In her introduction to a fascinating book 'A History of God'  Karen Armstrong writes: "Yet my study of the history of religion has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. Indeed, there is a case for arguing that Homo sapiens is also Homo religiosus". I turned to this intriguing book in order to learn about a hidden dimension of disease. Cancer is more than just a tumor, it involves also a spiritual dimension, which may be harnessed during therapy. This is the essence of the Cancer-Yogi metaphor. Cancer-Yogi's spirituality enables  him to live with cancer in peace and harmony. However is this Cancer-Yogi really a Homo religiosus?

This theological question will be examined within the conceptual framework of the  New Medicine which deals with two entities, or metaphors, WOB and Mind.. We shall examine how these entities relate to the theological God, and what is His role in therapy,


Does an ameba suffer? Nature provides ameba with resources, and obtains its excretions which serves as resource for other partners in the food chain. Nature may also  injure it.   Lack of resources and injury distress the ameba but do not make it suffer. Suffering occurs in the mind, which ameba lacks. Ameba is a pure WOB.

A dog has a mind. Watch his loneliness when left alone, or his reaction to pain, and you will conclude that he suffers. So does the ape whose ancestry begot homo sapiens.  Primitive man endured two kinds of suffering.  A suffering caused by  hunger and thirst, which  he instinctively knew how to relieve. He was less knowledgeable about how to alleviate suffering from disease.  Soon he realized that some of his fellows were gifted to handle this kind of  suffering. This is when the Shaman took his place in the tribe.


What distinguished a shaman from  other members of his tribe, was his capability to observe and handle odd situations. His insight  might have originated in  an ailment which he contracted.  He then applied successfully his experience to other members of his clan.  His curiosity broadened his understanding of phenomena around him.  Nature was a collection of  beings with human nature, which he handled in the same way as  ailments.  He contemplated that healthy spirits may alleviate hunger and bring  prosperity to his kin, and his task was to strengthen  weak spirits for the benefit of his clan..  Evil spirits were not yet  conceived.

Mind as WOB servant

In the primitive society the relationship between Mind and WOB , is quite simple. WOB controls   processes in the body. When lacking some resources, like water, it sends  the mind  a signal of thirst as if saying: My control of water balance slackens, go and get me some water. By itself WOB is incapable of searching for water.

Mind as arbiter

When the practice of farming got people to settle down, the role of the mind became somewhat more complex. Essentially WOB is utterly selfish.  Its objective is to sustain life at any cost,  disregarding external constraints. Now that societies were formed, this selfishness had to be curbed by law and religion. Not all WOB demands could be met.  Some were forbidden by the society , others required a compromise between WOB demands and what is allowed. This compromise is handled by the mind. The two tasks of the mind  remind of the Greek god  Janus, who watches two opposite directions. When mind turns inside it serves as WOB servant, while  outside he faces the restrictions of  society.  From now on mind serves as an arbiter of WOB and society.

Scylla and Charybdis of Medicine

Shamanism may be regarded as an art of uncorrupted medicine, which soon faced two grave dangers, religion and philosophy. The shaman  was not concerned with the cause of disease (etiology), his task was to remove disease from an ailing body. This attitude, however,  changed tremendously during the  Axial Age (800-1200 BCE) which is regarded by historians as time of transition during which the major religions emerged.  Philosophers concluded that all occurrences in nature had a cause, and so did disease. The three western religions regarded sin as main cause of disease. Apparently disease did not exist in Plato's world of ideas,  only health did.  According to his metaphysics, the word 'cat'  means a certain ideal cat 'the cat' created by God. Particular cats are imperfect representations of this ideal cat.


Might one apply the same reasoning to the word 'disease'? Did Plato's God really create 'the disease'?  Obviously not, since disease is the hallmark of imperfection.  On the other hand God of  western religions  did create it, for punishing sinners. Later on Christianity considered disease as a manifestation of Evil.  This metaphysical view of disease is interpreted by the mind as guilt.  Actually illness starts in  the WOB, which signals the mind a sense of dis-ease, as if saying: "I am losing control, get some help" Previously this sufficed to call a shaman, but now this signal for help is wrapped up by the mind, in  guilt,.


