Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Alternate Salvation?

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?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ms. Kitty,
Your point is incredibly well taken. In my experience I have seen people being kept alive longer than they are truly living. One instance from a few weeks ago stands out in my mind, a man was being treated for an infection caused by the tube that connected him to his ventillator. The man had suffered a catastrophic stroke in his early forties that had caused him to lose all cognitive brain function. He could blink which was a reflex and he could twitch but there was no person in that tortured body at least I truly hope there wasn't. He was in and out of the ER and it did seem like it would be better if he could be put to rest rather than caught up in our at times cruel quest to keep mortality at bay at all costs.
I wholeheartedly agree with your point that death isn't the enemy and that life isn't measured in units of time, but quite possibly in units of meaning and joy. I hope you are well and I truly enjoyed getting to spend a little time with you on Vashon.

~Mouse, MD

ms. kitty said...

Hi, Mouse! Nice to hear from you and thanks for your observation. I'm well and think about you in med school often. Hope you're getting a little sleep!

Miss Kitty said...

A great post, Ms. K. You bring up some very good points. What if the goal of life were to live it to the fullest and be sure you were spiritually fulfilled? WOW, what a different place America would be.

Mile High Pixie said...

You make a good point, Rev. Kit. One of my friends says about good health: "Yes, we're all gonna die, but good health makes your death shorter and less painful." I'm inclined to agree--stories I've heard of people dying slowly and excruciatingly from heart disease or emphysema/lung cancer, and it makes me breathe deep and check my flexibility. In the meantime, I think you've hit on something that author Natalie Kusz describes in her essay "The Fat Lady Sings." She decides that while she does need to lose weight, all the time she spends working out is time not spent writing, getting her PhD, and raising her daughter, which are all things that give her real joy and a good quality of life. Myself, I've flirted with body diysmorphic disorder, and one thing this recent ankle sprain has done is showed me that I can indeed not work out for two weeks and i won't explode or become hideously fat/icky/unworthy.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks to all for your insights. I was just watching the evening news and noticed all the ads about drugs, cancer treatment, the latest health research, and I again was struck by how much fear-mongering there is out there in the media.

And the ad statements that really get me: "tell your doctor about other drugs you may be taking" or "ask your doctor if Drug X is for you". Wouldn't your doctor know about the drugs s/he's got you on? Maybe this means illicit drugs. Wouldn't the doctor ask about OTC drugs?

I do think we have to be proactive in our health care, however, so maybe these statements are more appropriate than we think.

Pixie, I'm glad the ankle crisis hasn't thrown you into too much of a tizzy, but I know it's hard not to get out there and get the exercise we know we need.

Terri Dennehy Pahucki said...

I agree with your last recent comments that a lot of this is media-induced because health care in our culture is, unfortunately, just another commercialized commodity--and fear sells. I also believe that if we spent more time concerned about our spiritual lives, then our physical health would also improve. It's not a perfect system, but it is all connected. Great post! --terri

Suz said...

I just stumbled onto your blog, and already I love it, after reading this: " . . the teachings of Jesus being plowed under by theologies that seem to lean more toward anti-love and pro-prosperity. . ."

You're on my blogroll just as soon as I get this comment posted.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Suz,
You're a Denverite, I discover when I look at your profile! I lived in Lakewood/Golden for 34 years before repatriating to the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. Some of the blogs on your blogroll are names I know well! I worked at Jeffco schools for 25 years as a teacher and junior high counselor, retiring in 1995 and getting an MDiv at Iliff School of Theology. Welcome to Ms Kitty's!

kim said...

Ms Kitty -- Have you read Doug Muder's sermon called "Right and Left Together"? It's about the spiritual problem in America today, the dominant religion called "Consumer Hedonism".
Find it at:
http://freeandresponsible.blogspot.com/2006_11_01_archive.html