The Faith Healers.

The Faith Healers. – book reviews

The Faith Healers

In coliseums and auditoriums across the world, thousands of times each year, self-styled faith healers carry out a shameless deception. Pretending that they can invoke divine help to cure sickness, instead they prey upon the sick, taking their dignity and money in exchange for false hope, James Randi contends.

Randi is a professional magician who in recent years has applied his expertise to the investigation of paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims.

In his latest book, The Faith Healers, he has compiled a strong indictment of charlatans who prey upon the gullible. It is a story of deception and greed on the part of individuals who claim to be doing “God’s work.” Astonishingly clever tricks used by the most successful of the “healers” are exposed.

Randi sets the high moral tone of his investigations by acknowledging that there is a “consolation of superstition” when science cannot cure the patient’s anguish. But self-deception also has its dangerous consequences.

Most painful to the author is his realization that many of the exploited sick continue to believe despite evidence that they have been defrauded. They insist upon linking the fraud’s healing power with a belief in God.

Faith healers who prey upon the public extract huge sums of money and often exert immense political power. They have managed to elude prosecution and thrive because many local officials are either inept or indifferent: “Law enforcement agencies have failed to act upon these findings …” Randi has often submitted irrefutable evidence of fraud, only to result in the police and prosecuting attorneys ignoring the complaint.

Because each disease has a natural variability, it has “ups and downs,” Randi notes. When the system is attacked, the illness goes through stages of resistance and temporary retraction. It is upon this phenomenon that the charlatans exploit their sometimes spectacular “results.”

Most patients seek unorthodox help when they are frustrated either by the slow progress of medical treatment or by its inability to produce promising results. The fraud benefits greatly from such dismay. Should the disease worsen under his care, he can complain that the patient came for help too late. Should there be a dramatic, although temporary, sign of recovery, he can exult that God intervened. Should the condition remain the same, the faith healer will exclaim that the miraculous treatment was applied just in time but will require continued application because he has stabilized the condition.

“In any case,” the author says, “the quack method is never proven wrong, and all possible results can be accommodated into the quack theory.”

The origins of faith-healing lie in mankind’s attempt to control nature by means of spells, incantations, animal and human sacrifice, and rituals. “Its effectiveness has been a matter of discussion for centuries,” Randi notes. “Only now is the power of suggestion beginning to be understood.” It is this power to plant a thought in another person’s mind that can influence the other’s healing processes; it is the remarkable placebo effect that strengthens the victim’s faith to continue.

In the past, far into antiquity, tribal leaders, kings and princes, priests, and magicians worked their spectacles for profit and power. Quackery reached its pinnacle with the miracle of television. Millions could now be exploited with the help of the entertainment media.

The most famous shrine, in the town of Lourdes, is revered by many people from afar. Randi has made a meticulous study of the claims that multitudes have been cured of terminal illnesses, the crippled transformed enough to throw away their crutches, the blind having eyesight restored. The author reveals that only 100 claims have been properly documented since the founding of the shrine. No evidence is given that could determine whether the cures were natural remissions or truly cures.

The CBS-TV program “60 Minutes” also investigated the famous shrine in 1986. Its reporters were appalled by the theatrical aspects of the sanctuary. It was “like a multicomplex theatre that gives a dozen religious performance a day,” the CBS reporters commented.

Outstanding examples of modern-day faith healers are the television evangelists, some of whom have been uncomfortably exposed to the limelight of investigation recently. Those who practiced it in the past were usually content to derive some monetary gain and the satisfaction of playing out their personal beliefs.

For example, in the 1940s, Randi relates, a fire-and-brimstone Bible thumper offered his audiences spectacular performances and grand promises. “He was quick to blame his victims for their failures … he had attempted to cure a deaf-mute but wasn’t making much progress. When he heard that the victim has smoked a cigarette after he was told to give them up, he blamed the unresolved condition on the tobacco. The deaf-mute had been born in that state.”

James Randi invokes his knowledge of the magician’s secrets in solving the sleight-of-hand tricks and deceptions of several contemporary evangelists. The Reverend W.V. Grant, who became one of the most affluent money raisers in TV history, is given unrelenting scrutiny. It has been said that Randi’s pursuit of Grant drove the faith healer from the TV screen.

The book devotes considerable space to exposing trickery in performing cures, fraud in extracting huge sums of money from believers, and enormous competence in soliciting millions of dollars by mail for “pursuing God’s work.”

The cast of characters includes Peter Popoff, Oral Roberts, A.A. Allen, an especially talented fund-raiser, Rex Humbard, Leroy Jenkins, Pat Robertson, Father Ralph D’Orio, Jim and Tammy Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart.

How were these people able to sway so many gullible people? Why did local law enforcement agencies refrain from acting against evidence of fraud? How could newspapers take advertising from organizations that were known to be foisting quackery upon the public? Randi does not attempt to ascribe motives. He notes, however, that the laws in the United States will do little to protect us against individuals using religion as a disguise while conducting acts that would put the ordinary person behind prison bars for such conduct. Remember, too, that the recent scandals were not publicized because of faith healing fraud. The chief performers tripped into the mud of sexual scandal badly enough to splash onto the front pages of a salivating press.

COPYRIGHT 1990 Vegetus Publications

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group