What Every Christian Can Learn from Listerine

Way back in the year 1860, the science of bateriology was still in its infancy. In that day, surgeons would operate with bare hands and their instruments weren not heat-sterilized nor disinfected chemically. As a result, the post-operative mortality rate was kicking around 90% in numerous hospitals.

In that context, a man named Joseph Lister launched a passionate campaign against the unsanitory practices and poor hygeine of surgeons. Most doctors scoffed at Lister’s campaign. They felt that his heartfelt plea to have surgery that was “antiseptic” was over-the-top and misguided. He was ridiculed, critized, and dismissed by the majority of surgeons and doctors. But despite the negative reactions he received by the medical profession, he found one convert — Dr. Joseph Lawrence.

Basing his work on Lister’s research, Lawrence developed an antibacterial liquid that was manufactured in one city. Some years later, around 1880, the product was named after Josph Lister, who had then become a well-known and controversial figure on two continents.

Interestingly, surgeons who began employing Lister’s ideas of good hygene were having fewer post-operative infections as well as increased survival rates. “Listerism” was being hotly debated in medical journals by competent doctors who were both “pro” and “against.” It was also being discussed in the popular media.

This antiseptic liquid, inspired by Lister and made accessible by Lawrence, came to be known as Listerine. So the next time you swirl some Listerine in your mouth, just remember that it came at the price of one man’s reputation. A man who was ridiculed, criticized, and dismissed by the professional medical community. But who . . . after many years, was vindicated.

Thank you Mr. Lister for not giving up your convictions. May your tribe increase!

A true Christian who follows Jesus is someone who pushes against the status quo. A Christian, therefore, is a revolutionary. So this story holds encouragement for all Jesus followers. Especially those who push against the “Christian” status quo.

I happen to be a fan of Listerine, cool mint flavor. And my close friends are happy about that. :-)

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About Frank Viola

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  • John Evans

    Through work I come in contact with the dental literature quite a lot. Interestingly there is evidence coming to light now that regular use of antibacterial mouthwash may contribute to worse oral health for the same reason misuse of antibiotics has led to higher risk of in-hospital infections. If you’re regularly doing an indiscriminate sweep of all bacteria from an area, you’re likely going to weaken the beneficial comensal bacteria population and encourage the spread of resistant, hostile varieties.

  • Frank Viola

    Great point. Dissenters come in different types.

  • Frank Viola

    Excellent point, Joe. Yes!

  • Joe Canner

    At the risk of pushing the analogy too far…It’s worth noting that even a useful product like Listerine can be misused (e.g., unregulated source of alcohol), cause unwanted side effects if used too much (e.g., dry mouth), or used as a substitute for a more comprehensive treatment (e.g., instead of brushing and flossing). Likewise, Christians who push too hard or in an obnoxious way will lose their effectiveness, as will those who concentrate entirely on eliminating the bad stuff without introducing good stuff in its place, or those who focus on secondary doctrines.

  • John Evans

    The lesson of Lister – and Galileo – is that it is not enough to be a rebel. You must also be right.

  • http://natural-philosopher.blogspot.com Mick Pope

    I keep thinking of Revelation now – may we, unlike Listerine, not be spat out by God for being lukewarm.


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