Have several friends who believe in things unseen, and no doubt there’s something to that — things unseen, after all, must easily outnumber things seen in anyone’s lifetime.
I’m talking here not about Christians or other believers in the world’s great religions, though they certainly could be counted among those who trade in things unseen and unproven. I’m talking rather about those who might flee from such religions, having put away the things of their childhood, as they put away old toys and baubles, and run straight into the arms of very crooked beliefs indeed.
Yesterday my wife Jennifer and I had three lovely, lucky guests over for dinner. Jen outdoes herself, on just about every such occasion, in turning the common objects of the produce and bakery aisles into something uncommonly savory and delightful. She is a masterful cook and never fails to transform, even transubstantiate, the common into the uncommon.
Yesterday she transformed the raw ingredients we’d bought shortly before, at Whole Foods, into this menu:
- Prosecco and pistachios
- Butternut squash soup with crispy pancetta
- Pasta al sugo de pomodoro e funghi secchi, plus artisan bread (pasta with tomatoes and dried mushrooms)
- Bibb lettuce wedges with gorgonzola and walnuts
- Georgia O’Keefe’s apple pecan cake with rum sauce
And after the first course, we washed everything down with flagons of good pinot noir.
Bread and wine, then, at this gathering of friends. The raw and seen was transformed, by my wife’s lovely, capable hands, into the cooked and seen. An aura, if you want to call it that, of the sacramental (ditto) hung about the table. But then I had to prick the bubble.
Two of our guests were a psychologist couple who believe in bioenergetics. I knew they’ve been on this kick for some time, and the husband, let’s call him Thomas, had shown me this “proof” once before of the truth and efficacy of this field of human caring and curing: He held up his hand flat, fingers outstretched and palm open, and invited me to put my hand next to his in the same gesture. “Do you feel that?” he said. “Do you feel the energy?” No, I couldn’t feel anything, including the inclination to assent to such nonsense. But Thomas got the three ladies at the table to assent, his wife, my wife, and a poet friend.
They felt something, I guess, which proved something — that energy can be transferred evidently from one corpus to another and perhaps, in the bargain, effect healing. Thomas (but not his wife) held forth for some time on this subject, and when I interjected my doubts he got pissed, “A little respect, please!”
Yes, I was a rude host, though I can’t say things unseen and unproven are worth a lot of respect. If I were Ambrose Bierce, I might define respect, in fact (R-E-S-P-C-T, thank you, Aretha), as the demand for attention and assent that the facts do not support.
I don’t doubt that bioenergetics is a legitimate field of study in biochemistry and cell biology. (See the Wikipedia article for a brief technical discussion.) And that discoveries in this field might have implications for healing human disease, whether physical or mental. But pseudoscientific extrapolations from the field are all too readily available, in psychology and medicine (pseudopsychology and pseudomedicine), at the hands of those eager for new faiths and/or fast profits. (Again, for a quick overview of this kind of alternative healing, see the Wikipedia article on “energy medicine.”)
Call me a doubting Thomas, if you wish. A skeptic, for sure. Too many flimsy claims are being made on behalf of too many things unseen, unproven, and even impossible.