Medicine: The New World Religion
Olivier Clerc, France
When the Christian missionaries of
the last three or four centuries were evangelizing so-called "primitive
people,” they believed that they had only to destroy or burn the various cult
objects of these people in order to eradicate their religions, superstitions and
Centuries after the conquistadors
tried to stamp out the Inca culture, or the Inquisition tried to stamp out the
protestant ‘heresies,’ or the similar attempts to annihilate the Voodoo or
the many African and Asian religions, we know that such arrogant high-handedness
does not work. These beliefs still continue today, sometimes under different
guises, long after the objects of worship associated with them have been
This lesson from history is not
only valid for primitive people and their religions. It can equally be applied
-- if not more so -- to aspects of our own modern society. Indeed, even a
superficial study of contemporary culture will reveal that the supposed
secularization of present day society is just an illusion. Even though most
people do not conform to the outward show of religious custom and practice --
mostly Judeo-Christian in western culture -- the beliefs and superstitions
remain deeply embedded in their subconscious, influencing many aspects of their
daily lives without them realizing it.
And as several sociology studies
have shown, the superstitious beliefs that used to be attached to the formal
religions have in many cases simply been transferred to other objects, persons
or events. The daily evening television news bulletins, watched by millions
worldwide in their respective countries, the stars of show-business and sport,
humanitarian associations, cults and all sorts of other things in modern life
have now become the new gods we venerate or fear, or the shrines at which we
worship or curse, and where we still experience those primitive religious urges
and feelings where we can believe without necessarily having to think or
However, it is in the field of
medicine that this unconscious transposition of the religious experience -- and
more specifically the Judeo-Christian ideology, myths, beliefs, expectations and
hopes -- seems to have had the greatest impact. The facts show clearly -- for
anyone taking the time to study them -- that medicine today enjoys an
astonishing degree of undeserved credit that is out of all proportion to its
actual results or promises.
Real health keeps regressing while
the great medical “miracles,” such as vaccines and antibiotics, are now
clearly showing their limitations, which some had foreseen and warned of right
from the start. This undeserved credit comes mostly from the fact that medicine
and science have replaced religion as the only certain belief in an uncertain
And the doctors and scientists are
seen as the priests of the new religion, delivering through the certainties of
science what the old discredited gods were not able to deliver. If we can no
longer believe in the miracles, the cures and the curses of the old religions,
we can certainly believe in the miracles, the cures and the destructive powers
of the new science.
Almost imperceptibly medicine has
taken on a saving or messianic role, the characteristics of which we must
examine. Looking back through history, there is a sense in which medicine can be
said to have displayed characteristics that have at various times characterized
the Roman Catholic Church:
- The control and manipulation of
- Total obedience
- The destruction of heretics
The stamping out of
All this, of course, has been done
in the name of public health and the general good, just as the church acted for
Let me make my position clear -- I
am not a conspiracy theorist; I do not believe that doctors, scientists and
governments are intentionally and corruptly conspiring together, abusing their
powers in pursuit of wealth, “Big Brother” and “Brave New World” just a
step away. Rather, I do believe we are faced with a phenomenon that is largely
of the unconscious kind.
What I believe is happening is that
people, whether within the medico-pharmaceutical industry or outside it, are
being subconsciously influenced by deeply rooted myths, fears and superstitions,
which are now being projected onto the new screens of science and medicine. This
produces an amazing paradox.
Although medicine sees itself as
exclusively scientific and rational with no room for spiritual or human
dimensions (such as psychic healers or shamans who are dismissed as charlatans),
it organizes itself and functions in a way that can be described as
intrinsically religious. The paradox is that by rejecting any spiritual
dimension medicine in fact becomes the toy of the forces and myths it tries to
ignore and cannot control.
Mere denial of something’s
existence has never made it disappear, except perhaps in our consciousness, but
instead it is banished to our subconscious mind where, beyond our control, it
can roam free, wreak havoc, and wield even greater power.
