Science in Christian Perspective
Coping with Being Human
KENNETH E. SCHEMMER
1320 E. 8th Street Anderson, Indiana 46018
From: JASA 30 (March
Various thinkers have given warnings of how different aspects of modern life destroy the personhood of individuals. Today, we encounter people on a daily basis who are physically and psychologically sick because of the inner distress produced by the difficulty of coping with being human. Insignificance of personhood, meaninglessness of daily life and the lack of the courage to be one's full human self dissipate our energy. Scientific achievements, man-made religious systems and philosophical thought still leave us yearning for inner peace and joy.
My patients and friends confirm in their lives that faith is the most helpful avenue to coping with life, faith that not only requires commitment to principle but also forms a dynamic relationship with the Creator of human beings.
"Doctor I just can't go on living this way. I've got to have help." Jean's cry is not an isolated cry of woe. Patients by the hundreds plead daily for answers to the human predicament. It is in this sense that the quandary of being human produces sickness in the whole personality. So with many patients I attend; they are unable to cope with being human. Jean's plight was physically real! Cramps, abdominal pains, diarrhea and some bloody bowel movements constantly plagued her, specially when her emotional tension peaked. As we talked she exclaimed, "My husband comes home from the factory frustrated and tired. He dumps his anger and anxiety on me but never wants to hear of my day's activity. We get along well physically but I'm not just a body! I need real love and concern so I turn to my daughter for it." But what about Jean's abdominal pains and diarrhea? Under the emotional distress of her husband's dehumanizing attitude Jean is so sick that she cannot enjoy the physical blessings of marriage. In turn her husband chafes in frustration. What a paradox! No Faith is the only option left to humans wonder she's got to have help. whereby we can find the resources to
In the next examining room hunched on the table a young woman with head bowed, lips drawn together, fingers fidgeting with one another, reluctantly answers my questions. Carol talks in a weak, almost inaudible tone. I remarked to Carol that she appeared quite nervous, as if her insides were going sixty miles an hour but outwardly she was moving about six. "Do you have any questions, any problems?" I asked. "No, I have no problems! Everything is all right." After she filled out the medical history form, however, I noted that she smoked two packs of cigarettes and drank alcohol every day. She used to work but her husband doesn't want her to work so he works during the day and she stays at home. She doesn't go out much or associate with other people very often which compounds her dejection and depression, so she uses alcohol as an escape. As I talk with this young woman, she definitely displays a very poor self-image. She finds it difficult to communicate with others, fearing they will think she is worthless and insignificant. She tends to minimize problems and difficulties in order to keep people away from herself. She demanded a complete physical examination, and from this I wonder whether one of her preoccupations is the dread of death or some serious illness which nobody has uncovered. All of these symptoms occurring in such a young woman puzzled me. Then I found out that her father left shortly after her birth. Carol's mother gave her to her grandmother to be raised. Rejected and despised from birth Carol never found enough love and acceptance to develop a sense of significance and worth. Now it is clear that her physical problems express her inner distress.
In addition a middle-aged woman complained of recurrent attacks of abdominal pain. No organic disease appeared and finally she confided in me. "My husband is now in this third affair with another woman and that shatters me." One elderly man, as he was dying of terminal cancer became irritable and verbally abusive when a male orderly came into his room. Bill told me, "He will always find me and hurt me. He slaps me in the face and rubs my wound very hard." Bill had married a novitiate Catholic nun and thereby felt that he had defiled both her and God. "God was mad so he punished me by having a young man marry my daughter and thus I lost the only person I could truly love," he said. Now Bill finds that every young man who comes to care for him strives to punish him.
A young person came to the office because of rectal bleeding and abdominal
cramps. As I began to obtain her history she suddenly cried out, "I'm
afraid to die!" Overpowered by the fear of death her bowels literally cried
blood. Later a patient with many physical problems expressed the same concern of
the dread of death.
Astonishing as these cases may seem, my purpose in presenting them is not to prove that psychological problems can cause physical disease. Actually, I hope here to present to you the overwhelming evidence that apparently many people feel sick because of an inability to cope with being human. I expect the psychiatrist or a sympathetic family practitioneer to have a practice taken up largely with problems of living, but not a surgeon. So when I see patients I look beyond their physical complaints to help them identify and utilize their inner resources in order to get well.
These remarks are substantiated daily. "I was talking to Jane who has for years been driving her husband nuts because she frequently takes her pulse to make sure her heart is beating." "The fear of death," another says, "must be a national disease or a sign of the times that everyone is so preoccupied with what hurts." Again, "My energy level is so low that I really have to push to keep going, But I have so much to accomplish in life." Still another patient, "I do not sleep well but wake up frequently during the night. I have nightmares about death or being lost which wake me up. Then it takes me awhile for that fear to leave." One person admitted, "I think the lack of control of life's situations has led me to my fear of death."
Hear a few more patients who express how life dehumanizes them: "No matter how excitedly I told of my successes, Mother always found a vulnerable place to collapse my joy." "I wonder why Dad never remembered us kids after he left Mother?" In addition there was a college girl whom I operated upon for acute appendicitis and was found to be pregnant. "No one must know, not even my mother. She would never speak to me again and I couldn't live with that." So the coed went to a distant city for an abortion. Then came Susan who worked hard to get through college. She excitedly applied for a number of teaching jobs but none were open. Again the next year she sought a teaching post but none were available. "I have studied and wanted so much to teach. Now what will I do? What's life worth anyway?"
