(10-minute read) Have you ever heard of the placebo effect? Believe it or not, but there is a sequence that can be used to create ecstatic experiences which is a form of mind control hypnosis. Stephen J. Pullum writes in his landmark article; “Hallelujah! Thank You, Jesus!”: Selling the Miraculous in the Preaching of Faith Healers” that;
“faith healers believe that a divine, miraculous healing could and would occur upon their praying for a person, just as they occur in the Bible, provided one had the prerequisite faith. For faith healers, prayer for the sick involved more than just a healing. It was intended to provide a miraculous cure, and here is the proverbial rub. This, in part, was what was being sold to the public, and many were buying.”
You might think that I am simply an anti-supernaturalist or even a Cessationist. Some have even mentioned that I try to limit God (as if that is possible). Healing evangelism is growing rampantly all over African Churches. There has always been an emphasis on power and pragmatism. How do some faith healers sell their message? Pullum writes;
“faith healers in this study attempted to sell the miraculous to uncritical, highly religious, not-well-educated audiences who were afflicted with various physical and emotional problems. Supposedly, these ailments were oftentimes the results of demons inhabiting people. Faith healers used a number of strategies, often consciously, to persuade those listening that miraculous healings were normative for the here and now.” … “These included (1) testimonies of healers themselves of being miraculously cured, (2) claims of being miraculously called by God, (3) disavowing personal power while simultaneously giving God the credit, (4) references to various passages throughout the Bible, (5) use of examples seen by the faith healers themselves, (6) public testimonies of individuals who claimed to be healed in prior revivals, (7) empirical, physical demonstrations, (8) use of nonverbal artifacts, and (9) commanding stage presences of the faith healers.”
You might think at this stage, wait a minute. God can still heal, right? The short answer is yes, but we also need to say that what we evidently see in some of our meetings today is not God, it is simply practices of hyper suggestibility. Pullum adds;
“The above strategies are powerful factors in persuading audiences that they can receive a miraculous cure, particularly when used in combination with each other. It is hard for unsuspecting religious followers to deny the claims that faith healers make when constantly bombarded with these rhetorical arguments, especially if a person has already exhausted all that medical science has to offer.”
I have always been very interested to understand the psychology of extraordinary beliefs. When it comes to faith healing, I felt very uncomfortable with how some individuals tried to conjure the miraculous and sway the masses. Not all that pray for the sick does this, but there is a clear difference in what they preach and what they do! Believe it or not, it is pretty easy to see the difference between men trying to perform something impressive and God healing people supernaturally. Let’s first look at how people are conditioned to experience something man-made. The following sections go into detail using the Dandelion Jones preferred method of hypnosis. Let me break down the steps for you:
- The Pre-talk: The pre-talk is the part of the hypnosis session that precedes the hypnosis. Its purpose is to give the subject enough information to feel comfortable about what will follow and get the subject’s agreement, either explicitly or inferred, to cooperate with the hypnotist and follow the suggestion. The pre-talk itself takes anywhere from two to thirty minutes.
- Entrainment: The entrainment teaches respond to suggestions by the experience of what it is like.
- The Induction: Induction is the process the hypnotist uses to create the hypnotic state. To many, it may appear mysterious or hokey, but it is an essential process the subject must go through to achieve hypnosis.
- Suggestions: Suggestions are the part where the subject, in hypnosis, is guided through the experience that is designed to be meaningful enough to change their behavior.
“Our biology, apparently, can promote remarkable cures, given the right circumstances… [we] suggest that the placebo response is a psychobiological phenomenon that can be attributed to the patient’s subjective expectation of clinical improvement on the one hand and to classical mechanisms of Pavlovian conditioning on the other.” A huge part of the placebo response of course involves the expectation that relief is on the way as well as faith and belief in the efficacy of the cure. Certainly, faith and hope are the major psychological factors involved in miracle cures… Faith, of course, is connected to and dependent upon religion or at least a religious or spiritual context.”
How can we determine God’s hand of Divine Providence when we look at Biblical Healing? Stephen J. Pullum in his article “That They May Believe”: Distinguishing the Miraculous from the Providential” gives us some indicators that might help to determine what is true from what is false. Biblically we see there is a clear indication of Miracles taking place pointing towards the presence of God. Pullum suggests that some stage act ‘miracles’ could be impressive because of how they are presented, but in all honesty, a miracle is an event that violates natural laws. He writes;
“Stopping in mid-air would constitute a violation of the laws of gravity, making it miraculous.”
Pullum further suggests a few points of consideration;
- Miracles Were Unlimited in Scope:
“Throughout the Bible miracles dealt with a wide variety of phenomena. In short, nothing was impossible for Jesus. After arguing that contemporary faith healers would not attempt to do what Jesus did but, nonetheless, would have people to believe that nothing is impossible with God and that Jesus heals today through them, Cogdill persuasively asks, “If Jesus is doing the healing now why doesn’t He heal now like He did then?”
