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First Do No Harm

By Carl S. ~

First do no harm.”

These words are in the very beginning of the Hippocratic Oath, which dates from the 4th century B.C.E. Be aware that this oath is never taken by the agents of god, which explains a lot about their attitudes, actions, and policies. There are powerful consequences as a result of this.

Papyrus text; fragment of Hippocratic oath. Wellcome L0034090
Papyrus text: fragment of Hippocratic oath.
A person who swears upon this oath is dedicated to healing the patient placed in his or her hands. It is understood that doing no harm does not mean healing without pain, which might be unavoidable. Whether in the home or hospital, or on the battlefield, healing and ending suffering are the only goals. Are these words, "first do no harm," a basis for trust, integrity, and dedication? And why are they the first? Can we trust religions to do no harm?

Ask any religious person to explain why his religion is morally superior to ordinary human goodness, and you will be given examples of the good works, the "charity" the religions do. They always avoid, like a plague, any references to the harm they do and are doing. (As one example, one Jewish spokesman said, "Don't tell me about ‘Christian charity.’ We have experienced two thousand years of it.")

Christians are very fond of citing Jesus the healer of body, mind, and soul, and not the Jesus who condemns those who don't believe in him to eternal torture. As a parent, would you entrust the well-being of your child to a doctor who tells you that if the child does not believe in him, that child will be tortured? Would you entrust the mental well-being of your child to a clergyman with that same “oath?" Wouldn't that clergyman feel empowered to do anything harmful in order to keep that child from the fate of eternal torture?

Wait: Isn't that the oath of the Inquisition jury? We will have you believe or you will be harmed? Isn’t that the same basic creed of Islam; submit to belief or we will "torture or kill the body to ‘save’ the soul?“ How many have suffered because of their oath, their Protestant souls saved for Catholicism, their Catholic souls saved for Protestantism, their Shia faith souls saved from the Sunni faith, and on and on, all "heretics to each other?" And what of those other "martyrs," not for, but against the faiths, those nonbelievers throughout the centuries? All of these good human beings have been tortured and/or killed, and nothing, nothing, in all the faith claims has ever been proven to be true.

Would you entrust the well-being of your child to a doctor who tells you that if the child does not believe in him, that child will be tortured?Neither Jesus, nor Mohammed, nor any other Abrahamic religion adherent finds anything evil in the drowning of children in the Noachian flood, of biblical genocides, nor the eventual horrific destruction of humankind. In fact, doing harm is what most religions regard as a necessity for their survival and growth, as merely a means to their ends. You can't trust religion, because it's like a malignancy: You cannot predict the times nor places when it will erupt again and find justifications for doing harm.

Has religion done more harm than good? Already, we have mentioned the Inquisition, to which believers reactions are,"We don't talk about that." What about the deaths of women in childbirth because Catholic bishops refuse to allow them to have life-saving abortions? Or of the clerical mandates denying end of life self-termination to the hopeless, purposely so that they may endure agonizing torture for "the privilege of the grace of God to suffer?" Harmless? Or at present, children being harmed as "witches” in Africa? Let us not forget kidnappings, tortures, beheadings, crucifixions, girls sold into slavery. Sectarian violence is causing the agonies from loss of family and country suffered right now, today, as a result of deeply held religious beliefs overpowering decency and morality.

Think of the rapes of thousands of children allowed because of religious exceptionalism to civil laws. Religious "charity" covers up a multitude of sins! And what about hundreds of millions of dollars to date paid out to settle pedophile clergy settlements? That money was intended to go for good works. It is paid out to some, but not all, victims of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, "charity." No harm done? Think of child sacrifices to the gods throughout history. Think of the millions of sweating, back-breaking and life-threatening hours spent erecting temples, churches, pyramids, and mosques. All that money dedicated to the glory of gods, was not, is still not, expended to alleviate pain and suffering, thus making life better for everyone. No harm in that? But isn't doing nothing, harmful?

Sure, you can argue that without religion many evils would still exist. After all, dictatorships and monarchies have employed rules and methods much like those of theocracies. Unchecked power corrupts. Those systems have not stood the tests of time, however, whereas religions, with their facade of goodness, are still alive and kicking, and doing harm.

Wouldn't life have been much different if, instead of religion, mankind had embraced the oath of Hippocrates in our relationships to each other, and the philosophy of Lucretius to live and let live and embrace and enjoy life, and help others to do likewise?