Monthly Archives: August 2015

Charismatics, Headaches and Healings

CharismaticWorship

Examining the role of divine healing in charismatic churches and the urgency to review, modify, or abandon this as a staged event.

If you attend almost any charismatic church meeting, you are sure to hear about supernatural healings. They are usually abstract ones such as headaches banished, a sore back relieved, a short leg lengthened, and many other unusual conditions cured. The majority cannot be scientifically proven because of the vague symptoms, but the person feels better. There are seldom any that can be empirically proven.

The practice of divine healings is typical of a charismatic liturgical experience. The charismatic movement, originally birthed from mainline denominations in the 1950s and rising to prominence in the 1960s, was originally assigned to those people deeply connected with the pentecostal wave but still attended their traditional churches. They were part of a theological influence that erupted through the continent emphasizing a mystic union with God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, subsequent speaking in tongues and an emphasis on the supernatural.

Those imbued with the pentecostal wave and still attending their Anglican/Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist and other mainline churches tried to bring their spiritual awakening to their traditional brethren, but it did not succeed. The result was that many of these people voluntarily left or were forced out. As a consequence, these people formed their independent churches. One of their attributes, apart from their emphasis on the supernatural, is the autonomous nature and avoidance of denominational or sectarian features. Because of this, there is a wide range of expressions and practices within the charismatic movement. There is no key leader, church, or theologian that represents them. Dialogue and cooperation exist between these independent churches, but no desire to form a hierarchical structure.

One may think that the charismatic movement is a small slice of the religious pie, but this is not the case. It is one of the fastest growing segments of the christian faith in the world. In the United States alone, the Barna Group states that four out of every ten independent churches are charismatic based, and 46% of those who attend a protestant meeting are Charismatic. (1)https://www.barna.org/barna-update/congregations/52-is-american-christianity-turning-Charismatic#.Vc1JVB_iubk

Divine healings is part of the charismatic emphasis on the supernatural and the mystic christian life. It is an important part of their religious identity.

Problems with exhibitions of divine healings

However, there are serious problems with the mystic rite that the charismatic movement must address.

First of all, the public exhibition of divine healings strengthen public sentiment that those practising are radicalized religious fanatics. It scares the general populace more than attracts. This healing practice, which is perceived as a staged act rather than fact by most members of the public, also further alienates the christian faith from being a regular participant in public social dialogue.

Secondly, the staged process of divine healing undermines the credibility of the message. I don’t know how many times I have had public discussions where the faith discussion is quickly shut down because they think the whole church thing is a fraudulent process that is for the elderly, the mentally weak, or those who are easily deceived. They usually quote faith healers they have seen on television, the radio, or in print magazines to back up their refusal to discuss any matters of the christian faith.

This leads to a serious concern. Unless the various branches of the protestant churches seriously confront the problems of perceived fraud and lack of accountability in the practice of divine healing, then a serious public relations problem exists. The lack of discipline may lead to a tipping point; some abuse relating to divine intervention will spark the already existent anti-church sentiment and will set a precedent for government intervention. As a result, this will send a very bad message that the church, which is supposed to pursue and encourage moral excellence, is an institution that cannot govern itself, nor be considered reputable. Whose fault is that? Is it a war on the church or is it a backlash the church has created for itself?

The historic problem of supernaturalism

This is not the first time in history that an overemphasis on the supernatural within the christian community has caused problems.

Both Origen in the second and John Chrysostom in the fourth-century touched on it. They agreed that very few pious people would ever achieve the status of producing miracles.(2)Origen, Against Celsus. As found in The Writings of Origen. Translated by the Rev. Frederick Crombie. Vol. II. Origen Contra Celsum. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1872. Pg. 426. For Chrysostom see the footnote below Chrysostom especially did not want to attach miracles to the Christian identity. He felt that superstition and magic would be an obstacle to personal growth. He also stated that there was a certain danger of pride with those who were miracle workers and very much de-emphasized such a ministry because of this.(3) Homily on Matthew 9:32 See also: Chrysostom on the Doctrine of Tongues which covers Chrysostom’s beliefs regarding miracles.

Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century dwelt deeply on the topic of miracles and formulated the definition into various degrees. He cautions against improperly assigning a natural phenomenon as a miracle. One example he used was an eclipse. To the astronomer, it is part of a routine pattern, but to the thirteenth-century layman, it was out of the natural order and, therefore, a miracle. Aquinas simply assigns this as a wondrous event.

He describes miracles as something out of the natural order of nature, such as the sea temporarily parting so that people can walk through it. The more the event goes against the laws of nature, the greater the miracle. The healing of a blind person, paralysis, etc., are actions that nature cannot do, and, therefore, are categorically a miracle. Another kind of miracle is where God intervenes where nature could have done the same thing such as curing a fever, or bringing on rain. He deems these as a lesser miracle.(4)Thomas Aquinas. Contra Gentils. 101 “On Miracles.” http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3b.htm#101

One must realize that Aquinas lived in an era where mystic christianity was in a heightened stature. He realized there was a fundamental problem and clearly wrote out basic principles for defining a miracle. Although his work is almost 800 years old, it still surpasses what the present charismatic community has in place today for defining a miracle – which is nothing.

