The "WOO" Factor
Rick Warren's Healthcare Reform Model
One doesn’t have to google very long to discover that the three doctors assisting Rick Warren in his Daniel Plan for healthcare reform in the church have been the subject of ongoing controversies in the public medical arena for the past several years. The controversies are serious enough to make one wonder if he hasn’t enlisted the support of some super snake oil salesmen.
What is WOO?
The three doctors working with Rick Warren’s healthcare reform plan are deeply connected with “alternative medicine.” Before we proceed it is important to briefly define “alternative medicine” because this is their context.
"In Western culture, alternative medicine is any healing practice 'that does not fall within the realm of conventional medicine', or 'that which has not been shown consistently to be effective.' In some instances, it is based on historical or cultural traditions, rather than a scientific (e.g. evidence-based) basis…." 
“Alternative medicine” brings in the spiritual aspect, which sometimes gets pretty bizarre. This is why it is sometimes called Woo – this is a reference to “woo-woo-woo” (think of the Twilight Zone TV show). This spiritual aspect is why Woo is so appealing to Christians. Many mistakenly think that if something is “spiritual” then it must be okay. But that is naïve and not exercising biblical discernment. Alternative medicine, by definition, includes the spiritual aspect:
"on individualizing treatments, treating the whole person, promoting self-care and self-healing, and recognizing the spiritual nature of each individual."
Newly emerging scientific models of research and potential new paradigms of treatment are often mistakenly classified as “alternative medicine” simply because they fall outside the medical mainstream. One way to differentiate between Woo and experimental fields of medicine is to look at the science. Credible “alternative” medical models willingly test their hypotheses, experiment within the rigors of the scientific method, and submit their evidence to the open and academic processes of clinical studies, peer reviews and systematic research. This transparency is not only ethical, it is a responsible way to respect people’s health.
"If scientific investigation establishes the safety and effectiveness of an alternative medical practice, it then becomes mainstream medicine and is no longer 'alternative', and may therefore become widely adopted by conventional practitioners."
Woo can be classified as “New Age.” A believer must always do research to determine if an alternative medicine model or practice originates from an eastern or occult mystical worldview. It is this spiritual component that is so dangerous to believers. It can be very deceptive. Christians are vulnerable to these mind-body-spirit healing claims of Woo, especially when they are desperate for a medical miracle. They turn to “spirit” rather than the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, Woo might actually “work.” It might work in the spirit world, and it might work in the physical natural world. Note that Woo relies heavily on subjective personal testimonies rather than objective science. In fact, intriguing conspiracy theories abound about why the medical establishment rejects certain Woo practices.
But note, even the science can be an unreliable barometer. Although evidence may demonstrate that some practices such as Yoga or Martial Arts lower blood pressure, relieve stress/pain, help with weight loss, strengthen muscles, etc., nonetheless believers should avoid these. Why? Because it is impossible to separate out the leaven. The breathing, the meditation, the mind work, the centering, the progressing through levels of physical/mental/spiritual attainment are all intricately interconnected with the occult significance. (It should also be noted that much Woo is promoted through downline network marketing structures, and that even the financial benefits are seen as “levels” through which one progresses.)
Rick Warren’s WOO doctors
All three of Rick Warren’s health care advisors can be classified into the alternative medicine genre of Woo. These doctors incorporate a mind-body-spirit component into their healthcare reform models. They are called “guru doctors” because they 1) have “followers” and 2) are mixing alternative spiritualities in with their medical paradigm. They are also well-known “infomercial” doctors, selling their particular brand of alternative medicine to the public via websites, TV shows, publicity and media outlets, etc. In this sense they may be likened to “snake oil” salesmen: they are marketing products with “questionable and/or unverifiable quality or benefit.”
