The Evolving Tradition of Hope in the Abrahamic Religions and Medicine First Name Faraze Last Name Niazi Terminal Degree(s) M.D. Institution/Organization West Virginia University
Living life without hope is living life in despair. Indeed, a functional and adaptive human spirit requires hope to face the invariable trials and tribulations of life. Hope is an intrinsic part of human nature, only sustainable through physical and spiritual support. We hope for healing of souls just as we hope for healing of our bodies. Where do we turn when looking for hope? Two frequently sought sources are religion and medicine. The approaches to religious and medical practice regarding hope has evolved over time.
The major Abrahamic religions believe in the immortality of the human soul. This religious belief generates an invariable human need for hope amongst followers. We hope for the betterment and minimization of suffering in our current physical life. We also hope that our immortal souls will be at peace throughout eternity. The Talmud, Old Testament, and the Quran have numerous verses related to the value, benefit, and need of hope in our daily lives and for our immortal souls. In effect, God is hope, and in the final analysis, our only hope for a peaceful eternal soul is through God.
Similar religious thoughts regarding healing of the body can be found both in the Quran (5:32) and in the Talmud (4:9): ‘whoever kills a soul...it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one- it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.’ This quote is applicable to medical practice as it demands physicians to heal the body, just as religion commands the protection and sanctity of the soul. Essentially, this leads to the desire to seek health and healing.
Most humans have increasingly turned to medicine to provide a healthier life, whether preventatively or restoratively, and to improve our standard of living. As medical knowledge and efficacy improves, the expectation (hope) that medicine can restore a state of health will continue to increase. In the end, however, medicine will be unable to prevent all diseases or death. In fact, we all understand that as our bodies age, our heath erodes, and ultimately, we will die. Medicine has never claimed, and never should, that it provides any preventable or restorable benefit to the health of the human soul.
Religion and medicine have evolved a complex symbiosis with respect to hope. While science-based, medicine’s dominion remains confined to physical and mental suffering associated with biologic life. On the other hand, religion is faith-based. While religion has relinquished some transient dominion of its role of hope in our physical life, religion retains complete dominion over the well-being of our spiritual life (our immortal souls). Hence, medicine does not compete with religion; medicine is complementary to religion rather than antagonistic.
The prophets could not foresee the advances in medicine that would modify the tradition of hope and expectation derived from medicine in our physical lives. The symbiotic relationship and evolving tradition of hope in religion and medicine needs to be recognized and stimulated in a positive manner so that benefits of both are maximized.