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Volume 10, Issue 3: Anvil

Snake Oil and Traditional Medicine

Douglas Wilson

Health care is very much a preoccupation of modern Americans—fully one sixth of our GNP is spent on it. Whenever that many people spend that much money on something, at least a few editorials should be written about it.

With the full knowledge that the following contains some gross generalizations, I would like to divide medical practice into two broad categories—traditional and alternative.
As reformational believers, we should be interested in reforming everything that we do, bringing all things into line with the Word of God. Now, with this principle in hand, what are we to make of this basic medicinal choices before us?
For many Christians, alternative medicine looks very attractive. Some defenders of traditional medicine may be mystified by this, wondering why any believers have any problems with the reigning medical orthodoxy. But the disillusionment of many Christians with traditional medicine is not hard to explain. The reasons range from profound ethical concerns to very mundane issues . . . like that five dollar bowl of jello on your last hospital bill.
But the ethical concerns are the greatest problem here—traditional medicine has abandoned its historic commitment to the preservation of life. Why be shocked when people don't want their cancer treatment from the same institution that dismembers infants? Some doctors are outraged if babies die accidentally in the care of midwives but are tolerant and accepting when their colleagues kill babies on purpose.
And so, because of this great ethical apostasy in traditional medicine, many Christians have turned away. But I want to argue that this turning away, while understandable, is still to be resisted.
Traditional medicine is like the papacy before the Reformation. Extending the picture, alternative medicine is anabaptisitic. And our desire should be to see reformation come to our hospitals, a very important part of the great heritage of the West.
Christians have an obligation to seek the reformation of traditional medicine, and they should reject alternative medicine. This statement is not made about this treatment or that one, but rather concerns the guiding principle which still exists at the heart of traditional medicine, and which is regrettably absent from alternative medicine.
Traditional medicine is still Christian at the center, and alternative medicine is unfortunately pagan at the core.
The guiding principle is that of verification. The Bible requires that every fact be verified in the mouth of two or three witnesses. This principle—that of independent, objective verification—is still alive and well in the world of traditional medicine. Consequently, science, in the older sense of that word, still functions there. New treatments may be learned, and old errors jettisoned. But in the alternative world, when attempts at verification are made, the effort is largely anecdotal. The witnesses speak, but do not agree.
Put another way, recognizable discipline still exists within the world of traditional medicine. There is therefore hope for our medical heritage.
Such discipline is unfortunately lacking elsewhere. When it appears, so may we.


Buckets of Cheer for Weyrich

By Douglas Jones

The comparisons were immediate, but something was a little off. Word has it, that the reporters covering the President at Martha's Vineyard were watching the film Wag the Dog just before the President made his announcement that the U.S. had unilaterally attacked Sudan and some tents in Afghanistan.

Around the country, few, if any, newspapers and nightly news shows failed to make some mention of that satirical film. The military insisted that the strike had been planned long before the President "took responsibility" for overusing passive constructions.
Wag the Dog itself almost entirely lacked art, preferring the poetry of falling boulders. The film is the story of a President publicly accused of molesting a teenage girl at the White House. To distract the country from the scandal, his consultants decide to create a war. Real wars are expensive, so they hire a producer to fake a war Hollywood style, and soon the country is fixated on the "crisis in Albania."
The film's thesis shouldn't be all that shocking. Civil governments have often worn the mask of warfare to manipulate citizens. But I can't help thinking that the final effect of this film is actually the opposite. Instead of being a new cynical high for film, it really has the effect of undermining those who suggest that governments ever conspire. It does this by showing that its faking of war is thoroughly unbelievable. It involves so many minor stage hands, subdirectors, and designers all of whom are supposed to remain devotedly silent during the worldwide uproar. That would be impossible. And no one leaves the film believing that such a faking could be pulled off, but the film can then subtly apply that conclusion to any doubts of State.
Our public cynicism is permitted to believe that Presidents sometimes act out of self-preservation but not that whole governments do. With that, Wagging the Dog sits quite comfortably within current establishment opinions.