The eighteenth-century English philosopher, David Hume, among others, noted that superstition and adherence to mysticism were too strong a social constant in his society. It permeated all the theaters of decision making. From this perspective he produced this powerful sweeping statement.

The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and supernatural events, which, in all ages, have either been detected by contrary evidence, or which detect themselves by their absurdity, prove sufficiently the strong propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and the marvelous, and ought reasonably to beget a suspicion against all relations of this kind. This is our natural way of thinking, even with regard to the most common and most credible events.(5)David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Reprinted from the posthumous edition of 1777 with introduction, comparative tables of contents, and analytical index by L.A. Selby-Bigge. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/9662/9662-h/9662-h.htm

He further added that miracles should not justify a system of faith.(6)IBID Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Miracles used to rationalize a charismatic church or christianity as an authentic representation of religion instead of reason delegitimizes such movements within the Canadian social mosaic. Any religious leadership that uses miracles to promote their brand may have short term gain by preaching to the choir, but in the long term, the public will be further disassociated.

Nor are most Charismatics aware that they are simply reinventing the wheel. The topic of divine healings, mysticism, and the supernatural were a central core of European society for centuries. It dominated the political and social landscape. William Lecky, in his book, History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, described the circumstances in the 17th to 18th centuries as this:

Nothing could be more common than for a holy man to be lifted up from the floor in the midst of his devotions, or to be visited by the Virgin or by an angel. There was scarcely a town that could not show some relic that had cured the sick, or some image that had opened and shut its eyes, or bowed it head to an earnest worshipper.(7)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888. Pg. 157

He saw no difference in the attitudes of either the Protestants or the Catholics on the subject.

The improper application of miracles and the supernatural was one of the factors that forced a social revolution that regaled against any perceived spiritual intervention. The desupernaturalizing also had another important factor. It deprived Church of their authority and transferred it to a new entity. As a consequence, it enabled society to establish a new set of laws, selection processes for civic leaders, systems of government, and a different framework for scientific exploration. This correction was an overreaction that downgraded the realm of miracles and supernatural into the place of myth; a piece of history that should remind present day charismatics to tread carefully.

There is also a theological and common sense problem. If a church has regular weekly healing meetings based on the premise that miracles will happen, then this means they have the ability to suspend the laws of nature for an hour or two every week. Such a proposition displays a predictable pattern of health recovery and, therefore, a normal procedure. Such a custom is not consistent with what constitutes a miracle. A miracle is something that cannot be controlled or predicted in any way. This is not a realistic premise to encourage or practice.

Building a proper framework

Miracles do happen but the definition should be purposely narrow and only be declared when something occurs that is obviously outside the laws of regular nature. The cure for a common cold, or a back feeling better are too subjective. An amputated arm that grew back, or somebody clinically defined as dead and then suddenly brought back to life while someone was praying over the coffin are miracles are of substance. However, I have never seen anything like this happen.

It is important that churches who emphasize faith healing have a clear policy in place. An independent third party must empirically prove any miracle. Therefore, meetings that encourage divine healings should state that only a health care professional declares whether a miracle has happened.

It would be difficult to ascribe something as spontaneous healing with many ailments. Diabetes, most cancers, multiple sclerosis, or many other afflictions are all conditions that can be tricky to declare healed. Some can heal through natural means or can even go in remission. They can hide for long periods of time and then surprisingly reappear. These states can lead to a false hope and potentially to a premature death because a sick person who believes that a divine intervention has occurred may fail to take prescribed therapies or refuse medical treatment.

All healings and miracles should be listed according to Aquinas’ system: wonders of nature, greater miracles and lesser miracles.

Some would counter that the positive affirmation of community prayer heals a broken spirit and can alleviate emotional suffering. This then can cross over into the bodily realm and help those with heightened sensitivities to physical pain.

Many divine healing services succeed in encouraging people by instilling a sense of hope. Hope is hard to grasp for those who continually struggle due to a physical malady, lack financial means for the most elementary of provisions such as medications, dental work, food, or employment, or hurting through a divorce, death, or many other reasons. These are situations where many have quietly given up on life and live in the shadows. Many testimonies in healing services attest to overcoming such obstacles and finding the experience as a place for a new kick-start in life.

The psychological help and inspiration of a divine hope appears to be a great argument for divine healing services. However, these aren’t miracles. They are words of encouragement. They are a divine wonder.

