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Faith Healing is Killing People and We’re Letting it Happen

Faith Healing is Killing People and We’re Letting it Happen
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The practice of faith healing, the belief that you can cure the ill and revive the dying through prayer and a reliance on divine intervention, remains alarmingly widespread, and seems on the rise as evangelical religious circles prosper. What’s more, it really is endangering and in some cases costing people their lives — and we’re letting it happen.

The UK charity the African Health Policy Network (AHPN) has this week raised the alarm about numerous cases in Britain where faith healers have told HIV-infected church-goers that they will be cured through act of God and that they must abandon their antiretroviral treatments.

Last year, BBC London revealed that three people from London with HIV were known to have died after they stopped taking their life-saving medication per advice from their pastors who claimed they would be healed if they only had faith.

The Department of Health has issued a limp response that prayer cannot cure HIV, before going on to say that churches can play an “important part” in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and the importance of proper screening.

This misses the point entirely, however. Evangelical churches have a competing interest because their particular religious flavor, not unique but perhaps now the most forthright in this regard, hinges on divine intervention, faith healing and miracles. Any way we look at it, this is deeply antagonistic to medical science. A failure to recognize that fact shows a worrying oversight. Though it’s not actually that surprising.

There have been several other recent cases in England where evangelical churches have made claims that God will cure the sick.

In March of this year, an evangelical ministry group called Healing on the Streets Bath was banned from using ad leaflets that said: “NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY! We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness.”

The leaflet made claims that prayer could cure a number of illnesses, from arthritis to multiple sclerosis. Apparently we are to believe God is ahead of medical science but is refusing to share his secrets.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the claims were misleading because they risked discouraging people from seeking essential medical treatment, though the ASA would later rule that the use of the “God Can Heal” claim on the group’s website and associated materials was not a concern.

Startlingly, a group of religious conservatives from across Britain’s three major parties attempted to defend as a matter of free exercise of religion the ministry’s claims, with MPs even going so far as to make a car-crash of an argument that because no one could absolutely prove faith healing could never work, it was wrong to suggest that it didn’t work, before one MP went on to claim that he himself had been healed.

The problem of course is that this subject touches so close to the deeply and sincerely held beliefs of many religious people of all stripes. As such, many in the wider community — even those who have no belief in the supernatural at all — find themselves, almost by default, thinking that faith healing falls under religious freedom. This is an egregious error, but an understandable one.

The danger faith healing presents is no more apparent than in the recent case of 16-year-old Austin Sprout, of Oregon, who died after his appendix burst in December of last year.

His mother and stepfather, Brandi and Russel Bellew, were arrested in February of this year when an investigation revealed they had failed to find their son emergency medical care because they believed faith in God alone would be enough to cure their child.

The Bellews, having pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, were spared jail time and given five years probation. The court also ordered that they must seek medical attention if any of their remaining six children, not currently in their care but with whom they are allowed visits, became ill.

A heartbreaking aspect to this story is that, while what the Bellews allowed Austin to suffer through is abhorrent, they did so in apparently genuine faith that they were doing the right thing. Their actions were a symptom, then, of a much larger issue.

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Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to John Steven Fernandez.

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7:16AM PDT on Apr 26, 2013

Life is a gift to be treasured and respected

6:13AM PDT on Mar 26, 2013

Michael K and Natalie are right.

10:57AM PDT on Mar 23, 2013

Natalie N...."there are extreme ends and unreasonable, misguided myths. we must separate truth from phobia and superstition."

+++++++++++++ Good luck with that! You'll bump heads with a million religious leaders who will fight you forever because ''extreme ends and unreasonable, misguided myths'' are their bread and butter!

10:55AM PDT on Mar 23, 2013

Unless we're talking about parents denying care to children....they really DO have the right to refuse treatment, don't they?

it's my body....shouldn't I have the right to decide if I live or die?

10:52AM PDT on Mar 23, 2013

Not into prayer, but I do yoga sometimes and eat lots of vegetables.

5:56AM PDT on Oct 12, 2012


5:09PM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

Of interest is the knowledge that the people involved in the studies adhered to different god’s, some to no god whatsoever in some cases (people whose belief systems do not have a god). Therefore, in earlier studies that were flawed in their methods and which indicated that there was change for the better in some of the recipients of prayer it would suggest that the activity of engaging in behaviors in which there was the intention of positive results is perhaps the key here. Not that there is or was a god involved. Humans may be able to energetically change outcomes. Whether they believed they were engaging the monkey god of India, or Iesus of Greece really didn’t matter.

It was the act perhaps of creating positive energy and focusing it toward an individual that is the actual cause and not a specific imaginary friend.

4:58PM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

Not big on prayer but I certainly believe in meditation which I suppose is a type of prayer and a form of positive mental attitude. It is a tool just like proper diet; and vitamin/mineral supplements. Negative emotions create negative hormones and other chemicals which get stored throughout the body until such time the body can no longer cope and you get sick. Medicine too is important when applied properly and in a timely fashion. There is far too much emphasis on drugs and surgery for my liking though. Far as faith healing goes I don't know how many of these charlatans I've seen over the years. I know the Amazing Randi exposed Peter Popoff for the fraud he is. It's carny time boys and girls.

9:00AM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

@Nancy b says prayer is very powerful...but, so is medicine.

There is no evidence that prayer is powerful or has any effect at all. A published a study last summer involving 748 heart patients at nine hospitals. That study failed overall to show any benefit. Two new studies are about to report no benefit of having people pray for the sick. In another recent study analyzing complications in the 30 days after the operations, the researchers found no differences between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not.

In another of the study's findings, a significantly higher number of the patients who knew that they were being prayed for — 59 percent — suffered complication

The study also found that more patients in the uninformed prayer group — 18 percent — suffered major complications, like heart attack or stroke, compared with 13 percent in the group that did not receive prayers.

One reason the study was so widely anticipated was that it was led by Dr. Benson, who in his work has emphasized the soothing power of personal prayer and meditation.

A 1997 study at the University of New Mexico, involving 40 alcoholics in rehabilitation, found that the men and women who knew they were being prayed for actually fared worse.

4:08AM PDT on Oct 10, 2012

prayer is very powerful...but, so is medicine.

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