This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous


by Unity    
10:51 am - March 27th 2012

      Share on Tumblr

It would be extremely easy to poke fun at the utterly idiotic and opportunistic letter that three Christian MPs have sent to the Advertising Standards Authority in an effort to pressure them to overturn a recent ruling on the contents of a website owned by a Bath-based Christian group.

If you’re not sure why then Martin Robbins has already done a fine job of eviscerating the contents of the letter.

But I’d like to introduce you to a few reasons why I don’t find the letter in slightest bit amusing.

Zachary Sweezey – Sweezey died on Match 18 2009, aged 17, of a ruptured appendix after falling ill several days earlier. Rather than take him to a hospital, Sweezey’s parents tried to heal him with prayer. On March 6 2012 Gregory and Garnet Sweezey entered pleas of not guilty to a charge of second degree murder for which they are due to stand trial later this year.

Baby Hickman – In September 2011, Dale and Shannon Hickman were convicted of the second degree murder of their unnamed child. The child had been born prematurely in September 2009 and died 9 hours later due to a bacterial infection that could had been treated had its parents taken the child to a hospital. Unfortunately, for the child, Dale and Shannon Hickman are members of an Oregon City-based church, ‘Followers of Christ’, which practices faith healing and teaches its followers that modern medicine is poison, although this didn’t prevent the Hickman’s defence attourney from calling on doctors to testify on their behalf.

Madeline Kara Neumann – Died aged 11 years, on March 28 2008, of undiagnosed diabetes while her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann knelt by her bedside and prayed for their daughter instead of seeking medical treatment. The Neumann’s were convicted of second degree reckless homicide in May 2009 and sentenced to 10 years probation and six months imprisonment, the latter being suspended pending an appeal.

Cheryl Zirkle – died in childbirth on May 7 1997, aged 21 years – of a treatable intrauterine infection that was commonplace a century earlier but rarely even heard of today. Zirkle chose not to seek medical help for religious reasons.

Janae McDowell – died August 30 1996, aged 36, of an infection, 36 hours after a difficult 72-hour labour of a breech baby. McDowell did not seek medical help for religious reasons. The baby also died.

Jacqueline K. Beagley – died March 20, 1990, aged 26, of a massive infection after a rupture of the fetal membrane. Beagley was in labour for four days and, again, did not seek medical help for religious reasons. Her child, a boy, also died.

Melissa K. Smith -Feb. 20 1986, aged 18, of an infection after two days in labour. Had she sought medical help, doctors would have discovered that her baby had died in the womb several days before Smith went into labour – this was the cause of the infection that killed her.

Do I need to go on?

Or should I mention Alice Leech, who bled to death during childbirth in 1976, aged only 24 – one of the women who attended the birth and prayed rather that take Alice to hospital was a registered nurse, although she did lose her licence to practice. Oh, did I forget to mention that the baby died with her.

A study by Seth Asser and Rita Swann, which was published in 1997 in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Association of Pediatrics, lays out the facts of faith healing:

ABSTRACT
Objective. To evaluate deaths of children from families in which faith healing was practiced in lieu of medical care and to determine if such deaths were preventable.

Results. One hundred forty fatalities were from conditions for which survival rates with medical care would have exceeded 90%. Eighteen more had expected survival rates of >50%. All but 3 of the remainder would likely have had some benefit from clinical help.

Conclusions. When faith healing is used to the exclusion of medical treatment, the number of preventable child fatalities and the associated suffering are substantial and warrant public concern. Existing laws may be inadequate to protect children from this form of medical neglect.

God didn’t heal any of those kids.

They died, most of them unnecessarily, because their parents believed in the power of prayer only to discover the hard way that their god doesn’t run errands.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Health

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


The Lord’s prayer is very specific, it is “thy will be done” not “my will be done”. You can see the problems this causes with ideas of intercessory prayers.

2. Chaise Guevara

As contemptible as that letter was, I didn’t see it at any point calling for believers to use prayer INSTEAD of medical treatment.

I realise that the MP’s attitudes don’t help the issue (ignorant opinions rarely do), but it’s a bit of a stretch to imply that they’re supporting the sort of thing listed above.

@2 Chaise

If God can heal you, why would you subject yourself to regular medicine?

Even if many won’t make that obvious link, many others will (and already do). Result: people die.

Understanding this, it seems a stretch to imply that the MPs are NOT supporting faith as an alternative.

4. Man on Clapham Omnibus

The problem for religion is it supports a fantasy world plus the fact it is the lazy man’s (women’s) way of understanding the world . These fantasies involve the pointless deaths of those detailed above but also the unjustifiable incursion and wholesale slaughter of foreign populations. Israel has to be a prime example in the modern world.
Unfortunately, religious thinking is bound to win out over science because for most people it is a default condition of the brain. Ultimately it will wipe out the species.

5. Man on Clapham Omnibus

@2 probably not but perhaps its worth noting that a Roman Catholic did send the British to an illegal war with the resultant deaths of up to a million Iraquis.

@ Chaise

I don’t see it. To claim that God will heal you if you only have faith and pray is to claim that, so long as you have faith and pray, there’s no need to seek any other treatment. Which is a particularly poisonous idea, because it makes seeking other treatment look like a sign that you lack faith.

Suppose the manufacturers of a disinfectant claimed it killed 100% of germs, and someone who used it died because it didn’t manage to kill the salmonella on his kitchen surfaces. Would it be reasonable for the manufacturer to respond by saying: “We never told anyone not to use something else as well, just to be sure”?

Presumably most people who believe in the healing power of prayer *do*, as a matter of fact, recommend that people seek conventional treatment as well, but what logical contortions that’s based upon, I wouldn’t like to say.

but, but, but what about about Streeters hand and Fabrice Muamba? How much *more* proof do you need?

@Chaise, it doesn’t matter a jot what these MPs think is the correct balance of prayer/medicine.

What matters is that they’re seeking to allow any old crank to claim what they like about the miraculous powers of laying on of hands, without being subject to usual evidence-checks and advertising standards.

The MPs may not wish personally to encourage people to pray instead of seeking medical treatment. The trouble is that they’re attempting to open the door to allow others to do precisely that.

I’d say Unity is spot on.

9. James Reade

Great stuff – why not cite a few anecdotes yourself? That seemed to be precisely what the Christian letter writers were vilified for in the other linked post on here.

These are horrible, horrific anecdotes, but how exactly do you know they are linked in any way to the three Christian MPs, or the group in Bath?

They are examples of very strange people distorting a bit of text (the Bible) for their own ends. If the Bible wasn’t there for them to use, they’d use something else. It’s really easy to find zealots in all walks of life who use convenient “evidence” to support their own ends.

It doesn’t justify the kind of abuse these three Christian MPs are suffering on this website.

As I mentioned on the last post, there is no “provable” evidence either way, just very strong beliefs. We observe particular outcomes, and we then interpret them and their causal mechanisms without ever being able to know for sure what that causal mechanism was.

It’s anti-science people that ridicule and vilify others because they take the opposite side. A scientific approach would be open to all possible causal mechanisms and would allow observable evidence, not prior prejudice, to help him or her determine to the best of his/her knowledge, the most plausible answer. Note: Not the right answer.

10. Chaise Guevara

@ Everyone who just replied to me:

I agree this stuff can be a building block, as can religion itself, and – even further down the chain – irrationality.

However, the OP lists case after case of people dying due to rejecting medicine on religious grounds, then uses this to criticise the guys who wrote the letter. Why does the article not say “Of course, the MPs didn’t actually call for this, but here’s why they’re part of the problem”?

There’s a gap in the reasoning as it stands in the OP, and frankly I think it tries to make you assume that the MPs ARE calling for people to reject medication. If someone tried this stunt on me I’d call it a straw man. That doesn’t change just because the guys who wrote the letter are wrong.

@Chaise, if the point was to argue the toss with the MPs about whether their opinions on prayer are right or wrong, then this might be a straw man.

But it isn’t. The point is to argue that the MPs were wrong to seek an exemption to Advertising Standards on people touting faith-based miracle cures. In that discussion, Unity’s post is 100% relevant.

@ James Reade

“They are examples of very strange people distorting a bit of text (the Bible) for their own ends. If the Bible wasn’t there for them to use, they’d use something else.”

Are you suggesting that these people wanted to kill themselves or their loved ones and faked kooky religious beliefs as a smokescreen? That seems extraordinarily cynical. More likely, surely, they were trying to do the right thing but were mistaken in their sincerely-held belief that prayer rather than medical treatment is the best way to overcome health problems.

