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I Feel a Healin' Comin' on!

Links, Thoughts, and Open Thread
Posted by ZachAttack on 2005/5/9 19:29:39 (2763 reads)

I recently saw a documentary on HBO on the subject of faith healing called "Question of Miracle", and I was so fascinated by this film that I started taking notes. It featured two prominent Christian faith healers: The reverend Benny Hinn, and Reinhard Bonkke. I had actually seen Benny Hinn before on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (while flipping through channels), and while I was unfamiliar with Bonkke, I've seen many other televangelists over the years who've claimed to heal people through the power of faith, including the well-known Pat Robertson. I can't say I've ever taken the idea of faith healing seriously, and I was very surprised to find just how many people did. These guys routinely draw crowds of half a million, in countries all over the world.

Both of these ministers agreed to an interview, and they also agreed to allow the documentary crew to evaluate the claims of miracle healing at their revivals. The film followed several people through their own experience of the faith healing, in an attempt to show whether there was, in fact a divine power at work. They also made exhaustive efforts to follow up with the people who were brought on stage to be healed during one of Benny Hinn's revivals.

The results were unsurprising. Of the more than seventy people who Benny Hinn claimed to have healed at his revival, none could be said to have been cured of their illness after a two month follow-up, although they did find several who claimed that they were better(although in many cases, their doctors disagreed with the assessment). Sadly, many of these people were convinced that they no longer needed medical care, and either stopped treatments or cancelled surgeries.

Reinhard Bonkke, the son of a WWII German soldier refugee, draws huge crowds when he goes to Africa. The documentary featured one of his revivals in Nigeria. Bonkke is remarkable for his understanding of local religion and tribal custom, and was able to integrate them into his own preaching.

"Four witch-doctors put a curse on me," said Bonkke on stage, "and all I had to do was whisper, ‘Halleluiah,’ and the curse was broken. They called the biggest witch-doctor in California, and I said ‘Halleluiah’ so loud I made his head ache."

When it came time for the healings, the documentary crew filmed people with illnesses struggling to get to the stage, and they had to get past screeners who would 'test their faith' by making people with crutches walk without them, or otherwise assuring that they would be a good candidate for the healing. Again, there was no evidence that anyone was healed, and tragically, more than ten people died of trampling deaths in the revival.

So why do so many people believe in these faith healings? Why do people show up to these revivals in the hundreds of thousands, and why do they leave convinced that they've had a powerful spiritual experience? That was the next question of the documentary, and some of the answers were surprising.

One professional hypnotherapist was shown a tape of Benny Hinn's performance on stage, and he pointed out that many of his speech patterns, as well as the lighting, the grandiosity, and the powerful, rising and falling tones of the music were consistent with well-known hypnotic techniques. In fact, some of the most powerful speakers in history, including Hitler, have used similar techniques. "And they understand", said one psychologist, "that you when you say certain things in front of a hundred thousand people, it has a different effect than if you said the same thing in front of a few hundred."

The science of this phenomenon was explained by Dr Michael Persinger, a renowned neuropsychologist. The mass environment of the revival, combined with the hypnotic influences, cause increased activity in the temporal lobe and limbic system of the brain, which lead to rapid emotional and mood swings. As the more suggestible people begin to show their heightened emotions, it affects others around them and compounds the already powerful impact of the environment, causing a chain reaction in the outflow of emotion in the audience. In addition, the limbic activity causes a release of opiates into the body, which cause inebriation and act as a natural anti-inflammatory and a powerful painkiller, and also explains why people with chronic and severe pain can hop around on stage.

In an effort to replicate these sensations in the lab, Dr. Persinger has performed experiments on people by deliberately stimulating these areas of the brain with complex magnetic field patterns, and the documentary interviewed several of these subjects. Some of them reported having profound and pleasurable experiences as a result of the experiments, and Dr. Persinger claimed that those who have a strong propensity toward religion will often have a 'religious experience' as a result of the experiment.
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So are these 'miracle healers' just crooks, trying to make a buck off the people who can afford it the least -- like Steve Martin in "Leap of Faith"? Well, they do make a lot of money and many of the people who contribute to their ministries are in desperate financial shape. Many of the sick people who go to the revivals go because they see it as their last hope when traditional medicine cannot help them anymore. Nevertheless, these ministers are very convincing, and after seeing them interviewed, they seem to believe, on at least some level, that what they're doing is God's work, although it is accurate to say that they are frauds when it comes to faith healing.

But when it comes right down to it, are these self-proclaimed faith healers really the problem? Or is it instead the huge number of people who believe in them? What do you say to the people who go to these revivals, and believe in the power of 'faith healers'? If they can't see through the nonsense on their own, can you really make them? It is highly problematic that such a significant amount of the population can be so easily deluded, and it should be taken it as a warning of how important it is for our us not to let the balance of enlightenment and common sense be outweighed by this sort of craziness.

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