On one hand, they’ve been trained to understand the way biological systems work, and the importance of repeated testing and finding corroborative evidence before making judgements. On the other hand, for those who are conservative believers, they’ve been raised from childhood to believe that a ‘God’ exists and that this ‘God’ performs healing miracles – in complete violation of everything they know about biology.
I suppose there are a few religious doctors who might be of the view that ‘God’ heals through medicine, and does not intervene miraculously to heal the sick. Then there are those who might hold the view that miracles ended with the “Apostolic Age” of Paul and Peter in the first century. Many, if not most, doctors in Uganda seem to be of the view that ‘God’ is active in this world and is performing healing miracles every day.
Charismatic Christianity (Born Again, Pentecostal, etc) is very popular in Uganda and they specialise in the business of healing miracles. On their various programmes on television, or during their crusades or services, the pastors who lead these churches engage in elaborate rituals of ‘casting out demons’ from their flock. These ‘demons’, according to their doctrine, are responsible for everything from poverty, misfortune, unemployment, dysfunctional families, marital problems, and sickness. This kind of Christianity has come packaged in modern Americanized flash, dazzle and music that has made it hugely popular among upper middle class Ugandans, especially those in urban areas. Benny Hinn (below) one of the most prominent international marketers of this kind of Christianity, is a household name in Uganda.
Benny Hinn ‘performing miracles’ with his jacket.
Assuming one was a doctor who subscribed to this form of Christianity, It would be interesting to see how such a person might opine on claims of miracle healing that come courtesy of these types of churches.
In September 2008, the Daily Monitor ran a story called “False Spiritual Healing Threatening Fight Against HIV and AIDS”. In that article, The Aids Support Organisation (TASO), the pioneer AIDS care organization in Uganda announced that such unverified faith healing was posing a threat to adherence to antiretroviral therapy by persons living with HIV/Aids. Robert Ochai, the executive director added that some of their clients had been misled into prematurely stopping their medication, having been told that they had been miraculously healed by ‘God’. He then appealed to them to adhere to their medication – but not before reminding them that God performs miracles. He was quoted as saying "While we believe in God, and his ability to perform miracles, we also encourage our clients to adhere to their medications."
This is indeed bizarre. Here you have a crisis that has erupted precisely because people believe that they can be miraculously healed, and then the TASO boss goes on to tell them that ‘God’ indeed performs miracles. How does this not reinforce the view that miracles can cure AIDS?
And this is the kind of doublespeak coming out of the mouths of Ugandan medical professionals regularly. Promoting medicine on one hand, and in the same breath endorsing some superstition or other.
Then just over a week ago, the current Minister of Health, the newly appointed Dr. Christine Ondoa Dradidi suggested the same, when she alleged that she knew three people who were once positive but turned negative after prayer for deliverance.
Her thoughts on the matter were elucidated in an article appearing the Observer called “Prayer can heal AIDS, says health minister”:
The newly appointed health minister, Dr Christine Ondoa Dradidi, has told The Observer that prayer heals HIV/AIDS, and that she knows three people who were once positive but turned negative after prayer for deliverance.
[…] “I am sure and I have evidence that someone who was positive turned negative after prayers,” Ondoa told The Observer on last week, promising to ask colleagues in Arua hospital, where she once worked, to find the relevant documentation.
She also warned against people who make claims about having been healed of HIV:
She, however, said medical workers and the general public should be cautious about people who claim they were healed of HIV.
I was intrigued by her audacious initial claims, so I called the author of the story to find out whether the minister was able to give her any details about the 3 alleged former AIDS sufferers. She said she had not received any information, but that the Minister promised to send it to her – but was not clear when she would. I figured it was probably going to take the minister forever to get back to her, if at all (which I doubt) so I decided to call Arua Regional Referral Hospital where she used to work, and tried to follow up on those cases myself.
When I called Arua Regional Referral Hospital I was able to talk to the Hospital Director/Superintendent, Dr. Bernard Odur, who told me that he’s never heard of anyone ever getting cured of AIDS at the hospital. He added that if it had actually happened, it was not the kind of thing that would be so easily forgotten among the staff at the hospital – certainly not so forgotten that it would never have been brought to his attention. He ended by telling me that he was not trying to refute what the minister said, only that he was personally unaware of the cases she was referring to.
Of course, it is highly unlikely for people to have actually been cured of AIDS in the recent past (through prayer or otherwise) and for the director/superintendent of the hospital handling their cases not know about it, even if it may have happened before his tenure. A person getting cured of AIDS at that hospital would certainly be a BIG deal – and would be the subject of many official inquiries, and scholarly research, of which there was and is none. But no, all we have is the personal anecdote from the minister. And while paying lip service to how we should be cautious of miracle healing claims, and how rigorous testing should be done, she is unable to present a shred of evidence to back up her claim that 3 people were cured of AIDS through prayer.
Might there be any reason as to why she might tell such a story?
The Wikipedia page about her reveals some interesting facts, which may be relevant:
She is a Born-again Christian, and was ordained as Pastor, on April 23rd 2011, by by Bishop Julius Peter Oyet in LifeLine Ministries at Mbuya, Nakawa Division, in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
This is confirmed here.
So, she is a pastor – in LifeLine Ministries, a church that advocates, among other things, “divine” healing:
Divine Healing: We believe in divine healing of the human body as wrought by the power of God through the prayer of faith and by laying on of hands. (Mark 16:18; James 5:14-16; 1Peter 2:24;Matthew 8:17)
Apparently the ‘efforts’ of this church have seen thousands of barren women give birth!
Hope For The Barren: Through the commission of the Lord to Julius to “Take the Healing to his generation…” and with the reputable gift of teaching the word of God and the gifts of the spirit, Life Line Ministries has seen well over 2,000 barren women give birth.
Our Health Minister, as a pastor in this church, actually believes this. Its therefore no surprise that she would make claims about how prayers healed people of AIDS – without being able to recall the names of these people in an interview with a journalist. This is typical of the kinds of personal testimony you frequently hear coming out of ‘born-again’ churches – where miracle claims are made with no corroborative evidence, to an non-critical thinking audience who are only too happy to have their beliefs bolstered.
It is difficult to envisage a scenario in which doctors will denounce miracle healing claims as shams, without calling into question their commitment to their religious beliefs. So we what are, in effect, left with, is an either or scenario: either doctors are going to openly evangelise about healing miracles, or they will implicitly endorse the possibility of prayer induced healing miracles, by granting the idea of a healing ‘God’. The problem is, in countries like Uganda where a largely illiterate, undereducated, and superstitious populace is actively being made to believe that demons are the cause of illness, even implicit endorsements of miracles from medical professionals will prove to be as disastrous as those made by open evangelists. Such people will forgo modern medicine in favour of the quackery of pastors – and this is precisely what we are seeing today in Uganda – not to mention how witchcraft ties into all of this and benefits from this kind of magical thinking.
I have encountered similar implicit endorsements of healing miracles from my moderate ‘educated’ Christian friends. They, like me, scoff at the miracle healing claims coming out of Pentecostal Churches – but they are reluctant to concede that miracle healings do not occur. Why? Because to question whether or not prayer induced healing miracles ever occur is, for them, more or less equivalent to questioning the very existence of ‘God’. They believe in a theistic ‘God’ that interacts with nature every single day – and many of them cling to anecdotes of how, after a quick prayer, they miraculously found missing keys or passed a job interview, which they will insist ‘cannot be explained’ however inane those anecdotes may be – and will attribute their occurrence to ‘God’. What they don’t realise is that by sharing such stories, they unwittingly end up not only enabling the belief that healing miracles are actually possible, but they are also to be expected.
It thus appears that it will be the job of we freethinking atheists, rationalists, skeptics and humanists in this country to keep voicing our views in the public domain about the inefficacy of prayer induced miracle healing. We are the only ones able to speak out candidly on this matter without sending mixed messages, and without being put in a position where we have to explain where a ‘God’ fits into all of this if we say there are no miracles (after all, we contend that there’s no reason to think a ‘God’ exists in the first place). We are the only ones who are able to say, without mincing words, that MIRACLE HEALING IS A SHAM.
So let’s say it, and let’s not be silent about it.
We must publicly hold health officials and practitioners accountable as and when they actively publicly promote or make insinuations about the viability of prayer induced healing miracles, yet there is no empirical evidence to back up such claims. Such insinuations can cost lives.