Bronze-level articleFaith healing

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When I was a boy a farmer's wife who lived five miles from our village had great fame as a faith-doctor—that was what she called herself. Sufferers came to her from all around, and she laid her hand upon them and said, "Have faith—it is all that is necessary," and they went away well of their ailments. She was not a religious woman, and pretended to no occult powers. She said that the patient's faith in her did the work. Several times I saw her make immediate cures of severe toothaches. My mother was the patient.
Mark Twain, Christian Science
If you are that person [who received a diagnosis of 6 months to live, but whose cancer went into remission], you are more likely to believe that God cured you, this invisible force, creator of the universe, cured you, than that you had three idiotic doctors diagnose you. [...] I taught physics to pre-med students who became doctors. Not all of them are smart, I assure you.
Neil deGrasse Tyson[1]

Faith healing is a form of medical woo that attempts to cure a wide range of ailments primarily through personal prayer and intercessory prayer, sometimes augmented by faith-based rituals. God is capable of curing all diseases and injuries that could ever affect anybody, assuming He is willing.

It is a distinct form of alternative medicine relying entirely on faith, rather than any supposed medically active ingredient, and as such acts as a placebo, albeit a very powerful one.

Like hypnosis, it is difficult to define a placebo (and probably a control group) against faith healing so experimental testing is difficult. Even events that are anecdotally observed are hard to assess because most people who turn to faith healing probably are already using or tried another treatment, likely to improve without intervention or the condition is imaginary or exacerbated by the believer until being faith healed.

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[edit] Efficacy

If your god is in the mood to heal you, faith healing is 100% effective. If you are unworthy, for whatever reason, then it is still effective because it is God's wish you don't get well. This is, empirically speaking, no different than the statement "faith healing doesn't work", but it forms a convenient excuse for proponents and practitioners.

Faith healing is obviously not what you would consider science. The actual causual effects are limited to the placebo effect. However, since the placebo effect produces testable and reproducible results pertaining to faith healing, studies have been done on the subject, showing that it has little effect other than to increase one's spiritual health.[2] So, when properly controlled for, and when confounding factors such as cherry picking and selective reporting are removed, faith healing does pretty much nothing. In this regard, faith healing performs exactly as well as any other form of alternative medicine and fails the meaningful definition of a working treatment.

[edit] Faith Healing in Christianity

Christianity is by and large the religion most often associated with faith healing, to the extent that an entire denomination (the Christian Science denomination) is devoted to the idea of faith healing.

[edit] Theological Justifications

Christian Scientists believe that faith healing was proven when Jesus healed a sick woman by faith alone.[3] They also believe that the material world is an illusion, and that this will ultimately lead to a true spiritual understanding of God, and that fear, ignorance, and sin are the causes of all illness.

[edit] Televangelism

Faith healing is most closely linked to televangelists, who often use it to fleece millions of dollars from vulnerable people. Almost all of the major televangelists make faith healing a major component of their "services." Pat Robertson talks to God on his show the 700 Club and announces miraculous and spontaneous healings right before asking for donations. Benny Hinn's whole ministry is based around his "miraculous" healings with full-blown stage shows where he brings up sick people and pushes them to the ground, screaming "be healed." Hinn also offers the chance to the television audience by placing his hands up in front of the camera and asking people to touch their hands to the screen and be healed. Peter Popoff had a neat trick of being able to announce the address of his victims patients gullible peons victims before "healing" them. He was able to milk millions from his followers until James Randi revealed that Popoff was using a radio earpiece to pick up prompts from his wife instead of God.[4]

[edit] Does it work?

It may be possible that faith healing works as a placebo (much like other non-active forms of alternative medicine such as homeopathy or Reiki), causing the patient to truly believe that they are being healed. Placebo treatments work in a complex manner - someone receiving a treatment may consciously or subconsciously alter their habits and improve their health or the treatment will just cause them to think positively and at least feel much better until the illness disappears on its own. Beyond this effect, which can be extremely powerful, there is no evidence to suggest that faith healing works. In particular, experiments on prayer have found no increase in people's recovery from surgery despite prayers being said for them. With regards to serious illnesses, the placebo effect may not be as much use.

