Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First, Do No Harm: Haiti Today, Us Tomorrow

We might do well, very well, to practice the first rule of medicine as we practice our faith in the world:

First, Do No Harm.

For some time now I've chosen to describe myself as a Christ follower rather than a Christian. "Christian" is only used three times in the New Testament and only as a noun, never as an adjective. It's also never modified by any adjectives in the Bible. We weren't left with a laundry list of what's more or less Christian (adjective), such as Christian music, Christian bookstores, Christian fashions or office supplies.

In recent years, "Christian" has become a tarnished word often associated with judgmentalism and divisive agendas. So I've been calling myself a Christ follower. That's what Jesus asked his disciples to do: follow.

Now, however, "Christ follower" may also have to be vacated for fear of association with the Followers of Christ, a group of modern day folks who don't believe in modern medicine and who will anoint, sing and pray with their children as they watch them suffer grievous pain and finally die of conditions easily and quickly treatable. See: http://www.oregonlive.com/clackamascounty/index.ssf/2010/01/prosecutors_see_jury_selection.html

Think about the different approach to the world if you are a Follower of Christ. You could go into Haiti with food and water for hungry, thirsty people; but you wouldn't actually treat infections from gaping wounds using antibiotics, you wouldn't amputate gangrenous limbs in order to save a life. You wouldn't offer blood or plasma transfusions, IV bags, to someone whose life could be saved by them. Medical supplies? Not necessary. Fly or truck in about 5 gallons of anointing oil and you would have enough to make the sign of the cross on about 500,000 foreheads. That would do it.

Latex or nitrile gloves? No need. If God didn't want you to get infected or to spread infection, it wouldn't happen. Prayer wouldn't allow it to happen--unless God wanted it to. And then I guess all your prayers wouldn't be effective anyway. It would be God's will, so just go on.

Search and rescue teams? Heavy equipment to look for survivors under the rubble? Not needed either. You would pray for them and call it good. And if God wanted them to survive, then another earthquake would come and dislodge the chunks of concrete to free them before they died. If not, well. . . it was just their time and God had already decided.

First, do no harm.

Haiti is the poorest nation in this hemisphere. It has been that way for most of its life. Badly overpopulated and badly denuded and deforested because the poor people have nothing for fuel but charcoal they make from every living twig they can get their hands on, Haiti is also one of the most badly eroded landscapes on earth. When the rains come, as they will, the other shoe will drop in this desolate land. Soil and rock now shaken loose by the quake and not held by tree roots, not covered by their canopy of leaves, will again cascade downhill. This time the floods of mud will descend onto people living with even less for shelter and security than they had after the recent terrible hurricanes, all of which were the worst natural disasters Haiti had seen--until now.

Not only has Haiti been inundated with natural disasters. It has also been inundated with mission trips and Christian groups and orphan care and food aid and antibiotics for years and decades. Countless lives have been saved, many only to reproduce and multiply unsustainably to live in shacks and huts without latrines or water. Families there have been selling or just flat giving away their children because they cannot provide for them. Some orphanages have rescued infants tossed by their mothers onto burning piles of garbage. Human life has never been cheaper.

Have we forgotten that the words "Haitian" and "boat people" became a redundancy years ago?

So let's say that the massive efforts of the next five years put the entire population of Haiti in new, earthquake-proof structures. What in the world shall those people do for work, livelihood, income, sustenance? Make more children to be sold or given away into slavery and the sex trade, to become 12-year-old armies-for-hire somewhere? Pirates of the Caribbean doing what they do in Somalia?

Is China ready to industrialize Haiti so that the cheap goods with which they have saturated every store on the planet can be made cheaper and closer to Bentonville, Arkansas? Are we ready to offshore something besides church mission trips?

Haiti is a microcosm of what humanity is doing globally. We should wake up to that and respond accordingly. Their life will be the lives of more and more people as the resilient life support systems of earth lose their resiliency due to human overload and destruction.

Then, will we in the weathly world turn out to be any less blind and bull-headed than the people going on trial in Oregon City?

A former boss once said, "Life involves choices. Choices have consequences."

So does the practice of our faith and our consumption-based way of life. As a civilization that has pegged all its hopes, put all its eggs in the lone basket of nebulous and infinite "economic growth", we might do well to ponder the words:

First, do no harm.

Meanwhile, immediate needs confront us. Children and their parents cry out. Let us be busy with those needs while never ignoring the consequences of every choice. And we rich people have far more choices than the world's poor. We have far more responsibility.

Let us pray . . . Amen.


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