Faith healing and me

In yesterday’s post and earlier I have expressed my fury with parents who let their children suffer and die because they withheld medical care, believing that their faith will heal the child. P. Z. Myers documents some other abuses inflicted by parents on children. Such acts are nothing short of criminal because they sacrifice the health and even the life of a child on the altar of parental superstition. There is no evidence that faith healers can do what they claim to do and plenty of evidence that they are at best misguided and self-delusional or outright frauds preying on the gullible.

Some believers in faith healing have asked me whether my skepticism is because of my lack of experience with it and urge me to check it out. Actually I do have some experience with faith healers. I had polio when I was six years old that resulted in some serious physical handicaps, though it has not prevented me from having a very full life. My parents were Christians and they did everything they could to improve my life, and that included taking me to faith healers.

I recall a faith healer named Brother Mandus coming to Sri Lanka as part of a world-wide crusade and my mother took me to the church where he was preaching and at the appropriate time told me to walk up to the altar with the others who were seeking cures for various ailments. Although I was a child then (around eleven or twelve) and it was a long time ago, I recall going up and praying fervently and remember him placing his hands on my head and praying for me to be healed. It was all very sincere (at least on my mother’s and my part, though I cannot vouch for Mandus) but, of course, nothing happened.

Sometime later, we were in another town away from the capital city and my parents must have heard of another faith healer, a local man this time, and they took me to him. This was a very different experience. This man was not a Christian but more like a witch doctor and it was a private affair just for us. It was night time and I remember lying down on the floor in a candle-lit room that threw long flickering shadows everywhere while this wild looking, long-haired, bare-chested person wearing long chains around his neck chanted and flailed and waved all manner of things around in the air just above me, including swords. It went on for quite a while but again, nothing happened.

This experience was quite spooky and should have terrified me but I was not scared because I must have implicitly trusted my parents, who were also present, that they would never let me be harmed in any way by this wild and crazy guy. I recall only being curious as to what the hell was going on.

What were my parents, pillars of the Christian church, doing dealing with what could be considered black magic? Many Sri Lankans, like people elsewhere (other than religious chauvinists and fanatics), are somewhat eclectic and relaxed in their attitudes towards religion. It is not uncommon to find icons of Jesus and Buddha and the Hindu gods in the same location and people worshipping all of them. While my parents were religious, they were also practical and open-minded people who had their priorities right. For them, having me get better was top of their agenda and they were willing to do whatever it takes. Having me get better would have trumped any allegiance they might have felt towards any religious dogma.

My parents were pragmatists and if they had been Edgardo Mortara’s parents, I think they would have converted to Catholicism in a heartbeat if that was the only way that they could have got their child back from the Pope, arguing that a god who would not excuse an act that arose out of pure parental love was not a god worth worshipping. Fortunately for me, their primary efforts were directed towards making sure that I got the best possible medical treatment. They would never have gambled with that. I suspect that their ventures into trying to find supernatural healing were seen by them as extras, done on the off-chance that it might work. In this, they were totally unlike those religious people who will let their children suffer and even die because they think pleasing their god is more important than anything else.

Believers in faith healing will never be convinced that there is nothing there. They always have the option of blaming any lack of success on people having insufficient faith. They would say that the reason why god did not heal me was likely because of my parents’ lack of sufficient faith in the Christian god, as evidenced by their commitment to getting the best possible medical treatment for me, as well as their willingness to try non-Christian faith options. Or maybe because ‘god could see into my heart’ (a phrase Christians love) and discern that although I thought I was a devout Christian, the seeds of my future atheism had taken root and so I was not to be rewarded. Of course, this whole concept of a god who holds back from healing children just because they or their parents are insufficiently devout is truly horrendous, but religious people never seem to see that aspect of it.

When it comes to faith healers, people like the Pope and all other major religious leaders who do not denounce faith healing as a total fraud are also culpable. By encouraging people to think that god can and will heal those with sufficient faith, they are accomplices to all the faith healers who prey on the gullible.

Because religious leaders are shirking this task, we have to delegate the responsibility of debunking these frauds to comedians like The Chasers.


  1. says

    When religious faith poses no threat to oneself and others as in the case of your parents, I wonder what your opinion is of the occasional scientific study one hears about in the media that says religious faith can promote health and longevity, such as by reducing stress and creating a sense of well-being in a scary world? If it’s true, religious faith may be an antidote for the fears, pains and suffering that science, medicine and reason currently have no cures for: a survival mechanism: a coping mechanism: a still useful adaptation regardless of its truthfulness. I suspect the majority of religious people are practical people who pick and choose what they like, what works for them in their religion, like a cafeteria.