As for the idea that believers in the reliability of prayer as a route to healing are ‘distorting’ messages in the Bible… how much distortion would it take, exactly, to make passages like these look like promises that God will heal the sick in response to believers’ prayers?

Matt 21:22: “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (ASV)

John 15:7: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (ASV)

James 5:14-15: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him.” (ASV)

Now fair enough, you might have a different interpretation of such passages. But surely you couldn’t condemn someone for intentionally ‘distorting’ their message if they took them at face value?

13. Shatterface

I’m with Chaise here: the ban on claiming prayer is effective (which, being sane, I support) is a seperate issue from anecdotal cases where prayer is used exclusively.

Many in the medical profession are religious but it doesn’t prevent them using medicine. Are those appealing against the ban calling for the banning of medicine?

This is a straw man argument. The fact that prayer doesn’t work is a strong enough reason to support the ban. If they want to campaign to say that they believe that prayer is effective despite the evidence to the contrary they should be entitled to do so as it is a statement of fact about their belief not about the efficacy of prayer.

For Christ’s sake lets not give them the martyrdom they crave by preventing them professing their beliefs.

14. Shatterface

But it isn’t. The point is to argue that the MPs were wrong to seek an exemption to Advertising Standards on people touting faith-based miracle cures. In that discussion, Unity’s post is 100% relevant.

I’m going to be generous here and ask you which of the MPs behind this letter are even hinting at a ban on medicine in favour of prayer?

It might surprise you that the Pope himself has a team of doctors, and that the Church opposes the switching off of life support machines.

James Reade @9:

These are horrible, horrific anecdotes, but how exactly do you know they are linked in any way to the three Christian MPs, or the group in Bath?

The letter cites an anecdote about curing a pain in the hand. Unity cites a number of cases where any autopsy would have demonstrated what was medically wrong and that proper medical treatment would have helped or cured. Instead, the victims were left in the hands of people who thought prayer was a better idea. Maybe the three MPs think that prayer only cures minor ailments or that God doesn’t do A & E or major surgery – but the letter doesn’t seem to have any kind of small print in case things go wrong and people die as a result of not getting proper treatment. I suspect any ‘prayer cures’ ad campaign won’t have any such disclaimer either.

I’m going to be generous here and ask you which of the MPs behind this letter are even hinting at a ban on medicine in favour of prayer?

How do you figure that attributing a ludicrous opinion to me which you’ve just made up classes as ‘being generous’? I very much doubt that any of them are, and I didn’t suggest they were.

17. Man on Clapham Omnibus

@12

The problem is that going to a concocted tex is a distortion in itself.
It underlies an assumption that a supernatural power has authority over an individuals decisions which ultimately leads to the kind of irresponsibilty detailed in this post. The MP’s are acting in just such a way.

18. Man on Clapham Omnibus

@13

For Christ’s sake lets not give them the martyrdom they crave by preventing them professing their beliefs.

Ha Ha , nice one dude!

19. Chaise Guevara

@ 11 Larry

“But it isn’t. The point is to argue that the MPs were wrong to seek an exemption to Advertising Standards on people touting faith-based miracle cures. In that discussion, Unity’s post is 100% relevant.”

I’m not sure they’re doing that, though. I agree it LOOKS like that to you and me, who understand concepts like “evidence” and “statistical significance” and “placebo”: we see that there is no evidence for prayer-healing, and that these people want charlatans to be able to advertise prayer-healing, so the logical conclusion is that they want religion to be given an exemption to the usual rules.

The problem there is that, judging by the letter, these people honestly seem to think that there IS evidence for prayer-healing: they think their stupid anecdotes count as evidence, and they’ve not seen any contrary evidence because they haven’t bothered to look.

They’re not saying “OK, the evidence is against us but we should be able to do what we want anyway”. They’re saying “The evidence is on our side”. They’re just wrong as a simple question of fact.

[And even if the above were not the case, they STILL wouldn't be calling for people to use prayer instead of real medicine. That's the straw man in Unity's post]

20. Shatterface

How do you figure that attributing a ludicrous opinion to me which you’ve just made up classes as ‘being generous’? I very much doubt that any of them are, and I didn’t suggest they were.

Well if they aren’t making that claim then the OP is a straw man argument -just as Chaise suggested.

And redoesto, you are making the same argument. These MPs are not calling for the eclusive use of prayer, and as the examples I used above (the Pope’s medicsl team, the opposition to switching off life support machines) demonstrate those supporting prayer are not opposed to medicine.

Yes, there are loonies, but you’ll find just opposition to medicine in the Green movement (who oppose genetic research) and anti-capitalists opposed to ‘Big Pharma’.

@Shatterface

You really are a comedian aren’t you?

You accuse me of thinking that these MPs favour a “ban on medicine”.

You accuse unnamed people but presumably Unity of “preventing [people] professing their beliefs”.

And while you’re flinging these wild charges left, right, and centre, at the same time you’re crying “a straw man” when people quite reasonably draw attention to the likely outcome of a policy-change currently being proposed by serving MPs.

@Chaise

I think the point of the OP is quite simple: incidents like the ones listed would rise if the ASA code was changed to reflect what the letter-writing MPs want. That’s why the letter is dangerous.

It has never been suggested that the MPs themselves reject modern medicine wholesale. Despite your repeated insistence, that particular straw man has not been shot; he’s still alive and well. Their views on that topic are – quite simply – neither here nor there.

The problem is they are proposing a policy-change – whether they realise it or not – which will favour charlatans & religious extremists who assuredly do reject modern medicine. Your argument that they’re too dim to realise that’s what they’re doing may be right, but it doesn’t strike me as much of a defence, and nor does it change the consequences of what would happen if they got their way.

22. Shatterface

@Shatterface

You really are a comedian aren’t you?

I’m not the one named after one of the Three Stoogies

You accuse me of thinking that these MPs favour a “ban on medicine”.

You are defending an OP which insinuates that very thing. If the MPs who wrote the letter aren’t opposed to medicine Unity’s examples are irrelevant.

You accuse unnamed people but presumably Unity of “preventing [people] professing their beliefs”.

That was a continuation of a claim by a Christian on a previous thread who claimed the ban prevents them professing their beliefs. Do keep up.

And while you’re flinging these wild charges left, right, and centre, at the same time you’re crying “a straw man” when people quite reasonably draw attention to the likely outcome of a policy-change currently being proposed by serving MPs.

In case you are too lazy to backtrack, I’ll repeat what I said above:

I’m with Chaise here: the ban on claiming prayer is effective (which, being sane, I support) is a seperate issue from anecdotal cases where prayer is used exclusively.

See, I support the ban on an advert claiming prayer is effective becsuse I’m sane. I don’t oppose a ban on faithists professing their brlief in prayer.

Its not my fault if you came in late to the conversation.

Cylux; “The Lord’s prayer is very specific, it is “thy will be done” not “my will be done”. You can see the problems this causes with ideas of intercessory prayers.”

All is now clear. We know exactly who to blame for the consequences of earthquakes, tsunamis and pandemics.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 21 Larry

“I think the point of the OP is quite simple: incidents like the ones listed would rise if the ASA code was changed to reflect what the letter-writing MPs want. That’s why the letter is dangerous.”

Fine, but then why doesn’t the OP say that?

“It has never been suggested that the MPs themselves reject modern medicine wholesale.”

Presenting a rebuttal to someone that consists of loads of examples of something that they are not, in fact, known to be in favour of, constitutes a “suggestion” to me. It’s certainly dishonest.

“The problem is they are proposing a policy-change – whether they realise it or not – which will favour charlatans & religious extremists who assuredly do reject modern medicine. Your argument that they’re too dim to realise that’s what they’re doing may be right, but it doesn’t strike me as much of a defence, and nor does it change the consequences of what would happen if they got their way.”

Like I said, it’s not all that clear *what* they’re calling for. The letter just demands evidence; in theory, they should apologise and give up once the evidence is presented to them. Obviously they’ll almost certainly just move the goalposts, but until that happens, there’s little to be gained by putting words into their mouths. Plus it’s handing them a moral highground in a debate where they absolutely do not deserve one.

@23 I’m told that much like the Cylons, God has a plan.

@25; “@23 I’m told that much like the Cylons, God has a plan.”

OK. The implication is the Man has no free will and is therefore blameless for anything that goes wrong, which is a thoroughly convenient excuse for any criminal on trial or for the likes of Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, Hitler and Mao. As for the 30 Years War in Europe 1618-48 . .

