As Christians join the rest of the country in jousting over the proposed changes to our health care system, one significant fact should inform the Christian debate: modern health care is a Christian invention. The reasons Christians developed the world's first health care system—as opposed to simply medical practitioners—are as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago.
When an epidemic struck in the ancient world, pagan city officials offered gifts to the gods but nothing for their suffering citizens. Even in healthy times, those who had no one to care for them, or whose care placed too great a burden on the family, were left out to die.
Christians found this intolerable, and they set about to take care of these people and others similarly afflicted. They did so because, "Early Christian philanthropy was informed by the theological concept of the imago Dei, that humans were created in the image of God."
This led not only to a belief in the responsibility to aid others and the inherent worth of every human being, but also to a belief in the sacredness of the body itself. "It was to save the body that Christ took on flesh in the Incarnation. Not only the soul, which in traditional pagan thought was eternal, but the composite of body and soul, which constituted man, was to be resurrected."
The idea of imago Dei also led to a redefinition of the idea of the poor. Rights in a city or society were given to members, and all members received benefits. Those outside were offered none. Christianity, in addition to seeing all people as "neighbors," developed a special consideration for the poor. Just as God demonstrated in the Incarnation his solidarity with those who suffer, so the members of his "body" must demonstrate their solidarity with the suffering poor.
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