Monday, November 26, 2007

Catholicism and Acupuncture

Fr Timothy Finnigan, Parish Priest of Blackfen and blogger, wrote on acupuncture and Catholicism in his regular column in the Catholic Herald, 16/11/07, concluding:

A Catholic ought to be sure that their therapist is not committed, in their therapy and advice, to promoting a world view that is incompatible with Christianity. If there is any doubt about this at all, it would be better to steer clear of acupuncture.

I wrote a reply which was published in full in the 23/11/07 edition, as follows:

Sir,

Fr Finigan is quite correct to point out that acupuncture is based on a medical 'model' related to Taoism, a philosophy incompatible with Catholic teaching. It should also be remembered that conventional Western medicine is based on a medical model which takes the philosophy of materialism for granted. This philosophical outlook is held by the great majority of researchers and practitioners, and has many implications for medical practice. Like Taoism, it is incompatible with Catholic teaching.

As well as being impractical, it would seem unnecessary for ordinary Catholic patients to worry about the metaphysical commitments of their doctors. All medical models are imperfect; treatments based on imperfect models can still have good results; prudence directs us to the doctors best at curing disease, not the ones best at philosophy or theology. The focus of moral attention, on the other hand, should be on whether a doctor is giving concrete advice lacking in the moral dimension, as when materialist doctors propose to treat the unborn or the dying without the respect due to human persons. It is far from clear that medical traditions based on Eastern philosophies such as Taoism are worse off, in this respect, than traditions based on home-grown absurdities such as materialism.

Indeed, not even a medical tradition rooted in Catholicism, such as the 'humours' theory used in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, is immune to manipulation by immoral doctors. Ben Johnson and Nicolo Macchiavelli both wrote plays lampooning doctors who recommended sex (if necessary, outside marriage) as an aid to health. The compatibility of the medical model with Church teaching at a metaphysical level does not guarantee the compatibility of a practioner's advice with the Church's teaching on a practical, moral, level.

Yours,

Joseph Shaw

6 comments:

Matt Doyle said...

Good to see the reply published! An excellent point as well!

Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

i agree too!

Anonymous said...

Good reply. We (my wife is Chinese) knew the Chinese acupuncturist for a very famous pop singer. That acupuncturist we later found out.... beat his lovely Japanese musician wife and then left her for a man. So unless the Father can document cases, I have a hard time believing that acupuncturists are intrinsically religious per their practice. I also know of everyday Chinese in the US who would call themselves taoist if asked about religion but are as observant as the non involved Catholic of many countries .

Anonymous said...

Fr Finnigan should have chosen his words more carefully...agreed. Perhaps, though, further dialectic will produce a clearer understanding of what Fr Finnigan hoped to communicate?

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