Orbiting Dicta

The Bishops and Reiki

In their struggle to regain the moral high ground following a decade of embarrassment over negligence with regard to sexual abuse and financial mismanagement, the bishops of the United States Catholic Conference have boldly taken on the Dark Side of the Force in their recent condemnation of Reikian hands-off massage diagnosis and therapy.  A number of Catholic-sponsored spiritual health centers have employed Reikian therapists from time to time, but now their banishment seems to be imminent.

The reason for the bishops’ ire is twofold: Reiki lacks “scientific credibility,” and it smacks of non-Catholic religiosity, having emerged over a century ago in Japanese Buddhist circles.  (For anyone curious about the time and energy devoted to the effort to root out this alien intrusion into nice Western medical and spiritual practice, the committee report is available at http://www.usccb.org/dpp/Evaluation_Guidelines_finaltext_2009-03.pdf.)

The bishops’ statement neglects to cite a single example of a medical or scientific study that disproves or even questions whether Reiki produces measurable results as a diagnostic or therapeutic procedure.  Surely gentlemen with such faith in science could have consulted just a bit.  The more likely thorn in the episcopal side is the Buddhist provenance of the technique.  But Reiki is not a branch of Buddhism or even Shinto.  Like acupuncture and acupressure and a number of other healing practices emanating from east Asia, its origin among practitioners of a non-Christian religion has no bearing on its scientific or medical credibility.  As with yoga and Zen meditation, practice can be disengaged from doctrinal positions.  This has been convincingly argued by theologians for over fifty years, including the Benedictine monk Dom Jean-Marie Dechanet, Dom Bede Griffiths, another Benedictine, and the noted Jesuit scholar, William Johnston.

Ironically, if not entirely comical, for years at their conferences the Catholic bishops delighted in having Richard Rohr and other proponents of the Enneagram regale them with insights into their compulsions and personality types, using a system that has far more questionable origins than Reiki.  Developed by Bolivian-born Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo on the basis of pseudo-Sufi speculations originating in the school of the occultists G. I. Gurdjieff and Madame Helena Blavatsky, “Enneagram theory” was introduced to the United States in 1971 by the Jesuit, Robert Ochs, and became wildly popular in Catholic circles in the 1980s, especially among religious men and women.  And bishops.  Despite heroic efforts, no one has succeeded in providing the Enneagram with a shred of medical or scientific credibility.

And while the bishops are at pains to defend prayer and faith healing, these elements of therapeutic practice remain highly controversial in the medical and scientific community despite decades of efforts to test them rigorously.  No matter that many believers pray themselves to death rather than seek competent medical assistance, prayer is, the bishops know, good for you.  Reiki isn’t.

What Reiki lacks is not scientific credibility, but rigorous scientific scrutiny.  But even if it doesn’t work better than praying or whatever placebo might be employed, is it really worth getting those scarlet knickers in such a twist?Â