We can see, then, that even though
our society considers itself to be secular, it has remained as Christian as it
was a century ago but with two major differences. Firstly, our society is not
aware of it. It believes itself to be rational, scientific and free of
superstition. It fails to recognize that it is still, in effect, observing the
old religious rituals but under a new guise. Secondly, our society now lives its
religious experiences through secular forms -- medical ones in particular -- and
has at the same time transferred its hopes and aspirations from the spiritual
world to the material.
Medicine, then, has become the new
world religion. The specific myths, beliefs and rites of Christianity have been
unconsciously projected over medicine since Pasteur. As I explain in detail in
my book, we can establish a very close parallelism between the catholic religion
and modern medicine, although for lack of space I cannot go into all the details
of each comparison in this article. In brief:
- Physicians have taken the place
- Vaccination plays the same
initiatory role as baptism and is accompanied by the same threats and fears.
- The search for health has
replaced the quest for salvation.
- The fight against disease has
replaced the fight against sin.
- Eradication of viruses has taken
the place of exorcising demons.
- The hope of physical immortality
(cloning, genetic engineering) has been substituted for the hope of eternal
- Pills have replaced the
sacrament of bread and wine.
- Donations to cancer research
take precedence over donations to the church.
- A hypothetical universal vaccine
could save humanity from all its illnesses, as the Savior has saved the
world from all its sins.
- The medical power has become the
government’s ally, as was the Catholic Church in the past.
- “Charlatans” are persecuted
today as “heretics” were yesterday.
- Dogmatism rules out promising
alternative medical theories.
- The same absence of individual
responsibility is now found in medicine, as previously in the Christian
Patients are alienated from
their bodies, as sinners used to be from their souls.
People are still being manipulated
by their fears and childish hopes. They are still told that the source of their
problems is outside them and that the solution can only come from the outside.
They are not allowed to do anything by themselves and they must have the
mediation of priest-physicians, the administration of drug-hosts, and the
protection of vaccine-absolutions.
Just as the magnetic field of a
magnet placed under a sheet of paper controls the way iron filings fall on its
surface, revealing the invisible lines of force between the two poles of the
magnet, a “religious field” likewise imperceptibly structures and organizes
the development of modern medicine. Invisible, impalpable, this “religious
field” is made up of all the beliefs, myths and values of the Christian -- and
more specifically the Catholic -- religion. In other words, the secularization
of society happened only on the surface.
We took away the "iron
filings,” the specific religious forms, but we did not change the “current
of thoughts,” the underlying “religious field,” which continued to exert
the same influence but through medicine. That is the reason why behind the
different structures of medicine and the Church of Rome we find the same
fundamental concepts, the same relationships, the same characteristics, the same
fears, the same hopes and expectations.
This substitution of medicine for
religion has had many unfortunate consequences. In medical research, it
influences what should be looked for and what can be discovered. Any discovery
or theory that is at odds with the overarching orthodoxy is rejected and its
authors called heretics. Entire areas of research, as well as promising new
lines of approach, are thus disqualified.
Furthermore, the unconscious need
to bring the medical world into “religious” obedience frequently leads to
(involuntary) falsifications of results, as became clear with Pasteur's
discoveries. The medical credo takes precedence over reality, something that
scientists refuse to acknowledge when it does not correspond with their
Lastly, the hidden religious
dimension of modern medicine inhibits the free debating of already fixed
beliefs, preventing them from being properly reexamined and criticized. Indeed,
dogmatism, irrationality and passions -- all characteristic of the religious
experience -- take precedence over any calm and carefully thought out argument,
even over the most tenuous facts. The same vehemence that led Galileo to be
condemned by the Church for his theories, in spite of the scientifically
demonstrable facts, is now being used by medicine to reject any thesis that is
contrary to its own dogmas. Science has learned its lessons from the Church.
My aims in writing and lecturing on
this topic have therefore been several. Firstly, I wanted to bring to the fore
this phenomenon of projection and transfer of religious content, which takes
place in the medical field. In recognizing this phenomenon, we should then
dissociate from medical practice the spiritual aspirations that quite logically
can only be satisfied in the spiritual dimension. It is dangerous to mistake
eternal life with physical immortality, or to think we can achieve collective
salvation through science and genetic engineering instead of individual
salvation through transformation and personal achievements.
