Monday, November 18, 2013

The Trouble With Faith Healing

Proponents of the "blogosphere school" of magick - using mundane actions to increase your likelihood of success combined with magical operations to shift the odds further in your favor - usually complain about esoteric practitioners who expect their magick to work without any mundane effort on their part. However, some of the worst offenders are in fact Christians who belong to "faith healing" churches that try to replace medical treatments with prayer.

Now I want to be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with using magick or prayer or whatever you want to call it to facilitate healing. The problem arises when magical and mundane methods are framed as antithetical to one another rather than complementary. It's a classic logical fallacy, apparently based on the idea that because spiritual methods can affect health they suddenly become all you need, an either/or construction that has no grounding in reality.

This investigative report out of Idaho, home to a number of such churches, shows where embracing this fallacy can lead - to dead children who would have lived had they received proper medical care.

Peaceful Valley Cemetery sits on a windswept hill 30 miles east of Boise. Some of The Followers of Christ faith healers bury their dead there. The same last names appear over and again, going back decades. Some - like Beagley - are the same names you’ll see in a similar cemetery in Oregon City.

In 2010, jurors in Clackamas County convicted Jeff and Marci Beagley of letting their son Neal die of an untreated urinary tract infection. KATU’s Dan Tilkin covered that story, as he has so many faith-healing stories. That’s why he traveled to Idaho to trace the connections between Followers members in both states, and a new trail of dead children.

Modern medicine has dramatically reduced mortality for infants and children. Hundreds of years ago people did rely on prayer and all sorts of other spiritual methods to heal, but nearly half of all children never made it to adulthood. This is in fact the main reason that life expectancy seems to have increased so much in the modern era. If children survived to adulthood, they still often lived into their sixties and seventies. But childhood deaths pulled the average life expectancy down to around 40.

We already know where these "old-time" methods get us - to a world in which far too many children die. The confusing part is that there's no reason to think that scientific medicine somehow undermines spiritual healing. In fact, the probability model of magick suggests that using both methods together will be more effective than either on its own. So why not just do that, blogosphere-style? The only reason appears to be simple prejudice against modern medicine, even though it works quite well for treating childhood illnesses.

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Nerd said...

I wouldn't say "scientific" medicine is any better than "old time" methods. In emergency situations perhaps so.

Although even there, I would say it's merely easier to learn, or develop as a skill.

What these cult christians are doing has nothing to do with either.

In the "old times," if you were going to be a healer, you would have to become what we would nowadays call a "qigong" master. You would have to cultivate your skill with subtle energies.

Certainly you could learn techniques like acupuncture, herbology, dietary therapy, use of oils and other substances. Anybody can do that. That sort of thing is what "doctors" do today, with their pharmaceutical products.

But on a more fundamental level, you would be expected to cultivate yourself along religious lines. My buddy Peng is a qigong master. He does "touchless healing" and also practices Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I've seen guys like him project their qi into patients (including myself) and they have the ability to feel what you're experiencing, which helps with diagnosis. But they can also manipulate and move qi.

These cult christians are neither doing the "scientific" things required to learn medicine, nor cultivating their esoteric practice. They are merely purveyors of cultural philistinism, allowing their children to die as an expression of that world view.

Scott Stenwick said...

Yes, there is a big difference between practicing Qigong and how these groups employ prayer. They're not moving energy or doing any of the technical pieces of the practice that really make it work.

I will note that I wasn't trying to address the relative effectiveness of these two treatment modalities - in fact, to do so would be to contradict the whole point of the article. I think that healers should employ both methods for maximum effectiveness rather than approaching healing from an either/or perspective.