Religion versus alternative medicine

Many have been the times that I’ve pointed out that many forms of “alternative” medicine are in reality based far more on mystical, religious, or “spiritual” beliefs than on any science. Indeed, one amusing event that provided me the opening to launch into one of my characteristic (and fun) Orac-ian outbursts occurred a couple of years ago, when the U.S. Catholic bishops declared that reiki is not compatible with Catholic teachings and shouldn’t be offered in Catholic hospitals. Then, earlier this year, the fundamentalists weighed in, when a preacher from the Poconos named Kevin Garman declared reiki to be a “sin.” Of course, from their respective religious viewpoints, both the U.S. bishops and Garman were correct in a way. Reiki is, after all, faith healing. The difference between reiki and Christian faith healing is that reiki masters don’t invoke God as the power that heals; rather, they invoke something called the “universal source,” which actually sounds a lot like God.

Now the Jews have joined in, except that they don’t limit their dislike of alternative medicine to just reiki. A group of Jewish rabbis have just declared alternative medicine to be based on idolatry:

Senior Religious Zionism rabbis have stated that some alternative medicine methods are “based on idolatry”.

The religious leaders are calling on the public not to turn to holistic therapy or seek studies in that field without thoroughly examining the nature of the treatments through a person with knowledge in Halacha and medicine.

The rabbis continue:

“Without taking a stand on the efficiency of the various types of these treatments, we thought it right to warn that some of them involve elements studied in different idolatrous sects. Therefore, each method must be examined individually by a person proficient in the medical field and halachic field.”

The letter was signed by six senior rabbis from the Religious Zionism movement: Haim Drukman, Dov Lior, Yaakov Ariel, Elyakim Levanon, Shmuel Eliyahu and Yehoshua Shapira.

The rabbis conclude their letter by calling on those studying alternative medicine to do so “only in an educational framework supervised by scholars examining the material studied.”

It amuses me that the rabbis don’t take a stand on the efficacy of the various types of alternative medical treatments. It would appear that they care far less about whether these treatments actually work than they do about their perception that they are blasphemous and based on idolatrous beliefs. I also find it rather odd that the rabbis would care far more about Jewish law (Halacha) than they do about whether these therapies actually work.

In contrast, I care far more about whether these therapies actually work or not and what the evidence is supporting them (which is usually little or none) than I do about the religious underpinnings of much of alternative medicine. That’s why I do what I do: Analyze various forms of alternative medicine from a science-based perspective. In contrast, the U.S. bishops, our fundamentalist preacher, and these rabbis care far more about the fact that many alternative medicine therapies are based on religious or mystical ideas that conflict with their religion than they do about the evidence supporting or refuting their efficacy.