Reconnecting Science, Religion and Health Care
Original photo by: astique I have been thinking a lot about science and religion, in part because of the debate over health care, with people of different religious convictions coming out on both sides of the issue. Do we support individual rights by keeping government out of health care? Or do we ensure some measure of equality and community by moving health care out of the for-profit business model through more government involvement? In a religious sense, the first group may value a personal, transforming relationship with God, while the second may base their opinions on a sense of the religious call to work for the common good, with a special concern for the poor and the powerless. I won’t venture my position here, though if you have read my previous posts you may make a good guess.
What seems missing from the debate, in my opinion, is science. I hear a lot of ideology coming out of Washington and being espoused at town hall meetings and by protesters on both sides of the issue. I don’t hear much from people who have studied various health care systems and have gathered good information about what systems work and why they work and how to practically adapt such systems in the United States.
I think that science is fundamentally about information and religion is fundamentally about relationship. The word religion comes from the Latin "to reconnect." Immanuel Kant wrote in The Critique of Pure Reason that human reason has gone from the position towards nature as that of a pupil before the teacher, to that of a judge before a witness. In other words, science has become more about information and less about a basic curiosity and respect and even love for nature. On the other hand, religion has become more and more self-centered. When Catholic Bishops care more about the reputation of the Church and less about the welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable in their communities, we have a problem. When popular preachers use their influence to push a particular political agenda, while enriching themselves in the process, we have a problem.
I don’t know how the debate about health care will turn out, but I do have an example of how it can work. I take medication for a chronic condition, and see a doctor two or three times a year to discuss my medication, make adjustments, and so on. With her help I have been able to live a pretty healthy and fulfilled life. She spent years in medical school working very hard to gather information about the human body, its deceases, and its cures. She has spent many years gaining experience in applying that information in particular cases. But when I see her there is more going on then the passing of information. I believe she cares how I am doing. I think, within the boundaries of her profession, that she loves me, as she does her other patients with whom she has been able to build a relationship over time. However the health care debate turns out, I hope it allows more people to have the kind of relationship I have with my doctor. And I hope that it encourages more doctors to be healers, and not just dispensers of information and pills.