Of Medicine, Magic, and Original Sin
by Brian J. Kopp, DPM
From The Wanderer
With the dawn of the Third Millennium, Western society is experiencing a period of economic prosperity and material wealth that is unequaled in the history of mankind. Americans have a standard of living greater than most men who ever lived. New technologies arise at an astonishing rate, previously untreatable diseases are now not only cured but eradicated, and much physical suffering is being alleviated. With this affluence has come a longer life expectancy, as well as increased rates of previously rare diseases. Unfortunately, an unhealthy obsession with health in general accompanies this affluence, and an uneasy realization is settling over the West. All the promise of our technology, and all the money of our booming economy spent on new treatments and cures, has failed keep pace with our demands. In the back of our collective psyche, it is dawning on the world that all these advances are failing to resolve the basic problem of the suffering and death of man.
In reality, there have truly been enormous advances. Life expectancy climbs steadily, despite the perceived "dangers" of our technological world, from industrial chemicals to pollution, to new sources of ionizing radiation and electromagnetic fields. Life expectancy alone is the best gage of true advance in the life sciences. It’s increase is primarily a result of modern medicine, despite its synthetic and "unnatural" chemicals and techniques, and overall improvement in diet, which has been achieved by farming techniques with heavy dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Yet the public perceives that medicine and science has failed them. They rightfully point out rising cancer rates, increases in heart diseases, drug resistant infections, and new and deadly viruses. As questions build, no true answers are forthcoming, at least from science. Thus, as man’s modern knowledge fails to fulfill its promise of solutions for all the world’s ills, the public is turning, en masse, to alternatives to mainstream medicine and science. If penicillin fails, an herb may help. If chemotherapy fails, acupuncture and meditation and vegetarian diets are embraced.
Much of this "new" medicine comes from the "old" religions. American Indian and Chinese herbology, eastern religious meditation techniques, vegetarian Hindu diets, acupuncture, and a myriad other old healing techniques are "rediscovered," and advanced as an alternative for the failure of modern science to cure all the suffering in the world.
Yet how can the west forget so quickly the roots of western medicine itself? Traditional western medicine has grown alongside traditional western culture. That culture, the culture of Europe, and to a certain degree the Americas, is the culture of the Church that formed it and from which it received its principles of scientific investigation. Those principles are, boiled down to their basics, derived from the rational approaches of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Granted, St. Thomas Aquinas dealt with theology and philosophy. Yet it was Thomistic thought, the rational, reasoned examination of concepts and ideas, from which grew the methods of scientific investigation and by which was discovered the evidence upon which modern western medicine and science is based. The Church was the incubator of the scientific process, and its universities were the seed from which has grown Western scientific thought.
Furthermore, western medicine and science have grown within a fundamentally Catholic understanding of reality. That reality is that God made the created world, along with the Laws of Nature by which it is governed. God, of course, is the infinite omnipresent power in the universe. He also made angels, man, and the lower animals. Demons are fallen angels. All His creation must obey His Laws of Nature, which are described and codified by scientific inquiry, as well as the Natural Law, which is written on our souls, summed up in the Ten commandments and the Great commendment of Jesus Christ, and codified within the sciences of philosophy and theology. Of course, we were created perfect, but disease and death entered the system with the Original Sin of Adam and Eve.
That is a simplistic summary of the reality of our existence, properly understood by science and philosophy and theology. We are created physical bodies, imbued by God with an eternal soul, living a finite Earthly life. We are forced to live according to the Laws of Nature and the Natural Law, and we cope daily with disease and death, the price of sin.
Western medicine grew up with a fundamental understanding of this reality, and works within its finite framework. As such, it examines the body in a rational scientific Jesuitical manner, with its (sometimes limited) understanding of the Laws of Nature, and attempts to apply remedies to the body based on this reality and the diseases present.
There are biochemical, electrical, and other forces acting within the body, any disruption of which can lead to the diseased state. Investigation of disease entails the use of all the sciences, including biology, chemistry, physics, etc. Treatment may be a chemical to restore function to an injured or malfunctioning organ, surgery to remove a diseased organ, vitamins and nutrients to restore proper function, or any of the thousands of treatments available to modern medicine.
They all have, as common denominator, at least an attempt to understand structure and body function through rational scientific thought within the framework of created reality, or in other words, Catholic reality. Even the early herbal remedies of modern western medicine were attempts at treating the body within the realm of reality. If remedies were found to be without merit, they were relegated to the dustbin with the other snake oils of history. As herbal remedies stood up to scientific investigation, the active ingredients were codified, formalized, and purified into the modern medicines we use today.
The failure of Western medicine today is that in its absolute pursuit of human knowledge, it has forgotten the fact of the immortal soul and the effects of Original Sin. It has so formalized itself that the patient has become a case number to be "objectively" evaluated, probed, prodded, sliced, medicated, and placated. Killing unborn babies, to use their cells to cure the current living case number, is the perfect example of the pit into which western medicine has fallen.
