The High Cost of Holistic Healing (part 3)

Dear Reader,

This is my third post on the book The High Cost of Holistic Healing by Dr. Nolan Byler. You can read the previous ones here and here.

In this post I would like to look more specifically at what Byler has to say about the various alternative medical practices he reviews. There are some here I have never heard of and others I have little knowledge of or experience with. But there are a couple that I or my children have used or considered, particularly acupuncture and homeopathy. So I will not treat all of them equally. By the way, the practice which I spent so many posts discussing, Reiki, is not mentioned here (though he does mention “hand healers” which may be something similar; see p. 25).

One technique which Byler is willing to allow in some cases is the chiropractic manipulation of joints. He warns that chiropractors often also use occult methods so one should be wary, but the simple physical manipulation he says has “been shown scientifically” (p. 19). This, as I have said in earlier posts, is a big thing for him. He seems more often than not to rest everything on whether it can be proven scientifically which, again as  I have said before, is not the be-all and end-all for me. Personally, despite the repeated urging of certain Christian friends, I stayed away from chiropractic for my son. Manipulating one’s delicate neck bones and muscles, especially in a child, seemed way too risky to me.

Byler briefly mentions techniques which include “visualisation and uncovering of the unconscious” (p. 17). As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend to agree with him that anything which involves losing one’s consciousness and coming under the control of another is highly suspect and should be avoided. He mentions in this category biofeedback, however, which is one of the techniques my son’s second neurologist had recommended for his headaches (though they also recommended Reiki so I am not at all sure I trust them). We never pursued biofeedback and I know little about it but I am surprised to see it named here. If anyone knows more about how it actually works, I would be interested. Byler spends comparatively little time of these methods.

Not so with acupuncture (and the related acupressure). Acupuncture is part of what is called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It involves sticking needles in the body at various points (it’s a lot less painful than it sounds; one barely feels it) and can be used to treat a myriad of illnesses including pain, nausea, infertility and more. Sometimes heat is applied to these points as well. Over the years we saw an acupuncturist for my son and occasionally for myself, here is what I learned from her about the theory behind it:

  • There is an energy called chi which flows through the body. There is good chi and bad chi (when one releases gas, she says “that is the bad chi coming out”).
  • There are two opposing forces called yin and yang which must be balanced in the body. They are not one good and one bad; both are needed but in the right balance.
  • It can get out of whack.
  • Over time TCM practitioners found through trial and error which points in the body helped which ailments,
  • They were able to map out meridians which travel through the body and connect to various organs or functions.

Herbs are also a part of Chinese medicine though my acupuncturist was not trained in them and did not dispense them. She only does acupuncture and actually does the Japanese version though I am not clear on all the differences.

Byler adds to the above some information which my acupuncturist never mentioned:

“These meridians go out of your body at an acupuncture point, through the universe, and back into your body at another acupuncture point, bringing energy from the universe . . . they are traveling to the prince of the power of the air, That is where the supposed energy is coming from.” (p. 30)

The last sentence of this, attributing the power to Satan, is Byler’s interpretation. But if practitioners of TCM do believe the meridians connect to outside forces, I will confess that that makes me a lot more wary of the whole thing because it smacks of the kind of spiritualism which says we are all connected to the universe. However, my acupuncturist never spoke of such things. I have not at this time looked deeply into the issue but I would ask the following questions:

  • Is the idea that the meridians connect to outside forces part of the original theory behind acupuncture?
  • Is it inherent in acupuncture or can one believe in and practice it without this idea?
  • Does my acupuncturist believe it?

With regard to the use of herbs in TCM, Byler says that “some herbs cannot be recommended because of their occultic uses” (p. 30) and “if they are ‘blessed’ or ‘cursed’ by someone do not ingest them” (p. 31). Here I am reminded of Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Some Christians, especially those from pagan backgrounds, were bothered that others were consuming such meat. Paul’s response is that since the idols are nothing then the meat itself is fine to eat unless it causes one’s brother to stumble:

“However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (I Cor. 8:7-9; ESV)

Similarly, I see no reason to avoid herbs just because they may have occultic uses in other contexts or because someone says they are blessed or cursed. However, like Paul, I would agree that if someone’s conscience is bothered they should not participate in such things. The real point of contention, I think, between myself and Dr. Byler is whether such things are a matter of conscience and whether it is ever okay for Christians to be engaged in them or if they are always wrong. He seems to come from a place in which he has seen a lot of believers injure their health, both physical and spiritual, through such things, and he takes a strict stance against them. I am more inclined to say that if the spiritual aspect is not integral to the practice as it stands today then it can be a matter of conscience.

