Hello from Turks & Caicos! Right now as you are reading this, I am immersing myself into a beautiful, pristine, pure, turquoise-reflecting water in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Many might call this place “paradise”, a spot that seems “perfect”. But what’s so “perfect” about “paradise”?
According to Dictionary.com, “paradise” is “heaven, the final abode of the righteous” and according to Google.com it is “the abode of Adam and Eve; the Garden of Eden.” It seems like the concept of “paradise” is linked with religion and purity. But in today’s scientific and technologically-driven world, what exactly is “paradise”, and how can we define it in a way that everyone, no matter what our religious beliefs, can agree on?
From the basic concept, it seems we can equate “paradise” with themes of “water” and “purity”, just like me being immersed in this “pure” body of water right now. The world’s most popular religion is Christianity, practiced by nearly 1/3 of the people on Earth. Christians believe in immersing into “Holy Water” as a blessing and symbol of removing uncleanliness both spiritually and physically, especially through baptism and the cleansing of sins. Islam, the world’s second most popular religion, practiced by nearly 1/4 of the people on Earth, teaches that water gives and sustains life, and purifies humankind and the world. Wudu, an important part of ritual purity, consists of washing the face, arms, then wiping the head and finally washing the feet with water. And for all the other religions, it’s similar. Hindus have a tradition of immersion in water as purification and cleanliness, and believe the waters of the river Ganges are sacred. In Buddhism, water is given as part of a spiritual offering, as water is considered plentiful and free, and therefore all of our offerings should be given as freely as we would give water. In Judaism, water has some of the most defined religious laws that date back a millenium, and water ritual is practiced in the form of hand washing before and after eating a meal, full body immersion into water for regularly cleansing the body, and even mandated immersion into purified water, called the Mikveh, before and after menstruation, ejaculation, childbirth, and even after having contact with a corpse.
And for those that do not know or practice any of these religious concepts, millions of us still naturally go to immerse ourselves into water, to cleanse and purify, both spiritually and physically.
Yet for all of these ancient and religious traditions of purity and water, the actual scientific and technologically-driven concept was not actually realized until 1846 when Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis discovered its effectiveness in preventing disease in hospitals, and was the first known medical professional to make the connection between dirty hands and deadly infection. Before that, the medical benefits of doing simple things like washing hands were not fully practiced or understood in science. Over the next twenty years, Semmelweis fought hard to advocate to doctors to regularly cleanse their hands, but many other doctors would not listen to him, and Semmelweis lost his job, was committed to a mental asylum, and died. It was at that time that Louis Pasteur’s work offered a theoretical explanation for Semmelweis’ observations: the germ theory of disease, and the rest is history. It seems like our high-tech scientific world should have taken some inspiration from religious texts long ago, as something so ancient and relatively low-tech of using water to cleanse, maintain health and purity is now one of our best and most simple scientific competitive advantages to sustaining life and fighting disease.
Today we all live in a world where we have a global pandemic and millions are suffering. At the same time, the pandemic is making all of us as a global society more health conscious, where we care so much about our health and the health of each other. Everywhere we go, we see people washing and purifying their hands in public, there are hand sanitation stands everywhere we go, and we are all taking extra steps to ensure that our focus on the health of another is becoming a daily part of our lives. Water and purification are central to those efforts, and when we all focus on the things like that, we realize that no matter what our religions beliefs, we are all on the same page, and we are all like Ignaz Semmelweis and Louis Pasteur, as well as practicing all the world’s religions all at once. Paradise doesn’t have to be a beautiful, pristine, pure, turquoise-reflecting colored water in the middle of the ocean, it’s the fact that we are all more than ever conscious of using water to cleanse and purify ourselves and each other, and the fact that we as a global society demand we do it for the health of all of us around the world. In the past century, people on Earth have invested billions of dollars in tanks, machine guns, and bullets to kill each other, and now we are investing in hand sanitizers, masks, and vaccines to cure each other. To me, that is much more of a “perfect paradise” we all are living in at this moment together, no matter where we are currently at on Earth.