Updated: Aug 11, 2021
The Mystique of Faith Healing
When a person thinks of faith healing, they might think of genuine miracles - unexplained recoveries of direly diseased people. They might conjure visions of pearly-white-toothed, shark-smiled pastors babbling over desperately ill people, collecting piles of cash for their dramatic performance. They might think of Eastern mystics, dazzling vulnerable people with occult propaganda, mystical “energies,” colorful rocks, and superstitious rituals. Or they might think of comedies that satirized faith healing, like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Borat, and South Park.
When I think of faith healing, I think of one of my mother’s best friends, who was killed by faith healers in her early 50s. She was a masterful animal psychologist, paid well by discerning customers like Colin Powell. The dogs she trained could walk anywhere without a leash and were completely obedient, satisfied, and civilized. When Carmen was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was easily survivable by 90% of the women in her situation. But she was entranced by a mixture of Eastern and pseudo-Christian faith healers who promised her that their herbs and prayers healed all believers, and that “Western medicine” was poison. Two years later, she was dead. Just like malfeasant licensed doctors, the faith healers rarely pay a price for the people they slaughter with their hypnotic manipulation.
I also recall a handful of faith healer activists who have tried to peddle their beliefs to patients when they were impressionable and had little time on their hands. Some faith healer activists meant well, and some were neurotically self-serving, using the weak and vulnerable to validate their hopes and dreams. Some were just wicked saleswomen recruiting new customers and audiences to fill their seats.
And finally I think of the millions of people who need to read this article, to understand that during dire illness, faith and hope is not at odds with empirical medicine. The trouble arises when empirical medicine is replaced by faith healing, or conversely, when people put blind faith in doctors who can’t justify their treatments and diagnoses. One fool sets up religion as an idol. Another sets up scientism and medical authority as an idol. A wise man is able to keep religion and science in their proper places.
New Thought: Irreligious People Discover Faith Healing
Before irreligious people start to feel high-and-mighty about their ostensible “rationality” above and beyond religious people, they should realize that there have been irreligious faith healers for centuries. Borrowing from theosophical beliefs, they speak of “The Universe” instead of God, and “energies/vibes” instead of the Holy Spirit and prayer. They say the cosmos has already healed them, and they can disregard empirical medicine. They say their mind has magical power over reality; their sheer willpower can heal lethal disease. As with so many trendy movements, it is not clever or new - the people who think they’re “progressive” and trendy are simply ignorant of history.
Two centuries ago, “New Thought” made faith healing popular through bottom-feeder magazines, entertaining restless and desperate people. Then it found its way into Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy, codified in her book, “The Secret Doctrine.” Adolph Hitler and the Nazis appropriated the beliefs as Ariosophy, while they simultaneously deconstructed Christianity, imprisoned and killed defiant Christian priests and pastors along with the Jews, and replaced Christianity with “Positive Christianity.” Didn’t you ever wonder where the swastika originated? It was never the sign of a devout Christian, it was the Nazi flavor of theosophy.
Today the “Law of Attraction,” New Thought, and the mind-cure movement are practiced by adherents to Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret,” which is a reformulation of Madame Blavatsky’s beliefs. New Thought also has a modern home in Christian Science, Jewish Science, Religious Science, and Centers for Spiritual Living. Religious people are also vulnerable to New Thought as mentioned before.
We’ll just call these different labels “faith healing,” since the godless mind-cure movement obviously has faith in some powers they can’t justify with evidence or logic. Isn’t it incredible how these manipulative social phenomena frequently change their names and semantics, to hide their historical repudiation by erudite scholars?
The peddlers of faith healing primarily care about three things:
1. Does the patient already believe in the power of faith healing?
2. Do they have the potential to believe?
3. Can they contribute to the faith healers’ bank account, fame, or reputation?
The Dark Side of Faith Healing
Faith healing logically leads to a number of destructive paths:
If a person is not direly ill, a diversion will not mean anything except for a waste of time. But for people with crippling and degenerative disease, diversions become life-and-death foolhardiness. While the New Thought patient is wasting time pondering otherworldly forces in wishful thinking, the very real biological reality is apathetic to their flight from reality. By the time they discover an empirical diagnosis and treatment, the damage may be irreversible for them, as it was with my mother’s friend Carmen.
