Religion Is Born Again by Jack Raso (March 1997)

An ill-defined, ragtag, quasi-religious movement is displacing, and in some cases supplementing, organized religion. It goes by more than two dozen names. It is the new opiate of the people, a darling of the media, and the flagship of a variegated antiscience megamovement I call “alternativism.” In recent years, the movement has made incursions into the medical “heartland,” gaining a foothold at Columbia University and at the National Institutes of Health.

Apparently, very few people recognize both the religious core of this usurper and the insidiousness of this core. Disseminators of evangelicalism see the surrogate’s true colors and treat it as a corrosive upstart, an oriental perversion of religion. Combaters against health fraud, who typically refrain from stepping on the toes of religionists, also recognize this movement’s religious nature, but most antiquackery activists seldom address it. Reasons for giving it short shrift include: (a) personal religious belief or affiliation, (b) vested interest, and (c) unwillingness to risk alienating consumers and/or current and potential antiquackery allies.

The movement in question is alternative healthcare. It is the ascendant division of a triad — medical alternativism — that includes occult medicine and sectarian religious “healing.” Are acupuncture, chelation therapy, colonic irrigation, megavitamin therapy, ozone therapy, and shark cartilage therapy religious? Not exactly. But all of these methods except acupuncture represent alternative medicine’s naturalistic minority. By “naturalistic,” I mean: consistent with the perspective that positing supernatural or paranormal influences — such as God, spirits, or detachable minds — does not serve any explanatory purpose. The vast majority of the freestanding methods, multimethod systems, component methods, and general “approaches” that alternative healthcare comprises are mystical or supernaturalistic — in a word, unnaturalistic. Broadly, mysticism is belief in realities accessible only through subjective experience. Supernaturalism is belief in forces or quasi-entities that are outside, yet affect, the universe. Unnaturalistic methods, therefore, are out of joint with the worldview that nature as science maps it is all there is.

Medical unnaturalism is rampant. The second edition of my Dictionary of Metaphysical Healthcare (Georgia Council Against Health Fraud, 1997), describes more than 1,100 health-related methods that (a) are unnaturalistic and (b) have been a subject of uncritical public discourse in English since the late 1950s. They range from abhyanga (an Ayurvedic “rejuvenating cure”) to Zulu Sangoma bones (an African “divination method”) and include: acupoint bloodletting, African holistic health, angelic healing, Atlantean Healing Ray Training, the Belly Bean diet, Christian hypnotherapy, DeHypnotherapy, future-life progression, hand psychology, Healtheology, Hug Therapy, Keep Your Wife Happy Qigong, The Method For Developing Supernormal Powers, Multi-Orgasmic Couple, psychic dentistry, Reimprinting with Divine Intervention, soul amplification, spirit surgery, theotherapy, Toad fighting, urine therapy, and Weight No More.

Most of the methods I have unearthed are vitalistic. Vitalism, the supreme sticking point between science-oriented healthcare and alternative healthcare, holds that an invisible, intangible, unique form of energy (which has about forty generic names) is responsible for all the activities of a living organism. Vitalism has both mystical and supernaturalistic forms, some of which are pseudoscientific. For example, as chi (a concept central to nearly all forms of acupuncture), the “vital force” seems mystical; as the soul, it appears supernaturalistic; and as orgone, both mystical and pseudoscientific. In the world of medical alternativism, “strong holism” and theism are the handmaidens of vitalism. Strong holism maintains that the universe is uninterrupted in substance, an unbroken whole, and that all things have instantaneous interconnections. It is an aspect of supernaturalistic pantheism (or Spinozism), which holds that nature is divine. Broadly, theism is belief in God, a god, or gods. The “God” of medical alternativism is even less describable than that of Judaism or Christianity.

The lure of mysticism lies in the desire to validate subjective experience. The appeal of vitalism lies in its compatibility with humankind’s longing for immortality. The appeal of supernaturalistic pantheism lies in the yearning for connectedness and in the desire to treat traditional beliefs as “natural laws.” Theism, too, assuages solitariness. Self-confidence, supernormality, and belongingness are potent, highly salable wishes. Alternative healthcare gives answers — wrong and conflicting, but seductive — to existential questions that science-oriented healthcare generally sidesteps. If you like religion, chances are you’ll love alternative healthcare.

