Alternative medicine as religion

Over the years, I've often likened non-science-based medical belief systems to religion. It's not a hard argument to make. Religion involves believing in things that can't be proven scientifically; indeed, religion makes a virtue out of ignoring the evidence and accepting various beliefs on faith alone. Similarly, alternative medicine frequently tells you that you have to believe in the therapy, dedicate yourself completely to it, in order for it to work. Of course, as I've also mentioned before, it is that insistence on belief and total commitment shared by religion and alternative medicine that provides quacks with an "out" when their treatments don't yield the promised results, their frequent excuse being to blame the patient. He didn't believe hard enough. In a reverse of The Secret, which states that you can bring good things to yourself by simply wanting it, in alt-med world, it's all too often implied (or even more than implied) that you bring calamities on yourself through bad diet, bad lifestyle, and bad thoughts. After all, what is the German New Medicine, other than the claim that cancerous tumors are not the disease, but rather a manifestation of buried emotional traumas that cause the "protective" mechanism of a tumor to result?

I was reminded of these things as I perused the copious comments of yesterday's post, which, as you might recall, was about the utter quackery that is naturopathic cancer treatment. More specifically, I was reminded that the similarity between religious thinking and quackery can lead to situations where religion facilitates belief in quackery. It began rather rapidly and early in the comments when someone named Steffanie England leapt into the fray with statements like:

ALLOPATHIC THINKING: Why sell GOD MADE medicine when you can’t make money off of it? Why not extract one or two components of an herb, a fruit etc. and PATENT IT!!! Discover what effects it has on the body. Then make more money prescribing drugs to counter the side effects!!! Brilliant!!! (NOT) Why not use the medicine GOD prescribed. “Let FOOD be THY MEDICINE”.

England then goes on to remonstrate with me:

Do some REAL research! Be brave enough to tell the TRUTH – like Dr. Judy Seeger!

Whenever I see the word "truth" in all capital letters, I'm reminded in what seems to be a nigh unbridgeable gap between our methods of thinking, because in science we do not speak of the "truth" (or the "Truth" or even the "TRUTH"). We speak of evidence, experimentation, and what the evidence shows. All conclusions are provisional, subject to revision as new evidence comes in. In contrast, Stephanie speaks of The Truth, and her "truth" includes antivaccine views, cancer quackery, and many, many more irrational views, proclaiming that the "truth is simple."

It wasn't long before another commenter arrived expounding similar ideas about God and how doctors are supposedly so "arrogant." I'm referring to someone named Tamara St. John, who apparently runs a website called Optimum Health Through God's Pharmacy. Tamara was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and claims to have "healed herself" of cancer without the use of drugs or surgery. Given that I'm an aficionado of cancer cure testimonials (indeed, perhaps the earliest substantive post I wrote for this blog was about cancer cure testimonials), and it's a topic I've revisited on this blog many times, Tamara's story caught my attention. Breast cancer, as I've pointed out before, is a disease that has a highly variable clinical course, which can range from indolent, slowly progressing disease to rapidly progressing disease that kills within months. Indeed, it is possible that more breast cancers either fail to progress or even spontaneously regress than we thought.

All of this is why I'd need to know a lot more about Tamara's case to make an educated judgment regarding whether there's any chance that her anecdote represents a true treatment effect. Most likely, it does not. Indeed, I wouldn't be too surprised if her case resembles that of Kim Tinkham, who tried to heal herself using Robert O. Young's quackery and, alas, ultimately saw her cancer progress and kill her. Of course, Kim Tinkham appeared to do well for nearly four years. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, Tamara provides information completely insufficient to make even an educated judgment, probably because she is currently writing a book and looking for an agent and publisher.

All I could find out about her story came from this interview, in which she says she had a lump in her breast and that the cancer spread to her lymph nodes. No mention is made of how the cancer was diagnosed, or even if there was a tissue diagnosis from a biopsy. In a more detailed discussion of her story, no mention is made of a biopsy. At the time, apparently Tamara was uninsured and couldn't afford medical care; so she decided to "just pray." The story Tamara relates is that she had a lump in her breast that was "painful to the touch" and that she developed enlarged lymph nodes under the arm and that the nodes were painful, all of which sounds a lot more like an inflammatory process than cancer. Don't get me wrong. It's a myth that if a breast lump is painful it can't be cancer. It is, however, true that most breast cancers don't hurt. In any case, Tamara claims to have healed herself using what can be best described as pure quackery, namely the Budwig Protocol, laetrile (yes, laetrile—how 1970s!), "enzyme" therapy, and juicing, not to mention "detoxification," up to and including coffee enemas. She also spouts what can best be characterized as pure nonsense about how the illness she experienced while "detoxing" must have indicated that she had the epidermal growth factor receptor in her cancer and that she was shedding it.

Nowadays, Tamara is running a consulting business that appears to me to be, in essence, practicing medicine without a license, her Quack Miranda Warning notwithstanding. No doubt God is helping her fleece unsuspecting cancer patients.

It's not just cancer quackery, however. I've often discussed how much the antivaccine movement resembles religion as well, a religion in which vaccines are Satan. I was reminded of this, perhaps serendipitously, when, as I was contemplating writing about the religion of cancer quackery, I came across a gem of a post on yet another wretched hive of scum and quackery, that temple worshiping the arrogance of ignorance, the completely misnamed Thinking Moms' Revolution by a contributor named B.K. The post is entitled Christianity and the (False) god of Modern Medicine. B.K. begins with some hand-wringing about how worried she is that her post would be controversial and she doesn't really want to write it but feels compelled to (no doubt because Jesus is telling her to).

Every bit of B.K.'s language is steeped in the language of belief. For instance, the next part of her preface is all about how much she used to "believe" in conventional medicine and science:

But before my son’s autism, I was a hard-core believer in the system… the medical system, that is. I believed in vaccines. I believed in doctors. I believed in the CDC. I believed in Tylenol. I believed in prescription meds. I believed in it ALL. I trusted in doctors and vaccines to protect me before — so I didn’t get sick — and I believed in doctors and prescription medicines to make me well when I actually did get sick. I believed that pretty much everyone in medicine, from the top researchers, to pharmaceutical companies, on down to the receptionists at your pediatrician’s office, wanted to make us all well and keep us all well. It was all about health and wellness. And so, I trusted them. I believed them. And I handed my child over to them without even thinking about it. And, appallingly, I handed him over without even praying about it.

What on earth does praying about it have to do with deciding whether science supports a treatment? Absolutely nothing. It's not about faith; it's not about "belief." It's about evidence, and the evidence does not support the antivaccine views promulgated by the (Un)Thinking Moms, nor does it support the biomedical quackery that many of them subject their autistic children to. After her child was diagnosed with autism, B.K. suddenly had an "awakening" or an "eye-opening" experience, which was intensified by her hearing a sermon from her pastor about how man has "dethroned God" and "exalted Man," or, as she puts it, "Instead of praying and asking God to help us, we are handing things over to men to handle it. We think if the right man gets the job, our problems will be over. Man can fix things! Man can do it!"

You probably know where this is going, and it doesn't take B.K. very long at all to get there. She talks about how each baby is "perfect," created in God's image, but arrogant humans try to "improve upon God":

Let me ask you a question. If we are truly created in God’s own image, do you not believe that we are given the immune system that God wants us to have? Do you not believe that He perfectly planned the human immune system? Or do you think that God was “holding back” on us?

When we vaccinate our children, we are attempting to improve upon the immune system that God has given us. Plain and simple. We are trusting that man knows better than God how to keep us healthy. Therefore, we get only MAN’S best instead of God’s best. So where is that getting us? We are trading diseases that we once had that were TEMPORARY, such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, rubella, etc, for diseases that are usually PERMANENT, such as autism, ADHD, allergies, asthma, and the countless number of other chronic illnesses that we see today, including increased rates of childhood cancers. And as the number of vaccinations that each child receives grows, so does the number of chronically ill children (and adults).

