Once in a while, a theist will stumble across my blog or Facebook page and try to argue or evangelize. A few weeks ago, one of these arguments broke out on the Bold Atheism Facebook page after I posted this meme comparing faith healing and science-based medicine.
A man we’ll call Ramiro laughed at the notion that faith healing might be a lie. He had been healed by the Almighty! Or so he claimed. I attempted to get more information and here’s what he said:
He hits me with a WTF right off the bat. His broken teeth were healed and crosses appeared on them? Wow. Sounds made up. He didn’t say if these crosses were permanent or temporary. Who want to go through life with a bunch of crosses in their mouth.
I don’t see a point in trying to refute his story. Much like God, you can’t disprove what has never been proven. He says his “healings” were corroborated by doctors but offers no real evidence to back up that assertion.
Notice, however, that most of what he mentions are invisible disorders with symptoms that are difficult to measure. Anemia, ADHD, asthma and allergies? Perhaps these are things that were either cured by medication or temporary. I had severe asthma as a child too but grew out of it by adulthood. Other than his newly minted cross teeth, it would be easy to claim you were healed of something that no one could actually see.
Why Doesn’t God Heal Amputees?
Which brings us to the question posed by the meme: why doesn’t faith healing work on amputees and deformities? If I saw a faith healer regenerate an arm, a leg, or even a pinky finger with my own eyes then I’d have to seriously reconsider the God hypothesis.
If God has no problem curing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes then why not re-grow a limb? What’s holding him back? Or maybe the better question is, why do religious people believe in faith healing despite the fact that this has never happened.
1.God Hates Them
There may be a convenient, built-in answer in the Old Testament of the Bible. God hates amputees, the handicapped, and deformed people.
“For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed;19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God.” – Leviticus 21:17-21
This passage is describing God’s rules for priests. It certainly seems like he’s disgusted by anyone with a ‘defect’.
2. They Don’t Have Enough Faith
Talking to a Christian about faith healing is like talking to a brick wall. You can discuss the lack of evidence, show them specific examples where healings have failed and even point to news stories about people who have died because they thought they had been healed. They all have the same answer: they didn’t have enough faith. If only they had believed more, prayed harder, then they would have been healed!
Faith is always the fallback position of the religious. Like a terrible boss, God gets all of the credit and none of the blame. A doctor treats you for cancer using medication, chemotherapy, and surgery. Six months later you have a clean bill of health. Praise God! He healed you through prayer. Or maybe you have cancer and nothing can be done. Six months later you pass away. Well, I guess you should have had more faith. As Ramiro said on Facebook, God doesn’t heal the faithless.
3. God Doesn’t Exist
Then, of course, there’s the real reason God doesn’t heal amputees. He isn’t there. He’s imaginary. That’s why God’s will seems so mysterious all the time. It’s indistinguishable from random chance.
Those claiming to be healed are being lied to. They’re also lying to themselves. If you’re determined to show your strength of faith, then you might just stop taking your medication. You might stop going to the doctor. After all, if he’s unconvinced of your miraculous healing then it might cause you to doubt as well. This is when seemingly benign religious bullshit becomes dangerous. People can, and do, die because of their delusions.
Faith Healers Are Scammers; Faith is the Scam
People like Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn, Pat Roberston, Jimmy Swaggart and others are frauds. They want money and they get it by the millions. They are proficient in the art of fleecing the gullible and doing real harm in the process.
Magician and fellow atheist, James Randi, famously exposed faith-healing evangelist Peter Popoff as a con-artist in 1986. Popoff would ‘talk to God’ and reveal personal details about people in the audience. Of course, God turned out to be his wife on the other end of his earpiece. Despite being publicly exposed as a liar and a cheat, he rebuilt his ‘ministry’ in 1998 and is still practicing today. You even can buy your very own bottle of Peter Popoff Miracle Spring Water™ on his website today!
SUGGESTED: Check out 6 Tricks I Learned as a Faith Healer (for Scamming You)
It’s important to note that a large number of Christians know faith healing is bunk. My religious family routinely makes fun of Benny Hinn. My mom can’t stand to see him on TV, but my dad watches it like a sit-com. He thinks it’s hilarious when Benny Hinn blows on the people on stage and they all fall down (apparently slain in the spirit, whatever that means). He actually used to slap people on the forehead, but switched to the super-breath act after being sued for wrongful death in 1987. I suppose God didn’t see fit to heal the elderly woman who Hinn slapped to the ground.
Despite the knowledge that faith healing is a sham, my parents and many other Christians believe in the healing through prayer and faith. My dad’s church has hosted healing services in which members of the congregation will tell everyone what their medical issue is, then my dad and other lay hands on them and pray for healing.
If their medical issue is resolved, God gets the credit. If their medical issue remains or worsens then healing must not have been God’s will. I find this type of healing to be ineffectual, but relatively harmless. In this case, medical treatment is still highly encouraged.
When Faith Replaces Medicine
My great-grandmother was raised as a Christian Scientist. She was even named after the church’s founder, Mary Baker Eddie. The term seems to be an oxymoron and actually has nothing to do with science. Christian Science is a cult that focuses heavily on the healing aspect of the Bible. They eschew all medicine, focusing solely on faith and prayer to treat everything from the common cold to cancer. Luckily, my great-grandma had enough sense to escape this ridiculous sect. She overcompensated by seeing the doctor for absolutely everything. Others aren’t so lucky.
A few weeks ago, a couple in my dad’s church stood up and declared they had been cured of their diabetes and were no longer taking insulin. No doctor had confirmed this for them, but they were convinced. Due to the nature of diabetes, a disease I have myself, they’ll soon find out otherwise. Go too long without treatment and you’ll soon see the inside of an ambulance
I love the Ricky Gervais quote above. If an adult wants to choose prayer over medicine, that’s fine. The consequences of that choice are on them alone. My problem with faith-only treatment is when it is forced on children and the elderly. People who are dependent on others for their health and wellbeing should not be put in danger because their family chooses bullshit over healthcare.
The most heartbreaking result is when a child dies, just because his or her parents are brainwashed morons. It happens far too often. In 39 states, there are legal exemptions for parents who allow their children to suffer and die due to deeply held religious convictions. Seth Andrews of The Thinking Atheist recently did a two-part podcast on this subject. You can listen to Part One and Part Two by clicking the links.
Thankfully, some parents are being prosecuted. In 2009 Dale and Shannon Hickman let their newborn son David die of staph pneumonia. He was born two months prematurely. He was struggling to breathe and began to turn gray. The Hickmans didn’t even consider calling 911, choosing to pray for healing instead. A doctor testified that if the Hickmans had sought medical attention, David would have had a 99 percent chance of survival.
The Hickmans were convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to six years in jail, followed by three years of probation. They got off easy.
The most disturbing part of the case was their admission that looking back on David’s death, they wouldn’t have done anything differently.
“We do what the Bible tells us, and we put God first and ask for faith,” Shannon Hickman said at the time. “If we don’t have the faith, then we seek medical treatment because it is not there, you know.”
When they were sentenced a hundred people from their church began sobbing in the courtroom. Their tears were for the poor Hickmans, convicted for following their faith. Where were their tears for the innocent baby that was allowed to die? How many more children will be allowed to die because of their dangerously delusional parents?
Now, ask me again, “What harm is there in faith?”