by José Arregi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
June 30, 2011
Everybody knows that Hippocrates (5th century BC) is thought to be "the father of medicine" and the "doctor" par excellence. Rightly or wrongly, the famous "Hippocratic Oath" has been attributed to him:
"I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses,...in every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients..."
Many medical students, at graduation, continue to take the same oath, in an updated version and without mentioning the gods, since those ended up not being as immortal as Hippocrates thought.
It wouldn't be bad -- allow me to digress -- if politicians, businessmen and reporters took a similar oath in the name of what they hold most sacred:
“I swear I will tell the truth, care for life and defend the neediest without seeking personal profit."
And if bishops, instead of swearing obedience to the pope who named them and can promote them, would say:
"I swear by Jesus that I will defend freedom, fraternity, and equality in and outside of the Church."
And if all the theologians, instead of that "anti-modernist oath" that has prevailed up to a few years ago, also took their particular Hippocratic oath:
"I swear by the Spirit or Ruah of God that I will work to prepare new wine-skins for new wine, to liberate the good news from old dogmas, to create a rational and liberating new theology as God's Ruah for today's world."
Jesus prohibited swearing but He would like these oaths.
Let's get back to Hippocrates. He was a modern doctor in his day, and he let himself be guided by observation and experimentation. For example, he denied that the "holy disease" -- as epilepsy was called -- was due to an act of the gods, and he opposed treating it with spells. He treated it with a good diet.
Well, a doctor of our day, Manuel Guerra Campos -- brother of that fundamentalist bishop of Cuenca, a deputy in Cortes nominated by Franco, asserts in his La confesión de un creyente no crédulo ("Confession of an incredulous believer") that Hippocrates today wouldn't get more than a 0 on an anatomy exam. And Dr. Guerra Campos wonders: How is it possible, however, that the Church continues today with the same language and the same beliefs as hundreds and thousands of years ago?
That's where I was going. Isn't this the most important issue in these times? What would Hippocrates say about this serious disease engulfing his country, Greece, and our entire planet because of four rich people who have the most deadly of all diseases, limitless greed?
Without a doubt, this is also the most important question for the Church, much more important than "unbelief" and "relativism", the family and euthanasia and even abortion, not to mention religion in schools.
But I think it's also urgent for Christians to create a different theology, a theology that makes faith comprehensible again for today's world. That has always been the mission of theologians -- speaking of faith in a way that makes sense to men and women of each age and place. Only a rational theology can be liberating. Christianity must be rethought so that it can be a liberating gospel.
Christianity cannot be a liberating gospel as long as it holds on to concepts and paradigms of the past that today are anachronistic, absurd and even harmful.
That Hippocrates, a genius, could not pass any class in medicine today, seems normal to us. The same would happen to Descartes in philosophy, although philosophy hasn't evolved as much as the empirical sciences. But his famous "I think, therefore I am" would get him nowhere today and the tribunal would laugh at him if he reiterated that the body and the soul connect through the pineal gland. Even Einstein himself, the genius of geniuses and dead at just 56, would be suspended today in quantum physics, and would continue to naively assert that "God does not play dice."
Since He does play, although it's a manner of speaking. What's certain is that we can't go on doing theology, that is, talking about God using images and language that belong to outdated worldviews, to obsolete paradigms.
For example, we can't talk about God as one used to talk in a static, deterministic, pyramidal and geocentric world -- above, a heaven inhabited by gods with the Supreme God at the head, below, an earth created by God from the outside, and further below, a hell for bad people.
God isn't a Being, or a Something, or a Someone with a psychology and feelings like ours. God doesn't intervene from outside whenever He wants. God doesn't have to incarnate Himself, since He is the Flesh of the world, the Being of all that is, the Heart of all that beats, the active and passive Verb of all words, the Dynamism of all transformation, the Tenderness of every embrace, the You of every I and the I of every you, the Unity of all diversity and the Diversity of every unity, the Light in every glance, the Conscience of every mind, the Beauty and Goodness that sustain and move the universe in its infinite movement, in its infinite relationship.
And we can't talk about Jesus in terms of the dualist metaphysics that underlies the dogmas -- as if God were a distinct "substance" separate from the world, as if in Jesus He assumed "our substance" for the first and only time in a unique and miraculous way, as if God weren't the true Being of all that is, as if every human being weren't divine by the mere fact of being good. Jesus was a good man, a free man, and this sums up all the dogmas. It's that simple.
We can't talk about the revelation and the incarnation of God as if this planet were the center of the universe and as if the human species were the culmination of the evolution of life. The universe has no center, and life on this planet will still be evolving for billions of years, and surely in the infinity of other planets in a limitless universe as well. And God is the Heart and Mystery of the ever revealed and concealed universe, the Fire that dwells in it.
Nor can we talk about the human being as if bio-genetics and neuroscience had not shown that we don't have more consciousness and freedom than that which genes and neurons make us capable of. And it's not a little, but neither is it a lot (yet). Freedom is on the way, as are the cosmos, life and consciousness. Freedom is the goal of all creation.
And sin? How absurd and harmful is our traditional language about sin, and therefore about forgiveness! Sin is not guilt contracted with a divine being, but the wound, the mistake, the finiteness, and the damage. But we are loved and can go on -- that is forgiveness.
So we should continue to revise everything we say about "salvation" and "the beyond", to talk about it again with free words and new metaphors, since nothing of what is said is essential in faith, but rather the unutterable precisely. None other than St. Thomas Aquinas said it 800 years ago.
What's bad is that he would pass a theology exam today. With him, the opposite happens as what happens with Hippocrates and Einstein -- the ecclesial authorities of his time suspended him for heterodoxy, but later they proclaimed his theology to be a "perennial theology", immutable.
It simply makes no sense, and the "angelic doctor" would be the first to protest against continuing to approve the theology of eight centuries ago today, and he would tell us sorrowfully that we have betrayed him. In effect, being faithful to Saint Thomas Aquinas is not repeating him, but rather doing in our time what he did in his: rethinking Christianity so that it may be illumination and consolation, medicine and liberation.