Faith Healing

by Charlie Stack

The pseudoscientific topic I want to discuss is Faith Healing. Faith healing is something that I was unfamiliar with, but something that stuck out to me when I discovered it. Faith healing at the simplest form is healing through faith. This may mean that a preacher would lay his hands upon your forehead if you were sick, and through some divine intervention, you would be healed. Faith healing is big in the Christian practice of religion. Of course, like all other pseudoscience’s we have been exploring, evidence is empirical rather than evidence based. This theory has been popular throughout history, dating back tens of thousands of years and across all different cultures. It could have gained popularity since faith healing was typically free, and something done out of the kindness of someone’s heart, rather than for compensation. This is different from most of the other alternative medicine practices we see and could account for popularity. People claim that faith healing can claim diseases or disabilities such as blindness, deafness, AIDS, disabilities, and physical abilities. While it may not be as popular today due to the expansion of medicine that works, it is still popular for people who have very high beliefs in faith. Extraordinary means that something is unusual, or unlikely. Faith healing fits this definition perfectly. The reason that it fits is because it does not work, if it did, then everyone would be doing it and there would be a lot less disease in the world.

Faith healing is all empirical evidence, which means that some people do intently believe that it works. According to Psychology Today, a large and popular psychology magazine, they believe that is has positive benefits and can work as well. Psychology today ties faith healing to a placebo effect. A placebo effect can mean that because of faith healing, one simply expects to get better. This can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, which we learned can have a strong correlation between belief and something happening. Of course, if you have AIDS, or a broken leg, and you go to a faith healer believing it will disappear, it will not, but if you go for a small sickness and believe it, it is possible. It is possible that belief can help the functioning of our immune system, and this is an explanation for faith healing. Not everyone has good experiences with faith healing, though. With no scientific backing or true evidence, it is still extraordinary. There have been many claimed faith healers who have been caught for blatant fraud, two of the most popular are Benny Hinn and Peter Popoff. Benny would call out to a large audience and only bring those up who needed healing. Investigators would follow up after the supposed healing and found that there was absolutely no evidence that any healing occurred. Peter Popoff was caught by James Randi receiving audio from his wife of what to say through an earpiece, completely disproving him.

There are not many cognitive contributions to faith healing besides placebos and self-fulfilling prophecies, which are stated above. To explore a self-fulfilling prophecy a little deeper, it is a belief that comes true because we think it will, or that it already is true. Beliefs have such a big influence on our outcomes on life, that often believing something puts us in situations or environments where the outcome we want can become true. This is true for a lot of social and emotional contexts. There is a lot of evidence that supports self-fulfilling prophecies. Most of the evidence comes from the placebo effect. The placebo effect has been demonstrated many times and the main outcome is that participants who used the placebo have shown increases in health or wellness although there was no real medication. This states that believing in something helps our immune system, which helps us recover. This shows that people who believe in faith healing are uninformed. It is likely that they have never heard of self-fulfilling prophecy or placebo effect and are completely ignorant to it. They are also being tricked, often people who perform faith healing know that it is a scam. It is also likely that people who are treated for faith healing on a small issue, and get better, would get better with no treatment at all.

Most of the believers come from religious backgrounds, especially those of Christianity. This could be because of the new testament where there are examples of people being healed by Jesus through the power of touch, or faith healing. Often, he healed someone that would not of been possible back in his time, or even at all. This is interesting because once again there is no real evidence of it. If you are someone who takes the bible very literally, then it is possible that you will have a strong belief towards faith healing.

Faith healing might seem like it might not be a serious issue, because it can lead to self-fulfilling prophecy or placebo effect which is shown to have positive scientific results, and, science is good. The problem comes into effect when people have unrealistic expectations and things that need cured which are not possible. Faith healing can cause tremendous amounts of harm, for example: In Oregon, there was a case where someone died due a congenital condition that was easily treatable, but his church suggested faith healing. In California, a case was reported where a man had a rash and heard about faith healing on the radio, instead of going to a doctor he went to a faith healer and later died, the apparent healer was charged with manslaughter. There are many cases of this happening, but these two alone are enough evidence that faith healing should not have supporters. At the end of the day, it is a belief in magic that has only a minimal correlation to science due to the placebo effect, and causes more harm than good.