Greek medicine did not trod the same path and evolved independently. The two major schools of medicine, Asclepius cult, and Hippocrates were not interested in  the cause of disease.   The cult of Asclepius was a Greek version of shamanism. Hippocrates started  as an Asclepiad. Later on the turned   to  the four humors of the body, During health they  were balanced. Disease resulted either from a humor excess or deficiency. Treatment was directed to restore  original balance.  The physician was aided by the self healing capacity of the body which was called healing force of nature, a Hippocratic notion of WOB.

As the Western God gained in supremacy over  pagan  Gods,    sin  as cause of  disease became more and more important.  Galen's medicine continued to dominate medical thought yet soon became overpowered by medical innovators like Paracelsus who was a  firm believer in the Primordial Sin.

History of Medicine and God

It is striking that  modern textbooks of the history of medicine hardy ever mention God.  History of medicine describes the evolution of theories  from the viewpoint of modern medicine which regards itself as a science where God has no saying. Take, for instance, William Harvey's important discovery of the role of the heart in the circulation of blood (1578 - 1657). Modern historians regard it as a scientific revolution. Yet when Harvey published his treatise 'De motu cordis', God continued dominating the outcome of disease by perpetuating guilt. God may not be a scientific object, however His medical significance cannot be ignored.

Guilt in modern medicine

Modern medicine banned God and kept His created guilt, which  operates in any disease. Guilt accompanies cancer from it’s very beginning The first thought of a  young female who discovered  a small lump in her breast is: "where did I err?". "Why did I miss my latest mammography", or "Why did I continue smoking?" She is the sinner who disobeyed the Surgeon General's directives. She is guilty of neglecting prevention.

From now on her sense of guilt will be perpetuated by doctors, family, and society. She will be blamed for treatment failure, since coming too late.  Whom else to blame? Medicine spreads the false notion that it cures cancer. When statistics show the opposite, she blames for its failure patients and particularly society .  Society should invest more in expensive preventive machines. It neglects health services and therefore medicine fails to curb disease.


Many patients are aware of the incompetence  of oncology. They seek the help of healers, and face new dangers. Many healers  of alternative medicine believe that disease results from a failure of the body clean itself, and this pollution has to be purged. Purging was already practiced by physicians of ancient Egypt, and abandoned by modern medicine. Yet modern  healers   return to the roots, purge and endanger the patient.


Medicine abandoned purging when realizing that the body is a machine §with many malfunctions. Disease  is a malfunction which has to be corrected. Descartes maintained that this machine has a soul residing in the pineal gland, which medicine rejects as a nonscientific hypothesis. Ailment of the soul is non other than an aberration of the mind which is handled by psychosomatic medicine.  Descartes did not realize that the human machine differs from man made machines by its capacity of self healing. After all he was not a physician.  All diseases are more or less self healing. A capacity which was known as Healing Force of Nature.


Medicine realizes that some malfunctions are self healing,  however it lacks means to find out   which malfunctions may be ignored.  In order to protect itself (mainly legally) medicine regards  all aberrations as  diseases.  Until proven otherwise the human body is sick. This is the root of to day's medical  impasse, which causes medically inflicted diseases, called Iatrogenesis.


Despite being a guilt propagator, God has many medical merits. After all he sent us some great healers,  e.g.,  Prophets, Jesus and Mohammed.  Even today his heritage may heal some of his sick believers. The benefit of Lourdes   may outweigh some negative aspects of Catholicism.  However, in order to find out its benefits, one has to experience it. Lourdes sets free  our  hidden  spirituality. Karen Armstrong might regard it as a  proof of our being  Homo religiosus.


Our mind is  endowed with two assets, imagination and creativity, which brought us where we are today.  The history of God  is also the history of imagination, and so is medicine. It started with shamanism, which harnessed  imagination to remove disease from the body, and today it assists doctors and healers. Modern medicine ignores this important dimension of therapy, and regards it as a useless and harmful placebo effect.

Yet imagination is more than that. It is a channel through which our mind controls processes in the body which may be harnessed during  therapy for the benefit of the patient.

Armstrong Karen, A History of God. Vintage, London 1999,  ISBN 0 09 927367 5

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