Pursuing self-destructive options
While irreversible damage from diversion is bad enough, faith healing rarely acts alone. It often leads people to an array of speculative “holistic” nonsense. To be sure, some holistic medicine is supported by incomplete research and solid traditions. Holistic medicine should not be cast aside for researchers and the desperate who have nothing left to lose. But holistic medicine carries the risk of the unproven and the unknown. Many self-proclaimed remedies can be harmful, interacting with the disease and other drugs in poorly understood ways. Like faith healing, they also carry the risks of a placebo, mollifying the patient into thinking they are improving while the disease is progressing.
Imperfect outcomes versus idealistic perfect health
Faith healers rarely sell themselves short. They promise fountain-of-youth regeneration. They say they’ll heal believers completely, and restore them to their perfect health. If a person believes they will only get a little better, it’s harder for them to psyche themselves up and believe that otherworldly forces will cure them.
In reality, serious disease is rarely so binary. When a person has been afflicted by serious illness, they rarely recover to full health. They are often at future risk for complications. They are often at risk for a resurgence of the disease, or opportunistic new diseases. While empirical medicine is good at explaining this nuance and risk to recovered patients, a person who followed faith healing will not be cognizant of imperfect outcomes. Even worse, when they realize that the idealistic perfect health they were promised is not coming, their faith is often shattered. This should be extraordinarily concerning to the religious peddlers of faith healing. Which speaks to another danger:
Who knows what goes through the head of a dying person in their last moments when they cannot communicate? Imagine the throngs of people hypnotized by faith healers, only to be proven fools in their last moments. Does their faith survive at the moment of truth, betrayed by the false promise of faith healing on their deathbed? If God’s plan doesn’t involve healing for everyone, why did the faith healers lie to their believers, in playing-down that fact?
And what about the irreligious faith healers of New Thought and theosophy? Are they at all concerned with the meaning in life that they rob from dying people, when they’re proven false at the moment of truth?
Compassionate people, whether irreligious or religious should concern themselves with the spiritual welfare of others. Truth and accuracy should be universal values. Idealistic, imaginative, delusional positivity works against truth and accuracy. In the end, it can cost people their souls.
Misdirected Spiritual Concerns
As the promise of faith healers wears thin and patients decline, their neurotic ideation increases because reality is bumping against their idealistic visions. Admitting they were wrong is harder after their foot is in the door. They want to believe their own lie at that point rather than damage their ego. They start to collectivize pain. They say things like “everybody hurts, so everybody can relate to me.” Why do they need people to relate to them over pain?
People can’t relate to certain things. And the process of dying and being crippled is something to which very few, save those who have spent decades attending to patients, can relate. A stomach flu, broken bone, sadness, or migraine is much different from gasping for air, going into shock, losing consciousness from endocrine or metabolic disease, limbs not responding to the brain’s commands, lungs so weak the person cannot even speak, or pain so excruciating that sleep is impossible for days.
The motivation to collectivize pain is a byproduct of “progressive” leftwing radical egalitarianism. Everybody needs to be “equal” and “empathetic” because the people who believe in this nonsense can’t accept that rarely anything in reality is equal or fair. So they offer each other platitudes - willing to lie to themselves and each other, as they live the lie as phony as can be. Insecure people take shelter in the abstraction of the masses, collectivizing their social experience, rather than accepting and embracing their individual reality in all its glory, horror, or mundane nature.
There is a logical inference from pain collectivizing: the person who wants to believe others suffer like they do, takes comfort in the suffering of other people. It’s a neurotic vision, and wicked at that, however peace-love-and-hippie it sounds on the surface. A moral person would not find anything positive about imagining that others have suffered like them. They would wish that nobody suffered like them.
In reality, pain is not cosmically or materially equal, although some people have higher thresholds for physical and/or psychological trauma. My values forbid me from taking comfort in the suffering of others. I don't need to know that a few others have suffered at the same level as me, to alleviate isolation and loneliness, because I believe that God is with me throughout. An abstracted vision of humanity is a weak god. So people who make government and mankind into their god are always isolated and lonely inside, during their honest moments of introspection.
