Expert Answer Forum
acupuncture (and New Age Medicine) QUESTION from Patrick October 28, 1999
Thank you for your forum, it has been a nice find in a night of religious web surfing.
My question is on acupuncture . Acupuncture came up as a topic with a colleague, and I thought I read in the Cathecism that it was discouraged. But for the life of me, can't find the reference. Do you know if I was correct? Or did I possibly read that elsewhere.
Basically, what is the Church's stance on acupuncture?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on November 5, 1999 Dear Dr. Patrick:
You bring up a method that is part of New Age Medicine. Some of the things in this holistic medicine realm are valid some are not. Even when there are valid aspects to the holistic medicine it is usually limited. For example, acupuncture has been clinically proven to be effective in certain pain management issues, but it is not in other areas that are sometimes claimed. But since this gets into Holistic Medicine, let me discuss this in general and in doing so I will give you an answer WAY more than your asked for :-). Many people, especially those with chronic illness have gravitated to holistic medicine. As a result sometimes this issue is emotionally charged. Regardless of the risk of offending some of our readers, I have no choice but to go forward with expression the truth of this issue as best as God gives me the insight to know that truth. But we cannot rely upon our own discernment of our own insight and thus most of this post is paraphrasing or quoting others. I make some comments on the general acceptance among orthodox authorities of what is related in this post in a moment. I say I have no choice. That is because I am the in a position of answering questions for the general public and thus have a responsibility before God to make sure people who read these answers are not lead astray. I will be standing before God to account for every one of you and for what was said or not said in this forum. That is an awesome thought and one that I do not take lightly. I will do my best to provide an accurate and truthful answer to this question and to the question of holistic medicine in general. In that light, the information I offer here on Holistic Healing Techniques is not my mere opinion, but is grounded in personal and professional experience. I use to be a Holistic Health Practitioner and did practice and teach Taoism, Chinese Philosophy, Chinese Healing, Therapeutic Touch, acupressure, and other New Age healing techniques and subjects. But my word does not need to be accepted alone. The information I present here is consistently asserted by all Catholic and Protestant authorities who are not involved in the New Age, directly or indirectly in some fashion, and who have carefully researched this subject rather than taking it lightly and without critical analysis. Father Pacwa, Father Groeschell, Mother Angelica, the whole EWTN crowd, I believe the whole Franciscan University at Steubenville crowd (Scott Hahn, et al), and about all of the evangelical Protestant crowd ALL share nearly the exact same views about this subject that I present here. There is a reason for this massive common understanding among all these people -- One, the science does not support most of the claims of the holistic health practitioners. Two, it is clearly seen by all who will care to honestly research this that the FACT is that it cannot be denied that the philosophies and techniques involved in many of the holistic health practices are inextricability tied to Chinese mysticism. One CANNOT believe in many of these techniques without ALSO believing in, or at least acquiescing to, the Chinese mysticism that CREATED these techniques. Even those who know nothing of the mysticism behind these techniques, are still 'involving' themselves in that mysticism albeit unawares. Here is an illustration: All of us are using a computer. This message came to you by computer. You believe in the computer, it is right in front of you, and you know that it can be used for great good (such as this list :-) ). But what are the principles BEHIND this computer that make the computer possible for it to exist and for you to use it? Do you know about the binary system of numbers, about the electrical impulses that open and close circuits inside your computer that render the zero's and one's in a binary numbering system that then create what you see on the screen? Do you know about the physics of electricity? Many of you may not understand what I just said. But for you to use this computer you are agreeing with and are utilizing those behind-the-scenes principles whether you know it or not. In fact, without those principles this computer would not exist!! If we remove the principles of the binary numbering system and of electricity there IS NO COMPUTER as we know it. This is the same with the unscientific part of Chinese healing. These healing systems are completely and TOTALLY wrapped in a worldview of Eastern mysticism, philosophy, and religion that is UTTERLY incompatible with Christianity. Even if we do not know what those behind-the-scenes principles are, or even if we read about those principles apart from the holistic healing we are wanting to participate in, and upon reading them reject them, we nevertheless accept them unawares when we participate in these particular healing techniques. You accept the principles of the binary system and of electricity every time you turn on the computer -- whether you know it or not. If we were to remove the Chinese mystical and philosophical presumptions from the healing techniques, we would no longer have the technique – it WOULD NOT EXIST, any more than this computer would exist if we removed the underlying principles of electricity and binary mathematics