Health why church cannot avoid it

Health would no longer be the task of religion? The passionate search of many people for healing. Healing puts a spoke in the wheel. Martin Hochholzer explains why not only the church's Weltanschauungsarbeit, but the church and theology as a whole, should face up to the related questions.

Health and religion

What is the most important thing in life? Health is at least one of the top priorities for many people. Especially for those who have been carrying around an ailment for years. But health maintenance and health promotion have also contributed to the emergence of a huge market that knows no boundaries or. Boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred: between "conventional medicine", "alternative medicine" and "esotericism", between wellness and therapy, between the physical, the psychological and the spiritual – and also between healing and cure.

Although – or precisely because? – the health sector has emancipated itself from religion and – sociologically speaking – has functionally differentiated itself, health, salvation and healing are today essentially also a question of faith, a religious-ideological battlefield, even before the often associated question of salvation is raised.

For example, esoteric treatments and neo-shamanistic rituals are based on a worldview in which spirits, energies or even cosmic conflicts are actually at work behind diseases (which are often relativized as superficial "symptoms"). And in the case of vaccination refusers, it is often not only a "commitment" to "alternative medicine" that plays a central role, but also a world view shaped by conspiracy theory.

Medicine and worldview ies become blu.

In addition to ideological questions, it is also about trust and about accompanying people with their worries and concerns. These can also be connected with health problems, but can also reach far beyond them. These pastoral aspects occupy the church worldview work, which through its counseling work has a very special expertise in the complex of topics health – healing – healing. It is especially in demand when religious-ideological ideas determine healing offers, when questionable promises of healing are made and competences are exceeded – or when people ask for more than medicine and psychology and exceed the framework of the usual with their experiences and adventures.


At a double conference of the German Catholic Weltanschauungsbeauftragten in autumn 2017 and spring 2018 on "Healing and Cure", Eberhard Bauer and Wolfgang Fach were then also invited to present the IGPP. The Freiburg "Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Psychohygiene" offers u. a. also advice for people with sog. "Extraordinary experiences": extrasensory perception, haunting phenomena and apparitions, perplexing fateful coincidences, seemingly supernatural promptings, etc. These experiences often go hand in hand with psychological. Health problems are accompanied by. They can be very burdensome for those concerned, especially because they are widely misunderstood. The IGPP, on the other hand, takes these experiences seriously and, based on scientific examination of these phenomena, provides interpretive approaches beyond one-sided rationalism, but also beyond esoteric models of thought.

Orthodox medicine and its other

But not only extraordinary experiences, but also the real existing health market challenges to deal with border areas and border walks. According to the physician and theologian Walter Bruchhausen at the same conference, it is completely normal, not only for our time, that various health care services and medical systems coexist, and that people sometimes go there, sometimes there – depending on what seems to them to be appropriate in the respective situation based on their experiences. In Germany, the scientific-oriented "orthodox medicine" is joined by z. B. Traditional Chinese medicine", naturopathic methods, homeopathy and a wealth of esoteric offers are gaining popularity. It becomes even more colorful due to the ideas and practices that migrants bring with them.

Western separation of medicine and religion is changing

It is important to note that while medicine and religion are separate systems in the West, many other medical systems have no fear of contact, and are even based to a large extent on religious-spiritual ideas. And also more and more people with "western" socialization are searching (often under the catchword "holism") for a more, for a new synthesis – and for this they also reach for religious resources.

And the church?

Whether the church wants to or not, it cannot avoid the topic of healing, because people make use of church and Christian services in this regard without first asking for permission: Some offer health products with reference to monastic medicine or Hildegard von Bingen, esoterics want to link up with the "spiritual healer" Jesus, and the demand for exorcisms bypasses church regulation efforts.

Did Jesus heal … and if so: how??

In fact, Jesus not only taught, but also healed. It is precisely the miraculous nature of the biblical healing stories that appeals to many modern people. Ethicizing and spiritualizing interpretations meet them there; but if then illness and possession are associated with social impairments through sinful structures, this can easily discriminate against people with disabilities, as the New Testament scholar Markus Schiefer Ferrari emphasized with his dis/ability-critical approach. A Pentecostal-charismatic approach, which wants to link directly to a supernaturally understood healing action of Jesus, is even more problematic. In today's exegesis, on the other hand, one does not ignore the complexity of biblical texts, is open to a "polyphonic understanding" – and relies on interpretation that does not take away the texts' unwieldiness, their "sting".

Healing or wholesome pastoral care?

But if the church, on the one hand, takes seriously the healing perspective of Jesus' action as an enduring mission and, on the other hand, wants to take on people's search for healing offers beyond hospitals and care institutions, what does it have to offer in a responsible way??

"Faith and pastoral care do not heal," is the pointed thesis of pastoral psychologist Wolfgang Reuter. But pastoral care can open up a different perspective in the face of the "health and wholeness craze," he said: Church rituals – including liturgy – open up a symbolic space between inside and outside, between the subjective and the objective, between human conflicts and divine promise of salvation, in which the not-yet that characterizes our earthly life is not denied and which can nevertheless, or precisely for that reason, have a healing effect.

Similarly, pastoral counselor Frank Kuhn emphasized that God's salvation is more than healing, but also includes accepting limitations and dying. Kuhn presented the Boblingen healing room as a practical example: Once a month, people can come to a church to pray for themselves and have hands laid on them.

Courage to confront!

Such a healing space is admittedly a constant struggle for an appropriate handling of expectations and limited human possibilities. A struggle that continually accompanies the church's worldview work in a constructively critical way – outside and inside the church.

The church should not, of course, try to open up a new health market. But it should also not sell itself short, as it has a wealth of experience in healing rites and traditions. To lift this is a task that can only be accomplished through interdisciplinary theological cooperation together with practical pastoral care.

Do not hide the rich experience of healing rites and traditions

This is certainly not possible without religious-ideological confrontations. Pentecostal thinking, for example, questions what value divine promises of salvation have if they are not already tangible in earthly experiences of salvation and healing. Esotericism vehemently demands a "holistic" perspective, which cannot imagine human salvation without a connection to the entire environment. And not a few ideological providers dream of perfecting the human being – a vision that has gained new explosiveness in view of the debates about transhumanism and artificial intelligence.

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