Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hippocrates and Jesus

First of all...props to my buddy Robert for mentioning the most popular statement from the Hippocratic Oath and doing so in relationship to Social Justice. The Hippocratic Oath, in its classical form, includes within the practice of medicine the declaration to do no harm...and it goes further in that vein to state "I will keep them from harm and injustice."

That's amazing to me to think that Hippocrates was concerned with the idea of injustice and the role of the physician to keep people from it. While it may be less than remarkable for someone to be concerned about justice and injustice, it is remarkable to me to think that someone largely in a reactionary capacity, like a physician in the 4th Century, seemed to understand that actions lead to unintended such, in doing no harm the physician, according to Hippocrates, should be able to look ahead to the chain of events that treatment can cause. I think society today, specifically American Society, can learn a thing or two from Hippocrates about doing no harm and keeping people from harm and injustice.

I recall a stark contrast between the two internships I did in Africa. The area of greatest contrast was that of assisting the indigenous people. While interning with Greg Newton in Tanzania in 1998 I learned a strategy that was essentially a hands-off approach. I understood Greg to operate from the standpoint that he was there to bring the good news of Jesus and while that may well include aid of some kind in some places, providing aid to any significant degree within that tribe would likely serve as an obstacle to his real mission at some point. In 2000 my time with the Aja Tribe of West Africa was completely different. I remember a meeting, several actually, that centered around providing food for the villages who had a poor crop of corn. I also saw the almost daily visitors that would come by for money...having had the previous internship I wondered if the message of Jesus was being drowned out or lived out by the assistance. I still wonder about that today.

In my society I wonder if the entitlement programs are great ways to provide help to the down and out...I think Jesus called some people, "the least of these". Are we "doing no harm" by providing generation after generation shelter, food, healthcare, etc.? Do we keep people from injustice through the provision of basic needs or do we further enslave people through continued governmental support...never encouraging or rewarding self-sufficiency, independence or advancement?

I think it is important to remember that justice doesn't equal "easy", "comfortable" or even "natural". Some times justice is difficult. Remember the words of Twain..."Men and rivers both become crooked when the easy way is taken". If we really desire social justice and if, as followers of Jesus, we really wish to do the best things for people and do them out of love, perhaps the best thing for us to do is make sure that through aid, help or programs, we are not doing harm or indirectly creating a new form of injustice. If we will do that I think both Hippocrates and Jesus will smile on us.

And by the isn't really original to link the Hippocratic Oath to Jesus. A 12th Century Byzantine Manuscript of the Oath was written in the shape of a cross. Go Monks!!!

1 comment:

Brian Cunningham said...

Blake, although it is 2 months removed thanks for checking in with me. I haven't done the blog thing as much as I would've liked. Hey, awesome article about you in the paper a year or two ago. Yes, I remember when you saved that guy from choking. Keep up the good work.

Your friend,