Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How does ancient Greek medicine impact the church today?

Beginning around the 4th century B.C., ancient Greeks held that human health was controlled by balancing four essential fluids called “humors”: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  When balanced, there was good health and when imbalanced there was disease.  Humanity has rejected most ancient Greek misconceptions about human biology, psychology, medicine and sexuality.  Yet, some of those flawed secular beliefs still influence Catholic teachings today. 

Ancient Greeks believed combinations of four elements (air, water, fire, and earth) formed everything in the universe.  Four levels of human digestion, controlled by the four humors converted these four elements into the body for use.  Each humor processed an element that was considered hot or cold, and wet or dry as described in the table at the end of this article.

Ancient Greeks also believed the human body had four principle organs: brain, heart, liver and gonads.  The brain thought, the heart felt, the liver controlled digestion and moods via the four humors, and the gonads controlled sexuality.    Furthermore, “radical moisture” from too much of the wet humors overflowed forming secondary sexual characteristics.  

Since men emitted their “radical moisture” during sexual intercourse, sex was considered depleting to males.  Withholding these fluids was believed to preserve youth and vitality, somewhat striving towards godly immortality.  Does this mentality still influence the staunch yet theologically unfounded attachment to priestly celibacy? 

Man’s “radical moisture” was believed to contain the “seeds of life.”  Woman’s womb was considered just a fertile vessel to receive the seeds.  This is rather inverted from reality.  Woman’s egg is the seed; man’s “radical moisture” initially fertilizes the egg and disintegrates upon conception though ongoing nourishment does come from the womb.  Nonetheless, the church deemed spilling man’s “radical moisture” outside of heterogeneous intercourse a sinful waste of “seeds of life”.    Why is emitting imaginary seeds from man considered a sin while emitting actual seeds from woman not?      

Since ancient Greeks believed women conceived children by merely acting as passive vessels, they also believed “natural” female psychological disposition should be receptive, passive, submissive and demure.  Meanwhile men, needing a fertile garden for their life-propagating seeds, were believed naturally disposed to aggressive outward searching. In reality women carry seeds in need of fertilizer.  Should female disposition therefore include natural outward aggressive searching for fertilizer instead?

Unfortunately Ancient Greek’s incorrect understandings about sexuality, gender roles, biology and psychology pervade Catholic theology.  For example John Paul II teaches that woman is “given” to man as though a passive object.  The man’s “gift” to her is that he accepts her, like she was a toaster or ’69 Corvette or something.  Man “enriches” her by pouring out his masculinity upon her, sort of like how a car benefits from someone’s doting attention.  Woman’s body is described as primarily being designed to “receive” the gift of life via children, though she already contains the seed of life and accepts man’s fertilizer. 

The church teaches woman’s role ties overwhelmingly and primarily to motherhood.  Since she has a uterus, it must be the most defining important part of her.  Since she has a uterus, it should be maximally employed, sort of like maximizing the utilization of a truck’s cargo hold.  Such concepts based on errant secular science in turn fuel the church’s discrimination and marginalization of women.    

These ill-founded gender notions impact more than individual women.  The bishops call the church, i.e., the masses of laypeople, a female, married to male clergy.  They expect the female church to act like women “should” by being submissive as they disseminate their manly seeds of eternal life to fertile gardens.  Inserting the corrected biology into the theological reasoning don’t we arrive at this - since females carry the seeds of life, shouldn’t the female church comprised of laypeople sow the seeds of eternal life?  In turn, doesn’t that make the male clergy’s contribution analogous to fertilizer which disintegrates upon conception?

Church theology and dogma are based upon Aristotle’s philosophy in addition to his teachings on biology.   He (and St. Thomas Aquinas) believed objects had a nature with an inviolable purpose.  Theology and dogma grew from this concept by first declaring “the” purpose of something and then declaring “sinful” any deviation from that purpose.  So, sexual intercourse was deemed to have a procreative purpose “by nature.”  Violating that natural purpose was and is considered sinful by the church.

The notion of a single inviolable purpose is not universally enforced.  If it were, eating or drinking anything beyond what is required for nutrition would be sinful.  Nonetheless, the church teaches that sex with its inviolable procreative purpose must always be open to conceiving children.  Hence the church bans artificial birth control. 

The church also teaches that conception must occur from the “two in one flesh” unity of husband and wife.  Separating procreation or procreative functions from “the marriage act” is forbidden.  Thus the church also deems things like artificial insemination sinful because they occur outside of sexual intercourse or require collecting the man’s “radical moisture” outside of intercourse. Yet, God created Jesus outside of the marriage act.  This seems to pose a difficult either/or question: is it that the bishops believe Jesus, conceived outside of the marriage act, was conceived in sin or do they believe through Jesus’ conception outside the marriage act that God approves conceptions outside the marriage act?        

Over the last few thousand years many things have disproven foundational understandings about science, nature, biology, sexuality, philosophy and psychology.  These foundational understandings themselves were not religious dogma.  But religious dogma was built upon them.  So if advances in secular knowledge disprove secular foundations upon which theology and dogma are based, the theological and dogmatic stories fall like a house of cards unless the theology and dogma accommodate change. 

With the infallibility doctrine, church leaders painted themselves into a corner, preventing themselves from changing dogma as humanity continues to learn.  Since they refuse to change their dogma and scientific understandings no longer support their dogma, they see scientific advancements as threats they must discredit. 

However, this is difficult because the science that shakes their dogmatic foundation is commonly taught at the high school level or earlier.  The church loses many youth because the average high school graduate accepts scientific advancements made since the 4th century B.C. while the bishops do not.  In response the bishops focus on turning Catholic schools and youth groups into ideological institutes, trying desperately to retain some youth who will inhabit a 4th century B.C. world with them. 

Tragically, the bishops also respond by clinging to the ancient yet proven to be ineffective if not fatal practice of bleeding the body.  Clinging to their dogma based upon flawed secular science they encourage if not rejoice as people leave the church, the Body of Christ.  What can be done to stop the bleeding?  What responsibility do we have in refusing the bishops’ damaging archaic bodily healing practices?  Are the bishops beyond amendment?

Many thanks to my children for inspiring this article.

Element Processed
Hot and wet
Life’s essence distributing inhaled air’s energy throughout the body
Cold and wet
Moistening and nourishing the body
Yellow bile
Hot and dry
Opening lungs, acting as a laxative, and thinning blood
Black bile
Cold and dry
Blood’s sediment taking and depositing earth minerals in the bones

1 comment:

  1. This is exactly right. The hierarchy simply refuses to take science seriously, because Aquinas thought that Aristotle knew everything, and if it was good enough for Aquinas it has to be good enough for them. It never occurs to them that ninety percent of the medicine that keeps them alive in their old age is due to insights that are fundamentally contrary to Aristotle's views.