feral skepticism

We watched an interesting program last night, with a young journalist investigating a “spiritual healer”, whose name I can’t remember, but who is 20 years old and has a rising reputation on new age and related healing circles.

The healer was an unassuming and apparently honest young man, and his work seemed to be greatly appreciated by the people using him. Maybe a little naive and on a learning curve, but hell, 20 years old? Would that I was that mature at 20.

The journalist was, well, a journalist. He assembled an “investigation” which half heartedly looked for the positives of the healer’s practice, but actually gave far more weight to what amounted to accusations of fraud. He gave quite a lot of time to an organization called “Bad Psychics”, who were skeptics on a mission to debunk and discredit all psychics, spiritual healers, mediums etc, as far as you could tell.

No doubt there are people out there who are frauds. The majority of healers and psychics though are I believe sincere, if as flawed as any other person. The skeptics on the program I would have to say came over as destructive, a bit driven, and righteous. Van Helsing apparently lives.

I think the healer on the program was naive but genuine. I have doubts about his channeling the prophet Abraham with a British accent, but he was clear that for instance the painting he had of his spirit mentor was just how his mind saw him, so I’ll be opened minded. But he was honest, he was clear that he did not claim an ability to heal people (but said that healings had happened), or guarantee an outcome, and that he gave people symptomatic relief was clear even from the TV program.

Yet he had a campaign against him. And this program I felt just slid into its preset bias quick enough. One woman went with extreme back problems to this young man, and she clearly had some definite relief afterwards (probably explainable through the deep relaxation she experienced during the session). The camera lingered on her handing over a £20 note to the cashier afterwards. But I wondered here, do we really think that medical doctors get paid doggie treats? We have an NHS (“socialized” medicine) in the UK, so it comes out of taxes, but if you went private, do you really think you’d be handing over £20 for a consultation and treatment? Dream on baby, and better find your credit card.

Later they returned to the woman, who was reported to have found initial relief but was now back in extreme pain. She had paid the healer £20 for this. So it seems she had one session. Now call me dumb if you will, but is not the fact that she had only one session with no follow up part of the equation here?

The conclusion of the journalist was that the skeptics had “won”, but that the healer couldn’t be denied the temporary relief and hope that he gave people, and that people often came to him having exhausted conventional medical treatment. The doctor he conferred with in his investigation felt that medical records could not confirm any improvements in patient conditions that could not be attributed to other factors, but that the subjectively positive effects of his treatments could only be a good thing. There was no evidence of fraud uncovered, but that wasn’t noted by the program.

The doctor’s conclusions were measured and honest. But the journalist’s conclusion that the “skeptics” had won was I think a piece of spin, based on the idea that skepticism is always what it presents itself as. Skepticism in its pure sense is a positive thing, open minded, awaiting evidence. There’s nothing wrong with holding out on someone else’s belief system, indeed it is often a virtue. But the mission of some self described skeptics is a lot more than that, a lot more emotional, with far more of an agenda driving it. It is actually a rival belief system, and more of an ideological war of assertion.

It is difficult for people to be rational about health, because the stakes are so high and emotional for them. That always has to be recognized. If we think that people approach the medical profession rationally, then we should look again though. We have faith in them and modern medicine beyond what it claims for itself. We expect a guaranteed fix from science, and a risk free insurance policy. We expect miracles, just at the hands of white coats rather than exotic robes.

Modern medicine deserves enormous credit for what it does, because it can do things reliably which nothing else can. That it can also be toxic and on occasion go wrong is something which the medical profession is all too aware of, and that is part of the equation, albeit one which good doctors keep in mind, and which researchers constantly try to improve upon.

That many, many people also seek help outside the field of modern medicine should tell us something though. Modern medicine does not have it all. Just ask a doctor. Science serves us, but reality in its entirety does not fit in a scientific box, and neither does human well being. People aren’t stupid, they are just more than the clients of a single discipline. This is why people talk about complimentary therapies, because they and modern medicine compliment each other.

The Van Helsings are waging a battle not for people’s well being, but for their own world view.

“Dracula” By LoreleiXScorpio (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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