Faith Healing. Miracle or Myth?

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I was hesitant before starting on this article. I like to research thoroughly before I begin, to ensure that I can offer an objective view of the subject in question. I think it is safe to say that I have failed in this case, because the more I delved, the more cynical and in fact, angry, I became with faith healing. I will explain in detail, and of course am open to discussing the points brought forward below. A poll by Newsweek reported that 72% of Americans believe that praying to God can save someone, so I realise that my tendency to lean towards the idea that Faith Healing is a myth may not be popular.

What Is Faith Healing?

Faith healing is typically a ritualistic practice, where a sick or injured individual puts themselves in the hands of a healer, who channels God’s healing powers in order to alleviate their disease.

It can take place through communal prayer, laying on hands, speaking in tongues (holy spirit) or even in some cases, through the television. The idea is that divine intervention aids physical and spiritual healing.

Such healing through faith is said to have cured blindness, deafness, cancer, paralysis, injuries and much more. Jesus is even believed to have raised Lazurus from the grave after four days.

The individual requiring healing must put their faith in the grace of God the healer. They must accept that the process toward healing may appear illogical. Also that the healing may or not happen. Whether the outcome, it will be what God has designed.

If any be sick, call for the elders of the church, let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord ~ James 5:14

Faith healing is not to be confused with spiritual healing practices, or ‘energy’ healing such as Reiki. Faith healing means the miraculous, supernatural healing events, such as Jesus is said to have performed.believe

The Christian Perspective

Faith healing is a part of many religions across the Globe, and is often associated with Christianity. Christian Science is one particular arm of the religion that takes faith healing very seriously, and states that illness is merely an illusion caused by faulty beliefs.

But if you follow the story of Christianity, would it be correct to believe that if God created the entire world that he also created viruses, parasites and bacteria which frequently make us sick?

Plus, if he created humans in his image, robust, healthy and perfect then we should not have any faults? No inherent dispositions to become ill?

Do we become sick because we bring it upon ourselves, or because of our ignorance to God’s grace? If that is the case then where do children and infants fit in here?

Some religions maintain that disease is attributed to the devil, and having faith in God will therefore be enough to heal you, if he sees fit to do so.

Coming back to the question in hand, let’s look at the way that the Bible tells us that Jesus healed.

Firstly, it is interesting to note that Jesus endorsed the use of common medical treatment available at the time. His healing was not dependant on rejecting other forms of medical treatment.

The stories of Jesus’ work show that he healed completely and instantly. Lame men could walk away and blind people could see. Jesus was said to heal everyone, including non-believers. He also healed organic disease, and not simply symptoms such as headache. This is at odds with most of the faith healers seen today, who despite claiming to channel a divine healing power, have not been scientifically documented to instantly heal organic disease and certainly not raise someone from the dead.

If they could do these things we have to ask ourselves why they don’t regularly enter children’s hospitals to deliver their God-given miraculous gifts.nurse healer

Why Does Faith Healing Work On Some?

Faith healing became popular in the 1930s when the performers were a kind of celebrity, drawing large crowds. Today televangelists are still held in high regard by many, performing healing services on stage and TV, even claiming to heal people remotely through the screen. The numbers of people flocking to be healed, and those who claim to have been healed are large, and testimonials can easily be found. So if faith healing is a myth, how have they been healed? Could it be a miracle after all?

There are unfortunately many cases where the healer simply tricks his ‘audience’ into believing that he has healed a suffering individual in order achieve financial gain. We will look at that below in the section headed ‘fraud’.

But there are also numerous cases where a faith healer places hands on an individual and they do appear to get better. The three main alternative reasons for this are discussed here.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc ~

This is when healing following a ritual is simply a coincidence. Our immune system works tirelessly to keep us well, and could be the real reason for improvement and remission. In this instance, the healed individual would have improved regardless of any ‘treatment’ given by the healer.