from the picture. BUT THESE TECHNIQUES WORK! Well, sometimes. The number one reason that some of these techniques seem to work is NOT because the technique is having any real effect. It is due to the placebo effect -- our desire to have it work creates psychosomatic effects upon the body sometimes, or at least in our perceptions. Our desire to have this work is STRONG and is sourced in one or two HIGH motivators (or in both) 1) We are ill, or a loved one or friend is ill, traditional medicine hasn't help, so we LONG for a treatment in Alternative methods; 2) We are already converts to Eastern Philosophy and Mysticism so believing in these methods goes with it as strongly as Christians believing in the grace of God. Often #1 will lead to #2 in some fashion -- perhaps not a complete conversion, but at least a partial one. This is what has happened to MANY, MANY, MANY priests and nuns. The sneaky thing is that we can develop New Age attitudes and beliefs without knowing it. Once we open the door, even without our cognitive knowledge, we can find our thinking and belief system contaminated. This danger is so great that the Apostle Paul warned against it. He told us to guard our eyes and our thinking - to think only upon those things that are beyond any hint of being improper. The Bible tells us it is better to pluck out our eye than to allow our eyes to lead us to sin. It is better to go into heaven with one eye than to go to hell with both. While that analogy is speaking of sinful activity it nevertheless gives a principle to live by: it is better to stay away from anything that offers a risk of damaging our life with Christ, than to take the risk get damaged. We live in an age of MANY contaminations to the Christian worldview. Wecannot be too careful and circumspect. It is better to avoid even good things if it brings us too close to things which are contaminated, than to indulge in those good things and risk the contamination. Who among us would want to eat a good steak sitting on a good clean plate that is on a table smeared with feces. Sorry for the image, but it makes the point. The steak is good, and MAY not be contaminated, but do we want to take that risk? Billy Graham once said, Most people sacrifice the best on the altar of the good. And this is true. So many people cling to the good as if their life depended upon it and in doing so give-up or miss the best. God, like any father, wants the best for his children, not just the merely good. Thus we need to remind ourselves of these things whenever approaching anything even REMOTELY connected with the New Age. But in the case of Therapeutic Touch and other similar techniques, it is really quite black and white for the most part. It is not of God, but is a DIRECT result of, and is dependent upon, godless philosophies and mysticism. A second reason that some of these techniques appear to work is that Satan is more than happy to see a healing if we will gain it through methods contrary to God. Satan will give-up his desire to make us ill, if we will be poster boys for unChristian healing techniques. Although many of us may not go any further into the New Age when we accept some of these technique, a vast number do get seduced further. That is Satan's goal -- to seduce as many people as possible. We need to be careful of the arrogance expressed by, Well I did it and it didn't harm my faith. Well 30 people can each take a turn standing in a barrel of gasoline, strike a match, and not be blown-up. Does that mean we should risk it? We can never know when we might be the 31st person who doesn't make it. And even if we always make it, our promotion of the barrel game by declaring, Hey, I made it, you can too, makes us culpable when, eventually, someone tries it, because they saw us do it successfully, but they don't make it. This subject is also a delicate one in that it is natural for people who are suffering to seek out anything they can find to alleviate that suffering. The biggest reason otherwise orthodox Christians fall into the trap of the improper aspects of holistic healing is when those people are suffering from some disease and they are looking for help. Often they find legitimate alternative methods: some methods involving herbs and some allergy therapies and some of the environmental medicine techniques are good. But since much of this stuff as been co-opted by the New Age, often the unsuspecting Christian will be indoctrinated into more than what empirical evidence shows. They will get seduced into thinking the energy medicine and many aspects of acupuncture, and the general gambit of Chinese medicine are okay too. This is the SEVERE danger. I understand these dynamics. I have an incurable disease myself – CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome) and probably Fibromyalgia, and sciatica and arthritis in my lower spine. I am in pain every day. I have difficult walking or standing. I have the aches and pains of the flu 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. And, of course, debilitating fatigue. It is tempting to try anything to alleviate these symptoms. I do what I can given almost non-existent financial resources, but I will not, even if I am dying, resort to the improper aspects of Holistic Medicine. Because we are dealing with such a personal thing as suffering, when people get involved in these things it becomes very personal to them. If someone comes around and pops the balloon, people will get very emotional. This emotional aspect is also what makes people vulnerable to the seduction into these improper techniques. All this is understandable, but any emotional backlash is unavoidable when exposing the truth about some of these things. I hope that my long introductory remarks will help to soften the emotional upset at least a little. In