25 thoughts on “Faith Healing

  1. This was interesting and informative! I was raised Catholic, so I have been exposed to faith healing. I have always seen it as a sign of good faith, and even comfort. I have never believed that it actually can straight up heal something or someone. I find it hard to believe when people have life threatening conditions and rule out all medicine other than faith. It can fill people with hope than God alone can heal them and they do not need medicine to live, when in reality they do need other sources of treatment. I feel it has positives but the cons may outweigh them.

    • Hey Abigail,
      I was raised catholic also. I like that you said it was kind of a comfort thing. I can respect and agree with this, but to think it is some sort of miracle is what confuses me. This extraordinary belief has far more cons than pros, and can cause a tremendous amount of harm.

  2. I’ve been to some faith healing exhibitions at some Christian events in a tent many years ago. It was an interesting experience with so many people and seeing it done with some elderly and chronic pain people. I have no idea if they are plants or how they felt afterward. I left. I know the subject has been lampooned in several times in TV and film. This is where I see it most of the time.

    • Hey Thang,
      Thats interesting you have been before. How were there? Were the diseases serious or what kinds of problems were people looking to have fixed? I wonder if the people who were in chronic pay have tried medication and such, and then use faith healing as a last resort. I feel like this is the logical way to do it, to use as a supplement and not an only option.

  3. I think its interesting how you talked about how there was empirical evidence of this treatment working, while there really is no cognitive explanation as to why it might work. I think its important to note how the empirical evidence has a lot to do with personal experience and that’s a characteristic of an extraordinary belief.

    • Thanks Lauren, the empirical evidence side to me is a self-fulfilling prophecy or something like a small disease being cured which would happen with or without the faith healing. Empirical evidence does have a lot to do with the personal experience so it is hard to be certain because people dont always know themselves as well as they think they do.

  4. I took a class last semester about the Biology of Hope and Belief and we talked about this. There was a study that came out that really appealed to the people with this belief that said that people with faith or a religious background had better outcomes, which is a study often cited. However, it was never that forward. The study was not sound and was unrepeatable. Anyways, faith healing doesn’t hurt as long as it isn’t the only thing people rely on and I think the hope it comes with it is good for families and patients.

    • Hey Grace,
      I took that class to actually! It actually exceeded my expectations. I agree that faith healing doesnt always hurt and religion can be a good thing to attach too when looking for comfort. To me, faith healing is fine in supplementation of medication and other remedies, it becomes a problem when people believe it is the only solution.

  5. Charlie, I liked how you talked about how faith healing was typically free. I think talking about the expenses of some of these pseudoscientific topics would be very helpful in understanding who practices them. I also liked how you talked about the popularity diminishing because of the expansion of medicine. It is amazing how much can change in a little period of time, concerning beliefs. When doing your research, did you ever find faith healing in other religions other than Christianity?

    • Hey Julia,
      I think it is really interesting that it is free. Because of this I would venture to say that faith healers actually have better intentions than most other mediums or extraordinary people. Although, they can cause the same or more harm. There is faith healing across many different religions and variations of it, but christianity seems to be the most prevalent, especially in the US.

  6. Hi, Charlie
    I have never seen a faith healer in person and have only ever seen it on a T.V show where they take people’s money, so that fact that they are actually free is wonderful and leads me to believe that thei intentions are, in fact, better – as you pointed out). I personally do not believe that it is real but it provides comfort and peace to the person which is. I would like to see a faith healing one day though for the experience.

    • Hey Tiffany,
      I have never seen a faith healer in person! Honestly, it would be hard for me to take it serious so I think that this is for the better. Thats crazy that on TV a faith healer would take someones money, doesnt that go against what faith healers usually stand for?

  7. Hi, Charlie! I like how you separate the situations for the effects of the faith healing in the last paragraph. Probably the result of faith healing is good in some case, otherwise, it could be really devastating. Just like hypnosis, faith healing is not based on science and not solid for predicting the results. It takes advantages of people’s superstition and trust for ”randomness”. It is effective for healing the pain in some degree and it is a good thing if it works, but I would like to see people contribute the reason to the right subjective. For example, if a doctor tries very hard to save a person’s life and finally works while the person’s family contribute the goodness to God but not the doctor.

