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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

faith healing When organized medicine fails to supply a satisfactory answer, either through inadequate technology, the simple inability to provide a cure at that time, or the fact that not enough is presently known about the ailment, other modalities which promise miraculous results are often sought.
      There are several religious sects who base their entire philosophy on healing modalities. It is found that the “cure rate” experienced by the believers is no higher than that of persons who receive no treatment whatsoever, and often much less. For example, the Christian Scientists forbid their followers to utilize any regular medical care or medication. A recent U.S. survey of students at the college level showed a significantly lower life expectancy for those who attended Christian Science schools than for those who did not. Faced by such revelations, the believers turn their backs on further examination of their convictions.
      Faith healers have often answered, when asked for proper evidence of their claims, “God doesn't need to be examined or challenged.” The healers say, when the disease doesn't go away, that the subject has lost faith and thus has failed to “hold” his or her blessing. The guilt is borne by the subject. Saddest of all is the realization that these people subject their children to these restrictions as well, often with crippling or fatal results.
      Reformer Martin Luther, among others in the sixteenth century, took credit for spontaneous, miraculous cures while Paracelsus and other savants were attempting——with highly varying degrees of success——to bring out of the superstition of magic, what we know today as the science of medicine. The Mormons and Episcopalians established a history of faith cures as part of their theologies.
      In the 1600s, one practitioner known as “Greatraks the Stroker” (or Greatrakes, b. 1628) was astounding England with his performances. A remarkable English author, Charles MacKay, who in 1841 wrote his classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, observed in that book that

      Mr. Valentine Greatraks . . . practised upon himself and others a deception . . . that God had given him the power of curing the king's evil. . . . In the course of time he extended his powers to the curing of epilepsy, ulcers, aches, and lameness. . . . Crowds which thronged around him were so great, that the neighboring towns were not able to accommodate them.

      (MacKay's reference to the “king's evil” refers to scrofula.)
      One can be grateful that MacKay recognized that Greatraks was deceiving both his patients and himself. As with fortune-tellers, healers often begin to believe in their own powers because their subjects tend to give them only positive feedback. Thus they can excuse and forget their many failures, and their legends grow.
      Greatraks made a huge impression on the public and accumulated a fortune in the process. In this respect, he helped to establish the precedent for modern faith healers. And in several other important respects he mirrored the modern faith healers, as evidenced in an account written by a contemporary in 1665:  

      A rumour of the prophet's coming soon spread all over the town, and the hotel . . . was crowded by sick persons, who came full of confidence in their speedy cure. [Greatraks] made them wait a considerable time for him, but came at last, in the middle of their impatience, with a grave and simple countenance, that shewed no signs of his being a cheat. [The host] prepared to question him strictly, hoping to discourse with him on matters that he had heard of. . . . But he was not able to do so, much to his regret, for the crowd became so great, and cripples and others pressed around so impatiently to be first cured, that the servants were obliged to use threats, and even force, before they could establish order among them. . . . The prophet affirmed that all diseases were caused by evil spirits. Every infirmity was with him a case of diabolical possession. . . . He boasted of being much better acquainted with the intrigues of demons than he was with the affairs of men. . . . Catholics and Protestants visited him from every part, all believing that power from heaven was in his hands. . . . So great was the confidence in him, that the blind fancied they saw the light which they could not see——the deaf imagined that they heard——the lame that they walked straight, and the paralytic that they had recovered the use of their limbs.

      To anyone who has actually witnessed a modern faith healer in action with crowds of worshipers around and about, that scenario will be familiar.
      Sometimes psychics who do the usual ESP, reading, prophecy, and clairvoyance demonstrations eventually turn to claims of healing powers.
      See also royal touch.

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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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