discussing holistic medicine, we must discuss the famous Yin Yang symbol and its origins and purpose. This symbol refers to a central and fundamental understanding about the nature and theory behind holistic medicine – including acupuncture. The symbol is called: T'ai-chi T'u. It means the Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate. The Supreme Ultimate is the Tao. The Tao is called the Way interestingly enough (this was what the Christian Church was called in the first century; it wasn't' until the early 2nd century with St. Ignatius of Antioch in around 110AD that the term Catholic was used for the Church). Taoism is concerned with process and change, the endless universal flow of cycles. Day becomes night, wet becomes dry, winter turns to spring, etc. Taoism seeks to encourage human beings to live in harmony with these cycles and to be one with the Tao. Failure to be in sync with the Tao causes disease. This is the basis of the Taoistic (Chinese/Eastern) medical model of health. In these never-ending cycles we find bipolar opposites. These opposites are not antagonistic, they do not cancel each other out, they are the merely part of the whole just as the North and South poles are on opposite ends of the same head, as Reisser (see ref to his book below) remarks. Thus good and evil are also not antagonistic to one another, but merely opposites of the same unified reality -- the Tao. This fundamental principle is called Yin and Yang. It is believed that all of nature and all aspects of human life are affected by these forces. Without getting into deep details, health is defined as the state in which yin and yang are in perfect, dynamic balance over a period of time, with disease occurring when there is an excess of yin or yang accumulating anywhere in the body. The key to this lies in the idea of Ch'i -- the invisible life energy which is believed to flow through the body in meridians or matrixes. This invisible and scientifically unproven Ch'i is called many things depending on the culture. Below are the word concepts and their origin: Ch'i = Taoism and ancient Chinese medicine Prana = Hinduism Mana = Polynesian Orenda = American Indian Animal Magnetism = Franz Anton Mesmer The Innate = William Reich Vital Energy = Samuel Hahnemann (founder of homeopathy) Odic force = Baron Karl von Reichenback Bioplasma = Contemporary Russian parapsychologists The Force = George Lucas (Star Wars) Each of these concepts describes the same occultic energy allegedly flowing through the body and connected with the Universal plasma (force) (energy). All of this is deeply steeped in oriental mysticism and occultism. But what of observable effects? Acupuncture has shown promise in the use of pain control. And the whole issue of pain-control is where the Chinese medicine has interest for us. But in a closer examination of the physiological mechanisms involved in pain control -- and again without going into detail here -- the pain that is controlled through Chinese medicine techniques can be and had been explained in normal bio-physiology that CAN be measured and replicated by science. We do not need to rely upon ideas of invisible energies to explain the phenomena. Thus what are the objections to Chinese Medicine and what are the Guidelines for Evaluation? Especially since some specific techniques seem to have a very real and positive effect, how are we to evaluate particular situations? Is it ever allowable to use such methods as a Christian? (quoting from New Age Medicine by Paul Reisser (pp. 92-95) and recommended by Father Pacwa and by me): -----begin quote------- Guidelines for Evaluation: Our look at the mystical roots of acupuncture, acupressure, applied kinesiology and the rest of Chinese medicine has revealed that, in many situations, patients are being treated on the basis of religious beliefs rather than physiological principles. So the question remains, how can we evaluate a particular therapy? Should someone have acupuncture for chronic back pain, for instance, or is this particular technique occultic? The issues, unfortunately, are not purely scientific, but have spiritual implications as well. After much study and reflection, we have arrived at some guidelines which we apply to individual cases. FIRST: We propose that the only by-product of ancient Chinese medicine which has been reasonably validated is the treatment of chronic pain with counterstimulation therapy, using either needles or electrical pulses. If you are considering receiving such treatment, your pain problem should be evaluated by a qualified physician, and the therapist should be someone trained in conventional anatomy and physiology, not in meridians and life energy. This may seem like a trivial distinction when one is merely seeking pain relief, but energy balancers may tend to inject their mysticism into the therapy session. The use of acupuncture for treating other medical problems, such as high blood pressure, hearing loss, obesity and so on, has not been validated (to our knowledge) by any controlled study and is extremely suspect. We emphasize the word controlled because the problems we saw in the claims made for miraculous cures in China. No one was counting the cases which failed, nor was anyone considering what other factors might have contributed to success. Therapists who treat such problems with acupuncture are in the twilight zone of medicine and usually are working from a mystical perspective. SECOND: This brings us to our second guideline. We strongly urge that patients avoid any therapists who claim to be manipulating invisible energies (Ch'i, life energy or whatever), whether using needles, touch, hand passes, arm-pulling or any other maneuver. Guidelines for Discernment: 1) Beware of therapies which claim to manipulate invisible energies. Christian therapists may claim that the invisible energies they purport to influence are part of God's creation, but in doing so they betray a misinformed notion of the scope of the natural realm. They are, in fact, toying either with the supernatural or an illusion. 