Graham crackers, naturopathy entwined with evangelical Christianity

Graham crackers, naturopathy entwined with evangelical Christianity March 1, 2021

naturopathy christianity graham crackers atheism united states
An American favorite: cherry cheesecake with graham cracker crust. (Pamela D. McAdams, Adobe Stock)

What do Christianity, breakfast cereals and graham crackers have in common?

They converged in the mid-19th century in conjunction with the emergence of naturopathy, a pseudo-scientific, alternative medicine array of so-called “natural” and “non-invasive” health practices based largely on traditional folk treatments rather than evidence-based medicine.

A Presbyterian preacher named Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) rose to prominence as 19th century Americans were becoming enamored with “various non-exercise treatments, cures, and dietary schemes designed to encourage overall health and well-being,” including naturopathy, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

naturopathy christianity graham crackers atheism united states
Drawing in 1883 of Sylvester Graham, developer of Graham Crackers. (Thomas Low Nichols, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Naturopathy included such practices as hydrotherapy, electrotherapy, herbal medicine, nutrition, massage, and homeopathy, which, the encyclopedia notes, “drew on the Hippocratic notion of the healing power of nature and the capacity of the body for regeneration.”

Graham was an early adopter of alternative health fads of his time, preaching temperance, vegetarianism, sexual restraint, and water (bathing) treatments. Today, he is better known as the inventor of whole-wheat “graham crackers,” a mainstay of 21st century American supermarkets. Originally they were considered a health food.

Ellen White (1827-1915), another pioneering health promoter, was co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventists, a Christian sect that advocated naturopathy. A proponent of  vegetarianism and hydrotherapy, White, with her husband, James, also created the Western Health Reform Institute (WHRI).

Ellen White, founder of the Seventh-day Adventists Church in the United States and a naturopathy proponent, 1864. (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Notably, the institute was later acquired by John Harvey Kellogg, a reportedly “eccentric” physician who had founded a health sanitorium in Battle Creek, Michigan, that catered to the rich and famous. The sanitorium promoted diet, exercise, correct posture, fresh air, rest, and avoidance of “unnatural” sexual practices as the tickets to good health.

If you read cereal boxes, you might recall that Battle Creek is the original production site for Kellog’s corn flakes and other breakfast cereals and foods. That’s because Kellog and his brother, William, devised a process for flaking grains into ready-to-eat cereals. With Charles. W. Post and nutritionist Horace Fletcher, the Kelloggs brought increased dietary awareness to American consumers and contributed significantly to development of what is now a multi-billion-dollar health-food industry.

So, you see the interwoven evolutionary relationship between Christianity, flaked breakfast cereals and graham crackers (which has become a generic, lower-cased term due to so many cracker copiers).

Which brings me to the main purpose of this post: to report on how the naturopathic industry in this new millennium, as evangelical Christianity, continues trying to force their way into society-wide public normalizing and respectability.

Obsessions with pseudo-science health practices and faith are closely related in the sense that both are based on unsubstantiated propositions: an existent deity (that can’t be located), in the case of Christians, and health treatments lacking objective scientific evidence of efficaciousness, as promoted by naturopathy aficionados. They both reside mostly in LaLa Land.

Their shared tactic is relentlessness and perseverance in trying to force broad public acceptance of their messages.

Evangelical Christians’ unending attempts in the past few decades to further embed their doctrines and values in the tax-funded public square and in United States government is well known to all. It includes cultivating leaders, like former President Donald Trump and like-thinking top members of his cabinet to accommodate Christian Right political goals in the public arena, and gaining Supreme Court approval for before- and after-class Bible classes in supposedly secular public schools, and other initiatives.

The naturopaths are laser-focused on state legislatures, where they have had some success in securing laws that allow their practioners to be registered and licensed by states, as medical doctors are. They hope this tactic will help provide them a patina of faux real-world respectability. Encouragingly, fewer than half the states have obliged up to now, which hasn’t deterred the industry from trying to change that. Year after year after year.

The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) reports that 25 jurisdictions in the U.S. currently have laws regulating naturopathic practitioners, some with licensing provisions, including in 22 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The AANMC is pushing for new regulatory-approval bills in another eight state legislatures in 2021, and existing bills are progressing in 10 other states. A big push in underway in Canada, as well.

The Science-Based Medicine website in an article titled “Legislative Alchemy: Undaunted by rejection in 2020, naturopaths return to state legislatures seeking licensing and practice expansion,” warns that the naturopathic industry plans aggressive action in 2021.

The article contends:

“Each year, naturopaths who, via their closed-circuit educational and testing system, fancy themselves as primary care physicians on equal footing with MDs and DOs (they’re not), attempt to legitimize their self-regard by becoming state-regulated health care professionals, preferably via licensing. So far, thanks to the magic of Legislative Alchemy (the incorporation of pseudoscience into law by state legislatures), they’ve succeeded in 22 states and D.C. Once licensed, naturopaths return to the state legislatures year after year seeking to expand their scope of practice, the Holy Grail being (despite all the rhetoric about “natural” remedies) full prescription privileges, a goal they’ve met in only one state: Oregon.

“2020 was no exception to this scheme, although their efforts were largely a failure. True to form, naturopaths are back in 2021, lobbying state legislators to perform that old legislative magic again.”

How successful naturopaths will be in broadly extending their acceptance in the U.S. and Canada via “legislative alchemy” remains to be seen.

But the takeaway here is that naturopathy, like supernatural religious faith, is based on little more than people’s biased need for a sense of fact-free emotional enthrallment, undisturbed by truth.

And until we better train ourselves — and teach our children — to not chase intellectual shadows and emotional gratifications beyond reality, far too many of us will continue this pointless quest. Unfortunately, the consequences are often dire.

Graham crackers, anyone?


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