Posted by: ritagone | June 25, 2014

The Metaphor of Bloodletting


In the early 1800’s, the medical community as a whole put their faith in bloodletting, believing it to draw out evil humors which caused disease. It had taken years of medical learning to discover which veins were to be opened for what symptoms. In fact, an entire superstructure of technical information was built around this procedure, “years of learning and a plethora of subtle and complicated dogma (arose) on a foundation of nonsense,” as one author put it.

One American doctor, Dr.Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, deemed even today as the greatest statesman-physician of our revolutionary and federal periods, and a genius of medical administration, developed, practiced, taught and spread the custom of bloodletting in cases where prudence or mercy had before restrained its use. He and his students drained the blood of very young children, of consumptives, of the greatly aged, of almost anyone unfortunate enough to be sick in his realms of influence.

When was the last time you went to your doctor to have the practice of bloodletting be done on you? Not in your lifetime, I’ll wager! More and more it became apparent in the latter 19th century that sick people needed fortifying, not draining, and the medical community gradually shifted its procedure and practice away from this macabre fascination.

Like so many other practices and beliefs that have come and gone (remember “the earth is flat”?), the wisest of men fall victim to false tenets and then build complete systems around them, piece by piece, only to have to tear them down when they are proven erroneous.

In my own experience, growing up, I went through similar beliefs and practices, only to find as I matured or gained knowledge that I was…well, wrong. And then having to make that great shift in thinking that goes with a cataclysmic tearing apart of a belief system. I believed in my college years that there was no God, that life was rather haphazard, that you came and went randomly, like a toss of the dice, and the universe lacked any sort of system or cohesion. (I went to U.C.L.A., after all.) Like Dr. Rush and so many like him, I built an entire life around falsehoods that I felt to be true.

Haven’t we all?

Guilty as charged.

We humans tend to build systems and lifestyles around what we believe to be true; houses with foundations we think we can trust. Otherwise, we’d all be shifting and careening from philosophy to philosophy and from dogma to dogma, wouldn’t we?

Some 45 years ago, when I was introduced bit by profound bit to Christianity, it all began to make sense to me in a way nothing had before. I embraced it and started to build my life on it, and I’m still building. It has never let me down. I took a leap of faith 45 years ago that proves right every day of my life in both little and big ways. This is not to say that I don’t have questions or ponderings, that I don’t wonder about some things. I would be less than human if I didn’t find myself at times searching and asking the meaning of what is behind what happens: why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God when you think He should be doing what you think He should be doing? Why isn’t the universe operating according to my plan or schedule?

But the basic components of what makes sense stay firm because of my faith in Jesus Christ; things don’t get flimsier, they get stronger with each passing year.

Didn’t patients whose blood was being let back in the 19th century get weaker? Die? Over and over again? Wasn’t that eventually an overt signal to the medical community that perhaps something was drastically wrong with their procedure and their protocol? That something needed to be re-examined at the very heart of what was being done?

So the metaphor of bloodletting is this: a lot of people can believe something is right when it is foolishly wrong. A lot of people can construct a system around something that winds up falling apart, no matter how convinced the proponents of it were.

I want to make sure that my life and my reason for being are based on something more solid than whim and whimsy, sand and silt.

And Jesus Himself warned us not to do this, not to build on the wrong foundation, lest we find it collapsing all around us (Mt. 7:24-27).

He sure knew what He was talking about!

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