Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Somewhere in the light greys...

In the article I posted last week called "The skeptical position and the apparent miracle" I probably gave the impression that I had concluded that the healer guy who came to our church was a fraud.

Let me just state for the record that I did not come to that conclusion. It was one of the possibilities which I considered, but is certainly not the belief that I finally landed on.

At present, and unless further relevant information presents itself, I believe that he was doing what he was doing out of an honest and God-inclined heart. And people were healed.

Of course, I still have questions, and some of those questions are big ones, but it would appear that people have been genuinely healed through this guy, so I'm unable to conclude that he is a fraud. Quite the opposite.

This news story on a BBC web page was one of the factors (see also the YouTube clip below, which the story refers to), and the dramatic improvement in eyesight of someone I know who was prayed for was another.

The clip in itself proves nothing, that sort of visible effect can be faked. But the testimony of the healed person two weeks later (as recorded on the BBC web page and the embedded audio clip) is far more compelling.

There were also testimonies of healing at our church last week. And I hope there will be more. I still haven't heard if either of those folk who had a visible leg inequality before they were prayed for have now got balanced legs or not. Will let you know.

Update: The younger of the two folk who had a visible leg inequality (more than 2cm, it was really quite obvious) now has, since being prayed for a week past on Sunday, two legs the same length. Awesome. In all senses of the word.

The 'if' doubts about healing end here.

The 'how', 'why' and 'when' questions continue, as well as the big 'why not's...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bluegrass Worship

Listening to "Bluegrass Worship" on Spotify. Its excellent. Really uplifting.
And if you don't have Spotify, you can get it on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What would I have become?

Where do you go when you've lost the keys
When all is dark and you're on your knees?
And in a world where it's love betrays
There is a light that will save the day
Don't go away
What would I have done if it wasn't for Jesus?
What would I have become if it wasn't for Jesus?
"What would I have done" by Delirious?
Following on from my previous post, I found myself questioning what sort of person would become a fake faith healer. And I realised, it could have been me.

What would have I become, if...?

I can't remember if I've ever given my full testimony on this blog, but here's a potted version of it:

I used to be a fake Christian.

From the age of 11 to the week before my 18th Birthday, I appeared (to some observers) to be a Christian, but I wasn't. I spoke Christianese fluently, I could pray in prayer meetings, I could lead bible studies, I could discuss most issues relevant to Christian life, I said the right things, went to the right meetings, read the right books, but I wasn't a Christian.

You see, I was raised in a Christian home, went to church every week, and believed the right stuff. If you'd asked me (aged 10) if I was a Christian, I wouldn't have really understood you. What else was there to be? But then, at an Easter holiday houseparty (run by the organisation that is now 'Action Partners') in 1981 I realised, for the first time, that there was such a thing as 'conversion', and furthermore that I hadn't done it. I realised that Christianity was not about believing certain things, but about making the choice to act on those beliefs. While I did believe that Jesus was the son of God, I had not made the choice to follow Him.

Things came to a head on the second last day of that houseparty. Someone preached an evangelical message and loads of the kids there made the decision to follow Christ.

Now there were quite a few kids who were Christians already, and these kids (in a very mature way for kids ranging in age from 10 to 13) took the new converts back to the dorms and prayed with them. I can't really remember how it happened but I ended up being back at the dorm with two established Christian kids and three who had just made the decision. So I joined in the prayer group. It seemed the thing to do at the time. But obviously, I didn't join as a 'new convert' I was playing the part of the established Christian. And then someone asked me "So when did you become a Christian?" and I made the choice, there and then, to lie. "A couple of years ago" seemed a good answer as nobody there had known me for that long. Furthermore, I made the choice to let that lie stick. I also made (for the first time) the choice not to follow Christ.

From then on I lived a double life. In certain groups (i.e. family, church, SU groups, etc.) I played the part of a Christian, made the right noises and did the right stuff. I did it really well. I was very good at faking Christianity. In other groups, of course, I was a regular secular kid who listened to quite unchristian rock music and traded dubious magazines with his friends. For years it was easy, as the two groups did not overlap at all.

