Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Religion of Health

Muslim countries' news headlines often include information about groups trying to push through new fatwas, Islamic legal pronouncements given by those deemed to have authority such as clerics or scholars, on how best to follow Islam. Being a broadly secular country, I would expect the UK to be free from this kind of thing yet there are echoes of it on a daily basis whenever I switch the news on, or pick up a newspaper. I am not, you might have guessed, referring to the Church of England, as Justin Welby graces us with his expert views on topics as varied as interest on payday loans, energy prices and food banks (or is that Labour MP Stella Creasy?) relatively infrequently, thankfully. Instead it is public health I believe to be a cult that gullible politicians, state funded "charities" and public health doctors are pushing to make a full scale national religion, and with some success. Instead of headlines such as, "Penang Should Cancel 'Un-Islamic' Zumba Carnival, says NGO", which recently appeared in Malaysia's Rakyat Post, we are treated to front pages that are no less ludicrous, like "Ban Smoking in London's Public Parks and Squares".

Granted, it's incredibly easy to say that health-related headlines are "based on science" (despite how utterly spurious most of the research and proclamations actually are) whereas mystical rulings based on books written hundreds of years ago about a man being flown up to heaven on what's basically Pegasus but probably named Abdul or something, are not, but what healthists don't seem to recognise is that not everybody shares their priorities. For some people life satisfaction comes from living in an insulated (with multicoloured knitting wrapped around the outside) caravan with a miniature windmill strapped to the top, trying to confine their carbon footprint to a hemp baby boot, for others it comes from living life in the minute with maple syrup and mustard glazed pulled pork pancakes, a Tom Collins, a cigar, a harem of women and a blackjack table. We are not all the same. A quick scan through the comments on any Guardian article talking about ridiculous nanny state proposals such as those made by Labour, leaked in May, and one would think living to 100 is some sort of duty for all citizens. Here of course the "costs to the NHS" are cited, which is a pile of rubbish anyway as studies all show that not only do fat people and smokers cost healthcare systems less than "healthy people", they also save a huge amount in pensions which will be going towards 104 year old retired Guardian readers telling nurses to make sure they're using organic plastic in the cannula they're having inserted while informing them that the 2031 Japanese tsunami never would have happened had we ceased to use fossil fuels at the beginning of the 21st century. And whether or not we should even have an NHS (spoiler: we shouldn't) is a conversation for another day, but it's funny how those who want penalties for people who have come to A+E for falling over when drunk but not for someone falling over while extreme cycling on a rocky mountain or something, the only difference apparently being that the latter person is stupid enough to think that their daft endeavour was in the name of Health.

Warnings about various activities taking on average x number of days, weeks or months off your life also presents living to 100 as the healthists' version of "getting to heaven". So essentially it's even worse than traditional religions in that there're no 72 virgins, and no Jesus and harp-playing angels on a cloud while you feast on hog roast and wine after a lifetime of restricting yourself for your religion. After a century of abiding by the gospel of Health, ensuring never to miss your 4 hours a day of exercise, "mindfulness training" and meditation, and avoiding sinful substances such as sugar, alcohol, nicotine, meat and salt, what's your great reward? Better than 72 virgins? Better than angels playing the harp while you feast and meet everyone you ever wanted to meet who ever died? No. Afraid not. There's just you, in a wheelchair, blowing out three candles on a cake, one candle reading "1" and the other two reading "0". Great. Here you are. You've made it!

And it's not just gluttony (obesity, sugar, smoking) and sloth (not signed up to a Bokwa class yet? It's the new Zumba apparently. Though I still haven't a clue what the established Zumba looks like) of the 7 Deadly Sins that have been co-opted by public health. Lust is also a "public health issue" and not just in the sense of condoms and getting tested for STDs. In May the Telegraph reported that a panel of health workers, social workers, academics, activists and the usual suspects declared that pornography is a "major public health crisis", an "untreated pandemic" that "needs to be tackled in the same manner as smoking or drink-driving." As those working in public health tend to be raving socialists, greed, also features strongly in the "public health epidemic" discourse, with medical journal The Lancet pronouncing "neoliberalism" and "overconsumption" to be public health issues as well as "income inequality" according to lefty think tank Joseph Rowntree Foundation. In fact public health seems to have decided the only of the original Deadly 7 not to be sins and instead to be lauded  are envy (of people richer than them), wrath (at fast food, alcohol and tobacco industries which people willingly buy) and, most of all, pride in that they think they know what's best for everybody, even with regards to economic systems.

Much as Justin Welby would probably be wise to concentrate on the Church of England rather than what payday loans companies are doing, public health should stick to dealing with small matters like communicable diseases and safe drinking water instead of wanting to act like a world dictator. Oh, and a final note on fatwas - Indonesia's second largest Islamic organisation, Muhammadiyah received nearly $400,000 in grants from the US-based public health organisation "Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use" between 2009 and 2011. During this time, Muhammidiyah issued a fatwa ruling that tobacco is prohibited in Islam. Make of that what you will.