The Magic of Faith Healing

By Dave, the WM

What should anyone think when confronted with reported claims of miraculous healings? From time to time a commentator on this blog emphatically claims to have witnessed miraculous healings. Naturally, credit for these magical interventions of divine health is attributed to a moving of the Holy Spirit in some religious meeting, or perhaps by some special "anointing" that spontaneously falls on someone. One believer in supernatural healing commented on a letter posted here: You have a little mind.

But are Christians the only people laying claim to supernatural healings?

Here are some excerpts from the Deccan Herald published in India:
Gopi Malhotra down on holiday from the US says, "Sure I do believe faith heals, not just physically but mentally too. One does not have to put down ones crutches and walk to be healed. Mentally and emotionally too we can be healed through faith."

Pratima Mathias readily answered the question. "Yes! I do believe very strongly that faith heals. There is a power in faith that can move mountains. I personally have felt the healing power of faith in Shimoga where I come from. I had an abscess on my arm that was painful and gave me a lot of trouble. Then I attended a meeting in Shimoga where a faith healer prayed with a big group and the cure was not a miraculous cure, but the abscess just disappeared over a few days."

Walking along MG Road, conspicuous in his saffron robe was Giridhar, an Iskcon follower. "I come from Finland and I believe very strongly that faith heals. Of course, it depends on God's desire if he wants to heal you or not. In all religions, whether the Koran, the Bible, or Hindu texts, there is the fact that faith is a great healer. I used to have a lot of acne all over my face and back. Nothing would cure it. Only when I began to practice my faith, the acne just cleared up rapidly."

In case it wasn't obvious, these three "believers" weren't Christians.

Here's more, from an online article about Daya Mataji :
The stories about Mataji's healing prowess are legion. Tales of curing incurable cases of cancer, making the blind see and the lame walk are avidly told and retold among her followers. Indeed, as with many other gurus and cults, the hope of obtaining relief from a physical ailment or a distressful emotional condition is one of the two primary motives for becoming a member of the cult; the other being a hidden wish for siddhis, or magical powers, which are interminably talked about by her followers even while they are being overtly decried. The gurus themselves would look at healing of sickness as necessary bait for their proper task of leading a person toward self-realization. Perhaps they regret the fact that skepticism is a child of well-being and deplore the perversity of man who is otherwise so little interested in mystical bliss, even when it is so easily and so painlessly provided as by Mataji. As a healer, Mataji is undoubtedly effective, though again, as with other healers, a number of her cures are little more than provision of temporary relief. A typical example is a woman who suffered from excruciating "back pains." After exhausting the resources of modern medicine she went to see Mataji at a friend's house. At that time Mataji was still developing her mystical technology of kundalini raising and had yet to complete the transition from healing to holiness. Mataji asked the woman to put her head on her lap and be still. After a few minutes the woman felt the pain leave her while at the same time there was a strong scent of jasmine flowers in the room. The pain came back when she returned home and though she faithfully attended Mataji's discourses on the following days, that first experience of a sudden disappearing of pain was never repeated. The cult members of course consider such temporary cures as showing a lack of faith in Mataji and her divinity. Given their premise that faith in Mataji can permanently cure the most intractable disease, a patient's persisting symptoms "prove" that he lacks faith, which in turn "proves" the correctness of the premise.

Notice the statement about temporary cures being considered signs of a lack of faith. I can't count the number of times I heard this exact same statement repeated in Charismatic circles.
Manaism is another religion that believes in supernatural healing. According to Wikipedia, Manaism is a belief in a supernatural force that travels swiftly like an electric current around the world and suddenly enters other people and objects giving them powers which they previously lacked. Visions, premonitions, sudden strength in people, faith healing all are part of this belief. This so-called supernatural force is known by several names:

(C) Qi (or Chi) in China; Gi in Korea; Ki in Japan

From Wikipedia:
Faith healing has not scientifically been proven effective. What few controlled studies have been performed have evidenced no beneficial effect. Its practitioners can only cite anecdotal evidence of cases where it has been successful, ignoring the far more numerous cases where the patient dies despite the efforts of faith healing. Doctors often ascribe any success to the placebo effect or to spontaneous remission: some people will heal with or without treatment, and it is generally natural to credit the most recent treatment for the cure.