At this point Charlie comes in the office with recurrent peptic ulcers. No matter how his family doctor and I treat Charlie his ulcers clear up for only a few weeks at a time, Charlie has been a good faithful worker and his employer likes him. But seven years ago the administration changed hands. It was then that Charlie found out that he'd have to work another fifteen years to retire instead of five. Indigestion and abdominal pain started soon after that. Charlie said, "Everytime I go to work my stomach hurts and 1 can't eat; frequently I vomit." When he is off work and on vacation or sick-leave he feels fine and eats well.
The Predicament of Human Life
Upon deeper examination of each of these patients, many with several hours of consultation, I find uniformly that the whole predicament of human life is weighing upon them so heavily that they feel sick. Many of these patients have actual organic disease which has developed out of this inner distress. We must be careful to understand that somatic or bodily disease with signs and symptoms certainly can come from just plain psychological problems. Many of these patients when treated by various psychological techniques and psychiatrists are then able to work out their psychological difficulties in a normal way. Still they complain of an uneasiness, inner distress, and meaninglessness in life.
In the past few years I have been reading a number of books by world renowned scientists, theologians, philosophers and thinkers. I have attended a number of meetings in which the issues of human life project themselves most acutely in terms of individual self-worth, relationship to others and fulfillment in life. Seeing the same questions and problems manifest in my patients daily, I feel compelled to compile the facts and compose as much as possible the total picture in hopes of illuminating the ever developing problem of what it means to be human.
People on every hand puzzle the best of diagnostic abilities and create multiple problems for physicians. They present signs and symptoms of various diseases and yet no physical cause can be found. Disease of the inner person is produced by meaninglessness, hopelessness and the dread of death. As people formulate their own self-concept and understanding of the world about them they frequently are bewildered by anxiety, insignificance and inability to cope with the myriad of choices and opportunities forced upon them by our modern age. Throughout antiquity mankind has involved itself in external (meaning outside of oneself) support systems and situations which have produced behavior characteristic of what we can call today "the immediate person." Yet on every hand our lives are cluttered and we find various fragments of our life clashing in a display of emotions, feelings and intellect which fail to resolve accurately. Mankind has been harangued by an inner vacuum which has haunted it from birth to death. Largely, this inner meaninglessness has been exaggerated by the dread of death. People have confronted the major issues in life and have beautifully articulated the problems that stalk the human animal. But as RenČ Duhos says in his Pulitzer prize winning book, So Human an Animal,1 mankind has failed to advance inwardly and between persons since the stone age one hundred thousand years ago. Although civilization advanced remarkably in the last fifty to one hundred years, the inner development of man has flagged behind by centuries. For that matter, the advances in technology alone have created such a rapid change in the life of modern man that the range of choices made possible by scientific achievement so predominate that we experience the effects of over-choice on the individual and society.
"Who Am I?"
Alvin Toffler in Future Shock2 points out that our astonishing blend of technological achievements has caused a transient society which presses the inner man for some semblance of permanence and control of his world. Toffler continues by emphasizing that to keep up with change requires so much time that people cannot think out where or why they are changing, and consequently writhe in the loss of a sense of belonging and a fear of self. Frequently I see people in the office, the hospital, and elsewhere asking the question, "Who am I?" This question saturates our conscious moments so that we grope for answers. Our world at times seems to be shattered and slanted. We feel spurned and we stumble trying to transcend the problems of being human today, which in the twentieth century is almost impossible. We yearn inwardly for breath to break out of the suffocating effects of this temporary world, which have confiscated our very being. What is life worth, why are we on the planet earth? All of these problems apparently create a motivating force within us to respond to our yearning for immortality, meaningfulness, hope, and selfworth. In the final analysis, however, we find the centuries of attempts to cope with being human have failed us even today. My perspective comes out of a rich experience with people both as a scientist and physician; people I have encountered in my practice of surgery, in the classroom, the laboratory, on the street and in their homes. The inability of people to cope with the human situation strikes me as never before. People admit to the destruction of their personhood, the worthlessness of life as a human being, the frequent intimidations and incriminations, and the exploitation by others. Humans suffer in captivity by machines, strivings for outer space, the helter skelter tempo of our modern day society for material possessions, fame, fortune and significance. People are bottled up and shipped about from state to state and at times country to country as if they were a bottle of soft drink. "How do I cope with being human?" is the cry of the multitudes. People not only suffer from psychological exploitation and physical disease, but even more from an inner vacuum. The cry of my eleven-year-old daughter as she was being coerced to behave according to parental guidelines resounds in the minds of all of us. "I'm only human."
A Point of Reference
Is there no answer then to our human quandary? How can we cope with being human? Carl Jung says that man needs a point of reference outside himself to understand himself. This means we must have faith: faith that there is a Person great enough to understand us, who sees meaning in our plight, and who will accept us as we are. Through faith in our Creator we can discover our ontology and destiny. Only Jesus Christ promises every one the courage to be fully human with inner peace, joy, love and self-control if we seek Him in faith.
What then is our hope? Since mankind has demonstrated the inadequacies of building external supports and experiences to make the inner man meaningful, we must necessarily have faith. I see faith as the only option left to humans whereby we can find the resources to become full human beings. It is by faith that we can comprehend and experience the Creatorthe one being in the universe who gives human life meaning. Faith allows us the opportunity through Jesus Christ to cope with being human.
1Dubos, RenČ. So Human an Animal. Charles Seribner's Sons, 1968.
2Toftler, Alvin. Future Shock, Bantam Book, 1974.