Faith in the mysterious – even miraculous - healing powers of an ordinary individual seems strange, even laughable, to those who don’t share it.
Patrick is a faith healer based in Goa, whom hundreds flock to everyday in the hope that he will cure them of their various ailments. ( I wrote about him briefly in an earlier post).
Are these people crazy? I used to think so, but now I'm not quite so certain. Crazily irrational, certainly, but most of all they are desperate. And perhaps only those who themselves have suffered as a result of some disease or other – which doctors and allopathic medicines could do nothing to alleviate - can understand this desperation.
I met a woman who, as a result of some dreadful injury, has been suffering from paralysis in one side of her face for the last fifteen-odd years. She has difficulty eating, and when she eats she drools in a way that has made eating in public a hugely embarrassing experience. As a result of meeting Patrick several times, she has some sensation at last in the dead side of her face and can eat without dripping saliva. Her faith in Patrick is immense. Every few months she goes to see him and she is convinced that she will soon be cured completely.
I met a man who had a hernia that required surgery. He told me Patrick healed him in one sitting. He also told me of an artist friend of his who had cancer of the liver. The doctors had told her she had six months to live. She went to see Patrick on two occasions. Subsequent medical tests showed no signs of the tumour. She was cured.
How does one account for this? Is there really such a thing as a miracle?
In one of his Unpopular Essays, Bertrand Russell writes that ‘there are a number of purely theoretical questions . . . which science is unable to answer, at any rate at present. Do we survive death in any sense, and if so, do we survive for a time or for ever? Can mind dominate matter, or does matter completely dominate mind . . .?’
Russell, of course, was not thinking of faith healers when he wrote this. And yet it is apt. He adds: ‘What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or of ignorance. Knowledge is not so precise a concept as is commonly thought. . .’
Of course, the world is full of people who will believe every kind of mumbo-jumbo, to whom blind faith is everything, and who never use reason to think things through.
Yet, even I have had to admit that faith healing is a mystery. I don’t believe, and yet, how can I not believe perfectly decent people when they say they've been cured?
The demand for certainty, writes Russell, is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice.
Sometimes it’s important to have the humility to say: I don’t know.
I don’t know how a man’s hernia can disappear so miraculously, but apparently it did.
There are mysteries we don’t understand.
Maybe it’s the mind and body connection. The mind is a very powerful organ. A person's psychology is not something we should dismiss so easily. Can a man psych himself into getting cured?
I don’t know.
All I know is that allopathic doctors often can’t help, that allopathic medicines usually take care of only the symptom and not the cause, that faith in doctors (particularly specialists) is increasingly on the wane, and that people are desperate to get cured.
Why laugh at them?
(For those who are interested in meeting Patrick, the faith healer, I’ve managed to get hold of the phone number of someone who can tell you when he is available and where. The magic number in Goa is: 9226387931.)