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Is Medicine A Fundamentalist Religion?

Lissa Rankin's picture

For the first 36 years of my life, I was raised in a fundamentalist religion, where I was indoctrinated by zealots, frequently abused by the leaders of my religion, and oppressed when I expressed dissenting beliefs.

My religion was medicine, and I’ve now learned that much of what I was taught was patently untrue.

The Medical Religion Of My Childhood

My father was a physician, so I grew up in hospitals and scrubbed in on my first surgery when I was twelve. I then spent 12 years training to be a physician in medicine’s ivory towers and ten more years practicing my religion.

Physicians were our priests, the war on disease replaced the fight against sin, and pills were my communion.  Those who questioned the dogma of my religion were persecuted as “quacks” the way the church persecuted heretics.

I was religiously trained to worship the dogma of medicine like the Bible, and it was made very clear to me that I would be excommunicated should I ever turn my back on what I’d been taught.

Until my mid-thirties, I was a devoted practitioner of my faith.  I bowed to evidence-based medicine, technology, pharmaceuticals, and the idea that physicians are gods with superhuman powers, who never make mistakes and should always be trusted. I believed that patients couldn’t be trusted with their own bodies, that only physicians trained in Gross Anatomy in prestigious universities had the knowledge and experience required to heal a body, and that a treatment is only effective if randomized, controlled clinical trials prove that the treatment is more effective than a placebo.

Losing My Religion

Then events happened that shook the bedrock of my faith. One of the gods I worshipped threw a bloody scalpel at me. Another sexually harassed me. A third forced me to scrub into surgery when I was vomiting and had diarrhea, after injecting me with anti-nausea drugs and fitting me with a Depends diaper.

In the process of shedding my feelings of victimhood, accepting responsibility for my own choices, and taking charge of my life, I realized that it was my job to sift through all the dogma I was taught and decide for myself - what was true? What wasn’t?  The inquiry that followed led to my search for what is true about medicine - what I hold dear, what is worthy of worship, and what I must release as outdated doctrine.

The Burning Questions

A series of burning questions arose in my mind, questions of a heretic, questions like “Who knows a body better - the patient or her doctor?”

I had been raised to believe alternative medicine was a bunch of bunk, but if those in charge could be wrong, was it possible that treatments like acupuncture and herbal medicine might actually cure people?

And, if so, is it possible that it’s not the needles or herbs, but that perhaps, practicing love could be the most healing potion we give our patients?

Of all the questions popping up in my curious mind, the one that wouldn’t leave was this: “Is it possible patients have more power to heal themselves than we understand?”

My Self-Healing Journey

As I spoke about in my TEDx talk, this inquiry began my own physical, emotional, and spiritual self-healing journey. What transpired in my personal life - and what I witnessed in the lives of my patients - threw everything I learned into question.

Once I realized that I had healed myself in spite of Western medicine, it threw a monkey wrench into everything I held as gospel. What had happened? And what did it mean for me as a doctor? I was a zealot on a mission to find out whether I was flat out crazy or whether there was any scientific proof that others had done the same.

What ensued was a deep dive into the Bible of my religion - the peer-reviewed medical literature, journals like The New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

What I discovered is that the mind has immeasurable and inexplicable power to cure the body and that we may have at least some control over this.

Keep An Open Mind

I’m not dissing religion here.  But I am critical of fundamentalist beliefs that keep us from opening our minds - even in the face of bold-faced truth, as is the case for the mind/body connection. Medicine needs to shift from closed-minded dogma to open-minded curiosity about how the body heals, even if what we discover shifts some of the power from doctors to patients.

Share Your Thoughts

Have you personally experienced the power your mind has over your body? Have you witnessed it in others? Tell us your stories!

In awe of the mind,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com,author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary.

Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook



Wendy's picture

Allowing the Body to Heal Itself

Hi Lissa,

Wonderful article! My dad was a doctor as well (back in the '50s 60's)
although he did have an interest in holistic medicine (ahead of his time) he did buy into pills as salvation and I remember at 13 thinking how wrong it was to think pills were always the answer. I do have a healing story that happened in my early 20s when I was very unconscious (naive). Apparently I had stepped on something and there was a pretty big hole in the sole of my foot. Probably the size of a quarter and maybe 1/2 inch or 1 inch thick. I went to a doctor because I was in a lot of pain and couldn't walk on it. He said they needed to do surgery and remove skin from somewhere else and he explained this very complicated procedure. I had no insurance. This was in the '80s I believe and the surgery today would cost probably around $10,000. I said that was crazy and I wouldn't do it. He said I was crazy and I HAD too. Infection, etc..so I left and limped for a while and forgot about it eventually and YES my body/mind healed my foot beautifully!! You would never know there was once a huge hole. I say unconscious/naive because I suppose, as I got older I might have been so afraid and fearful because of their belief system, but I just wasn't that worried about it then. LOL

Tiffany 's picture

Andrew Weil used similar

Andrew Weil used similar wording: "science [in relation to medicine] is exactly analogous to religious fundamentalism." and was sneered at by the heavily rationalistic magazine "The Economist".

Fellow TEDster Brene Brown said, "Science says if you can't measure something it doesn't exist." My point is: it's kinda hard to measure non-scalar quantities that make our live worth living (love, well-being, sense of purpose), but boy, do we know it exists.

Eric's picture

Fundamentalism is never a good thing...

Hey Lissa...

As I may have shared with you before, one of the things I like about Mary Baker Eddy is that the religion she founded (Christian Science) came to her (in her words) through "revelation, reason, and demonstration." Nice combination there... being open to revelation, wise enough to reason through things (not just once, but many times), and never forgetting that without the demonstration, you haven't a leg to stand on. This is what makes this religion work for me... I consider it a thinking religion and an effective health care practice. This is not to say that everyone reading this comment should go out and become a Christian Scientist... only that I agree with you that fundamentalism – be it medical, religious, or otherwise – never works and, in fact, often hastens its own downfall.

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