No Christianity, Many Hospitals: A response to Catholic News Service article

Today I read an article titled “No Christianity, No Hospitals: Don’t Take Christian Contributions for Granted,” on the Catholic News Service’s website. In the article author John Stonestreet praises the Catholic contribution of hospitals to society. Without the invention of Christianity, he notes, hospitals as we know them would not exist. I’d like to take a minute to go through the article, line by line, and offer some feedback.

Pro-abortion forces should be careful what they wish for, especially when it comes to Christian hospitals.

To be fair, everyone should be careful what they wish for, but this is a rather minor point. More important, what does this have to do with abortion?

recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Americans who “think” that religion plays a role in solving important social problems “has fallen significantly” in the past fifteen years.

In 2001, 75 percent of those polled said that religious institutions played such a role in our society. By 2016, the percentage had dropped to 58 percent.

Here we set up the is… Stonestreet has identified a fact of society.

Now what’s changed? There’s no evidence that religious institutions have reduced their efforts in addressing the problems around them. Pew suspects that the drop has something to do with the rise of the so-called “nones,” the religiously unaffiliated.

Yes, and I agree with Pew. The religiously unaffiliated view social issues as secular problems. But that’s not the point here. The point is that society views on social issues are becoming more and more secular. More on that after the next bit.

I think part of the problem is that the religious contribution to the common good is so woven into the fabric of American life that most people these days just take it for granted and never stop to think about how prevalent it really is.

That could be, but it’s not really all that surprising. We fully understand how as quality and quantity of life and lifespan increase, the role of the church decreases. It’s a natural social phenomenon that we can watch happening in practically real time (raw data is here). The thing is, however, that religious institutionalism really is losing its prevalence (at least in the developed world).

So today I want to talk about one such contribution: religious hospitals. As Wikipedia tells us “Greek and Roman religion did not preach of a duty to tend to the sick.” The idea of the hospital grew out of the “Christian emphasis on practical charity,” especially towards the sick.

As mentioned above, the role of the church over medicine is understandable in societies where disease and death were more common. But the author seems to think (from an unsourced Wiki page) that hospitals are the product of specifically Christianity. I’m assuming he read the Wiki page on hospitals or the history of hospitals, which—before any mention of Christianity—shows examples of Greek religious hospitals, Buddhist religious hospitals, secular Indian hospitals, Sri Lanken Buddhist/secular hospitals, and Roman emergency care facilities, most of which predate the Christian hospital. While the adoption of Christianity in modern day Turkey certainly helped propel the ancient Christian hospital, the hospital doesn’t owe its existence to the Christian church.

Thus, as historian Roy Porter wrote in his book “The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity,” “Christianity planted the hospital.” Or stated differently, without Christianity, there would be no hospitals, at least not as we understand the idea.

So what? Well, first see my above paragraph. But more to the point, if Christian hospitals had never existed, does the author think that modern medical science (an undoubtedly secular area of study) would have failed to produce the MRI machine? The Hippocratic Oath, which was written centuries before Christ? Penicillin? Of course, again this is not the point. I’m waiting for him to get to his first.

That’s why, again quoting Wikipedia, the Catholic Church is “the largest [non-governmental] provider of health care services in the world.” How large? “It has around 18,000 clinics . . .  and 5,500 hospitals, with 65 percent of them located in developing countries.” By one estimate, the Catholic Church “manages 26 percent of the world’s health care facilities.”

That’s remarkable. The Catholic church certainly provides a lot of health services worldwide. But does the author think that if those hospitals shut down tomorrow the market would not fill the void? If demand for medical services remained constant but the supply of medical services dropped by 16% in the US, don’t you think entrepreneurs would be fending each other off for the largest slice of that piece of pie? The stats on the scope of Catholic hospital charters doesn’t tell us that we owe our health to the Catholic church.

So unless folks don’t consider providing health care in the developing world as “an important social problem,” the 42 percent who answered Pew’s question in the negative could not be more wrong.

