Christianity and the development of health care

This is a cool little quote from an article I’m reading for my second. last. essay. of my degree. Here’s the citation.

M.K Peterson, ‘Salvation and Health: Why the Church Needs Psychotherapy,’ Christian Bioethics, 17.3, (2011), 277-298

Anyway. It’s got a cool little intro on how the church changed the world because of how it changed medicine. It doesn’t have much to do with my topic (how our approaches to pastoral care might benefit from neuroplasticity). I love this stuff and this is definitely a “file for later” sort of post. This doesn’t make Christianity any truer, it’s not an argument for Christianity – but it does make Christianity vital. And it does make it better than alternative foundations for ethics and society.

Here it is.

“Medicine involves faithful presence to those in pain, even—perhaps especially—when hopes for “cure” prove illusory and the provision of care throughout a longer or a shorter span of life becomes the sum of what medicine can offer. This is no easy task. Our helplessness to effect a hoped-for cure can too easily turn to hatred: hatred of sufferers for failing to get well and of ourselves for failing to make them better. In the face of this temptation to impotent rage and to the punitive abandonment of the sick and suffering, medicine needs the church, whose experience of the faithful presence of God in the midst of suffering undergirds its own willingness faithfully to be present to the sick. Only so can the hospital—and the practice of medicine more generally—be, in Hauerwas’ words, “a house of hospitality along the way of our journey with finitude . . . a sign that we will not abandon those who have become ill simply because they are currently suffering the sign of that finitude” (Hauerwas, 1986, 81–2). If anything, Hauerwas may have understated the dependence of the practice of medicine, thus defined, upon the moral community that is the church. In a recent monograph, historian Andrew Crislip (2005) links the emergence of the hospital in the late antique period to the health care system of Christian monasticism. According to Crislip, monastic health care stood in stark contrast to pagan health care in its commitment to care for the crippled, the infirm elderly, and the chronically and terminally ill (Crislip, 2005, 9). “It was standard among ancient physicians at all times to reject chronic or hopeless cases. To treat a patient he could not cure would only diminish the doctor’s reputation, even if it might enrich him somewhat” (Crislip, 2005, 114). Thus, where pagan medicine emphasized prognosis, which allowed the physician to identify hopeless cases and refuse to take them, monastic medicine emphasized diagnosis, which allowed for appropriate healing and caring measures to be taken on behalf of any sufferer (Crislip, 2005, 18–9). There is, in other words, no abstract discipline called “medicine” that offers nonstigmatizing, compassionate care throughout the life cycle. In the West, at least, such medicine originated in specifically Christian communities and was undergirded by specifically Christian moral commitments

As the overtly Christian moral character of public life in the West fades into the past, it is thus unsurprising that we would see developments in the practice of medicine that undercut some of these Christianly informed aspects of medical care, in particular those that presume the ideal of empathic, personal connection between physicians, patients, and the communities and relationships in which both of these are embedded. Modern Western medicine is by many measures becoming more specialized, more technologized, and more depersonalized.”


Scroll to Top