Wednesday, August 13, 2014

As Christians, We Must Look After Our Neighbor's Health Says Rev. G.W. Lay, 1919

From “Civic Consciousness” by Rev. G.W. Lay in the August, 1919, issue of The Health Bulletin, published by the North Carolina State Board of Health

It takes good, conscientious men to secure good health for a community. There is no glory in it; you never know what you have done except by the bare figures of the annual death record, and you get no credit for what you have done. Besides, if ten men in each thousand have been saved, no one man feels that he was the particular one who was saved. No one feels grateful at all, he could only feel so in a general way towards the community at a whole. The man who picks up a piece of glass form the road does not know whose tire did not get punctured, and those who follow him are ignorant of the danger from which they were saved. But if a doctor saves a man’s life by performing a difficult operation or by carrying him successfully through a dangerous illness, the doctor gets credit for what he has done and has a right to feel proud of it, while the patient will always feel truly grateful to the man who saved his life.

Prevention required intelligence of a docile and humble kind. The man who hold tenaciously and expresses vehemently half-baked opinions on matters of which he is really ignorant, is a danger to the health of a community. He thinks he knows more than the doctor who is a specialist, and he feels that his empty utterances are entitled to respect. He opposes good doctors and is a follower of the latest school of quackery, and does not believe in vaccination against smallpox or typhoid, or that malaria is caused by a mosquito and typhoid carried by flies. He is a great clog against any forward movement. He is a wicked man. God has not use for a fool, and it is made clear in the Bible that the fool is a sinner just as plainly as that the sinner is a fool.

Success in the prevention of disease depends on that universal feeling of moral responsibility that believes in the necessity of obedience to every law just because it is the law. There is no direct connection between health and cutting the grass and spoiling the neighbor’s lawn, or dropping paper on the sidewalk. But where people perform these amiable tricks, or leave the road and make ruts in the lawn with their automobiles, or try to beat the cop and evade the traffic laws, the health record will probably be poor.

To secure health every citizen must feel that the town is his town and that he has a duty towards every one in it just as much as towards his own wife and children. He just obey every law himself and he must see that every one else obeys the law and that every law is enforced on everybody all the time. If the best citizens play cards for money or allow liquor to be sold in clubs or match nickels for soda water, while the poor negro is severely punished for shooting craps or for getting a drink for a thirsty stranger, it is not to be wondered at if the average man concludes that no moral principle is involved and that law enforcement is a mere matter of expediency and favoritism.
Unfortunately, while we may ascertain who breaks a specific law, we can seldom tell who was the direct cause of a particular case of contagious disease. Someone has caused the sickness and perhaps the death of a fellow-being, usually an innocent child. No one can be sued for damaged or persecuted for man-slaughter. The guilty escape punishment and even the consciousness of guilt.
I cannot be safe unless I make my neighbor safe; his health is necessary to my health. I must work for the good of all, even though there may be some slight underlying selfish motive, and thus I am compelled to live the Christian life. I am foolish if I do not protect myself absolutely against smallpox and typhoid, and, when necessary, against diphtheria; but for most communicable diseases I must depend on the condition of all in my community. Complete success will only come with entire unselfishness. I must be vaccinated against typhoid, not simply for my own sake, but to support the right, to set a good example and to prevent the possibility of giving the disease to others.

Finally, each man is personally responsible to God for his neighbor’s health. I cannot put it off on “they” or “put it up to God.” That mysterious “they” is the bugbear of all reform. When a citizen says “They ought to do something,” we know we have found someone who evades contentedly his own moral responsibility. “They” means “me.” “They” to this man means everyone except himself. If everyone takes that ground, everyone is exempt and no one is responsible.

God is all-powerful, but He has taken each of us into partnership…. Do we dare say that it is God’s will that the cruel murderer shot down the harmless man? Is it not then a profane impertinence to say that it is God’s will that a little child died of preventable disease when it was given him by another child whose parents deliberately allowed him to break quarantine and give the disease to passers-by? It is God’s will that we should keep His laws and obey religiously the laws of man. If I live by the Christian law, I am working for health; and I cannot work successfully for health unless I feel my full moral responsibility to live in all ways by the Christian law.

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