Literacy is Dangerous for Women

By Douglas Jones

The wrestling match between word and image has always been part of biblical culture. The second commandment shows us that words and images aren't neutral media. But in an interesting turn, critics are beginning to use this contrast against Christianity. In "The Curse of Literacy" (Utne Reader, Sept-Oct. 98), Leonard Shlain, M.D. argues that the advent of literacy caused a dramatic imbalance in favor of the dominance of males.

Shlain explains, "certain masculine characteristics began to characterize a society after a critical mass of its people had learned to read and write. What triggered this profound shift was literacy's reliance on the analytic thought processes linked to the brain's left hemisphere. Meanwhile, the feminine traits associated with the right hemisphere [e.g., wholistic thinking, emotions, aesthetic appreciation] were systematically devalued. This imbalance revealed itself in many ways, including a cultural decline in goddess worship and the status of women. Another outcome was a new disregard for the visual image, whose appreciation is closely tied to the right [more feminine] hemisphere." Shlain suggests that "there's good evidence that a culture's first contact with the alphabet drives it mad. Hunter-killer values thrust to the fore, followed by nationalism, imperialism, and bloody religious revolution." And then monster trucks.
But he is optimistic. Our contemporary devotion to images helps undermine masculine culture, including popular shifts away from more left-brained, masculine sports like baseball for more feminine "sports that are more involving for the eye, such as football and basketball." This shift to images is a "balm bringing about worldwide healing."
The apologetic answers to these charges are too easy, and I won't detail them. But they would deny the alleged peacefulness of goddess cultures and point to the irony of using nasty, analytic brain science at the core of his argument. And given the constraints of evolutionary folklore, why is brutal patriarchy evil?
More interesting, though, are the popular but confused distinctions like masculine linearity vs. feminine wholism. When you really stare at such distinctions they evaporate quite quickly. Take an Aristotelian syllogism. Nothing is supposed to be more linear. Yet every syllogism sits embedded in a thick nest of assumptions, commitments, and rules. Nothing moves in the syllogism without moving a very wholistic, contextual scene. Linear thinking is simply a postmodernist fake. Similarly, wholistic thinking is supposed to include nonlogical things such as feelings, images, and the appreciation of music. Yet graphic perspective and harmony have a painfully strict logic linking their linear parts. And like others, Shlain speaks in conflicts: feminine thinking is wholistic (one) yet concrete (plural); masculine thinking is abstract (general) yet survivalistic (particular). At sundown, the linear-wholistic division is like trying to slice water. Tell them to try again.


Just a Simple Hey!

By Douglas Wilson

I don't really have a detailed argument here, just a beef. I have no hope that anything will be done about this, just a desire to vent a little. Somebody, I don't who, as a student of mine pointed out, is messing around with C.S. Lewis' Narnia books.

In the HarperCollins version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, on page 143, there is an illustration of Aslan walking with the White Witch. In it, Aslan is walking on his hind legs, with his arms (!) behind his back. Huh, says I. Hmmm, says you. Anybody who knows anything about these books knows that Aslan is not a man who walks on two legs—he is a true beast. Neither is he a trained circus animal. The book's credits indicate that the offensive illustration is by Pauline Baynes, but I don't remember ever seeing it before. But whoever drew it didn't have a clue at the time they drew it, and whoever published it, viz. HarperCollins, didn't have a clue either. There, that's one.
And then, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (same HarperCollins series), take a look at pages 188 and 189. The Lord Rhoop has been rescued from the Dark Island, the place where dreams, not daydreams, come true. In earlier versions of the book, Lord Rhoop asks a boon, which is to never be asked about his time there. Caspian grants the boon with a shudder.
But in the New Nineties Narnia, the whole exchange is sanitized, probably so kids wouldn't rack up larger bills with their therapists, but the altered section is still a sight to behold. Imagine looking at a beautiful Persian throw rug, with a six inch band of orange shag thoughtfully inserted in the middle, and you will get some idea of how this edited section reads.
And who knows what else has been tinkered with? Keep your eye peeled. And who knows what changes will be made in the years to come? Perhaps Lewis will become a feminist?
I would publicly call upon Walter Hooper to do something about this if I didn't suspect that he had something to do with it already.

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