Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Faith Healing: A dangerous scam

Quite a while back, the A-News Discussions Facebook group got spammed by a Christianity-addicted evangelist. Upon perusing this young man's timeline(before he blocked me), I came across a video of the African "faith healer" Dag Heward-Mills, where his spokesperson in the video claims he healed a "hunchback" through prayer.

I immediately decided to take a look at Mr. Heward-Mills' other videos supposedly showcasing "healing miracles" he performed. Unfortunately, all the other videos suffer the same fatal flaw as the hunchback video: They provide absolutely no real evidence a healing actually occurred, just mere assertions. The best, and most laughable videos are the ones where they bring up a boy who was supposedly born with only one visible testicle, where they claim to heal a man who is deaf in one ear, and to complete the trifecta, a man who was blind in one eye. On each of those videos I left an appropriate comment(they've long since removed them) calling out the obvious(and quite frankly, very poor) deceptions being played out.

What dismayed me in watching these videos, is that virtually all the people in the audience cheered the obvious scam with extreme gullibility. They, like the Christian spammer I encountered on Facebook, truly believe that faith can heal any illness, while never stopping to think that they're getting fleeced.
Unfortunately, faith healing isn't a scam confined to third world countries. Particularly in the Pentecostal, Evangelical and fundamentalist communities, faith healing scams happen every day in the United States, as magician and skeptic Derren Brown investigated and exposed a few years ago. These "faith healers" justify their scams with what is labelled the "prosperity gospel", which is basically "give me your money and God will make you several times richer in wealth and/or health". Of course, when that doesn't happen, the person is accused of not having enough faith. The worst cases are when a person's health declines because they stop taking medications or treatment because they are convinced that their session with a faith healer cured him/her. Death can even occur as a result of this delusion.

But there's an even worse situation when children are conscripted into it by their believing parents. And the worst part of it, when these children suffer serious physical harm and even die from their parents' refusal to get proper medical treatment in favor of "prayer", is that in many states the parents are legally protected from prosecution(even after a death is the result of the faith healing act), citing "religious exemptions". And when folks challenge these exemptions to bring about reasonable protections for the children of faith healing parents, resistance from misguided politicians and unmerited charges of "You're just here to bash religion" invariably comes up as attempts to derail and slime what is really just a sober, rational discussion about the dangers of faith healing to children.

So until the law finally catches up with reality, the best things we can do are to raise awareness, speak out, lobby for opposition against faith healing exemptions(such as through the Secular Coalition of America and Americans United), and just say no to faith healing(or alternatively insist on having it in conjunction with proper medical care).