I also hope that by bringing to the
fore the influence of religious beliefs in medicine, which is but one example of
a very widespread phenomenon today, readers will start thinking about how their
beliefs filter their perceptions, biasing and distorting them.
Every time an object, a person, a
social group or an event becomes the target of religious projections, there is
danger. Their real characteristics fade in the eyes of those who color them with
their beliefs. These targets then become the objects of religious urges,
impervious to any rationalization, whether they are expressed through fear,
hatred, “devilisation” and search for scapegoats, or through deification,
idealization and unconditional devotion.
From Princess Diana to Waco, and
from Mother Teresa to Saddam Hussein, there are numerous examples of the kind of
consequences brought about by this transfer of religious expression to real
persons or situations.
Beyond this dissociation of
medicine and religion, I would like to encourage an increased awareness of the
fears found in the depths of our consciousness, which remain the hidden
determining factors of most of our actions. As shown in my book, these
fundamental fears -- fear of death mostly, but also fear of evil, fear of
suffering, fear of separation and fear of solitude -- have lead humanity, at all
times throughout history, to make up all kinds of beliefs in an effort to
exorcise these fears.
Then with the development of
science and the rise of intellectualism mankind has tried to rationally justify
these beliefs, hidden under the cloak of medicine and life sciences.
In other words, there are three
layers superimposed inside us:
1) A core of fears, from which we
have learned to protect ourselves by covering it with
2) A layer of beliefs, which make
us feel safe (even though those fears have not disappeared), this layer being
itself dissimulated under
3) An intellectual varnish, a
rational facade, which give us the illusion of having transcended
superstitions and beliefs, and which shelters us from our fears, keeping us
barricaded behind intellectual knowledge.
But in reality as soon as any
unexpected event scratches this varnish, our underlying beliefs and fears reveal
their presence and their indirect influence.
As long as they are not
acknowledged, accepted and transformed, these fears will feed on every area of
human endeavor. The intellect cannot think freely and the heart may not love
fully, as long as both of them are hamstrung by the permanent task of appeasing
our deepest anxieties, which keep trying to resurface in our consciousness.
No technological innovation, no
scientific discovery, no external knowledge will ever enable us to avoid this
confrontation with ourselves and -- more specifically -- with our shadow. It is
quite instructive to see to what degree the intellectual and technical knowledge
of this century -- often quite remarkable -- remains captive to the fears that
haunt society. We only have to look at the poor state of our planet, at the
multiplicity of wars and at the emergence of new diseases, to see how this way
of using our inner capacities is unproductive.
Finally, through this increasing
awareness and consciousness to which I invite my readers, I hope to encourage
greater individual responsibility, be it on the medical or on the spiritual
level. It seems inexplicable to me that we should give away our power to
whatever external authority (priests, physicians, experts) and then blame them
for abusing us with it.
Very few people are capable of
being totally impartial and disinterested, especially when money and power are
at stake; and especially when psychological studies show that the noblest
motivations often go hand in hand with more dubious unconscious intentions.
Therefore, taking personal
responsibility for our own health, our own inner evolution, and our own life at
every level, without rejecting any available help or advice, remains the safest
and most rewarding attitude. The obscurantism that endures under new forms will
not so much be fought by the lights of science than by the sparks of our own
self-awareness, that each one may awaken in oneself. At least, such is my
above text first
appeared in CONTINUUM Magazine and is the introduction to the book "Médecine,
Religion et Peur; l’influence cachée des croyances” by Olivier Clerc. The
book has been published with Editions Jouvence, 1999. France. Olivier Clerc has
been working for 20 years in the field of alternative medicine, spirituality and
personal development, as author, translator, journalist and publisher.
Beside his book
on medicine and religion, he has written a book on lucid dreaming ("Vivre
ses rêves", Helios, 1983) and another about isolation tanks ("L’océan
intérieur", Soleil, 1985), and was chief editor of a French magazine
dedicated to health, ecology and social issues. He was editorial director of
Editions Jouvence, Switzerland, until February 2001. [Books
by Oliver Clerc]
author can be contacted at [email protected]