It is no wonder then, that men and women are sensing this something that is now missing. Western medicine has divorced itself from this spiritual side in the name of some mistaken "scientific objectivity." Unfortunately, when the patient takes the seemingly logical next step, from a soulless western medicine into the world of alternative, holistic, or eastern medicine, and the admission of the spiritual aspects of man these alternative philosophies embrace, he often steps from the relatively known to the unknown.
For all its failings, western medicine attempts to treat the body using rational scientific concepts. Alternative medicine largely refrains from making any such claims. Instead, remedies are couched in terms of balancing the "powers" within the body, or opening energy channels, or bringing "harmony" within. Anecdotal evidence replaces double-blind, standardized, and reproducible studies. Concepts of healing are drawn from eastern mysticism or ancient spiritualism, or other old world religious traditions such as Wicca and Earth worship, in a belief that "Mother Earth" provides all the cures necessary for the healing of her children. Many common maladies are believed not to be biochemical or genetic errors from a fallen human nature, but an unbalance of energies or powers, or bad karma from a previous life.
The public, in essence, is turning away from science, and returning to that which so much of early man embraced, namely superstition and gnostic paganism. These "new" alternative techniques rarely have scientific basis, but rely on mystical interpretations of the body and soul which are inherently foreign to the Catholic understanding of reality.
Despite the dangers and traps of western science noted above, these "powers" or "energies" of the body, which form the fundamental basis of these alternative remedies and techniques, still must be examined objectively. Are they "real?" Do they indeed exist? Can they be quantified or measured? If not, why? Are they part of that Nature God created? Of course, if they do exist, they must be made to "fit" into the realm of God’s creation, best understood by western philosophy and theology.
However, our western understanding of God’s creation has no place for powers or energies freely floating around for us to tap into, use and manipulate. Western tradition has a simple word for the tapping into and manipulation of energies or life forces. That word is "Magic." Magic, in the western Christian world view, is a forbidden art.
God did not make energies freely floating around into which we may tap and which we may manipulate by our will, like some cosmic Star Wars "Force." Any religion or "medicine" that promises its adherents such power is a dishonest or sinister one, for such is forbidden by God. Such "knowledge" is Gnostic, or forbidden or hidden knowledge, and it is antithetical to Christian belief.
What of so-called healings brought about by practitioners of eastern or New Age mysticism based medicine? Are there other "powers" by which we may be healed? The only force or power in the universe is the power of God. We are not permitted to attempt to conjure up God’s power by herbs, potions, incantations, yoga, "Healing Touch," Reiki, or any other technique.
We can indeed use intercessory prayer to ask God for true healing by His power. Saints have done so. Jesus our Lord healed multitudes by His power. Angels are credited with healings in Scripture, but only through God’s power.
However, we cannot conjure up God by an act of our own will or by ritual or incantation or transcendental meditation. Therefore, in the Catholic understanding of reality, these healings can at best only come from forces which God never intended us to understand or attempt to manipulate. Two thousand years of Christian thought and proper scientific investigation have not revealed any such powers. At worst, and more likely, they come from demonic forces, and magic is always and only the conjuring of demonic forces. Even when a "cure" is documented in alternative methods, the nagging question remains, "What profit it a man to gain the whole world yet lose his Eternal soul?"
For the typical individual who walks into a local alternative medicine shop, the herbal remedies they sell are not likely to open him up to demonic influence. However, the attraction of further advance into these gnostic healing arts that are the next logical step are hard to ignore. Power over physical reality, even the reality of our fallen physical nature, even if pursued to help and heal, is not a power to be grasped at by Christians. It is another attractive yet forbidden fruit so very much like that first one of which Adam and Eve tasted.
In western medicine, the patient has become naked to science, and their personhood is often run over roughshod. In an industry called "health care," they are no longer a face and a name and there may be very little care at all. In leaving behind this fundamental truth, that a patient is a human created in the image and likeness of God with innate dignity and that the end simply does not justify the means, western medicine has lost its roots and its soul.
So has western society and culture. Both have walked away from the Church that raised both from infancy, and still offers the only true hope for modern medicine and the culture at large. What is the solution to this malaise that has taken over the mind of modern man, this obsession with health and healing?
The root problem is a fundamental fear of death. Disease is simply a stage on the road to that death introduced by original sin. So man must come to terms with his own death. All the chemical compounds of all the plants of the world will never provide a cure for original sin, and therefore, disease will always be present. The sooner modern man grasps this reality, including the men and woman of science and medicine, the sooner man will truly be healthy in body and soul.This can only come with a return to that concrete reality that tells us that God exists, He made us, and because of Original Sin and our sin, we must suffer and eventually die. The reality is that the only "cure" from this suffering and death is the embrace of the Cross, and the Savior who hung there and died for us. This reality must be proclaimed by all who would seek to heal his fellow man and himself. The cure is the Good News, and the sooner modern man takes His medicine, the sooner our world will be truly Healed.