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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Catholic Reiki

Posted by Simon Halliday | Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | Category: |
Is it just me or is the notion of the Catholic Church accusing Reiki practitioners of having beliefs that "lack scientific credibility" seem ironic? I am in favour of the Church promoting belief in science and even for it to accuse Reiki practitioners of science, but I must admit that a frisson of irony bubbles through me at the thought.

Of course, reiki is 'superstition' and is in no way similar to Catholic beliefs like saints laying on of hands. Of course.

Currently have 6 comments:

  1. Si, your comment seems a little ungenerous to me. As I understand it, Catholicism accepts several criteria for truth: some religious (e.g. Biblical authority; tradition); some secular (e.g. empirical research). On that basis, it is reasonable for Catholics to reject (within their own institutions, mind you) practices which satisfy none of their criteria for truth, such as reiki. To a Catholic, there is neither biblical, traditional, nor empirical reason to accept it. Your veiled charge that Catholics are hypocritical is based on an assumption that empirics have a monopoly on truth - an assumption that, obviously, neither Catholics nor believers in reiki share. I wouldn't, say, feel comfortable criticising how Buddhists run their institutions on the basis of Christian assumptions.

  2. Alistair, for me the partitioning is ironic. It may not be generous, true.

    However, let us separate biblical authority, Catholic beliefs (i.e. non-Biblical catholic practices such as canonising and worshiping saints), and empirical truths. In the second category, we find praise of figures not in the Bible, but who people still worship for practices that are empirically unverified. If we believe that non-Biblical authority should be empirically verified then my comment still stands. No protestant Christian must prescribe to Catholic doctrine in addition to Biblical authority, hence my comment stands for them. Yes?

    Either way, it may remain ungenerous, but I don't see that as a problem with the veracity of the statement or with my understanding of its irony.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. OK. So Christians agree that certain Non-Christian practices can be tested scientifically. Then we should, regardless of the assumptions, be able to test certain things that Christians predict. Consider the following two examples.

    1) Buddhists believe in energetic flows and Reiki, this follows from their faith system. Reiki, as a practice, has been shown not to have an empirical basis, its effects are no different from a placebo.

    2) Christians believe in prayer, this follows from their faith system. Prayer has been empirically tested. The evidence indicates that prayer has no effect, in fact those who know that they are being prayed for perform worse than those who are not prayed for. Prayer as a practice is shown not to have an empirical basis, in fact in certain cases people do worse than when they are in a placebo group.

    By your argument, 1) is consistent with what you propose, but 2), because it is about their own (Christian) system, would be rejected outright because it questions the veracity of prayer and of the Bible. If one is disallowed from questioning the predictions of a specific system then we have a problem. It would also be hypocritical to me, it is basically proposing that science can attack other people's faith-based beliefs, but it cannot do the same with Christian beliefs. Is this a valid position?

    I am still holding to an empirical view here. I am not certain whether this fits into your 'empirical monopoly on truth' notion, but it appears to me that it is applicable here. I believe that we can empirically test statements made in the Bible. If we can't then I am uncertain what we should do, accept it as incontrovertible truth? (Also, we then get into hermeneutic questions of whether it is literal or requires interpretation, which muddies the water somewhat.)

    Otherwise, and to understand better what you mean, what specific assumptions would be prefer to discuss? What are the assumptions in this particular case that you believe require discussion?

    Lastly, and forcibly, I don't believe we should simply accept what people say as applying to their own group, they are, by definition because of Christian evangelism, arguing that it should apply to others. The others, before making a choice, should therefore be able to decide whether the statements that the people make are truthful or not, accepting for the moment that an empirical test does have some truth value.

    OK this has been rambling and I don't have the time to make it more coherent, but I hope you get the points that I'm making.

  5. Sorry, Si - my last post contained some inaccuracies :) This is a clarified version:

    Yes, protestants don't have to follow the Catholic church. But in this case, the Catholic church was talking only to Catholics, not to protestants. It doesn't make much sense to criticise them for something they didn't do.

    To get back to the point: What I was speaking against, Si, was your criticising Catholics on the basis of assumptions they reject. For Catholics don't believe that all "non-Biblical authority should be empirically verified". For example, the non-Biblical belief, incidentally shared by protestants, that "the Bible is true" cannot itself be empirically verified.

    Rejecting reiki appears hypocritical, and thus ironic, only when we assume that empirics have a monopoly on truth. From a Catholic point of view, based on its different assumptions, there is no hypocrisy, and thus no irony, at all (because there is neither Biblical, traditional, nor empirical reason to accept it).

    If we seek a productive dialogue with those who hold different points of view, based on faith or whatever - say, in order to convince them that one of their beliefs is mistaken - then it's best that we engage with their assumptions, rather than simply criticise them on the basis of our own. But if we just want to laugh at them, then I guess we needn't bother.

  6. Thanks for your response, Si. I’ll try to respond to most of it, even though it ranges far from the original point.

    When did I, or the Catholic Church, “propos[e] that science can attack other people’s faith-based beliefs, but cannot do the same with Christian beliefs”? You misrepresent us. As far as I know, there is no Catholic or protestant doctrine prohibiting scientific testing of Christian beliefs. Of course, there is biblical reason to believe that empirically testing God will be fruitless (Luke 4:12: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”). So, to Christians, the “empirical failure” of prayer in the famous experiments you refer to was entirely to be expected. The idea that the value of prayer can be empirically verified or falsified is laughable to a Christian. In any event, Christians do not believe that prayer necessarily tends to improve health. But this is all beside the point of my original complaint.

    Also beside the point is your question, “If we can't [empirically test biblical statements] then I am uncertain what we should do, accept it as incontrovertible truth?” That is a question each individual has to answer for themselves.

    Next you ask, “What are the assumptions in this particular case that you believe require discussion?” To repeat yet again, the behaviour under question is the Catholic Church’s rejection of Reiki within Catholic institutions. They reject it because neither the Bible, nor Catholic tradition, nor empirical science gives reason to believe that Reiki improves health. So, within Catholic institutions, which are to be run on Catholic principles, Reiki isn’t permitted. The assumption is clear: medical practices unsupported by scientific evidence, and based on metaphysical beliefs (“universal life energy”) that are inconsistent with Catholic beliefs, whether biblical or traditional, are not appropriate for Catholics.

    It is indeed the case that Catholics believe that their version of Christianity is true, to the exclusion of other points of view. But the prohibition in question – the target of your initial criticism – applies only within Catholic institutions and to no one else. The Church would expect others to comply only if they freely chose to embrace Catholicism.

    But putting all of that to one side and coming back to the only point I wanted to advance (although I am a Christian, I am no Catholic and don’t wish to defend Catholic assumptions here): I believe that public debate goes precisely nowhere when we condemn others’ beliefs and practices without considering the point of view on which those beliefs and practices are based. Empty sniping is easier and simpler than engaging in genuine dialogue, but also pointless. For it angers, drives people apart, dampens discussion and, in the end, fuels misunderstanding and ignorance. This is a disease that infects not only religious debate, but all forms of debate, political and otherwise. It is something I am committed to speaking out against.