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The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it nor to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick along side it.
D. L. Moody, The Tale of the Tardy Oscart
Many Christians believe that modern medicine is acceptable, while most everything in the alternative realm is either unproven, unscientific, quackery, a swindle or just plain devilish. While pointing out valid criticisms of alternative medical philosophies, they often do not consider the possibility that Western medicine does not necessarily equate with biblical medicine or with Christian precept. There is a simple reason for this.
The Church's primary source of health information is not taken from Scripture but comes from medical doctors trained in secular institutions with secular philosophies. When I (Michael) felt led by God to become a doctor, I didn't go to a seminary. I went to a secular medical school and was taught by professors, the majority of whom were not Christians. Furthermore, during my seven years of formal medical education, the spiritual dimension was completely ignored. Without realizing it, I was trained to divorce the physical from the spiritual. When a Christian asked me for my medical opinion, my response naturally flowed from how I was trained, which has rarely, if ever, been scrutinized by the Church.
By and large the Church has not assumed its responsibility to impact Western medicine nor evaluate what doctors are taught. When I (Neil) was preparing for the ministry, I received virtually no training in medicine or in matters relating to physical health. Not that I should have been taught the technical aspects of medicine, but I should have received some instruction on what Scripture does address. I have come to understand that the Bible has a great deal to say about how God created us in His image with a body, soul and spirit. The Bible explains why people get sick, what steps to take to prevent illness and how to get well. The Bible shows a connection between faith and healing, and teaches how diet and lifestyle affect our health. Many seminaries offer courses on medical ethics, but few teach God's perspective on health.
Charismatic and Pentecostal schools may emphasize miraculous healing, but they often overlook what caused the person to get ill in the first place. Consequently, church leaders conclude that when someone gets sick, they have no jurisdiction, nothing to offer, except a prayer in hope of recovery. Just like doctors, pastors have not been trained to biblically integrate the body, soul and spirit. By default, through the grid of science, doctors take care of the physical body. Pastors, through the grid of Scripture, take care of the soul and spirit.
This is terribly unfortunate, for with the inspired Word of our creator, the Church is positioned to provide excellent guidance on many of the issues that medicine is facing today. However, the Christian Church does not have a great reputation for being a strong spiritual leader in keeping medicine on the straight and narrow. Instead, in practice (not in principle) it has historically subordinated itself to whatever has been the dominant medical philosophy of the day.
History Repeats Itself
For example, according to historians, for nearly 1,500 years, the Church embraced the errant teachings of Aristotle with regard to the sciences. Aristotle taught that Earth was at the center of the universe. Despite the fact that there was no scriptural requirement for such a belief, the Church held as tenaciously to this concept as it did to teachings more central to the Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ. When Galileo's observations led him to believe that the sun was at the center of the solar system, he was threatened with excommunication from the Church unless he recanted his "heretical" teaching. Scientists were thus inappropriately forced to choose between intellectual integrity and the Church. They chose the latter.
Likewise, for many centuries, Greek medicine prevailed as the leading paradigm in the treatment of disease. Even to this day, Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine. However, this great physician accepted and practiced humoralism, an Ayurvedic/Hindu-based philosophy of medicine that emphasized the importance of balancing the body's humors (fluids). This grossly errant theory was the accepted, prevailing medical philosophy from nearly 500 B.C. until the mid-1800s! Despite the fact that its presuppositions were totally incompatible with Christian faith, the Church embraced it throughout a majority of its tenure.
Today we see the same pattern. The prevailing medical philosophy in America is allopathy, and the Church has, in most respects, aligned itself with it. However, now that alternative perspectives are emerging in the medical playing field, some in the Church have joined allopathic medicine in opposing them. But for the most part, the Church is not doing so on the basis of Scripture. Even when the Church does use biblical principle as its basis for evaluation, it does not usually apply the same standard of scrutiny to allopathic medicine.
Instead of "testing the wind" and aligning itself with the prevailing medical system of our day, the Church needs to, on the basis of Scripture, establish its own philosophy and view of medicine, letting medicine align itself to it. It may seem inappropriate that the Church should involve itself in medical thinking. But far from being inappropriate, it is absolutely essential. Religious beliefs underline any system of medicine. It is religion that gives birth to philosophies in medicine. Allow us to illustrate.
Medical Philosophies Emerge from Religion
Taoism (an ancient Eastern religion/philosophy) asserts that the first cause of the universe is immaterial energy that permeates the universe and every living being. Optimum health is only achieved when one is in harmony with the universe and when an unhindered flow of energy travels from the universe to the individual and back to the cosmos again. Therefore, all efforts to diagnose the cause of illness are oriented toward the discovery of where this energy has been blocked. In response, a variety of methods (acupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion, etc.) are utilized to remove this blockage and restore the life-giving flow. In China, Taoism gave birth to traditional Chinese medicine (see chapter 14 for a more detailed explanation of traditional Chinese medicine).
Likewise, Ayurveda, a religious system with an emphasis on maintaining balance and harmony with the universe, gave birth to humoralism (see chapter 9 for a detailed discussion). According to this theory, when illness developed, it was due to an excess of one of the body's humors. Therefore, treatment was aimed at reducing the excess, through the use of leeches, bloodletting, cathartics and so on.
