On Damian Stayne's faith healing event in Cluj-Napoca, 20th April 2013

A few days ago I attended a faith healing event conducted by Damian Stayne at which I was invited by a friend of mine. I’m not the kind of guy who believes in these things and that is mainly because I had previous attempts in finding well documented cases of miraculous interventions which all failed. Surely, that might be a personal failure and it is not by itself a proof that these are just simply psychological phenomena or hoaxes. But anyhow, I’ll try bring forward some arguments for why I think these are just hoaxes or self-deceptions altogether with some concrete facts that happened during this event.

I answered positively to the invitation mainly because I wanted to check this kind of experience as “been there, saw that” so that no one can say afterwards that I had never in my life attended a thing like this and that I should not develop an opinion before at least experiencing it.

Here we go. The guy, Damian Stayne is a very agreeable person and as a faith healer he is not at all an extremist and I also suspect he’s really convinced that what he is doing is true and that people can be cured miraculously by God. So, it’s very important to note that we’re not dealing with frauds like the popular Peter Popoff who claimed to be able to know information about certain participants like illnesses or addresses but which was receiving radio transmissions from his wife during the healing sessions. He’s not the only one though: Derren Brown in his show Miracles for Sale proves that a very rich so-called faith healer was basing his visionary abilities on a little questionnaire which anyone was given in the beginning of the meeting which asked for the name, the reasons for coming to the meeting etc. One of the Derren’s team members filled out a fake name and when called in front, the healer called him by that name and not by his real name thus showing that no God or metaphysical communication occurred.

You might ask “why bother” with this kind of things? Are they harmful? Of course they’re harmful!

  1. The most problematic issue is that many of the sick people attending these events do it with the hope they will be healed. Because hoaxes and deception often happens these people may think they are healed and don’t pay visits any more to their doctors or stop taking their medication. I’m aware of this case when six people died prematurely and also passed HIV to others because the church explicitly told them to stop taking medicine since God healed them. There are numerous cases of this kind and by that I mean you can easily find them documented on the internet: here is for instance the abstract of a study entitled “Child Fatalities From Religion-motivated Medical Neglect”. You can find a similar and very sad one in Derren’s documentary mentioned above. I should also mention a famous case of a woman “healed” by of cancer of the spine that had discarded her brace and followed Ms. Katherine Kuhlman’s (her healer) enthusiastic command to run across the stage. The following day her backbone collapsed, and four months later she died. I won’t go any further with examples like this because the data is not scarce at all!

  2. A second problem arising from this is that healers generally tell people that it is their weak faith who stops them from being healed and people may start developing remorse, guilt and other forms of psychological trauma or unease.

  3. If the healers do not directly ask money for their intervention, it is by donations, or by selling religious books, DVD’s, icons, and all sort of icons that they take their share. Some of them are mulch-millionaires like Benny Hinn, Jim Bakker, Robert Tilton to name but a few, some own private jets and villas in exotic locations, none of them has not had a public scandal involving money and all share one common characteristic: they’re unscrupulous exploiters of the weak!

Now, let’s face a positive aspect of faith-healing (the only one I found):

  1. The placebo effect. This phenomenon is an excellent example of how the power of the mind and the power of suggestion can have a major effect on the state of the body. In 1955, Dr. Henry Beecher, a Harvard physician, published the first study that reported thirty-three percent of patients were aided by placebos - not a negligible amount. A very charismatic person that leads such an healing session which claims to have traveled all round the world and healed many people of any curable and incurable disease can easily convince a tiny and insignificant believer that this is possible. In thinking so, he might experience during the session either a slightly altered state of consciousness(hypnosis) or he might feel the effect of the healer’s charisma, conviction and shouting by releasing adrenaline and endorphins into his body which is known to reduce the pain effect in the body. Endorphins are typically released under such excitement. Excitement can easily be achieved if the listener is a Christian who really believes what the healer convincingly says.