The Placebo Effect ~

This is a massively powerful and quite bizarre phenomenon widely documented in scientific journals. It is simply that the belief that he has been healed is enough to cause genuine improvements in an individual’s health. Again, this happens regardless of what the healer does.

The placebo effect has been seen to provide pain relief and relieve uncomfortable symptoms in many scientifically documented cases, and the results are the same whether someone has been given a pretend magic pill, or has received pretend divine intervention. This is not generally beneficial when the individual is suffering from a serious illness.

Also called the placebo response. A remarkable phenomenon in which a placebo — a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution — can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful. ~ Medicine Net

Positive Mental Attitude ~

The overall impact of positive thinking, plus being the centre of attention, feeling cared for and supported, encouraged to feel better and cheered on by a crowd may also be enough to raise someone’s energy and make them appear ‘healed’, at least temporarily.

This may be particularly true in those with a proclivity toward hypochondria. This can be a subconscious rather than genuinely dishonest tendency toward exaggeration of symptoms, which may be encouraged by a kind, encouraging and listening healer. The spectrum of individuals who may fall in this category include those with Google-syndrome, where simply paying attention to, and ‘researching’ a symptom could lead them to feel they have a medical condition, right down to Munchausens Syndrome and even more worryingly Munchausens Syndrome by Proxy.

These are mental health conditions where the sufferer fakes an illness in order to gain attention, and in the latter, they stage an illness in their child for the same reason. We will speak in more depth about the dangers of faith healing with regards to children below.

The following is from WebMD.

Munchausen syndrome is a factitious disorder, a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick. Munchausen syndrome is considered a mental illness because it is associated with severe emotional difficulties.
People with Munchausen syndrome deliberately produce or exaggerate symptoms in several ways. They may lie about or fake symptoms, hurt themselves to bring on symptoms, or alter tests (such as contaminating a urine sample).

Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSP) is a relatively rare behavioral disorder. It affects a primary caretaker, often the mother. The person with MSP gains attention by seeking medical help for exaggerated or made-up symptoms of a child in his or her care. As health care providers strive to identify what’s causing the child’s symptoms, the deliberate actions of the mother or caretaker can often make the symptoms worse.

People with MSP may create or exaggerate a child’s symptoms in several ways. They may simply lie about symptoms, alter tests (such as contaminating a urine sample), falsify medical records, or they may actually induce symptoms through various means, such as poisoning, suffocating, starving, and causing infection.

Fraudulent Faith Healers

People suffering from pain and disease are vulnerable, and this exposes them to fraudulent tricksters who use their desire to be well as a way to make money. This is done in a number of ways, and over the years fake-faith-healers have been uncovered by vigilant doctors following up on ‘healed’ individuals, reporters and even reformed fake-healers themselves.

There have been many cases of these fraudulent healers planting people in the audience to act as though they are blind or lame for example. They follow a rehearsed routine which results in a ‘miraculous’ recovery.

One notorious healer Peter Popoff, was discovered to be receiving radio transmissions from wife via an earpiece. She fed him information gathered by their team who spoke to the unwitting audience before his show – imparting information about their aliments. Popoff would then claim to feel their pain and know their symptoms through his divine conversations with God.

Many illusions and tricks are used and are usually accompanied by exorbitant fees, or heavily suggested donations.

Bizarrely, only a relative few cases of healing are actually followed up and investigated to measure their success. The incidences that have been delved into have not been favourable.

William Nolen MD, author of Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle, researched 25 cases in the 1970s and did not report a single success in curing organic disease through faith healing. Shockingly, one woman who was told that she was cured of lung cancer actually discovered that she had Hodgkins disease. A separate case involved a woman with cancer of the spine. She removed her brace and ran across the stage at the instruction of the healer. The next day her backbone collapsed, and within four months she had died. These are just two of many terrible examples of harm coming to those who have been wrongly advised that they are healed.