Hence, the controversy. Why is Rick Warren using Woo doctors? Why did he hitch his Daniel Plan for healthcare reform to these guru-doctors – men who have strayed off-the-beaten-path into alternative medicine’s Woo? These doctors have made pretty wild claims and said very wacky things. Recall that Dr. Hyman has openly rejected the scientific hypothesis model! This fact alone should raise serious concerns about the integrity of these men – and about Rick Warren’s lack of sound judgment and discernment.
Below are a few noteworthy examples of the more controversial aspects of these three doctors. Be aware that some of the sources for this information are suspect, and have their own agenda – an agenda that we do not necessarily share. However, this information is included because it raises important questions about the “alternative medicine” that these doctors are practicing. And it gives a sense of the Woo that forms their medical foundation.
Dr. Oz’s Woo
Dr. Oz’s name is nearly synonymous with Woo, especially because of his high-profile association with New Age leader Oprah Winfrey and his incessant promotion of Alternative Medicine. Dr. Oz frequently invites New Age psychic-type healers on his TV shows. For example:
"Yesterday, I concluded that Dr. Mehmet Oz's journey to the Dark Side was continuing apace. After all, he had pulled the classic 'bait and switch' of 'alternative' medicine by allowing a man who calls himself Yogi Cameron to use his television show to co-opt the perfectly science-based modalities of diet and exercise as being somehow 'alternative.' Like all good promoters of woo, whether you call it 'alternative' medicine, 'complementary and alternative medicine' (CAM), or 'integrative medicine' (IM), Yogi Cameron used diet and exercise as the thin edge of the wedge, behind which followed nonsense such as Ayurvedic tongue diagnosis and Pancha Karma, the latter of which is in essence Indian "detox" involving purging and enemas, among other things. Of course, also like a good propagandist trying to popularize woo, Yogi Cameron left out the 'hard' parts (like the enemas) and stuck to the softer side of Pancha Karma, such as the nasal irrigation and the 'detox diet.'"
"[Regarding a show segment Dr. Oz did about Dr. Issam Nemeh, 'Is this man a faith healer?'] …Dr. Oz breathlessly proclaims this to be a show 'unlike any other we have done before' and describes how he has been 'fascinated' by this doctor… who doesn't use drugs or procedures but 'heals with his hands.' Dr. Nemeh, we're told, uses a 'high tech form of acupuncture' in his office and the laying on of hands and the use of spirit in churches and meeting halls, all to 'heal.' …Dr. Nemeh himself proclaims that his goal is to 'bridge the gap between science and spirituality.'"
"In the next part of the segment, Dr. Oz tells the audience to judge for themselves whether Dr. Nemeh is a faith healer on the basis of the patients of Dr. Nemeh's whose story he will tell. Of course, as an academic surgeon (which Dr. Oz was for a long time before turning to woo and, given that he is still a professor of surgery at Columbia University, technically still is even though he long ago abandoned science in favor of nonsense), Dr. Oz should know that single anecdotes say at best little or nothing and at worst mislead. The plural of "anecdote," as we say, is not "data." Yet anecdotes are what he provides--and then only two of them. No science. No statistics. No scientific studies to be presented along with the human interest anecdotes. Just testimonials and utterly unconvincing cherry picked clinical test results."
Dr. Oz has consistently been described in New Age terms by the mainstream press. For example:
"In recent years Oz has emerged as America's most visible pitchman for unconventional health care, elements of which are variously known as integrative medicine, complementary medicine, mind-body medicine or alternative medicine…. In testimony last February before a Senate panel called Integrative Care: A Pathway to a Healthier Nation, Oz urged greater openness to 'the natural healing power of our bodies.' He had warm words for "hypnotherapists, massage therapists, spiritual healers" and others, and called for easier credentialing, more generous insurance reimbursement and improved 'access to research moneys' for the alternative-medicine community as a whole.