What in the world are we DOING?

What we are doing (or trying to do) is to rely on science rather than faith. B.K. doesn't like that and proceeds to rant about how we live in a "fallen" world, with a corrupt medical system, all corrupted, of course, by Satan (with a little help from pharmaceutical companies, natch) and complain about how doctors have been elevated to "god-like" status and how often people comply with doctors' orders without even praying about it. (The horror!), concluding:

What I submit to you now is that we have lifted up modern medicine to the status of a god. That is something we need to repent of, and ask forgiveness, and ask God to show us how to trust him more fully with our health. When we get sick, pray first, seek wisdom, do some research into some alternatives, pray again, and then go where HE leads you. And stop blindly trusting fallen man to save us.

B.K.'s entire post is not a post describing how one rationally looks at the evidence, decides that one was wrong about something, and then changes course based on science, evidence, and experimentation. It is, in essence, a conversion story. Although she did not change her Christian religion, she did use it to facilitate a conversion from one religion that shouldn't be a religion but was to her (science-based medicine) to another religion (antivaccinationism and alternative medicine), that she now follows based on faith rather than reason. Her description of medicine is very much like the fall of man as described in The Bible. Now, to her, modern medicine is no longer God but Satan, and she made that religious conversion without so much as a single shred of scientific evidence.

The longer I study alternative medicine and alternative medical systems, the more it becomes clear to me that they show far more similarity to religion than they do to science. It's true that alt-med apologists dress up their beliefs in language that sounds scientific, but when you scratch the patina of scientific language off, it doesn't take long to find the religious imagery, often facilitated by the more conventional religious beliefs (i.e, Christianity) of the believer. We see the same thing with respect to evolution denial. So why not with denial of scientific medicine? A nonscientific world view that is based on faith in things that can't be seen is often not confined to church.


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Regarding: "Let me ask you a question. If we are truly created in God’s own image, do you not believe that we are given the immune system that God wants us to have? Do you not believe that He perfectly planned the human immune system? Or do you think that God was “holding back” on us?"

Everytime I hear people pontificate like that I can't help but wonder: why did he create physicians? Clearly, he must have had a plan when he gave us vaccines, A&E departments, the fire department, et cetera. He gave us all those nice things that can save our lives and we are supposed to ignore it: how blasphemous. Are you contradicting your invisible friend?

Orac quoting Ms. England:

Why sell GOD MADE medicine when you can’t make money off of it?

By the hammer of Thor I must ask: which "GOD"?

I am sorry, but I have seen too many things attributed to some kind of "God" that I need to ask. One "God" punishes those who do not so what someone says they should, and another does some kind of miraculous saving.

I have just read a Unbroken. While the main subject survives and dedicates his life to a certain "God" (after a bit of alcoholic self medicating), most of his B-24 crew actually died.

So, I really want to know which "God." Is there just one, and you only get saved if you are favored... Or are their several and you get saved if you pick the "real" God?

Can someone help me and tell me which "God" actually exists?

@Rebecca Fisher - great minds think alike, that's exactly the first thing that came to my mind after reading this post.

Obviously, the (Un)thinking Mom never saw an "imperfect" baby - babies aren't born with Trisomy 13, or 21 or 17, there's no such thing as anencephaly, gastroscheisis, or any other illness. Try telling that to any woman who had a baby with a problem. Or does the Unthinking Mom dare tell these mothers that it's all their fault?

Oh and should have said - I don't believe there is such thing as an imperfect baby - which is why there are the scare quotes around the word. All babies are perfect - no matter what health issues they may have - because they are loved by someone.

@Nescio: Also, if there is such a thing as a Creator God, He/She/It gave us along with medicine, hospitals, doctors, researchers, a brain to use - to think, to explore different viewpoints, to gain knowledge of ourselves and our world. Not using it is therefore also blasphemous.

Amen Orac. Amen

By Lucretius (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

Let me ask you a question. If we are truly created in God’s own image, do you not believe that we are given the immune system that God wants us to have? Do you not believe that He perfectly planned the human immune system? Or do you think that God was “holding back” on us?

If she is believing in the god of the bible, be it Yahweh, Jehovah or Allah, she seems to forget about the Fall. We were designed for the peaceful Garden of Eden, not for a world of teeth and claws.
Sorry, but got did hold back on us. We are not tiger-proof. Why should we be virus-proof?
We are fighting tigers with man-made tools. Why shouldn't we fight viruses with other man-made tools?

She also seems to imply that god has an immune system. I wonder what supernatural illness he could be suffering from.

By Heliantus (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

Chris: MY Gods exist, all the others are false. Hope that helps.

By Raging Bee (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

Or does the Unthinking Mom dare tell these mothers that it’s all their fault?

Actually, yes, that is a standard response, and has been probably since prehistoric times.

By Raging Bee (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

I've been touched by his "Noodlely Appendage" with a touch of Cthuhlu on the side.....

Lord Draconis will be so miffed that his true identity is revealed. But then, I always thought inter-dimensional travel from hell is just as likely as interstellar hyperspeed.

The longer I study alternative medicine and alternative medical systems, the more it becomes clear to me that they show far more similarity to religion than they do to science.

QFT. The content of the beliefs, the epistemology, and the defense against criticism are essentially the same. All the arguments I hear from apologists for God, I hear from alties. A supernatural universe is a moral universe, one which is structured around human concerns and values. One learns about the deep connection between matter and Mind through intuition, revelation, and personal experience. People who disagree with the conclusion lack the capacity for empathy, sensitivity, and inner wisdom. Knowledge is subjective, and is arrived at by those who are the right sort of people. It takes faith. Faith separates those who "get it" from those who never will.

My alt med friends are absolutely clear about the central significance of "spirituality" in their favorite treatments and nostrums. Hey, that's alternative medicine's main selling point: it's "holistic" enough to include the spiritual. My science-based dissent is automatically dismissed because I'm an atheist -- and therefore lack the necessary open mindset. I'm too critical. There's "science" on both sides. Therefore, it takes an intuitive faith to recognize and accept the one that's right for spiritual people who connect with their power of spiritual healing.

Personally, I consider the vitalism and Nature-as-Nurture at the heart of alt med to be a non-traditional form of God. The cosmos cares about us, and wants to ensure that nothing bad ever happens to those who follow its loving rules. Alt med treatments are a form of worship.

There are believers and then there are people who use their god as a billy club. I am a Christian and none of that nonsense make sense to me. The world is not perfect,. If she had read the Bible she would understand why (according to a Christian belief system).. The first people screwed up and we live with the effects of that. Then we screw up more and we live with the effects of that. That does not mean hat a genetic disorder is the fault of parents, simply that the world is not perfect, we are not perfect and we have to deal with it.
I believe all children are beautiful reflections of God and their parents, but I have never met a perfect one. How
arrogant to think that if only they had done thing right their kid would be perfect. And how is a kid with autism less perfect than a kid with any one of the other disabilities out there? I have met some darn great autistic people.

A long time ago, Freud speculated that the function of religion was threefold: to provide an explanatory system about how the universe and humanity came into being, to serve as a protective parent and to expound upon justice and ethics ( I'm probably thinking of "The Future of an Illusion" and "Civilisation and its Discontents").: educator, protector and judge.

Obviously today, we have science to explain nature, we become adults who watch out for ourselves, realistically accepting our own limits and support societal codes of ethics and systems of justice which may not be perfect. So we have no need! Right?

Woo fulfills all of these functions: whereas SBM may admit the limits of its knowledge, woo boldy asserts omniscience; it gives the answers in a manner that comforts and assures like a caring parent, promising what the client wants and usually there is a tinge of blame and congratulation: the bad patient didn't follow through correctly or had doubting thoughts and thus, died, while another was faithful to the protocol and lived: all stated judgmentally.

Woo steps into a world where there are sometimes no clear answers, protection is sorely lacking and things are very frequently unfair.

Woo's followers demonstrate faith in "things unseen"-lacking in data- because they seem right and just as well as comforting. Because they can't stipulate mechanisms for how herbs, meditation or magic powders work, we often see a retreat into fantastical explanations such as subtle energies, xi or thought power**:
which leads me to postulate my own law ( Walter's Law):

*****if you dig deeply enough into woo, you'll find soul, spirit and supernaturalism.*****

because they don't have anything solid- like data: spirit, mind, energy, soul or karma fills in the gaps. And people are already familiar with the concepts.

On a lighter note: sometimes woo-meisters and their audiences resemble a revival meeting: Give me that old time religion! ( I think it's called *magic*)

** today's TMR features Princess and thoughts and Descartes and why thinking makes it so.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

The German New Medicine sounds like a rerun of the Austrian old psychoanalysis. I once picked up a book by an oldtime Viennese psychoanalyst (Sadly, or maybe not, I no longer recall the title or author's name.) on the meanings of dreams (No, it wasn't Freud). I got in about three pages when the author explained that pregnant women lose teeth due to the subconscious symbolically ending the pregnancy with the "birth" of a tooth. Despite being a physician by training, he obviously knew nothing about metabolism in pregnancy. If I don't like a book, I usually give it away. I threw that one in the trash.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

There is an additional aspect to the treatment of medicine as religion, which of course Orac has touched on, but I think is worth additional emphasis.

That is the misrepresentation of science-based medicine as a competing religious system.

By Composer99 (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

In her book Bright-Sided: How the relentless promotion of positive thinking has undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich drew an interesting connection between Calvinism and 19th century New Thought. Although the latter was partly formed as a rejection of the former, it really only moved the major assumptions into a different area.

In Calvinism, all pain and sickness was considered a result of a person's 'sin' -- their failure to humble themselves before God. Nature was evil and corrupt. Disease was punishment for humanity in general and the individual in particular. Search your conscience to discover what you did wrong. It's all your fault.

The New Thought proponents didn't like that version of God. Nature was not evil and corrupt; it was a reflection of the divine. God was not angry and vindictive. God was loving -- and the power of positive, happy thoughts would link us to a positive, happy God, align us with Nature -- and prevent us from getting sick.

If you were ill, then, it was because you weren't positive and happy enough. You weren't following the sacred character of Nature, or loving God. Search your conscience to discover what you're doing wrong. It's your fault.

The change, Ehrenreich points out, is pretty superficial.

I've enjoy Denice W.'s comments. I think of religion as a means of group cohesion and social control. This might not necessarily contradict the summary of Freud's speculations but those seem to me to be incomplete. This is a side comment, of course. There does seem to me to be a confluence of religion with "alt-med", woo, quackery, etc.
Recently I was listening with some surprise and dismay to a friend extolling Gerson diet and related nonsense. I must have said "whatever" once too often as I was suddenly being lectured about how horribly rude I was re my "whatever". Of course that was the most polite term I could utter for the arrant bullshit I was hearing. Then it was "don't you believe in miracles?"

I always like to throw in some James:

Rationalistic ( going by 'principles'), Intellectualistic, Idealistic, Optimistic, Religious, Free-willist, Monistic, Dogmatical

Empiricist ( going by 'facts'), Sensationalistic, Materialistic, Pessimistic, Irreligious, Fatalistic, Pluralistic, Sceptical"...

"Their mutual reaction is very much like that that takes places when Bostonian tourists mingle with a population like that of Cripple Creek. Each type believes the other to be inferior to itself; but disdain in the one case is mingled with amusement , in the other it has a dash of fear."
( from *Pragmatism*, 1907),

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

ALLOPATHIC THINKING: Why sell GOD MADE medicine when you can’t make money off of it? Why not extract one or two components of an herb, a fruit etc. and PATENT IT!!! Discover what effects it has on the body. Then make more money prescribing drugs to counter the side effects!!! Brilliant!!! (NOT) Why not use the medicine GOD prescribed. “Let FOOD be THY MEDICINE”.

This is a very frequent topic on, and the irony of it is that those who call themselves the "Natural Girls" are the same ones who swallow supplements by the bucketsful, LOL. Maybe God only speaks through Mercola and the MLM-based supplement sellers?

"We are trading diseases that we once had that were TEMPORARY, such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, rubella, etc, for diseases that are usually PERMANENT.."

yeah, and other temporary diseases like polio and small pox. they only last until you die. TEMPORARY!11!!!!

My 11:32 am comment is awaiting moderation. Perhaps it was my use of a descriptive term "arrant b----t" or my lack of a location identifier. Whatever. I will repeat that I enjoy DW's comments, and add, in the context of my stalled comment which I hope passes muster, and as a cultural note, that Marty Balin was/is one of my very favorites. But the "miracles" I was asked to believe in the context of that conversation (Gerson diet, other woo) were distinct from the miracle of love.
And i hope my other bit gets through. What determines whether a comment goes into moderation? I thought my 11:32 remarks were innocuous within the over-all discourse of this blog.

I am so pleased to see this post (not that my pleasure is important to you; I hope you know what I mean).

I've been thinking for some time that alt-med/woo and the forms of religion we're talking about here are the same. Of note to me is that what underlies much of both is really only a purity fetish. Cleansing of sins, cleansing of livers and colons. Satan (evil forces) or "environmental toxins." Virtuous diet = virtuous person.

Orac - You've done a great job here with the religious angle on alt med. Next you should expound on the other significant perversion of reality in alt med... Post-modernist relativism and anti-scientism!

It always saddens me to see posts like Orac received here. Don't they know that He reaches down with His Noodly Appendages and lovingly touches all the equipment in research labs and the scientists who do His will by studying Science, and Medicine, so we can do His will by actually learning what His will is?

For He hath given us the Great Meatball of Science.

I get super annoyed with Christians saying God gave us all the 'perfect' bodies and immune systems--- then why are you wearing makeup and bleaching your grey hairs?

I'm saying this as a Christian, by the way. Just one who can read for context. Jesus said to let the little children come to him because in Palestine at that time, children had very low status and very high mortality rate before age 5. In my reading of Scripture, I've come to the conclusion that God is kind of happy when we vaccinate our children, instead of sitting idly by and watching them die from preventable diseases.

I think you're comparing it more to faith than to religion. I tend to separate the two; faith is the part that's about believing in stuff that's not proven (or, in many cases, even testable) while religion is the rituals and guiding practices and things like that. There are more people that believe in God than go to church/temple/etc -- and of course one can be steeped in religion without actually believing.

Alt med has aspects of both faith and religion. Most of the time, it's just wishful thinking or belief in a set of propositions that aren't provable (like chi or chiropractic subluxations) but there can be ritualistic aspects as well, and those may appeal from a different direction; a person might try aromatherapy out of a belief that certain scents cause medical changes, or because the act of setting up the candles or infusers is calming to them. Either way it usually starts with belief, but frequently there is a huge amount of ritual involved. And the bigger the treatment, the bigger the ritual. And of course the ritualistic aspects have no upper limit; in extreme cases, we have the cult-like attributes seen at some alternative clinics and among the followers of specific, charismatic practitioners.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

@ THS:

I appreciate your kind words: they mean a great deal to me. I try very hard: the writing is easy, the thinking is not.

@ all:

Christopher Shaw's colleague, L. Tomljenovic, will be Null's guest today ( it will be archived @ Progressive Radio second half of show) I can't listen live.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

<Kirk>What does God need with an immune system?</Kirk>

Christopher Shaw’s colleague, L. Tomljenovic, will be Null’s guest today ( it will be archived @ Progressive Radio second half of show) I can’t listen live

But Shaw and Tomljenovic aren't anti-vax, they're Just Asking Questions.

JAQing off with Gary Null? Eeeewww.

There are so many inconsistencies in the quasi-religious world view that mankind was created perfect and if provided with a perfect environment, would never get sick. God (who I tend to regard as a metaphor for evolution in this context) didn't just make healing herbs, she also made Aristolochia that for generations people mistook for a healing herb and damaged their kidneys as a result. We have a liver and kidneys that are exquisitely designed to remove toxins from our bodies, yet we are told they require assistance from herbs, coffee enemas and other alleged detoxification treatments. We have several mechanisms that maintain blood pH homeostasis, yet we are told that if you eat too much animal protein those homeostatic mechanisms are unable to cope, despite being able to excrete far more acid when generated through exercise. It seems it is only permissible to interfere with nature in ways allowed by dogma. It seems that the human body is able to maintain perfect health, except when it isn't, and doesn't require any assistance except when it does.

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

@ TBruce:

That is the truly disgusting!

@ THS:

Freud does go into authority figures / head of the family/ rulers as well and the Oedipal stuff. WAY too much to bring in here. Basically, the deity functions as surrogate parent in many roles.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

Rogue Medic:

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the wonders of a universe that is trying to kill us.

My favorite quote on the subject of the universe being fair:

"I used to think it was a terrible thing that life was so unfair. Then I thought, 'what if life *were* fair, and all of the terrible things that happen to us came because we really deserved them?' Now I take great comfort in the general unfairness and hostility of the universe."
-- Marcus Cole, Babylon 5

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

It seems that the human body is able to maintain perfect health, except when it isn’t, and doesn’t require any assistance except when it does.

Which is convenient, as we'll be glad to tell you when it isn't able and provide you that assistance when it's required, at a price we're just sure</i< you'll find is reasonable. After all, you can't realy put a price on health and happiness.

Just make sure you read the Quack Miranda before purchasing, and note that all sales are final.

today’s TMR features Princess and thoughts and Descartes and why thinking makes it so.

Wow, that's an impressive Descartes fail right off the blocks.

@ Narad:

You have to read it ! It is mind-scramblingly awful. But then again, she is a THINKING mom.
Oh lord! I hope that the next essay is not on Hume.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

"how the illness she experienced while “detoxing” must have indicated that she had the epidermal growth factor receptor in her cancer and that she was shedding it."

WTeverlovingF is this?!
Head meet desk!

By VikingWarriorP… (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

"ALLOPATHIC THINKING: Why sell GOD MADE medicine when you can’t make money off of it?"

This would be a humdinger of an argument, if it wasn't for the multibillion dollar supplement industry profiting off "GOD MADE" medicine, or the never-ending parade of alties making money from pseudo-medical professions like naturopathy and homeopathy, "consulting" services, books and devices based on "GOD MADE" medicine.

I prefer straight-up pharma profiteers to people who are trying to weasel money out of me claiming to supply "GOD's" medicine.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

I've more than once asked this type of Christian how they reconcile their attitudes toward Jesus' exhortations of humility and honesty. I have yet to get a coherent answer.

By Gray Falcon (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

Most excellent post, and I was pleased to read it.

I did want to comment more specifically on this bit:
she did use it to facilitate a conversion from one religion that shouldn’t be a religion but was to her (science-based medicine)

This is why I hate hearing people say things like, "I believe in evolution" or "I believe in human-made climate change." Issues of fact shouldn't be matters of belief. The statement should be "I have examined the available evidence, and the most parsimonious explanation that best fits the facts is..." etc.

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

Another parallel between alt med and religion is what Orac calls the Trojan Horse strategy -- their mutual tendency to try to co-opt reasonable elements and claim them for their own. First the bait -- then the switch.

Alternative medicine tries to claim credit for all herbal remedies, all diet advice, all exercise therapies, no matter how firmly based in science they are. Religion and Spirituality want to include morality, aesthetics, hope, and values under their mantle, despite their grounding in the human world. You 'believe' in those things, don't you? Well then, what is the problem? That's what we're talking about. That's all we're saying. We're really quite rational.

And then ...wham. Homeopathy, reiki, God, and the paranormal are dragged in as if they're part of the deal. Critics are then caricatured as being against the true but trivial in order to lend weight to the extraordinary but false.

Apologetic tactics.

@Mary Sue - I really like your reasoning. And I do something similar. A close friend of mine is very religious and also suffering from a mental disorder. And whenever he starts having doubts about his therapy, I tell him "Do not expect God to heal you directly. Jesus no longer walks on earth but he gave you psychiatrists, therapists and SSRIs so that you can go and heal yourself". And this approach works.

I find it ironic that so many alt med pushers use the profit motive to seek to discredit science based medicine when so many of them have made a living, some a fortune, selling their "free" methodologies. Alt med is a multimillion dollar business bases on good wishes, dreams, misplaced hope, and pixie dust.

@ DW: mind-scrambling awful. I like that phrase.
It's so easy for me to take the bait & get riled that I don't very often make it through these woo-videos that are linked from, for example, the previous RI post. Those were really bad - she could barely read her own text, it seemed. But this also brings to mind Jany Ian Smith speech - I don't recall if he was quoting somebody - about the importance of understanding nonsense. Enter, at least for part of the arena, psychologists.

Following alternative medicine and anti-vaccination is not only putting faith in false prophets, it's purposely putting oneself in harms way and expecting God will save you.

As I recall, Satan told Jesus to cast himself off the pinnacle of the temple because God would save him. Jesus responded that you do NOT put the Lord your God to the test. Why would He save you from something you had the power to prevent yourself? (And never mind their complete dismissal of the theology of suffering so prominent in Christianity!) He also had some pretty strong warnings about false prophets, too. And if taking people's money with no evidence of cure or aid isn't "bad fruit" I don't know what is!

So I'm guessing most of these people don't ACTUALLY know what the hell they're religion believes...

The author seems to have serious problems distinguishing between things going on in her own nervous system and things going on ‘out there’.

This isn't necessary. (Indeed, it would be inappropriate if she had the slightest idea what she was talking about[*] rather than immediately announcing "a much deeper extension of this concept," which, apparently, compensates for her finding "The Secret" to be "too abstract ... to grab hold of.") Consider the copular construction "it is raining." The first two words are unnecessary. All the cogito buys one is a grammatically analogous statement, the import of which is that it is to occupy a privileged place of epistemological certainty--the next sentence in the Meditations version makes clear that the "I" isn't yet defined.

One can stick with Descartes right here, i.e., consider everthing in the perceived world as a product of one's mind, and one still doesn't get magical powers, because the buildup to the exercise is that one can't think oneself away. Why, then, would one be able to think away the creations of one's mind? You can't have it both ways--you don't get to have part of the perceived world being a product of your (unconscious) mind that is somehow subject to backdoor manipulations, and if it's all your doing, then you're stuck having to figure out how the mess actually works to effect modifications.

The closing aphorism, though, is a spot-on summary of the philosophical slop in play, and it circles right back to the various health faddisms that sprang again from New Thought types. (Hi, Fenwicke!)

[*] What's with "the original Latin"? The Discourse came first, in French.

I just want to know one thing: Is B.K. a nudist?

If not, she's a flaming hypocrite.

I feel that Ambrose Bierce covered both religion and all of the
pseudo sciences with this " Religion-n-A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable".

@ THS:

Don't worry, I have a thousand more phrases: I personally like - 'a pyroclastic flow of rapidly encroaching ignorance' and 'perpendicular to the plumb line of reason' ( both original).
Fortunately, the computer I use for my sceptical activities DOESN'T play videos- I read and listen to internet audio only, which is bad enough.

@ Narad:

Seriously, I studied Descartes et al nearly 40 years ago as a mere child ( first semesters @ U.) and reviewed philosophers relevant for grad psych history courses around 30 years ago. Still, she does a masterful job of destroying what is present there and supplanting her own *idees fixees*.
I once heard a woo-meister discuss Descartes: he cautiously pronounced every single consonant in the name.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

I am thinking of getting an "Allopath And Proud" t-shirt.