@Chaise,

Your entire argument is based on a false premise from the outset as the article implies nothing of what you would like it to have done (see your first post) in order to establish a dubious polemic. Most people just call it plain attention seeking.

28. Shatterface

Your entire argument is based on a false premise from the outset as the article implies nothing of what you would like it to have done (see your first post) in order to establish a dubious polemic. Most people just call it plain attention seeking.

And some of us would call that an ad hom

29. Chaise Guevara

@ 27 Richard

“Your entire argument is based on a false premise from the outset as the article implies nothing of what you would like it to have done (see your first post) in order to establish a dubious polemic.”

I’ve explained this more than once. Kindly address what I’ve actually said. I’ll synopsise for the benefit of the lazy and grumpy: if the article DOESN’T imply that the guys who wrote the letter are in favour of using prayer instead of medicine, then the entire article is a non-sequitur.

“Most people just call it plain attention seeking.”

Thankfully for the human race, you don’t actually speak on the behalf of “most people”. If you can manage to address my actual points, rather than just misrepresenting me and then throwing out lazy ad homs, please let me know.

When I was given an initial MS diagnosis, you should see some of the rubbish I was sent about quack cures, including a serum made of goats blood after they’d been infected with human HIV. Medicine often works. It’s tested. Sometimes it fails to work, and people die. Get over it.

@Chaise,

Like I said, it’s not all that clear *what* they’re calling for.

It’s perfectly clear! They’re calling for the ASA to lower the standard of evidence it requires in support of adverts for faith-based healing.

I agree it’s not clear whether they want it lowered to zero (because Christians should be allowed to do what they want, whatever the evidence) or just low enough to allow dodgy anecdotes and tradition to count as evidence.

You think they’re going for the second of those. Fine. Whatever. I don’t care, because the two are the same anyway, and the outcome would be identical in each case: namely an increase in the types of tragedy listed in the OP.

It’s beyond me how you think it’s a ‘non-sequitur’ to raise the likely negative consequences of a policy being proposed by MPs.

32. Planeshift

“Sometimes it fails to work”

And therin lies the explanation. Often people with a chronic condition get told by their GP that they just have to live with it. Many of them are desperate to get better, and become disillusioned with medicine and look for any road that could lead to them getting better. In this situation they are vulnerable to the quacks and fraudsters who will promise them cures in exchange for their life savings. Hence it is vital that the ASA is incredibly strict in this area, and frankly I think should be doing a lot more.

@26 Oh man has free will alright, it’s just God already knows what choices will be made in advance and plans accordingly. Unlike the Cylons, who failed to predict the writers strike.

34. Chaise Guevara

@ 31 Larry

“It’s perfectly clear! They’re calling for the ASA to lower the standard of evidence it requires in support of adverts for faith-based healing.

I agree it’s not clear whether they want it lowered to zero (because Christians should be allowed to do what they want, whatever the evidence) or just low enough to allow dodgy anecdotes and tradition to count as evidence.

You think they’re going for the second of those. Fine. Whatever. I don’t care, because the two are the same anyway, and the outcome would be identical in each case: namely an increase in the types of tragedy listed in the OP.”

That’s not what I think. I think that a) they mistakenly think it’s the ASA’s job to provide evidence to ad firms rather than vice versa, and b) that the evidence, if properly considered, would work out in their favour. They’re not calling for changes to the system, they’re wrong about how the system works (and scientifically illiterate to boot!)

Where in the letter does it say otherwise?

“It’s beyond me how you think it’s a ‘non-sequitur’ to raise the likely negative consequences of a policy being proposed by MPs.”

The OP completely fails to connect the letter to the cited examples. That’s the problem. It seems to be written on the assumption that the MPs were proposing the legalisation of ads that slander real medicine and make up fake powers of prayer. Which, based on the letter, they’re not.

They’re not calling for changes to the system, they’re wrong about how the system works

Er, the two aren’t incompatible. What do you think their letter’s for if they’re not calling for anything to be changed? They’re stridently objecting to how the system worked in this case, and calling for it to be changed to how they think it ought to work. They may not yet have decided whether they’re actually going to go so far as proposing changes to the code, or are simply content to bulluy the ASA into how to applies the code. But either way, it’s as plain as daylight that they’re unhappy with the status quo and what it changed.

The OP completely fails to connect the letter to the cited examples.

Guess what: I agree. But the important point as far as I’m concerned is that there is a connection, and it is a very important one, namely that the MPs getting their way would cause an increase in these sorts of tragedy. So I’m going to go ahead an assume that this entirely true and highly relevant argument is what Unity had in mind.

If you prefer to assume instead that he meant something stupid and false involving “ads that slander real medicine and make up fake powers of prayer” – even though he didn’t mention anything of the kind – I guess that’s your business.

36. Chaise Guevara

*THEY THINK* the evidence would work in their favour, rather.

37. Chaise Guevara

@ 35 Larry

“Er, the two aren’t incompatible. What do you think their letter’s for if they’re not calling for anything to be changed?”

They’re trying to catch the ASA red-handed showing bias. Which it ain’t, but there you go.

Assuming that they DO think the ASA made the wrong decision under the rules – which seems likely from the letter – why would they be calling for the system to be changed? How can you be demanding a change be made when you think the “correct” system is already the status quo?

“They’re stridently objecting to how the system worked in this case, and calling for it to be changed to how they think it ought to work.”

Again: where does the letter call for a change to the system?

“They may not yet have decided whether they’re actually going to go so far as proposing changes to the code, or are simply content to bulluy the ASA into how to applies the code. But either way, it’s as plain as daylight that they’re unhappy with the status quo and what it changed.”

OK. But – unless you can point to a demand for a change to the system – the only status quo they’re vocally unhappy with is the fact that this advert got banned. And judging by the letter, they appear to think that it got banned NOT because the system is wrong, but because the ASA cheated the system by ignoring evidence.

“Guess what: I agree.”

Great. Why are we arguing about it, then? Why are you objecting to my use of the term “non-sequitur” to describe what you now seem to agree is a non-sequitur?

Is this a loyalty thing? Even if we know something is a non-sequitur we have to pretend it’s not, or risk betraying our side?

“But the important point as far as I’m concerned is that there is a connection, and it is a very important one, namely that the MPs getting their way would cause an increase in these sorts of tragedy. So I’m going to go ahead an assume that this entirely true and highly relevant argument is what Unity had in mind.

If you prefer to assume instead that he meant something stupid and false involving “ads that slander real medicine and make up fake powers of prayer” – even though he didn’t mention anything of the kind – I guess that’s your business.”

What do you mean by the MPs “getting their way”, and how does it differ to the idea of changing the system so that people can present false claims with impunity? Forget the bit about slandering real medicine, I overreached there.

38. Charlieman

@OP: “Madeline Kara Neumann – Died aged 11 years, on March 28 2008, of undiagnosed diabetes while her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann knelt by her bedside and prayed for their daughter instead of seeking medical treatment.”

Somebody who has a legal qualification will no doubt provide a better informed review of practice when treating religious believers who reject medical intervention.

My recollection is that principles were established in UK law over many years to protect children in Christian Scientist families. Those principles are recognised by Christian Scientists who permit medical treatment of mothers during pregnancy and of minors. Those legal principles obviously apply to other similar religions — although observation of the law is their own choice.

The examples cited by Unity are ones where UK doctors are entitled to intervene. It is unclear to me whether Christian Scientists would seek intervention (pro-activism) and it is likely that some religious believers would try to obstruct it. However I don’t see a direct connection between the denial of health care to children and religious advertisements.


The MPs who request that religious advertising should permit “cure through faith” claims are misguided, I agree. They may be open to debate about how scammers would use the ability to make such claims to defraud vulnerable people. Sadly this thread has become a vehement atheist rant chain.

Why are we arguing about it, then? Why are you objecting to my use of the term “non-sequitur” to describe what you now seem to agree is a non-sequitur?

I don’t agree with any such thing. I do accept that Unity’s post requires the reader to join two dots together in the obviously correct way. And the reason we’re arguing about it is that for reasons of your own you seem determined not to do so.

James Reade @9:

“[T]here is no “provable” evidence either way, just very strong beliefs.”

Sorry, but I call ‘twaddle’ on that.

There is provable evidence that science-based medicine works. There is a hell of a lot of evidence that science-based medicine works. That science-based medicine works in the vast majority of cases either to cure a condition or effectively to manage it should not need pointing out in this day and age.

If a science-based treatment doesn’t work very well (or at all), then it stops being used, and medical science tries to come up with something better. They succeed far more often than they fail. I have been an insulin-dependent diabetic for over twenty years, and in that time I’ve seen the scientific and therapeutic aspects of the condition’s management advance markedly. People with other conditions will probably tell you the same.