It only really got problematic in my final year at school. The two groups began to have slight overlaps. As the only sixth year in the school Christian group, I was expected to take on the leadership of the group. I managed to avoid that (just) and dumped the responsibility onto one of the 5th years (sorry Ewan). But as the year went on, the 6th years were expected to be involved in all these community events and when church based events came along it got increasingly hard to wriggle out of them, especially as one group of people I knew expected that I would be part of them. Actually, once I had to wriggle so hard to avoid doing a reading at a 'World day of prayer' meeting that a rumour was started that I was a satanist!

So, 6th year was crunch time and over the course of the year I realised that I had to make my choice and just be one thing or the other. It was an impossible choice, but I had to make it. And eventually I did. But the reasons I made the choice for Christ will have to come in another post.

The point here is that I was a fake Christian for 6 years. And played the part very convincingly.

But, I was a fake Christian in a very conservative evangelical setting. Raising hands in worship was frowned on. Nobody talked about healings, miracles or the like happening today. That was all considered as being in the past. Biblical teaching, right living and prayer. That was all that it was about.

But. What would I have become, as a fake Christian, if I'd been in a church where people raised hands in worship, spoke in tongues, prayed for healings, expected miracles, and the like?

I'll tell you. Because I know. I would have been very good at faking all that too. Fake speaking in tongues would have been easy. Fake praying for others? No problem.

And I'm reasonably sure I'd have been able to fake some 'miracles' like the leg lengthening trick.

If I could have done it, I know that others could have. And do. And are perpetuating fake Christianity right now.

There are fakes out there who are leaders in the church. There are fakes who are well known preachers, there are fakes who are pastors of big churches and there are fakes doing the rounds as healers.

Occasionally one of the big, high profile televangelist fakes is found out, but they're just the tip of the iceberg.

The thing is, even though I (as a former fake) am generally quite good at spotting other fakes, there is no real way of knowing. You can't always separate the sheep from the goats.

Oh, and just as an aside, there are also people who are or were genuine Christians but who 'backslide' in their faith whilst still maintaining a 'sound' mask. But I'm not talking about them here. I'm talking about those who have never made the choice for Christ and simply play the part of being a Christian, probably - like me - initially for the sake of an easy life, but who then keep it up for personal gain, as an ego-boost, or for other self-centred reasons.

If there are any Christians reading this who have slipped internally, while still maintaining the facade of a good Christian, I recommend you read "Buck Naked Faith" by Eric Sandras - because he was just like you...

Monday, March 02, 2009

The skeptical position and the apparent miracle

I've been meaning to state my skeptical position on this blog for a couple of weeks now, but hadn't found the time to write it down before I was overtaken by events yesterday, and now feel I have to comment on what I saw yesterday, but prefix it with a brief statement of my position.

The Skeptical Position

I've noticed in a few discussions online and in the real world recently, that the idea of taking a 'skeptical' position on an issue is frequently perceived as meaning taking a 'non-believing' stance. But this is not the case.

Suppose that something 'miraculous' happens, or appears to happen. The 'believer' will tend, by default, to see it as an act of God and will dismiss other theories. The 'non-believer' will tend, by default, to see it as a fake and will dismiss all possibility of 'supernatural' activities. One side sees the event as white, the other sees it as black. The true skeptic, however, must remain open to the possibility that either side could be true, or even that there are more possibilities out there. The skeptic should remain agnostic on the issue unless there is good evidence (not necessarily proof) to support one hypothesis over the other(s). The skeptic, therefore, sees the issue not as black or white, but only in shades of grey.

