beneficial aspects of paranormalism are the cures effected by faith
healers. Thousands testify that faith healing works and that it is a
great source of hope for those who would otherwise have none.
healing is usually
performed in the absence of any medical training or skills and while
the techniques and methods vary slightly, generally speaking it simply
involves the touching or laying on of hands by the practitioner,
coupled with faith in that practitioner by the person seeking help.
Bible features many
who have effected miraculous cures. Christ restored the ear of Malchus
after it had been severed by one of the disciples; he healed a
centurion's servant of palsy and a woman who had "a flow of blood for
twelve years." The disciples also effected cures and many Roman
Catholic saints have been renowned for their healing powers both while
living and after their death. Often miraculous cures are attributed to
statues and specific places.
recent times Britain's
best known faith healer was the late Harry Edwards, (1893-1976), who,
since he began healing in the 1930s, claimed to have cured tens of
thousands of people, most of them believed to have been "incurable".
Although his first healing took place in north-west Persia (now Iran)
while serving with the Royal Sussex Regiment in World War I, it was not
until he attended a Spiritualist Church in London in 1934, that he was
told that there were spirit guides who wished to co-operate with him
and that he had undoubted powers of healing.
spirit guides were
none other than Lord Lister, the founder of antiseptic surgery and
Louis Pasteur, the great French scientist.
Edgar Cayce, Harry
Edwards could also effect cures without actually being in the presence
of the patient. One remarkable case was of a man desperately ill in
hospital dying from tuberculosis, pleurisy and hemorrhages. In his
book, Thirty Years a Spiritual Healer, Harry Edwards tells what
meditation, employing our thoughts for his recovery. As I did this,
with my eyes closed, I became aware that I was looking down a long
hospital ward with my attention focused on a man in the last bed by
one. A week later he received news that the doctors at the hospital
were amazed at the sudden and remarkable recovery that the patient had
made, three weeks later he was discharged and within a few months was
able to take up full employment again."
credence can be had
in these tales of miraculous cures? Undoubtedly, Lourdes would be the
first to spring to mind if you were asked to name a famous healing
shrine. To this alleged miraculous spring in the department of Hautes
Pyrenees in the old French province of Bigorre, an estimated two
million visitors come each year, many of them in the hope that they
will find a cure for what ails them. Yet of the tens of thousands of
cures claimed since 1858, when Marie Bernarde Soubirous (canonized in
1933 as St Bernadette) first wandered into the grotto and had her
vision of the Virgin Mary, very few cures have been accepted officially
as miraculous by the Roman Catholic Church. Unsubstantiated and
anecdotal testimony abounds however.
enterprise, there is little doubt that the four annual pilgrimages to
Lourdes are the mainstay of its 400 hotels (one per forty permanent
residents), and the 450 souvenir shops dispensing vials of "miracle"
water. Chemical analysis of the water however, shows it to be lacking
in any special mineral or trace element; it is simply plain spring
possible to investigate claims of cures it has been found that
essential laboratory tests have not been carried out and that
"certified" cures were unscientific and totally unconvincing. The cures
fall into the general pattern of "faith healing" and there is no
evidence to suggest that they are in any way of a supernatural nature.
It's worth noting too, that the papacy have not displayed much faith in
the prospect of a miraculous cure at Lourdes. On his death bed, Pope
Pius XI was attended by medical specialists flown in from the USA, and
neither he, Pius XII or John ("The Good") XXIII sought to prolong their
terrestrial stay by imbibing the miraculous waters of Lourdes. Even
Bernadette herself who suffered through several long illnesses died at
the early age of thirty-five.
that sometimes cures are seemingly the result of inexplicable,
irrational and often bizarre practices, ranging from the laying on of
hands to the re-aligning of the body's chakras with the application of
crystals or magnets. Unfortunately, the efficacy of these therapies are
seldom subject to critical analysis; the successes are touted
enthusiastically, the failures are never mentioned.
