Oh Blessed Chocolate!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 07, 2009

With Easter on its way, you’d think I’d be willing to sing the virtues of chocolate. But along comes a column in Time magazine to spoil the fun by reporting on “intentional chocolate” and other mind-over-matter foods. Here’s what the hype is all about.

Jim Walsh founded Intentional Chocolate in 2007 with the collaboration of Buddhist monks. He claims to use a recording device to capture the electromagnetic brain waves of meditating monks, and then plays back the recording in the presence of his confections for five days per batch. One of the monks who was in on the ground floor of the project now fears that the only motivation with which Intentional Chocolate is blessed is “to make money”. But a scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California claims he’s conducted a study in which Intentional Chocolate eaters were 67% more likely to experience mood improvement than those who ate other chocolate.

Stock holder? If so he's not helping. I used to get in a good mood by eating chocolate, but now I’m just afraid I’ll be infected by pseudo-spiritual nonsense.

Still, Jim Walsh was not the first in the field. Since 2006, a California company named H2Om has been selling water “infused” with wishes for “love”, “joy” and “perfect health”. Co-founder Sandy Fox says the words, symbols and colors on the label “create a specific vibratory frequency”. The company also uses “restorative” music at their bottling plant. Similarly, a Canadian maker of protein powder has its staff gather around each shipment and state aloud the benefits they hope to confer on it for their customers, in this case increased performance, balance and vitality.

These products have been compared with Holy Water, which is somehow imbued with the blessing of a priest. But the two cases are very different. Holy Water is blessed as a sign of the cleansing waters of baptism so that it might be used for a sacred purpose. It thus becomes what is called a “sacramental”. Unlike a sacrament, which by the power of God effects what it signifies, a sacramental helps those who use it only in proportion to their devotion. A sacramental is simply an outward sign to be used to help us open ourselves to grace.

In other words, the power of Holy Water comes from our own devotion to God, which may certainly have psychological as well as spiritual benefits. I would expect similar psychological (but not spiritual) benefits to come from using any neutral product I believed was good for me, with even greater benefits insofar as the use of that product induced me to change my life in positive ways. But I wouldn’t expect such psychological benefits to appear in a double-blind study.

Now as for the Divine power that comes to us in a sacrament (as distinct from a sacramental), that is something else entirely. We may rationally believe that God can do many things for us that we are powerless to do for ourselves. In fact, we may rationally hope that one of those things would be to protect us from the temptation of believing we can transfer our own psychic powers into the food and drinks we market to others. For Chesterton wrote truly when he commented on the great trouble with those who reject God: It is not that they believe nothing, but that they will believe anything.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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