Going back to Damian, he is not guilty of either of the three harmful effects I mentioned above:

  1. He explicitly stated in the ending that people should visit their doctors to confirm their healing.

  2. He explicitly said that the lack of faith is necessarily a fact that blocks healing but that healing can be blocked by sin and unforgivingness thus encouraging people to solve their problems and ask forgiveness for their sins.

  3. He did not directly ask money or donations nor did he try to sell DVD’s or books to my knowledge but undoubtedly he receives donations from believers. However, at no point he gave me the impression he would peel off money of his audience.

On the other side, he is guilty of (perhaps unconsciously) using suggestive techniques used in hypnosis that he may have seen at others or may have developed them through trial and error. I think the former is more plausible since he admitted to directly inspire from earlier pentecostals and charismatics and also said something about Smith Wigglesworth.

  1. The first usage of a very powerful hypnotic suggestion went like this: he divided the concert hall into four groups (main hall right, main hall left, balcony right and balcony left) and asked them to compete with each other by quickly rising into standing position and shouting as loud as they can the words “Jesus is alive!”. The unspoken suggestion is deeply engraved in any christian’s knowledge and it states that if Jesus is alive he can cure. Now, what happened here is that after the first group jumped up, of course he made a joke insisting that he cannot hear very well what they are saying. From then on, all the old mamas and papas, the sick, the un-sick, those with certain problems in locomotion or limb pains, they all made the effort to engage in that thrilling moment of that immense declaration of faith. Of course, the sceptics like me did not rise and so I can tell people were doing it with great devotion. Now, in such a moment, what happens is exactly what I said before: adrenaline and endorphins are released into the body making some of the pain disappear. In my opinion, in these few minutes pretty much everybody in there was “healed”. In this moment and the similar ones that followed, the “healing” occurred.

  2. A similar and even more direct hypnotic suggestion he used when he told the public to repeat in a very loud manner “The power that has risen the Christ from the tomb resides in me”. Anyone who has ever dealt with hypnosis recognizes that this is a truly genuine and powerful suggestion.

  3. One strikingly similar with other religions healing practices aspect, which he repeatedly asked people to do, was to touch their or their neighbours’ sick parts of the body. This is also used in hypnosis as a concentration stimulant.

Now, what’s with all this hypnosis obsession? He clearly did not hypnotize his audience like these African pentecostals do or as Benny Hinn does in this video (This one is amazing!! You must watch it to know what I mean when I talk of the power of hypnosis). However, the similarities I pointed above are enough for me to say that Damian clearly used hypnosis to achieve a slightly altered state of mind. Other factors were music, the frenetic and very loud repetition of phrases like “Jesus is alive” and others like it, he also asked people to dance and rejoice on music which was so uncanny because as I said, there were mostly mamas and papas in their 50’s or older in the public; for me, inviting such people to jump and move on the rhythm is clearly evidence for his masterful planning of the event in classical manner: release of chemicals by jumping and shocking, then suggestions, hand touching the parts and ONLY afterwards the healing show. For further explanations of how hypnosis works in these public events see what Derren Brown (a master of hypnosis) says in this section of the film.

This Derren Brown’s film is all about training a normal, average man(a canoe teacher) from UK to master the hypnosis, the faith healing and the preaching of the Gospel. After picking the protagonist, they fly to US and after considerable efforts of “getting into the system” they manage to arrange an evening of prayer and healing conducted by this canoe teacher. Derren taught him hypnosis, he also borrowed techniques from another healer along the way to his event and finally he succeeds! People believe they are healed. Simple as that. I encourage you to watch it. It’s a 73 minute TV show which a lot of content and useful advice.

Now, the emotional build-up was by far less intense than in any of the videos featuring hypnosis I linked above but there were three cases of emotional eruptions I counted during the whole event:

  1. A lady at the balcony shouted something which I couldn’t understand but she was clearly in a very weird state (she seemed upset with something but in the same time she was very devoted and always singing the songs with passion - I checked her several times during the meeting. Perhaps she was hypnotized in such way that she lost control of herself but I can not surely say this. She seemed somewhat unaware of what she is doing when she shouted the first time that’s why I’m postulating this but don’t take it for granted). Damian stopped and told her repeatedly in low voice “we love you!”