[edit] Dangers of faith healing

Faith healing may seem like a joke when televangelists practice it on their television shows, like when a wheelchair-bound man can all of a sudden walk, but it can be deadly when taken seriously. The primary danger is that people will outright reject conventional and proven treatments so will instead stick only to faith healing. This can prove deadly in some circumstances where the illness is serious and medical attention is ignored completely.[5] Estimating the numbers of preventable deaths in closed communities that reject medicine like the Amish is very difficult. [6] The organization Children's Health Care Is a Legal Duty has estimated that around 300 children have died in the US since 1975 due to people putting too much faith in faith healing. This number, of course, doesn't include adults who may have intentionally kept themselves from medical treatment and certainly doesn't include probably tens of thousands more worldwide in places where culture hasn't necessarily caught up with the medical technology available.

This doesn't seem to bother most faith healers and those who trust them, however. Charges and sentences given to people "acting in faith" - or more specifically, acting in a religious faith, or even more specifically, a fundamentalist Christian faith - are often far more lenient compared to comparable neglect, manslaughter and even murder charges. The position of the law when dealing with people who are "acting in faith" has been tricky due to the difficulties in striking a balance between objective and universal application of the law, and "respecting" people's religion and their rights to practice it.[7]

After a series of incidents with a local religious group resulting in death, the state government of Oregon decided in March 2011 that faith healing is not an acceptable defense against neglect charges.[8]

Sean Faircloth discusses the dangers of Faith Healing in his new book "Attack of the Theocrats". A video introduction to his book can be seen here.

[edit] Faith Healing and Alternative Medicine

Faith healing is also dotted across the landscape of alternative medicine with things like psychic surgery and Ayurvedic medicine. Occasionally faith healing pops up in the peer-reviewed literature usually focused around whether intercessory prayer for a patient can improve their health or recovery. While a few studies have shown an effect,[9][10] these studies have come under extensive criticism and most studies have shown a null effect or even that prayer can be detrimental![11][12]

[edit] Media

Roomy loomy, lama nama noomy! This boy is healed! (eh?) Now, to the naked eye it would appear that this boy has not been healed; but I can assure you, this boy's spirit has been healed! Inside this tangled, mangle frame is a healed little boy. His spirit is healed! Hallelujah!
—"Hellalujah" Insane Clown Posse

[edit] External links

[edit] See Also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Pseudoscience quotes, Hayden Planetarium.
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21495524
  3. Mark 5:25-29
  4. James Randi busting Peter Popoff
  5. Police: Girl Dies After Parents Pray for Healing Instead of Seeking Medical Help This example is an 11-year old girl who died after her parents refused to provide her medical treatment for her (treatable) form of a diabetes-related illness.
  6. When Parents Call God Instead of the Doctor
  7. The Washington Post - When a child dies, faith is no defense
  8. Oregon House unanimously votes to end faith healing exception
  9. Byrd RC. Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population. South Med J 1988;81:826-9.
  10. Harris WS, Gowda M, Kolb JW, Strychacz CP, Vacek JL, Jones PG, Forker A, O'Keefe JH, McCallister BD. A randomized, controlled trial of the effects of remote, intercessory prayer on outcomes in patients admitted to the coronary care unit. Arch Intern Med 1999;159:2273-8.
  11. Aviles JM, Whelan SE, Hernke DA, Williams BA, Kenny KE, O'Fallon WM, Kopecky SL. Intercessory prayer and cardiovascular disease progression in a coronary care unit population: a randomized controlled trial. Mayo Clin Proc 2001;76:1192-8.
  12. The Deity in the Data
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