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

I am curious about the relationship between chiropractic and evangelical Christianity. One of the big practice-building outfits, Maximized Living, talks about "God's doing healing" or some such.

"Alternative medicine as religion," huh?

At this rate, you'll be joining me - in calling it a cult - in about, oh, another four years.

Happy hunting, Doc,...

By The Crack Emcee (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

I wouldn't be surprised if a larger number of chiropractors are evangelical Christians, but... wouldn't be surprised if there are still a large number of Christian doctors. Not sure if the numbers reflect anything special or not, Liz.

If I were to allow my husband to lay hands on me tonight and pray, I might become his "miracle" tomorrow (and one of many "miracle" within his type of church). While we were on vacation my hand was injured badly. Right now it is black, blue and purple and when I make a fist with it (or mostly a fist), a part pops up in the middle.

Most of the family is sure it is broken. It could be, or the tendons and other tissues could just be really badly swollen from the impact of the injury.

I'm sure, though, if he laid hands on it before x-rays and it came back as not broken he would have healed it with his prayer....

There's a woman who assures us she had bone cancer and cured herself with prayer. Talked about a weekend of terrible bone pain, being sure it was cancer, calling the elders to pray and anoint her without telling them why (and no mention of a doctor, biopsies, etc., anywhere) and feeling remarkably better 24 hours later.

For some reason, I think she had a really bad onset of flu or some other infection that ran its course...

Daniel Chapter One kept coming to mind as I read this. They are all about "God's natural healing only." I really don't think that God created supplements and concentrations - what's so different about their approach versus scientically proven prescriptions?

Oh. Wait. One of them has evidence that it might work, documented side effects so you can know if the drug (even if it is not a pharmaceutical, I would argue any supplement taken to treat disease, etc., is still a drug in that understanding of the term) has caused them, etc...

THS: "I must have said “whatever” once too often as I was suddenly being lectured about how horribly rude I was re my “whatever”."

I leaned a wonderful response for people on a rant from Douglas Adams, in the Dirk Gently series. "Oh ah." Completely noncommittal, means nothing whatsoever, and to me, it sounds entirely inoffensive. Of course, some people can take offense at anything.

On quack cancer cures, and "alternative medicine" as religion...

By Xeni Jardin at 8:48 am Wednesday, Aug 15 I loved Science Blogs contributor Orac before I was diagnosed with cancer. I love him a whole lot more now. I'll get to why in a moment, but I want to share something personal first (cracks knuckles). Well-m...

So, I've had this vague notion rumbling around in the back of my brain, but I'm not knowledgeable enough on a number of topics to do it justice. Maybe someone here knows enough to correct me, or might know more about the surrounding ideas.

I've observed this concept of "suffering is spiritual" in many different settings throughout my life. I've wondered if it's one of those things that's buried deep in the American psyche, or if it's international too. I've seen it lived out in families of different religious beliefs and across class and wealth. I was taught this idea as a child even though my family's religion overtly wrote that moderation, not suffering, was important. It seems like it permeates. I don't know if that's really true, or if it's just been something I encounter a lot. But if it really is an unconscious idea that our culture? many cultures? tend to imbue, it explains a lot.

Suffering is spiritual. Depriving someone of suffering they *should* be going through is heretical; it robs them of an opportunity to be more spiritual. Get a shot to prevent chicken pox? Irreligious! No matter the religion. A little suffering won't hurt a child, it'll be good for their soul.

Take pain medications, depression medications? No, no, that's wrong; if you have pain or depression, obviously you're meant to be suffering, and taking that away would be bad for your soul.

Or your aura, or your chakra, or your feng shui, however your flavor of woo interprets spirituality. However it is, using known effective medications to reduce suffering is human and faulty and offensive to the spirit.

But maybe something that is also spiritual, natural, isn't quite so wrong... Man-made solutions to suffering are ultimate blasphemy, but something that God/Gaiea/Nature/The World Tree/The Vibrations/The Aliens put on the planet--in something close to its original form--might, maybe, help alleviate the suffering. But without depriving the soul of its cleansing ritual of suffering that, if you're experiencing it, you obviously deserve.

And if you *believe* and have *faith* then you're countering that reduced suffering by making the effort to be more spiritual, so it's okay. Reduced suffering is allowable if you don't need the whole experience of the suffering to improve your spirituality. Just some of it.

So you can project that, without the alleviations and the faith, your suffering would have been enormously worse; you were just increasing your own spirituality so much, you reduced the amount of suffering that would be imposed on you. (It would have been SO much worse! How do you know? Well, now you're SO much more spiritual! And look, you've reinforced your own belief in the concept, too, by increasing your spirituality in order to relieve you of suffering that your spirituality insisted you experience.)

I don't know. I don't know enough about too many of the involved topics. Am I totally off base, here?

Oh-so-pious hasn't-even-read-her-damn-Bible religionist plus born-again alt-med "sensibilities" = perfect storm of ignorance, active opposition to knowledge and potential child endangerment. What's she gonna do next time junior skins their knee, or has a car accident or contracts an STD? Holy water, homilies, holistics, homeopathy?

There's just so damn much wrong with this woman's ravings that I'd barely know where to start - or when to stop.

By Mandrellian (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

@ G

I leaned a wonderful response for people on a rant from Douglas Adams, in the Dirk Gently series. “Oh ah.” Completely noncommittal, means nothing whatsoever, and to me, it sounds entirely inoffensive. Of course, some people can take offense at anything.

I seem to recall that Issac Asimov preferred "There may be something in what you say."

By machintelligence (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

Dear Sir,

You may be right.

Arthur C. Clarke

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 15 Aug 2012 #permalink

I’ve observed this concept of “suffering is spiritual” in many different settings throughout my life. I’ve wondered if it’s one of those things that’s buried deep in the American psyche, or if it’s international too.

Theravada would have a whole lot of pointless robes and bowls and so forth on its hands without an implacable nemesis.

@G - well, I remember a sermon several weeks ago (Catholic church, to be more precise), where the priest said openly that there is nothing good in suffering as such. No heavenly glory and so on. So if you suffer, you should first of all look for help.

@Dangerous Bacon - the "can't make money from god-made/natural medicine" thing gets me too. These people are perfectly aware there's lots of people making a living selling natural stuff - from rocks to blueberries to, yes, herbal medicines - yet are somehow able to simultaneously think there's no money to be made in herbal medicine. If the mark of a first-rate mind is to hold two mutually contradictory ideas in one's mind and continuing to function, these people are geniuses.

On another front, I don't know if we should necessarily believe B.K. about her previous attitude to conventional medicine being quite so religious. I mean, I very much doubt she used to be a paragon of rationality, but converts have powerful incentives to misrepresent their previous position in ways flattering to or supportive of their new convictions.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

Just recently I read an article about "grit", or the ability to persevere despite failure, which is apparently an important quality in successful people. It's not quite the same as the "suffering is character building" G refers to, but it's not far off. I found it interesting and thought-provoking, though I wonder how much of it is the perennial idea that young people today have it easy..

By Krebiozen (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

@ Krebiozen:

A few cognitively oriented psychologits speak about 'resilience' including how to train people in developing it. ( esp Seligman)
(-btw- just ran across something about genetic differences in those who suffer PTSD vs those who emerge after catastrophe relatively unscathed).

@ G:

As an atheist, I have problems understanding some of these concepts ( you may be on the right track with the 'spirituality' issue/ putting aside things of this world)
but here's another facet: if we look at it in terms of some sort of universal balance sheet: those who suffer are racking up a whole lot of points. People have sympathy for them so why shouldn't the deity? Thus, their reward will be greater - either here or in heaven.

Woo-folk seem to glorify persecution for their ideas- which may be similar, "Some day you'll see!" I keep hearing that.
There are common themes in literature of reward after suffering.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

correctio: psychologists.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

Might a psychologit by any chance be an unpleasant psychologist?

