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Religion And Medicine

IN modern civilisation the clergyman and the doctor stand at such a distance apart that it is almost difficult for us to realise that originally they were one and the same person. Yet there was a time when medicine the whole business of healing was a purely ecclesiastical function. In savage tribes today the "medicine man" is also priest. And the reason is evident. The primitive belief everywhere connected disease with spiritual causes, and for a cure looked to the supernatural. Throughout rural India, as Mr. Crooke in his " Folk-Lore " informs us, sickness is attributed to spirits or to the anger of offended ancestors, and the priest or holy man " is in such cases at once called in to propitiate or exorcise the evil influence. We need not, indeed, go so far afield for similar ideas. There are parts of rural England where cramp, ague, the falling sickness and other ailments are held to be due to demonic agency, against which the remedy is in charms and mystic incantations. It has been by a very long process, in accordance with that law of specialisation of function the working of which Mr. Herbert Spencer has so laboriously delineated, that the medicinal art has, amongst civilised peoples, gained the distinctive place of which we find it in possession today.

Medicine, on its way to becoming a science and an art, has had some rude experiences. Its earlier stages were hardly an improvement on the old supernaturalism. For a charm or an exorcism, if they did no good, at least they hardly did harm. Often, indeed, they wrought their miracles, for they left nature to do her work, assisted by that mighty reinforcement, faith. It was another matter when actual experiment began to be made with drug and with operating knife upon the human subject. This ticklish business of putting, as Voltaire so cruelly insinuated, " drugs of which you know little into a body of which you know nothing," brought the healing tribe for a long period into grievous disrepute. They have been the subject of some of the world's oldest witticisms. There is that of the Lacedemonian, who, on being asked why he lived so long, replied that it was because of his ignorance of physic; and the mot of Diogenes to an inferior wrestler who had turned physician : "Courage, friend, now thou shalt put them into the ground that beforetime put thee on it" Montaigne makes us shudder with his picture of the medical practices of his time. Fancy a prescription which included " the left foot of a tortoise, the excrement of an elephant, the liver of a mole, the blood from under the left wing of a white pigeon, and rats pounded to a small powder" ! It was a hardy race, surely, that stood all this and yet survived to tell the tale.

It is worth while recalling these earlier phases of the healing art and of the standing of its professors, in order the better to realise the immense change that we witness to-day. Resting on a broad basis of accurate knowledge, master of a thousand secrets, its history crowded with glorious victories in the campaign against disease and pain, and with foremost names, with intellect and worth everywhere devoted to its interests, the medical profession has reached a kind of apotheosis in modern life. Art has expressed the present estimate of it in Mr. Filde's beautiful picture " The Doctor," while Ian Maclaren in his exquisite and moving' portraiture of the Drumtochty practitioner has written the same sentiment into literature. The feeling has grown upon men that this calling, demanding as it does the constant exercise at once of knowledge and of sympathy, which has the most fascinating problems for the intellect and the most imperious claims upon the heart, whose aim is the furtherance of life and the defeat of death, is emphatically a calling for noble souls, and noble souls in abundance have flocked into it. To-day the personnel, the standing and the achievements of the medical profession represent one of the most valuable assets of civilisation.

It is precisely on this account that the question becomes so interesting as to the precise present-day relations between medicine and religion. One of our reasons for writing on the subject is the feeling that, in more than one direction, they might be improved. There is, for one thing, an impression abroad that the bent of the physiological mind is toward materialism. The old saying, " tres medici due athei," is still quoted. Miss Power Cobbe, in a magazine article some time ago, lamented that the medical faculty was setting up a new priest-hood which was to replace the care of the soul by the care of the body. There is certainly no group of educated men so exposed to that appeal to the senses on which materialism relies as are our doctors and surgeons. More closely to them than to the rest of us comes home the argument of Lucretius :

Praeterea gigni pariter cam corpore et una
Crescere sentimus, pariterque senecere mentem.