"Oz's demonstrable passion for the eccentric dates back to the mid-'90s, when he spearheaded the Cardiac Complementary Care Center at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and immediately set out to validate the energy-healing regimen known as therapeutic touch - an updated version of the Ancients' 'laying on of hands.' In Oz's new operating-theater-of-the-absurd, a self-described 'radical healer' was stationed at the head of the surgery table, her mission to report any changes she discerned in the patient's energy as the operation progressed.
"These days, Oz's favorite form of energy enhancement is Reiki, a kind of spiritual massage. Its practitioners - notably including Oz's wife, Lisa - claim to facilitate healing by strengthening or balancing energy 'meridians.'"
Many Christians are big fans of Dr. Oz because of his alternative health advocacy. They aren’t concerned about his New Age spirituality because they like his advice. But some of the health treatments recommended by Dr. Oz border on the bizarre. They may be downright dangerous! One website divulged his extremely unorthodox treatment for diabetes:
“…I was a bit surprised to learn from his website that I’ve been going after diabetes the wrong way. Unknown to me is the 'prevention powerhouse' of coffee and vinegar. He recommends heavy consumption of these miracle foods to prevent diabetes and to help the liver and cholesterol, whatever that means….
"The data support the plausibility of the question of coffee and diabetes, but not the truth of the statement. But let’s pretend it is true. The next questions are how much risk reduction is there, and at what cost?... [E]ven small amounts of caffeine can cause significant acid reflux, sleep problems, heart palpitations, headaches.
"What Dr. Oz is suggesting is using an unproven drug (coffee or dilute acetic acid) that isn’t needed. We have safe, effective ways to prevent diabetes. Our biggest failure is in providing people with the education, health care, and other tools to follow through."
Dr. Hyman’s Woo
Dr. Mark Hyman, who has eschewed the scientific research model (as cited above) has been called the “founder” of Woo:
"Dr. Mark Hyman is famous as the "founder" of a form of woo known as 'functional medicine.'… [I]t appears to be a serious grab bag of various forms of woo that, according to Dr. Hyman's website itself, involve environmental inputs, inflammation, hormones, gut & digestive health, detoxification, energy/mitochondria/oxidative stress, and, of course, 'mind-body,' whatever that means. No woo would be complete without mind-body, you know. Actually, no self-respecting woo would leave out 'detoxification,' either…"
"Dr. Hyman is the prototypical brave maverick doctor who don't need no steekin' randomized controlled studies to tell him what works.
In our previous article “Rick Warren’s New Age Health Gurus” we explained in some detail Dr. Hyman’s controversial alternative medical model, where he states that “disease doesn’t exist” and “shifts focus from illness to wellness, from disease treatment to functional enhancement.” Dr. Hyman’s medical model is systems-based and is heavily oriented to the body-mind-spirit. Dr. Hyman describes his “Functional Medicine” paradigm as “the view that the human body functions as an orchestrated network of interconnected systems, rather than individual systems functioning autonomously and without effect on each other.” His paradigm is based on the Eastern mystical idea of energy fields and systemic imbalances. For example,
"Functional medicine is anchored by an examination of the core clinical imbalances that underlie various disease conditions. Those imbalances arise as environmental inputs such as diet, nutrients (including air and water), exercise, and trauma are processed by one’s body, mind, and spirit through a unique set of genetic predispositions, attitudes, and beliefs. The fundamental physiological processes include communication, both outside and inside the cell; bioenergetics, or the transformation of food into energy; replication, repair, and maintenance of structural integrity, from the cellular to the whole body level; elimination of waste; protection and defense; and transport and circulation."
Marilyn Ferguson in her bestselling book about the New Age movement, The Aquarian Conspiracy, described the future of New Age healing practices in terms of energy and systems:
“Just as some psychotechnologies increase the fluctuation of energy through the brain, enabling new patterns or paradigm shifts to occur, bodywork alters the flow of energy through the body, freeing it of its old 'ideas' or patterns, increasing its range of movement.”
