Postmodernism and You: Health
O'Mathúna, Ph.D., Contributor
Medicine and health care are perfect examples of how we may be
affected by the new postmodern thinking, even when we have no
involvement with the technical side of the philosophy itself.
Health care today is increasingly including what practitioners
call "alternative medicine." These therapies are known
variously as alternative medicines, fringe medicine, New Age healing,
or nonlocal medicine. For the purpose of clarity, we will use
the term "alternative medicine" in this chapter. This
is a good term because the National Institutes of Health recently
formed the Office of Alternative Medicine to investigate these
Two of the most popular schools of alternative medicine are Therapeutic
Touch and Ayurvedic Medicine. Both draw their views from the same
two sources: Eastern mystical religion and postmodernism.
Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India. The word
literally means "science of life," but there is a deeper
spiritual basis for the practice. The best-known proponent of
Ayurvedic Medicine in the United States is Deepak Chopra, MD.
He is the author of numerous books on this subject, including
the best-sellers, Quantum Healing, Perfect Health,
and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. These have been translated
into 25 languages. Chopra practiced modern Western medicine until
returning to India to learn Ayurveda from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,
who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the West. Maharishi
has bestowed Chopra with the title, "Dhanvantari (Lord of
Immortality), the keeper of perfect health for the world."
According to his view, the basic substance of our bodies is not
matter, but energy and information. This life energy, or Prana,
is nonphysical and flows through everyone, animating and sustaining
us. True health results from a balanced flow of this energy through
the body. Imbalances in the flow lead to physical symptoms which
we recognize as illness, aging and death.
While Ayurveda gains popularity in the general population, Therapeutic
Touch is popular in the nursing profession. It is currently taught
in over 80 colleges and universities in the United States, and
in more than 70 other countries, especially in schools of nursing.
The National League for Nursing accredits nursing colleges in
the United States and has endorsed Therapeutic Touch.
Therapeutic Touch also focuses on the energy field around human
bodies, again called Prana. Also like Ayurvedic Medicine,
these practitioners focus on balancing the flow of one's Prana
in order to heal.
The doctrine for both these popular forms of alternative medicine
come from the same source--Hinduism. Why, then, are we discussing
them in the context of a book on postmodernism?
Alternative Medicine and Postmodernism
Postmodernism is not the source for alternative medical ideas,
but it is the Trojan Horse that has brought primitive outlooks
like alternative medicine to prominence and acceptability on campuses
Modern scientists have known the views behind alternative medicine
for a long time. But these views have been rejected for some very
good scientific reasons. Most important, as we shall see, proponents
of alternative medicine cannot demonstrate that it works. However,
in the postmodern environment at most of our academic institutions,
theories like those used in alternative medicine cannot be critiqued
Postmodernism denies many of the ways by which a world view,
or a medical therapy, can be assessed and judged. Therefore bogus
research may carry as much weight as properly structured and controlled
research, especially if it derives its content from one of the
oppressed non-western cultures, like that of India.
Almost anything can gain credibility, once scientific methodology
is declared nothing more than a cultural bias--namely, that of
western Europe. But the consequences of this shift may be serious,
including dangerous long-term effects on people's health.
How Postmodernism Supports Alternative Medicine
Postmodernists argue that reality is not as rigid as we once
thought. They claim that the idea of objective reality is a metaphor
to help us communicate. Such a view of reality is compatible with
alternative medicine in a way modernism never was. In short, alternative
medical apologists use three standard postmodern directions of
- They cast doubt on the findings of traditional biochemical
medicine, arguing that it is merely an outgrowth of a western
(modernist) mentality which is materialistic, male dominated
- They argue that alternative medicine is the product of the
"marginalized" or oppressed minority culture in the
west. They claim that criticisms of alternative medicine are
nothing but power posturing by the medical establishment, who
endeavor to preserve their control of medicine.
- They seek to replace objective, rational experimental data
as the basis for accepting the value of a therapy with a new
basis: personal experience.
Case in Point: The University of Colorado
A recent investigation into the teaching of Therapeutic Touch
at the University of Colorado provides a good example of postmodern
A group of citizens in Colorado questioned the teaching of Therapeutic
Touch at the University of Colorado's Center of Human Caring.
They complained that tax moneys should not be spent teaching a
technique which was based, not in science, but in New Age religion.
The University convened a panel of faculty from both that university
and elsewhere to examine the scientific evidence for Therapeutic
Touch. The peer review panel concluded that "there is not
a sufficient body of data, both in quality and quantity, to establish
TT as a unique and efficacious healing modality." They recommended
the practice not be taught for another 20 years until sufficient
evidence had been established to validate it.
The response to this report was very postmodern. According to
one of the critics of Therapeutic Touch, the Center's Watson and
Quinn viewed the finding "as male-dominated medical imperialism
against female-dominated nursing." In their view, the evidence
was not as important as the ones interpreting it. As support,
Watson claimed, "We would like to imagine our whole lives
are rational and science-based, but only 15% of medical interventions
are supported by solid scientific evidence." In the end,
the University has allowed Watson's Center to continue teaching
Therapeutic Touch on the basis of academic freedom.
Postmodernism poses threats to people's thinking in a number
of areas. But in health care, it also poses a threat to their
bodies. Instead of receiving treatments that actually work, those
who place their hope in postmodern-defended alternative medicine
can easily end up failing to treat serious conditions. Meanwhile,
students in medical and nursing schools nationwide are being urged,
or even required to tamper with the occult in the name of alternative
medicine. None of this would have been possible without the postmodern
shift in thinking.
The Rest of the Story
Read The Death of Truth, where you will learn:
- about the documentation for the whole alternative medical
movement, including their explanations in their own words.
- about the shortcomings of the supposedly huge body of experimental
and clinical data supporting alternative medical theories. In
fact, outside review has discredited all their work.
- how the apologists for alternative medicines use postmodern
rhetorical ploys to divert scientific criticism of their questionable
- how the Bible views these practices.
Copyright © 1996 Xenos Christian Fellowship.
All Rights Reserved.
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