The emergence of alternative medicine

Every year Americans spend billions of dollars on alternative medicine. Sometimes called integrative medicine or complementary and alternative medicine, this branch of health care has become very popular in recent years. It is no longer relegated to the obscure practice of the New Age, but has made important inroads into conventional medicine.

A recent report indicated that nearly 40 percent of Americans use alternative medicine, prompting the following observation by Dr. Stephen Strauss, who serves as Director of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health:

“These new discoveries confirm the extent to which Americans have turned their attention to alternative medicine methods in the hope that they will cure and prevent their diseases and improve their quality of life.

But what does alternative medicine have to do with Christianity? While it is true that many practices of alternative medicine may be devoid of spiritual implications, it is also true that some are rooted in beliefs diametrically opposed to the Christian view of the world. One area where this is very clear is energy-based alternative medicine.

Alternative Energy-Based Medicine

Underlying the fa├žade of energy-based alternative medicine is the belief that health and healing depend on invisible forces. Alternative medicine feeds mainly on Eastern religious beliefs, such as the prana concept of Hinduism and the chi of Chinese medicine.

Many other cultures have similar terms for the invisible energy that supposedly permeates reality. Although there may be some variations on life energy, as used in alternative medicine, the following six points are common and worth noting:

Vital energy is said to be the fabric of the universe. Although it cannot be measured scientifically, this life force supposedly permeates all reality, including living beings. This perspective leads to pantheism (all is god), not Christian theism (God is a person and is separate from his creation, but active in it).

It is claimed that disease is caused by an imbalance or blockage of the flow of vital energy in the body. Proponents of this idea ensure that vital energy must flow properly into the body to keep it healthy.

If the energy does not flow properly, the result is a health problem. According to Chinese medicine, life force flows through a system of channels known as meridians, so some of its practitioners refer to the “meridian points” as the places where chi circulates.

According to Hinduism, vital energy (prana) flows through channels called nadi, which in turn cross seven energy centers known as chakras. If a practitioner talks about blockages or circulation of energy in relation to some health problem, it is very likely that he is involved in some form of healing by manipulation of vital energy.

Although the existence of vital energy has never been endorsed by formal science, believers claim to be able to detect by different methods both the energy itself and its alterations. Some claim to be able to see supposed visual representations (the aura) of the energy flowing through and around anyone.

Others use bioenergetic or electrodiagnostic devices. These are often impressively functioning electronic devices (many are illegal in the United States) that supposedly measure vital energy.

Proponents of life energy argue that it can be manipulated in some way to treat disease or improve health. Given the premise that disease is the result of disturbances in the flow of energy, they assert that correcting the blockage or imbalance of vital energy results in healing.

Practitioners of this type of medicine use various techniques to manipulate energy flow. Some, like those who practice “therapeutic touch,” do not even touch the patient to manipulate their energy. Others massage meridian points or use acupuncture on key points.

Qi gong practitioners claim to be able to project vital energy out of their bodies (not unlike the Jedi masters of Star Wars) and use it for self-defense or healing. Feng shui followers say that even the arrangement of furniture and other household objects can positively or negatively influence the flow of vital energy.

It is sometimes said that alterations of the vital energy explain facts previously described as supernatural or miraculous. In this scenario a personal, omnipotent and transcendent God is no longer needed. Instead, an impersonal life force is the source of “miracles.

In addition, because we are part of this life force, we can also dominate it and perform miracles. So Jesus was simply a master of energy. Therefore, in the new spirituality and its alternative medical practices, Jesus is more “a way, a truth and a vital force” than “the way, the truth and the life” of the Scriptures (John 14:6).

Vital energy is what religions have called God. This is the cornerstone of New Age spirituality: you will be like gods. If it is true that the life force that flows through us is the same one that permeates life to reality, it must be what we have called God.

If we are energy, and the energy is “God”, then we must be gods. Practitioners and patients of energy-based medicine who accept this argument can easily become involved in many New Age practices resulting from such reasoning.

Some, like actress Shirley MacLaine, may become so reckless as to say “I am God! Of course, not all practitioners and patients of this type of medicine make that leap, but if you follow the principles underlying the concept of life energy to its logical conclusions, that is the result: we are divine.