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Boston College Theologian's Perspective on Health Care Policy

Posted by Jim Tagye on Sep 7, 2015 6:00:00 PM

Mercy College of Health Sciences will host four national speakers during the 2015-16 academic year as part of the second year of the Faith & Healing Speaker Series, an award-winning educational program designed to address these important topics, promote discussion with members of the healthcare, health policy and wellness communities in Iowa, and instill a love for learning.

The first speaker will be Timothy Muldoon, PhD, Assistant to the Vice President for University Mission and Ministry at Boston College, whose topic will be “Mercy Theology as Healthcare Policy” at 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 17, 2015 in the Sullivan Center on the campus of Mercy College, 928 6th Avenue.

To help prepare you for this engagement we have provided an excerpt from his writings below.


Mercy Theology as Health Care Policy by Timothy Muldoon, PhD

One of the earliest examples of Christian art–a fresco on the Catacomb of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter from the fourth century–depicts the story of the woman with a hemorrhage who surreptitiously approached Jesus in order to simply touch the hem of his garment, in the hope of being healed (see Matthew 9:20-22). The image is one which captures a basic human desire. Illness–like birth, death, hunger, and sexual urges–is an experience of limitation, a reminder that our freedom is circumscribed by factors over which we cannot even aspire to fully control. The spirituality of the fresco is rooted in the yearning for release from illness, for salvation from the sufferings that we all recognize are inextricably linked to the human condition. 

Even in our age, when medical science has pushed back the frontiers of disease and opened up new vistas of understanding of so many medical conditions, illness remains at its root a mystery. We cannot know why we must suffer; we cannot know why those that we love must die. We can rally with marathoners who support breast cancer research; we can rejoice at the success of antiretrovirals; we can celebrate those who bravely face Lou Gehrig’s disease or Fragile X syndrome. And yet we are really little different from our ancient forebears who saw illness as evidence of supernatural forces, over which human beings could exercise no control. We may live longer; we may be physically stronger for much of our lives; but it is as true today as it was five thousand years ago that we will get sick, and we will die.

It is therefore no surprise that even in our age of information and technology, religious traditions have much to say about suffering and death, healing and salvation. There is, for example, a growing body of scientific evidence that the connection between spirituality and health care is statistically significant. More important, though, are the ordinary experiences of people who bravely confront sickness, even while coming to grips with their own mortality. If religions have traditionally been associated with negotiating the thin boundaries between human life and death, it is no surprise that sickness can provoke a reawakening of interest in religious questions.

I am compelled by conceiving of the impetus toward religion as being rooted in what the theologian David Tracy has described as “limit-questions.” We may know more today than in the age of Galen or the Yellow Emperor, and yet it is as true today that illness confronts us with the problem of suffering. It is also true, though, that suffering can elicit from us depths of care and compassion, dimensions of a capacity to love others that we might not otherwise experience. To the extent that religious traditions enable us to negotiate the terrain of love and suffering, they make us more fully human.

Join this discussion on the Mercy College campus
Thursday, September 17 at 6 p.m.

Free Registration