That’s called evidence. Reproducible evidence. Testable evidence. Provable evidence.

On the other side are just unsupported (and unsupportable) assertions masquerading as reality (like when someone comes up with a load of ould bollix and thinks that they can get away with it by shouting, “FACT!” at the end of it). The only ‘support’ provided consists of a series of anecdotes which have all the status of those ‘unsolicited testimonials’ you used to see in the small ads in newspapers for stuff or devices which claimed to ‘cure’ hairy-rimmed ears or suchlike.

Medical science has the – yes, the living – proof of its efficacy all around us. The spouters of mumbo-jumbo and woo of all descriptions have nothing but their own base motives and the gullibility of their followers to call upon.

9. James Reade

“It’s really easy to find zealots in all walks of life who use convenient “evidence” to support their own ends.”

Indeed, Gary Streeter on human induced Climate Change for example: “Is it truly possible, I hear you ask, that all of these international scientists could be wrong? Well, yes actually.” – his reason, he goes on to explain, Climate scientists could be wrong, is because the Titanic sank.

http://gary-streeter.blogspot.co.uk/2009_12_01_archive.html

It seems that for Gary, “evidence” has a different meaning to that decribed in Judge@40.

Personally, I regard it as an article of faith that Gary Streeter did not get more votes than any other candidate in South West Devon at the last election. As such he should not be an MP.

42. Christopher Heward

Frightingly failed logic from the writer. So someone prays for someone instead of giving them medical care and this has fatal consequences and therefore all written-down offers of prayer for healing should be banned?

So if I school teacher abused a child should teaching be banned? Or if a few MPs fiddle their expenses should the Parliamentary system be banned? Someone writes a bad blog and therefore blogging should be banned? Some of the reasoning on this over the last few months is embarrassing. People are letting their secular obsession get in the way of reason.

What is truely frightening is that people are starting to want the state ban anything they disagree with, or anything that some people might get hurt by. So lets also ban: swimming pools (some people drown), cars (some people get run over), alcohol (deaths due to drunk driving, plus liver disease, depression, partner abuse). The list is endless of things that could be abused, or things that could go wrong if done unwisely.

Absolutely ludicrous for a country that is supposed to be a liberal democracy, and especially from a blog that is supposed to represent liberal values.

@Christopher Heward

therefore all written-down offers of prayer for healing should be banned

Nope. No-one said that. No-one at all.

Frightening logic fail

Right back at ya.

44. Christopher Heward

@43 OK I got my words mixed up a bit, although the same logic does still apply.

If I told you face to face that ‘God can heal you’, then presumably that’d be alright? These guys write it down and hand it to people and those bits of paper get banned, and they also can’t put copies of these leaflets online either. That is effectively what is happening.

Bear in mind that:
1) They aren’t charging people money;
2) There are around 50 people involved from around 20 congregations, so this is not about people trying to get people into their Church building so that they can start giving them money at a later date; and
3) People are explicitly told that they should continue to take any prescribed medication and to return to their doctor, and see if he changes their prescription as a result of any healing that takes place.

Therefore 1) there is no vested interest to lie about things to make money and 2) there is minimal risk to anyone’s health, as they are told to carry on with their prescriptions afterwards.

I fail to see why people make such a big thing out of it given these facts.

And this is before we even get on to whether God does actually heal, which is a separate issue really.

This ridiculous article is highly prejudicial and displays an incredible degree of ignorance.

It rests upon the highly misguided assumption that when a Christian prays for God to heal, they automatically refuse any of the God-given means at their disposal for their prayers to be answered.

Clearly, as your links show, there are some cranks who do apparently believe this. Thankfully, in the cases you have cited, laws exist to bring such criminally negligent individuals to account.

The reality is, however, that such extreme views and practices are just that – extreme and rare.

In the 30+ years of my active Christian faith, I have never come across a single incident of anyone acting in such an irresponsible way, despite being in numerous settings in which prayer for the sick is a normal part of the life of the church.

Which is why this article is so appalling. It suggests that anyone who prays for, or offers to pray for another person’s healing, does so *instead of* seeking medical means of cure, as if the two are in opposition. Not true.

Actually I think Jesus probably had it about right – ask that God’s will be done, grovel a bit, and don’t ask for any of the shit that people are encouraged week after week in Churches to ask for. He doesn’t even cover World Peace in his suggested prayer. But then what would He know?

@ Al Shaw

“It rests upon the highly misguided assumption that when a Christian prays for God to heal, they automatically refuse any of the God-given means at their disposal for their prayers to be answered.”

No it doesn’t. It simply points out that if you tell people that God can and will heal them if they only ask him, *some* of those people will (quite reasonably) infer that so long as they pray to God for healing, they don’t need to seek any medical treatment.

Of course it’s a minority of people, and of course very few churches or ‘faith healers’ will actively discourage people from seeking medical treatment. But that doesn’t change the fact that if you tell people that their illness will be healed if they only pray to God, or take a certain homeopathic remedy, or whatever, you can’t evade responsibility when some of those people decide to rely exclusively on the treatment you’ve told them will be effective.

The promise of healing through prayer is particularly problematic, for two reasons:

1 – a homeopathic practitioner can afford to admit that his treatments might sometimes not be effective even if used correctly (because homeopathy is a fallible, human, imperfect ‘science’). Hence he can recommend that you take antibiotics too, just to be sure. A ‘faith healer’ is not in that position, because God is supposed to be perfect and infallible, and to have unlimited power; hence if you believe he’s promised to heal anyone who has faith and prays, you’re obliged to believe that promise is 100% reliable.

2 – precisely because God is infallible, failures of healing have to be put down to the lack of faith of the person(s) doing the praying. This creates an incentive to eschew medical treatment so as to demonstrate your absolute faith that God will heal you.

48. Chaise Guevara

@ 39 Larry

“I don’t agree with any such thing. I do accept that Unity’s post requires the reader to join two dots together in the obviously correct way. And the reason we’re arguing about it is that for reasons of your own you seem determined not to do so.”

So obvious that Unity didn’t actually think of it, eh? If you’re going to ignore 90% of my post I’ll assume you’re just here to point-score and aren’t interested in an honest conversation. So, see ya.

49. Chaise Guevara

@ 44

If I told you face to face that ‘God can heal you’, then presumably that’d be alright? These guys write it down and hand it to people and those bits of paper get banned, and they also can’t put copies of these leaflets online either. That is effectively what is happening.”

It’s like any other advertising issue, not specific to prayer. I can tell you that burgers are good for you if I want. Conceivably, if you then went on to eat loads of burgers and got fat, you could sue me personally, but I wouldn’t get the ASA on my back. If I was a burger firm and made such claims, my ads would get shut down.

It’s about sensible legislation. A private conversation is not, generally speaking, an advertisement.

“I fail to see why people make such a big thing out of it given these facts.”

I agree that the HOTS issue isn’t a huge deal in itself, but two points:

1) The fact that it’s a minor matter doesn’t mean it’s not worth dealing with, especially as the infratructure to do so exists already.
2) It’s been banned under the same rules that prevent me from selling you a $500 lump of quartz to “heal” your cancer, or hydrochloric acid as an acne treatment. The rules cover the important cases of exploitation and malice. They also cover the smaller, more forgivable cases of well-intentioned deception, like this one. If exploitation and malice didn’t exist we probably wouldn’t have bothered making the rules in the first place, but ALL of the above effects are good things that protect the public.

@Chaise

you’re just here to point-score and aren’t interested in an honest conversation

I’m interested in an honest conversation, I’m just not interested accompanying you in your extended mountaineering expedition up this particular molehill.

We were discussing the relevance of the list of tragedies in the OP to the MPs’ letter. I’ve explained what I think its relevance is, which is also what I think Unity thinks its relevance is. What else can I say? If you’re adamant that Unity actually meant something else (something rather silly), then all we can do is agree to disagree, isn’t it? Unless Unity shows up to tell us.

Outside the world of blogging minutiae and gotchas, the important question is not whether or not Unity’s an idiot, but whether there is a relevance here. And I maintain that the answer is yes, and it’s an important one: if the ASA doesn’t keep a tight rein on the claims it allows faith-healers to make then there is a very serious risk of tragedies like the ones listed increasing.

