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Biology 202
2002 Third Paper
On Serendip

beliefs and healing the body

elizabeth martin

I became interested in researching faith healing on the web, as a means of understanding belief and the idea of the brain healing the body. I knew a little about Christian based faith healing: the evangelical preachers on T.V. who smack the heads of the skeptical, and then they fall backwards, unconscious, and are healed, but I wanted to learn more specific information about the general practice of faith healing. What are the different forms faith healing takes? What are the underlying beliefs of the proponents of this form of belief and healing? How are these people portrayed and delivered over the Internet? Is there anything substantive to the notion of faith healing? What I found was a mix of strange ideas, which I simultaneously believed and scoffed at, depending upon their contexts and the information used to back their claims up.

To begin with, I learned about a type of faith healing performed in the Philippines called psychic surgery. It is an ancient practice that was used to relieve pain and promote healing. However, the context it finds itself in today is much more complex than that. To begin with, let me describe what might occur in a session, because it does not embody exactly what the name implies, although many believe it to. There is a lot of "laying of the hands, balancing of magnetic forces, and massaging with divinely sanctioned oils;" these are the pre-"surgery" activities that are performed while "awaiting spiritual guidance." (1) At the meeting of actor Andy Kaufman and a psychic surgeon, the actor was hoping to have his lung cancer removed. After the surgeon received "divine intervention," he appeared to have pulled out "the offending material" in the midst of a lot of blood. (1) However, two months later, Kaufman died, and X-rays showed that no surgery had ever been performed. (1) How was this possible, if the surgeon claimed to have pulled the cancer out? ...because psychic surgery, seen as a form of faith healing, is a hoax.

Dr. William Nolen, a Minnesotan surgeon who has operated in over 6000 surgeries, wanted to see for himself if psychic surgery was a hoax. He went into his personal investigation with no pre-conceived, set-in-stone beliefs. As he put it, "I was making a very sincere effort not to pre-judge the merits of the psychic surgeons whom I was about to investigate. If I had already been persuaded they were charlatans, I would never have undertaken the assignment." (1) He spent only two weeks shuttling around the Philippines, and in that short amount of time, was able to conclude that it was indeed a hoax. "His training as a surgeon enabled him to see the various tricks that were perpetrated by the healers." (1) The objects they claimed to remove were really "bullets" which they palmed, then proceeded to remove from the bodies of the afflicted. The "bullets" came in the form of wads of cotton drenched in fake human blood, animal intestines passed off as human organs, and other objects that the "surgeon" procured beforehand to use in the course of their meetings to create the illusion of surgery. (1) He knew of a woman who had screws in her hip and had them "removed," only to have them show up on an X-ray later. He even saw a lump of sugar passed off as a kidney stone. "These examples prove that psychic surgeons are nothing more than magicians and not even good ones at that." (1) And while some can be cured and helped by psychic surgeons, "the percentage of people cured, is much lower than articles written about the subject lead one to believe. And the healings do not result from the operations which are fake, but from the operations' psychological effect on people who believe they are real." (1)

Nolan realized that one of the reasons psychic surgeons are so popular is that they offer more compassion than their western medicine counterparts. "Compassionate healers can sometimes do more for patients than cold uncaring doctors-not because they have any supernatural powers, but because most ailments are psychological in nature and will often disappear given the warmth and reassurance the healers offer." (1) The placebo effect often works for those who think they are sick, but who sometimes, "need to be told they will get well soon before they actually do." (1) "Psychosomatic disorders can produce physical a result of stress." (1) These symptoms may be a way for the patient to get attention and sympathy. As their anxiety is relieved, like in a meeting with a psychic surgeon, the symptoms disappear.

Covering up the symptoms is, however, not the way to healthy living, according to those who practice Natural Hygiene. The act of practicing Natural Hygiene consists of "correct thinking and correct living." (2) This involves TONS of sleep, because they believe that when the eyes are closed, mental and physical health can be achieved. "Closing the eyes rests the brain and mind. An electric rhythm starts as soon as the eyes are closed and ceases immediately when they are opened. This rhythm serves to clear 'negative charges' from the brain. Activity of the eyes prevents recuperation from occurring." (2) Natural Hygiene is also about maintaining a strict vegetarian diet interlaced with fasting techniques to relieve illness. The personal attitude of Natural Hygienists is about "maintaining emotional poise, loving, forgiving and tolerating all other living beings, harming no other living beings, and being aware." (2) They are also against the use of drugs or medicine to alleviate symptoms, because they believe that "drugs only suppress the body's efforts at healing itself and maintaining its normal condition." (2)

