I recently had the privilege of giving a talk at a medical school. I was invited because the sponsor wanted to give the medical students something other than medicine. In an age of increased specialization, there is a danger of real narrowness. This is especially true in medicine. Apparently young doctors have to be reminded that patients, after all, are human beings, and not just a series of symptoms.
While modern medicine is not quite ready to admit that it needs religion to be complete, it has realized a need for something beyond itself. The matters of life and death always point to ultimate questions, but even the everyday treatment of human beings and all their various ailments has profound implications. And while medicine seems ever to expand its capabilities with new cures and admitted marvels, it still suffers from constantly shrinking in its philosophical perspective. It answers more and more small questions, and fewer big questions. It trips itself with the deliberate use of scientific-sounding words for things that are not scientific. For instance, we hear the term “biomedical ethics” when what is really meant is another much more uncomfortable and fully-loaded word. The word is morality.
But we don’t want to talk about morality. Morality has to do with good and evil. Good and evil are theological terms. That is, to be meaningful at all, they have to be judged by an eternal and unchanging and universal standard, for if the standard is temporal and subject to change, then there is no standard. It is like having a ruler that keeps changing lengths. If there is no standard, then there is no way even to maintain that medicine is good, because in a completely relativistic universe, it could just as well be argued that curing sick patients is a great disservice because it is to leave them alive in a meaningless existence.
Fortunately, normal people believe that medicine is moral, and that healing people is a good thing. And yet, we still shy away from the moral issues. As Chesterton says, we do not argue about what things we call evil, we argue about what evils we call excusable.
And we are afraid to bring up religion at all, because we are afraid it might lead to an argument.
But arguing is good. Arguing is a way to put our ideas to the test, and see how they stand up. We cannot get around the fact that every question is a theological question. Which means that every medical question has a theological implication. If a religion is true, then that truth affects everything, that truth is relevant to everything.
If, for instance, Christianity is true, nothing is irrelevant to the central truth of Christianity: the Incarnation. If God became flesh, then the flesh is sacred. It means the human body is a sacred vessel, not only because each body holds a human soul, but because one of these bodies once held God himself. It gives a deeper meaning to what blood is, because it was God’s own blood that was shed for our sins. It gives a deeper meaning to what the heart is, because it was God’s own heart that was broken in an act of love for his creation. It gives a deeper meaning to what the lungs are, because it was God’s own lungs that gave up God’s own spirit. It gives a deeper meaning to what the womb is, because God himself was a baby inside a human mother, which makes every womb not only a special place of creation, but a sacred place, a place not to be violated.
In a world littered with fragmented thinking, where the virtues are at war with each other, Christianity is a complete thing, and its completeness is summed up in the two great commandments, the two commandments that can never be separated from each other. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. And when you combine the glory of God with the Dignity of Man you get something called the Incarnation, and all truth flows from that combination, but you if you subtract either the glory of God or the dignity of Man, you get neither.
We have seen the elevation of the secondary things and the temporal things over the primary and the permanent things. But even those secondary things have become questionable. Because we have such doubt about ultimate and eternal things, we have seen an erosion in everything else. As Chesterton says, “The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them. The Titans did not scale heaven; but they laid waste the world.”
There is a reason why Christ is called the Great Physician. Other physicians would do “well” to find out what it is.
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