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

@ Andreas:

Probably, but I would be thinking more along the lines of energy therapists, past- life regression specialists, John Mack, those who hold to AJW's hypothesis, write @ TMR et al.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

A flood was coming and a guy hopped in his car to escape. He stopped at his neighbor's house and yelled for him to hop in. The neighbor declined and said, "I'm putting my faith in the Lord." So they guy drove away.

The waters started to rise until the guy was on the second floor of his house. Another neighbor came by and yelled yelled at him to get in. "No thanks. I'm putting my faith in the Lord." So they drove off.

Now the waters have really risen and he's on the roof of his house. A police helicopter flies by and lowers a rope ladder. "No thanks. I'm putting my faith in the Lord, " the guy yells.

The waters rise even higher and he drowns. He standing in front of God and asks, "Oh Lord. I believed in you. Why didn't you save me?"

To which God replies, "I sent a car, motor boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?"

By Bernie Mooney (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

A few cognitively oriented psychologits speak about ‘resilience’ including how to train people in developing it. ( esp Seligman)

It seems to be the in-topic in pop psychology at the moment. Including Seligman's book... I took a look at it and had a disappoint. What happened to the Seligman of 'Learned Helplessness'?

When the late lamented Jack Block started talking about 'Resilience' forty-odd years ago, he had a specific, rigorous concept in mind, not just a vague hand-wavey sense of 'something desirable'.

Excuse me, the kids are on my lawn again.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

@ herr doktor bimler:

I first heard of it a long time ago but understand that it's being sold again as a 'quick and easy therapy'** or suchlike.

I wonder what the social cognition folk have to say? I'm not so involved in that area these days..

** I know a lot of those.. don't we all?

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

Excuse me, the kids are on my lawn again.

What lawn? That bit of moss out the front doesn't count :-)

Let me ask you a question. If we are truly created in God’s own image, do you not believe that we are given the immune system that God wants us to have? Do you not believe that He perfectly planned the human immune system? Or do you think that God was “holding back” on us?

In that case, god needs to explain why my grandparents passed down the propensity for heart disease. Or why one of my distant cousins had trouble conceiving at all and had several stillborn children. Or why some have celiac's. God must be an awfully sick being. (Hey, these are 'temporary' conditions aren't they? No... and yet they all happened before most of the vaccines were introduced)

Wait, no, that's not the answer.... quite clearly these family members didn't believe enough. They're all ten times more religious than I am. Wrong religion I suppose. Apparently those not of the right religion are in satan's image?

@Mrs Woo

Hope your hand gets better soon!

@G, August 15, 11:27 pm

It could be the "shut up about your pain/whatever, I've had a shit life too and you don't hear me complaining" bit. Or the "just get on with it, I did" attitude. I've gotten both. From these people, as far as they're concerned, it's usually ignorance about the actual suffering/pain involved, a disbelief that anything is wrong, or the unwillingness/selfishness to help because that would require effort/less attention themselves.

I also suspect that most of the "suffering is ok" crowd are middle class.

@Andreas Johansson and Dangerous Bacon

It could be what they mean is "can't make a PROFIT" from alt med. We all know that's wrong, but they could just assume the profit margins are so small that providers make no income.

Found your blog via Xeni VIA Boing Boing. Great stuff and I appreciate your efforts.

As a "spiritual agnostic" and barely practicing herbalist would say that never underestimate good nutrition, profit motives in too much of the medical community and especially the healing power of the mind (whatever that is).

Is there any doubt that good nutrition and lifestyle are the best defenses against disease? Not cure-alls but safer and often more effective than many, maybe most, modern medicines.

Along with all the wonderful advancements in medicine there have been uncounted atrocities, thalidomide, etc. Bad science?

The pharmaceutical industry reaps obscene profits but diligently fights against legalizing cannabis, a relatively benign herb that at this point, and for thousands of years, has been proven to relieve certain and specific symptoms more effectively than any current pharmaceuticals.

Again, not a cure-all and maybe not a cure anything but simply shows how far some corporations will go to protect their wallets.

Two small examples, small except for those who struggled and and still do with illness.

As far as "faith" goes, how about the placebo effect? Amazing, strange thing and guaranteed there are uncounted people who live to healthy, ripe old ages who would swear they were "cured", at some point in their lives of some dire ailment by a priestess, medicine (wo)man, shaman or whatever.

Personally, I was "cured" of severe tinnitus/vertigo through acupuncture when doctors, after thousands of dollars in tests, could only confirm the symptoms but offered no relief. Untested, pseudo science? I only know what worked for about $200..

I also think that we are very close, through modern medicine, of "true healing" but only when obscene profits are left out of the picture (in the US, here) and all methodologies are considered and honestly researched.

Orc, thank you for your endeavors and if I may, blessings to you Xeni 8 )

"Just recently I read an article about “grit”,"

Somewhere, there's a joke about the back of an Archie comic book here, but I can't quitE find it

By Marry Me, Mindy (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

@flip - thank you! The doctor didn't see a break, but is having radiologist review. It definitely is ugly and they still wanted it splinted for awhile.

@Denise - I think that in alt-med if you are not "persecuted" you aren't considered "valid" enough. They look at their "persecution" as a badge of honor, because Eevil Big Pharma would only ever suppress/repress the "Truth" (don't forget those capitals!). If they are ignored they have to at least espouse and encourage typical woo that is declared quackery by the mainstream because otherwise those who love alternative medicine might suspect they approve of scientific (therefore soulless) treatments and medicine.

The really sad part is this is coming from someone who calls themselves a person of faith (which I cringed about when people seemed to prefer religious people to faithful people). I call myself a person of faith because much of the dogma and structure of religion is all about what is comfortable for the practitioner and has little to actually do with the faith journey itself. I refuse to be lumped in with various groups that I don't completely agree with - it just bothers me. I can't tell if I find it insulting (in some cases I might) or if I worry that it allows people to prejudge my own choices if they get to put me in a box first.

I know I do not follow Mr Woo's religion (and strangely, like some others, it actually does have instructions for medical treatment - often followers forget that the instructions were written in the 1800s when doctors didn't do much differently than alternative practitioners of today, and that perhaps the instructions might be different if written today).

Mr Woo's religion (and no, it is not 7th Day Adventist, scientology, or a few others that are pretty insistent on exactly how religion and medicine mix) definitely creates an affinity for woo. I should take a picture of its bookshelf for its lending library one day and find a way to share it here. ~shakes head~

Kind of sad, in a way.

* Department of content evaluation *

I hereby certify post by Mr Ed S, Ohio, to be 100% content-free.

No, really, you don't have more platitudes to say?

By Heliantus (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

@Ed S

(And said to everyone in general though I'm preaching to the choir... lurkers take note)

Why do people come here without bothering to read other posts or the comments, and assume that all of your points haven't been dealt with ad naseum?

* Common sense lifestyle advice, check
* Medicine isn't all it's cracked up to be, check
* Vague handwaving allowing yourself an out when things you recommend don't work, check
* Mention of prescribed medicines that turned out to be recalled, check
* Big Pharma/profit gambit, check
* Mention of placebo effect/power of mind, check
* Personal anecdote, check
* Lack of links to actual data, check

I call B I N G O.

What do I win?

(Seriously, even a browse of the comments *on this post alone* would have turned up rebuttals to each of those points)

@Mrs Woo

Glad to hear there's no break, but still... ouch! Have a virtual cookie from me :)

More on topic and in conversation with Denice: Interestingly the more religious members of my family avoid most woo, and the most woo-ish member is non-religious. ... I didn't think much about this until just now. Makes me wonder if they're the statistical anomaly when it comes to religion and woo going hand-in-hand.