51. Chaise Guevara

@ 50 Larry

I agree we’re at an impasse regarding whether Unity’s article is reasonable. I think the deductive leap required to make it make sense encourages readers to get the wrong idea about the letter. You don’t, and it doesn’t seem either of us is going to sway the other. I was more annoyed about the way the rest of the argument suddenly seems to have vanished without a trace, leaving many questions unanswered.

52. Christopher Heward

@49 But this is the important point isn’t it – if I was a burger store trying to sell you burgers for my own profit then that’d be relevant. But if I didn’t have anything really to gain from it then it’s not an issue. If I personally went around giving people leaflets telling them burgers were good for them, even if it was a lie, then if there is no evidence that I’m selling burgers, then the ASA can’t really do anything about it. Similarly, all HOTS Bath is is a collection of people offering prayer for free. MAny of them would do it in any other context, but they do it with a big banner and some chairs because those people who don’t have Christian friends to ask to pray for them can just walk past and sit down, and know they’ll be their each week. The fliers are there so that someone walking past can come back another time or pass on to a friend who wants prayer. It’s not a flier to advertise a product being sold, it’s a flier to raise awareness of the fact that some people are praying next to the Abbey at certain times.

I can see what if it was only one congregation doing it that even if there was no fee charged they might be seen as trying to get people in to pay money at the Church building, but there’s around 50 Christians from around 20 congregations involved, so they simply want to see people healed (of course thy’re human so there’ll be other emotions at play – maybe someone’s praying for people because they’ll feel guilty if they don’t, or they think God’ll like them more if they do, but life’s messy like that and hopefully those people will realise they don’t need to feel guilty or earn God’s affection).

My point is that whether or not it is true that God heals (and there’s plenty of evidence that people who are commanded to get well in Jesus’s name have done so: http://www.hotsbath.org/stories-3.html) this isn’t a product being sold for the seller’s gain, and therefore isn’t advertising in the way that presumably the ASA is supposed to cover.

@ Christopher Heward

If I personally went around giving people leaflets telling them burgers were good for them, even if it was a lie, then if there is no evidence that I’m selling burgers, then the ASA can’t really do anything about it.

I’m open to correction on this, but I think the ASA would take the view that you were advertising burgers (albeit as a hobby rather than for profit), and would consider your leaflets to fall within their remit.

The bottom line is that HOTS are offering a public service – albeit a free one – and are using leaflets and webpages to advertise that service. They’re perfectly entitled to do that, so long as they don’t make misleading claims about the effectiveness of their methods…. which they did.

@Chaise, well sorry for annoying you and all, but I just thought the discussion was going round in circles. No offence intended.

54. Chaise Guevara

@ 52 Christopher

I’ll ignore the problems with the way you approach “evidence” as it’s the focal point of our discussion in the other thread.

Your main point here seems to be that HOTS was not profiting from the claims, correct? Aside from what Larry says below, I have two points here:

1) There are incentives above and beyond personal profit. For religious groups, converting people (or encouraging existing believers to “get closer to god”) is one of them. These such groups often approach people who are ill or dying, which from an outside view looks like preying on the vulnerable. This is part of the problem with what HOTS was doing.

2) I accept that they weren’t really doing much harm and assume that they had no intention of exploiting anyone, but people need protecting from the well-meaning as well as the selfish or malicious. And, as I said before, it’s mainly to do with creating a workable law. Giving HOTS an exemption for being nice people would open loopholes for abuse. Bottom line: don’t make unfounded claims in adverts.

55. Chaise Guevara

@ 53 Larry

No, it’s cool, and you’re right about us going in circles. Probably better for us to draw a line under it rather than end up in a blazing row over a topic where we agree on all the important policy points.

@19 Chaise,

No, what they’re wanting is the onus of proof to be reversed, i.e. the ASA should have to disprove the claims beyond any doubt rather than the Church prove their claims.

That leads to the real possibility of me advertising a magic pill that cures death. Small, sugary and delicious, eating 10 every day will mean you’ll never die (as long as you believe it to be true – they utilise the body’s natural endorphins, hence the need for the belief to release them). They might arrive in a packet labelled “Tooty Fruities” but, trust me, their a wonder drug. Now, can the ASA disprove my claims? Where’s their scientific and empirical evidence? So I should be allowed to run my adverts?

As to the exclusive use of prayer – the reason these anecdotes exist is that people do use prayer exclusively, regardless of what the pope / church leaders say. It becomes, as others have pointed out, a measure of faith. If I truly believe in the power of prayer, in the power of god, why, in the name of the almighty, would I resort to man made concoctions as a back up?

At the end of the day, the advert claimed that prayer heals, it didn’t claim that prayer heals in conjunction with the use of regular medicine. That’s why it was deemed unacceptable.

When discussing this kind of topic, I’m always reminded of the old adage about alternative remedies:

What do we call alternative medicines that work? Medicine.

57. Chaise Guevara

@ 56

“No, what they’re wanting is the onus of proof to be reversed, i.e. the ASA should have to disprove the claims beyond any doubt rather than the Church prove their claims.”

As far as I can tell, they think that’s how the burden of proof is already set up. Otherwise they were deliberately trying to look like idiots when they wrote the letter, rather than doing so by mistake.

“As to the exclusive use of prayer – the reason these anecdotes exist is that people do use prayer exclusively, regardless of what the pope / church leaders say. It becomes, as others have pointed out, a measure of faith. If I truly believe in the power of prayer, in the power of god, why, in the name of the almighty, would I resort to man made concoctions as a back up?”

Hard to say, but most Christians seem to use medicine, so obviously spurning real treatment is not standard practice among believers. Insofar as I’m aware, the main problem is with groups that specifically teach that using some/all medicine is sinful, so the real killer isn’t the message that prayer heals (although that’s not great), it’s the message that you should reject the drugs that would save your life.

I don’t think these people are going to be affected by the message “prayer heals”!

“At the end of the day, the advert claimed that prayer heals, it didn’t claim that prayer heals in conjunction with the use of regular medicine. That’s why it was deemed unacceptable.”

I’m pretty sure it would have been deemed unacceptable even if it had said the latter. It’s still an unsubstantiated and misleading claim.

“When discussing this kind of topic, I’m always reminded of the old adage about alternative remedies:

What do we call alternative medicines that work? Medicine.”

Oh aye, agreed.

58. Christopher Heward

@56
At the end of the day, the advert claimed that prayer heals, it didn’t claim that prayer heals in conjunction with the use of regular medicine.

Nor did it claim that prayer heals without the use of regular medicine, or that to be healed one should stop using medicine. In fact people are explicitly told to continue taking their medicine.

I know the person who runs HOTS Bath well, and my impression was that their dialogue went like this:

ASA: “Do you have any evidence?”
HOTS: “We have many testimonies”
ASA: “Testimonies aren’t good enough. Your adverts are banned”

They didn’t say “well that’s not good enough so we have extreme concerns about this for reasons X, Y and Z and so if in the next couple of months [bare in mind this has already been going 3 years so a few months doesn't make much difference, particularly as they were going on a winter break] you can’t provide with medically-verified evidence we wil have to ban this kind of advertising”.

If that had been the case HOTS could have asked people in Bath and around the country/world to provide doctors notes which showed they had been unwell, received prayer in the name of God, and been clearly healed, and as long as they got one solid piece of evidence then that would demonstrate that God CAN heal (note CAN rather than WILL ALWAYS). People will say ‘one isn’t good enough’, but I return to the point that they’re not getting benefit from this in the way people selling a product would, so it’s not a question of verifying the effectiveness of a product, it’s try to answer a question about whether or not God (a being, not a product) can heal people.

So the issue is firstly that it isn’t a product or service that is being questioned, rather it is a belief (should we ban leaflets given out by the socialist party saying “Socialism is the answer to the world’s problems” , or rich people handing out leaflets saying “vote to lower taxes on the rich”?).

But another issue is that the ASA didn’t really given any time for evidence to be gathered, they just assumed that there wasn’t any evidence and then dictated that these leaflets should be removed immediately, and suddenly HOTS can’t give the leaflets out before they’ve even had a proper chance to respond to the ruling.

59. Chaise Guevara

@ 58 Christopher

“So the issue is firstly that it isn’t a product or service that is being questioned, rather it is a belief”

False dichotomy. It’s a service based on a belief.

“But another issue is that the ASA didn’t really given any time for evidence to be gathered, they just assumed that there wasn’t any evidence and then dictated that these leaflets should be removed immediately, and suddenly HOTS can’t give the leaflets out before they’ve even had a proper chance to respond to the ruling.”