There it is. That’s the problem. Who says that? Who believes helping the sick is unimportant? No one, which is why the author immediately changes gears. Straw man #1.

But in the off chance that respondents interpreted the question to mean “important social problems” just in the U. S., well one in six hospital beds in our country is located in a Catholic hospital. In at least thirty communities, the Catholic hospital is the only hospital in a 35-mile radius. This doesn’t even take into account hospitals run by other Christian bodies such as Baptists, Methodists, and especially Seventh-Day Adventists.

I already addressed the hospitals-in-the-US issue. Oh and yes, it also doesn’t take into account Islamic health centers, Jewish hospitals, military hospitals, and, for the lion’s share, Secular private hospitals and clinics. The number of hospital beds by religious sponsorship tells us nothing of the level of care.

Now for many progressives, this is a bad thing since these hospitals do not, because of their “commitment to the sacredness and dignity of human life from conception until death” define “women’s health” in the same way they do. To them, the spread of Catholic hospitals just means fewer abortions, and of course, that’s bad.

Again, who says that? Who says that fewer abortions is a bad thing? Does Stonestreet really believe pro-choice people praise abortions? Straw man #2. What secular people lament is when a church has a dogma and tries to make everyone else live by it. It has nothing to do with getting excited over how many abortions a person has. It has to do with being free to live by our own morality, not church ethics.

For someone actually sick and in need of medical care, this is completely irrelevant, if not perverse.

Well, we can agree on one thing; this is completely irrelevant.

And speaking of perverse: many also have the strange notion that if Christian institutions got out—or as some would prefer, were forced out—of the health care business, government would just somehow pick up the slack.

Two things: First, no one is trying to force religious medical institutions out of business. Straw man #3. Second, I cannot speak on behalf of everyone, but perhaps some would like the government to pick up the slack, but as I stated earlier, the free market would pick up the slack. … oh god, I can feel it coming…

This highlights the foolishness of the pro-abortion ideological crusade against Christian professionals and organizations in health care. As we’ve talked about before on BreakPoint, Washington State is already forcing Christian pharmacists (who by the way got no help from the Supreme Court) to choose between their faith and their careers. If states or the federal government attempt to force Christian hospitals to perform abortions, and those hospitals close their doors, the results would be catastrophic.

Sigh… Straw man #4. Stonestreet furthermore forgets there’s a difference between forcing someone to choose between their faith… and asking them to do their jobs. But if everyone who can’t do their jobs wants to quit on sectarian lines, let them. Medicine is inherently secular, and just as we would not accept a male Muslim gynecologist to refuse to see female patients because it goes against his religion, we expect Christian doctors to provide for everyone, no matter religious beliefs. Doctors know what the job entails. For example, I’m vegan. If I choose to work at McDonalds I’d better be willing to serve hamburgers, no matter my moral position on meat.

As I said earlier, the Christian commitment to caring for the sick, and other acts of compassion, are such a part of American life they’re taken for granted.

Americans take for granted hospitals, because as a society we’ve decided that hospitals are important to have. That’s why we have so many of them. We no longer care what role the church played in providing those services in the past. All we care about is that when we need hospitals they will be there. And whether or not they will be there has nothing to do with whether or not Christianity has a seat on the board of directors.

This article was supposed to be about how important Christian hospitals are, but it spiraled into several irrelevant arguments against abortion. I’m not sure where they came from, but there they are.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to No Christianity, Many Hospitals: A response to Catholic News Service article

  1. pluviolover says:

    You did good work here. Thanks. If it is the only hospital in the area, that is a monopoly. And, if I am not Catholic (or whatever), then, as a patient, I must abide by the religious rules of the hospital, since I have not other option. Last I looked, the religious hospitals take the insurance money just as the secular ones do. If so, I think they should be required to follow government rules. It’s not only abortion. PAS? Birth control? Right to die (or to live)? Stem cell treatment?

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