This is where I often find myself. For example, in the discussion on miracles which went on last week [here and here on my blog, and here on Chris's], I find myself stuck in the grey area in between two opinions [within the church!], that of:
  1. The Meeting House: "big, obvious miracles and healings, of the kind performed by (or through) the Apostles in the book of Acts, are not possible today." [my paraphrase]
  2. The 'Modern Evangelical' View: "God has not run out of "miracle-juice", nor has it become watered down over the millennia. He is the same awesome miracle working God today that he was two-thousand years' ago." [quote from Chris's blog]
The grey area I find myself in is that I can see no reason (biblical or otherwise) why opinion 1 should be the case, but I see little or no evidence to support opinion 2. So I remain skeptical of claims of healing, but open minded.

That is my position. Now my experience and observations from yesterday...

"Healing on the streets"

Our church (that's the Almond Vineyard in Edinburgh) were host to a couple of visitors from the Causeway Coast Vineyard in Northern Ireland this weekend. Both have been involved in their 'Healing on the streets' initiative, one of them started the initiative in 2005. Basically, a team from their church goes out onto the high street in their town -every Saturday- and offers prayer for healing to anyone who wants. They say the public response has become quite favourable and the claim to have seen quite a number of people being healed of various ailments.

Now while I am skeptical (as in open minded, but unsure) about what can be achieved through prayer for healing in this way, I am convinced that - at the very least - people can sometimes experience relief from pain, reduction of symptoms and occasional remission through this activity. A few folk from our church are involved in this kind of ministry in Edinburgh on a semi-regular basis, and I support them in this. It is a good thing. I haven't been brave enough to participate yet, but I might in the future.

So, the guy from 'Healing on the streets' preached at our church yesterday, spoke a bit about his experience 'on the streets' and in the church in Northern Ireland, and then offered to pray for healing for people. Several people were ministered to and prayed for. He specifically called for anyone who has 'one leg longer than the other' to come for prayer, and invited 'anyone who wanted to see a miraculous healing' to gather round and watch. I watched. Something appeared to happen.

This left me inclining toward the lighter greys, I have to say. It was convincing.

But then, when the next two people who came for healing, claiming back pain, appeared to also have one leg slightly longer than the other, my inner skeptic alarm bells started ringing. Having one leg longer than the other is not particularly common. If you counted the number of people who apparently had this complaint at church yesterday, it would appear to be about 5-10% of the gathering, but most of them were unaware of this 'complaint' before the healer identified it.

And I began to remember hearing someone talk about 'debunking' a 'leg lengthening miracle' before. The skeptical needle began to incline towards the darker greys.

The 'Leg Lengthening' Scam

Later on I Googled it and was reminded that it was (professional magician and paranormal fraudster debunker) James Randi who I'd heard talking about it. He even discussed the 'scam' at length in his book "The Faith Healers" back in the 1980s.

If done well, the person being 'healed', as well as the audience, are completely unaware of the scam. The trick is, when getting the patient seated and settled, to gently pull the heel of the shoe on the 'longer' leg. Now, when the audience is gathered around, they will clearly see a small difference in the relative positions of the person's two heels. As the healing takes place, the focus of the interest of the audience (and the patient) is on the 'short' leg, so they're not looking at the foot on the long leg as the healer slowly slides the shoe back to its original place, making the 'short' leg apparently grow relative to the long leg.

That is the scam. I'm still not sure if that's what I saw yesterday, but I'm inclining toward believing that that is what was going on.

Its interesting that in all cases, the 'short' leg was made to grow, the 'long' leg was never made to shrink. That would be a harder one to pull off...

What I now find myself wondering is whether it is possible for an entirely genuine person to have stumbled onto a 'technique' which seems to work for people during prayer ministry and remaining entirely unaware that they are perpetuating a fraud. Or is it always a deliberate fraud? In other words, was the guy misguided or a charlatan?

I really don't want to believe the latter, as the guy appreared to be a nice enough guy. And he works in a Church full of good people. But, of course, a good con-artist will never appear to be a con-artist.

There is one way of possible verification, of course. Someone was there yesterday who I know has one leg a bit shorter than the other. She was prayed for by the guy. If her leg did get longer, I'll have to stop being so skeptical. I'll be keeping my eyes open...

Due to inexplicable spam on this post, no further comments are being allowed.