Faith HealingThe power of Christ compels you... to feel better!
Faith healing is best defined as "that which remains after one strips away every vestige of medicine."
Alternative medicine is a really big field, and the label includes a lot of practices that range from the relatively sound notions of Acupuncture to the ancient but unsound practice of Trepanation, from the "sounds good even if it doesn't work" notions of Homeopathy to the fanciful stylings of Reichian therapy.
However, faith healing is not part of the rich, occasionally brilliant and often suicidal panoply of alternative medicine concepts. It is the antithesis of anything that calls itself medicine.
The one thing that every practice cited above has in common is that they are based on some basic attempt to reasonably interpret how the body works. Some of those practices are ineffective because they're based on outdated or even wrong-headed notions about how the body works, but they're all attempts to work within the normal bounds of cause and effect.
Faith healing is the exact opposite. Faith healing dismisses all notions of learning, science and even psuedoscience in favor of the blind, unquestioning "faith" from whence the name is derived. The depressingly predictable result is an extremely high morbidity rate and the frequently asked post-mortem question: "What the fuck were they thinking?"
Faith healing is a mostly Christian phenomenon. Other spiritual paths do claim to offer assistance to physical health, but usually within the boundaries outlined above.
Jewish tradition around the time of Christ included a strong movement toward alternative medicine. In fact, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist are thought by scholars to have been associated with a Jewish healing cult known as the Essenes (which practiced a mostly herbal type of pharmaceutical medicine).
Over the first several centuries of Christianity, the canon gospels were heavily redacted by the clerical authorities, who wished to squelch very specific sorts of claims by their theological competitors — especially anything that had to do with secret teachings, rituals or practices.
The tales of Jesus' healing, whatever their origins, therefore devolved into the most simplistic sort of miracle-working. Jesus ordered sick people to be healed, and they were healed. Saints and apostles inherited this ability which was said to be powered solely by pure belief. Don't ask questions, just be grateful. Any healing practice which had any basis other than blind faith in Jesus was marginalized and eventually criminalized.
Although the modern practice of faith healing is an outgrowth of these early doctrinal excesses by the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholics long ago abandoned any meaningful practice of faith healing. The major participants in faith healing today are evangelical Protestant sects, cult-like Luddite groups and the inexplicably named Christian Scientists.
The basic format for faith healing is extremely simple, but the particulars are not rigorously enforced (because that would be Witchcraft). Usually, the healer is some sort of clerical authority figure, a pastor, priest, minister or other "officially authorized" Man of God, such as Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson (who, incidentally, uses a real doctor when he gets sick). And yes, it's almost always a "man" of God. Go figure.
The healer invokes the name of Jesus Christ as his "magic word," often repeatedly. The healer asks Jesus to heal the patient, often very loudly and exuberantly. They may lightly strike or slap the patient (sometimes more than lightly). They may order demons, devils or afflictions to leave the body of the patient. Generally, the healer does not take any sort of action relating to the body other than praying for it.
This ritual is often performed in front of a crowd, or a television camera, or both. (The roar of the crowd is almost as important to a successful faith healing as it is to a successful wrestling match.)
At some point, the patient is expected to pretty much leap to their feet in perfect health.
That's about it.
The obvious question is: Does it work? And the equally obvious answer is: Not especially.
When the setting is properly exuberant and emotionally charged, and the patient is a sufficiently enthusiastic, there is a placebo effect rush of good feeling. This is a pretty reliable phenomenon — a good thing for faith healers, since it keeps the yokels tuned in.
Since some problems, like ulcers or back spasms, can be entirely the result of psychological states, the placebo effect occasionally produces a complete cure. And as much as the scientists don't like to admit it, sometimes mysterious and spooky things happen — such as people spontaneously being cured of cancer.
The question, of course, is whether more people go into remission as the apparent result of prayer or faith healing than go into remission spontaneously. There are no statistics or case studies to support the idea that faith healing is appreciably more effective than any other placebo treatment (or outright fraud).
The solid evidence that does exist concerning faith healing tends toward the disturbingly fucked-up. For instance, a quick review of the U.S. Courts will uncover numerous examples of the problem with faith healing.
There's the story of the Colorado family whose belief in faith healing was so strong that they let their 13-year-old daughter die of a gangrenous infection of the vagina, which would have been easily treatable had they consulted a doctor instead of praying over it.
Or the California two-year-old who died of bacterial meningitis after being "treated" by a Christian Science specialist and subsequently coughing up blood, vomiting and turning blue.
Or the Boston, Mass., two-year-old who died when her bowels literally exploded had her treated solely with the prayers of their minister rather than the simple diagnosis and operation that would have easily remedied the blockage. Or the Pennsylvania two-year-old with a volleyball sized tumor in her lungs, or the Oklahoma nine-year-old with the ruptured appendix...
And here, we come to the crux of the matter. Because in the eyes of society, as well as in the minds of most rational people, there is a big difference between choosing to decline medical treatment for one's self and refusing it on behalf of a child.
Assuming for the moment that ANY SANE ADULT WOULD REFUSE TO SEE A DOCTOR IF THEY HAD A VOLLEYBALL-SIZED TUMOR IN THEIR CHEST, it would at least be THEIR CHOICE. It's nearly incomprehensible to those who are not "true believers" that anyone could be so heartless and brainless as to inflict such suffering on a child.
One would think that a truly respectable parent would gladly sacrifice the spotless tidiness of their own soul in order to save a suffering child. But one would be wrong. Dead wrong. That's exactly sort of godless heathenism that teaches evolution and cures polio. Stupid secular bastards!