For me, fighting medical alternativism has not been fun, and describing alternativist methods often seems an exercise in masochism. In 1994, a cohost aborted a live radio interview concerning my second book, “Alternative” Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide (Prometheus Books, 1994), after I had explained that I was not an apologist for alternative medicine — a fact of which he apparently had been unaware.

In 1993, I submitted a collection of descriptions of more than 350 unnaturalistic health-related methods to a health fraud investigator who was a Jewish atheist. The investigator disputed, on flimsy grounds, yet rather tenaciously, the inclusion of only one of the hundreds of methods I had described: pigeon remedy, one of only three methods viewable as Jewish. (Pigeon remedy’s postulate is that jaundice is transferable from humans to pigeons.) More recently, a letter I cowrote was published in a prestigious newsletter. The letter included a two-sentence paragraph on Ayurveda, the medical phase of Hinduism. Within a month, the newsletter included a response from a “deeply offended” researcher of Indian origin, who said that my cowriter and I had insulted an ethnic group and displayed ignorance of Ayurveda. An apology from the editors followed her letter.

In the year of my aborted radio interview, I gave a presentation titled “Alternative Healthcare and Supernaturalism” at a Purdue University conference on “nutrition fraud.” For the first time, I revealed publicly that I was an atheist — by which I meant “nontheist” (the prefix “a-” means “not”). I also said, in effect, that belief in God facilitates belief in alternative healthcare. The audience appeared dumbfounded. One evaluation form respondent indicated a lack of appreciation for the setting forth of a “personal belief system.” However, religious nonbelief per se does not comprise personal beliefs. It is not the conviction that religious principles are untrue, but the state of not having any religious beliefs. It includes atheism and nonbelief in afterworlds, angels, Satan, etc. Moreover, religious nonbelief is perfectly consistent with science.

Many alternativist methods — methods within or on the periphery of alternative healthcare — are quasi, virtual, or certifiable religions. For example, Christian Science is a religion whose basic principle is: mind is the only reality; illness, pain, and death are illusory. It seems to me that most people don’t consider Christian Science a part of alternative healthcare. I know only of two proponent books on alternative healthcare that significantly cover Christian Science: the Encyclop¾dia of Natural Health and Healing (1979) and Health and Healing: Understanding Conventional and Alternative Medicine (1983). However, it is a mode of attitudinal healing, faith healing, and occult medicine — all of which, arguably, are parts of alternative healthcare. In 1994, I received a courteous letter regarding “Alternative” Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide from the manager of the Committees on Publication, The First Church of Christ, Scientist. He stated:

“[W]e appreciate being included [in your book] . . . . We do not consider healing through scientific prayer to be ‘supernatural.’ Because Christian Science is based on the Bible and the teachings of Christ Jesus, we believe that this method of ‘healthcare’ is divinely natural.”

Below, in alphabetical order, are other illustrations of religious medical alternativism. Synonyms for each method are in parentheses.

