How Christians impacted health care
No Christianity equals no health care system or relief agencies
"I was sick and you looked after me" - Matthew 25:36 Jesus of Nazareth modeled caring for physical and emotional needs of others, not just spiritual ones.
The deeper I delve into Christian history, the more I'm astounded that the institutions I take for granted only exist because of the influence of Christianity.
For example, erase Christianity from existence, and you've just erased the institution of health care.
In order to showcase this more effectively, I’ve built a rudimentary timeline, which you can explore by clicking the link below.
Hover over events with your mouse to get more details. Use the scroll bar at the top to adjust the time period.
This initial timeline on health care was based primarily on the book, How Christianity Changed the World, by Alvin Schmidt. Out of hundreds of books I’ve had the privilege of reading, it's in my top 10 list of favorites. It convincingly argues that Christianity has given us everything as a society we consider good.
While Christians certainly fail often to follow Jesus well, it's important to at least contemplate how good this world can be when Christians live out Jesus' commands about caring for the hurting of this world.
Before Christianity, you had to be useful to others to be cared for
Caring for the sick during plagues was a standard part of being a Christian, in stark contrast, Schmidt argued, to non-Christians who dumped sick people in the streets in favor of always focusing on self-survival and comfort.
"'A man is a wolf to a man whom he does not know,'" said Plautus, a Roman philosopher, according to What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? on location 2475 in the Kindle ebook version.
There's evidence Greeks and Romans had places where the general public who were sick could pray for healing, or be diagnosed, but not convalesce.
A facility called valetudinaria cared for gladiators and slaves and possibly soldiers — in other words people of value to someone else. There was no place for the general public to rest and be treated, until Christians came along.
The creation and growth of formalized hospitals and hospices began in the late 300s, once the persecution of Christians ended.
By the mid 1500s 37,000 Benedictine monasteries cared for the sick, Schmidt wrote on page 157.
Nursing: A Christian Innovation
On page 163 Schmidt credited many Christian women with inventing and institutionalizing the field of caring for the sick, including Fabiola, a widow and associate of Saint Jerome. She helped found a hospital in Rome in 390 AD.
It wasn't until Florence Nightingale came along however, that the field of nursing became recognized as integral to caring for the sick. That wouldn't have happened had Nightingale followed the standard path for aristocrats like herself in England. She instead chose to serve others, spurred to this vision by her belief in Christ.
"'On February 7th, 1837, God spoke to me and called me to His service,'" wrote Nightingale in her diary, as quoted by Sam Wellman on page 58 of Florence Nightingale Lady with the Lamp a Heroes of the Faith series biography.
If you're interested in reading about her early life and struggle with faith, it's a great book. The book reminded me that the path of following God's will often seems confusing, counterintuitive and uncertain from our perspective. Too often we look at heroes of ours and compare where we are today to their best moments in the limelight, inadvertently leaving out the decades they often spent toiling in obscurity and uncertainty. The book appears to be written for high-school age readers and at 202 pages makes for an easy read.
The story chronicles the decisions she — and we Christ followers — make that are only logical if God really does exist. In a section on dealing with the 1854 cholera outbreak in London for example, "Flo threw herself into the nursing effort, spending her time at Middlesex Hospital. She was committed to helping the sick, no matter how dangerous it was to herself. Her will — which she considered God's will — crushed objections raised by doctors," Wellman wrote on page 14.
She's also well known for helping advocate for sanitary conditions in hospitals and the training of nurses.
In this 10-minute slice starting at 20:36 of this much longer video, these data visualization experts discuss her famous chart and how she cared so much about providing clear, helpful, un-hyped information to convince leaders of the value of cleanliness in health care.
What if Jesus had never been born?
That question was originally tackled well in the 1994 book What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy and Dr. Jerry Newcombe. They highlighted numerous other aspects we take for granted when it comes to Christian influence on health care, including:
Many hospitals began as places where the poor were welcomed, not just the sick.
The research of Christian, Louis Pasteur gave rise to pasteurization, sterilization and the development of vaccines. See my timeline for details.
Most American hospitals were started by Christian denominations. Here in Omaha some of the big health care systems are named Methodist and Catholic Health Charities.
All sorts of Christian relief agencies that serve the world were started by Christians — the Red Cross, Young Man's Christian Association (YMCA); The Salvation Army, and even today the biggest are affiliated with various Christian groups. One wonders where all the support would come from if Christian relief organizations vanished. Would these sorts of institutions have sprung up without Christianity? It's doubtful. During the French revolution a third of France's hospitals ceased operating, and private charity largely dried up, they wrote.
If you’re not interested in reading this ebook, which only costs .99 cents, this is a 50-minute video version of the book.