“Good Health” and Christian Reasonableness
THE apostle Paul wrote to Christians in ancient Philippi: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.” He thus encouraged them, and all Christians since, to manifest a spirit of moderation and intelligent balance.—Philippians 4:5.
We need reasonableness when it comes to our health. For example, we need to avoid overindulgence or extremes in what we eat, and we should get adequate exercise and rest. Our attitude toward treatments should likewise be based on reason, reflecting care that we do not get caught up emotionally in some health fad. Reasonableness is also needed in balancing our spiritual health and our physical health; we need to “make sure of the more important things” so that health concerns do not push God’s kingdom into second place.—Philippians 1:10.
Selectivity as to Treatment
In deciding on medical or health matters, it is good to appreciate that even these matters can be influenced by popularity or fads. You may be able to recall treatments that once were popular but now are viewed quite differently. Do you remember when doctors used X rays for acne, removed children’s tonsils for minor reasons or prescribed the new sulfa drugs or penicillin for almost any infection? Things have changed. Though these therapies might be appropriate in some cases, experience and research have revealed some undesirable side effects or indicated that they should be employed quite selectively.
If doctors schooled in the “scientific method” and trained to be cautious about new drugs or therapies could be influenced by prevailing opinion, how much easier it might be for laymen to become unbalanced about health fads. And millions have. Often they have taken up some treatment having a limited therapeutic value but that was grossly misused by unqualified persons. Other “cures” that became popular actually were totally ineffective because they were frauds.* They were promoted by men happy to separate sick people from their money. And, of great concern to Christians, some of the popular treatments seem to have involved ‘uncanny powers’ or spiritism, which the Bible condemns.—Isaiah 1:13; Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
‘But,’ some ask, ‘how can I know whether a treatment might be a fraud?’ That can be difficult, for many of the past treatments that virtually everyone now recognizes to have been worthless had scientific-sounding names. And the literature distributed about them offered explanations that some found plausible. Where, then, can we find help?*
The disciple James wrote that “the wisdom from above is . . . reasonable.” (James 3:17) Though he is not a health expert, a Christian’s striving to be reasonable can help him to evaluate diagnostic (or testing) methods and therapies.
Of course, we must realize that there are different approaches to many health questions; an active Christian cannot become knowledgeable about all of them. But when he needs treatment and is presented with a recommendation, he can ask: ‘Does the suggested therapy seem reasonable, consistent with knowledge about the body and disease? Or does it seem strange, even spectacular in its claims? Am I being influenced to accept this treatment by uninformed persons or those who stand to benefit financially? If I have doubts about it, should I wait until more facts are known?’
These questions may sound elementary, but the fact that some bizarre treatments became popular in the past shows the value of considering the questions. This also might be illustrated by a recent experience: A woman, with a normal education and employed in an office, went to a practitioner who stressed an extreme dietary treatment. She later told friends that she had been shown “bottles of tumors that patients had passed,” including a “brain tumor.” Reasonableness could move you to think: Does the average person know what a real tumor looks like, and so how could he identify a true tumor regardless of how it supposedly was “passed”? Also, since the brain is enclosed, how could someone “pass” a brain tumor through the intestinal tract or in any other way?
Finally, many of the past tests or treatments that proved worthless were promoted with claims about “miracle substances,” unusual “body forces” or strange methods by which a practitioner took ‘readings,’ perhaps from a pendulum or from a body part that did not seem related to what was being diagnosed. The appeal was to emotion, mystery or even to spiritistic forces, not to reasonableness.—Compare Leviticus 19:26.
What About Testimonials?
We are further aided by this: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”—Proverbs 14:15.
That is good counsel, for most of us have heard of treatments that were recommended with testimonials such as, ‘Doctors told Mr. Jones that he had four months to live, but he took —— and now he is fine.’ Whether “Mr. Jones” actually had the disease or not, you may know that many past health frauds were endorsed with testimonials. This certainly does not mean that we need be critical if an acquaintance relates a personal experience. However, in making major health decisions we ought to do more than ‘put faith in every word of testimonials.’
