Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Religion & Spirituality
  3. General Religion

Faith healing buffoonery

See also

Faith healing: To believe or not to believe. Several religious groups teach faith healing; they link sin to illness or death, and spiritual purity to good health. The idea is so widespread that it must be said: Faith healing is not necessarily a cultic practice. Faith healing runs like a thread through many religions, especially Christianity (e.g. James 5:13-17, Luke 8:48-55, Acts 19:11-12, John 14:12-14, Mark 16:17-19).

Tent revival healing: Sometimes a particular person (a faith healer) is part of the process, as at the great tent revival healings of the 1920s–1950s, the predecessor to Christian televangelism. These were commonplace during the Great Depression: Traveling evangelists set up to minister to rural populations, urban folk lucky enough to have jobs, the homeless, the starving, and the down-and-out. Tent revivals surged again in post-World War II America, and people poured in from every walk of life to see charismatic pastors heal the sick, the injured, and, occasionally, the dead. Anton LaVey was an organist in some of these tent revival church services.

Tent revivals sometimes got rowdy. Members of the congregation, feeling the Holy Spirit washing over them, moaned with emotion or fell to the floor in a faint. They shouted out in tongues, babbling incoherently according to some witnesses, while others heard distinct languages. (Missionaries longed for this to happen to them, so they might communicate the word of God more easily to their flocks in non-English-speaking places. They wanted it not only as a convenience, but also because glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, was a sure sign one had been baptized in the Holy Spirit.)

Some of those evangelical/fundamentalist preachers were rowdy too. They roared angrily at sin, at the Devil, paced the stage with one fisted hand pounding the air, the other gripping a microphone, sweating in the stagnant heat.

They had to be loud because the crowds were huge. Infamous healing minister Jack Coe Sr. (1918–1956) drew audiences into the thousands. Coe's followers slapped flyers on telephone poles and fences in advance of the event, promising to cure the sick and heal the wounded. Coe advertised in local papers, too, until everyone for miles around knew about the coming attraction.

People came in droves, as much out of curiosity as anything else. Thousands probably were "saved" at tent revivals, receiving a new faith or re-energizing tired beliefs. Real Christians did not want to be saved, not in that way; they felt scornful of the wild, raw energy they witnessed, were even repulsed by it. They were believers, even ministers, from more moderate congregations, unaccustomed to all that noise. It embarrassed them, and they went away filled with reproach for the traveling healers.

Among the crowds were those who sought divine healing. They approached the stage, sometimes fearfully, asking for the return of their sight, or the use of damaged limbs, or an end to their pain. They had been to doctors, many admitted, but had found no relief. Forget about doctors, the healers (e.g. Peter Popoff, Nelson Clark) usually told them (e.g. Catherine Schaible). God will heal you. The American Cancer Society states on its website, "Available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can cure cancer or any other disease."

When an alleged cure by faith healing occurs in a religious context it is usually called a miracle. People who have investigated these claims have not found a single case that stands up to scrutiny and that can be explained only by appealing to a miracle (Mackay 1841; Louis Rose 1968; Nolen 1974; James Randi 1989; Nickell 1993; Terence Hines 2003; Barrett 2003). In addition to the non-miraculous explanations, many cures can be attributed to the placebo effect. As Bob Park notes, "Scientists are beginning to understand the complex interaction of the brain and the endocrine system that gives rise to the placebo effect."

Advertisement