2) Beware of those who seem to use psychic knowledge or power. Scripture has posted a clear No Trespassing sign here (Deut 18:9-12) [my note: even if the therapist does not admit to psychic involvement one can get a clue by how they are able to come to a diagnosis. An excellent example is a diagnosis that one is toxic or blocked and the therapist knows this by touching and concentrating, passing his hand over the body and similar methods. Toxicity is a physical reality. If a person is toxic it will be revealed in blood tests, urine tests, and other similar diagnostic testing. Toxicity not so testable is HIGHLY suspect to be a variation of the blocking of energies theme that has no basis in reality. The discernment of the diagnosis being from concentrating is a clear clue to psychic involvement.] 3) Beware of a practitioner who has a therapy with which no one else is familiar. Someone with a secret formula usually keeps it a secret for two reasons: he or she has some of it to sell you (with a fat price tag), and independent analysis would show it to be worthless. This (guideline for discernment) has two important corollaries: a) Beware of those who promote their discovery to the general public (usually via best-selling books) [my comment: or in recent times we have seen this happening through distributorships of the products that are suppose to heal you. These are largely Amway sorts of personal distributorships] b) Head for the exit immediately when someone claims that the medical establishment is evil or satanic, that the government and the AMA are persecuting them, or that other doctors are intent on stealing their discovery. Such an individual is due for an appointment with the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance, a competent psychiatrist, or perhaps Rod Serling. Stick around only if you are seeking a visit to the Twilight Zone. 4) Beware of someone who claims that their particular therapy will cure anything. You can only solve so many construction problems with a hammer. An important skill of caring practitioners is knowing when, and to whom, to refer a patient with a disorder which is beyond their expertise. This problem plagued chiropractic practitioners for many years, and still remains to be settled for some to this day -- (claiming that chiropractic could cure anything). There remain, however, a number of practitioners (of chiropractic) who have reworked some of the old vital nerve energy ideas into a broader scope under New Age influence. We know of chiropractors who have blended their practice with numerous other methodologies, including energy channeling, meditation, aura work. 5) Beware of someone whose explanations don't make sense. If a physician, or any therapist, speaks in doctorese instead of English, stop and ask for a translation. Even the most complex problem can be explained in terms that anyone can comprehend. (many will save a lot of money and grief by paying) attention to his own common sense. 6) Beware of therapists whose primary proof consists of the testimonies of satisfied customers. 7) Beware of therapies which rely heavily on altered states of consciousness. The New Age movement promotes the motion that ordinary waking consciousness limits our potential. As we have seen, many holistic therapies are built on the idea that healings will occur, or important insights gathered, when we shut down the rational mind for a while (through meditation, chanting, yoga, hypnosis, sensory deprivation tanks, etc.) and experience an alternate reality. Such experiences are, in fact, critical if one is to accept a number of New Age concepts (especially All is One) which otherwise lack much support from everyday living. 8) Sincerity is no guarantee of legitimacy. The most warm-hearted, sincere therapist may be sincerely wrong. This (guideline for discernment) has two important corollaries: a) A therapist's expression of evangelical commitment [or orthodox Catholic commitment] is no guarantee of legitimacy either. b) The endorsement of a therapist (or therapy) by a renowned evangelical pastor [or priest or religious], speaker, author or celebrity is, alas, no guarantee of legitimacy. In summary, if and when an unorthodox therapy is offered as a solution to your health problem, so not hesitate to investigate fully and critically its roots, history, contemporary forms and promoters before submitting to it or recommending it to others. 9) Caveat venditor: in other words, Let the buyer beware. We have directed all of our previous warnings to the consumers of health care. Our final comments are directed toward practitioners. Anyone who cares for the health needs of others has an enormous responsibility to maintain basic standards of quality. Those who offer practices to the public which are scientifically unsound (or bankrupt) and potentially dangerous are ultimately accountable to their patients. For the New Agers who sincerely and enthusiastically believes in the spiritual messages of holistic health, we offer a loving challenge to consider the life and claims of Jesus Christ as face value. We are not gods, or part of God, but men and women who are estranged from our Creator. Jesus Christ has made that reconciliation possible through his death on the cross. Only after we surrender our quest for godhood to him can true enlightenment and fulfillment be experienced. For the evangelical Christian [and orthodox Catholic] who promotes New Age practices without paying attention to their spiritual implications, we offer an exhortation: you should know