Faith, Belief and Healing
I became interested in researching faith healing as a means of understanding belief and the idea of the brain healing the body. I knew a little about Christian based faith healing: the evangelical preachers on T.V. who smack the heads of the skeptical, and then they fall backwards, unconscious, and are healed, but I wanted to learn more specific information about the general practice of faith healing. What are the different forms faith healing takes? What are the underlying beliefs of the proponents of this form of belief and healing? How are these people portrayed and delivered over the Internet? Is there anything substantive to the notion of faith healing? What I found was a mix of strange ideas, which I simultaneously believed and scoffed at, depending upon their contexts and the information used to back their claims up.
To begin with, I learned about a type of faith healing performed in the Philippines called psychic surgery. It is an ancient practice that was used to relieve pain and promote healing. However, the context it finds itself in today is much more complex than that. To begin with, let me describe what might occur in a session, because it does not embody exactly what the name implies, although many believe it to. There is a lot of "laying of the hands, balancing of magnetic forces, and massaging with divinely sanctioned oils;" these are the pre-"surgery" activities that are performed while "awaiting spiritual guidance." (1) At the meeting of actor Andy Kaufman and a psychic surgeon, the actor was hoping to have his lung cancer removed. After the surgeon received "divine intervention," he appeared to have pulled out "the offending material" in the midst of a lot of blood. (1) However, two months later, Kaufman died, and X-rays showed that no surgery had ever been performed. (1) How was this possible, if the surgeon claimed to have pulled the cancer out? ...because psychic surgery, seen as a form of faith healing, is a hoax.
Dr. William Nolen, a Minnesotan surgeon who has operated in over 6000 surgeries, wanted to see for himself if psychic surgery was a hoax. He went into his personal investigation with no pre-conceived, set-in-stone beliefs. As he put it, "I was making a very sincere effort not to pre-judge the merits of the psychic surgeons whom I was about to investigate. If I had already been persuaded they were charlatans, I would never have undertaken the assignment." (1) He spent only two weeks shuttling around the Philippines, and in that short amount of time, was able to conclude that it was indeed a hoax. "His training as a surgeon enabled him to see the various tricks that were perpetrated by the healers." (1) The objects they claimed to remove were really "bullets" which they palmed, then proceeded to remove from the bodies of the afflicted. The "bullets" came in the form of wads of cotton drenched in fake human blood, animal intestines passed off as human organs, and other objects...