Faced with corrosive doctrines inside of churches founded by him, the apostle Paul conspicuously often argues that those false teachings are ‘not sound’ or ‘contrary to sound doctrine’. ‘
Sound’ can also be translated ‘healthy’, and indeed the underyling Greek word is hygiaino, where we get our ‘hygiene’.
The interesting thing is that Paul does not focus on refuting the content of the false doctrines (though he does comment on it here and there). Rather, he draws the reader’s (primarily, Timothy’s or Titus’s, respectively) attention to their effects and overall character.The translation of hygiaino as ‘healthy’ greatly helps to grasp what this is all about. As regards food and lifestyles, there is little controversy as to what is healthy and what is not. Junk food, smoking and lack of meaningful activities are unhealthy for body and mind; vegetables, sports and rich and fulfilled relationships are healthy. The point is that we know this from the effects or the general impression we get from persons who practice the one or the other. We need not know the exact underlying biochemical or psychological mechanisms to rightfully claim that we know some things to be healthy and others to be unhealthy.
And so it is with doctrines. Or should I say: narratives? ‘Narrative’ has become a buzzword; only scholars will say that they investigate or believe the ‘doctrines’ of Yuval Harari or Black Lives Matter. ‘Doctrine’ is an outdated word, reminiscent of the modern era where truth claims collide. But ‘narrative’ is, as its replacement, actually an enrichment. After all, a narrative can clearly be true or false (contra the claims of postmodernists), but it additionally has the power of imagination on its side, which brings to life the otherwise abstract and partly sterile doctrines.
If all the above is correct, then you can discern a healthy narrative from a toxic one by its effects and character. Does one have to wait for the long-term corollaries? I don’t think so. Otherwise, Paul would have had to advise Timothy and Titus to wait another year or two, but he did quite the opposite: especially the epistle to Titus has one of the most urgent tones in the whole New Testament. Usually, one can see the character of a narrative pretty quickly. Look into the face of the glutton, and you see the path he is on; extrapolate your infinitesimal impressions, and you perceive the appalling end of him.
I now wish to apply the ‘healthiness’ principle to a narrative that is being sold to us since at least 2001. I call it the ‘technocracy’ narrative (for lack of a better term, actually). It goes roughly like this: there are threats out there (terrorism, pandemics, climate change); we need to protect ourselves against those threats; governments are responsible for this protection; therefore, governments should be allowed to do whatever they see fit to see their task done. Now none of the aforementioned premises is itself easy to disprove. There clearly are threats, we are well-advised to protect ourselves against them, it is true (at least following the Hobbesian conception) that governments have the mandate to take measures on a societal level, and it seems reasonable that those threats should be fought at all costs (in particular following Hans Jonas’s ‘imperative of responsibility’). But is the conclusion healthy? Does such an approach warrant human flourishing? Or is it rather to our souls what bad air is to our lungs – a subtle but effective poison?
Hygiene is undoubtedly good. That holistic health which its Greek root word refers to goes far beyond it.
 1. Timothy: 1:10; 6:3; 2. Timothy: 1:13; 4:3; Titus: 1:9; 1:13; 2:1.2.8
 See his Levathan
 See his book with the same title.
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