Is Modern Medicine More Science Or Religion?
Modern medicine projects the image of scientific rigor but has all the hallmarks of a system of religious belief. The practical consequence of its insular perspective is the dead-end system of Western medical materialism that we have today. Repair of the physical body is erroneously equated with healing. Never mind whether it is capable of true healing; it doesn't even understand the meaning of the concept. The "church" of modern medicine is a dysfunctional Frankenstein monster, a result of having raised the analytical abstractions of the rational mind to god-like status above all other faculties of human experience. It is a mere caricature of what medical science could and should be.
In its quest for objectivity medicine has rejected its spiritual roots and lost sight of its humanity. It cannot be but a reflection of the culture from which it has emerged. It arrogantly rejects the wisdom of thousands of years of human history, is fragmented to the point of dissociation, devoid of common sense, preoccupied with short-term material goals, slave to its financial overlords, and utterly lacking in the requisite spiritual knowledge that would enable it to find its way out of its self-imposed foolishness.
Like some religious faiths, medicine clings ferociously to its worldview when challenged by congregants (patients) whose firsthand experiences sometimes lead them to believe otherwise. It defends its dogma with a powerful form of groupthink and is quick to lash out at heretical ideas that threaten its doctrine and its territorial interests. Like some religious movements that purport to be the one and only true path to salvation, it displays an unusual degree of intolerance when faced with nonbelievers who dare to ask questions. It is a closed belief system that does not allow innovation or new ideas. It lays claim to truth, fact, and objectivity, but exposes itself as otherwise when we closely examine its assumptions, politics, and practices.
The church of medicine found its origins with Rene Descartes in the seventeenth century, a key figure in the Scientific Revolution and a proponent of rationalism, a philosophy that elevated the mind and its ability to reason to a superior status above all other sources of knowledge. There are many thoughtful individuals, however, who would consider spiritual insight to be a superior form of knowledge. Nevertheless, even though spiritual reality and material reality can be considered two halves of Cartesian dualism, one gradually began to take precedence over the other. That which could not be measured, quantified, or assigned a logic to justify its truth was dismissed and tossed aside as irrelevant, and it was from this dogma that the new secular church of medical materialism took root. That is to say that this is the point where it began to deny the primacy of spirit and replace it with the worship of the physical body as the most important, if not the only consideration relevant to human health.
Medical science takes a materialistic stand in opposition to the non-physical; it is predicated upon a denial of the relevance of spirit. The irony here is that the church of medicine assumes the authority and function of a religious system but refuses to account for the role that the spiritual dimension plays in human health. Others who understand the significance of spiritual factors such as an afterlife, reincarnation, dreams, synchronicity, and so on, are forced to contend with an unnatural cultural split that reduces the welfare of the physical body to material terms and relegates the welfare of the soul to the wayside, as if body and soul are not connected and have no impact upon one another.
Before I get much further into this critique of Western medicine, let me make clear that I use conventional medicine and diagnosis when I find it necessary for my patients, my family, and myself. It has its pluses and minuses. We could not do without medical diagnostics, emergency medicine, insulin for diabetics, antibiotics for life-threatening illnesses, and so on. And although I have the utmost respect for my conventional medical colleagues who dedicate themselves to the well-being of their patients, the system itself is badly broken, based upon a flawed philosophy, and in dire need of serious revision. Similarly, I respect the diversity of human religious and spiritual experience, especially when it, too, respects diversity and eschews the impulse to proselytize.
"Scientism" is a term that has been applied to Western science's tendency to consider itself as the only valid way of describing reality and acquiring knowledge. Far from objective science, it is riddled with a self-imposed form of materialistic and mechanistic bias. When it inappropriately and clumsily attempts to impose its restricted worldview upon domains where it has no business meddling, it can no longer be considered legitimate science that is practiced with an awareness of its boundaries. It instead begins to resemble an ideology not unlike a religious form of evangelism. Again, it is more than a bit ironic when conventional medicine attempts to belittle some alternative therapies as "faith-based."
Like any good faith, the church of medicine stands on the authority of its sacred texts. The randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled trial is the gold standard that assures the purity of church doctrine. The sacred studies are the only source of true knowledge; all other forms of knowledge are held to be inferior. Upholders of the faith frequently quote from the sacred texts in order to disprove and discredit heretical viewpoints. The conspicuous incongruity here is the ever-changing and fickle nature of medical research studies, which frequently contradict one another and are commonly sponsored and funded by the very corporate interests that stand to gain from that research. Hence the true authors of the modern sacred texts increasingly turn out to be the underwriters of the medical-industrial complex.
There is little if any room for dissent inside the cathedrals (hospitals) of medicine and those with innovative ideas are commonly treated as pariahs. The net effect is to ensure that medical doctrine remains hermetically sealed, impervious to outside influences. The medical priesthood maintains its elite status and authority but at the expense of its relationship to those who it was originally intended to serve. When it exhibits such a consistent lack of receptivity to new ideas and insists upon the superiority of its worldview, it can only be compared to a form of fundamentalism, which, in turn, removes it very far indeed from the realm of rationality and logic that it claims to issue forth from.
