton wool.  Look for another option other than university.  Steer her away from the peanut gallery in the Arts Faculty.

The other way, of course, is to start prepping her now, increasing her anti-fragility.  Start pushing back carefully on her with some opposing ideas that will challenge her young tender and beautiful faith; a faith that may prove too tasty to many a godless ideologue lecturer.

Hence I find myself becoming the devil’s advocate on many an occasion, testing my daughter with a toxic idea here, an allergic concept there, to see how she responds. Kitting her out for immunity. Prodding and pushing back on holes in her arguments.

And of course it’s not just her ideas.  As I was reminded this morning, we’re not like brains on a stick.  The godless lecturer may not entice her, but the godless young man with the smile, whose read Tolstoy, and sings like Justin Vernon, just might.  And if he did, you’d be surprised at just how quickly that lecturer’s ideas begin to sound like common sense to her!

So we push back on the things she watches on Netflix, the Youtubers that garner so much praise and attention; which call incessantly for her to “go with your heart”, “be yourself”, “discover your true identity.”

Of course, it’s not all down to me – and my cultural awareness.  My daughter is a feisty young woman who can more than hold her own in an argument and seems to have inherited a double portion of her father’s sarcasm and irony, along with an eye-roll that I cannot match.

But it’s not all down to her and me either! For that sarcasm and irony could well be turned against the gospel, as so much has been among from those who once were soft of heart towards the things of God.

No. The sovereign Lord’s work in the lives of young people like my daughter is central.  So we must pray for our teens like never before.

As our teenagers go into a university setting far more toxic than we went through. As they hit a workforce that is being prepared to resist all biblical ethical frameworks, and in fact denounce them as toxic, it will be the Spirit of God who ultimately equips them for the task.

I don’t say we throw them to the lions – or the peanuts – in some fatalistic act, but that we prep them as hard as we can for what it is going to be like as we live together as the church.

That parents make a pact with each other to raise these young people in ways that are obviously godly.  That we as parents don’t say one thing and do another.  That we swap ideas, pray for each other, form thick communities with each other, and model to our children in the midst of all the busyness that being with the people of God regularly, richly and repeatedly is a given.

Our role is, by God’s grace, to create an anti-fragility within them, praying over them, grappling with them, listening to them, establishing them in a Christian community that copes with their sins and failures and doubts (as it does so with ours).

And even so, despite all of that preparation, a time may come where many a university, and many a workplace is no longer open to confessional Christians who refuse to sign off on statements that go against their conscience.  Rod Dreher is right.  There’s a good chance that we may have build some of our own institutions in order for our next generation to study or work in fields they wish to.

Yet that’s the time that anti-fragility; a vibrant immunity to the toxic culture, will be most required.  That’s the time that our culture will  require a generation of young people immune to the toxicity, and not cowed by the increasing vehemence they receive for following Jesus in thought, word and deed.

The peanuts are taking charge of our public institutions, especially our universities.  Time to start the exposure to their nutty toxins now.