E. Kuhn, "Holistic Healing from a theological point of view – Paradigm shift in our societies:
Rediscovery of dignity, values, and internal wholeness as path toward the convalescence of humankind"
I. Paradigm Shift
The second decade of the 21st century has shown us, who had gotten used to constant progress and relative affluence after the terror of the Second World War, over the course of only a couple of years, almost months, that we could be confronted in our industrial societies with the impending downfall of fundamental social and economic structures. Financial crisis, economic crisis, energy crisis, climatic change, loss of values – these are only some of the keywords illustrating this process. Looking at the global society as a whole, we are confronted with the same threatening scenario of the breakdown of structures that were so far deemed unshakable. The imminent water crisis, the distribution battle, the awakening of the Islamic extremism, torture in 90% of all countries, the crisis of democracy and the redistribution of the power centers sweep across all securities that were so far considered unchangeable.
But what has all this to do with the health of humankind? Based on the hypothesis that we as humans are part of our environment, are shaped by our environment, and also shape it ourselves, the systemic approach of holistic healing gains more and more acceptance. The human being as individual is simply not an isolated monad according to Marx's concept, solely resting in itself and cut off from its environment.
In other words, if the human being as living system depends on and interacts with his environment and this environment experiences a crisis, the human being as individual is himself affected by these events. And, as a matter of fact, we find in all of our industrial countries an increasing rate of cardiovascular diseases, allergies, cancer, as well as mental disorders. Nutrition, nature, exercise, working environment, family, and appreciation: Many factors influence our health and well-being.
All this affects us from the outside. Are we doomed to powerlessness? Or is it possible to actively shape the system and our own life?
Allow me to isolate from this evaluation of the current situation three areas, in which the human being as individual can influence the overall system:
The Body: Within the „system human“, there are no isolated parts. Every part has effects on and connections with all the others. There is the psychological component of the physical suffering and the body’s reaction to this emotional pain. At the same time, the healthy psyche supports the healing of the body, and vice versa. In this context, we can take the words of Saint Paul, the apostle, absolutely literally: „There may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all the parts share its pain. And if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy “. (1 Corinthians 12:25f). Our bodies simply are no machines, getting repaired in the workshop of medicine with its spare parts supply.
The Mind: Drawing on values allows us to understand our life not only as re-action to outer circumstances, but instead we are able to contribute to society in creative ways (tradition, support, security, creativity).
The Soul: This includes everything that cannot be comprehended, measured, and counted in our lives; the collective of our psyche and everything that goes beyond, our life and our self (more than the Ego). The more conscious acceptance of our dignity as human being could enable us to see the dignity and the value in others rather than insisting on the Ego, that has to isolate itself from the Thou in order to proof its point.
Let’s look at this holistic view of the human nature in regard to the process of healing:
II. The Holistic Overall Picture
- Healing in Medicine
In medicine, healing is defined as the restoration of health by re-establishing the original condition (restitutio ad integrum).
- Healing in Psychotherapy
In psychotherapy, healing refers to the restoration of the emotional and mental health, while the term „healing“ is closely related to the structure of personality and behavior. Here, the mystical tradition introduces the term „anima“, engl. ”soul”, german “Seele”. The classical healing terminology of the ancient world, like the Greek word θεραπεία „service, healing“ (or Latin: curatio; sanatio, salvatio, restitutio ad integrum) still influences today’s definitions and creation of terminology. Therein, the healing terminology refers to medieval times as immanently seen "healing“ which is the salvation event of religious-theological implications. We will now briefly address the theological question of healing.
- Medicine and Theology
The development in Europe during medieval times, however, caused the separation of medicine and religion. According to the German sociologist Luhman, we are used to define religion and medicine as two complete different systems: religion observing the world by means of the transcendent/immanent; medicine by means of health/illness. In order to avoid conflicts between these two systems which are competing for a proper understanding of humanity, our Societies reached an easy compromise: Theology should abstain from the body and focus on the soul, whereas medicine should give up the soul and concentrate on the body. This compromise was, and is, not reliable – as can easily be seen from the contemporary ethical discussions about euthanasia and genetic engineering, or in the field of psychosomatic medicine.
This has resulted in the fact that healing in the sense of today’s advanced medical understanding includes physical, psychological as well as social aspects (cf. the Biopsychosocial Model). Theology, however, hardly contributed anything to this new concept.
