Thursday, July 24, 2008

"The Proof is in the Pudding"

Recently, the local newspaper in the small city where I reside carried a fascinating story on the religion page of the Saturday news (Why is the religious stuff always in the Saturday paper?  Oh well....).  The story concerned a series of meetings that have been ongoing for some time in Lakeland, FL.  The meetings are predominately faith healing events.  The "healer" is a man named Todd Bentley, well tattooed and seemingly quite a showman.

The meetings have gathered a great deal of attention among the fundamentalist and charismatic and Pentecostal faithful, though some Pentecostal groups have moved to distance themselves from Bentley.  Travis Reed of the AP reports that the meetings have drawn more than 400,000 people in person since beginning last April.  Incredible cures have been claimed by Bentley.  Among these cures are a man who can now see out of a glass eye and at least 20 resurrections from the dead.

In anticipation of criticism of Bentley's claims, Bentley's ministry issued a list that had been vetted by the ministry providing contact information for fifteen people who had been cured and whose cure had been verified by a physician.  You know the AP is going to jump on something like this, don't you?  They did exactly that.  They began the process of contacting folks and investigating.  What were the results?

Two phone numbers provided proved to be wrong numbers.  Six people refused to return telephone calls.  Of the remaining seven reported to have experienced a verified miracle, only two stated that they had medical records to proved their cures had been verified.  Of the two, one woman refused to make her medical information available, and the other individual's doctor would not return calls from Reed.

From a "miracle pool" of hundreds or thousands of individuals, what percent could be verified by the AP?  0%.  That's not a very good "batting average."  Yet, folks continue to come.  Those in need of hope and clutching at straws are often true believers.  I have noted this repeatedly. When I was a fundamentalist, I knew scads of folks supposedly healed of cancer, heart problems, and so on.  I've seen faith healers "fill teeth" with gold and silver via prayer.  I was "healed" several times myself.   Nevertheless, in all of my years, I have yet to see anything unexplainable.  In fact, those with life threatening diseases died.

I'm not saying that miracles don't happen.  There are many kinds of miracles.  When someone full of hate and resentment learns to forgive, isn't that a miracle of sorts?  But faith healing? The "proof is in the pudding," and the burden of proof lies with folks such as Bentley.  So far, he isn't doing very well.  If Jesus is all about love, it seems downright cruel for those claiming to be following his will to promise those desperate for hope a miracle that cannot be delivered, doesn't it?

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