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Chapter 2
The Conversion of a Skeptic

There is no hope for any speculation that does not look absurd at first glance.
--Niels Bohr

During America's celebration of its one hundredth birthday, a New England newspaper ran an item about a man who was arrested for attempting to obtain money under false pretenses. He claimed he invented a device whereby one person could talk to another several miles away by means of a small apparatus and some wire. Any idea looks ridiculous before its time. In 1492, "they all laughed at Christopher Columbus," as the old Gershwin song says. In 1955, the prospect of a moon walk would have sounded like science fiction to most people.

Since ancient times, medical practitioners have known that sugar pills work. Like everyone else, I had heard accounts of such cures, but, like everyone else, I did not take them seriously. They were curiosities--not applicable to real illness in real life. I certainly didn't want my doctor to give me a sugar pill! I wanted good, sound, state-of-the-art medical treatment that employed all the latest technologies. Like most people, I suspected that if a placebo alleviated a disease, it was because the disease had been "all in the mind" to begin with. Or else I thought it was one of those rare mysterious remissions that certainly no rational person would count on.

As to contemporary faith healers, I believed they were all charlatans of the Elmer Gantry variety, and I believed biblical faith healings were parables or metaphors or exaggerations. To my mind, if you were sick and didn't see a doctor, you were the kind of simpleton who would conduct your life according to the prognostications of astrologers or fortune tellers. When I was a child, there were gypsies living in my neighborhood. Reputed to be thieves and liars, they lived in unoccupied stores and gave readings by crystal ball. At age eight, I felt contempt for anyone who would seek their advice about anything, let alone health matters. When I grew up, I felt a similar disdain for Christian Science; whenever I heard of a Christian Scientist withholding medical treatment from a child, I was just as infuriated as the rest of "rational" society that a helpless innocent suffered needlessly because of the ignorance or the distorted religiosity of its parents. I believed that all psi phenomena were trumped up or were illusions that had simple scientific explanations. In brief, I lumped all things that could not be explained by the scientific method into a category labeled "hokum." I was a product of my culture. Who is not, and how do we become that way?

In my case, I was reared in a family of blue-collar, Jewish, atheist, old-time Bolsheviks. Religion was a kind of legerdemain--a sleight of hand that dulled your reasoning power and diverted your attention from the deplorable state of your life. It was "the opiate of the people," the drug with which the rich kept the poor from rebelling, by promising them pie in the sky in the hereafter.

But my own personal belief system was dichotomous; for, while my rational mind capitulated to rational positivism, another part of me, from the time I was a very little child, secretly believed in God. To accommodate this conflict, I described myself as an agnostic.

College didn't alter my cynical worldview, although my secret belief in God continued. As a literature major with a minor in philosophy, I was introduced to ideas that deviated sharply from those of the popular culture, but these mainly dealt with ethics and aesthetics. My professors were mostly secular humanists, and if theories about God and God's relationship with humans entered the lecture, they entered as intellectual games, empty abstractions that had no bearing on the real world.

When I finally got a PhD in English, I still believed in God, still mostly silently--for no academic mentions God except in the context of literature, history, or anthropology. But what a God I contrived--the fierce, vengeful, proud God of the Old Testament. There are, of course, many aspects of the God of the Old Testament. I chose the one that spent eternity judging the sins of his creation and was most intolerant of the sin of pride. He was the God of the Book of Job--the God who visited destruction upon his servants until they abjectly admitted to knowing nothing. He was the wrathful patriarch of Milton's Paradise Lost--the God who brooked no disagreement from even the most favored of his angels. Preeminently he was the God of Melville's Ahab, creator of the killer whale, whom you must thank for taking your leg off lest he retaliate for your thanklessness by taking off the other.

My old God was not implacable. You could change his mind, but you had to beg, cry, implore, promise. You had to make trades: "God, I will not do this if you will not do that." "God, if someone has to have cancer, let it be me instead of my daughter." This God did not emanate love; he doled it out as payment to creatures separate from him--the creation was here, where I am standing, and God was away off there, a Supreme Court judge, untouchable and with lifetime tenure. He was a God of justice--right is right!--so could not desist from killing humans in retribution for their sins unless he supplied his Son to take their suffering upon himself.

It was with this religious disposition that in January of 1982 I entered the hospital for the beautification of my body. As for the events of my life at that time, I had been twice married and divorced, had two grown children, had had an erratic career as an assistant professor of English, a writing consultant and editor, and a director of advertising and public relations. I had been an activist for civil rights, women's rights, and the environment. I loved to have intellectual discussions about God and religion, but I conducted my life as a secular humanist.

I was reasonably healthy. I and my family went to doctors probably less than most: I went for the annual checkup, the pap smear, and the obligatory flu shots when the newspapers warned of still another un-Ameri-can virus--certainly not for every sniffle or throb. I took vitamins, tried to cut down on junk food, and was fairly physically active--folk dancing, tennis, and heavy gardening. I feared only one disease--cancer. And I feared cancer in only one site--the breast. So, of course, cancer of the breast is what I got. I do not say "of course" ironically; I mean it to be a rational statement. I now fully believe, "What you fear comes upon you."