Looking back at the Medieval times in Europa shows us that physical health, emotional well-being and holistic healing were seen as fundamentally interconnected. The doctrine of the "passions of the soul" (passiones animae), for example, comprised both theological and medico-psychological aspects. Thomas Aquinas’ therapy for depression, to give an example, consisted of spiritual counsel, prayer and therapeutic bathing. Or put into scholastic words: philosophic-theological anthropology (Aristotelian anima-doctrine) was open to medical anthropology (Galenic spiritusdoctrine) and vice versa – as can be seen in 'De homine' of Albert the Great.
- Healing and Religion
- In Christianity
- Biblical Understanding
In the Old Testament, Prophet Isaiah announced that the Messiah would take sin, disease, and pain of others upon Him; through his wounds they would receive peace and healing (Isaiah 53:5). The New Testament sees the fulfillment of this promise in the death on the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ himself worked many miracles. The mission to heal (in the name of Jesus according to Matthew 10:8; Luke 9:1+2) and the anointing of the sick (according to Jacob 5:13-18) is carried out and practiced in the Catholic, Old Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, but as well in the Pentacostal Movement among others. Healing in the New Testament is closely related to the belief expressed in the phrase „your faith has saved you“ (e.g. Matthew 9:22; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:19). In the Bible, the platonic dualism of body and soul is contraposed to the holistic aspect. The healing miracles of Jesus do not distinguish between the psychological and the physical healing. Jesus emphasizes the wellbeing and healing of the entire human being in his relationship to his body, his environment, and to God. Please allow me to refer at this point to the research work of my esteemed teacher Eugen Biser (among others “Theologie als Therapie”, “Der inwendige Lehrer”).
- Disease and Healing in the context of the Church Fathers
Through the confrontation with pagan miracle healers, especially during the first four centuries, Christ Himself was attributed the role of physician, the healer of our souls, and essentially the foundation of all healing and salvation. Especially the differentiation to the Asclepiad healing traditions is an important step in the development of the theological healing competence. Gregory of Nyssa and Basil the Great continuously refer to Christ as the true physician, as physician and remedy all in one (cf. Dörnemann, Krankheit und Heilung in der Theologie der frühen Kirchenväter).
- Theological Development
In the wake of the intensive exchange between the scholastic theology and the philosophical reflections of the Arab and especially Jewish based traditions, a deep connection between theology and medicine evolved with Albert the Great and Thomas of Aquinas. The influence that Maimonides and Avicenna, to name only the two most important physicians and theologists of the Orient, had on Thomas of Aquinas and the scholastic movement brought about once more a hayday for the holistic approach to body, mind and spirit. Only beginning with the secularism, following humanism and reformation, this holistic view of the human being and the society, of the world and God was replaced by an instrumental view of the human being and the nature.
- Buddhist Implications
The work of Daisaku Ikedas (cf. especially the dialogue with A. Toynbee in „Choose Life“) and prior also the study of Daisetz Suzuki’s philosophy as well as of Zen-Buddhism, bestowed me early own in my life with an insight into the traditional Japanese teachings on the oneness of all things. Many aspects still need to be explored and discovered in this area, and those findings could contribute in profound ways to the enrichment of our cultures and eventually to a paradigm shift in our world.
Now, I would like to outline some aspects based on a Christian viewpoint that could be brought into the conversation.
III. Personal Approach
The personal God approaches us in Jesus Christ as YOU while at the same time being present as the trinitarian WE. Although in the Trinitarian Theology, the unity of the three individuals still is based on the monotheistic principle. The trinitarian WE gives us an important foundation for the analogue understanding of the theological-holistic approach of the human society.
Where human being and God intimately meet, the individual is drawn into God's YOU and is at the same time made aware of the WE of all creation and community. In this concept, the individual cannot just exist as a system of unconnected pieces. He may understand himself as God's image, and that includes being ME in unfolding owns unique SELF, being YOU in the relationship with others, and being WE in the community of the whole system. That is why a Christian, if he follows the path of his faith, always needs to be understood as a complex creation with an open relationship to God. A separation in body, apart from mind and soul, a diminution of the body into single organs, contradicts this belief.
As a result, the systematic-theological concept of the SAVIOR (Jesus Christ as physician), who can bring about this WHOLE-NESS (the completion in the salvation) in humans arises from a theological point of view. This is the message that speaks to us from all healing accounts written in the Gospel: This is a matter of becoming whole, rising above our broken existences on a personal, global, and universal level. Healing needs to be understood as holistic concept, not just reduced to "sanare" in the sense of a mere physical-medical "restitutio ad integrum", but rather as "curatio" based on the encompassing approach of the Gospel and the theology of the Church Fathers.
