JM writes: “I just read the blog question and answer on homeopathy. This is a very serious matter to me as my family and I have been using homeopathic remedies very successfully over the past three years. I was introduced to them by a very conservative Roman Catholic group of ladies. In doing my own research, I was not troubled about the “vital force” that Dr. Hahneman refers to because anyone who does not know the Christian faith would of course grasp for some kind of word to describe the human soul and the life of that soul as given and designed by God, and the soul’s inter-connectedness to our physical bodies. . . .”
JM makes some excellent points in her e-mail, so I will post the rest of it here: “Western medicine was at one time based on the herbs that God has provided for our healing, but today, the pharmaceutical companies are driven by greed for the most part and are using very dangerous science to produce Western medicine that is composed of bio-identical synthetic drugs whose side effects are often worse than the problem they are trying to heal.
“I am not suggesting that Western Medicine is wrong, but why would going back to the simplicity of what God has provided be deemed ‘New Age’? I don’t call my soul the ‘Vital Force’ but if Dr. Hahneman did that it was his own ignorance of the Christian faith.
“I know the reference to the Vatican document of which your answer speaks, but herbs are also listed there and if herbs are “New Age” then so is Western medicine which as I mentioned above, is based on herbs. The Old Testament refers to herbs as a source for healing so how can the use of herbs be wrong?”
I am so grateful for this thoughtful response to the blog on homeopathy. I have always believed that the best way to learn our faith is to discuss it among ourselves. Hopefully, the issues raised in this correspondence will enable us to do so.
Several things “jumped out at me” when I read this e-mail. One, is the mention that JM was introduced to homeopathy by very conservative Roman Catholic people.
It’s important to understand that no one is above making mistakes, no matter how holy they may feel or appear, and the truly humble soul must be willing to acknowledge this (as terrifying as it might be). In fact, the failure to do so is usually the cause of these falls.
Another interesting part of this e-mail is what appears to be a dismissal of the term “vital force” based on an assumption that Dr. Hahnemann didn’t know the Christian belief and was just grasping for a term to describe the soul and its connectedness to our physical bodies.
First of all, it is extremely important to understand that the existence of this “vital force” is completely unsubstantiated by science, which means any healing practice based upon it is essentially useless. This is why these methods are classified as pseudo-sciences. (See What You Should Know About Energy Medicine for a more indepth understanding of this “vital force.”)
But getting back to JM’s email, it is highly unlikely that Dr. Hahnemann was just looking for a way to describe the inner workings of the body and soul when he chose the term “vital force.” His description calls this a “spiritual vital force” that animates living organisms – which is a much broader context than just referring to the human soul. What he is describing is classic pantheism, an ancient worldview that believes that a god-force controls all aspects of the universe. This worldview is not compatible with Christianity and practitioners who claim to manipulate or depend upon it for healing are technically guilty of the sin of sorcery (Catechism No. 2117).
Furthermore, the Vatican document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life, describes this energy as being the equivalent of a New Age god:
“The New Age god is an impersonal energy, a particular extension or component of the cosmos; god in this sense is the life-force or soul of the world. This is very different from the Christian understanding of God as the maker of heaven and earth and the source of all personal life. God is in himself personal, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who created the universe in order to share the communion of His life with creaturely persons.”
Just for the record, the Christian explanation of the soul has nothing to do with energy. Christians believe that man is a union of body and soul and that the soul is an essential form of the body – not an energy force.�
The apologists at Catholic Answers describe it this way: “From a spiritual perspective, it is the soul that is the life-principle of the body, not something else. Consequently, there is no spiritual ‘life energy’ animating the body. Any energy used as part of the body’s operations—such as the electricity in our nervous systems—is material in nature, not spiritual. . . . Since this is contrary to Christian theology, it is inappropriate for Christians to participate in activities based on this belief.”
Granted, Dr. Hahnemann may not have known, or even cared, about our belief in this regard, but the Christian is certainly expected to subscribe to it.
JM goes on to question what could be wrong with the use of herbs, given the fact that many medicines are based on herbs and that herbs are referenced in Scripture as a source of healing.
The use of herbs is not condemned by the Church, only how these herbs may be used.
For instance, the Church’s moral teaching requires us to use conventional medicine – what is known as “ordinary means” – to treat illness rather than rely on herbs or other alternative methods of healing.
“When a person is confronted with a life threatening condition, or some less serious illness (especially a communicable disease), which can be easily treated by ordinary means, there is a moral obligation to do so. . . .” writes theologian Kevin G. Rickert in Homiletics and Pastoral Review. “Unscientific medical cures are neither ordinary nor extraordinary, because they are not real means at all. As such, they are neither required nor permitted. The main problem with these kinds of ‘cures’ is that they don’t really work; they are irrational, and as such they are contrary to the natural law.”
The problem with New Age treatments is that practitioners generally refuse to submit themselves to unbiased evidence-based scientific testing that might discover the efficacy of their treatments. Many are too heavily invested in their practices to risk the fallout from negative scientific testing; others really believe their treatments work and don’t care what the science says. Even in the case of practitioners who publish scientific studies that produce favorable results, always do your homework! In my experience, a little digging almost always uncovers evidence that the practitioner either funded the study or allowed it to be conducted in a way that skewed the results in their favor.
Consequently, if one puts their full faith in one of these methods – even the use of herbs – to treat a serious illness such as diabetes or heart disease, while refusing the best science of the day, this person falls into the trap of deception and error known as “superstitious medicine.”
As Dr. Rickert explains: “In this case, I subject my mind to deception, and at the same time, I neglect my obligation to employ ordinary means; in so doing, I subject my body to illness and my loved ones to potential hardships.”
Hopefully, this explanation will help you to see why the Church teaches what it does – to protect us and our loved ones from those who might (wittingly or unwittingly) exploit our need for healing in a way that lures us away from Christ.
Two booklets in my Learn to Discern Series – Reiki and Therapeutic Touch – get into the subject of energy medicine in much more detail. They also include an appendix loaded with tips to help you discern these types of New Age healing techniques.
Send your New Age questions to firstname.lastname@example.org