There is a virus of bad theology in the church — an analogy with Hepatitis C
I used to have Hepatitis C. The Hep C virus rarely kills you. Most sufferers die with it, but not of it. It only causes death in a few cases where the infection so afflicts the liver that the person gets liver cancer or full-blown cirrhosis. Being a heavy drinker increases the risk of getting Hep-C-related cirrhosis or liver cancer. Males are at higher risk of dying from Hep-C-related cirrhosis or liver cancer. Alcohol is like a fertilizer for the Hep C virus because alcohol is a liver poison.
But for most folk who contract the virus, and I was one, they have the Hep C virus in their bloodstream without being aware of it. It may cause almost no symptoms. Or it may cause fatigue, a bit of depression, minor gastro-intestinal problems, a little brain fog from time to time. Nothing that shouts “liver disease”. That’s just how the church is with its bad theology. Nothing to really pinpoint that there’s a virus (unless you are a victim of abuse and at the pointy end of that bad theology, that is).
Most Christians don’t wonder much about why the Church is a little fatigued, a little depressed, a little unable to digest stuff from time to time… In fact, they’re so used to this state of affairs they think it’s normal. But it’s not normal. Not by the Bible’s standards for what Christ’s church ought to be.
How does one contract the Hep C virus? It is a blood-borne virus and is only transmitted by one person’s blood making direct contact with another person’s blood. The main modes of transmission are
- IV drug use where the users share needles and other injection equipment; that’s how I got it back in 1975 when I was a heroin addict.
- Receiving a blood transfusion prior to 1989. The virus was discovered in 1989, prior to that they were not testing donated blood for it because they didn’t know it existed.
- Tattooing that is done without proper infection control procedures.
- Occasionally it might be transmitted by a needle-stick injury to a professional in a hospital setting. But health professionals are meant to observe infection control procedures regardless of whether or not the patient has any infectious disease, so this is pretty rare.
I was diagnosed as having Hep C nearly thirty years after I’d become infected. I decided to have treatment. For me, the treatment involved a gruelling year of drug therapy. This brought about a cure — but they don’t call it ‘cured,’ they say I ‘cleared the virus’. Same difference. As the side effects of the treatment drugs wore off, I began to feel truly alive and amazingly well for the first time in my adult life. (I’d contracted Hep C when I was 19). It was like bubbles of spritz were sparkling through my veins. I could not believe it. This is what it is like to be healthy! I’d never known!
No wonder I’d felt awful! No wonder I’d found life much harder than most other people seemed to find it! They were well; I had been sick. I’d had a virus eating away every day destroying my liver cells, and my liver had been attempting to grow back every single day. It had been an ongoing battle between my body’s capacity to self-restore, and the virus’s ability to kill liver cells. Before treatment, on days when I’d felt particularly fatigued, that was when the virus had the upper hand for a while.
There’s more to this analogy. The treatment I underwent to clear the virus was horrific. The side effects of the drugs were far worse than my symptoms of Hep C had ever been. But once the treatment finished and my system cleared out the drugs, I felt an astounding quantum leap upward, into realms of energy, optimism and effectiveness I’d never known before.
Treatment for bad theology is pretty horrific too: you have to humble yourself and be willing to examine and if necessary jettison your pet Christian-ese crutches. It will expose and demolish long-held doctrines and presuppositions if they are false. It will be scary. It can make you feel ashamed of how self-satisfied you’d been with your theology. Not to mention ashamed of the harm you might have done to others while spouting that virus-ridden theology. Renewing one’s mind can be hard work. It can make you feel inadequate. As an individual you realise you are swimming against the stream and you may get stigmatized. But if the church undergoes treatment, the cure can be incredible.
Another point: my treatment for Hep C took nearly a year back in 2005. My genotype (subtype) of the virus required me taking a combination of two drugs for 48 weeks. The side effects for me were depression, brain fog, body aches, vomiting, fever, circulation problems in my extremities, lack of oxygen in my bloodstream so I couldn’t walk except really slowly, I’d get out of breath, often I couldn’t even stand up for long, I had to give up work — and that’s only some of it. Different people get different side effects from treatment, and there is no predicting who will get which side effects. The only ‘good’ thing about the side effects was that they were never super-intense all at the same time. Each side effect could intensify or diminish for no apparent rhyme or reason. I learned to ride the waves and only got through it because I had lots of support from the medical and mental health professionals and the Hepatitis Victoria hotline.
Since then, new drugs have come on the market which have shortened the length of treatment and have fewer unpleasant side effects. But at this stage, even with these improved drugs, treatment for Hep C is still not guaranteed to clear the virus.
One last point in this analogy: If a person has had Hep C and undergone treatment and been cleared of the virus, they can catch it again. If the blood from someone who has active Hep C virus gets into their bloodstream, they may have no defence against this new infection because the genotype (subtype) of the virus may be different from the genotype they had before.
I’m sure we can all see the parallels here between the Hep C virus and the virus of bad theology in the church.
This post is an adaptation of a comment I wrote on a post by Jeff C, back in 2012.