Thursday, March 29, 2007

Molly recently had another tongue biting incident with a true believer in homeopathy. For those unaware of what this is it is branch of quack medicine formulated by an otherwise undistinguished German physician, Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755- 1843). The Wikipedia encyclopedia has an extensive article on this matter, and the item Homeowatch in our Scientific Links section does a full and thorough job of debunking the whole idea. For the mercifully ignorant "homeopathy" is the bizarre idea that curing (or preventing) disease can be done by application of what is actually nothing more than extremely diluted solutions of some substance that would cause similar symptoms of the disease. The dilutions are so extreme that rarely does ANY molecule of the supposed agent appear in the so-called medicine. The idea is that some mystical "potency" of the substance is enhanced by vigorous shaking with each dilution. Any resemblance to the convulsions of the sect known as "Shakers" are, of course, unknown to the believers. Also, why the thousands of other molecules contained in what is actually less than perfect distilled water are not also "potentated" is a question best not raised as the belief in such things is an emotional one, not a rational one.
All that being said, an idea fell on Molly's head as she went back to base. This often happens, and Molly has quite a few bumps on her head as a result. What is this stuff ? I know it is part and parcel of an "identity package" here in North America. It isn't that a person (outside of a few immigrants from Europe- most of them quite old) will believe in homeopathy and not believe in say herbalism, chiropractic, spiritual healing (as long as it's properly New Age and not Fundamentalist), and any number of other bizarre beliefs that have one thing in common- they are called "alternative" because there is no proof whatsoever that they work. More rational people may withhold judgement on say, acupuncture, but know that most of the other things are complete nonsense- and certainly not accept the traditional explanation for acupuncture as anything worth paying attention to. No, there are exceptions (such as where children inherit the beliefs of their parents), but almost all believers in things such as homeopathy here buy not just one belief but a whole belief package, one that comes with some rather bizarre "options" if looked at across cultures. Sorta like a non-functioning car with a myriad of doodads whose only function is to proclaim status.
Yup, status !!!! The whole idea is to proclaim some sort of "rebel stance" which supposedly says, "look how smart I am" without ever really having to take any risks (social risks at least) and without ever actually having to critically think. The latter can be a rather painful and laborious process, and a ready made identity that can be purchased as "the whole pig" is a much more convenient option for the slothful. In other parts of the world such as Europe and India homeopathy doesn't have this "rebel advertising slogan" attached to it, and believers there are more likely to be socially conservative than otherwise.
Not here, however. Here it is very much of a status symbol that is part of the visible badges of class identity in North America. It is, in fact, Holy Water, but the Holy Water of mainly one class and those who aspire to become part of it. Outside of the immigrants it is the Holy Water of that part of the ruling class whose product is social control rather than a real good or service, that part of the working class whose product is the same (and who hope one day to reach the level of the rulers-management) and that part of the "entertainment industry"(from musicians, through craftspeople to mindworms-"councillors") who produce material for such.
Not that this is the only type of Holy Water afoot in the world. Wikipedia has an interesting, if very much incomplete article on the subject. Some of its lacunae can be filled in from the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the same subject. Some of the gaps,such as the fact that many other religions other than Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, Muslims and Sikhs have a version of holy water, have to be searched down elsewhere.
In North America where religious beliefs quite often follow class lines there is a whole industry of Holy Water for Sale in the Evangelical and Fundamentalist milieu. Any resemblance to the pre-Reformation sale of indulgences is as conveniently ignored as threatening facts are ignored by New Age devotees of homeopathy. In Europe, homeopathy is pretty much a regular upper class belief- as the Royal Family demonstrates, and, as I said, it isn't part of a commodity of a "false rebel identity". Because Catholicism(or Orthodoxy and Islam) has evolved as the common religion of whole cultures the belief in the magical properties of properly manipulated water crosses classes. In such religious cultures one may also discover far more sophisticated justifications for the belief than are available to either American Evangelicals or American believers in the "New Age". Not unexpected given the amount of human effort put in over the centuries in apologetics.
Not that the human tendency to "buy the whole pig instead of select cuts" isn't present in other areas of human life such as say politics. Molly has had decades of watching ridiculous and often wildly contradictory "fads" sweep through leftism, fads that are adopted more from trying to appear acceptable to ones confreres than from anything like the slightest particle of thought. The same thing occurs on the conservative side of the political spectrum. What North American New Ageism has over these and other examples (such as traditional religious belief and its communities) is the wildly "spectacular" (in the situationist sense) and commercial nature of its beliefs. The belief in say "healing crystals" and homeopathy is much more obviously purely commercial hucksterism than say "Cuba is a great country" (the left) or "immigrants are taking over the country" (the right). It also has a much more obvious hidden commodity- STATUS- than most political or religious beliefs.
But anyways, Molly has managed to escape falling completely into one of her obsessed trivia hunts over this matter. So I'll leave it at that except for the following gems I found while looking up trivia on this matter:
1)The first is a "found joke". It's been reported that the Vatican has plans to freeze Holy Water and market it- under the name brand of "Popesicles".
2)Another news item is from a satirical Northern Irish publication called 'The Portadown News'. One of their "news" items has the headline 'Vatican Sends Holy Water Cannon' from "our security correspondent, Roger Base", It reads:
"Security sources have welcomed the arrival of a Holy Water Cannon from the Vatican City. "Spraying holy Water on Orangemen is pretty much like spraying ordinary water on them, admitted RUC officer Bill Mason yesterday. "But it will really annoy them, and that's the main thing.""
3)From a truly bizarre site labelled Domestic-Church .Com comes the following instructions for constructing your own Holy Water Sprinkler for home use. They say,
"Every home should have a fount for Holy Water by the front door, so the family can bless themselves as they enter and leave the house....Holy Water can also be used at evening prayers to bless the children before they head off to bed. The father, in his priestly office as head of the family(as Christ is the Head of the Church), should bless his children every day....Holy water is also useful to bless your new house, your new car, the bedroom of the latest child having nightmares, your Advent wreath, Christmas tree, Easter feast and every other family celebration and devotion (also it removes stains better than Spin N' Span- Molly). Blessed Holy Water should be available at the back of your church....The item goes on to describe how to construct what looks like a S&M tool from any 6" stick. The relevant part of the instructions is as follows:
Any member of your family old enough to handle a pocket knife can make one. The most important thing to remember when using a knife is to cut away from yourself. Never point the blade towards your hand or body"
Molly really !!!! thinks that anyone with the desire to make such a thing needs more than a little more instruction on the handling of sharp pointy instruments. She actually really wonders if such people should be trusted with anything more dangerous than a spoon.
4)In the same vein, from an outfit called Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, comes the offer to purchase genuine Holy Water Founts. They range from $198.00 for the economy model to $720 for the deluxe version. Be the first kid on your block to own one. Sprinkle the Protestant neighbours and watch them burst into flame. This site is also bizarre, but it is useful because it connects to a cult of modern heresy hunters called Our Lady's Warriors. These frustrated Dominicans have gone to the trouble of preparing a "hit list" of who's who amongst the Catholic Left. They hate them, of course, and would gladly do them harm if they could, but its actually a great list for those interested in seeing what's what on the catholic left. If you appear here you obviously have at least something going for you.
5)Finally, another little New Agey quote from a site selling something called Kabbalah Water. Molly has heard rumours that Kabbalah is a new and trendy thing amongst the famous and mindless. Read the following. If you can't see that it is obvious gobbledygook then maybe you also believe in homeopathy;
"The Kabbalistic blessings and meditations that are used to create Kabbalah water, for example, bring about elegant and balanced crystalline structures in water, while negative consciousness has the opposite effect. This is hugely important. In a very literal way, Kabbalah Water is life's original blueprint information brought into the modern world.
Just as it did at the first moment of Creation, the growth of every living organism should follow the blueprint. All the metabolic and regulatory processes of life require information- and because of its unique crystalline structure and fractal design, Kabbalah Water is an excellent information transmitter. Positive, health-giving information is defined by symmetry and high energy while low energy and entropy-like static in TV or radio reception- characterize muddled information. Therefore the condition of the water we take into our bodies determines the quality of the information being transmitted to our immune system, digestive system and even to every atom of our bodies."
Cough, cough, cough says Molly. That water is pretty hard to swallow. molly would suggest a few more misunderstood buzzwords to make this snake oil even more appealing to the poorly educated gullible. The ever-present "holistic" is missing as is "holographic","channeling" "quantum" and "synergistic". In her role as ad consultant Molly advises that these words could be placed anywhere in the above, and the whole thing would say just about as little as it says now. But it would look even better as part of the status-package. The relation of this New Age effort bears about as little resemblance to traditional Jewish mysticism as any of the fashionable trash being marketed bears to any of the religious traditions from across the world being looted for profit. But the above was a particularly amusing effort.


