Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Religion & Culture | Faith healing: A clear and present danger

Published:Sunday | April 29, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
The Reverend Rowland Foster, (right), the pastor of a church that rejects modern medicine, was charged after it was alleged that he failed to report suspected abuse when his two-year-old granddaughter died of pneumonia.

"It is not only a matter of rooting out cruelty directed to those least able to defend themselves and most in need of compassion. It is a timely reminder that mass rallies and television and mail-order technology permit other kinds of lies to be injected into the body politic and take advantage of the frustrated, the unwary and defenceless in a society."

(The Faith Healers by James Randi and Carl Sagan)

Supposedly fashioned after the deliverance work of the apostles, modern-day faith healing is based on fervent orations, Christ-centred incantations, and suggestions.

It is during these so-called miraculous crusades that the deaf 'hear,' the lame 'walk,' the blind 'see' and the cancer-stricken is 'cured.' And many other ailments, big and small, magically vanish.

Ministers command the faithful to suspend reason and believe in the curative power of faith in Christ. They support their claims by inviting the once-afflicted to testify. It is a persuasive spectacle.

These men of God find support for faith healing in scripture. They are versed, glib with the gift to even bend the will of sceptics. They cite:

1 Peter 2:22 - "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."

Mark 5:34 - "And he said to her, Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease," and, James 5:14-15 - "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up."

But even these quotes have been called into question. Many theologians reject faith healing. They are called cessationists because they hold that the gift of healing, like speaking in tongues and other gifts, died with the apostles.

They cite Corinthians 13:8 - "Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away."

To buttress their argument, they also cite Acts 2:43 - "Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles," and Acts 5:12 - "The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade."

Although I make mention of these differing viewpoints, I have little interest in hermeneutics or theological squabbles.

It is on evidentiary grounds that I base my fight against faith healing. This is a moral stand.

For starters, faith healing is unsupported by any scientific tests. There is no evidence to fully corroborate these outlandish claims.

Clinical diagnoses and medical proof of healing have never been presented for independent analysis. There is no short- or long-term follow-up study of subjects.

 

Irreparable Harm

 

There is ample evidence, though, of the irreparable harm done to the gullible and the innocent by faith healers. The list of pastors who have caused untold damage is disturbing: Todd Bentley, Benny Hinn, Charles Meade, Kathryn Khulna, Morris Cerullo, Larry Maxwell. And there are others, many more.

Taking Faith too Far, a 20/20 exposÈ on the Oregon-based Followers of Christ, was aired on January 6, 1999. Presented by Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson, it highlighted the gravity of this problem.

An alarming number of children in the 'Followers' had died while their parents prayed instead of getting a doctor. Since 1955, 78 children were buried in the Followers of Christ cemetery just outside Oregon City. Doctors reported at least 21 children probably would have lived with medical intervention by using simple antibiotics.

The exposÈ also presented research on faith healing over a 20-year span (1975-1995) that appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics. The findings were staggering: (Of the 172 children who perished at the hands of faith healers), "Four out of five would most likely have survived, if they had received medical care; and 81 per cent of the deaths were caused by conditions that had a medical survival rate of 90 per cent."

 

A Social Problem

 

Faith healing has become a social problem. A clear and present danger. This social scourge has reared its ungodly head in Caribbean. I refer to The Gleaner's article - February 11, 2018: 'Holy healers hurting - Several persons with HIV/AIDS abandoning medical treatment after they are 'cured' by church leaders'.

Short of outright fraud (and there are numerous cases), there is a unique dynamic to this purported healing that we should know. The emotional buoyancy of fellowship, the charismatic leader, music, singing, hugging, the psychology of expectancy and belief, and the release of high doses of dopamine and oxytocin in the brain are known to result in euphoria and the temporary cessation of physical and mental pain.

Also, the power of suggestion, skilfully employed by faith healers, adds to the ephemeral 'healing' effect.

The evangelical movement has emerged as a cultural force, a force that should be revisited. The separation of Church and State, and the lack of regulation in religious matters have created a portentous climate.

Faith healers are given carte blanche to deceive and harm others. The unwarranted death of the sick demands an exigent response at the governmental level. No longer should vulnerable citizens be allowed to trade medical care for faith healing.

The time is now for officials in education, health, law enforcement, and the Church to robustly respond to this charade. We are all better served by a society sans religious con men, fanatics, and their delusional sycophants.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is the author of the award-winning book, Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity. His latest book, In Search of Truth: A Course in Spiritual Psychology, is due in May. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby