In ancient times, priests occupied a privileged place in their society. They wore elaborate, expensive robes, were housed in palaces called temples, were given the reverence and respect of any king or emperor, and, indeed, held such power that they controlled the decisions made by those rulers. Their words were the last on any given subject and were considered unassailable; unquestionable. They were, in fact, priest/gods; somewhat more than mere human, and certainly with a stronger connection to that which was holy.
And so it was throughout approximately the first 4,000 of what we call civilization.
Along came the Renaissance and things changed. People began questioning the words of the priests – even of the church itself – and began looking for their own answers. They translated holy texts into their vernacular and read, and interpreted them for themselves rather than relying on the clergy to do so. When things did not add up the way they were told she did, they lost the respect and the reverence once given the priestly class. They ceased to be the awe-inspiring figures they once had been and evolved into more human, more fallible personas.
With the Enlightenment and its search for rationalism, came the rise of Science and, with it, eventually, a new elite class of authorities. These priests also wore special robes and were housed in a sort of temple, and, perhaps even more than their predecessors, had their words taken as absolute and inviolable. They are still among us.
Rather than the bejeweled regal robes of centuries before, these new priests wear vestments of white jackets. Instead of temples where their functions consist of rituals of killing animals or burning special incense, the rituals of the modern temples are centered on technological apparatus and the offering of chemical substances to intercede on behalf of the afflicted.
But, in the end, the words of these current-day priest/gods still hold sway over the great and small in the same way that their forerunners succeeded. They use arcane language, specialized rites and obscure knowledge to control and direct, for better or ill, those who hold them on high. They are still highly paid, housed in exquisite homes, and are given the deference and esteem of those who have gone before them. And, just like those precursors, these all-powerful priests now face the one thing feared most by those of their kind who have put power before the good of their flocks.
The modern priest/god of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries is exactly the opposite of those of past eons, however, in one way. Rather than tend to the spiritual issues and matters of the congregants, this priest/god concentrates on the physical, and calls it the “practice” of medicine.
When I was growing up – 40-odd years ago – my family doctor was a neighbor and friend of the family. I, in fact, carry his name as one of my own. He lived two doors down from my grandparents, among of the patients in that neighborhood, and would regularly be seen at one door or another, “just checking in.”
Later on, in my twenties, I had another doctor; this one an old country doctor whose prevalent method of diagnosis was to gently touch the patient in this gland or that muscle, and have a conversation with them about what was going on. He was, in fact, the only doctor I have ever had who was invariably correct in his diagnosis – he was also the only one who – believe it or not – charged $10 per office visit and, if you were short of money, would wait until you had a bit to spare, or would accept a couple dozen eggs or a freshly lucked chicken in lieu of his fee.
Both of these doctors, even when they were alive, were – no pun intended – dying breeds. They were doctors who were not just “serving” a community, but who were members of their communities and who considered themselves as having the full-time responsibility of compassion and modesty.
But, as the rise of technology and “science” swept over the medical profession things changed. In the past, a doctor would be careful to correct anyone referring to his vocation as “science;” making sure they knew it was an “art.” In fact, it was referred to as the “medical arts,” a designation that can still be noticed over the doors of some older, less progressive universities.
Tangent: It is my observation that we really do not have medical “science”; rather we have medical technology. The part of the medical practice which we more often refer to as being scientific is, in realty, a technician, without no more medical training than your average autoworker, going about her or his job in much the same way as that autoworker, and then forwarding the results of that work to the “expert” which, without being present at the actual event nor knowledgeable of any actual context, interprets – priest-like – the holy scriptures of the technical scribe and passes judgment over the supplicant.
But, just as Mr. Guttenberg helped to topple the theocracy of the past, so the dissemination of knowledge, so it is with our modern celebrant.
This came to mind the other day when I noticed certain symptoms which I could not identify readily. It was Memorial Day Weekend and it was definite that I would have not the slightest contact with anyone approaching a doctor knowledgeable with my circumstances. I had a choice: I could go to an urgent care facility where they might give a solid diagnosis, although this has not been my general experience. I could go to the emergency room where I would wait hours to find out the barest of information and would probably be “coaxed” into spending the night “for observation.” Or I could open a book beside me which contained medical conditions, their symptoms and their treatments. If I needed more information, there was always – with proper judicial care – the internet.
I opted for the third alternative.
The condition in question was not of immediately life-threatening consequences. It is a matter that is of concern over the long-term. So it was not an issue of emergency service. It was, however, a matter of importance and of necessary attention.