We were fortunate to have bioethicist and physician John Patrick come to our little city of Temple, Texas last night. He reminded us that the difficulties we face in bioethics and in Western culture in general often stem from not understanding the ideas that built our society in the first place. This most notably includes Judeo-Christian principles but also ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. He illustrated this predicament by speaking on the Four Levels of Happiness, a concept used by Christian as well as ancient thinkers. Those of us in medicine are familiar with the first level of happiness–food and sex–because our profession oftentimes only sees human beings in light of these animal desires. This almost perfectly echoed a statement made days earlier by my supervising physician on my psychiatry rotation. I wanted to speak up and say, “But isn’t there something more, something deeper?”
Dr. Patrick went on to say that, second, we find happiness by excelling in some occupation and, third, in living for other people. Christian physicians have something critical to offer patients, whether it be while treating a depressed person in a psychiatric clinic or counseling a couple as a family practitioner. Talking about these deeper matters touches on what it means to be human, and such ideas should be a part of any concept of health.
Dr. Patrick often leaves his audience hanging by not mentioning the fourth level of happiness, especially when speaking to a thoroughly secular group. Sometimes he even takes a vote to see if they really want to know the rest of the story, and of course they do. So I, too, will fill you in because the fourth level is that poignant moment when God reveals himself to us in a very personal way. Many of us have experienced such moments, and they are certainly to be treasured.
For more on Dr. Patrick’s work on Hippocratic ideals in medicine and Augustine College where he teaches, take a look here: