Ask Richard: Atheist’s Old School Friend Is a Faith Healer October 18, 2010

Ask Richard: Atheist’s Old School Friend Is a Faith Healer

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Dear Richard,

I am a lifelong atheist in my mid-twenties. I have always been in favor of respectful interfaith dialogue. My idea of what “respect” looks like has changed somewhat since high school, as I have learned more about the scary things that some religious people actually believe and actually do in the name of their deities. I think it’s valuable to debate religious beliefs with believers, generally with the caveat that they are interested in and open to the debate.

I recently got back in touch with a middle school friend of mine via Facebook. Let’s call her Mildred. We used to be much closer than we are now. Partway through high school, Mildred became a born-again Christian. Shortly after graduating, I realized that we had grown significantly apart. I mostly lost touch with her after that.

It turns out that in the intervening years, Mildred’s husband has become an itinerant minister with a nondenominational, mystical bent, and she has worked in his ministry and others. She is an active participant in faith healing missions. I wish I didn’t know about this, but she posts about it on Facebook constantly. I could maybe ignore it if it was just stuff about curing people’s headaches and aching backs, but every time I sign into Facebook I am greeted with a pronouncement that her organization has cured someone of AIDS, or of cancer, or some other such serious illness that they really should be getting treatment for. It’s very, very hard for me to keep quiet.

I’ve thought about just blocking Mildred so that her posts never show up on my home page, and that might reduce the problem but it wouldn’t eliminate it. Now that I know this is her full-time job, I feel like not speaking up is complicit in her actions, in a way. I feel a responsibility to at least ask a relatively non-confrontational question or two. “Welcome back from your trip! Did you ever see the test results of that person you saw cured of AIDS?” would be one real possibility, because in that case she herself mentioned that they were waiting on the tests but never followed up.

Obviously, this is very likely to make her upset no matter how nice I try to be. It’s just that it seems so unfair that she is comfortable littering Facebook with posts that are offensive and upsetting to me, while I force myself to sit in silence out of fear of offending her. I don’t think that she is knowingly scamming people; I think she believes in what she does — but real people are being hurt by it nonetheless. And part of me feels like, by posting in a public way, she is inviting feedback from everyone who can read it.

I’m really torn about what to do. Should I write to Mildred, to ease my conscience? Publicly or privately? It wouldn’t be so bad to show all her born-again friends that some people out there doubt their claims, but obviously that comes across as more confrontational. Do you have any suggestions for how I might broach the topic? If you think I shouldn’t write to Mildred, how can I stop feeling so bad about it?

Thanks for any ideas,

Dear Clarisse,

I don’t really understand what holds you back from asking Mildred either publicly or privately, either bluntly or with an innocent sounding question. You’re afraid you will upset and offend her. …So? What do you have to lose? The friendship? From what I gather in your letter, whatever tattered scraps of your middle school friendship remain seem not worth saving. The only thing you have in common with her is a past that is long gone, more from diverging values than from the passing of time. Don’t mistake nostalgia or sentiment for a responsibility to be loyal to this person who is no longer your friend in any real sense. The fading picture of Mildred in your eighth grade yearbook is not the Mildred of today, and your relationship is not at all the same either.

I commend you for having a strong ethical instinct and a strong sense of social responsibility. I like people who are ethical sticklers. But that means that you have given yourself an ethical dilemma by deciding that you cannot just block her Facebook and not think about what she’s doing. You know about it, and you think it’s likely that people are being harmed, so you can’t look the other way and try to forget about it.

It sounds like you will have to take some kind of action in order to feel comfortable about this. Of the four combinations, public vs. private, blunt vs. seemingly innocent question, I like the public, innocent question on Facebook just as you described. As you pointed out, Mildred is publicly cheering “hallelujah” about all this miraculous stuff, so she’s inviting public reaction. Ask her about the test results in the same effervescent tone that she makes her claims, and then sit back and watch.

Not that you’ll get an honest response, if any at all. She might simply delete your question, or ignore it, or say she’s still waiting for results but they’re “still prayin’ an’ praisin’ the Lord,” or she might just make stuff up. “Oh yeah! the doctors were amazed! the (AIDS/cancer/multiple sclerosis/lupus/rheumatoid arthritis/whatever the hell disease) has disappeared! It’s a miracle!” Uh huh. But you’ll see no actual names of patients, clinics, or doctors. Nothing anyone could actually check.

If she is genuine, why would she be upset by your asking about something that would prove the healing works? If she takes the stance that by asking about follow-up tests, you are showing a lack of faith, then she’s tipping her hand. Asking for confirmation might indicate a lack of faith in her, but the basic manipulation of all faith healers is to imply that faith in them equals faith in God, and faith in God equals faith in them.

Stephen Barrett, M.D. in “Some Thoughts about Faith Healing” succinctly lists three criteria for determining if faith healing has actually been responsible for healing someone:

(1) the ailment must be one that normally doesn’t recover without treatment; (2) there must not have been any medical treatment that would be expected to influence the ailment; and (3) both diagnosis and recovery must be demonstrable by detailed medical evidence.

Faith healers are usually very careful to keep their promises vague or conditional on the “grace of God,” and they basically never provide actual documented follow-up showing empirical proof of their “cures.” They’re also usually careful to target adults rather than children. There are laws prohibiting making bogus claims for medical cures even for adults. BUT there’s the law, and then there’s the willingness of prosecutors to enforce the law. That is often the weak link. For political reasons, a local D.A. might not be willing to go after a popular Christian faith healer if some grandmothers are still limping around, or some prostate tumors have not actually disappeared after the God Circus has folded its tent and moved on. Generally, kids have to die before the law finally comes down on the perpetrators.

The question of whether or not Mildred sincerely believes in her faith healing is irrelevant. The psychology of the practitioners of this kind of thing is complex. I think the longer they do it, the more their belief in it wears thinner, but the more their rationalizations for why it’s still okay to do it become thicker. Just like the conflating of faith in God and faith in them, it all gets muddled into a soup of ego, good intentions, greed, faith, excuses, hope, obsession, and perhaps many tangled emotions.

It’s fraud, period, and it’s not harmless. People, whether adults or children are likely to be neglecting getting proper medical care in lieu of this quackery. There will probably be unnecessary suffering and possibly death as a result.

So with that in mind, will asking Mildred frankly or coyly for proof of her claims really be enough for you to feel that you’ve done your ethical duty? It’s not likely she’s going to suddenly shut down her and her husband’s lucrative business just because you asked an embarrassing question. She’ll continue regardless.

If that won’t be enough for you to feel complete about this, then perhaps you should bring this to the attention of the authorities.

The most direct way might be to write a letter describing Mildred’s activities and documenting her most over-the-top claims, and send it to your state Attorney General. You can do it anonymously if you wish. Then it is in their laps, with the responsibility to investigate or not. You’ve done what you can. The A.G. may not be interested yet, or may not be able to yet, but you might be adding to a file of complaints that will eventually tilt the balance.

Or visit the website, Quackwatch. It has a huge collection of articles and information. Click on “Report a Fraud” near the top of the home page, and they will show you how to report quackery to them. They can take a look at Mildred’s Facebook page themselves, and decide from their expertise if this is reportable. Give them the URL of any other website that she has about these activities.

Also, the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) has a great deal of helpful information. Type “faith healing” in their onsite search box and you’ll find a wealth of eye-opening material.

Clarisse, how much you must do to feel that you have done the right thing depends on your own conscience. There are probably good arguments for responses ranging from doing nothing at all, to doing even more than I have listed. It’s up to you. Having a healthy conscience and ethical instinct means you are more often in awkward predicaments than people who are more oblivious to such things, but I think the more conscientious people are the ones who make the world better. I wish you the very best, and I thank you for caring so much about the well-being of people you will never meet.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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  • Claudia

    This may seem sneaky but before you ask your question I’d suggest getting screenshots of her facebook claims. They could come in handy should you decide to report her to get the right people interested.

