About this site
About us
Our beliefs
Your first visit?
Contact us
External links
Good books
Visitor essays
Our forum
New essays
Other site features
Buy a CD
Vital notes

World religions
Who is a Christian?
Shared beliefs
Handle change
Bible topics
Bible inerrancy
Bible harmony
Interpret Bible
Beliefs, creeds
Da Vinci code
Revelation, 666
Other religions
Other spirituality
Cults and NRMs
Comparing religions

About all religions
Important topics
Basic information
Gods & Goddesses
Handle change
Confusing terms
World's end
One true religion?
Seasonal topics
Science v. Religion
More info.

Absolute truth

Attaining peace
Religious tolerance
Religious hatred
Religious conflict
Religious violence

"Hot" topics
Very hot topics
Ten commandm'ts
Assisted suicide
Death penalty
Equal rights - gays & bi's
Gay marriage
Origins of the species
Sex & gender
Spanking kids
Stem cells
Other topics

Laws and news
Religious laws
Religious news


Religious Tolerance logo

Faith healing


horizontal rule

Sponsored link.

horizontal rule


bullet"All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to demons; chiefly do they torment freshly-baptized Christians, yea, even the guiltless new-born infants." Saint Augustine (354-430 CE)
bullet"The right to practice religion freely does not include the right to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill-health or death… Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they can make that choice for themselves." Prince v. Massachusetts, U.S. Supreme Court, (1944)
bullet"When you believe in something, you have to believe it all the way. If you only believe in it part way, it's not a true belief." Roger Winterbourne. Five of his children died of pneumonia between 1971 and 1980 without receiving medical attention.

horizontal rule


Until about 1920, medical knowledge was so primitive that attending a physician probably harmed more people than were helped. Medical successes following World War I convinced many people in North America to seek help from a physician for illness, rather than try folk remedies or prayer.

Until the 1960s most conflicts in which parents refused medical treatment involved:

bulletChristian Scientists who deny the existence of disease, and have set up a parallel system of treatment using Christian Science practitioners.
bulletJehovah's witnesses who refuse to accept blood transfusions.

J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, was interviewed on this topic by ABC News during 2002-OCT. He said that since the 1960s, there have been increasing numbers of members of other denominations who have been charged with crimes for turning to prayer rather than medicine for their kids. 1 These are often members of Charismatic Christian groups. They emphasize the power of the Holy Spirit and point to certain scriptures, notably from Acts and Paul's epistles. Being from conservative Christian denominations, many believe that God inspired the authors of the bible to write text that is free of errors -- inerrant. Certain texts in the Bible promise healing to believers who pray, or go through certain rituals. They are driven by their religious beliefs to trust prayer -- perhaps in place of medical assistance.

Some devout believers favor pursuing prayer instead of seeking medical assistance when they are ill. This can become a major concern for child protective services when parents refuse to have their children treated for routine health problems that can prove fatal without medical intervention. Resorting to prayer in the place of medical treatment also become a matter of social concern when death rates among certain religious groups greatly exceed the average for the rest of society.

horizontal rule

Studies of the effectiveness of prayer for healing:

There exists a wide variety of opinions about the effectiveness of prayer in North America:

bulletMost Christians, Jews, Muslims and other theists, ditheists and polytheists naturally resort to prayer when they learn that they, a family member, or friend is ill or injured.
bulletStrong Atheists, who deny the existence of God, generally reject the effectiveness of prayer. Without a God to pray to, they feel that prayer doesn't make a lot of sense.
bulletMany Atheists, Humanists, Ethical Culturalists, and other secularists, who have no concept of deity, generally agree with strong Atheists.
bulletMost Agnostics, who are undecided about the existence of God, do as well.
bulletSo do most Deists who believe that God created the universe, left, and hasn't been seen since. An absent God who has abandoned the universe is not likely to respond to individual prayer.

Dozens of small-scale studies have been conducted into the effectiveness of individual prayer. They have produced mixed results. Many have often been criticized for poor design that may have biased the results in a positive direction. The first truly reliable, large-scale, double blind study was only published in the Fall of 2003. It found that prayer had no influence on patients' recovery.

Some conservative clergy have become prominent faith healers. Although their religious services are impressive, follow-up studies indicate that few or no cures or permanent improvements have occurred among their audience.

horizontal rule

A recommendation:

Most of this web site simply describes both or all viewpoints on each topic. However, in rare instances like this one, the stakes are so high that we are moved to make a solid recommendation.

Individuals with serious physical health problems can seek cures from many sources:

bulletThrough conventional medical treatment by a licensed physician.
bulletThrough Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). These treatments ranging from shark cartilage to " 'miracle' products sold through 'back-of-the-magazine' ads and TV infomercials." 2
bulletUsing prayer within their own faith group.
bulletAttending a faith-healing service.
bulletWith the spiritual support of a Christian Science practitioner.

We strongly urge that anyone suffering from a disease or disorder use prayer only to back up some reliable form of  treatment that has been shown to be both safe and effective -- as evidenced by double-blind studies reported in peer-reviewed journals. This often restricts their options to standard medical procedures. If you find this unacceptable, then we suggest that you take a walk through a private cemetery owned by one of the few conservative Protestant groups who tell their followers to avoid medical help. Observe the large percentage of stones over the graves of infants, and the large percentage of 30 and 40 year olds who are buried there decades before they should have died.

Perhaps the future will see more religious groups adopting policies similar to those of the Church of Scientology. They have a auditing process to promote spiritual growth. Sometimes, an unexpected byproduct of auditing are physical improvements. However, if a person comes to auditing with a physical illness, they are required to have their problem examined by a physician.

horizontal rule

Sponsored link:

horizontal rule


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "No Cure for Cancer: Tenn. Mom, Preacher Accused of Letting Girl Die by Turning to God," ABCNews.com, 2002-OCT-3, at: http://abcnews.go.com/
  2. Associated Press article, "Parents charged over wasp death," 1999-MAY-10

horizontal rule

Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Faith healing > here

horizontal rule

Copyright © 1996 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1996-JAN-14
Latest update: 2007-JAN-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

line.gif (538 bytes)

horizontal rule

Go to the previous page, or go to the Faith Healing menu, or choose:

Custom Search

Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

Google Page Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.