The stoner lights his joint and sputters, “Weed cures cancer, maaaaaan.”
Pop health guru David “Avocado” Wolfe blithely describes gravity as a “toxin,” a conference room full of devotees murmuring in agreement.
Hollywood Earth Mother Gwyneth Paltrow endorses inserting jade eggs into one’s “yoni” as a health practice. (For those not in the know, “yoni” is polite hippie-speak for vagina.)
Prominent pro-choice advocates claim human life begins whenever we feel like it.
These hippies. These New-Agers. These Hollywood hypocrites. They hide their ignorance behind a brightly colored mask of pseudoscience and syncretic religion, beckoning us to follow their lead as they skip down the all-natural path that leads to destruction. They have no God, so they make a god of chakras and gemstones, of alternative medicine and “natural living” and food.
I’ll stick with my Catholic faith, thank you very much.
Go ahead, laugh. Catholics have an admittedly checkered past when it comes to science and medicine, but I’m proud to be part of the faith tradition whose adherents founded hospitals, introduced antiseptic procedures, discovered genetics, reached out to lepers, identified Down Syndrome, and pioneered pasteurization. Today, we continue our tradition by affirming the scientific truth that life begins at conception, empowering women to know the inner workings of their fertility as a means to good health and family planning, and “manag[ing] 26 percent of health care facilities in the world.”
It’s not just our faithful, but our very Faith that insists good science is a gift that comes from God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.”
The Holy Scriptures, also, in the book of Sirach (which only Catholics and Orthodox recognize as divinely inspired) testify to the greatness of the health professions:
“Honor physicians for their services, for the Lord created them; for their gift of healing comes from the Most High, and they are rewarded by the king. The skill of physicians makes them distinguished, and in the presence of the great they are admired. The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and the sensible will not despise them.” -Sirach 38:1-4
In short, we can say “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: potheads, Hollywood celebrities, pro-choicers, or even like that Mercola guy on the internet.”
Not so fast.
The gods of New Age medicine, of alternative health and pseudoscience and food are encroaching even upon the house of the Lord.
Where do they take refuge? In religious sisters who practice Reiki against the guidance of the Church. In priests who casually claim that “spirits of Freemasonry are often associated in families with respiratory illness.” In parishioners who quietly discourage the mentally ill from taking their medications, mothers’ groups where nutritional supplements are hawked as an alternative to chemotherapy, wildfire rumors which whisper soda is made with aborted baby parts and blogs that imply epidurals and formula can divide our families from Jesus.
So, can a person of faith participate in natural medicine? I sure hope so. I have four dozen essential oils sitting on my dresser. I eagerly read studies exploring plants, fungi and bacteria for the treatment of cancer. I dig Hildegard of Bingen, binge on cider vinegar, kale, and bone broth, and believe that Eastern medicine holds wisdom the West has yet to discover.
But how are we to discern whether our attachment to natural health is healthy? Are we glorifying God by our participation in alternative medicine, or are we offering sacrifice to an idol?
This short examination of conscience is a chance for reflection on the nature of God, good medicine and idolatry.
- God and good medicine tell the truth:
- Have I ever lied, bent the truth or made false claims in service of the product I sell, the supplement I use, or the health philosophy I follow? Have I falsely blamed a therapy’s failure on a patient who did not “believe” in it enough or practice it diligently enough?
- God and good medicine are reasonable and prudent:
- Have I suspended common sense or healthy skepticism to participate in a health fad? Have I disregarded, or caused others to disregard, overwhelming scientific evidence that a product or treatment is unhealthy? Do I have any third-party evidence of the truth of my positions or the efficacy of my treatments?
- God and good medicine are temperate:
- Have I advocated for a practice that involves lust, gluttony or extreme asceticism?
- God and good medicine are humble and kind:
- Does the product I sell, supplement I use, or philosophy I follow have faults? Or does it have a cure for everything? If people criticize it, how do I respond? If they reject it, how do I treat them? Do I see others’ disagreement with my health choices as a personal attack? Do I respect and acknowledge the education and experience of those outside my circle or company?
- God and good medicine do not conflate the body and the soul, the moral with the immoral, or the created with the Creator:
- Do I believe bad karma, negative energies, or personal sins are the root of all disease? Do I believe morality, worship, or positive energies can guarantee good health? Have I led anyone to believe that faith healing is the only moral or effective option for the cure or treatment of a disease? Do I deny the possibility of the miraculous? Have I suggested that a clearly immoral therapy is moral, or that a moral or neutral product breaks our relationship with Christ? How do I react if a position I believe in is condemned or forbidden by the Church?
Above all, it’s worth remembering that no medical philosophy, whether traditional or natural, Eastern or Western, has the cure for death.
Only the sacrifice of Jesus, as the Mass says, has “fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself.” Let that medicine be always on your mind, on your lips, and in your heart.