(This is the 10th edition of my Alpha Course reaction. For the first and all past posts, see the Alpha Page.)
Hopefully this will be a short post as well; I don’t seem to have that many notes for this session. I think Nicky is kind of winding down a bit as he’s coming to the end of the course.
One side remark: In small group, it’s been brought up a few times that people wished there was an additional, more advanced course than Alpha. There is. It’s called seminary school. It’s basically this, except in Greek. 🙂
Well,let’s get right to it….
Does God Heal Today?
Right at the beginning of the video, Nicky starts talking about what’s called, “words of knowledge.” This is basically any kind of information a person believes they receive from God/Holy Spirit about another person, their ailments, their concerns, etc. In Nicky’s example of experiencing an American faith healer, John Wimber (more on him in a second), the preacher handed out words of knowledge like, a woman here has a bad back, a man here has a back that’s been hurting him, etc. No way! A huge room full of people, and there are some with bad backs? You need the Holy Spirit to tell you this? The preacher then mentioned “a woman who’s barren.” According to the CDC, 10% of women can’t conceive. Tell a congregation of people that “there’s a woman whose barren,” and if there’s more than 10 or 20 people, you’re going to get a hit.
Speaking of “hits,” these words of knowledge are really nothing more than “cold reading.” It’s basically where psychics and faith healers, throw out vague, ambiguous, somewhat common ailments, names, information, that will likely hit on someone in the audience, fishing for a response.
That’s an ethical illusionist describing cold reading. This is a known, unethical, immoral, con-artist “psychic” using cold reading:
This a-hole preys on grief, using psychological tricks to feed off of peoples’ desires to find comfort with their loss, and makes a lot of money doing it.
Now, faith healers? Well, there some like Peter Popoff and Benny Hinn who do the same thing. And a lot of smaller, low-profile faith healers do the same thing. But funny thing about cognitive biases, is some faith healers (and psychics), some, do believe their own abilities. That John Edward clip shows a con-artist fully aware of their scam. But you get someone who truly and sincerely believes in the gift of healing and “words of knowledge,” and when they’re in front of people and they get an impression of “someone here is having back pain,” even though that’s as vague as possible and the most common ailment of people over 25, they could actually believe this is a communication from the supernatural and not just their own subconscious feeding them a tip.
And, as you can see in that clip above, people want to believe, even when it’s obviously groundless. And the belief, and positive reinforcement of the subjects, just encourages the sincere “healer” in a kind of feedback loop, that they have a spiritual gift.
I can’t link to it, because it’s filled with crude language, but Penn & Teller’s B.S. had an episode last year on astrology. (You can Google/Youtube for it.) The astrologer was doing a reading for a lady, and the lady herself brought up, without any prompting, her son’s (?) illness. The astrologer never said anything about it. But in the after-interview, when asked if she thought the astrologer was successful in reader her, she claimed that the guy had somehow known about her son and his illness! So, why, yes, the astrologer was amazingly accurate!
People want to believe what they want to believe, and their mind, that gray cottage cheese in the skull, will use all kinds of tricks to help the person maintain belief in the face of overwhelming cognitive dissonance!
Back to Nicky. The faith healer he mentioned he saw, was John Wimber. This is something I found on him:
– Wimber and his team of traveling faith-healers once conducted a “healing meeting” in Leeds, England, which happened to be attended by five doctors who were born-again Christians. To summarize the doctors’ general observations, one of them stated that there was not any evidence whatsoever of any true physical healing that occurred at that evening’s “very expert performance” (which included “many minutes of assorted shakings, tremblings, smilings, fallings, swayings and utterings” as so-called evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit’s healing power), but instead all the evidence pointed to “all the textbook characteristics of the induction of hypnosis.” In their joint statement, the five Christian doctors said:.“Hypnotic trance with suggestion is a powerful psychological tool. It has many uses. Psychosomatic disorders and physical symptoms related to neurosis [sin] are very likely in the short-term to respond to this treatment. Relief of pain as in dental extraction or childbirth is relatively commonplace with hypnosis. In Wimber’s team meeting we saw no change that suggested any healing of organic, physical disease. Given the concern of many attendees to be of use to their neighbors, some very helpful suggestions were undoubtedly made during the numerous trance states. (Emphasis added.) […].Professor Verna Wright, M.D., Rheumatology, concluded that the great dangers of Wimber’s “miraculous healing teaching” are: (1) “it discredits the person of Christ because of the very obvious failures, when we claim to serve a Savior Who never fails”; (2) “it undermines the Word, because it elevates a new form of ‘revelation’ — so-called words of knowledge or prophecy”; (3) “it deceives Christians and breeds a race of gullible believers, taken in by virtually anything”; (4) “it increases the agony of suffering”; (5) “it removes Christian comfort”; and (6) “it diminishes Christian testimony.” (Cited in Masters, p. 227)
According to Nicky, why is faith healing and other supernatural events able to go on today, despite the previous coming of Jesus? Because we are living in the end times, between the 1st and 2nd comings, in which the wall between the world and heaven is porous. Wow. That’s some mental gymnastics. He even had a chart! So it must be true.
