The Relative Evil of Chiropractors

Jun 20, 2006
Last Christmas, I didn't have a car to drive myself home from school for the holidays, so I rode down with my cousin, her husband, and their one-year-old. My cousin is four years older than I am, the same age gap between my sister and I, but while my sister and I have gotten closer over the years in spite of the age difference, my cousin and I have tended to drift. Part of it is surely the distinction between "student" and "real adult," but part of it is surely the different lives we're already leading. She married her husband, a lawyer, just out of college and settled down to have kids, while I'm just graduated, still single, moving into the city before grad school, and childless for the rest of my life if I have anything to say about it.

I recall for my cousin's wedding she asked me to read a Bible passage, which I found amusing but not odd given that her side of the family pretty definitely doesn't know I'm Pagan. The passage wasn't anything I'd have found objectionable, your standard wedding love business, so I went ahead and read it. The groom also had a friend read a passage -- from a Buddhist text. Our family has never talked about religion much, but they certainly never struck me as the particularly conservative type.

On this drive from Chicago to Iowa, in the middle of this most stereotypical representation of a young Midwestern marriage, my cousin hit upon the topic of her Bible Study group. I was a little uncomfortable, as I always am, but fortunately no one's ever expected me to be the scintillating center of conversation, so I cowered into the bucket seat of the SUV and tried to pretend it wasn't happening. She started relating a story one of the other women at the group had told, about a particular mystical experience she'd had. She was at her chiropractor's, my cousin told us, when the doctor started talking about "energy." Oh no, I thought to myself, now we're in for a lecture on the evils of chakras. And I was right, of course -- the next part of the story was what the woman saw. Horns, we were told, tiny red horns growing out of her chiropractor's hair. My cousin delivered the punchline with all the drama of an urban legend ghost story.

Bullshit, I thought.

"Bullshit," my cousin's husband said (or some less offensive equivalent, given I'm the only person in the car who speaks like that).

My hackles went up. I was on the defensive. It was not a rational reaction, I'll admit, but a purely instinctual one, based less on the conversation we were having at that moment than on many relatively dissimilar conversations I'd had in the past. Nonetheless -- defensive, for another person expressing an opinion I'd just had myself.

"You think she was lying?" my cousin asked her husband.

"I didn't say that," he said. Sure you did, I thought. "I just don't think chiropractors necessarily have horns."

I think you can guess where the argument went from there. My cousin argued for the metaphorical but nonetheless significantly real nature of the chiropractor's horns, while her husband argued for the effects of psychological projection and expectation. And I, to my surprise, was on my cousin's side. Will's outright dismissal of the very possibility of the woman's vision got under my magic-believing skin, and I found myself arguing the case of a Bible-believing Christian who cringes at the slightest mention of "energies." Thing is, I'm still not sure I was wrong.

At the risk of wandering into the realm of extreme relativism, what right do I have not to believe her? Because I disagree with her supposed conclusion? All she said she saw (or all my cousin said she saw; I'm several degrees removed, here) were horns; clearly she meant them to be demonic, but I wouldn't have interpreted them that way, so why can't I take someone else's report and interpret it from my own frame of reference?

Is this extreme relativism? Maybe. I keep coming back, though, to one of the main differences between Paganism and Christianity. Christianity, even more than most of the Book religions, is an exclusionary system -- it doesn't recognize the validity of other systems. (Exceptions, yes, noted.) Paganism however, at least the branches I feel comfortable practicing in, recognizes the validity of other viewpoints, the viability of many paths. I won't say that it's none of my business if this woman thinks her chiropractor is demonic, because of course it is. If she associates the slightest mention of chakra energy with the worship of Satan, that is not only unfriendly but (given the precedent) threatening to myself and to Paganism in general. I will say, however, that immediately disbelieving her experience is also unfriendly, and counterproductive.

I want to make a point here about solidarity, scientific proof, and belief, and the association of liberal with scientific, but I can't quite find it. I want to find a way to express my conviction that if magic is real, then faith-healing is too, and speaking in tongues, and being "born again." There are charlatans in Paganism and Christianity alike, but that doesn't mean they're not ripping off something that actually happens, something genuine. If I can disbelieve this woman just because she's Christian, that cheapens the reality of magic as a whole, because I can reject whole categories of experience out of hand with the same sort of value judgements many people use to write off magic.

Maybe this evangelical woman is a bad example to use; the whole story smacks strongly of preconcieved notions and agendas to be made. I probably should have written about the book The Serpent Handlers which I read for my anthropology of religion class a couple of years ago, which touches on a subject that might be more understandable to magic-believing Pagans. But my reaction to this conversation has stuck with me, so clearly it means something. I still feel like I'm wandering around a rather extreme point, but I haven't put my stake in the ground there just yet, and after all, you have to understand the edges of where you'll go before you can figure out where you are.

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