We are responsible for our bodies and our well-being. With willpower and a bit of help from modern medicine, we can all overcome illness and live long lives. People with persistent health problems should pursue every conceivable cure, starting with eating more kale, practicing mindfulness and joining a gym.
In two new books two writers, both of them determined to face their mortality honestly, assail these and other current American falsehoods about the extent to which we control our own health. Kate Bowler, the author of “Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I’ve Loved,” is a 37-year-old mother and Duke Divinity School professor with Stage 4 colon cancer. Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of “Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer,” is a seasoned writer and, at 76, self-admittedly of age to die. Ms. Bowler believes in God; Ms. Ehrenreich is an atheist who takes comfort in the idea of an “animate universe” of life and possibility. They’ve both chosen to forgo extreme medical intervention and to face the inevitable.
As they grapple with what it means to die, they each return to their Ph.D. research—Ms. Bowler’s on the American prosperity gospel, Ms. Ehrenreich’s on cellular immunology—and identify, perhaps surprisingly, the same insight: that the various ways we seek to support the ill, and the faith we place in man-made remedies, are deeply misguided.