Faith healing

Healing through an interpersonal relationship is a concept which goes back to the hand-healing used in ancient Oriental therapy and in the Egyptian temples over 3,000 years ago. It is possible that many of the apparent miracles performed by Jesus were the result of faith healing. However, in some cases it was spiritual healing, the difference being that the cured person had no faith in God.

One well-known group of healers are the Christian Scientists. Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) founded the Church of Christ the Scientist in 1879. Today there are thousands of Christian Science Churches all over the world.

There are several famous faith healers. Dorothy Kerin was blind and dying of tuberculosis and other diseases, when she had a vision in which an angel said that her anguish was at an end and that she could get up and walk. She then walked again for the first time in five years, regained her sight, put on weight and later became a well-known faith healer by the laying on of hands. Harry Edwards, the world-famous English healer, treated more than one million patients and claimed an 80 per cent cure rate.

The role of faith

Faith must ultimately be the causal factor in a recovery from illness for it to be attributed to faith-healing. This distinguishes it from other forms of paranormal healing. However, the faith can take many different forms, and even the patient need not subscribe to it. Divine healers believe that their gift to heal comes directly from God who uses them as a channel. Some spiritual healers believe that their healing energy comes ultimately from God but through a spirit. Others, hand-healers, for example, may claim that they use ‘life forces’ which direct the life force of the patient. Sometimes the patient’s faith comprises complete faith in the power of the healer. Healers themselves do not claim to know how their power actually works on the human body. Mary Baker Eddy thought that ill-health was a result of lack of concordance with God. She believed that disease is an illusion that can only be healed by ignoring it and trusting in God. A Christian Scientist, however, can provide the faith for someone else who is ill in an attempt to cure them. Many faith healers in the West are Christians who believe that their healing works through the direct intervention of Jesus. There are also many who believe in some other supernatural force which they can channel through patients in order to help them. Many healers work on the principle that if you believe in some sort of curing force you can be cured. There are many different means used by people seeking a cure through faith. Some believe that by visiting the tomb or shrine of a holy person they will be cured. Pilgrims travel to places such as Lourdes in France even though they know the chance of a cure is small, yet they still have faith. Faith healers often try to harness external healing forces by advocating deep breathing, yoga, the use of holy objects, or prayers. Many religious sects, such as the Pentacostalists, heal by faith and the laying of hands on the patient. Varying importance is attached to the laying on of hands. For example, Protestant healing works on the principle that the laying on of hands is not just a ritual, but a way of transmitting the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

Different healers have their own technique. It may involve touching the head or the area causing the problem. Some healers use their fingers and others their palms, whereas others do not touch the patient at all. The healer usually becomes very relaxed and concentrates on the patient. The healer may feel sensations such as heat, cold, or pins and needles, and the patient often also claims to feel sensations from the healer. The frequency of such treatment depends largely on the type of condition being treated, but usually takes place about once a fortnight. The session can be very demanding on a healer who may experience pain during healing. Healing that involves getting in touch with spirits to help the patient requires the services of clairvoyants, spiritualists or other psychic people who claim to be able to contact spiritual beings.

Exorcism and healing

The practice of healing played an important role in the development and success of the Christian Church. Those who defended the work of the early Christian Church referred to numerous miraculous healings as arguments for the visible presence of the Holy Spirit. The basis for these early healings was the notion that illness was caused by the possession of the body by demons which had to be exorcised, or driven out of the body, in order to effect a cure for the illness. This ceremonial expulsion of demons was performed by an exorcist, once an important officer of the church. The eighteenth century saw a rapid growth in the use of exorcism throughout Europe, although its practice was repressed in the Roman Catholic Church. However, shortly after Franz Mesmer (the discoverer of hypnotism) refuted the notion that sickness was connected with demonic possession, exorcism became largely forbidden in the church. Because the twentieth-century use of depth psychology and psychoanalysis has confirmed the possibility of the existence of some form of demonic possession, especially among those who are seemingly very mentally disturbed, the church has occasionally returned to the application of exorcism.

Scientific evidence

The fact that faith healing brings about recoveries that cannot be explained scientifically is generally accepted by orthodox medicine. There is also greater acknowledgment of the effect of the mind on disorders. In reality, the idea that a sick person can be cured if they believe in a curing force is not far removed from the positive psychology recommended by orthodox doctors, whose bedside manner can be as effective as treatment with drugs in some cases. Faith healing can include healing in which the sick patient believes strongly in the power of the person healing him or her.

Many doctors argue, then, that people often get better only by the psychological effect of seeing a healer. Nevertheless, a photographic technique known as the Kirlian method has apparently shown that during the laying on of hands, when a healer thinks positively about healing, the hands seem to be highly charged with energy.

Diagnosis and treatment of diseases

In faith healing there are no conventional medications or physical agents used, simply faith as the name implies. This faith can be in the abilities of a practitioner, or in some form of divine or spiritual power. It is a question of mind over matter, whether this is achieved by the person him or herself, or achieved through the agency of another human being. Many people have had their illness diagnosed by orthodox medical techniqies before they turn to faith healing. Others may be diagnosed by clairvoyance. A further approach is that of Christian Science which dismisses the existence of bodily disorders as such. Illness, they believe, is an indication of distance from God whatever form it takes.