For example, even if “Mr. Jones” had a disease and did improve, why did he? A strong influence in health treatments, including conventional medicine, is the “placebo effect.” Studies have shown that approximately 30 to 40 percent of patients improved after treatment with inert pills or water injections. Science Digest (September, 1981) reports: “Faith, hope, trust, all important components of the placebo effect, can at times heal wounds, alter body chemistry, even change the course of the most relentless diseases.” Hence, when deciding how much ‘faith to put in every word,’ remember the “placebo effect” and ask, Has the treatment itself been established as effective by sound research and extensive testing?
Even if a report goes beyond a mere testimonial, it is good to consider whether the therapy is morally or religiously acceptable. The Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a 28-year-old woman who developed lupus erythematosus, a serious immunological disease that can be identified by numerous clinical tests. Declining medication, she went to a witch doctor who “removed the curse placed on her.” She returned free of symptoms, evidently cured. The JAMA report posed the question of how an Asian witch doctor could ‘remove an evil spirit’ and cure her. The treatment apparently was effective, but Christians would avoid it or other treatments that they feel might involve some form of spiritism.—Compare Matthew 7:22, 23.
Seek Qualified Help
It is obvious that in many cases we need expert advice about treatments and health questions. On whom can we rely? The Scriptures offer this wise observation: “Have you beheld a man skillful in his work? Before kings is where he will station himself.”—Proverbs 22:29.
A man who studies a matter and develops skill becomes recognized as qualified, even an expert in his field. This is so, too, in the field of health. Thus when evaluating a recommendation from a doctor or health adviser, you might ask yourself: What are his credentials? The answer may not depend solely on his titles or the abbreviations after his name. Many persons have assumed titles to appear important. (Compare Matthew 23:6, 7.) Some who like to be called “doctor” may diagnose or treat (free or for money*) though they have merely read a few books or attended some hours of “classes.”
You might also consider: What is the extent and quality of his training? Is he respected by knowledgeable persons, viewed as qualified? The disciple Luke evidently had studied and gained sufficient experience so that when the apostle Paul referred to him as “Luke the beloved physician” his qualifications were respected.—Colossians 4:14.
Of course, even some persons well trained in health matters have given bad advice or treatment. Why? Sometimes because of not having genuine interest in their patients. They may have developed some peculiar health theory. Or they have not kept up to date medically and so lack the specialized knowledge necessary. Here, too, the Bible can aid us.
It says: “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk, but in the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.” (Proverbs 15:22) This underscores the value of getting a second or third opinion. Many patients build up confidence in their doctor and so do not need another opinion on every recommendation he makes. But it is reasonable to get a second opinion on serious issues or when you are not comfortable about advice received. Be sure, however, to obtain the opinion from someone who you are confident will give you unbiased advice. Even if it is from someone who might have a different approach to the problem, it should be expert advice. Thus the “multitude of counselors” will aid you toward better health.
Balancing Spiritual Health and Physical Health
With all this discussion of health and treatment, devoted Christians ought to keep this in mind: Important as our physical health is, our spiritual health is much more important!
Jesus counseled: “Quit being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or about your bodies as to what you will wear.” Yes, we need to guard against becoming overly anxious about feeding, clothing or even medicating our bodies. How sad it would be if a Christian became so concerned with his physical health that he neglected his spiritual health! He could fall into the trap of the rich man in Jesus’ illustration, to whom God said: “This night they are demanding your soul from you. Who, then, is to have the things [including health] you stored up?” Jesus added: “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.”—Luke 12:20-22.
