Monday, December 6, 2010

Immune to the Truth

Religion has a strange relationship with disease. The way I see it, you can break up the history of their relationship into two parts, pre- and post-germ theory.

Most modern people probably cannot fathom a world where humans don’t understand what disease is. Most people are unaware of “miasma theory,” and I imagine most people think humorism is some sort of science of comedy.

Our scientific understanding of disease was greatly limited before the modern era. Various individuals throughout history have proposed ideas very similar to germ theory, from ancient Hindus to 11th century Muslim scientists. In the West, we credit Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek with the discovery of microorganisms, after his work in the 17th century improving the microscope allowed him to be the first to observe them.

Despite these and many other early guesses, germ theory took a backseat to many other ideas regarding disease. To be fair, not all disease is caused by foreign pathogens, but it was the work of people like Joseph Lister in the 19th century that led to the rise of hygiene, the development of antibiotics, and the lengthening of billions of lives.

Germ theory was highly controversial before becoming perhaps the most widely accepted scientific idea to date. Germ theory was not only opposed by the advocates of other scientific explanations for disease, religious leaders and low level preachers of every stripe came out against it with vigor. It was only after incontrovertible positive results came of it that most religions begrudgingly abandoned their skepticism, and even then (as well as now), some ceased to relent.

Religion is a proto-science, a systematic attempt by people to explain things. One of the central beliefs in Christianity is, like it or not, the idea that disease is demonic. While most modern Christians have largely abandoned this literal view from the Bible, the implications remain.

For example, it is not uncommon for Christians (especially among themselves) to blame disease on sin. Perhaps the easiest and most publicized instance is AIDS. Many a conservative preacher has blamed AIDS on sin. After all, you get AIDS from gay sex and intravenous drug use, so you can only get AIDS through sin, right?

It’s not difficult for Christians who are largely unaware of reality and immunology to hold this belief. They don’t think beyond the initial premise, they merely accept it. God clearly created AIDS in order to punish the sinful.

What about the child with AIDS who got it from their mother, who was raped? What about people who got AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion? Are these just the collateral damage of God’s handiwork? Moreover, why would God punish homosexuals with a disease that only half of them can transmit? Wouldn’t God, in His infinite wisdom, create a disease that lesbians could catch, or is God, like most Americans, only disgusted by the idea of two dudes?

On another note… where in the Bible does it say, “Thou shalt not do drugs?”

Only certain brands of Christianity believe very firmly that everything that happens to us is our own doing, but nearly all believe in the power of prayer to heal (either alone or in tandem with real medicine). This has always struck me as odd, dating all the way back to my childhood days as a believer.

Why would a people, who claim to love God above all else, be so gung-ho against dying? I mean, I know Christians condemn suicide, but getting sick seems like your free ticket to eternal bliss. If you honestly and truly believed in Christianity, why would you fear death? What is so terrifying about spending the rest of eternity with the Big Guy upstairs? Why would you pray fervently to avoid going to heaven?

Often, I hear the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” implying that a fear of death will bring one to faith. And yet, Christians are told not to fear death, that the afterlife is more glorious than any of us can imagine, and still they fight off the end in every way they can. I would venture to guess, then, that there aren’t a lot of Christians on deathbeds.

1 comment:

  1. Good insight, in my opinion.

    I for one, always wanted to see people healed or rasied up from their sick bed. We say we want to go to heaven, but if we buy something new or are enjoying something-- we wouldn't want to go. Also, there is the business of being raptured away.

    I wouldn't want Jesus to return and rapture me away if I had just bought a brand new car. Let me drive the newness out of it, first.

    The drive to live seems to overwhelm the drive to be in heaven. But I have to admit, I have seen some churches attempt to turn someone's funeral into a celebration. But usually, there was a big push to pray and even fast from food for that person to be healed before he or she died.

    I wonder how many Christians actually, honestly, truly believe Jesus will return for them and resurrect their bodies after they're dead. Most people don't seem to think much about that doctrine, either. They think they just die and end up in God's loving arms.


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