Prominent 1980's-era faith healer and televangelist Peter Popoff was publicly exposed by noted skeptic James Randi working together with popular TV host Johnny Carson, when it was discovered that the apparent healing miracles and prophetic acts performed by Popoff were in fact part of an elaborately stage-managed setup including planting of audience members and broadcasts to an in-ear radio receiver. Other faith healers such as Benny Hinn (who was videotaped by hidden cameras and profiled on an episode CBC's The Fifth Estate) have also been hit by allegations of fraudulent activity.

To close this little rant, here is a quote from "Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking" by Warren H. Jones (page 35).
It is possible to accept the fact of recovery from a severe illness or handicap without medical intervention and at the same time discount claims that recovery was caused by a supernatural force. Many recoveries can be explained by known physiological and psychological principles. Others cannot be so explained. To equate the unexplained with the miraculous, however, is unjustifiable. Unexplained only means unexplained.

So, what do you think?

For further reading, see:
Faith Healing

"Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking" by Warren H. Jones.

An overview of magical thinking:

Previously posted video:James Randi on Faith Healing.


Roger O'Donnell said...

The human body is a pretty odd thing.

The impact of the mind is pretty powerful, since much of the body's responses are controlled by direct use of neuropeptides. This was only really significantly found in the 1980s, but the direct effects are not known fully. There are numerous 'mysteries' (unpredictable behaviours) in endocrinology, that effect all the body chemistry, at times faster than can be transmitted by nerves...

'Mystic' experience has a pretty strong effect on brain chemistry. The Buddhist monks who can consciously raise or lower body temperature as a prima facie case of 'mind over matter'. The kind of experience that happens with the 'faithful' is of the same class. The endocrine system controls mood, cell replication and metabolism, and protein and nutrient absorption, so why shouldn't a sufficiently powerful jolt to the system trigger physiological changes of greater or lesser duration?

Problem with much of this material is that it's largely anecdotal. It's had to get a 'mystical' experience to order (unless you're a Buddhist Monk, and they tend to be both fit and happy)so lab testing isn't going to work. Most GPs won't record it since it 'doesn't fit' so in the end, you only get the religious fruit loops claiming their invisible friend did the work when really, it appears to be a 'wild talent' (in the Charles Fort sense.

Love and hugs


Roger O'Donnell said...

One addition... no one has ever actually come up with a mechanism for either he placebo effect nor spontaneous remission... It's medical speak for 'it was God's will...' ;D


Anonymous said...

Good article, Dave!

I believe that our brain has the power to make us sick and to heal, to a certain extent.

I think what many people call God is no-more than the human brain. After all, it is a computer which runs the body. So if you can tell your brain to do something and you can energize the thought, you may be healed.

No gods involved--unless, of course, we are all gods.

Roger O'Donnell said...


That 'We're all gods' view is something of a feature in New Thought or Theosophy :)


blaine said...