References to “energies” is an easy way to identify Woo, by the way. Dr. Nolan Byler, an expert on how New Age practices have become adopted by conservative church people, explains why Christian believers should be wary of anything that has to do with “energies”:
“The first thing that I want to note, is that in all of these things [various alternative practices, ed.]…, there seems to be a special energy connected with each of these. They talk of a certain kind of energy; there is a common denominator here. It‘s called by many different names, such as, universal energy, healing energy, life energy, life force, vital energy, vital force, magnetic energy, electricity, bio-energy, healing force, and then the Chinese names, chi and prana, or yin and yang.”
Dr. Byler continues with a remarkable explanation of the significance of “energy” in occult healing:
"In the Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine and Self-Help a Ray Nielsen writes that, 'Spiritual healing,' or psychic healing, is what he‘s referring to, 'Is the transfer of energy from the healer to the patient.' Transfer of healing!
"Healing never comes from a person, it comes from God. But this man says, 'this is the same known to the eastern yogis as energyprana, or the universal life force, and that this energy flows in abundance throughout space and can be harnessed by the individual, who sensitizes himself by certain occult practices.'
Do you see what he‘s saying? He‘s saying that yes, this energy can be transferred from a person, from a 'healer,' supposedly, to another person. If he can practice certain occult things, he will become a channel that will bring it from the universe to this person. Which means to me, that he‘s getting energy from the wrong source, the prince of the power of the air."
Dr. Amen’s Woo
Dr. Hyman and Dr. Amen have both been the subject of a controversy regarding their programs which aired on PBS. The PBS Ombudsmen described these shows:
"The focus of critical viewer attention this time is an hour-long program called 'The UltraMind Solution.' It is based on a book of the same name by Dr. Mark Hyman that also carries the subtitle: 'Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First.' The last time I wrote about the pledge issue was the May 15, 2008 column, and it was based on an earlier program called 'Change Your Brain, Change Your Life' featuring Dr. Daniel G. Amen, who is described in promotional material as a 'best-selling author, psychiatrist and brain-imaging specialist.'
"There are lots of similarities. The promotion material for the program featuring Hyman is also described as 'based on the best-selling, highly acclaimed book.' Both the Hyman and Amen programs are distributed by the Executive Program Services, which is not PBS."
Dr. Amen, whose website promotes a “Brain Test,” is a psychiatrist, not a neurologist. He promotes an unusual type of brain scan called SPECT that makes him a lot of money. He charges “$3,250 for a ‘comprehensive evaluation’” according to a report that questions both the validity and safety of these tests. His whole website seems devoted to marketing his unorthodox ideas. Dr. Amen, who is the only one of these doctors who professes to be a Christian, received his medical degree from Oral Roberts University School of Medicine, and questions could be raised about how much of Oral Roberts’ heresies are part of his spirituality. According to a website mocking his “Brain Scam” methods, Dr. Amen claims that
"'One of the sustaining factors in my work has been my own personal faith,' he declared in his 2002 book....'From the first month that I started to order these (SPECT) scans, I felt that they had a special place in science and that I was led by God to pursue this work."
To see how far and wide Dr. Amen’s strange brain “surface blood flow scans” have been marketed into the field of “human resources” management, see this website page where it is claimed that “only 24 brains out of 600 have been found to be ‘NORMAL.’” Note that in this context, Dr. Amen’s work is being tied to controversial ideas such as “emotional intelligence.”
Dr. Amen has also come under fire for his outlandish claims to prevent Alzheimer’s on PBS:
"May. 12, 2008 | It's 10 on a Saturday night and on my local PBS station a diminutive middle-aged doctor with a toothy smile and televangelical delivery is facing a rapt studio audience. 'I will show you how to make your brain great, including how to prevent Alzheimer's disease,' he declares. 'And I'm not kidding.'
