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What Christians Need to Know about Alternative Medicine

When Candy Gunther Brown interviewed Christians in the Pentecostal tradition for her 2012 book, Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, she made a surprising discovery. Many Christians who believed in the healing power of prayer were also using alternative medical practices such as homeopathic medicine, chiropractic medicine, acupuncture, and yoga—practices stemming from non-Christian traditions. In her new book, The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America (Oxford University Press), Brown, a religion professor at Indiana University, explores the faith underpinnings of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and the ways Christian America has appropriated it. CT reporter Ruth Moon spoke with Brown about why CAM appeals to some American Christians.

Why examine the religious underpinnings of CAM?

Some Christians, if they knew more about the religious connections of alternative medicine, wouldn't want to participate. Some people I interviewed started off as enthusiasts for different alternative medicines. But once they found out about the religious dimensions, they didn't want anything to do with it.

There's also evidence that practicing something connected with religion can actually change people's beliefs. Christians, in particular, tend to think a person's intent determines whether something is religious. They don't realize that active participation can actually change someone's intent. Over time, people who start off attracted to an alternative practice because there's a perceived health benefit start to embrace the religious ideas underneath these practices.

How are these practices different from Christian faith?

Many CAM practices share ...

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The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America
Oxford University Press
2013-08-29
336 pp., $28.18
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What Christians Need to Know about Alternative Medicine
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November 2013

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