@ flip - thank you! I'm just so glad that Mr Woo didn't get to lay hands and pray on it since it happened. That being said, he will still can assure me he prayed about it and it was miraculously healed (wouldn't be surprised if he did pray; I did, though it was mostly grateful it was me and not one of the kids and that it wasn't so bad that it required an ER visit (most breaks can wait a day or so if you can endure them - last broken hand waited five days before treatment) - I was happy it didn't ruin our vacation!).

I think the loss of my DSLR is actually a lot more upsetting. I'm pretty sure that getting kicked overboard and landing in 8 inches of water was just more than it could bear...

Kind of fascinating the way woo and religion can go hand-in-hand. Depending on the group the worse it gets. I was just going to argue that many of the religions that encourage natural healing also started their movements at a time when doctoring wasn't the best (i.e., the various branches of Mormonism got their start before the Civil War - there weren't antibiotics, etc., available at the time, which then makes the instructions of the "Word of Wisdom" not so terrible as they seem when chosen today while avoiding modern medicine), but then realized a few of them probably started much later. Is part of woo and religion a general refusal to "let go and change," or, as some seem to speculate, a personality or education level that allows them to be more of a "true believer?"

Perhaps, like all things, it is a mix of variables, not just one thing. I admit to believing in some things, but hate it when I see others whose belief conflicts with reasonable behavior (i.e., vaccination, seeking medical treatment from qualified professionals as necessary, etc.).

Regarding the whole "perfect design" business, I have one thing to say:

We eat and breathe through the same passageway.

That is a pants-on-head idiotic "design". Not even getting into the inside-out retina, nerve signals traveling 6 feet to a destination 6 inches away, autoimmune disorders, wisdom teeth, etc etc etc. Worst engineer ever.

By ThickSantorum (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

Well, Catholic church at least is against most of woo - it treats things like energy healing, acupuncture, reiki etc. almost as satan's work. And you don't get much faith healing in a traditional Catholic community - you can of course pray for somebody's health and well-being or have a mass to this intention, but all those faith healing shows appear very rarely, mostly in fringe pentecostal communities, which are often frowned upon by hierarchy.

So Catholic attitude is rather like this - you are suffering from a serious illness, you go to church to pray and then you go to hospital and have a surgery (for example).

Regarding the whole “perfect design” business

As the old joke has it, "Who but a civil engineer would run a waste pipeline through the middle of a recreation area?"

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 16 Aug 2012 #permalink

@Mrs Woo

I think it actually depends on the religion. Judaism for instance seems to me to be less represented in the 'woo' side of things, as compared to the number of Christians who are into it. New agers are more represented compared to Buddhists... (Although on the latter, I'm not so sure...)

I think it's less about letting go and more about holding on - to perfection.

Having dealt with a chronic illness myself these last few years I can also understand being so desperate as to believe anything. I thank people like Orac who gave me the tools - critical thinking - to see past the possible "cures" and frustration of not having one. I can only imagine the number of things I would have tried without the understanding of so many woo-based claims.

Scary thought in line with some of the other comments:
What if we do have the immune system God wants us to have?
So all those people with selective immunoglobulin deficiencies, Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (think "bubble boy"), leukemia (basically runaway production of immature white cells), tonsillitis (enlargement of lymphoid tissue in the pharynx), multiple myeloma (plasma cell cancer), allergies, and all those other immune system diseases, have what God intended for them to have, and all of immunology can be thrown away for attempting to thwart God's will. That ought to save a lot of Medicare dollars.

By Old Rockin' Dave (not verified) on 17 Aug 2012 #permalink

@Alia: Perhaps the Catholic sermon outright said that you should seek help for suffering--but does the Catholic church not still have its members come confess and do penance for sinning? There is a direct example of "suffering [however mild] makes you more spiritual."

As I said, my family's religion had explicit teachings against allowing suffering as well, and yet my parents managed to give me the idea that God wants us to suffer in order to cleanse our souls. Even though the religion they professed to--attended regular local study meetings, attended conferences just to become better spiritually--said that people do not need to suffer.

@flip: I said above, and I'll restate it: I've seen people of wildly varying backgrounds who seemed to have this idea, from millionaire to dirt poor, from New Age to Baptist. I'll confess that I personally know more people living in middle class and below poverty level than millionaires, but the millionaires I did know were some of the most fervent about making sure they were suffering enough to be spiritually good.

But I think you misunderstood what I was saying. I wasn't suggesting that people think it's all right for others to suffer because they must deserve it (although I've seen that too). I was talking about the idea many people seem to have that they, personally, need to suffer in order to become more spiritual. This isn't callousness towards others, it's--yeah, a persecution complex. The [spiritual entity in which you believe] won't feel you're holy enough unless you have suffered enough.

@Denice Walter: " There are common themes in literature of reward after suffering."

You are absolutely right, and I wasn't even thinking of that path of unconscious absorption of ideas. I was thinking of perhaps learning it from parents, who learned it from their parents, ad infinitum, no matter what their religion *technically* says. Oh, wow, indeed, there are all kinds of media portrayals of going through something unpleasant before then getting the reward you deserve.

New agers are more represented compared to Buddhists… (Although on the latter, I’m not so sure…)

Many New Age types will hold themselves out as "Buddhists" but then promptly give themselves away by dropping terms such as "the divine." (I once had a coworker who would casually assert that she was a "vegetarian" despite having already being informed that chicken isn't a vegetable.)

@ G:

People seem to want the world to make sense and be just: which isn't how the world IS but how our minds work- just like when you seem an incomplete circle, your mind will "fill in the blanks" and have it register as a circle.

These leanings may have something to do with how we envision future events and plan out how we'll go about changing things and making things actually more fair in reality. Oddly, people may attribute *justice* to supernatural beings, not themselves.

On literature:
one of the reasons I enjoy Thomas Hardy: life isn't fair most of the time and he illustrates improbably bad turns of coincidentically miserable fortune in intriguing ways. However, usually EVERYONE doesn't die, just one or two.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 17 Aug 2012 #permalink

@G - well, the idea of confession and penance in the modern (that is, post-Vaticanum II) Catholic church has nothing to do with suffering. It is rather to compensate the one that you wronged, be it a person or God. I do not want to go into theological details but I grew up in this modern Catholic church and not for once did I perceive penance as suffering. And confession can be a good time to talk to someone about your problems and doubts. I've even known one guy who was told by a priest that his problems are not of religious nature but rather psychological and he should see a therapist.


Yes, sorry I misunderstood.

Not knowing any millionaires myself, I can't speak to what they think about suffering...


Part of my confusion is that I'm guessing most New Agers would align themselves with Buddhism, without necessarily knowing any of the tenets outside of a basic "it's got to do with karma" thing. I'm guessing there is some blurring of people who would call themselves New Age and/or Buddhist.

"Is there any doubt that good nutrition and lifestyle are the best defenses against disease?"

Tell that to the families of Jim Fixx and Adele Davis.

When you get this many people upset you might think that you're onto something. Have you considered that many folks on both sides of the argument do so through faith in the unseen and misunderstood? Interestingly I've found that the word Pharmacy comes from a root word with the historical meaning of witch doctor medicine. My point is we are likely to solve the problem of UFOs before we can get to a certainty on this issue.

I have just come across this blog, which I think will become a favourite resource. Thank you for describing so articulately a perspective I have come to also - that alternative medicine is a religion, or at least a grand narrative. You have to understand that to then realise how difficult it is to get people out of that mentality - it's almost like getting someone out of a cult!

By Doc Insanity (not verified) on 19 Aug 2012 #permalink

flip - love the checklist! it's remarkable how many testimonies conform to that! I spent a little while on the curezone site once in a vain attempt to educate some of them about basic chemistry and how fat plus sodium hydroxide makes soap and what real gallstones look like, and they're certainly immune to logic.