  • ACCESS (Access Energy Transformation): “Energy technique” that supposedly works with the “creative force” to free it and connect it to the “Light” (“us”). Allegedly, Novian, a “Being of Light,” channeled the method to Gary Douglas through the Russian monk Grigori Efimovich Rasputin (1872?-1916).
  • anthroposophical medicine (anthroposophically-extended medicine, anthroposophical therapeutics): Medical phase of anthroposophy, the occult philosophy of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Anthroposophists hold that the human organism consists of a physical body, a vegetal “etheric” body, an animalistic “astral” or “soul” body, and an “ego” or “spirit.” Anthroposophical “remedies” supposedly smooth the interaction of these components.
  • Christian Yoga: “Wholistic modality” promoted by the Institute of Wholistic Studies (at Our Lady of Lourdes Wellness Center), in Collingswood, NJ. Purportedly, it is a blending of body, mind, and spirit, and a process of “releasing” mental and physical limitations that hinder access to “the Divine.” Christian Yoga encompasses breathwork (a multiform “healing modality” characterized by stylized breathing), meditation, and “wholistic prayer.”
  • Clean-Me-Out Programª: Neo-Christian variation of self-healing (see below) developed principally by Richard Anderson, N.D., N.M.D. (these are naturopathic degrees). Two herbal supplements constitute its backbone: Chomper, whose eleven herbs include cascara sagrada (a laxative) and lobelia (ingestion of which is risky); and Herbal Nutrition, whose ten herbs include alfalfa, comfrey (which is poisonous), horsetail (a weak diuretic), and licorice root. Besides these and other supplements, the program involves enemas and avoiding intake of meat and dairy products. Its theory posits a “life force.” In Cleanse & Purify Thyself (1994), Anderson describes a “profound Divine experience” wherein a female “Divine Being” filled him with “information.” He states that purification is a “guaranteed entrance” into heaven and that people who are willing to purify themselves “shall have the help of God’s mightiest messengers and, if necessary, legions of angelic beings.”
  • curanderismo (curanderismo healing system): Mexican-American “healing” tradition. It encompasses acupuncture and homeopathy. Its theory posits natural and supernatural sources of illness; alleged supernatural sources include evil spirits and brujos (practitioners of antisocial magic).
  • Daniel’s Diet: Alleged medical panacea and “higher way of eating” promoted by microbiologist Robert O. Young, Ph.D., author of Colloids of Light & Life, Profiles of Microscopy, Sick & Tired, and One Sickness–One Disease–One Treatment (1995). In the latter book, Young holds that mycosis, or fungal infection, or over-acidification of the body (or blood), is the only disease. He further holds that an “inverted” way of living and eating, especially excessive consumption of sugars and animal protein, causes such over-acidification. Daniel’s Diet excludes all foods except avocados, lemons, limes, tomatoes, vegetables (e.g., buckwheat and soybeans), dark-green vegetable juice, tofu (bean curd), millet, “sprouted” or soaked seeds and nuts, oils, sea salt, herbal teas, specific dietary supplements (e.g., Pycnogenol¨), and LiquidLightning Oxygen-O3 (a “formula” purportedly beneficial for “oxygen deprivation”). The diet is the namesake of a Jewish “prophet” and fortuneteller of the sixth century b.c.e. According to the Book of Daniel, in the Old Testament, Daniel refused to consume meat and wine assigned to him by a Babylonian king, requested vegetables and water, and, after eating only vegetables for ten days, appeared healthier and stronger.
  • didgeridoo vibrational healing: Group of techniques, apparently of Australian aboriginal origin, promoted by the Emerging Light Center of Queens, in New York City. It purportedly helps to remove “blocks.” Its theory posits “spiritual centers” and a personal “spiritual being” with a reachable core. A didgeridoo (also spelled “didjeridu”) is a hornlike wind instrument, generally three feet long, of hollowed, petrified eucalyptus bark. Aborigines reportedly use it to produce a sound that effects healing on an “energetic” or spiritual level. This sound allegedly expands one’s “aura.”
  • Eastern psychology: Group of “psychological therapies” of Eastern origin, notably those psychological methods that are parts of Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Tibetan medicine. According to Tibetan medicine’s theory, for example, karma strongly influences 101 disorders caused by afflictive emotions (e.g., desire or hatred), and another 101 disorders caused by such emotions involve spirits (harmful “unseen forces”). One of the “primary tools” of Eastern psychology is meditation.
  • Essene way of self-healing: Purported means of tapping alleged psychic and healing powers of the universe. It reportedly encompasses affirmations, visualizations, “color therapies,” and communion with the angels of the “Earthly Mother” and “Heavenly Spirit.” (The Essenes, also called “Physicians,” were a Jewish sect that preceded Christianity. Their specialty was faith healing.)
  • Healing Love (Healing Love meditation, Healing Love practices, Seminal and Ovarian Kung Fu, Taoist Sexology and Practice): A foundational component of the Healing Tao System. It is a mode of sexual intercourse that purportedly “cultivates,” conserves, and transforms “sexual energy” through the “Microcosmic Orbit,” an alleged major “energy channel.” For men, Healing Love involves the “power draw”: sex without ejaculation.
  • homeopathy (homeopathic medicine, homeotherapeutics, homoeopathy): Form of “energy medicine” (“vibrational medicine”) developed by German physician Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann (1755-1843). Hahnemann coined the word “dynamis” to refer to the “vital force.” His final theory held that the “vital force” is the source of all biological phenomena, that it becomes deranged during illness, and that appropriate homeopathic “remedies” work by restoring the “vital force.”

