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The Ultimate Pharmaceutical

By Bret P

I'm very critical of healthcare (oxymoron) here in the United States. Our insurance premiums are sky high, our services and drugs are grossly overcharged, and the FDA is not only ineffective, but obviously corrupt.

Abuse #2Image by dhammza via Flickr

There's not enough emphasis on exercise, diet, and good lifestyle habits. Our pharmaceutical companies patent molecules first, then they try to find out what they can cure with it (ever wonder why there's a huge list of side effects accompanied with most drugs?). Our food supply, while abundant, is another cause for concern in terms of quality.

Of course personal responsibility comes into play here, but even if you're not a conspiracy theorist, it doesn't take a genius to realize that our healthcare system doesn't really keep people healthy. It simply puts band-aids on people's discomforts.

I certainly won't belittle the medical research that continues to make things better for us, and even I can appreciate why drugs are so expensive with all the research and development costs to bring a drug to market (before the patent expires and goes generic). We have dedicated healthcare workers out there too, and I don't want to belittle their sincere service. It's the system I'm really criticizing here.

People will still get sick, and bad things will happen even if healthcare were to be completely reformed tomorrow. But is there really an incentive to help people lead healthier lifestyles? It doesn't appear to be that way. The healthcare industry doesn't make money off of people being healthy, it makes money off of people being sick.

How does this relate to Christianity (well, religion in general)? Think about it. If everyone were satisfied with their existence as is, had enough food and their basic needs met, didn't get diseases, and had all sorts of other tragedy, there wouldn't really be a need for god now would there? Again, there is no money in people being cared for (if you make your money filling a void for them).

Christianity's primary focus isn't on the most basic needs of an individual (like shelter, clothing, food, healthcare). It focuses on the soul and rescue from damnation (which can't be proven, and for all practical purposes is imaginary).

Let's take a modern parallel (I almost typed parable) related to my healthcare analogy. I'm presenting this information as the layman that I am, so please forgive my simplistic medical explanations.

HIV treatment is far more advanced than many people may realize. The diagnosis of HIV is far less threatening than it used to be. There are drugs available that if compatible with most common strains of the virus, they effectively prevent the virus from replicating itself.

These drugs don't actually kill the virus, but render it ineffective. The virus will always be present in the body, but dormant. It makes the likelihood of transmission to another person minimal (protection should still always be exercised), and helps the body naturally rebuild its t-cell count and overall immunity.

A patient must stay on the drugs for the rest of their life, but fortunately the side effects are typically minimal, and life expectancy is projected to be normalized. If someone were to stop taking the drugs, the dormant virus will most likely resurface and with a resistance to current known drug therapy. These drugs without insurance cost a consumer roughly around $1200-$1400 a month.

Now I don't want to outright accuse the pharmaceutical industry of keeping people sick over the course of a lifetime in order to make money, because this is a far better solution to the previous drug treatments that often marginally extended a person's life with much more horrible side effects.

One has to wonder though. If there was one pill that you could take to indefinitely cure HIV (or any other disease), how much would the industry charge for it? Is there money in the cure? Is there money in people being healthy?

I pose the same question to Christianity. If people weren't afraid of death, didn't have such horrible self esteem, and weren't so frantic over sharing limited resources would it render their god useless? Of course it would.

But what does Christianity really have to offer? An afterlife that no one can really prove exists. Comfort and a purposeful destiny by the creator of the universe (as long as you admit that you're inherently evil, even though he created you with the capability of rejection).

Christianity doesn't really offer a cure, but like pharmaceuticals it offers a band-aid for the discomfort of life. In turn people give their money to the church for instruction and affirmation of this comfort. The ever present concept of original sin and the need for redemption is the dormant virus. If you keep on taking Jesus, the virus won't resurface and you won't die prematurely.

The inspiration for this observation came from something I happened to stumble across. The U.N. has estimated that world hunger could be eliminated with $30 billion a year invested in agricultural efforts around the world. That might seem like a lot of money, but we bailed out wall street for a much more obscene amount.

Want to see something more shocking? Religious organizations in the U.S. alone received over $59 billion in (tax-free) revenue in 2009 (an 11% decrease from the year before). How much of that revenue went to administration, elaborate sanctuaries, fancy audio/visual equipment, advertising, proselytizing, and political action in comparison to what was invested in alleviating suffering in local communities and the rest of the world?

I don't know the answer, but given the figures, I presume not as much charitable work as the faithful would lead us to believe. I recently found out that one of the local churches here in town has a budget of $1000 a month just for instruments. $12,000 a year. I have no right to judge anyone, but I can't help but think if the musicians donated their own time and paid for their own instruments and accessories, that money could be used for far greater things. I think about that multiplied by all the religious organizations across the nation.

This is a call to everyone, not just the faithful. I'm no better than anyone else in this matter. I can't help but think that if we didn't have churches as the middle man, that charitable donation would go much farther.

Another statistic that I saw from a recent worldwide Gallup poll is that people who attend church services once a week are more likely to donate to charity. Granted if donating to charity means your own church (it wasn't specified in the survey), well I think I've already illustrated my point.

It's not an enormous gap, but it's something to think about for those of us who are non-theists. If we can solve the problem of world hunger, what other feats could we accomplish? Through our generosity and solving problems could we really rid the world's need for god? Call me an idealist if you want. I know the realities of the world stand in the way. I still think it's worth contemplating.