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A Bible-Based Approach to Health Care: Something Ails You? You Might Be Possessed by a Devil

Catholic Bishops have filed lawsuits against Obama's health care reforms -- here's a great reminder why Abrahamic religion should not be dictating national health policy.


Despite a  defeat in District Court last week, the Catholic Bishops and their  conservative Protestant allies are forging ahead with lawsuits against Obama's health care reforms. Their goal? To ensure that American health options are dictated by religion rather than medical science. With an infallible pope and an inerrant Bible as guides, they are convinced that they  know what God wants.

Obviously, not all Christians agree. The contraceptive mandate is a problem for the patriarchy only because most Christians have their own deeply personal understanding of God’s will and they want to live in accord with that understanding. In other words, the contraceptive mandate is an issue for the Bishops and their allies only because it is a non-issue for most lay Christians. 

Then again, if they could, some Church leaders would do away with much more than the contraceptive mandate. Christian Science theologians teach that God’s will excludes most of science-based medicine because prayer alone should suffice. In fact, they  have tried to get the services of “prayer practitioners” reimbursed under federal health care laws. Like Catholics and conservative Protestants, they find basis for their belief in ancient texts:  Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up ( James 5:14-15).

Throughout the Bible, both Old Testament and New, physical health is largely a spiritual matter.  Healings come from prayers, rituals of repentance, and miraculous intervention. In Chronicles King Asa, who has a severe foot ailment, is held up as a bad example for seeking help from physicians and not from God. By contrast, King Hezekiah prays when he falls ill, and Yehovah  adds fifteen years to his life.

For those who don’t want simply to pray and wait, the Bible does actually prescribe or describe a variety of healing practices. Unfortunately, healthcare in the Bible, perhaps more than any other topic, reveals the authors to be men of their time—the Iron Age. 

If there were any room to doubt, a quick overview of biblical health care is a great reminder why Abrahamic religion should  not be dictating national health policy :

Dermatology: banishment and dove blood. Based on the level of detailed attention it receives in the Bible, dermatology might appear to be the most important medical specialty. Two chapters of Leviticus spell out the assessment and treatment of visible skin infections, which, given the descriptions, might include skin cancers, leprosy, cystic acne, or psoriasis. Such infections must be diagnosed by a priest:  Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46). Later, the priest finalizes the healing process by killing two lambs or doves:  The priest is to take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot (Leviticus 14:14). In a  second ritual the patient is sprinkled with blood that has had a scarlet string, the herb hyssop, and a live bird dipped in it.

Treatment of skin wounds may include the use of bandages and soothing balms, but most cures recorded in the biblical texts are faith healings. In one story, a foreign military leader Naaman  gets rid  of his skin disease after dipping seven times in the Jordan River on the advice of the seer Elisha. (Both the number seven and the Jordan have special powers throughout the Bible.) However, the story is a tribute to the power of the Hebrew God, not any general prescription for healing.