News & Events

Love and Suffering Examined at Presidential Lecture Series at Mars Hill University

Barfield Sayles LectureDr. Ray Barfield (left) and Dr. Guy Sayles discuss the intersection of love, suffering, and medical decision-making at Mars Hill University April 27.

Ray Barfield, M.D., Ph.D. said that his attempt to bring the language of love into his medical practice is "radical and subversive" to the establishment of modern medicine. But such a habit helps him to fight against the "reduction of a human being to the molecules that we are made up of."

Barfield is an associate professor of pediatrics and Christian philosophy at Duke University, as well as a pediatric oncologist. He and Dr. Guy Sayles, writer, teacher and former pastor of First Baptist Church Asheville, presented a lecture and led an audience discussion on the topic: The Ethics of Suffering: Reintroducing Love Into (Medical) Decision-Making. The program, which took place on April 27, was part of the Presidential Lecture and Performance Series at Mars Hill University.

Barfield said that one of the tensions in modern medicine is that physicians are trained to treat the biology of human beings apart from who they are as people. Such a framework is "too thin an understanding of who a person is" and it may not help the physician make decisions that are in the best interest of the patient and his or her family.

According to Sayles, for all the advances of modern life, "one of the things we've lost is how to view things [as a] whole." In pre-modernity, he said, professionals of all types, not just clergy, tended to view themselves as serving a higher ideal, or a calling, beyond the details of their everyday careers. Rather than performing a career, the professional therefore believed he or she was serving Justice, Truth, Peace, etc.

In addition, Sayles said, "we need to reclaim the idea that relationship is at the heart of professional training." He recalled the apprentice/mentor relationship which was common in pre-modernity. Today's training focus tends to be on learning a process, technique or program, rather than gaining an understanding of a way of life.

The specialization of modern medicine can also lead physicians to isolate the person's biology from his or her humanity. Sayles, who has cancer, described rating his pain as an example of divorcing pain from the larger concept of suffering. "Pain is the disorder," he said. "Suffering has to do with the story we tell ourselves about the pain."

The event is sponsored jointly by President's Office and the Ethics Across the Curriculum Program at Mars Hill University. It is a part of the Presidential Lecture and Performance Series, which complements Mars Hill University’s emphasis on the liberal arts by bringing distinguished and knowledgeable individuals to lecture on a wide range of topics and to provide high quality performances in the cultural arts.

In the fall, the university plans to host U.S. Marine Band for the next event in the Presidential Lecture and Performance series.