The issue of what one believes comes up again with homeopathy. Homeopathy is a form of medicine in which a minute dose of a substance is given on the theory that like cures like. For example, if one has a stomach ache then a substance that produces stomach pain will be given in a very small, even miniscule, amount. The homeopath we used was a medical doctor (a psychiatrist) but switched to homeopathy because he was so frustrated with giving his patients partial or temporary solutions and he wanted something that would really produce cures that last. He felt he had found this in homeopathy. (As a side note, this once again illustrates to me that alternative providers tend to be more compassionate towards their patients and more interested in real solutions; at least that has been my experience.) Homeopathy was founded by  a man named Samuel Hahnemann. According to Byler, “he believed the body had a vital force that controlled the order of the body and its defenses against disease. He thought that when this vital force or energy was disturbed, it would cause an illness. To him, the symptoms of disease were not bad; they were just the body trying to heal itself . . . Hahnemann used that theory to develop a system of treatment that nudged the body to heal itself by worsening the symptoms instead of suppressing symptoms” (p. 31). There is nothing here that seems outrageous to me. It is really fairly recently that western medicine has had a proper understanding of disease and its causes, The fact that some 18th century German had this theory actually seems to have a lot of merit in my eyes. He may not have been 100% on target but he is correct that the symptoms are not the main problem. Fever for instance is the body’s response to germs to try and burn them off. One must remember that in Hahnemann’s time most people did not understand viruses and bacteria and the role they played. Nor am I put off by the idea that there might be some sort of vital force in the body. I tend to think things are more connected in our bodies than Byler seems to give them credit for. Byler goes on to argue that there is n logic to how homeopathy works. Hahnemann apparently did attribute its effectiveness to a spirit-like power (p. 32). But the fact that we do not know how something works does not put me off it. This is not unique to alternative medicine; such things can be found in western medicine as well. Byler again and again says that if we do not understand fully how something works it must be occultic and the power behind it must be from Satan. I just don’t agree with this.

There is one final quote about homeopathy which Byler includes and which I want to address. He quotes The Complete Book of Homeopathy which says that homeopathy can save souls (p. 32). I have not read the original but even in the short citation Byler gives it is clear that there is a Christian context. The millennial reign of Christ is referred to. I would want to know more about the context before committing myself fully but it sounds to me like this is coming from a post-millennialist view of the end times in which the world is supposed to see a 1000 year period of peace before Christ’s return. This was a common view in the early 20th century. Many Christians saw human progress and expected the world to get better and better through human means such as technology and medicine. My point here is that taken out of context this quote seems daunting — of course homeopathy cannot save souls! But there may be an intellectual context which helps explain it and there does seem at least to be a Christian context in which it was said so I am not willing to throw aside homeopathy altogether based on  this one quote.

It is interesting to me that in one area at least Byler is willing to acknowledge that the history of a practice does not necessarily have bearing on how it is viewed today. As I said above, he is favorable to chiropractors so long as they stick to the physical and do not mix it with other occultic practices. Later on when discussing the Palmer theory he says that “many chiropractors still believe in the Innate Intelligence proposed by D.D. Palmer, the founder of chiropractic” (p. 42). The implication here is that some chiropractors do not believe in this theory though it is part of the origin of their practice and that those who have moved on are acceptable to receive treatment from. So my question for Dr. Byler would be why is it okay to say that chiropractors can practice without subscribing to all the original theory behind it all, but when it comes to other things like acupuncture and homeopathy he dismisses them outright because of their histories?

To sum up, as with most things there is a spectrum of belief. Some might accept most if not all alternative practices; some would rule them all out. Byler tends to be on the strict end of the spectrum and gives only a very few which he accepts under certain circumstances. This is no doubt because he has seen Christians go so wrong with them in his own medical practice. I, on the other hand, would rule out certain alternative practices entirely but others I am willing to accept and make use of. I would say that one should always follow one’s conscience if it is leading away from certain practices. If you are uncomfortable with acupuncture or homeopathy, please do not use them because I said they are okay.

In terms of how we evaluate each individual practice, Byler is very focused on whether something can be proven scientifically. If he cannot explain how it works, he dismisses is as occultic and assumes the powers behind it must be evil. And though he is willing to concede that some chiropractic is okay, for the  most part if there is any hint of spiritualism in the history of a practice he also dismisses it. He is also opposed to anything which seems to see  deeper connection between the physical and the spiritual or any sort of “life force”, whatever one may call it, pervading the body.