In some Churches, anything out of the ordinary is counted as a miracle. That being said, I do believe God is free to work in both the marginal and the spectacular. In some of these Churches, I get the idea that they are looking for a sign of approval or an affirmation of the metaphysical being present. For me, God’s word is enough, and if He prefers to extend any validation beyond that, it is good.
- Miracles caused astonishment:
I’m not easily amused. Again, people can be told that God is working when people shake, and when people fall over. Unfortunately, neither of these are in the Bible. When it comes to signs and wonders and the Biblical difference Pullum laments;
“There was a “wow” factor involved in beholding miracles as they are revealed to us in the Bible. For instance, when Jesus healed the man with palsy in Mark 2, the narrative tells us that those who looked on “were all amazed and glorified God.”
- Miracles Were Immediate:
I am amazed how many healing Evangelists cautions their devotees after a prayer where there is no immediate effect, “Just keep believing and it will become better,” or, “just keep on believing.” This is also done so that if the healing does not take its full effect, it is not the man of God’s fault, but their lack of belief.
“A person who was healed miraculously, for example, did not have to go home, lie around the house for a few days or weeks, and experience ups and downs before gradually being cured. The healing occurred instantaneously. In the story of a man cured of leprosy, for instance, the New Testament records how he was healed “straightway.” “What contemporary faith healers claim does not square with the biblical narratives; wherein miraculous cures were always instantaneous.”
- Miracles Were Always Complete:
“Closely related to the idea of immediacy is the notion that miraculous healings in the Bible were always complete. In other words, individuals’ ailments were always made whole… Never was an individual just a little healed and then sent on his way to get better, perhaps never to fully recover.”
- Miracles Were Empirically Verifiable:
I have seen verifiable miracles where cancer and other ailments were cured. This article is not an attempt to disprove God or the miraculous. God still heals! In many of these services, though, we find that people did not experience what they claimed. The evidence of what we can see long-term tells us so.
“One very important characteristic of biblical miracles, especially those involving physical healings, was the fact that they could be seen by everyone present…” “So-called “miracles” today, especially “miraculous healings” cannot always be verified with one’s eyes. We are forced to take people’s word for the fact that they were once infirm but now are healed.”
- Miracles Preceded Faith:
An interesting note to ponder is that in Biblical contexts healing was afforded before these individuals believed. Pullum explains;
“in the Bible, miracles almost always occurred prior to belief. In other words, most of the time, faith was not a prerequisite to receive a miracle. In fact, quite often, it was because of the miracle that audiences developed faith. This is not to say that in every case where a miracle occurred faith always followed. Rather, what I am suggesting is that miracles were designed to produce faith, not vice versa… Jesus performed miracles to produce belief in those around him as well.” “To reiterate, miracles were designed to produce faith. Faith was not designed to produce miracles. It is true that on one occasion Jesus demanded faith on the part of two blind men before he healed them. This was the exception to the rule, though. In the majority of cases, faith was not a prerequisite. This was the rule. In his text, Modern Divine Healing, Miller points out that there were 31 cases of miraculous healings performed by Christ in the synoptic Gospels. Of these cases, only once did Jesus require faith on the part of recipients before he healed them… In the biblical narratives, sometimes those who were healed knew absolutely nothing about the healer. Hence, there could be no faith. Sometimes those healed were not even present with the healer when they were healed.” Sometimes people were healed because of the faith of other people. If a miraculous healing failed, it was due to the faithlessness of the healer, not the person being healed. What faith healer today would admit to being the cause of someone not receiving a miraculous cure?”
Desperate people always get something in the end, even if it is disappointment… Sadly, these Churches and techniques will thrive no matter what I say! People want some form of savior, and when the prophet or man of God is present, Jesus does not always seem to count. We want Jesus, not for Jesus. We want Jesus for the benefits He provides. We desire the move of the Spirit, but not the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We desire to be powerful, but not plentiful towards others. Let our devotion seek to be pure and fixated on Him.
 Patrick McNamara is director of the Evolutionary Neurobehavior Laboratory in the Department of Neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine and the VA New England Healthcare System. Upon graduating from the Behavioural Neuroscience Program at Boston University in 1991, he trained at the Aphasia Research Center at the Boston VA Medical Center in neurolinguistics and brain-cognitive correlation techniques. He then began developing an evolutionary approach to problems of brain and behavior and currently is studying the evolution of the frontal lobes, the evolution of the two mammalian sleep states (REM and NREM), and the evolution of religion in human cultures.
 Reka Szent-Imrey is a student in psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a research associate at the Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion in Boston, Massachusetts.
 Stephen J. Pullum is a professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where he teaches courses in Communication Theory, Intercultural Communication, and the Rhetoric of Faith Healing, among others. He is the author of “Foul Demons, Come Out!”: The Rhetoric of Twentieth-Century, American Faith Healers. Dr. Pullum has won UNCW’s Distinguished Teaching Professorship and the Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award.