Hi All,
At one time I was considered a mentor to other Christians, including pastors, until I came out as gay and also questioned some of the doctrines brought up here. I still believe in God because I cannot deny my personal experience on a winter's night in 1971. To deny Him is to deny myself for the benefit of reason and logic. And we have seen in history past, that whether it be religion or politics, that logic and reason without the intangible factors of love, faith, belief and hope can be deadly.
I am now, what you may call, part Buddhist, Humanist, Deist and Christian. Life is eternal and cannot be forever extinguished. The God who made all living things rejoices in diversity and someday all will be in harmony, peace and love. I can prove none of this. I just say it because The Bible and other writings hint at this once you take out the threat of religious control through the threat of eternal punishment or extinction.
Now to my personal experience. I'll name three. #1 My wife had a biopsy on her right lung which was shown to be cancer. This was at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle on a Friday. The mass was large and she had surgery the following Monday. After surgery her surgeon told me and her, "You have no cancer, so either our lab made a mistake or God healed you. And our lad did not make a mistake". That was almost 25 years ago.
#2 A couple asked me to pray for them because they had severe pain and also a headache. I prayed for them and they told me that before they got to their car their pain was completely gone.
#3 I have had others pray for me when I felt God's healing. Also one time when I was teaching in Russia I had caught a terrible cold and could not think straight.
When I finally got to sleep and taught the next days classes all was well and my students enjoyed the lessons.
I shared this story with some of the church members, including my wife, back in the states; and they told me that at the time I had asked for God to heal me that they had also felt the same urging to pray at the same hour-which would have been a 11 hour difference between Moscow and Seattle.
I can not explain any of this. I have not even mentioned the several times I have walked into the middle of gang fights or syndicate "anger" and seen an almost miraculous outcome where weapons were put away and I was never hurt.
Some say it is a weakness to believe in God but those who know of my past and present know that I am no where weak. However, I am also grateful for the joy, beauty and complexity of life.
I have had tons of hate and death wishes directed at me and those other gay youth I have prevented from taking their life. Most are Christians and one was only 12 but some Christians say I should let those gay youth kill themselves so they won't grow up to contaminate society etc.
Things have happened to me and those I love where I have cursed God and had some pretty good "knock downs, drag out" fights, including trying to blow God to pieces with a double barrel shotgun. I would pull both triggers at once and ask God to get off His butt and come down and fight me.
But through it all, whether it be the bigotry of man and religion [in my High School years I was active in the Civil Rights movement and saw the hypocrisy and evil of religion], or my anger at a God who I do not understand; I still believe He cares for us [by us I mean ALL living things] and someday this care will be revealed.
Why am I so stubborn? Because I cannot deny what happened in my heart in 1971 and because of the majesty of the universe of over a billion galaxies, each containing billions of stars and some scientists now believe that, once a certain separation is reached, that some galaxies are now exceeding the speed of light[check out Scientific American] and yet God considers each of us significant and of great value; I have no choice but to bend my knee and say "thank you" for making all this possible.
Even though I cannot explain the bad, I will not let what I don't know or can't prove, erase the good.
Later my friends,

webmdave said...

Thanks, Lorena!

Anonymous said...


1 - It probably was a lab mistake. They do happen, regardless of what the doctors try to claim. Many doctors actually RELY on the "mysterious god healed you thing" because its bad form to admit they don't know something or mis-diagnosed someone.

2 - I had hicups once. No matter what I did all day they would not go away. I tried standing on my head and swallowing water, holding my breath, biting a lemon seasoned with various salts and sugars and spices, even breathing into a bag for 45 minutes - all to no avail. Then someone told me the easiest way to get rid of hiccups was to hold my breath and spin in a circle 3 times counter clock wise, and 3 times clock wise. Eventually they talked me into trying it and the hiccups vanished!. Does that mean their 'remedy' is true? No. Because it did not work the next time I had hiccups - when you suffer from something and are trying many things, eventually what you suffer from may clear on its own and the last thing you tried (or thing you mentally believe actually helps) will be what you give credit to working.

3 - Your prayer group probably had some generic prayer they sent out for all distant members and when you later reported your experience they expanded upon the original actions because people simply like to stretch the truth of a story. Most likely you were not specifically named when they had their prayer group, maybe you were, but in the end once they became aware of your story they melded theirs along to it. Also, how often does your wife and her group spontaneously get together to pray? Doesn't it seem more likely a coincidence? Also, why do you feel that god would take the time to heal you of a headache while allowing so much other suffering in the world? Do you think that you are special? The only true believer in god? Does this make sense to you? Seriously - you try and show proof of god with a coincidence dealing with a headache? Can you see how inane that statement of claim really is?

Why is it that when prayer works or god acts it can always be attributed to randomness or coincidence? Why does he never do anything in the open (and please don't say he doesn't want to remove "free will" because that bad claim - didn't stop him from showing himself to people as described in the bible).

Why has god never healed an amputee or cured a child of Down's syndrome or spontaneously regenerated a severe burn victim? These miracles that are always attributed to god are also things that happen to anyone, at anytime, believers and non believers alike.

Anonymous said...

blane, what happened in 1971?

jimearl said...

Faith healing does not work. At least that's what science proves. Many studies have been done that would have proved faith could heal but none of them proved anything. Except that those prayed for fared no better than those who received special prayers. The studies I referred to were done at Duke University a couple of years ago and received media attention. How quickly we forget.

Blaine, it's really nice for "god" to heal you of a headache and yet let 100 children starve to death each and every day, don't you think? And if life is eternal, what is death, a temporary speed bump on the road of life? We have graveyards that prove that life if not eternal. That is reality. Perhaps you may want to give that a try.

