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Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: His Complete Writings and Beyond

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Strength; Whence Is It, of Matter or Wisdom? Errors and Misery Resulting from the Misapplication of the Word.

What is strength? This question sounds as though it might be easily answered, but on consideration, it is not so easy. Words are so misused that it it impossible to get at the original meaning of the person who applied the word or at the feeling or state of mind when the word was first introduced. If you choose to apply the word strength to machinery, then I have no fault to find with the definition. But if it means will, then it is wrongly applied, for will is independent of the thing you call strong. If you say, “That is a strong lever,” then it does not include the force that is applied to it. If the person who first used the word applied it to his wisdom as a powerful intellect, then it will only apply where there is some intellect, the quality of which is not taken into account. This confusion of meaning makes a great deal of trouble, for we put intelligence into everything that has resistance instead of in the intelligence having the strength. As far as man is concerned the word strength has no meaning at all unless you call it will. A man's legs are a combined lever, and if you mean that they have strength you might as well say that a lever has strength, for one is as much alive as the other, and neither of itself can do anything.

The word strength does not convey the author's feelings when he made the expression. He either meant to apply it to wisdom or to matter. If the author meant to give a name to the phenomenon called will, then it makes a vast difference in reasoning about strength. For instance, a person is “weak,” as it is called, in the back or limbs. Now the medical faculty goes to work to rub on all kinds of strengthening medicines just as though there were intelligence in the medicine and it imparted strength to the weak part. This absurd idea is carried out all through our lives, and it deprives man of the true wisdom that might make him happy and intelligent.

My theory gives the lie to all the above, for I have seen that the word strength is a mere word with no more meaning than to lead man astray and the whole medical science is based on this word strength. This or that thing is said to give a person strength. In the case of a fever the whole invention of the medical faculty is brought to play to discover some medicine that will give strength. The chemist is employed to discover the chemical properties such and such things contain, and numberless articles are said to contain strengthening virtue. The food is strengthening, the air is strengthening and you can find no end to the strengthening things given to the sick, and all the while they are growing weaker. This false idea should be corrected.

Everyone knows that animals have more strength than the human species and it cannot be their food; for a man fed on grass would die according to our belief, while the animal will live, and he will live on the same food as man and still grow no stronger. Man puts the construction on the word to suit himself. It is used to work some piece of machinery, a carriage for instance, as though it had intelligence. If the word applied to man's will is called strength, the thing that it is applied to should not be called strong. You may ask what this has to do with the curing of disease. I will tell you, for it is the very thing to correct. Apply the word strength to man, not to matter, for wisdom has life and the matter has none. There is such a term as resistance and this is the opposite to strength. For instance, you wish to raise a stone. That wisdom that wants to raise a stone is one thing, and the stone is another. So if wisdom chooses to apply its strength through the arms, its motive or will is applied just according to the amount of resistance. If a horse is attached to a dead weight, it applies its will or strength just according to its wisdom; and if it fails, it makes another effort to overcome the resistance, and as it gets deceived it loses its power or strength. Strength is intelligence; it embraces all man's wisdom, and if this wisdom is of this world, his strength is in his muscles; but if his wisdom is of God or Science, his strength is in himself and to be wise is to be strong.

I will illustrate my idea of strength as I apply it to the sick. When I use the word I couple it with skill. These two are governed, either by the brutal wisdom or the scientific wisdom. I will state a case of my own experience. I treated a man who had lost the use of his lower limbs. He could not move them when he was sitting in his chair. The doctors called it a spine affection. When he attempted to rise, he had not strength in his spine to keep his body erect. He would give out at the pit of the stomach, and this took all the power from his legs. This was the doctors' theory and the man believed it and applied his will or strength according to this wisdom. His hope was cut off. He believed the spine was diseased and so did all his friends and physicians.

