Christianity Is a Hospital, and Sinners Are Ill (Or Not)

Christianity Is a Hospital, and Sinners Are Ill (Or Not) November 12, 2015

If Christianity is the correct moral and spiritual path, why doesn’t it look like it?

Some Christians are good and some not so much, just like in any large population, but if morality is a central part of religion and Christianity is the one true religion, shouldn’t this be obvious somehow? Why can you not tell a person following the truth path from one following a false religion by their actions? Why are prisons full of Christians?

Christians have a response. When you look in a church, you see that it’s full of sinners. Well, what did you expect? Christianity says that we’re all fallen people. Jesus said, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” The church is a hospital, with the sinners as the patients.

Let’s take this metaphor for a drive and see the many ways it fails.

1. A hospital stay is temporary. When you’re sick, you go to the hospital if you must, but your stay should be as brief as possible. The hospital is the option of last recourse. Financial pressure encourages the patient to leave quickly.

By contrast, church isn’t to be avoided, it’s celebrated. It’s a lifestyle and a worldview. Once you’re in, there are often penalties for leaving such as loss of friendships and even family. Church isn’t free, and you are encouraged to contribute as much as possible.

2. Hospitals improve society. If we can expand the metaphor to include modern medicine and health-focused social policy, this expansive view of “hospitals” has found many ways to keep you out of a hospital bed: a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise, vaccines, improved environmental conditions, laws to safeguard working conditions and food, and preventative medicine like periodic checkups.

By contrast, churches have no interest in seeing you leave. They sometimes encourage their members to fiddle with social policy, standing in the way of same-sex marriage and abortion, for example. Church leadership often dabbles in politics. Christians can push for Creationism to be taught in schools. Evidence drives medicine, but dogma drives religious meddling.

3. A hospital can cure you. Modern medicine isn’t perfect, but it often cures an illness. While medical treatment and research is expensive, we have a lot to show for it.

By contrast, churches have no concept of a cure for a spiritual ailment. To follow the metaphor, churches provide palliative care only. Christianity says that we’re born spiritually sick, there is no cure in this lifetime, and God himself made us so. As Christopher Hitchens noted, “We are created sick and commanded to be well.”

Religion takes in over $100 billion in the U.S. every year. Tell me that church is a country club and I’ll buy it, not so much that it’s a hospital.

4. Hospitals treat actual illness. Hospitals treat illnesses like pneumonia, hepatitis, and AIDS.

By contrast, churches invent a new problem of sin plus a god to get offended by it, as if there weren’t enough real problems in the world. This is theology, not science.

Here’s an idea: if God is offended by sin, let’s assume that he’s a big boy and can take care of it. He can tell us himself how we should conduct our lives, not through a religion that looks no different from all the other manmade religions. That God needs human agents here on earth and never speaks for himself is more evidence.

5. Hospitals follow science. Hospitals use medicine, and medicine follows evidence.

Churches use dogma and faith, not evidence.

6. Hospitals work. Antibiotics and other medicine as well as other treatments work. Some are 100% reliable, while others are less so, and doctors can reliably predict how a course of treatment will go.

Churches use prayer whose only effectiveness is as a placebo. Christians often say that prayer works, but it certainly doesn’t in the sense that medicine, electricity, or cars work. Prayer may reliably work only in that it provides meditative benefits, but that is certainly not the intention behind the claim “prayer works.”

They also claim that miracles happen. I issue a challenge to provide that evidence here.

7. Hospitals use professionals. Doctors and nurses are trained. Evidence is used to improve their training.

Jesus is the Great Physician (as in a spiritual healer) in name only. He never shows up. It’s said that he does his work by magic, but there’s no evidence of this. People marvel at his work, just like people marveled at the diaphanous fabric made by the tailors weaving the Emperor’s new clothes. Any example of an actual healing through the church—someone who kicked an addiction or got out of homelessness or got control of their anger—has people behind it.

In this “hospital,” the patients treat each other. Some are lay members and some are clergy, but they’re all ordinary people, with the Big Man conspicuously absent.

The treatments (that is, the right path of spiritual living) are sometimes incompatible between Christian denominations. Extend that out to all religious people, and the incompatibilities underscore the partisan nature of religion’s answers (more here).

8. Bad things happen if you need to go to the hospital but don’t. Centuries ago, doctors might’ve caused more illness than they cured, but we’re long past that. Faith healing or wishful thinking are no help when there is a medical cure.

By contrast, people outside the church look about the same as those who are members. In fact, those who had been in but quit the church say they’re happier. (Of course, Christians will say that the opposite is also true—those who had been outside the church and are now inside are happier. There are plenty of miserable Christians, but let’s accept that point. That simply makes this a worldview issue. Atheism and Christianity are worldviews, and those in each one prefer it to the other. But is this the best that the One True Religion can claim? It’s just another worldview? Shouldn’t it be obviously better somehow?)

But there is one parallel that works. Hospital-acquired infections cause or contribute to 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Similarly, churches can give you new spiritual infections such as new biases or hatreds.

Acknowledgement: This post was inspired by an excellent commentary by Deacon Duncan at Alethian Worldview.

You say you’re supposed to be nice
to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists
and this, that, and the other thing.
Nonsense! I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.
— Pat Robertson

Image credit: Wikimedia

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