What is faith healing? What is entailed to be healed? Is magic involved or belief in some unknown force?
Faith healing is healing purportedly through spiritual means. Believers assert that the healing of a person can be brought about by religious faith through prayer and/or rituals that, according to adherents, stimulate a divine presence and power toward disease and disability. Belief in divine intervention in illness or healing is related to religious belief. In common usage, faith healing refers to notably overt and ritualistic practices of communal prayer and gestures (such as laying on of hands) that are claimed to solicit divine intervention in initiating spiritual and literal healing.
Claims that prayer, divine intervention, or the ministrations of an individual healer can cure illness have been popular throughout history. Miraculous recoveries have been attributed to many techniques commonly lumped together as “faith healing”. It can involve prayer, a visit to a religious shrine, or simply a strong belief in a supreme being.
The term is best known in connection with Christianity. Some people interpret the Bible, especially the New Testament, as teaching belief in, and practice of, faith healing. There have been claims that faith can cure blindness, deafness, cancer, AIDS, developmental disorders, anemia, arthritis, corns, defective speech, multiple sclerosis, skin rashes, total body paralysis, and various injuries.
Unlike faith healing, advocates of spiritual healing make no attempt to seek divine intervention, instead believing in divine energy. The increased interest in alternative medicine at the end of the twentieth century has given rise to a parallel interest among sociologists in the relationship of religion to health.
The American Cancer Society states “available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments.” “Death, disability, and other unwanted outcomes have occurred when faith healing was elected instead of medical care for serious injuries or illnesses.” When parents use faiths healing in the place of medical care, many children have died that otherwise would have been expected to live. Similar results are found in adults.
Faith Healing claims have been made by many religions and the sick have visited their shrines in hopes of recovery. I know people that have visited Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal, healing shrines of the Christian Virgin Mary. Some of these same people have also visited Epidaurus in Greece and Pergamum in Turkey, healing shrines of the pagan god Asklepios, the miraculous healings recorded in both places were remarkably the same. It has been reported that there are, many crutches hanging in the grotto of Lourdes, mute witness to those who arrived lame and left whole. There are no prosthetic limbs among them, no witnesses to paraplegics whose lost limbs were restored.
One use of the term faith healing is in reference to the belief of some Christians that God heals people through the power of the Holy Spirit, often involving the laying on of hands. It is also called supernatural healing, divine healing, and miracle healing, among other things. In the Old Testament, Jehovah-Rapha, translated “I am the Lord your Physician” or “I am the Lord who heals you”, is one of the seven redemptive names for Jehovah God. Healing in the Bible is often associated with the ministry of specific individuals including Elijah, Jesus and Paul.
There are Christian physicians who view faith healing as a pathway of healing in which God uses both the natural and the supernatural to heal. Being healed has been described as a privilege of accepting Christ’s redemption on the cross. While there that view the healing of the body as a physical expression of salvation. A classic definition of faith appears in the New Testament: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen …” (Hebrews) Faith is trusting the God who heals. Faith is a radical, absolute surrender to the God who heals. Faith is not holding on for your healing but holding on to the God who can do the impossible.” Some Christian writers believe it extremely rare that God provides a supernatural intervention that actually reverses the natural laws governing the human body. Those who actively lay hands on others and pray with them to be healed are usually aware that healing may not always follow immediately. Proponents of faith healing say it may come later, but that it may not come at all.
Jesus endorsed the use of the medical assistance of the time (medicines of oil and wine) when he praised the Good Samaritan for acting as a physician, telling his disciples to go and do the same thing that the Samaritan did in the story. The healing in the gospels is referred to as a “sign” to prove Jesus’ divinity and to foster belief in him as the Christ. However, when asked for other types of miracles, Jesus refused some but granted others in consideration of the motive of the request. Some theologians’ understanding is that Jesus healed all who were present every single time. Sometimes he determines whether they had faith that he would heal them.
Jesus told his followers to heal the sick and stated that signs such as healing are evidence of faith. Jesus also told his followers to “cure sick people, raise up dead persons, make lepers clean, expel demons. You received free, give free.” Jesus sternly ordered many who received healing from him: “Do not tell anyone!” Jesus did not approve of anyone asking for a sign just for the spectacle of it, describing such as coming from a “wicked and adulterous generation.”
The apostle Paul believed healing is one of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that the possibility exists that certain persons may possess this gift to an extraordinarily high degree.
In The New Testament we are taught that during Jesus’ ministry and after his Resurrection, the apostles healed the sick and cast out demons, made lame men walk, raised the dead and did many other miraculous things.