  2. says

    The Devil,

    Some people undoubtedly get psychological benefits from religion for the reasons you give. But they could get those benefits from counseling or other things. In fact, every benefit claimed for religion can be obtained from other sources, without all the negatives that religion brings along with it.

  3. says

    It saddens me that you are attacking and degrading those of faith. Your strong feelings toward people who believe in healers is very demeaning. Can you see how you are just as bad by saying these things? I have had supernatural experiences and have seen miracles right before my eyes. True, I will never adequately be able to explain why some get healed and some don’t. But to turn your anger towards those that believe is upsetting. If you don’t believe in such things, then that is your prerogative. I agree that there are those that misuse faith and pretend to be faith healers and do things in the name of healing but are crooked but there are people like this in all types of positions. Please treat individuals as such and return your anger to those that deserve it. Thank you.

  4. says


    That is intriguing. Can you please describe the supernatural experiences you had and the miracles that occurred right before your eyes?

  5. says

    Thanks for answering Mano.

    Just out of curiosity, what type of counseling, treatment, activity, source or thing would help a person deal with his fear of death or with the pain of losing a loved one to death? Staying busy and having fun just keeps your mind off of the subject of death. Talking, writing and reading about death just keeps you busy in this way, too, if you can’t convince yourself you’re not going to die because there’s some kind of afterlife and an unseen spiritual world for you and your loved ones to go to (and be reunited again) after death.

  6. says

    the video is absolutely hilarious I gotta say that.

    @Chris It is no secret anymore that all these faith healers do is stage a big show. All their volunteers are actually no volunteers at all. Those people are carefully planted among the audience and are motivated in some way or another to ACT. That is how you explain the fact that only a few people ever get healed, they are paid to be healed!

    Do you personally know someone close to you? friend, relative,neighbor, co worker who had a long standing illness, went to one of these faith healers and got healed?

    I think I already know the answer to that.

  7. says

    The Devil,

    There is no doubt that fear of death or the loss of a loved one is what drives most people to religion.
    Greta Christina has a nice article about atheist philosophies of death that you might want to check out.

    I am also preparing a series titled ‘Facing death’ where I will expand on this topic sometime in the future.

  8. says

    Thanks Mano for turning me on to Greta Christina’s atheist philosophies of death. Found a lot of the same thoughts running through my mind appearing in her blog post and in the comments. Still afraid. Still looking for a remedy to treat ones fear of death. Philosophy’s dandy. But liquor’s quicker. (Laughter may not be the best medicine but it sure helps break the tension. Funny video.)

  9. Anonymous says

    Chris, among those who have been healed, how come there are no amputees? I have never heard of an amputee having a severed limb restored by any god or supernatural entity? Any explanation?

    Also, I used to work for a health insurance company and whenever I felt I had the oppotunity to ask without reprisal, I would pose the question, “If there is an all knowing, all loving, all powerfull god who answers prayer, why do we need health care or health care insurance companies?” Needless to say I never got a good answer, mostly the MWC.


  10. says


    Interestingly, I recently came across the so-called Miracle of Calanda with its claim of a limb growing back. It allegedly occurred in 1640 though and the evidence seems thin. Recall that this was a time of many reported miracles in the Catholic Church which require miracles to prove worthiness for sainthood.

    The book Medical Miracles, which I reviewed as part of a series of posts from May 19 to May 27, says that the Catholic Church started tightening the rules for evidence of miracles in 1740 because of concerns over extravagant and poorly vetted claims.

  11. says

    I agree with you, faith based healing should be ILLEGAL! I don’t care if it is someone’s beliefs, it amounts to nothing more than MURDER and neglect. So if Child Protective Services comes to my house and they see my children starving to death and my house dirty and unsafe, I could probably just tell them it was my “religion” to bring them up that way and Child Protective Services would have to look the other way. What’s the difference really?

  12. says

    The government allows people to get exemptions from immunizations if you belong to certain religious groups. I think faith healing is intimately related with freedom of religion and people should be allowed to practice it. After all, religion is 100% based on faith without any scientific basis, no?

  13. says

    Our belief in God and religion depends largely on our upbringing. If we are brought up by pious parents, we tend to become believers. We are at many a time, told that if we do not pray, adversities will befall us.

    Of course there comes a stage when we start thinking rationally and at this point, we tend to sift out the thoughts and ideas that we wish to keep and discard the rest. This is mainly based on our conviction.

    As for faith healing, despite the tremendous growth in science and technology, this practice continues to hold good among millions of people for the simple reason that they are looking to see a miracle when in distress, so they believe in things like faith healing.

    This blog post and the discussion that has followed are very thought-provoking and inspiring. Thank you Dr.Mano for a great topic like this. It has been handled beautifully.

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