    Take a deep breath and say to yourself “People who let they’re babies die because they pray instead of going to the doctors also mean well”. It’s nice and all that “Mildred” is delusional enough to think that she’s actually curing people, but in the context it’s totally irrelevant. Her good intentions will not bring the people she kills back to life. Like the witness of a backalley crime, you’ve become involved against your will in grevious harm done to others. Like the witness of any crime, you are forced to choose between complicity by silence or social responsibility. I would beg you to choose the latter.

    Confronting her on facebook is optional. You aren’t going to convince her and are highly unlikely to convince any fundamentalist friends of hers. Reporting her activities to the relevant authorities and activist groups strikes me as obligatory.

  • Clarisse,

    I’ve been in a similar situation. I’m “Facebook friends” with a bunch of people from way back in high-school (I just had my 30 year re-union). Whenever I log on Facebook, I get barraged with all sorts of “I love Jesus” statements that many of my Facebook friends write on their walls. I tried to just ignore them and I didn’t want to de-friend or block anyone because I was tracking plans for the reunion and I do want to keep up with people. But after a while I had to start to add some subtle comments of my own concerning religion. Shortly after I did so, I was contacted by some other Facebook friends (who do believe in God) and was thanked for standing up to the more nutty evangelicals.

    I say go ahead and comment on her postings. You will probably have other people cheering you on that you don’t even know about.

  • I’ve actually noticed that many of the people I went to Church with who friended me during the great friending rush of the early 2000s defriended me as soon as they realized that I didn’t share their worldview. Even relatively tame comments (Jeebus be praised) would result in a stern warning. After a second offense, they would normally take the initiative and defriend me.

    I share Clarisse’s dislike of unfriending, but have simply chosen to be who I am and let things take care of themselves. Since most of them view us as some kind of existential threat, being yourself will probably resolve the problem quite quickly.

  • HamsterWheel

    I agree with Richard’s advice but I wouldn’t expect her to change no matter what course of action Clarisse takes. Faith healers are pretty far out there on the spectrum of irrational delusional bullshit beliefs. It’s very difficult to make an irrational person understand that they are irrational because they have deep-rooted psychological issues that make their fantasy more important than reality.

  • registering my disapproval of the Quackwatch site. they may have some correct things to say about faith “healers” but the dismissive attitude about many other alternative healing techniques annoys me greatly. osteopathy is and has been for over 100 years, a legitimate and scientific approach to medicine and DOs receive all the training MDs do, and more. i get very annoyed when western scientists dismiss other scientific approaches to health just because they don’t understand the different ways other cultures and traditions have practiced science. one need not be “religious” to benefit from regular yoga. and homeopathy, while i understand many of the objections, has worked for me, and many friends of mine. anecdote isn’t evidence, but i go with what i know from the practice of my own life. and don’t get me started on how “Big Pharma” has corrupted the practice of medical research and science in this country. i have significant clinical and lab research experience and i’ve seen this up close. american medical research science is NOT pristine and free from fraud, or even truly “scientific” in many cases.

  • Claudia

    and homeopathy, while i understand many of the objections, has worked for me, and many friends of mine. anecdote isn’t evidence, but i go with what i know from the practice of my own life.

    Yes, believers in the power of prayer say the exact same things, which is why the argument from personal experience is invalid in science. Calling homeopathy quackery is being polite, it’s utter horseshit. It breaks so many principles of chemistry, physics, biology and probability that the only excuse for trusting it is not having read a single thing about it.

    I should note that I’m talking about homeopathy in the strict sense of diluting a given agent into nothingness in bottles of water or sugar pills. I’m aware that some people think of “homeopathy” as referring to many other forms of “alternative” medicine like herbal medicine. Herbal remedies, though they are in a gray area, are not laughable frauds in the way actual homeopathic bottles of water are, so if that was the homeopathy you were talking about, disregard the above.

  • I had a serious altercation with a Christian couple we’re friends with just last week, also about Facebook stuff. The guy, during a conversation, made a statement which is basically a theological claim. Since my deconversion, my standard policy with them has been to just smile and change the subject.

    This time, the statement kept niggling, until I blogged about it (I very often blog about my thoughts on religion). Because I knew the entry would be imported to Facebook as a note, and that the friend would most likely read it, I kept it very pleasant and focused on the interesting, differing points of view in the Christian community on this issue.

    Next thing I knew, he commented that what he’d said to me (basically the “once saved, always saved, therefore Jesus WILL someday herd you back no matter what you want or think” view) was private, between us, and not for sharing with my friends. I was stunned, offered to take the post down and explained that to me it’s just an interesting topic to blog about. Got a reply of how heartbroken he is that his friends who’d given their lives to Jesus could turn their backs on him, how must God feel who’d given his only son for us, bla bla bla.

    We managed to sort it out – his wife is fortunately a reasonable person – and he’s ‘hidden’ me with my blessings (haha). Both their facebook walls are LITTERED with Christian statements, bible quotes etc. Still feel almost battered when I think of the whole thing, but in the end it gave me an opportunity to make them aware of how many times I just have to sidestep something they say which I am screaming about inside.

  • sailor

    “registering my disapproval of the Quackwatch site.”
    I presume you refer to: this:
    seems perfectly OK to me and has open discussion underneath. It is no a complete write-off of osteopathy, just some trouble at the edges.

  • Yes, believers in the power of prayer say the exact same things, which is why the argument from personal experience is invalid in science.

    thanks for insulting me! i’ll remember it. trust me.

    here is what i am actually saying: i have an allergy to mold. i had severe problems with this allergy during grad school, when i was taking a class in a mold-infested classroom. i don’t like taking OTC drugs if i can avoid them. i bought a homeopathic remedy on the advice of a friend. i took a few drops before, and in the middle of class, and my violent coughing fits stopped, instantly. a girlfriend of mine (PhD biochemistry, JD science law) is allergic to cat dander. she always had coughing fits when she visited a house with cats. i gave her the cat dander relief homeopathic remedy; she quit coughing and her eyes stopped watering immediately. i have other examples but i doubt they will have any impact on someone like you. oh, and both of us are and always have been atheists and have never subscribed to any “spiritual” or “nature worship” philosophies.

    it’s scientific fact to say that human bodies are unique and different from each other. some people can take ibuprofen and cure a headache, some can’t. some people respond very strongly to exposure to things like smoke, cheese, sunlight or wine, and others can be immersed in those things and feel no discomfort. i don’t judge people for taking anything (that doesn’t harm them or others) if it “works for them” and relieves pain and discomfort. blanket statements about why “alternative” therapies “never work” are just as ignorant as saying “all science is a theory that nobody should put their trust in it.” (there, i’m returning the insult). and if you don’t understand the racist, sexist, classicist bias in the practice of Western laboratory based science, not to mention the corruption of science by the forces of politics and capitalism, you’re just ignorant. i invite you to study that more closely. i’m just guessing here, but i’d bet i have more time in a western-style science research lab than you do, too.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    chicago dyke, I strongly suggest visiting the Respectful Insolence blog and poking around. The track record for alternative medicine (which is basically medicine that hasn’t been scientifically vetted) is frighteningly dismal.

  • Silent Service


    It must be the season. I just had a similar encounter on facebook over the weekend. An old family friend was stunned to find out that I’m not a theist. I got the whole screed dumped onto my page about how much better the country would be if we’d all just turn back to god and how she can’t understand how anybody cannot have faith. So I spelled out bable passage after bable passage of misogynistic junk required by bablical law. It was a fun weekend disassembling silly arguments and shredding false bravado.

    I do wish all of my Christian friends would understand that if they come into my personal area and pull the faith card they’re going to get it full force back in their face. If they just post something on their own pare, I ignore it for the most part, because they’re just expressing their own view. I’m cool with that.

  • p.s.

    Yes, believers in the power of prayer say the exact same things, which is why the argument from personal experience is invalid in science.

    thanks for insulting me! i’ll remember it. trust me.

    How the hell is that an insult? You said it yourself- personal anecdote is not scientific proof. At the “worst” she was insulting homeopathy, not you. Did you really expect to support homeopathy and not have people question it?
    I’m curious. Why do you think homeopathy works? Do you think it may have been more likely that the manufacturers either slipped some real allergy medicine in there, or you were experiencing some placebo effect?

    and if you don’t understand the racist, sexist, classicist bias in the practice of Western laboratory based science, not to mention the corruption of science by the forces of politics and capitalism, you’re just ignorant. i invite you to study that more closely. i’m just guessing here, but i’d bet i have more time in a western-style science research lab than you do, too.

    The science industry may be dominated by white men right now, but that doesn’t make it sexist or racist. Hell, even if the scientists themselves *are* sexist and racist (which has not been my experience), that doesn’t make their discoveries sexist or racist. Of course politics and capitalism influences scientific research, that’s how you get grants. That doesn’t make the discoveries any less valid or invalid- scientific experiments *must* be repeatable to be considered proof of anything (which is why homeopathy fails miserably). And while there may be the occasional slip, peer review and academic integrity organizations do their best to mitigate such mistakes.

  • keddaw


    homeopathy doesn’t work because work because it can’t. Regardless of studies, biased or not, any apparent homeopathic effect is caused by something else.

    It is in the same league as horoscopes. They don’t work because there is no possible causal link between what they are and what they supposedly do.

    People often find placebos, or homeopathic cures, effective against allergies because much of the effect is psychosomatic. Others grow out of an allergy and give the credit to homeopathy, this is most commonly observed in people who had severe hay fever.

  • Stephen P

    @chicago dyke: I’m having difficulty following what your point is.

    You complain about western scientists failing to understand other cultures and traditions, but osteopathy originated in America and homeopathy in Germany. What is the relevance of other cultures?

    You complain about American medical science. Well, there may well be plenty to complain about, but how does that validate homeopathy? Does police corruption make armed robbery legitimate?

    There are three different practices which go under the flag of homeopathy, which are mutually incompatible – i.e. it is logically impossible for them all to be valid: classical homeopathy, mass-market homeopathy and herbal treatments sold as homeopathic, which should perhaps be called pseudo-homeopathy. Which one are you defending and what makes you sure that that one is valid rather than the other two?

  • /joking
    I once almost overdosed on homeopathic medicine. I was supposed to take something with a 10^-15 molar solution. I mistakenly took pure tap-water by mistake. Fortunately, I had the anecdote handy, a 10^-16 molar solution of a different substance. I took that and was fine. I later found out that the 2nd substance was also pure tap-water and I was afraid that I overdosed on that as well. Fortunately, the two overdoses seemed to cancel each other out. Praise the Lord!

    It is an ethical dilemma, though… if a person takes homeopathic medicine and gets therapeutic benefit… and then you convince the person that the medicine works only by the placebo effect… and they lose the therapeutic benefit… have you just made life worse for that person? Maybe in the short-run. But not in the log-run.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    chicago dyke:

    i don’t like taking OTC drugs if i can avoid them. i bought a homeopathic remedy on the advice of a friend. i took a few drops before, and in the middle of class, and my violent coughing fits stopped, instantly.

    Unless you got a prescription for that “homeopathic remedy,” it was an OTC drug. Furthermore, drugs marketed as homeopathic bypass the usual FDA rules to ensure the safety of drugs and “are granted automatic approval as long as they appear in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia.” That’s why Zicam, even though it’s supposed to be homeopathic, can still have enough zinc to kill one’s sense of smell. It’s barely regulated at all, and there’s no requirement to vet it for safety or efficacy before it gets on store shelves. The supposedly homeopathic remedy that you took might well have had active ingredients as well, which might explain its effectiveness–and would also make it dangerous for the same reason that Zicam is dangerous.

    I agree that Big Pharma is often corrupt, but that corruption involves shortchanging or bypassing the very vetting and regulation of drugs that alternative “medicines” bypass. How is that supposed to be better for you?

  • Claudia

    Yes, believers in the power of prayer say the exact same things, which is why the argument from personal experience is invalid in science.

    thanks for insulting me! i’ll remember it. trust me.

    I would humbly suggest you not take a challenge to your argument as an insult to your person. I have nothing against you as a person, but your argument is flawed and it’s not an insult to point that out. As an alternative to “remembering it” I would suggest a much healthier alternative; explain why your argument from personal experience is valid while the argument of someone “cured through the power of prayer” is not.

    After that I’d ask you to go to your PhD in biochemistry friend and ask her on behalf of a colleague (well, in a few months I will be lol) to drop me a line and explain what mechanism homeopathic “remedies” employ, in which way they are discernably different from pure water, how it is possible to be cured by a medicine which it is impossible to overdose from (save by drowning) and how water retains the “memory” of, say, bee venom, but “forgets” all the poo that’s been in it (all credit to Tim Minchin).

    You are an adult and have every right to make adult choices about your health based on any reason or no reason at all. I’m very much in favor of the bodily autonomy of adults. However, before I’m an atheist I’m a skeptic and a scientist, and homeopathy grossly offends me on both of these levels. Many on this blog also consider themselves atheists only as extensions of their general skepticism, so while you have every right to decide to take tiny bottles of water, you should not be surprised if many challenge the notion that it is in any way a credible form of medicine.

  • JB Tait

    For some things, faith healing and homeopathy work (yes they do) but then again, so do placebos.

    The crime is when someone suffers or dies because they rejected other available remedies that have been verified to have a proven effect.

  • I wouldn’t really call it “working” if a “treatment” works as well as a placebo. I’d suggest that you just take a placebo. Probably cheaper.

  • Aj

    chicago dyke,

    1. Some herbal remedies are labelled wrongly as homeopathic. Herbal remedies contain active ingredients, some of them even do what naturopaths say they do.

    2. It doesn’t matter what education someone has, they’re susceptible to placebo. It doesn’t even matter if they’re a skeptic or not. Researchers studying the placebo effect are susceptible to placebo. It’s possible that expectations of allergic reactions can bring about psychosomatic reactions.

    3. Do you know what they call “alternative” medicine that works? Medicine.

    4. Homeopathic remedies do not work. They don’t have a plausible mechanism, it would need a complete reworking of fundamental physics and chemistry. All the good studies suggest it’s placebo, “alternative” medicines rely on bad studies and publishing bias. There’s a lack of evidence supporting it.

    5. Saying anecdotes aren’t evidence but then relying on them isn’t rational.

    6. “Big Pharma” has problems, “alternative” medicine has the same problems but much worse.

    7. Osteopathy is not scientific, a lack of appropriate scientific trials is what defines it from normal medicine. Methods used that are supported by appropriate scientific trials are also used in medicine. Are you really going to defend Cranial osteopathy? I guess it’s likely, since you’re defending the nonsense on stilts called homeopathy.

  • Michelle

    Hey how did this post got turned around to an “attack” on Chicago Dyke? Wasn’t this post supposed to be about Clarise? LOL!

    Just so I can put my two cents in, I rarely agree with Chicago Dyke on her comments here on Friendly Atheist. She makes…contradictory comments; contradicting herself. I’m glad I’m not the only one who notices it.

    In any case, I am getting back to the topic at hand: Clarise


    And guess what…? NO ONE replied. NO ONE stood up to me. And NO ONE after that commented on “god”

    I think I made it pretty clear. I dont know if this is going to help anyone else here since here in Asia people are a bit afraid and uneducated enough to get into a religious debate with me but at least it gets the point across.

    The point being that it is indeed annoying to read about how “prayers” can cure AIDS.

    I smell something…oh, it’s bullshit.

  • JB Tait
  • Gordon

    My only question for faith healers is “how can you live with yourself?”

  • keddaw

    Placebos do not work.

    Sure, they have an effect, but it is not causal.

    What we should do in each study that shows a positive placebo effect is try to understand the underlying neurological/psychosomatic/whatever-the-heck-it-is that apparently allows nothing to have an effect on something (are believers in this the same people who deny the universe can come from nothing?)

    Once we have a full understanding of how and why the placebo effect actually occurs we can stop saying stupid, and wrong, things like the placebo effect works.

    And this will also explain the temporary miracles claimed by faith healers, such as arthritic people walking without pain.

  • Claudia

    7. Osteopathy is not scientific, a lack of appropriate scientific trials is what defines it from normal medicine. Methods used that are supported by appropriate scientific trials are also used in medicine. Are you really going to defend Cranial osteopathy? I guess it’s likely, since you’re defending the nonsense on stilts called homeopathy.

    I’m going to tread very carefully here because I haven’t read very much on the topic. My very limited undertstanding is that osteopathy is in the same range as chiropraxis; useful for some things but used for too many things. Osteopathy is incorporated into regular medical practice in clinics and hospitals and therefore has gone through the same sorts of controls as any other treatment. On the other hand osteopathy is also practiced less formally (and more so in countries without specific regulation) in the realm of “alternative medicine”, which is not subject to the rigorous scrutiny of actual medicine. The problem with “alternative” medicine is not that all of it is shit. Some of it might well be very good stuff indeed, but since it isn’t subject to the type of scrutiny of medicine a lot of useless or even actively harmful stuff can get mixed in with honestly good stuff, and the regular user has no way of distinguishing which is which.

  • Aj


    Hospitals and clinics are more concerned with “is it safe” than “is it effective”, they’re all for “patient choice”, they get money, and no one sues. I don’t think there’s a “conventional” medicine that’s a counter to “alternative” medicine. Bullshit can come packaged in synthetic pharmaceutical pill form and be promoted by a Doctor of Medicine, some of the leaders of anti-vax and homeopaths are MDs. That’s why it’s not relevant that DOs train the same as MDs.

    Manipulation for the treatment of lower back pain is supported by the literature. It’s also used by a competing unscientific school of “thought”, Chiropractic. It’s also used in various sections of medicine such as physiotherapy. It’s as effective as exercise and pain killers. It’s rather odd that two rather dubious schools can get so much change out of such a minor treatment. There hasn’t been rigorous scrutiny performed on the other treatments of osteopathy such as “Cranial Therapy”. Doctors of Osteopathy may have never treated anyone with any osteopathic treatments, even manipulation that is effective sometimes.

    You’re right that “alternative” practitioners use genuine treatments but add their own philosophical or metaphysical bullshit. Acupuncture, that’s sticking needles into people to relieve pain, works in some cases, but it has no relation to whether someone is “trained” to manipulate chi lines or whatever other bullshit they’ve made up around it. In rare cases bleeding someone can actually help people, it’s the effective treatment for certain genetic disease, but again metaphysical bullshit is added and suddenly bleeding is a treatment for everything.

  • On the original post: I’d just politely criticize a bit but know that this will probably have them unfriend you. Possibly block you. But I think Richard’s right about you shouldn’t be overly worried about that. The friendship was ions ago and you’ve both grown and changed. One thing I’m learning from FB much as I love it, is that there’s a reason you fell out of touch with people to begin with. To put it briefly and nicely: you both went your own ways and simply grew apart.

    On the sidetrack:

    The whole thought of osteopathy makes me cringe. I got to the point of such frustration with my growing disabilities and doctors that really didn’t help or hear me that I thought aha I’ll go to the local Center for the Disabled for a main care and stop procrastinating replacing the doc who retired.

    When I first called, they wanted to assign me to someone with a DO after his name. Now I had never heard of osteopathy and asked what’s that. They explained. I’d heard enough about chiropracters doing serious damage to cringe and say uh uh, no way. I want medicine, not woo. They then (and I’m still trying to figure this out since this was about a year ago and I was 51) tried to give me an appointment with a pediatrician. I said get real. Where did my bitchiness get me? They gave up and gave me the director of the whole place and that’s worked out well, frankly. He’s a regular MD and everything and patient and understanding with a difficult, skeptical patient.

    But the whole idea of osteopathy (and chiropractic) of manipulating your body with your hands. Whew! No, I don’t think so. Frankly, how does anyone comprehend rearranging their body as a good thing? Wow. Of course, I also feel the same way about sticking needles into one’s self like a pincushion also known as acpuncture.

    And I concede that I am a difficult patient because I question what doctors do instead of just obeying orders. I’m very wary of the side affects of medicine and I’m not getting an operation unless it’s a matter of life or death or at least the quality of life to the point where I wouldn’t want to live with the quality of my life if I were to forego said operation. Death is always a risk, after all. Only if I’m desperate enough to risk death is that happening.

    And this will also explain the temporary miracles claimed by faith healers, such as arthritic people walking without pain.

    Being riddle with osteoarthritis so bad that it’s been labelled degenerative bone disease and I’ve just been granted a disability pension from the State Retirement System (waiting to hear from Social Security), I also suspect that the placebo effect is also luck of the draw too. Odds are against these faith healers getting an arthritic “patient” on their worse days because they probably wouldn’t have made it to the show. There are bad days and good days. Days I can barely walk (hell, I’ve had days when I couldn’t walk, flat out and the pain was definitely a 10) and the pain is a 10 on the 1-10 scale (okay, maybe 9) and there are days when it’s way less though I don’t think I’ve been below 4 at best in years. But if you have 10 days, you feel pretty great on 4 days. Also, weather affects. Sunny days are great (heat helps); rainy, cloudy, windy, cold have me hudding at home.

    But also I’d concur with psychology of it. Distraction also works and that’s probably pretty freaking key in faith healing given the theatrics of it. I need to see a dentist for a pretty bad toothache but am having to wait on receiving a new dental card to get it looked at due to retiring. Trust me, when some days my knee makes me forget my tooth and other days my tooth makes me forget my knee. And I have severe pain (other areas have lesser pain, I’m a bloody freaking mess with the damned arthritis) in my neck, lower back and knees, especially the right knee. I rarely feel them all at the same time. It’s usually one or the other I feel at any given moment which depends on the days activities, etc. I will feel my neck and my lower back at the same time but then the spine’s usually aching and both are due to deteriation in the spine.

    The only times I feel everything is if I’m actually stupid enough to walk a few blocks (yes, even on the rolling walker) which causes me to be in agonizing pain from head to toe and feel utterly exhausted or if the weather’s severely cold and I actually stick my nose out the door. Hence, my doubt that these faith healers get severe arthritics on bad days. They just plain aren’t going to get to the show.

  • Laura

    Chicago dyke,
    You can do a double-blind trial on yourself: put the homeopathic medicine in a cup; put water in another cup; label which is which on the bottom, then turn for a while in the microwave (power turned low). Then take one and see if you can guess which you got.
    I agree about medical research having unexpected holes. Seven years ago I found I was gluten intolerant and have other severe food sensitivities. There’s a great deal of knowledge about food sensitivities that is just from people’s observations, is fairly accurate, but doesn’t appear in peer-reviewed medical research. That just – dazed me with cognitive dissonance – because research has such prestige and it’s so very sophisticated, how could it miss so much? In some ways I would have learned more by chatting with people at a health food store, than by going to doctors.
    I don’t know if the *ist accusations about medical research are true. But we seem to be in medicine where physics was in the time of Newton – where observant laypeople can notice new and true things about health.

  • Laura

    It’s not necessarily true that the faith healer is harming people by keeping them away from real treatment. A lot of times, people who seek it out have tried to get medical help, but haven’t been helped.
    In that case, a faith healer is doing no harm and is maybe even helping people. Belief can do extraordinary things sometimes. I read in a Lewis Thomas book about people getting rid of warts by hypnosis. Somehow their brain interacted with their immune system in a way that is not understood at all!

  • AxeGrrl

    And what is the grand ‘lesson’ this story teaches us?

    That Facebook elicits the most puerile and malignantly passive-aggressive kind of interaction and should be eschewed by all mature, thinking adults.

  • Philip

    I kinda like some of the suggestions to see about verifying. Perhaps you could talk up one specific example she obliquely cites and talk it up to the point where you say you feel moved to send a congratulations card to the person. If you really want to get some proof, you could then follow-through with a card of some sort and include that you’re curious about the details of the actual procedure/etc. and see if the person will give you some of the details if the friend doesn’t.

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