    The major principles of homeopathy include the following. (a) A substance with specific effects in a healthy person can cure a person with similar symptoms. (b) The process of repeated dilution and vigorous shaking of harmful substances renders them “medically active” yet “free of side effects.” (c) Each body has only one soul; thus, a person has only one core problem at a time, and only one remedy is necessary for a “curative action.” (c) Proper selection of a remedy necessitates taking into account numerous minutiae about the patient’s situation. (d) “Mind symptoms” usually are more important than physical symptoms. (e) Humans are “soul energy” vibrating in an “energy pattern” (the so-called physical body). (f) Cures involve interaction of the soul and cogitative, affective, and physical processes. Usually, “inner peace” is the first response to a remedy, “better energy” the second, and “physical” cure the last.

  • Ho’oponopono (Ho’oponopono process): Reputed all-purpose, up-to-date variation of an ancient Hawaiian “process.” Its theory posits a “Divine Creator.” Ho’oponopono purportedly: “releases” problems and “blocks” that cause “imbalance,” stress, and “dis-ease” in “the self”; brings peace and “balance” through a physical, mental, and spiritual “cleansing” that involves repentance and “transmutation”; and creates “balance,” freedom, love, peace, and wisdom within individuals, other social entities, the world, and the “Universe.”
  • Johrei: Supposedly purificatory method that defines the Johrei Fellowship, a worldwide interfaith association with a center in New York City. Reportedly, sessions take about twenty minutes, do not entail physical contact, and are always free of charge. Besides the method, the term “Johrei” denotes a paradisiacal doctrine and an alleged something that, through the focusing of “Divine Light,” naturally eases physical and mental distress. Japanese businessman Mokichi Okada founded the movement in 1935. Okada allegedly had learned “God’s Divine Plan” for the “New Age” through a series of divine revelations. Johrei’s principles include the “Law of Purification,” which holds that sickness is simply “Nature’s” way of restoring health, and the “Law of Spiritual Affinity,” which holds that innumerable “spiritual cords” dominate human existence. Another principle is that one’s health and material resources are functions of one’s “spiritual condition.”
  • Mahikari: Product of a 1959 “revelation” to Tokyo businessman Kotama Okada. Mahikari involves the use of an “Omitama,” a “divine locket” that supposedly enables one to emanate “divine true light” from the palms. According to Mahikari theory, spirits wronged by one’s ancestors or by oneself reside in one and cause more than 80 percent of human illness and unhappiness. The word mahikari means “true light” or “divine true light.”
  • Seicho-No-Ie: “Supradenominational truth movement” founded in 1930 in Japan by Dr. Masaharu Taniguchi (b. 1893), author of The Role of Mind in Cancer (1965) and The Truth of Life, a series of twenty books. Spiritual healing is a major component of Seicho-No-Ie, which combines Christianity and Buddhism. In a nutshell, the principle of Seicho-No-Ie healing is that illness does not exist in “Reality” (the “true spiritual world” at the core of the phenomenal world) and that it is a false appearance. Apparently, “Seicho-No-Ie” literally means “House of Growth.”
  • self-healing: Purported approach to health, or alleged process of attainment thereof, that typically involves using affirmations, prayer, and/or visualization techniques to tap one’s “innate healing potential” or “vital force.” Its apparent postulate is that anyone who does not have congenital or hereditary defects, has not had exposure to “damaging” radiation, has not ingested alcohol or other drugs excessively, has a “nourishing” diet, and genuinely wants to enjoy good health, can do so because each of his or her “basic systems” is perfect.
  • Weigh Down Workshop: Christian weight loss program founded by nutritionist Gwen Shamblin, who apparently ascribes it to divine inspiration. According to a 1995 edition of the television newsmagazine “A Current Affair,” Shamblin’s “gospel” is: “Eat what you want, whenever you want, and ask the lord to help you to stop when you’ve had enough, so you leave room for a hefty helping of the holy spirit.” Then, the program included audiocassettes, videos, books (e.g., Feasting on the Will of the Father), and revival-like religious rallies.

Jack Raso, a Foundation member from New York, is author of The Dictionary of Metaphysical Healthcare: Alternative Medicine, Paranormal Healing, and Related Methods (August 1996, National Council Against Health Fraud, Loma Linda, CA.)

Since 1994 he has been editor and managing editor of “Nutrition and Health Forum” newsletter, formerly “Nutrition Forum,” and a consultant to Prometheus Books. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Council Against Health Fraud and coordinator of the Task Force on Dubious Health Care. He has worked as a dietition and assistant professor. Jack Raso received his Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics with highest honors from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, in 1985 and his Master of Science in health science, Long Island University, 1987.

He was a certified Special Olympics track and field coach in 1987, and has competed in karate.

Freedom From Religion Foundation