Totally untrue. HOTS was given a chance to respond, in line with the ASA’s standard process. They were specifically asked for evidence, which they failed to provide. The fault is with HOTS, and it’s growing tiring to see you presenting the ASA as bigots and bullies simply because they did their job and gave HOTS the same treatment as anyone else making medical claims.

As to the rest of your post, I have to ask again: are you saying that we should relax the rules surrounding medical claims in advertising in general, or that religious groups should get a special dispensation?

60. Christopher Heward

I’m essentially saying it isn’t a service as such, or at least it’s difficult to define what a ‘service’ is. What they are offering is prayer, and a this prayer might heal you because God can heal. So the ‘service’ is prayer. Which his basically a conversation. So at want point it becomes a service is hard to tell. To be honest it is a grey area because I can’t think of any other context when people would offer something free of charge without any expectation of return in the future to themselves (on the basis that the Christian gospel is that we are certain of our forgiveness and therefore don’t need to do any good things to earn God’s favour, so anything we do do should only be out of a loving response to this, to pass it on to others, not for personal gain).

So I’m not so much looking for an exemption, as to say it’s a grey area and it’s hard to see whether it should come under their remit.

I don’t think that it was HOTS fault. I mean, think about it. If you have the thinking above, where you think “we’re not selling something, we’re wanting anything in return, we’re just letting people know we’re hear to pray”, why would it ever cross your mind that you are offering a product for sale, and therefore need to meet ASA rules? Even if it is fair that the ASA rules apply, it is unlikely to cross your mind. So when, after 3 years of doing this without any complaints to authorities they’re aware of, why would you have collected medical evidence of whether these healings have occurred? What they do, is anyone who says “I couldn’t walk but now I’m fine” they’ll write that down on a bit of paper, or someone who says they feel better, or someone who says they don’t feel better, but they felt peaceful. They’ll right it down. So when the ASA get in touch they say “we’ve got this list of people who said they were healed’, that’s fair enough for HOTS to share that, and it’s fair enough I guess for the ASA to reject it. However, if they turn around and say ‘you need medical evidence’ then they should provide time for HOTS to gather it together if they wish. Surely the notion of innocent until proven guilty must apply to some degree, and a bit of common sense. OK, it’s potentially impossible to prove that God doesn’t heal, but at least you should be required to give the leaflet distributers enough time to provide evidence that he does?

Thanks, by the way, for your good natured discussion on this Chaise :)

@58 Chaise – “I’m pretty sure it would have been deemed unacceptable even if it had said the latter. It’s still an unsubstantiated and misleading claim.”

I’m not so sure. If the advert had said something along the lines of “Prayer can enhance the effects of your medical treatment” (or something a little less clumsy but to imply the same”, that would be up there with the “Lynx Effect” claims.

62. Chaise Guevara

@ 60 Christopher

I can see why’d you’d consider this different to a product or service that someone paid for. It IS different, fair enough. There’s a moral distinction. But as far as I know (and this ruling seems to confirm it) the rules on advertising affect non-profits as well.

I think it’s right for this to be the case, too. OK, letting HOTS keep its adverts wouldn’t mean the sky would fall in. But what if non-profits (either for political reasons or out of a misguided attempt to do good) were giving out actively harmful opinions as fact? No, it seems a good general rule that claims in adverts need to have a reasonable base of evidence, and this is what HOTS has fallen foul of.

You ask why HOTS would have bothered to collect evidence. If they didn’t have any evidence to begin with, why did they make those claims? If they had no basis for the claim, why put it on an advert to begin with? HOTS could have checked the law at any time, and frankly they also could have just decided to be honest as human beings. And it’s not like they’ve been fined or jailed, even: the ASA has simply prevented them from continuing their dishonest practices. Good for the ASA.

By the way, “innocent until proven guilty” is a specific rule set down to protect people accused of crimes. It isn’t shorthand for “I should have carte blanche to make any factual claim I make unless it can be 100% proven wrong”, nor does it mean “Organisations should be able to ignore the law until they’re found out, and even then they should be given a grace period in which they’re allowed to keep breaking it”.

If breaking the ASA’s rules was a criminal offence, and HOTS staff had been jailed without a trial, presumed innocence would be relevant here. But it isn’t, they haven’t, and it’s not.

If your last sentence was genuine, then the same to you. If it was sarcastic, then :p

63. Chaise Guevara

@ 61 Don Mc

“I’m not so sure. If the advert had said something along the lines of “Prayer can enhance the effects of your medical treatment” (or something a little less clumsy but to imply the same”, that would be up there with the “Lynx Effect” claims.”

It wouldn’t have been so bad, but it would still be a clear unsubstantiated claim. Two reasons why it’s different from Lynx:

1) It’s medical. Generally medical claims get a lot more oversight than non-medical ones. Ever noticed how ads for branded painkillers tend to say something like “nothing is more effective” rather than “this is the most effective painkiller”? It’s because they’re not shown to be more effective, and they’re not allowed to put a toe out of line in advertising. A shampoo brand can get away with polling 100 customers and reporting that most of them agreed that the shampoo made their hair more “curlacious” than the leading brand, but you can’t do the same with medical claims.

2) The Lynx ads are obviously tongue in cheek. Although this is another example of how different categories are treated differently: if Bacardi showed men becoming attractive to women after using its products, it would get shut down in an instant, because linking alcohol use to sexual success is specifically outlawed.

Any relation to the American folk singer-songwriter, BTW? :)

@63 – “Any relation to the American folk singer-songwriter, BTW?”

‘Fraid not. :-(

65. Penny Burgess

http://healingonthestreets.com/get-trained/

For everyone who is saying the group who want to advertise are not making money, they are – lots. They charge for “training”

This is a claim from their website…

“When you see miracles taking place in front of your eyes, you want to jump up and down and tell everyone. To see legs growing, twisted fingers being straightened, fibromyalgia disappearing, being told of cancerous growths vanishing from scans and x-rays, and doctors left scratching their heads, you know that God is merciful.”

This is why the advert was not allowed by the ASA. It has nothing to do religion, or freedom of speech. It has everything to with with not allowing unsubstantiated rubbish to be claimed by charlatans for financial gain.

Not got time to read the comments, but in response to the original post, HOTS are not telling people to avoid medical treatment. Their literature is clear on this. Your Dawkins-style argument that something is bad because something similar but more extreme is clearly bad is simply fallacious.

Secondly, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence pointing the other way. Take this example (which I heard about several years ago): http://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=NF5wyeoOWlA

Or this one somebody showed me last night: http://www.awmi.net/extra/healing/moore

The fact is that some people do seem to be healed of illnesses following prayer. Groups like HOTS are pointing to examples they have seen, are not promising that it will happen, are not encouraging people to forgo medical treatment for their conditions unless there is clear evidence that they have been genuinely healed, and are not in it for the money. In such a case your claim that supporting them is dangerous is simply a slippery slope/thin end of the wedge argument, of the sort that is torn to bits on this site when it’s being made by the Tories.

If you want to stop the groups who preach healing as an alternative to medicine, then your best bet is to help those who believe in it in addition to medicine to win them over, not to roundly condemn both groups as if they were the same thing.

67. Penny Burgess

@ 66 Green Christian.

It may be an idea to read what people have said. Please look at the links I posted about the company behind this ad…. this is not about faith healing or religion, it’s about truth in advertising. The company wanting to advertise is making thousands out of this, they are not a registered charity, they appear to be charlatans.

@67. Penny Burgess

Where do you get your claim that the national Healing on the Streets organisation is making thousands of pounds? Charging for training may imply making a profit, but it might imply nothing more than covering the cost of premises, training materials, speaker’ expenses, and lunch (or even, depending how long it is, accommodation).

If there is, as you claim, any fleecing people for money going on, it’s the national organisation fleecing the local groups, not the local groups fleecing the general public. And the leaflet in question was produced by one of the local groups, not the national organisation.

From what I’ve seen of Healing on the Streets, it’s a group who genuinely believes God heals, offers to pray for people, and sees some people show a partial or complete recovery from their illness or condition afterwards. Having followed this controversy since before it appeared on the radar of sites like this, I’ve not seen any evidence that the ASA cares whether the specific claims made in the leaflet are true or not. They have said that changing the wording of leaflets to relegate the claim “God can heal” to be a statement of religious belief rather than fact would not have changed their ruling. And neither would making the language encouraging people not to see prayer as an alternative to medicine clearer and stronger. In short, their problem appears to be not with what the leaflet actually said, but the fact that it exists at all. From what I can see, the ASA’s stance has nothing at all to do with truth in advertising. If it had, then they would have taken a different approach.

69. Christopher Heward

Living in Bath and knowing the HOTS group including the person who leads it I can vouch for ‘what Green Christian is suggesting. I don’t know much about the national structure, however I follow the pioneer on Facebook and he did the training when HOTS Bath started at the end of 2008 (3 years without any serious complaints – until someone ventured across from Wiltshire! :D) and he seems very humble and travels all over the country and even the world and so is likely to be just covering the costs and maybe having enough to live off as it is a full time thing I imagine.

Someone from HOTS Bath is going to be on BBC radio tomorrow morning on various local stations between 7 and 9am, including Cornwall, Bristol, Merseyside, Wiltshire, Norfolk, York, Leicester and Manchester, so this might be worth listening to.

Sorry if there are any comments I haven’t replied to on this or the other – I was spending too much time on here!

I think the ASA has exceeded its mandate here and that the ruling throws up all sorts of questions which make me, and ought to make most people, uncomfortable.

The ASA ruling upholds the complaint that the “claim in ad (b) that the advertiser could heal the named conditions was misleading”. But who is the advertiser? The leaflet, and the subsequent clarification by HOTS in their response to the complaint (which the ASA seem to accept and certainly don’t argue against), makes it clear that it is God who heals, not any HOTS volunteer. Most people would probably take the view that if a Creator God exists, that God can perform miracles and heal is not surprising. The ASA seem to be accepting God as the “advertiser”, while simultaneously saying that the idea the advertiser can heal is misleading.

Second, what if HOTS had simply quoted bible passages saying that God can heal, and giving testimonials cited in the bible of examples of healing, and stating an offer to pray for people? The ASA ruling doesn’t seem to allow room for that either. Are people commenting here (including the OP) really comfortable with denying freedom of expression to that extent? Is the next step to ban the bible? This is a dangerous precedent.

I’m not someone who peddles the “Christians in the UK are being persecuted” line, but this unfortunate ruling gives succour to those who do.

A wider question in relation to Unity’s post – should those of us who believe that God can and does heal, and that God responds to prayer, avoid saying that publicly in case some people choose to avoid medical treatment? Can you see how from our perspective that looks like refusing to speak truth in case people get the wrong end of the stick? Can you see how from our perspective not speaking truth about God’s ability to heal could result in many people who could be healed not being healed? Is it a wise idea to criminalise people who have a strong belief that God heals and that truth should be (compassionately) spoken?

71. Chaise Guevara

@ 70 tim f

“I think the ASA has exceeded its mandate here”

The ASA tends to be careful about its mandate and has, in the past, refused to adjudicate on matters that exceed it. So could you provide a link to the mandate and an explanation of how it has breached it?

“The ASA ruling upholds the complaint that the “claim in ad (b) that the advertiser could heal the named conditions was misleading”. But who is the advertiser? The leaflet, and the subsequent clarification by HOTS in their response to the complaint (which the ASA seem to accept and certainly don’t argue against), makes it clear that it is God who heals, not any HOTS volunteer. Most people would probably take the view that if a Creator God exists, that God can perform miracles and heal is not surprising. The ASA seem to be accepting God as the “advertiser”, while simultaneously saying that the idea the advertiser can heal is misleading.”

What? The advertiser is HOTS. You know, the guys distributing the adverts? Attributing your unsourced claim to be able to heal people to a religious figure doesn’t stop it being an unsourced claim, or prevent you from being responsible.

Would you be ok with this advert? “God smiles on those who drink hydrochloric acid. So drink hydrochloric acid today, it might heal your gippy tummy!”

“Are people commenting here (including the OP) really comfortable with denying freedom of expression to that extent?”

Yep. Your freedom of expression is similarly curtailed if you want to sell scented water as an Alzheimer’s cure, or spread damaging lies about another individual, or order someone to commit a crime. False advertising is of the order of shouting “fire!” in a public theatre.

“Is the next step to ban the bible?”

Obviously not. You’d have heard about it if it was.

“I’m not someone who peddles the “Christians in the UK are being persecuted” line, but this unfortunate ruling gives succour to those who do.”

If by “being persecuted” you mean “having to follow the same rules as the rest of us”. You can use as much special pleading as you like, but it doesn’t make you the victim.

“A wider question in relation to Unity’s post – should those of us who believe that God can and does heal, and that God responds to prayer, avoid saying that publicly in case some people choose to avoid medical treatment?”

That’s up to you. AFAIK there’s no law preventing you from doing so, if that’s what you mean.

#71

I think the ASA has exceeded its mandate largely because I don’t view this as advertising. In form and content it has more in common with political leaflets which are specifically exempt. I’d also note that while HOTS offer to pray for people, they would not for a moment claim that they are the only people capable of praying for people or even that them praying is better than other people praying. It is the same God that heals. (Besides which, of course they don’t charge for praying.) This doesn’t seem to have much in common with the kind of advertising the ASA is supposed to regulate at all.

Have a look at the ruling and tell me if you’re still convinced HOTS is the “advertiser” in this case: http://asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2012/2/Healing-on-the-Streets_Bath/SHP_ADJ_158433.aspx The ASA have ruled that the claim made in the ad that the “advertiser” could heal was misleading. HOTS have not claimed that they can heal, and the ASA accepts their belief that it is God and not them who can heal. Therefore the ASA must be referring to God as the “advertiser” I know that sounds silly, but the wording of the ruling is key when it comes to something like the ASA. You can’t just say “oh, but it’s obvious what they meant” if they said something different.

As for your hydrochloric acid advert – of course I’d have a problem with it, but I don’t think it should be subject to regulation by the ASA. It should perhaps be subject to investigation by the police, (as something clearly harmful is being advocated), and certainly anyone who followed the advice would be entitled to sue.

“Special treatment” – I agree that most cases of so-called persecution against Christians in this country are actually demanding the continuation of historic special privileges that Christianity has received (and which in my view as a Baptist have also been a barrier to acceptance of the gospel). I’m not even saying that this instance counts as persecution, even though I think it is wrong and the ASA should not have got involved. What I am saying is that it gives succour to those who claim that persecution against Christians is rife in this country.

Finally, I don’t seriously think that anyone is about to ban the bible in the UK. BUT, I can’t see any difference between doing what HOTS did, and printing leaflets quoting bible passages saying that Jesus heals and that his followers have authority to heal, cast out demons and raise people from the dead, and offer to pray for people while handing them out. What is the difference there? It seems that the logical extension of this ruling would be for the ASA to rule against quoting from the bible, too. It’s just fortunate that they would almost certainly be inconsistent and not rule against this.

73. Chaise Guevara

@ 72 tim f

“I think the ASA has exceeded its mandate largely because I don’t view this as advertising.”

How can a leaflet distributed with the intent of encouraging people to use your services NOT be advertising?

“In form and content it has more in common with political leaflets which are specifically exempt.”

Key word there being “specifically”, they’re a special case.

“I’d also note that while HOTS offer to pray for people, they would not for a moment claim that they are the only people capable of praying for people or even that them praying is better than other people praying. It is the same God that heals.”

How is this relevant? They falsely claim that this prayer can heal people. The fact that they don’t commit other offences does not excuse the existing ones.

“(Besides which, of course they don’t charge for praying.)”

Someone above says they may profit from training so-called healers, so growing the market would obviously help this. It hasn’t actually been confirmed AFAIK. Assuming they don’t profit, then you might call that mitigating circumstance, but not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

“This doesn’t seem to have much in common with the kind of advertising the ASA is supposed to regulate at all.”

I’m sorry, but you’re just wrong about this. You seem to be basing it on the idea that the ASA only intervenes if the ad threatens another business (it doesn’t), that it doesn’t deal with non-profits (it does) and that you think it’s more like political advertising (which you haven’t explained).

“Have a look at the ruling and tell me if you’re still convinced HOTS is the “advertiser” in this case”

Already did, and yes, I’m convinced.

“The ASA have ruled that the claim made in the ad that the “advertiser” could heal was misleading. HOTS have not claimed that they can heal, and the ASA accepts their belief that it is God and not them who can heal.”

Yes, but HOTS are still saying that their prayer services may provide healing. Hence they are claiming they can heal people, regardless of the proposed method. Even if they’re doing it indirectly, by beseeching God to intervene, they are *still telling people that their services can provide healing*. Otherwise a doctor’s claim to heal people is a lie because really it was the penecillin that did it.

“Therefore the ASA must be referring to God as the “advertiser” I know that sounds silly”

It does, and it’s not true. The ASA accepted HOTS’ belief that God does the healing. It didn’t accept that God does heal. Likewise I accept that you believe in God (if you do) but that doesn’t mean I share your belief. I suspect you’re deliberately misinterpreting the ASA here so you can build a straw man, to be honest.