A study of beliefs about miraculous healing among the more religiously committed has indicated that there are significant differences in belief about miraculous healing even among people within the same denomination (Anglican). Researchers found that positive belief in faith healing was mainly a characteristic of conservative Christians, most especially those with charismatic experience. Belief about miraculous healing was seen as a subset of belief about health and well-being in general. Older people had less belief in miraculous healing or the sovereignty of God over illness, while those with experience of higher education had more inclusive beliefs about miraculous healing and saw human input as less important in the healing process. The study further showed that people with degrees or post-graduate qualifications can and do believe in the possibility of miraculous healing. No significant gender differences were noted.
Faith healing is reported by Catholics as the result of intercessory prayer to a saint or to a person with the gift of healing. According to U.S. Catholic magazine, “Even in this skeptical, postmodern, scientific age—miracles really are possible.” Three-fourths of American Catholics say they pray for miracles. The miracle is not primarily for the person healed, but for all people, as a sign of God’s work in the ultimate healing called ‘salvation,’ or a sign of the kingdom that is coming.” Some might view their own healing as a sign they are particularly worthy or holy, while others do not deserve it.
The Catholic Church has a special Congregation dedicated to the careful investigation of the validity of alleged miracles attributed to prospective saints. Since Catholic Christians believe the lives of canonized saints in the Church will reflect Christ’s, they have come to actually expect healing miracles. While the popular conception of a miracle can be wide-ranging, the Catholic Church has a specific definition for the kind of miracle formally recognized in a canonization process.
Among the best-known accounts by Catholics of faith healings are those attributed to the miraculous intercession of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Lourdes at the grotto of Lourdes in France and the remissions of life-threatening disease claimed by those who have applied for aid to Saint Jude, who is known as the “patron saint of lost causes”.
The Catholic Church has said there have been 67 miracles and 7,000 otherwise inexplicable medical cures since the Virgin Mary was first said to have appeared in Lourdes in February 1858. In one 105 year-old book, it says these cures were subjected to intense medical scrutiny and were only recognized as authentic spiritual cures after a commission of doctors and scientists, called the Lourdes Medical Bureau, had ruled out any physical mechanism for the patient’s recovery.
However, the Catholic Church does not believe that attempted faith healing should be used to the exclusion of conventional medical treatment for conditions amenable to such care.
Spiritualism, as a system of belief, holds as a tenet the possibility of contact between the living and the spirits of the dead. For this reason, death, as an outcome of disease, may not seem as frightening to Spiritualists as it does to those who practice other religions. Spiritualism does not promote “mental” cures of the type advocated by New Thought; however, help from the “spirit world” (including advice given by the spirits of deceased physicians) is sought and may be seen as central to the healing process. As with practitioners of New Thought, Spiritualists may combine faith healing with conventional medical therapies.
“We are not taught to put the burden on our minds. We do not ‘will away’ illness. But – we do not fear illness. […] When we ask the spirit-world to relieve us of a bodily ill, we have gone as far as our own understanding and diligence permit. […] We have faith, and confidence, and belief. […] If medicine at times will assist, we take it – not as a habit, but as a little push over the hill. If we need medical attention, we secure it
While faith in the supernatural is not in itself usually considered to be the purview of science, claims of reproducible effects are nevertheless subject to scientific investigation.
A study in the British Medical Journal investigated spiritual healing, therapeutic touch and faith healing. In a hundred cases that were investigated, no single case revealed that the healer’s intervention alone resulted in any improvement or cure of a measurable organic disability.
… available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments… One review published in 1998 looked at 172 cases of deaths among children treated by faith healing instead of conventional methods. These researchers estimated that if conventional treatment had been given, the survival rate for most of these children would have been more than 90 percent, with the remainder of the children also having a good chance of survival. A more recent study found that more than 200 children had died of treatable illnesses in the United States over the past thirty years because their parents relied on spiritual healing rather than conventional medical treatment.
The American Medical Association considers that prayer as therapy should not be a medically reimbursable or deductible expense.
Skeptics of faith healing offer primarily two explanations for anecdotes of cures or improvements, relieving any need to appeal to the supernatural. The first is post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning that a genuine improvement or spontaneous remission may have been experienced coincidental with but independent from anything the faith healer or patient did or said. These patients would have improved just as well even had they done nothing. The second is the placebo effect, through which a person may experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation. In this case, the patient genuinely has been helped by the faith healer or faith-based remedy, not through any mysterious or numinous function, but by the power of their own belief that they would be healed. In both cases the patient may experience a real reduction in symptoms, though in neither case has anything miraculous or inexplicable occurred. Both cases, however, are strictly limited to the body’s natural abilities.