Why do religious beliefs lead to medical philosophies? Because religion provides a paradigm, or blueprint, for distinguishing truth from error, right from wrong and the framework by which data is interpreted and explained. It is a worldview that attempts to provide answers to perennial human questions such as, Who am I? Why am I here? Why do people get sick and die? What is man's destiny after death? You cannot separate religious belief from medicine. Religious belief underlines not only medicine, but every other cultural institution as well, including family, education, business and government. Shared religious beliefs are essential for cohesiveness within a community and serve as the foundation for any society. Conflicting religious beliefs fracture communities as is evidenced by the continual Middle East unrest.
Medicine Deteriorates over Time
This concept of a connection between religion and culture and the practice of medicine is not new. Medical historians have repeatedly observed it. However, as they have researched medicine's history, they have also discovered a disturbing phenomenon that seems to appear with alarming regularity. That phenomenon has to do with what happens in medicine as a culture ages. Through examining historical records, it has become painfully evident that the best medicine that is practiced in a society is not toward the end of a particular civilization but earlier in its existence. This is exactly the opposite of what most people would expect to find. Historian Paul Ghagliounghi describes it this way:
This was to happen over and over again in the history of medicine. Quite abruptly, pragmatic modes of medicine would emerge, which for all their limitations appear by modern standards eminently sensible, and which should have provided an excellent opportunity for a rational therapeutic system to develop. But the current would flow relentlessly the other way; rationality would be overlaid with systematization, or mumbo jumbo.
But why does this deterioration in medicine occur?
Degeneration of this kind in medical practice is usually closely related to a decline of a national culture: and so it was in Egypt. It was probably connected with the gradual falling off in regard for the gods: where a community loses faith in its traditional religion, its members are often tempted by eccentric beliefs-as if desperate for fresh certainties.
As a nation or culture matures, its institutions do as well. The practice of medicine becomes systematized and great advances take place. However, at some point in time, a generation arises that questions the belief system that it has inherited. Oftentimes, this doubt is triggered by a cultural crisis such as a major military defeat, economic collapse, the ineffectiveness of religion to address the concerns of the day, or the influx of foreigners' different belief systems. In medicine, doubt can be prompted by a general realization that the current medical paradigm is ineffective in arresting common diseases.
Regardless of the reason, if a nation rejects its religious system, a crack in its foundation occurs and a cultural revolution takes place. As a result, every institution of society becomes destabilized as the nation searches for a new belief system to reestablish harmony and cohesiveness among its citizenry, and a foundation upon which to restructure its institutions. Therefore, having no unifying belief system upon which its institutions can function, the destabilized culture deteriorates, and medicine does as well.
The Christian Church Needs to Set a New Paradigm
In America, the religious belief system upon which our nation was founded is Christianity. Any cursory review of original documents will confirm this. Christian precepts formed the basis for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and virtually every early public and private institution in America. Although, this foundation came under attack through a number of avenues, none was as dramatic as what took place in the 1960s when America endured a cultural revolution of mammoth proportions. Not surprisingly, and true to historical precedent, it was shortly thereafter that religious gurus were welcomed into the United States along with their Eastern religious teachings, such as transcendental meditation, which proliferated rapidly throughout American culture. (It seems strange that few people questioned how well those beliefs positively or negatively affected the cultures from which they came.)
During the next 30 years, Eastern concepts were gradually integrated into Western medicine. Initially, these advances were almost exclusively limited to the fringes of medical practice. However, aided by research articles showing increasing numbers of Americans flocking to these practitioners, the trickle into Western medicine rapidly became a flood. Today, doctors and medical institutions that only a few years ago banned such practices as unscientific, now embrace them with open arms and proudly practice them. Evidence that this major ideological shift has taken place abounds throughout the health-care system.
1. Like many other cities, virtually every major hospital system in Cincinnati has built a health and fitness center where patients are encouraged to partake in classes ranging from acupuncture to qigong to reflexology to yoga. What a dramatic shift from just a few years ago when all of these practices were considered unscientific, if not outright quackery.
2. In the last few years, numerous continuing medical education (CME) brochures from Harvard Medical School have touted keynote speakers who have been invited to address issues of spirituality, usually from an Eastern mysticism perspective. Harvard, once the icon of the purely biochemical, scientific medical model, now hosts conferences on spirituality and healing in conjunction with the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
3. Required physician CME conferences commonly include lectures on spirituality and alternative medicine. Recently such an event in Vermont featured a lecture on spirituality. During the question and answer period that followed, attendees were given a brochure inviting them to a retreat in the North Carolina mountains. This weekend event was designed to help physicians rediscover "the archetypal energy of the healer" that first led them to practice medicine and to experience a "re-animation" of "the healer within." Speakers included a psychotherapist who specialized in understanding the relationship between symptoms and intrapersonal energies of the soul. Another therapist had extensive experience with various shaman healers and rituals. And native American counselors guided participants on their journey of "longing toward healing for ourselves and for the whole of creation."
So where does that leave us? Western medicine (and our society), in the wake of a cultural revolution, is in a state of flux and confusion as it searches for a unifying belief system. Consistent with historical precedent, the paths in this search for truth have led to Eastern belief systems. Meanwhile, the Church has been hampered in its ability to be a reconciling force because it has blindly accepted Western allopathic medicine as being consistent with Christian belief. This is despite the fact that the philosophical underpinnings of allopathic medicine have, for most of its history, been rooted in a pagan belief system contrary to Christianity.
Since the ultimate cause of our present crisis has to do with foundational religious beliefs, the solution must be found at that level. America has a Christian heritage.
Excerpted from The Biblical Guide to ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE by NEIL T. ANDERSON MICHAEL D. JACOBSON
Copyright © 2003 by Neil T. Anderson and Michael D. Jacobson
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.