Friday, May 23, 2014

Alternative Medicine, Some Thoughts After a Book I Just Finished Reading

As I write this post, I am aware that several of my friends and probably family think I am over thinking this topic, or that I am alarmist or legalistic about it. No one’s said much to me directly, but I know there are people who this think way when I often voice the concerns I have with many practices that would fall under the umbrella of alternative medicine or exercise that are linked to New Thought/New Age/Contemplative/Mindfulness/Vital Energy types of thinking. I assure you, however, my intentions in posting and bringing it up so often are not from a legalistic mindset. I am genuinely concerned that there is a danger involved in these practices that many people who consider themselves to be theologically conservative and evangelical and biblical just do not see or have not adequately investigated. My plea is that if you are interested and involved in yoga, chiropractic, mindfulness or contemplative meditation, alternative medicine of various stripes, holistic worldview - medicine/food/etc., homeopathy, reiki, certain types of massage therapy, and anything that is presented as ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’, please at least investigate the worldview and assumptions that the practitioners are bringing with them as you participate in them. 

Just because something is said to be ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’ does NOT mean that it is not, in fact, religious. And it does not mean that it is necessarily wholesome or innocent or harmless. Just because wording is changed from ‘spiritual’ sounding or ‘religious’ sounding terms to make it seem more scientifically bent, does not necessarily mean that the practitioner isn’t influenced spiritually in a way that would and should disturb a Christian participant. As the author of the book I am going to recommend below argues, participating in alternative medicine and activities that are based on certain worldviews and assumptions can change your thinking and religious understandings and attitudes in subtle ways that you might not even recognize for a long time. I do not believe I am just being alarmist or over thinking things. Truly I’m not. 

Christianity is a thinking faith. Think with me for a moment - if a practitioner is taught to seek ‘spiritual guidance’ as they manipulate energy or prescribe activities and ‘medicines’ that IS religious. Not everything that is spiritual comes from a good source. What are you opening yourself up to? Do you know? What spirit guides is that provider contacting and bringing with them? Do you know what the terms being used in your exercise/meditation/holistic medicine, etc. program really mean? Not how you interpret their meaning through your lens, but what is actually meant? If the root is questionable or from a worldview that is not biblical, can the fruit be something you really want yourself open to? 

I know, I know, you love your chiropractor, he’s even a professing Christian. I know, I know, your yoga program is just exercise, you aren’t buying into the spiritual stuff. I know, I know, your ‘natural’ homeopathic medicine works for you. Please, at least do some homework and look into the root of these things. Please at least give this serious, considered investigation. 

I recently listened to an episode of Thinking in Public with Albert Mohler titled, “Are we all syncretists now? - A conversation about evangelical Christianity and alternative medicine with historian Candy Gunther Brown.”  Because the topic deals with something I am increasingly interested and concerned about, I got the book they discussed, The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America by Candy Gunther Brown, for my Kindle and have just finished reading it. Dr. Brown, to the best of my knowledge, is not an evangelical writing from the inside. She is a professor of religious studies writing this from the outside looking in at evangelicals, and she makes a good observation about how astonishing it is that evangelical Christians seem to unquestioningly accept alternative medicine. She also makes a good argument that providers of these forms of medical help and exercise should have an ethical obligation to be upfront with the nature of their interventions so people can make an informed decision about using them. Often providers obscure the religious nature or the worldview assumptions underlying the treatments/programs in order to make them seem more acceptable for people who might otherwise not participate. 

I found this book important, fascinating, and disturbing on some levels, and I highly recommend it to my friends who may use or are thinking about investigating alternative medicine, mindfulness meditation, contemplative spirituality, yoga, holistic medicine, homeopathy, chiropractic, and other complementary and alternative medicine/stress relief/ exercise, etc. Please at least be informed about it. 

I really do not believe I’m being alarmist or legalistic. I’m just saying do your homework and be aware that just because something is called ‘spiritual’ doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘religious,’ and the religious ideas you’re opening yourself to may not be something you want. Just because someone ‘in the know’ assures you it is compatible with Christianity is NO guarantee it is something that it is wise for a serious Christian to join with.