Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sickness And Healing



Without a Redeemer there is no redemption from sickness. The restoration of the biological norm is never healing in the higher sense. Healing is making whole.
  • Herbert Fritsche

SICKNESS IS the most common way of discharging fate. Just as in society as a whole we experience increasingly severe and intractable problems, so we can observe a similar process when it comes to the sickness and health of an individual. On the one hand we see an almost breathtaking development of medicine in the technical sphere, on the other, the number of sick people is increasing, and being ill is becoming more and more expensive.
If we consider the great interest in the problem of disease and the manifold discussion about it, we cannot help being surprised at the simplistic and trivial way in which this subject is approached. How much heavier must the pressure of events become before people begin to grasp the fact that hitherto accepted theories of medicine are quite inadequate to deal with the phenomenon of disease, which lies on a totally different level? We tend to forget that errors of thinking are not put right by being more widely disseminated.
Modern medicine can be traced back to Hippocrates (400 BC). Hippocrates belonged to the tribe known as the Asklepeans, who followed the famous cult of Asklepios, god of healing. Over the centuries they erected in Greece many sanctuaries (Asklepeions) where the priests healed the sick through rituals and magical chanting. Hippocrates, who himself set great store by his descent from the Asklepeans, nevertheless broke with their tradition of priestly medicine. He began to study disease on its own, outside any religious context, and to develop appropriate cures by observing how diseases ran their courses. In this way he laid the foundation for the method which is still obligatory today for modern medicine.
This medicine has hardly changed since Hippocrates and has not developed when one weighs the gains in some areas against the losses in others. Before the break-away by Hippocrates healing was a matter for the priesthood and therefore was part of religion. Illness was an expression of God's anger and was healed by the priest acting as a bridge-builder (this is the meaning of the Latin word for priest, pontifex). He called the sick person to repentance and thus reconciled him with God once again. From the point of view of priestly medicine, illness is always connected with guilt, and healing with repentance and a willingness to change one's ways.
When Hippocrates turned away from this tradition he was also turning away from the concept of “being ill” and towards the concept of “illness” per se. Thus, up to the present day, medicine has concerned itself with the diagnosis and treatment of “illness” and thereby overlooks the real problem of “being ill”. Instead of saying that a person has an illness it would be much more accurate to say that he is ill.
Modern medicine, however, instead of treating the patient, merely treats his illness, his symptoms. And, however successful it may be on this level, it never touches the sick man himself. Through looking at illnesses in isolation, we have developed impressive ways of dealing with individual groups of symptoms (which we call infectious diseases, deficiency illnesses, and so on). But we fail to realize that this does not in any way alter the state of “being ill” in itself. Thus Hans Bl├╝her, who has thrown more philosophical light on this question than anyone else, writes in his Treatise on the Healing Art:

Illnesses are a load that mankind bears; the sum total of the world's illness remains the same; at any rate it cannot be changed by any human intervention. When a doctor heals a sick person he does not thereby eliminate a piece of illness form the world, any more than you can eliminate matter by burning it. What he does is to take away this man's share of illness and unwittingly load it on to someone else.

As our theme is man's fate we must also deal with illness, this “load that mankind bears”. The symptoms themselves are of minor interest to us in this connection. This way of looking at things makes it necessary to link medicine with philosophy and religion, even if this connection is anxiously avoided by scientific medicine. And understandably we shall come to different conclusions about the healing of illnesses.
In order to avoid any misunderstanding, let me emphasize form the outset that I do not wish to attack anyone or condemn anyone's actions. It remains totally indisputable that our medicine does in many cases provide necessary help, which the patient accepts gratefully in his particular need. But we are looking at things not on the level of mere aid but on the level of illness and the healing of it. Medical therapy has its blessings and its justifications, but it has nothing to do with healing.
To heal is to make “whole”, and it takes place on a level which is unknown to scientific medicine. In clarifying these concepts and connections I am not offering criticism but rather trying to indicate where we behave too unconsciously. The unconscious is always the necessary forerunner of the conscious.
Everything has its justification in its own time. But time is what takes this justification away again. Error is lack of understanding. Thus every error awaits its transmutation, for all lead must one day be changed into gold. Just as a dream of summer is latent in winter, and just as the night paves the way for the day, so in every error a bright kernel of truth lies concealed. It is our task to free that kernel.

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