Monday, June 24, 2013

Limitations on Truth: Power

Two of our great privileges in life are to learn the truth and to share it with others. Learning and sharing happen only by grace. They happen only when Jesus freely speaks to us in love and the Holy Spirit freely enables us in love to discern and affirm those words. Then we are able to think, speak, and act in ways which increase our strength of soul, edify (build up) others, and glorify Abba (God the Father).

Given the tremendous goodness and beauty of witnessing to the truth, one might think that our society would actively encourage us to do it. Our society would if it were unconventional. Sadly, it is wholly committed to the dreary gods of power.

Those gods, and the people who serve them, see words simply as means of gaining power. They value words that are useful in that way. They disparage words of truth that, in contrast, express love and nurture life. They even persecute those who speak them.

Take Ignaz Semmelweis. Ignaz worked as an obstetrician at Vienna General Hospital. In 1847, he implemented the practice of having all medical personnel wash their hands before touching women who were at the clinic to give birth. By doing so, Ignaz reduced the number of women dying at the clinic from 1 in 5 to 1 in 50. He introduced this simple practice in the maternity wards of two hospitals in Pest with similarly dramatic results.

One would think that obstetricians would be profoundly grateful to Ignaz for discovering this extremely simple way of saving thousands of women from needless suffering and death. Sadly, this was not the case. Instead, the physicians working in important hospitals, teaching on the faculties of major universities, and editing the leading medical journals chose instead to question this practice of Ignaz and to attack him personally.

In their Olympian society and ours, one common belief is that scientists dispassionately pursue the truth. Scientists are understood to be different from and more virtuous than religionists who, by definition, are rigid, narrow-minded, and superstitious.

The opponents of Ignaz proved this common belief in the virtue of scientists to be false. Although they were scientists, they did not affirm the truth of Ignaz’s discovery. Worse, they fabricated all sorts of falsehoods to justify their lack of affirmation. Criminally, they continued to avoid his simple practice and by doing so remained indifferent to the unnecessary pain and death of their patients.

Why? Because they too practiced a particular religion: Olympianity. And the gods of that religion provided them with all the justification they needed to protect their own false image of themselves as virtuous people and to preserve their positions of power in society.

The story of Ignaz is both a cautionary and inspiring story for us. It is cautionary in that it warns us to expect trouble if we discover truths that seriously challenge the understanding and position of people in power. It is inspiring in that it demonstrates that even very simple and obvious truths, once affirmed, can save thousands of lives.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.