Friday, July 03, 2009

"My medical pseudoscience is better than yours..."

Here is a fascinating case of the Catholic Church rejecting the healing powers of Reiki using natural science while endorsing its own miracles (thanks to Laura (Sizer) for bringing it to attention). This came up as part of an investigation of US nuns by the Vatican. Now there are other interesting issues with the nature of the investigation (for example, one of the motivations is that the US nuns have "failed to “promote” the church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation"). However, I want to focus on the issue of Reike:

Besides these two investigations, another decree that affected some nuns was issued in March by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops said that Catholics should stop practicing Reiki, a healing therapy that is used in some Catholic hospitals and retreat centers, and which was enthusiastically adopted by many nuns. The bishops said Reiki is both unscientific and non-Christian.

Nuns practicing reiki and running church reform groups may have finally proved too much for the church’s male hierarchy, said Kenneth Briggs, the author of “Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns,” (Doubleday Religion, 2006).

So how do they come up with the rejection of Reiki? Here are some gems from their report Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy (pdf):

The Church recognizes two kinds of healing: healing by divine grace and healing that utilizes the powers of nature. As for the first, we can point to the ministry of Christ, who performed many physical healings and who commissioned his disciples to carry on that work. In fidelity to this commission, from the time of the Apostles the Church has interceded on behalf of the sick through the invocation of the name of the Lord Jesus, asking for healing through the power of the Holy Spirit, whether in the form of the sacramental laying on of hands and anointing with oil or of simple prayers for healing, which often include an appeal to the saints for their aid. As for the second, the Church has never considered a plea for divine healing, which comes as a gift from God, to exclude recourse to natural means of healing through the practice of medicine. Alongside her sacrament of healing and various prayers for healing, the Church has a long history of caring for the sick through the use of natural means. The most obvious sign of this is the great number of Catholic hospitals that are found throughout our country. a divine power is accepted as one of the healing forces. But what about the Church's position on Reiki?

Nevertheless, there are some Reiki practitioners, primarily nurses, who attempt to approach Reiki simply as a natural means of healing. Viewed as natural means of healing, however, Reiki becomes subject to the standards of natural science. It is true that there may be means of natural healing that have not yet been understood or recognized by science. The basic criteria for judging whether or not one should entrust oneself to any particular natural means of healing, however, remain those of science.

And here is the Church's sudden trust in science:

Judged according to these standards, Reiki lacks scientific credibility. It has not been accepted by the scientific and medical communities as an effective therapy. Reputable scientific studies attesting to the efficacy of Reiki are lacking, as is a plausible scientific explanation as to how it could possibly be efficacious. The explanation of the efficacy of Reiki depends entirely on a particular view of the world as permeated by this "universal life energy" (Reiki) that is subject to manipulation by human thought and will. Reiki practitioners claim that their training allows one to channel the "universal life energy" that is present in all things. This "universal life energy," however, is unknown to natural science.

Oh - how crazy! Why would any one believe this Reiki crap? We should get back to the true and tested method of healing by prayers. If this doesn't work, we can always go to Lourdes, where the Catholic Church has officially recognized 67 miraculous healings.

By the way, if you are indeed sick and if you need more than a placebo to recover, go to a doctor. Here is a bit more about Reiki and about the non-existent effects of prayer healing.

Read the NYT story on the investigation of US nuns here, and the report on Reiki here (pdf).


Renee said...

I just started to read your blog today, so bear with me as a first time visitor.

I'm a practicing Catholic, who have used in the past NFP (Billings Ovulation Method), which lead me in an interest and understanding on how our bodies bond and connect on a biological level, then onto understanding birth and breast feedinng. I'm an avid reader of 'Hug the Money' a blog done by Susan Kuchinskas and author of 'The Chemistry of Connection'

I'm sure patients do feel better with Reiki, but there has been studies that also having a cup of coffee with a friend and REAL social interaction can release oxytocin that competes with any pain one may feel.

One may ask what's the harm, but ultimately doesn't distorts social interaction? They offer Reiki at the local senior centers, in which the media shows elderly ladies hovering their hands over another to sense feeling better. It just become an odd way of human interaction, even though there is probably a side effect. They probably would have more fun sitting close together at a table playing cards.

The interest in Reiki reminds me of the fad of 'Cuddle Parties' where strangers come together in safe private gatherings to simply hug on another.

Salman Hameed said...

Welcome Renee!

Sure, I can see how one may argue about the deficit caused by a reliance on Reiki - and I think your reasoning here is more sound than the one used by the Catholic Church. I was pointing out the fact that they were rejecting Reiki based on scientific reasoning, while at the same time endorsing positive effects of prayers. In positive effectiveness (if at all), it is placebo in both cases.

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