"Besides, we see the mind to be born with the body, to grow with it, and with it to decay." They are continually in contact with death, as the apparent conqueror and extinguisher of mind. And so it has happened that some of the strongest attacks against religious orthodoxy have come from the medical and physiological side. Rabelais, the arch-scoffer of the sixteenth century, was a physician as well as a monk. Darwin and Huxley, who gave the religious sentiment of the last generation so rude a shake, were bred in this school. It is also, in this connection, a curious coincidence that the starter of the modern denial of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch should have been a physician the Frenchman, Jean Astruc.

It is one of the greatest misfortunes of the modern specialisation of studies that it should make the ablest and most earnest men almost inevitably one-sided. And nowhere is this result more to be lamented than in the sphere of medicine. For here the sheer necessity of overtaking and keeping abreast of the enormous accumulation of technical knowledge in their own department has kept numbers of medical men comparatively uneducated on a side of their nature, which, for the purposes of their work, requires the most thorough training. The question here is not that of their personal attitude towards this or that theological dogma; it is whether the comparatively small attention paid by some members of the faculty to the spiritual side of human life does not, in some most important particulars, hinder and mar their professional work ? On abstract grounds it would, we believe, be not difficult to show that the modern spiritual philosophy, as expounded by a Caird, a Green and a Martineau, has effectively met the arguments of the later Materialism. But it is much more to the point to show how medicine can neither do justice to itself nor to the humanity to which it ministers unless it both recognise the spiritual, and, what is more, receive a definite training in its laws.

The neglect of this plainly-marked department of its work has, for one thing, kept the ground open for a swarm of non-experts and adventurers. Heterodoxy has in every age had the function of showing to orthodoxy the new roads ahead, and this has been emphatically true of the schools of medicine. It has been reserved for the outsiders, who have in successive generations stirred the wrath of orthodox medicine, to suggest to it what turn out in the end to be indubitable truths. What, for instance, is the doctrine of faith-healing, for which a " Dr." Dowie is assaulted by a crowd of boisterous medicos, more than the assertion, in an extravagant form, of a truth now on its way to universal acknowledgment, that the body has to be approached first and foremost through the soul? The world is full of unformulated facts on this question. The healings wrought by Christ and the apostles, the cures to which Irenaeus bears testimony in the second century, the marvellous physical results of the preaching of Bernard, the raising of Melancthon from what seemed immediate death at the prayer of Luther, are parts of an immense tradition which points all in one direction. It testifies to the existence of secret spiritual energies, potent against disease and for the furtherance of life, which under certain conditions are at the disposition of humanity, and which it behoves the men responsible in these departments most carefully to study.

But the relations of medicine with the spiritual by no means end here. The best men of the profession recognise growingly, we believe, the immense moral responsibilities attaching to it, and the grave questions which hang thereon. Their position brings them continually into con-tact with life's ultimate problems. They stand between the young man and his vices. They see humanity in its defeats, its exhaustions, its despairs. They are called in to the spectacle of life-bankruptcies when all the physical forces have been rioted away, and there is a famine of power and of joy. Every day they see men face, with what philosophy they can muster, the last enemy. And their entrée is to every class. They are called in where the clergy are excluded. In their parish there are practically no dissenters.

To a man of the nobler instincts the appeal of this helplessness and despair should be irresistible. But what has he to meet it with? In nine cases out of ten physical alleviation is the smallest part of what a sufferer needs. The thing he wants above all is hope and courage. But where is our practitioner to find this ; where is he to gain power to stiffen the moral backbone of tempted youth ; or to cheer the lonely invalid to whom the days are a weariness and the nights a horror; to help men gain the supreme moral victory over suffering and over death ? One must put it bluntly : he cannot be a good doctor who is not fundamentally a good man. Emphatically is it true for his work that " one man with a belief is worth ten men with only interests." What we are here saying has nothing to do with sectarianism ; still less with that professional religionism which is the most detestable of all poses. It is simply the assertion of certain fundamental truths that have been lacking in some medical curriculums, and of which, in conclusion, we may give this as the sum : Medical science is ultimately a branch of spiritual science ; bodily healing requires a knowledge of psychic as well as of physical conditions ; and finally, the medical ministry to a diseased and broken humanity can never be adequate unless carried on as a mediation of the Eternal Goodness and Love.

( Originally Published 1903 )

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