PETALUMA, Calif., June 6, 2016 – According John Fauber and Kristina Fiore, illness is on the rise. Not because more people are getting sick, but because more people are being given reasons to think of themselves as sick.
“Know someone who shouts and pounds on the steering wheel when cut off in traffic? They might be one of 16 million Americans said to suffer from ‘intermittent explosive disorder,’” write Fauber and Fiore in a recent investigative report. “Can you polish off a box of cookies while watching your favorite TV show? Could be a sign of ‘binge-eating disorder,’ said to afflict 7 million Americans.”
Twenty years ago, no one had even heard of these conditions. But all of a sudden, thanks in part to new definitions of disease and the advent of so-called pre-conditions, millions of people have been labeled with medically treatable disorders.
“As if actual diseases weren’t frightening enough,” writes the Atlantic’s Brian Fung, “we now have what seems like a whole encyclopedia of pre-diseases to fear” – everything from pre-hypertension and pre-diabetes to pre-anxiety and pre-dementia.
“I have another name for these preconditions,” says former Reuters Health editor Ivan Oransky. “I call them preposterous.”
As new school as this all sounds, its roots are quite old school, stretching all the way back to the Bible.
Drawing on familiar scriptural passages such as “Many are called, but few are chosen,” 16th-century theologian John Calvin popularized the idea that only a select group of people will be saved and go to heaven, while everyone else, regardless of piety, will suffer eternal damnation. As harmless as such a notion may sound, there is at least one documented case of someone becoming physically ill at the mere thought of such random selection.
In her book “Retrospection and Introspection,” religious leader and medical pioneer Mary Baker Eddy relates that, before being admitted as a young girl to the Congregational Church, she became “greatly troubled” by Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.
“I was unwilling to be saved, if my brothers and sisters were to be numbered among those who were doomed to perpetual banishment from God. So perturbed was I by the thoughts aroused by this erroneous doctrine that the family doctor was summoned, and pronounced me stricken with fever.”
After praying for a short time – encouraged by her mother to lean on God’s unrelenting love for guidance and healing – the fever lifted.
“The physician marveled; and the ‘horrible decree’ of predestination – as John Calvin rightly called his own tenet – forever lost its power over me.”
Although this may sound like an isolated, unrelated event, people like Oransky are beginning to question the effect that other, if less dire, prognoses as predestination are having on a society increasingly predisposed to seeking medical treatment that could do more harm than good.
Perhaps a more important question to consider is if we’re all predisposed to disease in the first place. Is it possible that health might actually be a natural, normal, even divinely ordained, condition, as Eddy’s experience suggests? Even if we’re not quite ready to go that far, there’s no denying that we’re seeing growing numbers of people who, despite the onslaught of new disease descriptions, are living longer, healthier lives – many without the aid of medical intervention and, presumably, without the mental burden of unwarranted pre-diagnoses.
As this trend continues, we can expect to see fewer, not more, reasons for being sick, and as a result, a bona fide decrease in disease.
Eric Nelson writes about the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs. Continue the conversation on Facebook.