The contemporary battle between the monolith of unyielding medical opinion and those who have experienced the firsthand devastation to loved ones wrought by vaccine injuries and adverse drug reactions is emblematic of the issues created by a medical system that is increasingly unresponsive to its patients. When we come to understand that modern medicine is a result of an overreliance upon the abstracting and analyzing functions of the rational mind, then we see how it can take such cold and calculated positions in the face of so much iatrogenically-induced tragedy.
Medical science stakes its credibility upon its rationality and yet many beliefs that it holds are more accurately characterized as rationalizations. We are all quite familiar with those patronizing mantras of medical denial: "that is just anecdotal evidence," "show me the studies," "there is no conclusive evidence," "more studies are needed," and "those are the risks that come with the benefits." Such rationalizations become possible only when we accept the false premise that logic is superior to intuition, common sense, firsthand experience, and empirical evidence.
As with many effective religious systems, ritual and symbol are often employed to inspire belief and reinforce the faith of congregants. The medical church has its white coats, green scrubs, and stethoscopes, those ubiquitous symbols of the medical priesthood. And we mustn't forget the ritual washing of hands to ward off evil germs in spite of what basic science teaches us, which is that excessively antiseptic practices contribute to the development of microbial mutations, which in turn lead to increasing resistance to antimicrobial drugs. Such practices don't strike me as very rational -- or scientific. Congregants are also expected to unquestioningly submit to a long string of ritual acts such as well-baby visits, vaccinations, mammograms, cholesterol checks, and an ever-expanding battery of tests and procedures brought to us by the latest cutting-edge technologies made possible through the generosity of the biotechnology industry. One must wonder, with such vast expenditures dedicated to health care, why our collective health as a society suffers so badly.
By contrast, true medical science that was faithful to its original mission was originally conceived to explore the nature of life without a predetermined agenda. It did not impose artificial parameters upon itself in order to define what was and what was not worthy of scientific inquiry. However, when contemporary medicine chooses to restrict the scope of its investigations to the purely material, it must therefore acknowledge the limitations that this places upon it as a science. It reveals a serious bias when it declares that spiritual existence is a mere figment of the imagination that has no impact upon illness and health. If it chooses not to take spiritual reality into account, then it cannot at the same time claim any authority regarding issues of vitalism, energy, consciousness, spirit, or soul.
Most forms of holistic health and healing, on the other hand, begin with the fundamental assumption that we are spiritual beings temporarily inhabiting physical bodies during our time here on the physical plane. If this truth is to be honored, spiritual laws and energetic principles must be taken into account when we consider issues of health and illness. Another important foundational principle of holism considers it a given that "all is one" and that everything, therefore, is interconnected. To speak of body and soul as separate entities is an artificial construct of the rational mind that is not congruent with holistic reality. This illusion of separateness is, nevertheless, part of the legacy of the reductionistic / mechanistic / materialistic worldview into which most of us were indoctrinated. When modern medicine steadfastly refuses to incorporate matters of energy, consciousness, spirit, thought, emotion, intuition, intent, imagination, and meaning into its health care equation, it simply reaffirms the limits of its scope and its ignorance of the larger holistic picture. And it reduces human life to its lowest common materialistic denominator.
When one person reports the resolution of his chronic headaches after a past life regression, and another experiences relief from her depression after a shamanic soul retrieval, and conventional medicine responds by dismissing such stories as mere "anecdote," it reveals an unbecoming contempt for things of which it has no understanding. When homeopathic treatment results in the dramatic improvement of a child with attention deficit disorder and conventional medicine claims that it is just not possible because it defies the laws of chemistry as it understands them, then it is time to go back to the medical drawing board in order to revise one's conception of the mysterious nature of human health and disease. When orthodox medicine demands explanations that conform to its mechanistic worldview before it will acknowledge those phenomena as legitimate, it simply demonstrates its intractable obstinacy and refusal to adjust its understanding.
When we start with the assumption that all that exists, or at least all the matters, is the material world, then we will arrive at very different conclusions about our approach to human illness than if we start with the assumption that we are spiritual beings in physical bodies. Science without grounding in something greater than itself lacks all sense of perspective and begins to take on the role that religion rightly served in earlier centuries. The reductionist approach of medical science breaks the human body into its component parts but it lacks the synthetic ability to put them back together again in order to make sense of the whole. Science has produced a vast quantity of data thereby increasing the breadth of our knowledge, but medical science, as it is presently configured, is completely incapable of attaining the wisdom needed to add to the depth of our knowledge of health and healing. It is not concerned with greater understanding as much as it is with reinforcing what it thinks it already knows.
Modern medicine has degenerated into a shadow of its original intended purpose, preoccupied with politics and intoxicated by its own power. The new medical religion is predicated upon mechanism, reductionism, and materialism, and has set itself up in opposition to common sense, spiritual understanding, and holism. Medicine cannot be healed until it comes to the realization that these traits are not enemies but complementary principles that should be working together as a unified whole. A greener, more integrated medical world would go a long way to healing the wounds of practitioners and patients alike.
About the author:
Larry Malerba, DO, DHt has been a practitioner, educator, and leader in the field of holistic medicine for more than twenty years. He is the author of Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. Dr.Malerba is board certified in Homeotherapeutics, Clinical Assistant Professor at New York Medical College, and a visiting lecturer at Albany Medical College. He is past president of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York. He received his medical degree from Des Moines University and his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University. Dr. Malerba has a private practice in upstate New York. For more information: docmalerba.com