Secularists deny miracles.  Religionists affirm them.  But this does not mean that secularists are not impressed by religious healings.  They think they are down to poorly understood natural causes, or there is something the cured person is not telling us.  Naturally they are going to try them out.  You don't need a religious Jesus telling people's cancer to go away.  Or their MS.  A non-religious one might do it too.  The Bible Jesus curiously avoided amputees and people with cancer....

Jesus came up with an excuse for why demons would be cast out perhaps by him and then end up back in the person again.  His solution was that the person was sinning and sin invites them back in. Why formerly possessed people's sins do this more than mine or yours is an unanswered question.  Jesus was clearly lying and blaming the victim to avoid embarrassing himself. 

While secularists try to be less manipulative than this, there are grave concerns when they see a cure as a wonder of nature, something highly unusual.

Medical expert Jean-Martin Charcot studied the allegedly wondrous cures of Lourdes.  He wrote of the faith cures there.  He thought that some kind of instant power was at work.  He regarded it being down to the power of faith.  He wrote about it in his essay from 1893. 

Faith to thinkers like Charcot may have a religious form but appears to be an attitude of confident defiance to nature when it afflicts you physically or mentally.  You don't need religious faith for that.  Many who think their faith did wonders may not be entirely accurate.

In psychology you need to take the advice, "Identify with others but without comparing. Comparing leads to you thinking you fall too short." If so then you must not rate yourself against yourself or rate others against yourself. Rating is bad for your self-esteem and confidence. And you cannot really rate yourself against anybody else's life. You simply cannot know all the life details and many of those who you admire will pretend to be revelling in the ideal life. You cannot rate yourself against the goodness and success of another person for that may only be a front. You cannot identify then with God who is morally perfect and perfectly happy. So you have to compare. The concept of God merely puts you down. This is actualised though prayer.  My point here is that if faith healing is good then involving prayer definitely is not.  It will have adverse effects in time.  Is a prayer cure worth it?  It might not be when enough time passes.

Worryingly Charcot said that the physician must cure the person no matter what method is used   He said medical professionals must be conscious of the power of the faith cure.  Though cures were reported at Lourdes, the fact remains that the huge majority people were not cured.  But he was impressed enough by what did happen to suggest that like the miracle-doers of old, that maybe the doctor should command a person's sickness to leave them.  This would be a last resort and if the person had a strong enough faith and talked as if they were on the edge of getting an immediate and permanent cure. 

He gave examples of instant cures that had nothing to do with religion.  Jane Avril experienced the sudden disappearance of a psychogenic movement disorder.  She danced beautifully after. 

He noticed that his own bedside manner caused fast improvements on the good side and severe relapse in others. Surely you need to be very very definite that a person brimming with expectation of a cure is ready in case it goes the other way.

He asserted that not all people are good candidates for faith healing.  And if they are that could change by evening.

He suggested that for success, you need a person who is suffering from a nervous disorder and is adamant a cure is at the door.  A mind over matter thing happens so to speak.  In that light he said he would not rule out anybody acting towards sickness the way Jesus might have done.  He acted as if he were expelling the illness as he would expel a rat from his room.  He would take some action and shout that it is must get out.

The doctor should know that if you speak to an illness like it is some being that has taken over the patient, you are telling the patient to see it that way.  Even if the patient does not realise it, the personalising of the illness is telling her it might be smarter than her.  It can change its mind and come back even worse.  Her mind over matter is going to go all wrong in time.  To tell a person that the illness is something other than a breakdown of their body or mind is dangerous.  It sends a bad message to their subconscious.

From Charcot's pen,

    A miracle worker can say to his patient, ‘Get up and walk.’ Why should we not play the thaumaturge, since it is for the good of our patients? Well gentlemen I do not say that categorically you should never do anything of the kind. In certain cases, if you are quite sure of your diagnosis, perhaps you will do well to take the risk. You had better walk cautiously in such matters. Do not forget that, in practice, you have to deal with questions of taste, opportunity, and let me add, medical dignity, for the importance of this last must never be overlooked. Do not forget that nothing can make you seem more absurd than to predict with great pomp and circumstance a result which will perhaps never be achieved.

Charcot in his essay came to this alarming conclusion:

    Can we then affirm that we can explain everything which claims to be of supernatural origin in the faith-cure, and that the frontiers of the miraculous are visibly shrinking day by day before the march of scientific attainments? Certainly not. In all investigation we have to learn the lesson of patience. I am among the first to recognise that Shakespeare's words hold good to-day—'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in thy philosophy.’

My comment on that is that by making the mechanism for faith healing some kind of mystery you fall into the same trouble as you would by saying it is supernatural.  You use what you know nothing about to mess about with it.  How do you know that x was not cured?  Maybe x was.  Maybe the illness went away only for an identical one to take over.  If the person gets worse you say that the cure did not work. But what if it did and a new illness came looking like it but happening to be worse?  Maybe you should have kept out of it.

This is not about patient care but about the doctor or healer looking good.


Charcot, J-M (1893) The Faith-Cure. The New review 8: 44 18-31 British Periodicals

Butler, M, Seynaeve, M, Nicholson, T.R, Pick,S, Kanaan,R.A, Lees, A.J, Rucker, J (2020) Psychedelic treatment of functional neurological disorder: a systematic review. Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology. 10:1-15

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