    • Hi Boxianzi,
      I like how you relate hypnosis to faith healing, I think it can be good because it can provide people comfort while in a time in need and this is something that is very important and can go a long way (as long as the disease isnt serious and they are using other medication).

  8. Charlie,

    I like how you included information about the effect of a placebo on this type of practice, because it is very important. I also thought it was very well written and detailed. As a muslim myself I have seen people practice these types of things in my faith as well. For example people would talk about how a person who is blind would visit a mosque and pray, then leaving the mosque the same day being able to see, and stories like this would be consistently mentioned at mosques which I have always thought to be a bit strange.

    • Hey Halima,
      I like the placebo a lot and think that it is really important. I think that is because I am a psych major and I often see myself using it in my real life. That is really interesting you are muslim and that there as similarities! Is it really popular in your culture? or does it have a similar stigma like for christianity?

  9. I completely agree with you. I personally do not believe in faith healing but I don’t see a problem with it as long as the person receiving the faith healing also is provided with medical treatment by a professional. Your paper was fun to read and I liked that you included that psychology considers it no better than the placebo effect right now. Thank you for your paper!

    • Hey Lucas,
      I am glad you agree, I dont see a problem with it either as long as people are realistic and not putting all of their eggs in one basket so to speak. I think the older we get the less popular it will be, in my opinion it seems like organized religion rates are dropping.

  10. I found this post super interesting and well done, and I enjoyed reading through it. I especially enjoyed reading through it because I was raised Catholic and have definitely seen this and heard about this through my faith. I can see why there is not any scientific proof for this belief, and that does not surprise me. I do think that it could be explained by the placebo effect, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. If it helps with healing and comforting the victim, then it is not harming them (as long as their also seeking medical attention as well).

    • Hey Jaclyn,
      Thank you for the compliment and I am glad that you enjoyed it. I think it is a interesting topic, although ridiculous. I was raised catholic myself, and while no longer practicing, there was a time I had a strong relationship with God I felt like, but it was never so strong that I felt he could heal me from a disease. For example, if I were praying I would say something like “please give me the strength to deal with this” not “take this away” and I think that is the healthy approach that everyone should try to take.

  11. I don’t know why, but I am a believer of faith healing. And by faith healing I don’t mean that if I want something bad, I will just have faith that it will come to me and not do anything about it. I mean having a positive faith towards something, I would be encouraged to do things in order to achieve what I want.

  12. Hello!
    This was an interesting choice for your blog post! I definitely believe in the power of prayer and faith. The one misconception people though have with Christianity though is that you can just pray and ask for things to happen. I was taught not to pray and ask for things such as “I want an A on this test”, “I want my sickness to go away”. This was always told to be a “no no” and probably why people think the idea of prayer doesn’t work or is not helpful. Prayer and faith goes on a deeper level of believing in a bigger picture for life and having trust that a higher power will give you or someone else strength or protect them. I think there are a lot of layers to faith but this blog post gave a lot of good insight into the belief and I enjoyed reading.

  13. From the perspective of placebo effect, It is beneficial for patients. But thinking of that might mistakenly guide severe patients makes me feel fearful. For patients who have chance to cure through medical ways, they choose faith healing which could totally miss the timing for real healing. Dangerous belief.

  14. I find it intriguing that the placebo effect allows this theory to thrive, making those that believe in faith healing seem to have credibility. I have learned through past psychology courses that the idea of faith healing has been experimentally shown to aid pain tolerance. The specific study I am thinking of is when people given pain either looked at a painting of a random woman, or the Virgin Mary. Those who were religious and looked at the Virgin Mary were better able to tolerate the pain. This does not go as far to say that it is capable of healing serious diseases and disabilities though.

  15. It’s a really interesting post and thanks for sharing. I don’t know if this a right place to bring up this, but I’ve seen people’s experience that they could not receive certain medical treatment because their religion doctrine. For example, they could not receive blood transfusion because they think it is not clean. And because of this, it’s really hard to get approve for certain important surgery from relatives who have strong beliefs about these doctrine. It’s sad that they would still believe that miracle would come find them without any proper medical therapy.

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