BEING HAD said...

I think you are confusing the Shakers with the snake poison drinkers. The name shakers were given to a group of puritanical Christian extremists from the 19th century who thought abstinence from sex even in marriage was the way to go. They of course have faded away for obvious reasons. They got their name because it was said that they experienced such extreme emotions from the worship of G-d during prayer that they literally shook. The Snake poison people on the other hand believe that G-d protects them such that they could drink snake venom. Shakers wouldn't even drink alcohol.

mollymew said...

Not Exactly,
I chose the 'Shakers' for "literary effect" to contrast with the skaking of homeopathic "medicines". The "snake handlers" that you mention are still a much more ongoing cult in "backwoods America" than the Shakers, but from pure literary effect "shaking" is more applicable than drinking distilled water and calling it medicine. This stuff is NOT "poison"; it's merely water- with magic attached to it and 10,000 times the price(at least).
The Wikipedia site has an article on the Shakers, and apparently their last colony was alive enough in 2005 to sign a legal contract with the state of Maine and several conservation groups to set up a trust that gives their property over to the state for "conservation purposes", allowing the final Shakers to live out their old age on the property without fear of eviction. In the intervening two years the final Shakers may indeed have expired. If they have you should correct the Wikipedia site.
The history of the Shakers is actually quite interesting from what I have dug up. What you say is true, but the interesting parts are elaborated in the Wikipedia article. The point that I came away with for further search is "what is Arminism ?". Sounds like an interesting heresy that I have been ignorant of to this date.