Randi, a foundation
member of the American Skeptics' group, CSICOP, has spent much of his
life investigating the claims of miracle cures by faith healers of all
denominations and his book, The Faith Healers, is a hard
hitting expose of the widespread fraudulent practices common to the
genre. One I will briefly mention here, is the Reverend Peter Popoff,
whose faith healing and allegedly miraculous cures were regularly
televised in the USA, until unknown to Popoff and his wife Elizabeth, a
team of electronic surveillance experts began a series of surreptitious
recordings designed to expose how the evangelist was able to recite
details about audience members and their afflictions without apparent
prior knowledge of that person.
like many faith
healers, calls out the names and illnesses of people at his crusades,
then "lays hands" on them and prays for their healing. The impression
given is that the information comes from a divine source. The sceptics
however, found that the source of the information was Popoff's wife and
her aides who interviewed members of the audience as they came in and
relayed the information to her husband on the stage by radio, through
an earpiece similar to a hearing aid.
blatant appeals for
large amounts of money by some of the best known faith healers, Oral
Roberts and his son Richard, Kathryn Kuhlman, Ernest Angley and the
recently discredited Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy Bakker, are living
testimony to the megabuck industry that passes as religious faith.
those who claim
to have been cured and what harm has been done if what they choose to
believe is only a figment of their imagination?
understood that many illnesses are psychosomatic, that is, an imaginary
complaint (albeit sometimes evident in physically manifested symptoms),
which will respond in the right environment to a suggestion by another
there is the
self-limiting aspect of many illnesses which will come and go of their
own accord with or without treatment. And thirdly, the placebo effect
whereby a person will respond positively to any palliative, no matter
how lacking in medicinal compounds it may be. The power of suggestion
is relevant to both orthodox and unorthodox healing and although the
basic mechanism of hypnotism still provokes argument, it has become
more and more acceptable over the years. The concept of "role playing"
too, plays a large part in faith healing, where the sufferer will
endeavour to fulfill the role indicated by the healer — throwaway your
crutches and walk, for example.
short time they may
be able to comply because it is expected of them. But if it works, why
knock it? Well, it all depends. If the problem falls in the above
categories and the treatment, no matter how scientifically or medically
inefficacious it may be, leads to an improvement in the emotional state
of the sufferer and makes life easier, then the only quarrel I would
have with it is that it abrogates the personal responsibility of an
individual to cultivate faith in themselves and to reason out the cause
and solve their own problems. In other words, it makes one vulnerable
in more serious situations. Take for example the case cited by Dr
William A. Nolen, in his book, Healing: A Doctor in Search of a
old woman suffering from a stomach cancer which had metastasized her
liver and confined her to a wheelchair, attends a faith healing session
conducted by Kathryn Kuhlman. She is told by the faith healer that a
miracle is occurring and that she should take off her back brace and
run back and forth across the stage several times, this she does and
walks back to her wheelchair waving her brace while the audience
cheered and Kathryn Kuhlman gave thanks to the Lord. At four o'clock
next morning the woman woke suffering from chronic back pain, X-rays
revealed that a weakened vertebra had collapsed due to the strain put
on it and she died two months later of the cancer which Kathryn Kuhlman
had allegedly cured."
really happened? The
body has its own physiological and biochemical systems for dealing with
pain by releasing endorphins in the time of stress. These endogenous
substances are naturally occurring analogues of pain limiting drugs
such as morphine and heroin, thus in a stressful event such as a high
level of excitement, no pain was felt by the woman due to the release
of a natural analgesic, but when it was no longer present the pain
returned much magnified by the damage that had been done.
claim is often made
by those cured after turning to faith healers that the medical
profession had given up on them. They produce medical records to show
that they were in fact suffering from an incurable disease prior to the
cure. Evidence suggests however, that many such cases are likely to be
instances of wrong diagnosis, wrong prognosis, remission or spontaneous
cure. A further consideration when dealing with the testimonies of
those allegedly cured by faith healers or paranormal practices, is the
understanding of the nature of disease itself. Disease and even
terminal illnesses are subject to variability, that is, the severity of
the symptoms and how the patient feels varies from day to day, week to
week and month to month.
treatment is more
likely to be sought when the patient is feeling especially down, no
matter what the treatment, orthodox, unorthodox, occult or religious,
the odds are that they will improve, giving the credit to the healer.
booklet entitled Divine
Healing and Co-operation between Doctors and Clergy, a medical
committee set up in 1956 to assist an enquiry by the Archbishops'
Commission, concluded that they could find no evidence that there is
any type of illness cured by 'spiritual healing' alone which could not
have been cured by medical treatment, and no evidence that organic
disease is cured by the various methods of "spiritual healing."
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J. 1969. Edgar
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