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Can faith healing and Western medicine coexist?

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Most people greet the concept of “faith healing” with one of two responses. They either need a reminder of what faith healing is, or they say those who believe in faith healing are nut jobs.

For those that don’t know, faith healing is often referred to as “spiritual healing” or the “laying on of hands.” This method is a way of healing the whole body with prayer and positivity, often trying to channel a greater power that Western medicine cannot match. When practiced under a Christian theology, this practice can be traced back to the ideas of connection between the mind, body and spirit and believing that the Bible is against Western medicine. Faith healers see their fate as situated in God’s hands, and humans shouldn’t try to intervene with God’s greater purpose and mission.

Now, I am no expert on faith healing by any means, but I wouldn’t call myself a non-spiritual person either. Sometimes it is comforting to believe that when someone leaves the planet sooner than we would like, there is a reason that makes the loss easier to handle. But I would never go so far as to ignore all the advancements Western medicine has given us since Biblical times. If I were ill, I would want to explore all available options to recover. So if a combination of medication, surgery and a little prayer for good faith is mentally and physically a strong treatment plan, then that is what I would do.

When diving deeper into the topic of faith healing, I discovered that many of my St. Olaf friends can imagine certain situations in which Western treatments, accompanied by spiritual healing methods, could yield positive results. For example, if the person is facing their last days on Earth, sometimes the best “medicine” can come in both a pill and through good faith, which is a pseudo form of healing with faith.

“I think it makes sense if it is helping the person,” Sierra Napoli ’15 said. Napoli also cited laughter, humor and music as alternative resources that can help some people feel better during illness, especially a terminal one. Napoli thinks that faith healing, in a way, doesn’t need to be tied to a certain religion, but can assist those in need of comfort.

Rory Anderson ’15 echoed Napoli’s sentiments.

“I think it can help with emotional support … it’s something to look forward to [if you are on your death bed], but it needs to be in conjunction with professional medicine,” Anderson said.

However, I still have several friends who see little to no benefit in faith healing. Nathan Dickerson ’15, a double major in chemistry and biology, expressed a negative view to the practice.

“Faith healing is fine if the cure you want is to feel happier,” Dickerson said.

Eric Loon ’15, who is a pre-med student, agrees with Dickerson’s general opinion and said, “As a Christian, I believe faith healing is problematic.”

One of my friends, who wished to remain anonymous, provided an argument against faith healing. She said, “I think faith healing has no place in our society today. It uses anecdotal evidence in an attempt to refute scientific proof, and can lead to death and severe complications in patients whose disease is treatable…. Also, I believe that people who support faith healing are the same people who believe vaccinating your children can cause Autism. Both have been scientifically disproven.”

Many professionals in Western medicine don’t promote faith healing. However, I am starting to see how the positivity and easing of stress, often associated with faith healing, that can be achieved with an openness to exploring a spiritual option. Of course, for me, that spiritual practice will go side-by-side with Western medicine.

Jocelyn Sarvady ’15 sarvady@stolaf.edu is from Atlanta, Ga. She majors in American studies and women’s and gender studies.