Problem is, it’s kind of stretch to say that the end times are neigh, since the same was said 2,000 years ago, and yet — here we still are:
“Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” — Matthew 16:28
“But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” — Luke 9:27
“Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.” — Matthew 23:36
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” — Matthew 24:34
“Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” — Mark 9:1
“Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” — Mark 13:30
“Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” — Luke 21:32
“Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” — John 21:22
“But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.” — 1 Corinthians 7:29
“Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” — 1 Thessalonians 4:17
“I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:23
“Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son….” — Hebrews 1:2
“But now once in th end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” — Hebrews 9:26
“Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” — 1 Peter 1:20
“But the end of all things is at hand.” — 1 Peter 4:7
“Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” — 1 John 2:18
“The Lord is at hand.” — Philippians 4:5
“For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” — Hebrews 10:37
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass. — Revelation 1:1
“The time is at hand.” — Revelation 1:3
“Behold, I come quickly.” — Revelation 3:11, 22:7, 22:12
“Surely I come quickly.” — Revelation 22:20
No wonder Nicky has a problem with words he thinks mean one thing, and everyone else thinks mean another — the Bible has the same problem. “At hand,” “quickly,” “shortly,” these phrases kinda mean usually less than two millennia. Not to mention Jesus mentions that the coming of the reign of heaven on earth will happen before everyone hearing his words die! The actions and message of his teaching also implied a world-is-about-to-end form. He constantly taught people to forget the burying of their dead, it’s unnecessary; to sever ties with their families, the coming of heaven is neigh; give up your worldly possessions, you’re about to not need them.
And yet… here we are. So, of course, apologists need to find some way to rationalize God/God’s son preaching like the world is about to end, when it clearly hasn’t, and thus kludge together this idea that oh! He must have meant some kind of overlapping period of time where the kingdom of heaven is upon us now, and… it’s not! Despite the fact that there’s no clear, direct indication in scripture of any such thing. After all, it can’t be that Jesus (or rather, the people who wrote the gospels literally decades after Jesus died), was simply wrong.
Which brings us back to the question: This is supposedly the most important message God has for all humans, of all times. And the best he can do is inspire a book that barely makes sense and requires people to have to retrofit rationalizations on top of stuff that appears to contradict reality? Seriously? Either Yahweh is (a). an idiot, (b). cruel and completely without any compassion for the conflict, confusion, uncertainty that his “divine word” has/will inspire, or (c). doesn’t exist.
Nicky tells a story of how he messed up the cartridge in his knee, it was all swollen, and it was giving him terrible pain. He refused to acknowledge a “word of knowledge” about “someone with knee pain,” (why, that’s as rare as back pain!) but finally gave in and told people he had it. So they prayed over him. Guess what happened: a condition which is completely known to self-heal, did! Miracle.
Here’s the funny thing: (and I don’t mean “funny: ha-ha,” I mean “funny: stop punching me in the eye!”) Why is it all faith healings are conditions that are unseen, unobservable, can be cured by medical treatment, have been known to go into remission, and/or can be healed by the body itself? Isn’t that kind of odd? Cancers, diseases, arthritis, aches and pains, broken things, mental states…. You know what never gets healed? Amputated limbs. Third-degree burns over the body. Ebola. Death when a person’s been dead longer than the possibility of medical science reviving them (e.g.: on the slab for days or even post-autopsy). Surely is the power of God can do these things 2,000 years ago during a time of incredible superstitious belief, and can cure tumors and bad backs, it can cure amputated limbs and people dead long enough for rigur mortis, no? Or, were these verses lies?
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Mat 17:20
“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” — John 14:13
Of all the Bible, few passages are as unambiguous as those: You pray for something, no matter how little faith you have, in Jesus’ name, and it will be done! Are you saying there’s not a single Christian in the world with more than a little faith who has sincerely prayed for a loved-one to have a leg be restored, or 3rd-degree burns healed?
Love my group! I don’t recall the direct path of conversation, but they’re pretty unanimous that it’s immoral and terrible to fall back on the “blame the victim” rationalization for why a prayed-for healing didn’t “take.” That, “My prayer is fine; you just didn’t have enough faith!” vileness. (Besides, as we see above, you only need faith the size of a mustard seed for anything to be possible.)
Most people in the group say they think praying for people isn’t so much about healing people, as a means of helping victims of illness/injury and the people around them deal with the stress of the situation. That’s certainly a noble, generous, beautiful sentiment, and I can’t fault anyone for that! Neither can irascible “militant atheist,” Christopher Hitchens:
Hitchens also faces three groups of people seizing on the moment: haters who want him to suffer; believers who want him to convert to their faiths; and others who pray for God’s intervention on his behalf.
Hitchens says the first group of haters should “go to Hell.” As for the second group who want him to convert, he replies: “Thanks, but no thanks.” As for the third group praying on his behalf, he says: “It’s fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself.”
“I’m perfectly sure that there is nothing to be gained from it in point of my health,” he tells the Associated Press, “but perhaps I shouldn’t even say that. If it would do something for my morale possibly it would do something for my health. We all know that morale is an element in recovery. But incantations, I don’t think, have any effect on the material world.”