Posted by: Damon Whitsell | May 26, 2009

How to Fake a Healing

 faith-healing1
How to Fake a Healing

“There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do–go through his clothes and look for loose change.” ~Miracle Max in The Princess Bride

Pentecostals often remain in Pentecostalism despite many misgivings for one simple reason: the healings. They may admit that many of the practices and teachings are unbiblical. They may confess that there is rampant abuse and manipulation. But they shake off the doubts because they have seen so many supernatural events–people stand up out of wheelchairs, back pain healed, etc. And so they wonder, “If this is really so bad, why are so many people being healed? Isn’t it all worth it if sick people are being restored to health?”

However, Pentecostal church services are all about showmanship and appearance. It is surprisingly easy to fake healings, even to hold entire healing services in which people appear to be ‘healed’ all over the church and yet no one is really cured. How is this accomplished? The trick is usually, as Miracle Max said in the quote above, to focus on problems which can be resolved some way other than strictly supernaturally, to learn to ‘heal’ those who are only partly ill or can be made to seem well when they are not.

Let’s examine some of the most common ‘healing’ tricks in the Pentecostal experience:

(a) Bigfoot Sightings. Perhaps the largest category of fake healings is what I call “Bigfoot Sightings”, because, like the mythical Bigfoot, all that is known about these healings is that somebody else swears that they saw them and that they are real.

Most often, it is the pastor or a visiting evangelist who relates stories of healings that occurred somewhere else. When these ‘healings’ are described in great detail to excited crowds, people tend to forget that they never actually witnessed the event and have no reason to believe that it actually occurred. In the retelling of the story, people often relate the healing as though they witnessed it themselves. It is only upon careful questioning that the truth emerges: nobody actually saw this one; it was just a story told to the group by some convincing-sounding guy with a microphone.

EXAMPLE: Evangelist/ missionary David Hogan often uses this technique. Every time he speaks to groups, he claims to have raised 400+ people from the dead and performed many amazing miracles. Although he relates many incredible stories, he never actually performs miracles at his meetings . . . he just talks about all the miracles that he supposedly performed somewhere else.

Hogan’s fans often describe him as a great man of God who heals the sick and raises the dead. When directly asked, however, they admit that they have never actually seen Hogan do any miracles. The only reason they have to believe that Hogan has ever performed any miracles is that Hogan himself claims that he has.

(b) “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Occasionally, ‘healings’ are fakes, plain and simple. Many evangelists believe that seeing people apparently get healed raises the level of faith of the parishioners and so opens the door for real healings. They use this as an excuse to orchestrate healing shows that are planned in advance simply to shock and amaze the crowd.

EXAMPLE: It is difficult to say how often this technique is used, because evangelists who employ it are usually quite careful to cover their tracks. However, occasionally, scandals open up that allow a glimpse inside such misdealings. One of the best known examples of the intentional and calculated use of fake healings involved cult leader Jim Jones. Jones began his ill-fated career as a Pentecostal revivalist and healer. One of his favorite techniques involved healing people of ‘cancer’ by apparently removing chunks of foul-smelling material from their bodies that he claimed were the cancerous tissues. People’s Temple insiders later confessed that the ‘cancers’ were actually rotten chicken livers, produced at the appropriate time during the church service with a little slight-of-hand.

(c) MOSTLY disabled or ALL disabled? One of the most obvious and most popular techniques used by faith healers is based upon a popular misunderstanding of disabilities. When someone is in a wheelchair, people tend to assume that the person cannot walk AT ALL. This is rarely the case. Most people in wheelchairs can stand and even walk a little, just not far and not well. Likewise, when a person is said to be blind or deaf, people tend to assume that the person cannot see or hear AT ALL. Again, this is rarely the case. Most blind people can see a little, just not very well, and most people who are ‘deaf’ are really only partially deaf.

This explains why many ‘miracles’ that occur in faith-healing services appear to be only partial healings. A healer may tell someone in a wheelchair to stand and walk. The person shakily stands and limps painfully across the stage. The crowd cheers, because they think that this is amazing progress and that the person is on his or her way to a full recovery. But, in fact, it may be no improvement at all. Likewise, many healers will test a healing of a blind person by holding up a handkerchief and asking the person to grab it. When the blind person is able to take hold of the handkerchief, the crowd is amazed, not realizing that there is nothing remarkable about a partly blind person being able to see a large white object held only inches from his or her face.