True, we want to care for our health so that we can use our lives serving God. But reports from various areas indicate that some Christians have become preoccupied with physical health. As just one indication, a Witness in the Midwestern United States wrote: “So many seem so overly concerned with health. It is constantly on their minds [as reflected by their conversation].” The letter explained that many seem to have become excessively concerned about this after being told they had cancer by persons who are amateurs but who feel they can read whether someone has cancer and who then prescribe diets and food supplements. The Witness heard a visitor from California say: “We [with these health habits] do not associate with those in our congregation who choose to remain ignorant and go to their doctors.”
This is damaging from a number of standpoints. Christian meetings and conventions are not occasions for engrossed conversation about health, nor for attempting to diagnose others or promoting treatments. Rather, these gatherings are for warm, spiritual fellowship. Elders should watch that the Kingdom Hall does not become a center for propagandizing various health treatments or views, but remains a place of unity and true worship.—Compare John 2:16, 17.
Perfect health is impossible in the present system of things. Such health will not be possible until the new system of things arrives. Then “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” And that will be because of their error and sin being pardoned. (Isaiah 33:24) So let us not be unreasonably concerned about our present health, as if pursuing physical perfection now. Rather, let us manifest wisdom and reasonableness by concentrating on our spiritual health.
Jesus indicated where we should focus our attention: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) We must not let ourselves be deflected from this divine assignment; health issues must not sidetrack us from wholeheartedly supporting the Kingdom. ‘Seeking first the Kingdom’ is the wise and reasonable course. It will bring the “peace of God” and thus may even improve our present health. But, more importantly, it will result in the treasure of God’s approval, with all the marvelous prospects that will become realities only when Christ’s ransom sacrifice is applied to mankind.—Philippians 3:8-11; 4:6, 7; Matthew 6:33.
A museum in St. Louis, Missouri, has a display on such medical frauds. Included are radionics machines, colored lights to “cure” patients as they lay with their heads pointing northward, devices that supposedly transmit “cosmic energy” and others that involve diagnosis or testing based on mysterious “body forces.”
Occasionally, persons will inquire of the Watchtower Society as to whether a form of diagnosis or treatment involves fraud or spiritism. We are not in position to do research and judge the numerous “treatments” used earth wide. But we trust that the counsel in these two articles will help readers to apply Bible principles and reasonableness in deciding on health measures.
In many lands it is a criminal offense to practice medicine without a license.—Matthew 22:21.
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Live to Be 100?
An investigation by the Committee for an Extended Lifespan surveyed 1,000 persons who had lived to be 100 years of age. What things did many of them have in common? A newspaper summarized it this way:
“Don’t ever binge on anything. Get up early. Lead a spiritual life. Keep busy. Be self-sufficient.”
Other things commonly noted: Usually they went to bed early. Few were fat. Most kept active, not being dreamers.
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A Pervasive Concern About Health
In a recent best-selling book, Dr. Lewis Thomas, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, observed:
“As a people, we have become obsessed with Health. There is something fundamentally, radically unhealthy about all this. We do not seem to be seeking more exuberance in living as much as staving off failure, putting off dying. We have lost all confidence in the human body. The new consensus is that we are badly designed, intrinsically fallible, vulnerable to a host of hostile influences inside and around us, and only precariously alive. We live in danger of falling apart at any moment . . .
“The trouble is, we are being taken in by the propaganda . . . We are, in real life, a reasonably healthy people. Far from being ineptly put together, we are amazingly tough, durable organisms, full of health, ready for most contingencies. The new danger to our well-being, if we continue to listen to all the talk, is in becoming a nation of healthy hypochondriacs, living gingerly, worrying ourselves half to death.
“And we do not have time for this sort of thing anymore, nor can we afford such a distraction from our other, considerably more urgent problems. Indeed, we should be worrying that our preoccupation with personal health may be a symptom of copping out, . . . while just outside, the whole of society is coming undone.”—The Medusa and the Snail (1979), pp. 36-40.
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MICRO-DYNAMETER: Claimed ‘to diagnose almost any known ailment’
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Swiss “Abbe” Mermet used a pendulum to diagnose sickness and locate missing persons