In light of recent conversations I’ve had relating to the Mormon culture region (MCR), I wanted to pose a question to the Blogdom. I have been impressed on my encounters here in the MCR to what extent the faith necessary to accommodate golden plates and resurrected angels has been sufficiently strong to encompass other exciting intellectual assertions, like the healing efficacy of silver, the restorative power of chiropraxy (so much more than a backrub but so much less than a religion), and the enormously tempting lucre of nutraceuticals and “health drinks.” MCR Mormons seem to love what is now termed Complementary-Alternative Medicine (CAM) in the canon of social science. When a friend asked whether I thought his relatives should be allowed to give her daughter colloidal silver, I did some reading on argyria, a now rare disease of silver miners, in which, after the whites of your nails turn a dusky blue-grey, you begin to have cognitive impairments and seizures, which can occasionally be fatal. What amazed me was that in the pubmed-indexed literature, almost all of the recent reports of argyria came from Utah and Arizona, and they were people taking colloidal silver for its purported health effects (it is a topical antiseptic used in people with severe burns, but there’s never been any evidence that it helps when ingested, and in fact it’s generally considered toxic on the basis of argyria). Then I started looking around and discovering surprising numbers of people employed by (or dealing for) expensive fruit juices marked by unsubstantiated claims for efficacy and a proselytizing fervor among distributors. And still more who report firm belief in the power of CAM remedies.
I instinctively (but not exclusively) feel that these kinds of extra-canonical beliefs dilute true religious faith and make believers into the kinds of straw people that Dawkins likes to squawk at triumphantly. To my eye, we would be better off if we admitted that chiropraxy is about the need to be touched, listened to, and made to believe in the possibility of recovery rather than the fantastic claims of energy currents responsible for disease and susceptible to joint popping. And admit that health juices represent a desire to have less processed food, to feel connected with the rhythms of nature, rather than endorsing bizarre and scientifically falsified claims about the nature of physical disease. To me, this would be cheaper and less embarrassing, although I will confess that I am fascinated by these belief systems and have spent some time studying how people interpret them, what the metaphysics of these disciplines are.
Some friends and acquaintances counter that my intuitive skepticism about herbal and natural remedies or non-traditional health disciplines indicate a lack of overall faith, and they point to the Word of Wisdom, which, the more I read it, does appear to be a metaphysical physiology that fits better with chiropraxis and homeopathy than the canons of scientific medicine. Or they complain that I’m too taken with science, too ready to accept scientific explanations of health which are culturally mediated or suspect within postmodern viewpoints. Or they think I’m just plain rude and self-absorbed (statistically the most likely explanation).
What’s the verdict? I’m interested to hear all sides and have made my position clear so people understand where I’m coming from rather than to make people feel ashamed or embarrassed about their health beliefs. What does it mean for Mormons to accept CAM practices? Are they gullible marks of a corrupt industry, or are they aware of metaphysical currents of great power that we deride at our own peril? Or something in between?