“As for your hydrochloric acid advert – of course I’d have a problem with it, but I don’t think it should be subject to regulation by the ASA. It should perhaps be subject to investigation by the police, (as something clearly harmful is being advocated), and certainly anyone who followed the advice would be entitled to sue.”

Well, one reason we have the ASA is so this sort of thing can be stopped BEFORE the damage is done, not afterwards in a court of law. But you’re dodging the point – your logic thus far should agree that it’s fine for people to trick other people into killing themselves by drinking acid as long as they blame God and don’t make any money out of it. Or if it doesn’t you should explain why.

“What I am saying is that it gives succour to those who claim that persecution against Christians is rife in this country.”

I agree. So does gay marriage and the fact that we don’t outlaw other religions from practicing. But that doesn’t make those things bad. I don’t think we should make bad laws simply because we’re scared of idiots who don’t know what “persecution” means.

“BUT, I can’t see any difference between doing what HOTS did, and printing leaflets quoting bible passages saying that Jesus heals and that his followers have authority to heal, cast out demons and raise people from the dead, and offer to pray for people while handing them out. What is the difference there?”

Um, no difference, except that the ads you’re describing would actually be worse than the ones HOTS published. What’s your point?

“It seems that the logical extension of this ruling would be for the ASA to rule against quoting from the bible, too. It’s just fortunate that they would almost certainly be inconsistent and not rule against this.”

You’re missing important caveats here. The logical extention would be for the ASA to rule against using specific bible quotes about God’s power to heal when those quotes were part of an overall message that promoted a service that couldn’t do what it claimed to do. Which would be a good thing.

74. Robin Levett

@tim f:

Has it occurred to you that these leaflets are putting your God to the test?

75. Christopher Heward

The ASA need to decide whatthey are annoyed about. Are they annoyed that HOTS are:
1) Telling people they are available to prayer for free at certain times (advertising their availability)?
2) Advertising that God can heal?

If it’s the 1st one, then this is a simple offering of a service. How many other groups might distribute a leaflet saying where they might be.
If it’s the 2nd, then they are just sharing their belief.

It is an important distinction to say that they are not claiming that they can heal, or that people will always be healed, rather than they’ll pray for them and they might be healed by God.

Another example of this nonsense of this would be if a group said “The holocaust didn’t happen: come to our event on the 2nd of March and hear our evidence”. Surely you don’t just ban it because you think it isn’t a true statement on the leaflet? You also don’t ban it because it might upset a few people. You also don’t ban it because someone might go along and become a neo-Nazi and attack Jews. You allow them to distribute the leaflet. If you have reason to believe the talk itself will be illegal because people are being told to attack others, then that is a separate issue (for the police). The ASA might disagree with the assertion ‘The holocaust didn’t happened’, and they might be concerned of the consequences for those who read the leaflet and those who attend, but I don’t think this gives them the right to ban the leaflet.

76. Robin Levett

@Christopher Heward #75:

The ASA need to decide whatthey are annoyed about. Are they annoyed that HOTS are:
1) Telling people they are available to prayer for free at certain times (advertising their availability)?
2) Advertising that God can heal?

If it’s the 1st one, then this is a simple offering of a service. How many other groups might distribute a leaflet saying where they might be.
If it’s the 2nd, then they are just sharing their belief.

I don’t believe that the ASA are annnoyed about anything. The problem as set out in the decision, is that the advertisements make claims not about belief but about real world, testable, phenomena; not only testable, but tested and found wanting; the relevant passage of the decisionw as:

…we were concerned that the prominent references in ad (b) to healing and the statement “You have nothing to lose, except your sickness” in combination with the references to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought such as arthritis, asthma, MS, addictions, depression and paralysis, could give consumers the expectation that, by receiving prayer from HOTS volunteers, they would be healed of the conditions listed or other sicknesses from which they suffered…However, we noted we had not seen evidence that people had been healed through the prayer of HOTS volunteers, and concluded that the ads could encourage false hope in those suffering from the named conditions and therefore were irresponsible.

As for the claim that HOTS weren’t the advertiser because they aren’t selling anything; how about this passage from its website:

Thank you for your interest in Healing on the Streets! Healing on the Streets is a simple and gentle ministry that releases the church OUT THERE on the streets of our town or city. It creates stepping stones for people to come to know Jesus, and along the way they get healed.

It really is amazing what God is doing through this ministry, not just locally in Coleraine and the UK, but right across Continental Europe. We now have ministries beginning to spring up in North America, Africa and Australia. Many churches from various denominations are running our model on a regular basis, and we’re seeing many people healed and come to faith right on the streets of our towns and cities.

So HOTS is selling a ministry model; a way of getting new church members. They are even charging for that model.

77. Chaise Guevara

@ 75

“If it’s the 2nd, then they are just sharing their belief.

“It is an important distinction to say that they are not claiming that they can heal, or that people will always be healed, rather than they’ll pray for them and they might be healed by God.”

Not from the point of view of the law, because “you might be healed by God” is an unfounded medical claim. You and Tim seem pretty desperate to misrepresent the ASA’s decision here. Here’s how it goes:

1) Ad make medical claim.
2) ASA asks for evidence for claim.
3) Advertiser does not have suitable evidence.
4) Ad is banned.

This happens regardless of whether the claim is also religious, and the method by which the advertiser believes that the claimed service works. The fact remains that they can’t substantiate the claim. If they want to be able to make the claim, they need to be able to show it’s true – otherwise the ASA will step in to stop them from conning the public.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/A3dnOeAS

  2. Jason Brickley

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/pyHn5n4h

  3. Lee Hyde

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/A3dnOeAS

  4. Nick M. Duffy

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/A3dnOeAS

  5. Victoria Jamieson

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/A3dnOeAS

  6. CAROLE JONES

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/A3dnOeAS

  7. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/0l5Ed7Gy

  8. Breakfinder General

    This is why the cross-party letter by MPs on the power of prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/0QfNiNCZ

  9. U of C Freethinkers

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  10. tom dinnen

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/O7Huwxd7 via @libcon

  11. Dan Sawyer

    @NatSecSoc Here's what our elected representatives would like to see more of: http://t.co/SQVGZUL9

  12. Janne Virtanen

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  13. Joe Lavington

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  14. James Scott

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  15. Jon Archer

    “@libcon: This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/KEExEfXx” #fb

  16. Pete Duddles

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  17. Dr Anonymous

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  18. DaveChandran

    This is why the cross-party letter by MPs on the power of prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/0QfNiNCZ

  19. lukewaterfield

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  20. Hayley M Stevens

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/tomxS2vV via @libcon

  21. How to Miss the Point Completely | DaveD's Blog

    [...] TO ADD: Click here for another excellent post from Liberal Conspiracy. Rate this: Share this:SharePrintDiggTwitterEmailRedditFacebookStumbleUponLinkedInLike this:LikeBe [...]

  22. lalonde

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/tomxS2vV via @libcon

  23. Vince

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  24. Steven Senior

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  25. AMB

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/tomxS2vV via @libcon

  26. Daniel Pearce

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/tomxS2vV via @libcon

  27. Chris Richardson

    RT @libcon: This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/WsMWUvd8

  28. Simon Clare

    RT @libcon: This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/WsMWUvd8

  29. Horsham_Skeptics

    RT @libcon: This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/WsMWUvd8

  30. Paul Fields

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  31. Heather Brookes

    “@Hayleystevens: Why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/UAAR69DB via @libcon” Brilliant

  32. John C Ogden

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/tomxS2vV via @libcon

  33. pablo max

    "@sunny_hundal: a low grade bias doc Science itself is not 100% accurate what are you afraid of #prayers or a #curse http://t.co/5G25DSTQ"

  34. Julien Heanley

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/tomxS2vV via @libcon

  35. Parmi

    (1) you put your faith in prayer at your own risk (2) that only works if ppl like MPs dont promote dumb ideas http://t.co/PV9222E2

  36. Samei Huda

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/UMRxYrwc via @libcon

  37. Daniel Pitt

    This is why the MPs letter on prayer healing is so dangerous http://t.co/DDAwZBNS #theocracy #religion #atheism

  38. Jacob Williamson

    @aveek18 it's mainly enraging because of this though: http://t.co/LAQCpqH6 3m people will read his loose words today..

  39. @FutureDave

    Why MPs letter on prayer 'healing' is so dangerous. Such superstition can be fatal http://t.co/RtVtP1Dr





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.