Anonymous said...

Telling someone they aren't cured because they didn't *want* to be or they didn't "think right" can make the person even more ill.

"faith" doesn't heal. If you're sick, you're gonna be sick. If you are sick all your life and no doctor can cure you, it sure as hell ain't YOUR fault. It's either theirs for not knowing any way to cure it or just the way things are.

Patients always get the blame though when they don't just get better and get it over with.

blaine said...

blaine's story:
Prejudice and lack of genuine caring, regardless of the "authority" behind it, kills the spirit and joy of life, and defames God. The youth in the above videos define the joy and the spirit of life in that very small time frame we call "childhood". Don't be a joy killer and rob your child and yourself of this most precious time. Listen to their laughter, let your heart soak in their smile and love your children unconditionally before your time runs out. Don't miss the opportunity to love people with your whole heart while you have the chance. My story has a good ending because out of the self hate and internal rage I had growing up I was able to use it as a vehicle to reach out to and help youth in some of the nation's most dangerous gangs and others that felt like no one gave a damn about them or that they were not loved by God. So if there is a moral to my story it is this: Please don't ever give up on yourself because the hurt that you have gone through in the past or even today can be used by you to help someone else because you are not talking to them from a textbook but you are talking to them from the depth of your heart.
The Bath
My abuse started when I was very young and the only reason I know the age is because when I told my mom of a very vivid memory I had she couldn't believe it because she said I was less than two when it happened. I remember fights where I tried to protect my mom before I started school and a beating I got for setting up a fruit stand on the sidewalk in front of our house when we lived in New Jersey. We left Jersey when I was halfway through the second grade; however, most of these events cover fourth through seventh grade. My dad used to beat me until I bled with a board, sapling, stick or a belt. I did learn as a youngster that I should not trim lilac bushes down to a foot or so off the ground. One time I was taking a bath and my dad jerked me out of the tub, beat me until I bled and then lifted me above his head and threw me with enough force through the opening of my bedroom door that I bounced off the opposite wall.
The Crate
A few years later, my dad told me not to tear apart a large wooden crate that he planned to use as a backstop for his rifle range. My dad was a pilot for a major airline and knew me well enough that the temptation to build something before he got home from his three/four day trip would be powerful. He was correct. The crate remained intact for probably most of the first day before I tore it apart and hauled the pieces off into the woods behind our house and built me one mighty fine tree house. By that time in my life a good tree house was well worth a whooping. When my dad pulled into the driveway I was in my bedroom. The next thing I heard was "Where's my crate! Blaine get out here!" When I did he grabbed one of the unused boards and started to beat me with it; however this time the board had a nail in it. I would bug my dad to play catch with me and one day he agreed. He threw the ball at me and when I threw it back to him he said "You throw like a girl" and walked away. That was the first and last time we ever played catch. My dad excelled in several sports. I also tried out and played football and basketball but couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time :oops: . I had a cousin that eventually got a football scholarship to a major university and my dad spent most of his time with him playing ball, fishing and other sports.

The Woods, the Rape and the Gun

In the 4th grade I started to camp in the woods behind our house during summer vacation because I felt safer there then in my own bedroom. While doing that a man befriended me. I liked him alot. He would build me neat things out of trees, like a table and chairs for my campsite. He also would cook and clean up. Of course I helped and was in charge because it was my camp but I felt good because I had a friend and someone who wanted me and loved me. At night when we were in our sleeping bags we would feel each other. I don't remember alot but I do remember waking up and feeling his erection in my hand and him asking me if I wanted for us to keep touching each other. I remember that I liked the feeling. The man was very wrong in touching me and for having me touch him but I never felt guilt over it or anger at him. I was just a young kid who wanted to be loved. I was too young to have sexual urges then but in a way I knew I was maybe different but I didn't know how if that makes any sense. The beatings continued on a regular basis but even though they hurt and I would bleed I cared less and less about getting beat. I remember throwing rocks through our basement windows and not caring, or taking my dad's nice chrome punches and hammering them into the ground [years later I told him about that and he told me he had wondered about his disappearing punches ]. In the 6th or 7th grade a man invited me into his house to look at his new fishing rod. I was eager to do so because my two favorite things were walking in the woods with my dogs and also going fishing. But when I got into his house he tried to rape me. Afterwards ( and to this day I can still feel, hear and see these things clearly) he took his hunting rifle, slid back the bolt action, placed a cartridge in it, closed the action, slammed down the bolt and placed the barrel on my forehead and said he would kill me if I told anyone what he tried to do. I told and a few weeks later I was fishing when "someone" started shooting at me. I hollered for him to stop but he did not so I hit the ground and watched bullets strike the water 6" from my head. I still get nightmares from this but they stopped being frequent a couple of years ago. All the gun stuff made me angry but what hurt the most was the look my dad gave me when I told him of the rape attempt. He looked at me with a look of disgust like"my fag son had it coming" and then walked away leaving me wondering what I had done wrong. I never told my dad or anyone of the shooting because I figured it would not have done any good. But I was now well on my way to becoming someone who feared neither God nor man...

