In Saturday's Post Intelligencer, the Rev. Anthony Robinson wrote a wonderful essay for his column "Articles of Faith", which you can link to here. The headline is "Quest for wellness is headed toward idolatry".
Rev. Robinson is a retired UCC pastor in Seattle and his wisdom has graced the pages of the PI for several years. I always enjoy his thoughts. He's every bit as liberal as I am, at least on the issues I'm aware of, and firmly grounded in his Christian faith. As I watch the teachings of Jesus being plowed under by theologies that seem to lean more toward anti-love and pro-prosperity, I'm thankful to read something that offers a more truly Christian outlook on our culture.
I've been thinking about this topic for a long time, as I'm bombarded by print and TV ads for drugs, for exercise programs, for diets and diet gurus, for anti-aging potions, and the like. Virtually all of these ads and much of our TV and print programming as well are focused on staving off death, subtly expressing a fear of death, a fear of aging, a fear of illness. These are normal human fears and we deal with them in a variety of ways.
If we are young or if our children are ill, we will naturally do everything we can to extend life. This is a reasonable thing to do. I think of my brother, who has battled heart disease since he was 30; it feels reasonable to me that he explores every avenue possible to extend his life. I think of the friends whose children fight cancer or other devastating illness; of course we/they will expend every effort to save their lives.
But physical health has come to be an obsession in our culture. As Rev. Robinson says, it has become idolatrous, worshipped to the point of giving over our lives to it. The media tell us that we need to be focused on our physical health all the time, watching our weight, checking our blood pressure and blood sugar, exercising a certain amount daily, taking the right vitamins, eating the right food, never letting up in our efforts to extend our physical lives. To what end? We're going to die anyhow!
But they're right, to an extent. We do need to be proactive with our health. If we have a chronic or acute condition, we need to deal with it and maintain the medication regimen prescribed by our doctor.
But we're scared to death by the ads, by the articles, by the hype on health. We read the latest research as though it were the word of God. Alzheimer's disease risk is lowered by aspirin in umpteen percent of women? Let's double our aspirin. Never mind that all the research seems to indicate conflicting results!
What if we spent the same amount of time focusing on our spiritual health? What if we spent as much time in prayer or in justice activism or meditation or other spiritual pursuit? What if our quest for physical health was only as important as our quest for spiritual health?
Which would give us a better life, make us happier? Physical health guaranteed to make us live until our creaking bodies can no longer be resuscitated by exercise, drugs, and potions? Or spiritual health guaranteed to give us peace of mind and heart until we keel over smiling?