My own criteria for evaluating a practice would be slightly different. I do not care much about scientific validation. I do not care much about the history of a practice. Though I would consider such things, they are not the final arbiter for me. I would care about what my own practitioner believes. I would be very wary if they claim to be channeling or tapping  into any sort of larger spiritual power. This is why I rejected and wrote so many posts against Reiki. Another key difference in my mind between Reiki and acupuncture or homeopathy is that something real and physical happens in the latter two. Acupuncture uses needles; homeopathy uses medicines. Both of these are much more real and likely to produce results to me than Reiki which is about the laying on of hands (and actually not usually laying on but just hovering over). This is a somewhat subjective criterion by in my mind there is a real difference here.

Whew! That’s a long post, and I hope I have explained myself well enough, but I am sure there are fuzzy parts. There are still some fuzzy parts in my own head. Any questions?




3 responses to this post.

  1. I really appreciate this post, and what a thinker you are, Nebby.

    I have a few thoughts on this:

    1. I am familiar with the idea of chi. My husband uses a technique that incorporates the acupuncture/pressure points within it, and it works really well. I have read up a lot on chi, but not in a spiritual sense. I wanted to know what it *really* was. Acupuncture is, in my opinion, too effective to not be based upon something real, but chi as a concept always sounded too spiritual to me. The best description I ever read was by a neurobiologist who described chi from a physical standpoint. Now, I have no idea what evidence he had for this assertion, but he said that there are chains of water molucules throughout the body, and that these chains “end” in the points we call acupuncture points — that the meridians are the most conductive places in the body. It was all described in terms of electricity — actual flow of actual energy, not perceived “spiritual” energy. In later research I read something that seems to tie into this, which is the idea that if you measure electric frequencies you will find they vary depending upon the state of health of that point in the body. So, for example, if I injured my knee, the points around that knee would have one frequency (an unhealthy one, presumably), while the health knee would have a different frequency. So then you get into a way to possibly measure improvement objectively — to find a way to bring the injured knee back into the “right” frequency. All of this is based upon chi, but it isn’t the way of looking at chi that most TCM practitioners would approve of. 🙂

    2. Homeopathy is something we have tried (my husband is NOT a homeopath), and with good results. But I still really don’t get the “like cures like” thing. But I feel like other (Western) medicines I have taken in the past were also things I didn’t understand. I didn’t know why certain things worked — and other things didn’t. As a patient, we always know less.

    3. I think Byler’s take on herbs is ridiculous. God declared all green growing things to be good, and the idea that we should avoid them because someone somewhere declared that they really belong to Satan seems like a leaning toward dualism to me. In addition to this, many Western medicines are variations of herbs. Aspirin is a plagiarism of a type of tree bark, for example. Antibiotics are reproductions of molds. The idea to me that because I take an herb to a lab and reproduce it in a sterile environment is fine, but if it is growing in the wild, that might be bad, seems just silly. I use herbal medicine with my goat flock, and so we’ve never needed a veterinarian.

    4. It is interesting to me that he lists biofeedback because I think of that as Western! Here is a link to the Mayo Clinic’s information on it. It sounds very much like what I was taught to do when my son was in the NICU. I was supposed to watch the readings from his machines (getting feedback) that told me about his body (bio) and then adjust my behavior. We could tell if something was unpleasant to him by the way his different readings changed.

    5. The form of kinesiology my husband practices is based upon biofeedback, but it is the idea that the body can give feedback without a machine being necessary. So, for example, if a client of his has an arterial blockage, an easy, inexpensive way to detect that is to have the client blow all the air out of his lungs. He’ll have a momentary loss of strength due to the stress caused by the lack of oxygen. We know this is accurate because when we send people to a Western physician for verification we are…always right. 🙂

    6. I think a verse that fits this conversation well is: Romans 14:23 where we are told that whatever is not done in faith is sin. I was thinking of where you are telling people to listen to their own reservations. That is good advice. Even though it isn’t objectively sin, something can be sin for a person who isn’t listening to their conscience.

    I’m sorry I wrote so much! 😦


    • Thanks for taking the time to comment, Brandy. I am very intrigued by the part about chi. I think I feel the same way — that there must be a real thing (for lack of a better word) behind it. The fact that we don’t know exactly what that is and even that TCM practitioners don’t doesn’t bother me too much.
      I don’t know a lot about kinesiology. I know I said in another comment that it makes me wary. My understanding was that it was a lot more touchy-feely than what you are describing with the blowing which seems to have some real diagnostic value. But it is not something I have read much about.


      • What my husband has found is that the world of kinesiology is very broad and some of it is outright fraud. It is very sad, really, because while some practitioners are really passionate about helping their clients, as you said, others are out to take advantage of desperate people. 😦


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