When the cancer was discovered and my distraught doctor announced that I would need a mastectomy, I replied that what I needed was time to think. By the end of the following week, I was healed. When I returned to the doctor to have the implant stitches removed, he was astonished when I told him that I had decided not to have cancer surgery. The lump in my breast remained, clearly discernible to the touch. Nevertheless I knew that I was cured.

I had the lump surgically removed (for a reason I will explain in chapter 18, "Fighting Disease--A Losing Battle") in 1990, eight years after the original diagnosis. When the lump was removed I consented to no other treatment--not the conventional lymph node removal, not radiation, and not chemotherapy.

I have never been healthier. Aside from the lumpectomy, I have not visited a doctor since 1982, except for seeing a podiatrist for tennis shoe arch supports.

I know that my healing was not a miracle in the traditional sense. It was a placebo effect--a cure that came about without the employment of any external agency, a miracle that anyone can perform, a self-healing.

If not a miracle, where does God come in? God comes in by any other name--Cosmic Energy, Divine Mind, the Tao, Christ, the Holy Spirit; any name will do that connects the individual with a higher power. Because of my revelation, I know this power to be the Creator God whose universe is perfect and in whose image we are made. But belief in God is not necessary for self-healing. Self-healing is a product of faith, but not necessarily of faith in God.

***

The response of the medical industry to the placebo effect has been neglect. In 1945, one of the few doctors who investigated the subject was "unable to find any articles on placebos listed in two major medical bibliographic indexes." Now, 50 years later, I find a similar disregard. Organizations like the Institute of Noetic Sciences have looked into the placebo phenomenon, and at the end of the year 2000, the National Institutes of Health finally held a conference on the subject. Yet studies on placebos make up a minute fraction of the huge and continuously burgeoning medical literature.

There are other striking omissions. For example, among the hundreds of references on remission that I scanned in preparation of this book, not one had the term "spontaneous remission" in its title. Medical researchers, so zealous in discovering the cause of disease, seem far less interested in cures not attributable to medicine. Yet almost 100 percent of doctors will concede that disease, including cancer, does unaccountably disappear. Few doctors have the courage to openly admit that 80 percent of illnesses will heal themselves. The great majority of doctors simply ignore earthshaking statements that challenge the profession, even when those statements come from someone high in their own ranks such as Sir Douglas Black, a past president of Britain's Royal College of Physicians, who claims that modern medical treatment affects the outcome of only 10 percent of diseases.

One of the few investigators into the placebo phenomenon, Dr. H.K. Beecher, found that almost 40 percent of the hundreds of patients he tested benefited from placebos. He points out that placebos "have been given credit for almost all medical cures throughout history," and that placebos "must be the single most effective medicine known to man." Yes--the sugar pill is the philosophers' stone sought by alchemists throughout the ages.

Yet these startling statements hardly budge the medical mindset. "Noncauses" of cures remain a mystery that the medical industry scarcely explores.

In my own case, neither the doctor who originally verified the presence of cancer cells, nor the one who did the lumpectomy eight years later, showed any interest in my continued health. My self-healing, to the extent they were willing to believe it, made me an eccentric, like a flagpole sitter or goldfish swallower.

"Well, I guess your magic is stronger than my magic," said Dr. Artz.

"I can't force you to take the usual treatments because yours is not the usual case. Most people aren't as lucky as you," said Dr. Levy.

They did not ask what might be behind my "magic" or my "luck." They did not ask what I was eating, drinking, thinking, or feeling. Here I was, a person with a verified cancer, who agreed to none of the traditional treatments, and I was stating that I never felt better. Wouldn't you think the doctors would be curious? Wouldn't you think they might ask me to participate in a study of anomalous cases? To my knowledge, no comprehensive study exists of people who have had a serious ailment that mysteriously disappeared.

If someone's cancer is not medically treated, that person does not enter the statistics on cancer. The statistics therefore are completely skewed in favor of conventional treatment by chemotherapy, radiation, and other damaging procedures. People who either do not visit doctors for a diagnosis or do not follow up with medical treatment for a diagnosed disease simply do not show up in the data.

***

The placebo effect has been recognized by that rubric for hundreds of years. It has also been named miracle, magic, hex, and voodoo. Whatever it is called, it is the most obvious, most universal, and oldest proof we have that what cures human beings is not an external agent, but their own mind. By mind I do not mean the rational faculty. I mean the totality of brain, feelings, senses, unconscious and conscious awareness, intuition, soul, spirit, and all else unnamed that constitutes consciousness.

It took ten years of formal education to get my PhD It has taken me several years longer than that to gain the insights and acquire the information and hearken to the divine guidance that enables me to make this claim: If you have had an idea that you have assimilated deeply, so deeply that it is no longer an idea but part of the very structure of your consciousness, then what was once an idea is now your faith. The placebo effect comes into play when an idea concerning your health has become your faith. Anything can function as a placebo; chemotherapy and sugar pills function in exactly the same way.

Table of Contents  |  Introduction  |  Chapter 1  |  Chapter 2  |  Chapter 3


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