EXAMPLE: This is one of the most common healing techniques and is used by many, many faith healers. One of the best known examples is Peter Popoff, who used a few trusted collegues to scout for healing candidates among the crowds that came to his healing services. Popoff’s scouts always asked people in wheelchairs if they could walk a little or not at all. Any that could walk a little were called up to the front for ‘healing’ during the subsequent service. The technique was exposed by skeptic James Randi who placed actors in the audience to claim that they had disabilities. Randi’s actors were interviewed by Popoff’s scouts, and the information transmitted to Popoff via a radio transmitter. Randi intercepted and recorded the transmissions, which fed Popoff information on various audience members, including which of them would make good ‘healing’ candidates.

(d) The Placebo Effect. Many so-called ‘healings’ are extremely subjective. People are most often ‘healed’ of rather vague conditions that are not visible, such as chronic back pain. A person who suffers from this condition may get caught up in the excitement of the healing service and may even experience a lesser degree of pain for a while, due to his or her earnest desire to be healed which can, for a while, lead them to believe that a healing has taken place. However, often the pain returns shortly after the healing service ends.

EXAMPLE: The HBO documentary “Question of a Miracle” follows several people who were supposedly healed by Benny Hinn. (As it turned out, none of them actually were healed). One of these cases involved a man who suffered from severe pain in his hip joints and needed surgical intervention. The man claimed that during the healing service he was totally healed and freed from pain. He even demonstrated this by doing exercises on-stage at Hinn’s direction–squatting, bending, etc, all while claiming to feel no pain at all. However, the pain returned shortly after the healing service ended, and the man still suffers the exact same condition and still needs surgery.

(e) The Rain Dance. A surprising number of ‘healings’ are actually simply a matter of people taking credit for natural events, as though they were supernatural phenomena. I cannot even count the number of times I have heard people claim to be healed of the common cold. And yet, recovering from a cold is something that everyone does dozens of times in their lifetime–there is nothing supernatural about a recovery (even a speedy recovery) from such a condition. Similarly, many cancer ‘healings’ are actually the result of extensive medical treatment that has resulted in remission.

Sometimes health situations are somewhat more complex and yet just as likely to result in spontaneous improvement or medically-assisted recovery. Some heart conditions that occur in childhood usually do spontaneously improve, some neurological or muscular conditions can make sudden and remarkable improvement, especially with medical treatment and/or physical therapy. But this is often overlooked by Pentecostal crowds eager for a good healing story.

In all my years as a Pentecostal, as many healing stories as I heard, I never heard of one case of someone being healed of Down Syndrome. In fact, in my experience, Pentecostals never even pray for healing for someone with Down Syndrome, and so, by avoiding these cases, they tacitly acknowledge that they did not really think it likely that someone with a truly PERMANENT condition would be “healed”.

EXAMPLE: I used this technique many times myself. Specifically, I recall giving testimony (at various times in my Pentecostal life) that I had been healed of a sprained wrist, a headache, a backache, and several other mundane conditions. In retrospect, I have to admit that these were faked. Although I did not intend to fake, I wanted to see healings to badly that I started claiming that every recovery was a ‘healing’. For example, when I suffered a very slight wrist sprain while roller skating, I prayed that God would heal my wrist. When, the next morning, the wrist stopped hurting, I claimed that it had been healed.

We do well to look at ALL Pentecostal and Charismatic healing claims through highly skeptical eyes. Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders have a compelling reason to lie and exaggerate their ‘healing’ claims: miracle stories gather followers and increase financial support. Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are full of desperate people who want to see miracles and who are eager to believe every wild tale and to interpret every event supernaturally.

Ask difficult questions. Demand difficult healings. If Benny Hinn, David Hogan, or any other ‘faith healer’ can really call down the power of God to heal a backache . . . well, they should be able to heal Down Syndrome, regrow amputated limbs, etc. And let’s not take their word for it . . . let’s have it on videotape so that everyone can see and marvel. If the faith healers can’t do this . . . well, it’s time we ask ourselves why.

(Article by Caroline Weerstra)

http://www.pentecostalfreedom.org/fake_healing.html

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