By Doc Insanity (not verified) on 20 Aug 2012 #permalink

I absolutely agree with Aland. I learned something last week that drugs were used to cause people to have hallucinations which in itself causes people to see the spirit world. This is also a form of a religion. Alternative medicine is not a religion, but a way of life to take care of our bodies as God created them to be with our immune systems. I know many people who only use natural medicine, and they are far better off than those who use drugs, vaccines and all that garbage. I myself do not use the medical garbage, and I am 10 times healthier than most people I know. I do not even get sick. In fact, I have not even gotten sick in probably at least 3 or more years, and never take the flu shots. So, my question if the vaccines are so safe and wonderful, why are people always sick all the time? Because they have never built up their immune systems up as God intended us to do in the first place. Alternative medicine is the way you treat it, and is NOT religion as thought by those in the medical field.

By Supermonkey (not verified) on 20 Aug 2012 #permalink

@Doc Insanity

Thanks - you can find a lot of skeptical bingo cards out there you can print out and use for yourself. They will list the most common anti-science canards. Don't have any links to hand at the moment, but I'm sure a quick google will turn up a few.

Sometimes all you can do is point to a bingo list and eat some popcorn...

Alternative medicine is not a religion, but a way of life to take care of our bodies as God created them to be with our immune systems.

A statement that is entirely faith-based and spiritual, with no relationship to facts. Thanks for proving the point.

I myself do not use the medical garbage, and I am 10 times healthier than most people I know. I do not even get sick.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc, anyone?

So, my question if the vaccines are so safe and wonderful, why are people always sick all the time?

Because not everything can be vaccinated against, and even for those diseases with vaccines, they are not 100% effective.

Alternative medicine is the way you treat it, and is NOT religion as thought by those in the medical field.

Alternative medicine is generally treated by its proponents including you as a religion. It is also a fraud.

flip and Doc,

Not Bingo cards, but I found this last week and it is very funny. A chart entitled The Red Flags of Quackery:

By Marc Stephens … (not verified) on 20 Aug 2012 #permalink

Thanks MSII. I thought I'd seen that one, but it's not in my bookmarks...

However, there's another one:
Comes with a free poster!

I myself do not use the medical garbage, and I am 10 times healthier than most people I know. I do not even get sick.

How do you know it's your altie ways, and not something else? From where I'm standing, there's plenty of alternative explanations for an altie to be in good health, like genetics, following a diet that's close to what science-based medicine recommends, age difference, wealth, and so on.

I went through a phase were I never got sick and attributed it to the vitamins I was taking. Then I found out that most people around my age at the time tend to have fewer illnesses in general: Still young, but old enough to have an "experienced" immune system.

You're just one anecdote, and many of us have also seen the opposite: anecdotes of alties in bad health. Without big picture context or controls, you can't make conclusions from dueling anecdotes. Anecdotes embrace and enshrine bias. That's why we need statistics, controls, and so on, to eliminate bias.

As for the people you know, did you ever consider that you might be subjected to sampling bias, confirmation bias, or simple ignorance of what they take? Not everyone advertises their medication. It could be socio-economic background, or regional. For example, I live in Texas, where fried meat tends to be cheap and popular, so I would expect someone who can afford a healthy diet to be thinner than the local average.

So, my question if the vaccines are so safe and wonderful, why are people always sick all the time?

You need to take a good, long look at history, and not the whitewashed Hollywood version. We're generally living long enough to die of things like cancer and heart disease instead of dying from measles and polio as children. We've also got worldwide communications so that it's easier to find knowledge about disease, even when it's rare. Media coverage is not necessarily indicative of commonality.

Vaccines have become a victim of their own success because people have started assuming that health is the natural order and that disease is unnatural because it's that much rarer. Used to, it was taken for granted that people would lose a number of childhood friends to illness. There were also a lot more schools for the deaf and blind because of the morbidity of those now-preventable diseases, as well as institutions for the brain damaged, where children could be quietly put away and not brought up in polite conversation. They didn't have the internet back then, so the average person generally didn't have such easy access to stories about illnesses.

Vaccines aren't perfect, but from what I've seen, they're much, much better than doing nothing, and I don't see alties proposing anything remotely comparable.

By Bronze Dog (not verified) on 20 Aug 2012 #permalink

Why are people buying into Supermonkey's mendacious framing even as they argue against it?

So, my question if the vaccines are so safe and wonderful, why are people always sick all the time?

Who are these "people", Supermonkey? Apart from a rare few people born with serious autoimmune disorders, no one is always sick all the time, and IMO it's the height of arrogant ignorance to presume so.

By Composer99 (not verified) on 20 Aug 2012 #permalink

In the first place, Composer is right. This is a damn silly statement

"So, my question if the vaccines are so safe and wonderful, why are people always sick all the time? Because they have never built up their immune systems up as God intended us to do in the first place."

Ask anyone who was a teacher or a school nurse prior to the development of vaccines for measles, mumps and chickenpox about the staggering difference in school absenteeism before/after.

I was never vaccinated (nor were my six brothers and sisters) because we were born too soon. And every one of us got chickenpox, measles and mumps as youngsters. Those of my siblings who have children, got them all vaccinated. I can't think of a single one of my (32 at last count) nieces and nephews that have come down with any of these three.

Is God trying to prove something about my/our naturally-functioning immune systems as opposed to the next generation's vaccine-assisted immune systems, and if so, what?

Naturopathic medicine: From the margins to the mainstream...

If you had asked me at the beginning of my career about alternative medical techniques, like Chinese, naturopathic or Ayurvedic medicine, I would have told you it was fringe stuff. I would have stated it didn’t belong in the tool chest of conventiona.....

Humans are intrinsically healthy and tend to remain so if they are given nutritious, non-GMO foods, fresh air, and clean water. We have been blessed with God-given protective barriers against infectious diseases, including our skin and immune system.

Knowing that these facts are true for all members of the human species, how did we come to embrace the idea that injecting solutions of chemically-treated, inactivated viruses, parts of bacteria, traces of animal tissue and heavy metals, such as mercury and aluminum, was a reasonable strategy for keeping human beings—babies, children and adults—healthy?

If a “dirty bomb” exposed a large segment of US citizens simultaneously to Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, tetanus, pertussis, diphtheria, Haemophilus influenza B, three strains of polio viruses, 3 strains of influenza viruses, measles, mumps, and rubella viruses, the chickenpox virus, and 7 strains of Streptococcus bacteria, we would declare a national emergency. We would call it an “extreme act of BIOTERRORISM”. The public outcry would be immense and our government would act accordingly.

And yet, those are the very organisms that we inject through vaccines into our babies and our small children, with immature, underdeveloped immune systems. Many are given all at the same time. But instead of bioterrorism, we call it “protection.” Reflect a moment on that irony.

By Dr. Tenpenny (not verified) on 25 Oct 2012 #permalink

@Dr Tenpenny

Try reading the rest of this site. Your concerns have been covered (millions of times) in both the comments and the blog posts themselves.

What are you a doctor of? It seems you have very little understanding of what vaccines do and how they work, which is somewhat worrying if you're a medico.

By the way, copying and pasting a blurb from your website that promotes books is not exactly a convincing rebuttal - it's just an obvious ploy to spam lurkers and fence-sitters.

Dr Tenpenny animates the thread and sends it lurching on its way in search of living flesh.

Thanks, Dr Tenpenny, much appreciated.

By Composer99 (not verified) on 26 Oct 2012 #permalink

Thanks for that link Chris. There's so much history to these topics it's helpful when old threads are posted. Did not realise Tenpenny was one of *those* anti-vaxxers.

According to Dr. Tenpenny's logic, offering someone a glass of water is an act of assault, because the ingredient in that glass of water is the same as in the spray from a high-pressure fire hose.

Well, Dr. Tenpenny? Do you dispute that? If you try to claim that the difference in amount and delivery system between the water glass and the fire hose make a difference between "friendly gesture" and "violent assault", then you have to explain why you didn't make that distinction between the organisms in a dirty bomb and those in a vaccine.

By Antaeus Feldspar (not verified) on 26 Oct 2012 #permalink