…Biblical prophylaxis

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

Unlike scientific theories, that can be endorsed by experiments or visualised by microscopy, religious theories are not physically tangible. They are a form of spiritual experimentation that cannot be vindicated by quantitative evidence but are imposed by the democratic consensus of a responsive sector of society. Once recorded, religious ideas can be interpreted in several ways that can be influenced by current events or social responsibility. There are many different religions, all of which focus on predetermined beliefs and rituals usually assembled for perpetuity in a sacred book.

Contributors to the Bible used many techniques to make philosophical ideas accessible to the general reader. In the New Testament many teachings take the form of parables, a mental tool used to illustrate complex psychological theory in an accessible format. This enabled philosophy to become universally read in a way that had a profound effect on cultures and people. In fact, the impact of Biblical writings can influence the direction that science takes in society. There is a universal conviction that the Bible was written under the direction of God and that for a passage to be included, it must have some spiritual significance.

When these passages are interpreted in the 21st century, Bible teachings can often appear barbaric. For instance, in the Old Testament, animals and newborns are sacrificed to appease God [Ex. 22.29].

Give me your first-born sons. Give me the first-born of your cattle and your sheep. Let the first-born male stay with its mother for seven days, and on the eigth day offer it to me.

It seemed the Old Testament attempted to manage social behaviour by fear and power. In order to ensure that the rules and regulations of the Old Testament were followed, leaders in the form of a priests, were appointed by Moses through the will of God. The priests had the power to inspect and regulate the Hebrew community, exiling those that imposed a threat and punishing individuals, often by death, who opposed the ceremonial practices that had been sanctified by the highest authority.

Teachings from the Bible have been interpreted in different ways by the numerous religious fractions that have evolved from them, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Protestants and Roman Catholics. Differences in socio-politics are observed because there is a lack of consistency in how religions interpret these teachings. They have their own sets of doctrines requiring certain beliefs, which in some cases results in hostility and disagreement. For instance, ‌in 1945, Jehovah’s Witnesses introduced a blood ban. They refused blood transfusions as they believe the Bible prohibits the ingestion of blood. In the Bible, blood was considered to contain the life-force of all living beings [Lev. 17.14].

The life of every living thing is in the blood, and that is why the Lord has told the people of Israel that they should not eat any meat with blood still in it and that anyone who does so will not be considered one of his people.

In many ways they were correct to assume that blood is necessary to retain life because it transports the gases necessary for cellular respiration around the body. If an animal loses too much blood through injury it is starved of the oxygen necessary to produce energy and dies. In addition to oxygen, blood provides the means of transporting other substances around the body including inorganic electrolytes, nutrients, metabolic waste products, hormones, proteins and antibodies. It is therefore a bountiful source of life-enriching substances that can attract disease-causing agents, such as blood-borne viruses, parasites and bacteria. These organisms have managed to find various ways to evade the body’s hostile immune system to exploit these resources. For instance, trypanosomes, worm-like microbes that cause sleeping sickness, frequently change the molecular composition of their coats to remain undetected by the immune system. It was perhaps therefore not beneficial to eat anything that still contained blood especially if the animal had died naturally. In fact in the Old Testament an individual was labelled unclean if they had eaten an animal that had died through natural means.

One of the most common blood-borne diseases of the Biblical era was schistosomiasis, a condition caused by the blood fluke a parasite endemic to Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. After maturing in snails, the adult form of the blood fluke invades an animal host, it travels through the circulatory system until it reaches the blood vessels of the intestines were it lays eggs that are transferred back into the environment through faeces. The disease would have been transmitted through contaminated waters used to irrigate crops and therefore was probably quite prevalent. Today, even withincreased awareness, over 200 million people suffer from the effects of this disease. It was equally common in the Biblical era. Recently discovered ancient papyri dating back to about 3000 BC offer various methods to alleviate the symptoms, which were anaemia, digestive problems and reduced disease resistance. The creators of these papyri were, of course, oblivious to the fact that many diseases could be attributed to the parasitic actions of microbes that were sourcing their energy supply from humans. It’s understandable that Hebrews could have thought consuming blood from animals that had died from natural causes could lead to humans acquiring the same characteristics. Consuming blood contaminated by flukes or bacteria would inevitably lead to the animal or person acquiring the same symptoms through illness. Through ritually avoiding blood, they were unwittingly contributing to a form of disease prevention.

By refusing blood transfusions Jehovah’s Witnessses have inadvertently protected themselves from infectious blood-borne diseases. The blood ban has led to legal conflict whereby intervention is deemed necessary to protect the interests of a child that may require a life-saving blood transfusion. In some ways, this is also a conflict between science and religion as blood transfusions were developed through advances in science. This is another instance where science and religion are in opposing Universes even though their aims are both to enhance the quality of life.