Most importantly, to the Hygienists, is the belief that within everyone is the knowledge needed to heal your own self. Drugs get in the way of the body's natural defenses by "annulling bodily functions and impairing its structures, suppressing the power to feel." (2) The body's awareness of its diseased condition is altered by the presence of drugs by "diverting the organic attention away from the normal processes of life to the task of expelling the chemical." (2) These believers feel that the body can recover from illnesses as a result of the "operations of the processes of life and the conditions that maintain health." (2) Drugs do not effect change, but rather cover up the symptoms that point toward the real problem and which are the body's defenses against illness. "We should not alleviate or suppress the symptoms of disease. When a remedy is used, the body's energy is redirected toward dealing with the new problem, the remedy, and way from the original problem, the toxins that prompted the body to institute the disease process." (2)

They believe that "the disease is in reality not the entity at is itself the process of purification-of 'getting well.'" (2) They also believe that "medication is far worse than the original malady." It is important to note that this is a very hard-core view of Natural Hygiene promoted by Dr. Bernarr, which is not echoed as rigidly in the "Standards of Practice" of the International Association of Professional Natural Hygienists, which states, "medication in some conditions, and other techniques of emergency medicine may be necessary." (2)

Not treating a disease, or treating it falsely, can lead to more pain and suffering, even death, by the believer. Simply to rest, to eat a vegetarian diet, or to keep a positive outlook, is not going to save a seriously sick person. However, covering up a symptom with drug use is also not going to cure them. Belief, it turns out, can affect your health, but belief alone is not going to save you. The case of Bob Shepherd's daughter, Debbie, belies this truth.

In the 1960's, Bob joined Christ's Church of Restitution, a very fundamental Christian group, who lived on a secluded farm in Northern California. He "was attracted by the certainty and security [he] saw in a tight-knit sect of Christian Bible-believers, who encouraged strict loyalty, an ardent faith in God and in divine healing, acceptance of the Lord's chastening as a Father's loving spanking." (3) His daughter developed a tumor in 1982, but due to his and his wife's beliefs about God, it was only treated by the head minister of their church, Brother Bee, through "the prayer of faith and Bible-ordained intercession." (3) As her growth worsened, Debbie's parents took her to the child welfare authorities. As members of a church devoted to "God and faith-healing," (3) rather than western medicine, they were scared of being outside the law if they left her to be taken care of their way. The doctors said Debbie had a cancerous Wilms` Tumor. Over the next year they did all they could to save Debbie, but on November 5, 1983, the Wilms` cancer claimed her. A couple doctors said she probably would have died no matter what. One of the nurses said, "Sometimes we will never understand why God saves one and not another." (3) But one of the people in thier own church implied that the fault was the Shepherds, for not trusting God. Bob and his wife went through turmoil, finally leaving the church, determined to lead a life with less stringent beliefs about God, faith and health.

Faith in God or in any higher power does help focus a person on acting a certain way, or leading their lives within certain guidelines. However, there are limits to what faith can achieve. Leading a good life will lead to better social relationships, as well as a more contented spirit, however it cannot cure a disease. Faith in western medicine is not altogether healthy, either, because of the quickness with which doctors prescribe medicine and fall back on surgery. Symptoms are not the cause of a problem, and medicine often covers up symptoms. There are times when medicine does get to the cause; for instance diabetics require insulin, which a lack thereof, is the cause of their problem.
The placebo effect of spychic surgery refers to easing someone's mind, which allows them to release the tension causing them illness. But again, the placebo effect will not cure cancer; it is an organic disease, not psychosomatic. I found it interesting to research for this paper, because I found SO much information. No matter what I looked at, the facet of life called "belief" was mentioned. This common thread ties the whole field of health and effectiveness together. Choices people make about their health and health-care seem to be wrapped around their belief systems, less on quantitative analysis of the effectiveness or positive results of a certain style of healing. And while belief is certainly strong in some individuals, enough to influence their lives effectively, often times, belief can overshadow the truth: which is that belief cannot cure organic diseases existing independently from mind-control, however closely tied the mind and body are to each other.


1)The Facts About Faith Healing, ever heard of psychic surgery? read this!!! some pretty weird stuff

2)Natural Hygiene: Nobody Knows, Understands, or Practices it. Why?, kind of fanatical support of Natural Hygiene

3)Deborah Elizabeth Shepherd, interesting piece on a fundamentalist Christian family who lost their daughter due to their faith in God and desire to forego medical intervention until it was too late

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