blaine said...

You all have brought up legitimate points of which I have no answer to prove my position.
However, nor can I deny what has happened to me personally. I recognize some of the satire and have probably been on the front lines exposed to the hate of others, in the food kitchens, on the streets and in the hospitals more than most and have seen the disparity, cruelty and injustice of which you speak.
I have seen and heard those charlatans, those money grubbers and those who make the situation worse by telling the sick, "You're not healed because of your lack of faith".
However if I only formed my opinion based on the actions of others or on my personal observations I have found, at least for me, that I loose some of my ability to learn and experience the fullness of life. Life needs hope and faith, in my opinion to bring a full sense of joy and meaning to others.
Because of my attitude many are alive today that, otherwise, would have taken their life. Most of them needed more than clear logic. They needed hope in something beyond themselves. I have been on both sides of the coin and the side I am now on has better helped others and saved lives. My attitude has allowed me into the world of the Mafia, the Syndicate, Gangs such as the Crips, Bloods, Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords and Latin Kings in what was considered some of our nation's most dangerous cities. I did my ministry out of love, not logic, and never a fear that prevented me from entering their hoods because I might die. This was so because I knew that life is eternal and does not stop at the grave. To me, there is beauty and joy in that statement that will always push me beyond any human endeavor or trying.
I had no fear of death before 1971 but after 1971 when I got on my knees in my bedroom and surrendered my heart to God and Jesus, there was a joy and peace that swept over me which words cannot describe, nor can I prove to you.
I was a vet in a special outfit. We had no fear and were among the best. Our name was the Young Tigers and others called us SAC Trained Killers.
I lost none of my sense of mission accomplishment or pride but my past childhood was now being healed through forgiveness and I'm not sure what.
I was not mean but I would fight those who would try to humiliate, hurt me or my friends. I thought nothing of taking on four at once or more "war" stories :-).
My next post will explain part of my childhood that I have been able to reconcile, not justify, so it doesn't hurt as much.
Will I still fight to protect others, especially youth? Yes, as a couple of fathers found out who were hurting their children or the healthy jerk who parked in a handicap spot and thought it was a joke. I'm 100% disabled vet. He wanted to fight but said he wouldn't fight an old man with a cane. I then tossed my cane and said "Come on". He started to pull away when I jerked open his passenger door to teach him some manners. But when I did I saw his toddler sitting there. So I apologized and wished the father a good day as I will never humiliate a father in front of his son or put fear into a child. That is an awful feeling.

This doesn't make much sense to me and probably less to you, but I can never deny what happened in my heart in 1971 and the subsequent peace.
Thanks my friends,

Anonymous said...


I guess I still don't understand your reference to 1971 being the experience that showed you god. You've described a rough life and you've described some experiences about saving lives during gang fighting - but nothing that really ties it all together. In fact, what I see here is a lack of god and the acts of a brave individual. I see a single person standing against other people.

What kind of "god of love" would allow the torment that you experienced with your dad? The sexual abuse, beatings, mental abuse, hard times, lonliness, etc. Again, what kind of god?

I simply do not see the same message of faith that you do while reading this. I see someone who was simply alone. Someone who was spurned by their own father and experienced sexual abuse by others and who really had no one to turn to. It's no wonder that you would cling to a cherry picked idea of a god that would fulfill your needs of someone who actually loved you and would look over you.

Pageviews this week: