Healers better at trickery but faith no illusion

Ido lekota

Ido lekota

Pentecostalism has been associated with the booming charismatic movement - where spiritual leaders are believed to have healing powers and are referred to as faith healers.

It has become a money-spinning industry where individuals such as Pastor Chris have drawn multitudes to their "miracle-filled" sermons.

In a research paper, University of Pretoria scholar A Ukah says the churches survive relative to their leaders' ability to mobilise and organise resources such as membership and money.

"Often commitment and dedication of members are measured in terms of how much money and time they are willing to invest in religious activities."

His assertions play themselves out in institutions such as Pastor Chris' Christ Embassy Church in Randburg and the Universal Church in Soweto where congregants flock for both spiritual and physical healing.

These churches source money from their congregants through tithing but they also sell religious materials including books and CDs.

Congregants are normally told that it is through giving more that they will in turn receive more than they have given - from the Lord.

A critic who challenged faith healing wrote in Wrested Scriptures, a Christian journal aimed at dealing with difficult questions about religion: "Diseases may be divided into three classes: first, those which are entirely mental; second, those which are physical but tend to cure themselves; third, those which are physical but do not tend to cure themselves.

"Eighty to 90percent of all diseases belong to the first two classes."

The faith healer could have success in the the first two classes, but not in the third class where "under the ministrations of a faith healer these patients would die".

Other sceptics of faith healing offer primarily two explanations for the anecdotal evidence of cures. The first is that genuine improvement or healing could coincide with the faith healer's ministration.

The second is the placebo effect, whereby a patient might experience genuine pain relief and relief from some symptoms. In this case the patient genuinely has been helped by the faith healer or faith-based remedy, because of the power of their belief.

Both cases, however, are strictly limited to the body's natural ability to heal itself. Other sceptics of faith healing point to fraudulent practices such as planting people with fake illnesses in the audience. One such notable critic is stage magician James Randi, who claims that faith healing is a quack practice in which the "healers" use illusion to exploit credulous people to obtain their gratitude, confidence and money.