by Sarah Hutchinson
Faith healing is the practice of, well, healing through faith. Believers in this practice have come to the understanding that their diseases and ailments can be cured or relieved through, prayers, belief, and good intentions. This can be done by going on a pilgrimage, having a “spokesperson” for God heal you on His behalf, or just through having extreme faith that you will be healed. A large subset of those who believe in this practice are Christians, especially those who believe in Cristian science. There are churches all around the world and numerous “healers” who claim to have the power to cure cancer, give people the ability to walk again, and relieve arthritic pain. This can be a great source of comfort for some, but it can keep believers from seeking real medical treatment, which can be incredibly dangerous, especially for those without a voice, like children or persons with disabilities. This practice is one that is incredibly prevalent in today’s society, and many people of all ages, classes, and races believe that God can cure what medicine cannot.
Why do people believe this? Just typing “faith healing” into a Youtube search engine yields thousands of videos of extraordinary instances of these miracles. Often people find themselves witnessing impressive feats such as those bound to wheelchairs walking again. They consider what they witness and others’ testimonials of God’s healing to be proof of concept. There is also evidence that symptoms are relieved through faith healing. The flip side to this argument is that often these symptoms are relieved either through the body naturally healing something within its realm such as a common cold, or through the placebo effect. Many people experience the relief of their symptom in the heat of the moment, only to find themselves feeling as before when they get home, or later that week.
There are a lot of reasons one might believe in this pseudoscience. The first is that it is promising the impossible to desperate people. The people who go to faith healers can have everything from headaches to terminal illnesses. Some of them have tried everything. Often what they are suffering is incurable. Offering any form of hope can definitely cause them to overlook rationality, and confirmation bias can be a huge factor here. Disconfirming evidence is also ignored here largely due to retreats to the supernatural. Often, if it doesn’t work, a believer uses the excuse that their faith needs to be stronger or that God has a reason for making them wait. They believe that God’s work is beyond understanding, and that is why they aren’t scared off by the instances when it doesn’t work. It is also why they keep trying.
Believers come from religious communities. These communities are central to their lives, giving them an endless supply of influence. When everyone they are close to holds the belief that faith healing works, it is hard to challenge the notion. They also have a great amount invested in these beliefs themselves: their religion, their concept of how the world works, and their view of themselves. These beliefs make up who they are, and often they have grown up in this faith. Changing one’s views is a challenge when the world is telling you to, but when you are involved in such a close knit community, even if the thought were to cross your mind, it would quickly be pushed away.
In summary, social influence and unfalsifiable beliefs can lead someone to do crazy things. Even ignoring proper medical care at the cost of your own or your child’s life can seem justifiable in the name of religion. Often confirmation bias can keep disconfirming evidence at bay, and retreats to the supernatural are a given when it comes to the unreliable nature of faith healing. It can be a fairly dangerous belief. While the “healed” many feel better in the moment, the consequences can be high for those who need real medical care.
For more information, the sources I used and found helpful can be found below. https://www.britannica.com/topic/faith-healing https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/13/followers-of-christ-idaho-religious-sectchild-mortality-refusing-medical-help https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/child-abuse-religious-exemptionstennessee/503063/ https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201103/faith-healing-shouldnt-work-itdoes http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/12fb29da-567c-488b-8523-d1f11a79e40c https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/faith-healing/ http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1454-6-tricks-i-learned-as-faith-healer-forscamming-you.html