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Illness phobia

Why do many of us feel uncomfortable in the presence of a sick person? Is it an irrational fear?

A good start to overcome such a phobia would be to say 'person with sickness' rather than 'sick person'. Putting the 'person' first immediately helps put things into perspective and removes some of the stigma borne by sick people. (Oops! I mean 'people with sickness'.)

Illness phobia

Caduceus

A phobia is an irrational fear of something, leading to a compelling desire to avoid it. People with an illness phobia often go on to develop hypochondriasis, mistakenly believing they have caught the illness.

Fear of catching disease is a sensible and healthy attitude. Consequently, prejudice against people who are sick is understandable. In the past, people with leprosy have been banished to colonies (see St. Lazarus's Cross), victims of plague ostracised (see Black Death Cross), and carriers of HIV/AIDS looked down upon (see AIDS Cross).

Even when we have protection against such diseases, there's still a lingering prejudice against people who suffer from them.

People with Hanson's disease (leprosy) were banned from travelling to the 2008 Olympics; in Europe it has been found necessary to make HIV/AIDS discrimination a specific crime; and around the world, part of the reason some avoid sitting next to a person with a white stick on the bus is a subconscious fear they might catch the blindness themselves.

Religion encourages illness phobia

And religion is partly to blame for such inbred fears. Sin, the Bible tells us, causes sickness. And like sickness, sin is contagious. We are all sinners. including people with blindness. So to avoid sitting next to such a person on the bus seems rational, even though it isn't.

In fact if we extrapolate such 'logic', everybody should avoid everybody else and live like a hermit. But such isolation makes 'loving' somebody a bit difficult, and we are told to "love our neighbours". 

Bone rotting and Biblical sickness

The Bible. says how Jesus healed a man's sickness and then told him "sin no more", implying that sin had caused the sickness. Fearing God and shunning evil "will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones". 

Sin can rot the bones. A doctor can explain how a broken bone can heal itself quite well, but avascular necrosis (bone rot) may require hip replacement surgery. Modern medicine blames bone rot on many things, such as hypertension, vasculitis, thrombosis, rheumatoid arthritis and several other ailments. Sin, per se, is notably absent from the list.

The Bible seems to be at odds with modern medical books, but this is because stories of physical sickness in the Bible are often used metaphorically for spiritual sickness. (As with the English language, the Hebrew word for healing (rapha) can refer not just to physical but also to spiritual healing.)

For hundreds of years, the Church has spent vast amounts of money and effort, not so much on 'faith healing', but in supporting hospitals around the world, dispensing modern medicine. (Incidentally, here's a pretty cool Healing Cross, if you're interested.)

The Church has often been the first to introduce advanced medical practices to developing countries and most religious charities focus of medical care. Churches also promote their religious message of spiritual salvation. If the Church could take a similar lead and increase its teaching to young people that physical and spiritual illness differs, perhaps that will diminish discrimination against people with sickness.

Curing the phobia

As noted above, Jesus instructed us to love our fellow man. There are no exclusions in that instruction; both sick and healthy are to be loved. The sick are not to be ignored, rather they are to be appropriately helped, and not with the haughty pride which charity often assumes. Love as a brother would love, as if you were repaying a debt which nature makes due.

And the illness phobia illness you've been suffering is gone.

Sin is contagious: Hag. 2:11-13, Lev. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

We are all sinners: Rom. 3:10, 23, Rom. 5:12

We must love our neighbours: Lev. 19:18, 34, Matt. 7:12, 19:16-19, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 6:31, 10:25-28, Rom. 13:8-10, Gal. 5:14, Eph. 5:25-33, Jas. 2:8-9

Jesus healed the sick: Mark 2:5, John 5:14

Fear God and shun evil for health: Prov. 3:7-8

Sin rots the bones: Prov. 14:30, 16:24, 18:14, Ps. 32:1-4 and 38:3

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