Faith healing, or divine healing, is the use of spiritual means in treating disease, sometimes accompanied (in extreme instances) with the refusal of modern medical techniques. Another term for this is spiritual healing. Faith healing is a form of alternative medicine.
Christian faith healing
The term is sometimes used in reference to the belief of some Christians who hold that God heals people through the power of the Holy Spirit, often involving the “laying on of hands”. Those who hold to this belief do not usually use the term “faith healing” in reference to the practice; that expression is more often used descriptively by commentators outside of the faith movement in reference to the belief and practice.
Faith healing is often reported by Catholics as the result of intercessory prayer of a saint or a person with the gift of healing. A famous example of a person with the gift of healing is Blessed Brother Andre Besette, CSC, a Holy Cross Brother known as the “Miracle Man of Montreal”.
The Catholic Church requires one or two miracles for the canonization of a saint, depending on the case. These are most often cases of faith healing reported as resulting from that person’s intercession.
Many people who resort to faith healing do so in cases of otherwise incurable disease. However, there are groups that believe in faith healing as the primary (if not sole) remedy for any health problem.
The predominant view among supporters of faith healing is that medical treatment should be sought whenever necessary, and that the two are not incompatible (believing that God can heal both supernaturally and through modern medical practice). However, there is an extreme view that teaches seeking medical treatment constitutes a “lack of faith” in supernatural healing.
The term “faith healing” is occasionally used in connection with Christian Science, though its adherents maintain its practice of healing is methodical and does not rest on faith alone, but also on an intimate understanding of God’s law.
Some practitioners such as William Baldwin and Ken Page incorporated methods that were Christian in origin with Shamanic tools for work on clients regardless of their spiritual beliefs or backgrounds. Many consider Richard Rossi one of the most credible examples of faith healing because of his willingness to subject all healings to medical verification.
Proposed sociobiological basis
Some argue that faith healing may have a basis in sociobiology where evolution conferred survival advantage over the several million years of human pre-history to those tribes that had shamans who were thought to possess powers of healing by virtue of having undergone a neurological transformation whose symptoms are similar to kundalini. The argument posits that humans have an innate capacity to respond to shamanistic type ministrations, perhaps entirely via the placebo response, or perhaps via other as yet unknown physiological processes.
In the UK and British Commonwealth countries, “spiritual healing” is used generically to designate healing by prayer, mental intent and/or the laying-on of hands, both within religious practitioner frameworks and in the secular community – where spiritual healing could include healing as taught and practiced by the National Federation of Spiritual Healers (UK), Reiki, IRECA method, Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, and dozens of other related practices.
Faith healing has not scientifically been proven effective. What few controlled studies have been performed have evidenced no beneficial effect. Its practitioners can only cite anecdotal evidence of cases where it has been successful, ignoring the far more numerous cases where the patient dies despite the efforts of faith healing. Doctors often ascribe any success to the placebo effect or to spontaneous remission: some people will heal with or without treatment, and it is generally natural to credit the most recent treatment for the cure (this logical fallacy is called post hoc ergo propter hoc).
Prominent 1980’s-era faith healer and televangelist Peter Popoff was publicly exposed by noted skeptic James Randi working together with popular TV host Johnny Carson, when it was discovered that the apparent healing miracles and prophetic acts performed by Popoff were in fact part of an elaborately stage-managed setup including planting of audience members and broadcasts to an in-ear radio receiver. Other faith healers such as Benny Hinn (who was videotaped by hidden cameras and profiled on an episode CBC’s The Fifth Estae]] have also been hit by allegations of fraudulent activity.
Ethical issues when conventional treatment is refused
Faith healing can pose serious ethical problems for medical professionals when parents decline or refuse traditional medical care for their children. In some countries, parents argue that constitutional guarantees of religious freedom include the right to rely on alternative healing to the exclusion of medical care. Advocates of conventional medicine argue studies have shown faith healing no more effective than a placebo, making it unethical to rely on, though advocates of spiritual healing argue there exist methodical and bias issues. Doctors as a rule consider it their duty to do everything that they can in the interests of the patient. In consequence, where they judge medical treatment necessary to save an individual’s life or health, and balancing the question with legal and privacy concerns, they may act contrary to the patient’s or parental preference. In 2000, a UK government ruling allowed a child to be treated by doctors against the parents’ wishes.