According to my theory his body was like the weight to be moved; his will or strength was applied to his body just as it would be to a lever that you believed would break if you applied too much power to it. His reason directed the power, and being deceived he could do nothing. To cure him, or make his legs strong and his spine well, was to first convince him that there never was any strength in the idea body and that strength came from some other source.

Everyone knows that, the will being put into action, an effect is produced called strength. For instance, a person by the power of his will can hold another; this is called strength. What is the grasp? Strength? or is it the will applied to the hand? No one supposes that the hand would catch hold and grasp unless it was directed by another power. This other power is the will governed by the wisdom and the effect is called strength. Strength is the name of the phenomenon; it is an act, so will without an act or motive is no will or strength and availeth nothing. So to sit till his legs grow strong would be as absurd as to make a steam engine and after it was ready to work, sit and wait till the wood made its own fire, its steam, and let its steam on to the piston head. For a man that has lost his strength to sit still and wait for it to come is just as absurd as to put clay into a mortar bin and then wait for it to make itself into a vessel. Such an idea of strength is so absurd that it takes away a man's reasoning faculties. Let man know that his weakness is the want of right direction to his ambition, then his strength is in putting his will into action; both are the result of his wisdom. Destroy a man's prospects and happiness, and you destroy his strength. So as you rouse his ambition and will, his strength comes. The course taken by the medical faculty in their mode of reasoning destroys man's natural powers and makes him a mere tool in the hands of a quack. Every man who reasons that strength can be made by food, air, or rubbing, or any liniment is a fool, although he may be honest.

I have tried the experiment and know. I do not guess at it when I say that there is not one particle of virtue in any sort of medicine that people take to give them strength. Neither is there any strength in one kind of food more than another, but it may be all summed up in this: the gratification of man's desires embraces all there is of him, and these vary according to circumstances. All men have a desire for happiness, and this desire creates an appetite, and the desire wants to be gratified. This brings up this feeling called will, and then it is forced on by wisdom to accomplish a desire. The wants of the animal are limited; therefore it is lively and happy, for it acts according to its will. It is often said that the beasts are sick. Granted, but man takes their freedom from them as well as from the human species. Let both be wild and you see a bold race.

Look at the uncultivated savage and you will not see him creeping around as though he had done some mean, dirty act, like the civilized man. Of all mean looking things, a human being that is completely under the medical faculty is the lowest; he is as much a slave as the Negro at the South, and in fact more so. Look at a sick female suffering from some opinion that the doctors have made her believe. In her mind she is completely under the doctor; she is not allowed to eat or drink or even walk or think, except as the family physician gives direction. The sick have given their souls to the priests and their bodies to the physicians. They then tell about the good doctor, how much he has done for them, showing that he has deprived them of all noble, manly feelings, left them sick, feeble in mind and body, while the doctor struts around like the slave driver, and the sick curl under the lash of their tongue, as the negroes under the lash of their masters.

This may seem strange, but it is God's truth that the sick are a mere tool in the hands of the medical faculty to be treated just as they please. It never will be any better till the sick rise in their wisdom and declare their independence. You may say I am making war for my own gain, but I think I can convince anyone who is out from under these slave drivers that I could make ten dollars where I now make one. My object is to raise my fellow man to his original state. I am a white abolitionist. The blacks, it is true, are slaves, but their slavery is a blessing compared with that of the sick. I have seen many a white slave that would change places with the black. The only difference is that white slavery is sanctioned by public opinion. But make the slave know that he is one and you will see a difference in the result. It is hard for me to keep myself within bounds when I think of the groans of the sick, knowing that it is all the effect of a superstitious ignorance. Does not the South quote the Bible to prove that slavery is of divine origin? Do not the priests and doctors quote the old heathen superstition to bolster up a weak and feeble edifice just ready to crumble and crush the leaders? Is not science raising her voice and crying aloud to the people saying, How long shall it be till the old heathen idolatry shall come to an end and man shall learn wisdom and be his own master and not a slave.

November 1861

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