  2. Another lady had a similar reaction. It was more powerful. She had shakes in all her body but the event pass pretty much unnoticed except for the area we were in.

  3. A weird laughter I heard from the balcony which persisted during a song. It was clear that the person was not amused.

These people came there with high expectations and it’s normal that some get very emotional and develop such behaviour. It’s not the work of Holy Spirit nor Jesus nor God. Many people can achieve it in many cultures having no relation to Christianity whatsoever: the shamans, the yoga and other form of trance practitioners, secular healers and others.

Claims made by Damian:

  • Claims God has healed a women from Germany with leukaemia. He said on a Friday she took the test and it was positive (I don’t know how these tests are made by I doubt the result can be ready in the same day). On Sunday she attended a healing service conducted by him where she said to have felt better. On the next Monday she took the blood tests again and now it was negative. Not only that it was negative but there was a complete blood type change. He also added he has documents to sustain this. I’m highly interested in these documents and I asked someone to ask him personally to send them to me by mail. If I will ever receive them I’ll surely investigate it.

  • Claims to have over 40000 videotape cases of healing.

  • Claims that any disease can be healed.

    • I want to add a question here: why does God always seem to heal only the so-called curable diseases? What about Alzheimer or Down syndrome? Is God not powerful to heal these to?

    • Another question arising here is: why do the healing ratio is so strikingly similar to the spontaneous remissions ratio? That is, if in a hallroom there are 1000 people of which 100 have cancer, 100 have ear and eyes problems, and 300 pains in various places, why does God always proportional fractions of them like very few cancer healing cases, much more hearing and eyesight problems and a lot more problems of pain in limbs? Isn’t it weird that God always seems to chose to heal the least complicated diseases?

    • One more question: why aren’t there truly documented cases of incurable diseases healing out there and why it always seems that God heals partial hearing, partial eyesight impairment and partial locomotion problems preferably.

That being said I’ll proceed to describing a bit how the healing ceremony went. It wasn’t anything spectacular at all. He just prayed for those poor sick and invoked God’s power to heal them and asked them to pray one for another and touch themselves on the diseased part of the body. In the meantime, the magic formula he has chosen to mark the moment when God really heals is “eyes, I command you to regain sight” or “ears, I command you to hear” etc. “in the name of Jesus”. This again has something to do with manipulation by hypnosis because he borrows the formula from Jesus which commanded the storm to shut up from the boat. The believers are subconsciously led to think that this formula will work undoubtedly because it carries the power of Jesus’ words.

When all this praying time ended he asked everybody to try do what they couldn’t do before. This was a sad moment for me as an observer (and not only for me) because there were a lot of mamas and papas trying to knee or bow or do those things which they couldn’t and there was much failure. However, he asked those healed to raise their hand on categories. He counted:

  • 92 hand problems

  • 57 arm, elbow and shoulder problems

  • 81 foot and locomotion problems

  • 18 hearing problems

  • unknown eyesight problems (he forgot to count or I missed the part while taking notes)

  • 5 people raised the hand when he asked for those who think they don’t have cancer of any kind of tumors or ganglions.

Of all these he invited on the scene everybody from each category except for the last one. I wasn’t expecting this since it would have been a great stimulant for all those people to hear that someone was really cured of cancer. To bad he didn’t do it.

Of those many (as expected) people stating they have previously had hand, arm elbow, foot, locomotion problems, none of those he interviewed was a complete invalid or had a completely invalid part of the body which was healed during the session. Most of those who got on the stage were old people and some of them who had the opportunity to be interviewed did not even know why they got on the scene. At one point, a man was asked what was healed about him and he said that he had pains (I don’t remember exactly where and I didn’t note it). When asked again if he got healed he said that the pain is the same as before. That was fun. One of the few fun moments for a sceptic attending a three hour and a half boring event like this. Most of them said they experienced an improvement. One lady however stated she had meniscus rupture for a year and now she is healed. I cannot tell if she had previous treatments and therapy foregone and in which state she was when she came to the event; it’s highly possible that the adrenaline Damian induced in her with the dance and the music and the shouting may have decreased the pain to make her feel like she is better now. It’s very hard to test these claims since these healers are not very scientific in their approach. Damian tested all those he interviewed and there were elderly who claimed the came there with the help of a stick and that now they don’t need it any more. Some of them made a few steps on the scene which amazed the audience and awed them. Everybody applauded when a lady which came to the event helping herself walking with an umbrella went to the stage and took steps without an umbrella. Now, seriously, it you use an umbrella and not a proper stick, than doesn’t this mean the problem is not as serious as it seems? Moreover, taking a few steps without the stick is not such a big deal for someone who was not in a wheelchair anyhow or unable to lift from a bed. So, sorry, that is not sufficient evidence for me. Not to mention that all the others who walked without sticks still had a problem which made their walk either unbalanced or asymmetric. But for the others it was sufficient proof and all were applauding and praising Jesus.

There was an interesting case of a young girl (possibly around 25) who went on the stage and claimed to have felt less pain in her hand after the prayer. In her statement she added “I have to write for extended period of time to know if I was healed or not”. However, Damian was interested in showing the public the change as he understood it. So he asked her again what she couldn’t do before. She replied that she had pains when writing. He then gave her a pen and a notebook, she wrote a few words and then he waved that written page in front of everyone. Again, the public was amazed. Now, the whole idea of including this story here is to show how ignorant can Christians be when it comes to evidence. Damian either got it wrong or he was consciously pushing his case in front of everyone.

Regarding the ear problems: my left neighbour was a lady in her 70’s perhaps which was always unsure if she was healed or not. In the part with the hand healing she went in front although she was very hesitant: she explicitly said to her friend on the other side “I think I feel a little better”. Then, when hearing problems were “cured” she asked me to speak to her in low voice to see if she could hear with her problematic ear. In the other ear she put something to block it. I said something to her and she almost got it right. The thing is that she admitted that she has heard well with the problematic ear even since she came to the event because the sound was more loud than normal. Of all the people interviewed there was none which experienced complete healing; just improvement.

Eye problems: again, no one was completely healed. A notable girl with severe myopia of -9D stated that her vision is a bit improved. He asked here to describe a lady at about 3 meters away. She could only distinguish the pink dress and her dark hair. Then Damian started speaking in tongues and pray for her together with everyone from the hall. After a few minutes when asked again she said that she can also see the lady behind her and that she is dressed in white with dark hair and that she also can see a little bit clearly the face of the first lady. I am not exaggerating at all when using “a little bit” of “slightly” or words like these. These are the exact translation of the romanian words they said. Then they all prayed and spoke and sung in tongues and when that ceremony finished she said (more out of common sense) that “I can feel an improvement but I cannot give more details regarding the lady behind”. For me, there was absolutely no healing in here because at first she wasn’t even asked about the second lady. Damian, although not as fraudulent as his aforementioned homologues, has its tricks. There was also an interesting case of photo-phobia. The lady claiming to have improved ability to stand in light said explicitly there was a “partial improvement”.

#Conclusion

It is very clear to me that whatever happened that day is very easily explainable through normal physical phenomena. No proof of a radical change was presented and moreover the proofs presented were merely a simple question to the person in cause. It is known that spontaneous remissions happen even in cancer and the rate of which these happen has been suggested by some studies to be higher than the rate at which it happens in such faith healing events. So it is possible to think of spontaneous healing or remission as the actual cause of certain faith healing cases.

One thing is sure: one can never falsify the genuineness of faith healing because it is supposed to be some metaphysical intervention of the spirit which is the same as trying to disprove that fairies exist after someone tells you they do. In this regard, Karl Popper came up with the falsifiability principle which says something about the nature of these claims: they are pseudo-science, they cannot be falsified. So I will limit myself to saying that it is highly probable that something as natural as possible happened in that evening and those Christians may have been all victims of deception.