"...the doctor, Daniel Amen, is being interviewed by KQED host Greg Sherwood. Sherwood is wildly enthusiastic. After reading Amen's book, 'Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,' Sherwood says, 'The first thing I wanted to do was to get a brain scan.' He turns to Amen. 'You could start taking care 10 years in advance of ever having a symptom and prevent Alzheimer's disease,' he says. 'Yes, prevent Alzheimer's disease,' Amen chimes in.
"Wait a minute. Prevent Alzheimer's disease? Is he kidding? But Sherwood is already holding up Amen's package of DVDs on learning your risk factors for A.D., as well as his book with a section titled 'Preventing Alzheimer's.'…
"Amen's sense of calling hasn't led him to undertake the high-quality clinical investigations that would lend scientific credence to his claims..."
Don’t miss the significance of that that last statement, that Dr. Amen hasn’t undertaken “the high-quality clinical investigations that would lend scientific credence to his claims.” Another critique of Dr. Amen’s SPECT brain scans observes the following oddities about his startling lack of scientific and ethical medical research practices:
“What about these SPECT scans for all the other things that Dr. Amen treats? He uses them in his diagnosis and treatment for many disorders: attention deficit disorders (ADD), mood disorders, anxiety and panic disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), substance abuse, toxic exposure, brain trauma, memory problems, temper problems, and relationship and marital problems. Yes, he treats Alzheimer's and does marriage counseling. That's a pretty wide playing field. Can these scans really provide vital information about these disorders and problems? Can they really provide valuable data regarding appropriate treatment or counseling?
“To answer these questions, we must look at the control studies that have been done to see how effective SPECT scans are in diagnosing various brain disorders. Unfortunately, the studies don't exist. We have to rely on Amen's evaluation of his personal experience with thousands of scans over many years. The self, however, is not exactly an unbiased observer of personal experience. The potential for self-deception here is enormous. A critical thinker would rather see references to controlled studies than the self-serving testimonials from satisfied customers that one finds on Dr. Amen's website. No wonder one searches in vain to find Amen's approach recommended by other psychiatrists. He truly is a voice crying in the wilderness of his own making."
Why did Rick Warren’s doctors choose doctors who practice “WOO” medicine? In fact, these doctors are at the top of the field in Woo! These doctors fall well outside the boundaries of both conventional and standard alternative medicine despite their pop culture popularity.
Christian leaders who profess to hold biblical doctrines need to speak up now, before this Daniel Plan takes hold across the nation as the model of healthcare reform for church folks. Hard questions need to be asked about their involvement. How much are these doctors being paid to be involved in the Daniel Plan? How far will their ideologies and strange, sometimes even extremely bizarre, medical practices enter into the Daniel Plan? How much economic benefit are they deriving from their full-scale launch into the evangelical church world via the purpose-driven empire? And, most important, how much effect like leaven will their New Age teachings and practices have upon the global church if left unchecked?
In 1980 Marilyn Ferguson bragged, “For many Aquarian Conspirators, an involvement in health care was a major stimulus to transformation.” Will this Woo healthcare reform be the major stimulus to transformation in the church?
The Biblical “Alternative”
Dr. Nolan Byler, in explaining to believers how to recognize alternative medicine (“Woo”), provides the following encouragement and admonition:
"So, let‘s take the biblical alternative that we have in the Bible. Let‘s go to God and get His Direction, His Understanding. And then I think we can be blessed people. I think we‘ve missed blessings when we‘ve failed to go to God. God is the only One that provides true holistic healing! He can give you holistic healing! It‘s not wrong if the Right One is doing it; He can heal you—body, soul and spirit! Man can‘t do it, Satan can‘t do it, but God can. And so, this bears repeating;
1. The Huffington Post, “Dr. Mark Hyman mangles autism science on--where else?--The Huffington Post,” 9/8/09, http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/09/dr_mark_hyman_mangles_autism_science_on-.php
6. See Gaylene Goodroad’s online book MY LIFE IN THE WAY for an extended discussion on this topic: https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B75yD6e-RzQENzYxODk2MTUtNGYyYi00MjA2LWJlODgtMDA0ODc4ZThmOWNm&hl=en&pli=1 especially pages 15-16. These thoughts are courtesy of Gaylene, who extensively assisted with the research undergirding this report.
7. See definition at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guru
8. See definition at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_oil
9. Dr. Mark Hyman’s YouTube video presentation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAZVpsd2Nao. We analyzed Dr. Hyman’s claims in a detailed article on Herescope, “Rick Warren’s New Age Health Gurus,” 3/12/11, http://herescope.blogspot.com/2011/03/rick-warrens-new-age-health-gurus.html
10. Dr. Oz's journey to the Dark Side is now complete: Faith healing quackery glorified, 2/2/11, http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/02/dr_ozs_journey_to_the_dark_side_is_now_complete.php?utm_source=combinedfeed&utm_medium=rss
11. “Emmys, don't be led down Dr. Oz's yellow brick road: Oprah's favorite doctor promotes quackery,” By Steve Salerno, NYDAILYNEWS.COM, 6/25/10, http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/06/25/2010-06-25_emmys_dont_be_led_down_dr_ozs_yellow_brick_road_oprahs_favorite_doctor_promotes_.html
12. “Dr. Oz, you’re not helping diabetics,” 2/24/22, http://scientopia.org/blogs/whitecoatunderground/2011/02/24/dr-oz-youre-not-helping-diabetics/
13. “Dr. Mark Hyman mangles autism science on--where else? The Huffington Post,” 9/8/09, http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/09/dr_mark_hyman_mangles_autism_science_on-.php
14. See http://herescope.blogspot.com/2011/03/rick-warrens-new-age-health-gurus.html quoting from Dr. Mark Hyman’s YouTube video presentation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAZVpsd2Nao
15. “What is Functional Medicine?” http://www.functionalmedicine.org/about/whatis.asp
17. Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s (JP Tarcher, 1980, pp. 255-6, emphases added. See additional material on this topic at the Herescope post “3-Legged ‘Health’ Care, http://herescope.blogspot.com/2011/02/3-legged-health-care.html
18. Christian Perspectives on Alternative Medicine, compiled by Lyle Kropf, p. 80. This book will become available from the Discernment Ministries products webpage at http://home.etcable.net/hestervanboven/Books.htm
19. Ibid, p. 81.
20. The Ombudsman Column, “More Pledge Madness,” by Michael Getler, 3/20/09, http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/2009/03/more_pledge_madness.html
21. Harriet Hall, M.C., “A Skeptical View of SPECT Scans and Dr. Daniel Amen,” Quackwatch, http://www.quackwatch.com/06ResearchProjects/amen.html.
22. See report at http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/quotes.html#Roberts and reports at http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/word-faith.html#oroberts
23. The Neurocritic, “More Brain Scams,” 5/21/08, http://neurocritic.blogspot.com/2008/05/more-brain-scams.html
26. “More Brain Scams, 5/21/08, http://neurocritic.blogspot.com/2008/05/more-brain-scams.html. Also published at Salon.com on 5/12/08, HTTP://WWW.SALON.COM/LIFE/MIND_READER/2008/05/12/DANIEL_AMEN/INDEX.HTML
27. “PBS Informercial for Daniel Amen’s Clinics,” http://www.skepdic.com/amen.html
28. Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s (JP Tarcher, 1980), quoted at http://herescope.blogspot.com/2011/02/3-legged-health-care.html
29. Christian Perspectives on Alternative Medicine, compiled by Lyle Kropf, p. 105, some emphasis added. Soon available from the Discernment Ministries products webpage at http://home.etcable.net/hestervanboven/Books.htm
Ed Note: Some formatting changes to quoted material, such as links, have been deleted and in a few cases, added; and bold emphases may have been added to assist the reader's comprehension.
This article is part of an ongoing series which is being written by Berit Kjos and Sarah Leslie. Click to view Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 on Berit's website.