If a person's faith cannot remedy their isolation and loneliness, if they need to collectivize their experience, and take shelter in shallow associations to many strangers? They are then burdened much greater spiritual concerns, as their faith and philosophies are not serving them well during their greatest time of need.
The idealism of faith healing tends to expose and exacerbate this neurotic impulse and spiritual weakness.
The Light Side of Faith Healing
There is some good to be said about faith healing. A hopeful attitude inspires people to fight for their lives, when coupled with the virtues of patience, zeal, and purity of heart. If they are humble then they can avoid the pitfalls of idealistic faith healing. The act of believing they will heal can make their illness more pleasant - as much as possible given their circumstance. This can make things easier for themselves and the people around them.
Miracles do happen. Whether a person is godless and believes that the miracle was just some circumstance not yet understood by science, or whether a faithful person believes the miracle was indeed divine intervention? Faith healing in those rare miraculous recoveries no doubt could have made the entire experience more bearable, with a wonderful outcome for everyone involved.
And it should be said, that logically speaking, faith healing is irrefutably a cure for two diseases. Hypochondriasis and Conversion Disorder are the technical terms for these two diseases of the mind. What amuses me about this fact? I want to pin down a godless psychologist and every doctor who has ever told a patient that "the disease is only in your head." When I pin down those medical providers, I want to ask them, "Why don't you prescribe faith healing to those patients? If their symptoms are only in their head, then faith healing is the irrefutable cure. If they can genuinely believe they are healed, then they are healed."
What a paradox! Medical providers who cop-out and abandon their patients by claiming ”it’s all in their heads,” can’t bring themselves to prescribe the one thing that could cure those patients. In doing so, they would have to admit that there is a place for religion in rational medical care. How unscientific! The polarization of science and religion has led so many STEM professionals towards these ignorant and foolish beliefs. Wise and classically educated people do not find science and religion at odds, because erudite practice of both leads to complementary interplay.
In my experience, these absurd medical providers would never humble themselves to such irrefutable facts. They would gladly shove a pile of pills down their patients’ throats that will only numb their mind, and never heal them. Bad doctors and psychologists have their own formal methods of protecting their corrupt bureaucracy and living their lies.
Faith and Hope Is Not at Odds With Empirical Medicine
True things for all people whose lives are in jeopardy: some have more time than others to choose how they meet their maker, and some have more options and potential than others to survive the threat. Some of that survival potential is in their hands. Some of it is not, to varying degrees for different people.
That level of ambiguity is not comforting to a lot of people who suffer. They want certainty. They want to believe they’ll get their health back in full. They don’t want to admit that life isn’t fair, that inequality is the natural order of things, and that most people can’t relate to their suffering. It takes courage and inner strength to accept these truths.
Having faced my own lethal threats a number of times - at ages 9, 18, 27, 36, and now? I've found a few things to be helpful: Memento Mori, Plantinga & Augustine's treatment of The Problem of Evil, The Seven Capital Virtues, The Book of Job, and what Christianity borrowed from the Stoics and Jews of antiquity.
What a terrible thing it must be, to go down a long path of decline to death, with staunch belief in faith-healing and at the moment of truth, realize, that it was a delusion. They wear their masks of faith like a tattered flag, scared of reality, and mocking those of us with resilient and courageous faith.
As for me:
I won't die with a mask on
The world will never take truth and virtue from my soul because of creature-like fear, temporal and egotistical concerns
The world will forget me like it forgets even the greatest men in time
When I meet my maker, I will meet Him with a smile and a triumph over this mortality
Until that time, the best of what's in me goes to the good people who choose to spend their time in my presence, and whatever opportunity comes across my path to do the best with my current circumstances.
I genuinely hope that the faith healers out there can take this knowledge to heart, and do their followers greater justice than many of their peers have done in the past. And I hope that the psychologists and doctors who have ever dared to hastily diagnose their patients with Conversion Disorder or Hypochondriasis will actually go through proper diagnostic criteria before choosing to cop-out because of bureaucratic pressures. They should be honest with themselves, and if they can't say "I am comfortable prescribing faith healing to those patients," they should not diagnose those conditions at all.
As for the patients and the rest of us - we must remember that transcendent and mature faith is never at odds with empirical medicine.