A British psychiatrist, Louis Rose, investigated hundreds cured faith-healing cases. Past healers and patients also contacted him and completed questionnaires that he used to compile evidence. This was published in his 1971 book ‘Faith Healing’. The following is taken from his conclusion, where he answers whether he has found proof of a miracle of faith healing.

I have been unsuccessful. After nearly twenty years of work I have yet to find one ‘miracle cure’; and without that (or, alternatively, massive statistics which others must provide) I cannot be convinced of the efficacy of what is commonly termed faith healing.

False claims of faith healing can be deadly. Misdiagnosis can cause delay in seeking mainstream medical advice, and sometimes even lead to complete rejection of conventional treatments. While most non-believers would have little sympathy with an adult who dies after deciding to choose faith healing over medicine, the same cannot be said of parents who make the same choice for their children. I mentioned in the introduction that research into Faith Healing made me angry, and this is why.

Children and Faith Healing

The following quote about faith healing is taken from the American Cancer Society.

Available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments… One review published in 1998 looked at 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. These researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent, with the remainder of the children also having a good chance of survival. A more recent study found that more than 200 children had died of treatable illnesses in the United States over the past thirty years because their parents relied on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment.

Mortality rates in children whose parents have opted to reject conventional medicine in favour of faith healing vary across religions, and can be very difficult to assess, especially in closed communities like Amish.

However, even one preventable death or injury caused by stopping required medical treatment in children seems unforgivable to me. I have to agree with the following which is taken from Prince v. Massachusetts (1944), where the Supreme Court of the United States ruled:

Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.

Despite this, in more than 30 States across America, there are clauses which allow for parents to choose faith healing over conventional medicine, if they can show that they are acting in faith. This means that the courts may be lenient towards parents of a child who has died as a result of their actions, which could otherwise be classed as neglect, if it weren’t for the argument that they ‘acted in faith’.

The Children’s Health Is a Legal Duty (CHILD)  was founded by parents who lost their child after putting their trust in faith healing. They are fighting for legal reforms to protect children from inappropriate treatment by faith healers.

When analysing the 172 children who died between 1975 and 1995 when parents withheld medical care because of reliance on religious rituals, mentioned in the quote above, they found the following:

  • 140 of the deaths were from medical conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90%
  • These included 22 cases of pneumonia in infants under two years of age, 15 cases of meningitis, and 12 cases of insulin-dependent diabetes
  • 18 more had expected survival rates greater than 50%
  • All but three of the remainder would probably have had some benefit from clinical help

Even though courts have an option to be lenient with parents whose children die from conditions which could have likely been healed with conventional treatment, there are situations where the parents are punished. One such case saw parents jailed after the second of two of their children died of pneumonia in completely unrelated circumstances. They withheld medical care in both instances.

You’ve killed two of your children… not God, not your church, not religious devotion — you ~ Judge Benjamin Lerner

In Conclusion

Fraudulent faith healers are committing the worst form of blasphemy. They take money dishonestly in exchange for false hope, which we have seen can be deadly. They also cause believers to doubt in God. Those who are found to have used such trickery should be prosecuted.

Those healers who truly believe that they have a divine connection and the ability to heal are a whole separate concern. We have seen that people may feel better for reasons completely unrelated to faith-healing, and also that individuals who may seem healed on stage may actually not be healed at all.

If faith healers really could cure disease, why do they not go to hospitals, to HIV ravaged Africa, and to children’s cancer wards on a regular basis? This for me is the clincher.
Regardless of what I personally believe, it is vitally important that laws are put in place to protect children from medical neglect in the name of faith healing. Faith healing should only be allowed on minors in addition to conventional, scientifically proven medical or other alternative treatment. I know it is not always an easy decision, chemotherapy for example comes with a number of dreadful side effects. I am also fully aware that medical companies may not be all they make out to be, and that some medicines can cause harm….. and antibiotics …well, that is a whole other story.

What are your thoughts? Are you a believer in faith healing? Do you believe that faith healing is a myth or a miracle? We would love to hear from you!

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