better. Objections to Chinese Medicine: Why do we take such a hard-nosed stand? For two reasons. First, we have seen how the invoking of life energy, especially in the spin-offs from applied kinesiology, throws critical thinking to the wind. Therapists who use such techniques have strayed far from the mainstream of objective knowledge about the human body. Their science is based on conjecture, subjective impressions, unreliable data and, most importantly, the precepts of Taoism. They stand separate from the scientific community. You will never see muscle testing written up in Scientific American or recognized by the National Institutes of Health. We challenge anyone who is involved in this therapy to take a hard look at its origins, its underlying assumptions, and its supporting evidence (or lack thereof). Our look at Jin Shin Do provided an example of our second objection: the general orientation of the literature which promotes the doctrines of Ch'I and meridians. The overwhelming majority of authors express a distinct spiritual perspective which is some variation on Eastern mysticism or the New Consciousness We have seen no exceptions to date. John Thie, originator of Touch for Health, proclaims in Science of Mind magazine that we are all one with the universe. Iona Teeguarden tells us how Jin Shin Do can open our psychic centers to experience the universal flow which is love and magic. Hiroshi Motoyama, a Japanese physician, acupuncturist and psychic researcher, is actively seeking to unify ancient Chinese medicine, East Indian kundalini yoga, and virtually all other psychic or mystical experiences into a single science of consciousness. Psychic healer and medium Rosalyn Lee Bruyere, mentioned previously, claims to see auras, chakras and meridians, and manipulates the latter two in her practice. Under the direction of two spirit guides who instruct her regularly, she teaches a blend of psychic healing, spiritism, reincarnation and Eastern mysticism. The pattern is unmistakable. There is no neutral science of life energy and meridians, but rather a highly developed mystical system with strong ties to the psychic realm. What does all this mean? It means that energy therapists, whether they realize it or not, are carrying out a form of religious practice and conditioning their patients to accept its teachings. Indeed, some therapists enter a trancelike state in order to become a channel to direct Ch'i (or whatever they choose to call life energy) into the patient. The idea of the healer's injecting invisible energy into another person may seem innocuous to most (and silly to some), but the results may be anything but trivial. Brooks Alexander, co-director of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, warns: It is not difficult to see that ... psychic manipulation could turn an otherwise benign form of treatment into a spiritual booby trap. The nature of the doctor-patient relationship implicitly involves a kind of trust in and submission to the healer on many levels. For a Christian to accept the passive stance of patient before a practitioner who exercises spiritual power (either in his own right or as a channel for other influences) could easily result in spiritual derangement or bondage. We find it particularly unsettling to see members of the Christian community having their energies balanced by chiropractors and other therapists who claim a Christian commitment and who feel that they are not involved in any questionable practices. These practitioners may claim that Ch'i, yin and yang, and meridians are neutral components of God's creation (similar to electricity and radio waves), available for anyone to use; but they ignore the roots of these ideas. The products of natural science--the technologies of electronics, biochemistry and so on--can be validated by controlled experiments whose results are not tied to the religious beliefs of the researcher. But the technology of life energy is totally defined by the belief system of its promoters: the mystics, the psychics and the leaders of the New Consciousness. Christian energy balancers present us with a paradox. They claim reliance on Scripture, but they carry out the practices of an occult system. Most are sincere in their desire to help their patients. Unfortunately, they lack discernment, failing to see the implications of the ideas they promote. Some are even dabbling in the psychic realm, diagnosing disease through hand passes or over long distances, claiming that this is a natural by-product of their sensitivity to life energy. To these therapists we offer a challenge and a warning. Take a long look at the world of Chinese medicine and then decide whether you belong there. Do you feel comfortable as a part of the New Consciousness movement, promoting Taoist philosophy, supporting a system whose basic message is that all is one, and helping usher in the New Age of miracles and magic? If not, then it is time to stop participating in therapies which lend credence and support to a world view which is antagonistic to the most basic teachings of Scripture. ---------------end of quote----------- In conclusion: Much of Holistic healing is based on spiritual principles derived from 1000's of years of human traditions (Eastern philosophical, mystical, and religious traditions). The Apostle Paul warns: See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ. (Col. 2:8) MUST READS: These three books, at least, can be considered the Bible of Understanding the New Age: Catholics and the New Age by Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., Servant Publications, 1992 Unmasking the New Age by Douglas R. Groothuis, Intervarsity Press, 1986 New Age Medicine: A Christian Perspective on Holistic Health by Paul C. Reisser, M.D., InterVarsity Press, 1987 Back to Index Page