The hypothesis of the holistic approach to healing is based on the concentric circles around the ME that walks on its journey to its SELF. This is a matter of the recovery of the relatedness between the ME and the THOU und the ME and the WE, whereas the WE refers to the society as well as the world community and the ecosystem of our planet. In the Christian connotation, the dimension of the mystical, the personal God in Jesus Christ is also part of this equation.
In closing, I would now like to outline three dimensions as building blocks for holistic and healing relationships and how they need to be reconsidered and newly constructed in our societies.
1st Dimension: Justice
Healing relationships are always just relationships. This has nothing to do with questions of legal formulations, but rather „to do a situation or person justice.“ What is important in this understanding, is to act just and to do someone justice on a subjective level, from on internal point of view, not from the demands of an outer perspective. The Catholic Church uses in this context the term "forum internum", a safe place where the exchange between people, with each other and in connection with God takes place, based on communication and relationship without fear. Such a "forum internum" would also be beneficial for the individual relationships between humans as well as in the social context of encounters in groups and communities. In such an environment, fear could be released, appreciation could be practiced and it would be become reality to "leave another person his/her space."
2nd Dimension: Healing
- Of the Individual
The focus is not only on what people have or own, but always at the same time on how they are acting and who they can be. A healthy relationship with myself as an individual is the pre-requisite for the creation of healing relationships with others and in the world. In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31) and hereby He literally adopts a commandment of the Tora from the Old Testament book Leviticus 29:18. And indeed, in the Jewish-Christian understanding, this self love is always the first step towards every charitable act and also towards the development of a true ability to engage in relationships. Through further dialogue with Buddhism, it would also be beneficial in this context to focus on and clarify the differentiation between "SELF" and "EGO". Together with these suggestions, I would like to share Tatsuya Yamazaki’s approach, reflected in his words: "When acting out of love or charity, it is essential to explore what the True Self is."
- In relation to the Other, the THOU
Jewish philosopher Martin Buber was key in preparing the path to find ways for returning from a mechanical and positivistic world system back to a biblical and creative encounter that is rooted in cooperation rather than separation. Buber states, "In the beginning is the relationship. ... The profound concept ME-THOU creates the world of relationship. … I come through THOU to MYSELF; Becoming ME, I speak THOU. Essentially, all life is meeting each other" (from: M. Buber, „Ich und Du“ 1923). In terms of holistic and healing relationship systems, a healthy ME-THOU-Relationship is absolutely essential. Only where the other is not perceived as stranger nor with judgment can we create the foundation for healing relationships.
- The Society
If Buber’s findings about the WE is true, we also build our society and all healing forces within based on a successful THOU, which is in turn based on a successful ME. Buber: "The WE potentially includes the THOU. Only people, who are truly and deeply able to say THOU, are also truly and deeply able to say WE with one another (M. Buber, Das Problem des Menschen, 1938). Only when the relationship with our True SELF (again not in the sense of the misunderstood EGO) becomes whole, it can reach out to the THOU and create the WE.
- The Environment
- Global Society
The interactive forces in the encounter between people and nations will be decided through safety or war in the near future. Can the world religions contribute their part to the healing process of these international relations or fall old values and ideals for creation silent in the face of the seemingly overwhelming power of the games on the financial and economic markets? Will the principle of justice be globally respected?
Environmental concerns will play a crucial role in the up-and-coming paradigm shift. Overexploitation of and in nature means at the same time depletion of the wellbeing of humankind. In this context, the Catholic Creation Theology with its Creation Ethics can contribute important insights. The Dialogue "In search for a new humanity" by J. Derbolav und D. Ikeda played an important role in clarifying the basic understanding and will also enrich future discussions in this area.
3rd Dimension: The Soteriological Dimension
- This dimension deals with the topic of salvation. For Christians, the quest for salvation is always connected to Jesus Christ as Savior. Based on the understanding of the freeing and healing power of the in-depth soteriology, many similarities with Buddhism can be discovered and explored. This area is an essential starting point for future conversations, also in the framework of the academies.
- The healing relationship with the Divine in mysticism and meditation, liturgy and communal theology are anthropologically establishing and theonomously validated conducts of life in which healing relationships can have their starting and endpoints. These are areas which lead into the encounter with the True SELF and in this respect also show similar experiences in Zen Buddhism. Here, a broad field for research presents itself that could support our societies in creating tools for the mastery of crisis and disease. Starting points present themselves especially in the medieval mysticism of Master Eckhart or Johannes Tauler (cf. A. Haas: Nim din selbes war: Studien zur Lehre der Selbsterkenntnis bei Eckhart, Tauler und Seuse, 1971).
IV. Outlook into the Future