instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Not all alternatives are valid alternatives

Reiki has always struck me as a bit dodgy -- or, to use a term from the mysterious East, as a bit ho ki -- and I've never had its utility in evangelization explained to me. So I don't see why it should be so popular among, ah, "ministerial" women's religious congregations, and I'm not sorry to read, in the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine's "Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy":
Since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy.
As you'd expect from a committee on doctrine, most of the document deals with the incompatibility with Christian teaching. Reiki's incompatibility with scientific evidence is largely established with the observation:
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 problem seems to be that the mechanism said to underlie Reiki is a "universal life energy" for which, on the one hand, there is no physical evidence or explanation and, on the other hand, there is no shortage of advocates of a spiritual explanation -- which takes us back to the incompatibility with Christian teaching.

I think it would be helpful for the USCCB -- maybe through the Committee on Doctrine, maybe through some other means -- to give a more general teaching on alternative therapies, which more or less by definition (as Bill Logan pointed out in a comment at Via Media) want for reputable scientific studies. I think Bill goes too far in writing of "too great a degree of scientism" in the document, though, because I think there is more that can be said about alternative therapies used in Catholic settings than a categorical "wouldn't be prudent."

Maybe not too much more, though, since quite a few of the alternative therapies in actual use seem to come with a built-in pseudo-mysticism. Finally, there are the wise words of St. Augustine, who in his Literal Interpretation of Genesis cautions:
It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on [scientific] matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.
Link to USCCB document via Via Media.