These last two arguments gloss over the serious trust broken by faith healers and ignores the ominous task of rebuilding it. Until the various branches of the protestant movement seriously address this subject, the Good News will remain stagnant or even regress in the hearts of the majority of North Americans.

References   [ + ]

Book Review: The Great War for Civilisation

greatwar

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East by the seasoned author and journalist, Robert Fisk is a compilation of his over 30 years of on-field experiences in the various war zones around the Mediterranean and Middle East.

The result is comprehensive portrait that makes this book a definitive work.

It is a very long book and contains over a thousand pages of small print. It takes a seriously committed reader to complete such a long and difficult task. One cannot read this in one, or even two sittings. Nor can it be read for great lengths of time because the dark corners of humanity are ever present in this book. Such imagery requires one to pause repeatedly and escape from such realities.

It is purposely over-detailed and over-documented. There is no other choice for the author to do this as detractors, especially those of government, military and enforcement institutions, would like to refute such findings and discredit him personally. The greatest strength of his book is the documentation that takes it out of the realm of his personal opinion and into the place of factual history. It is a work that has been sorely lacking in this genre.

This is not a book for those who like clichés or black and white answers. Fisk avoids both which causes the reader to wonder initially if one ever will arrive at a some conclusion amid the vast amount of information he uncovers. He seldom takes enough time to reflect or philosophize about the lessons learned from all these experiences. It is a constant barrage of facts with few references connecting these behaviors into a larger narrative. The lack in this area may be why he has succeeded in fact finding so long. Trying to figure it out would invite cynicism, and throwing in the white towel.

The book has a liberal dose of history throughout but is not history for the sake of history. It is the necessary building of a plot to explain the present.

The following quote is one of his few philosophical moments in the book:

Soldier and civilian, they died in their tens of thousands because death has been concocted for them, morality hitched like a halter round the warhorse so that we could talk about ‘target-rich environments’ and ‘collateral damage’ – that most infantile of attempts to shake off the crime of killing – and report the victory parades, the tearing down of statues and the importance of peace.

Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as a drama of opposites, good and evil, ‘them’ and ‘us’, victory or defeat. However, war is primarily not about victory or defeat but death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit. [Pg. XIX]

Humanity and inhumanity is the core of his observations and message. He finds inhumanity everywhere in the vestibules of power that he has observed. It is found in the semantics where ‘collateral damage’ is replaced for the killing of innocent civilians. It is in attaching the word ‘terrorist’ to enemies of a state which strips them of human status and consequently these people can be tortured, abused, neglected and discarded without any rights.[Pg. 464] Over and over again, Fisk brings names to those who have been or are key characters in the conflict. He constantly refers to the regular person off the street who suffered or died as a result of the inhumanities involuntarily forced upon them. He does not restrict this analysis to a few despots or exceptions; it is found in almost every political entity involved in the Middle East.

He has a strong criticism towards Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who sees Palestinians a people who cannot manage their affairs and in need of an overseer such as Israel. [Pg. 535] He is highly critical of George Bush’s war on terror, and even harsher tones for Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld; who at one time was on good terms with Saddam Hussein. He derided President Clinton for using Iraq as a prop to deflect the Monica Lewinsky affair, and Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, also falls under his critical scrutiny. Saddam Hussein painted as an evil despot, and Yasser Arafat, as a defeated warrior who made too many compromises at the Oslo accords. No government leader, opposition, or foreign policy comes out looking right under his critical microscope. The only signs of mercy shown are his portraits of everyday people.

The overarching narrative is rarely directly addressed. It leaves readers to fill in the blanks. What do his experiences about all these conflicts have in common? Fisk would likely say it started with Western European colonialism that improperly sliced-up the Ottoman Empire.

A narrative begins to appear a third of the way in the book when he covers the massive detainment, torture, executions and rapings of Algerians sponsored by the Algerian government in the early 1990s. A conflict that was a tit-for-tat tussle between government and reactionist forces, prompting an unending cycle of provocation and retribution resulting in the loss of untold innocent civilian lives. This cycle of provocation is a thesis throughout the book applied to almost every other conflict. These governments or despots have appeased their American sponsors and avoided world scrutiny by terming their behavior as a war on ‘terrorism’. Terrorism is an arbitrary word at the best of times and often left for the lowest members of police or security forces to define.

Torture and execution become a staple diet within the confines of the book because of this.

He demonstrates the double-sided American policy with the Armenian Genocide. An event where the U.S. government has agreed to call the slaughter of a complete ethnic group by the Turks as a dispute rather than genocide to secure good relations with Turkey. Fisk displays here the U.S. government putting political aims more important than truth.

He firmly believes one of the greatest errors of the United States foreign policy is ignoring the United Nations resolution 242. A text that calls for the nation of Israel to return to their pre-1967 borders. The resolution allows forced-out Palestinians back to their land; a land that was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. A matter no longer referenced as occupied territory by the United States, but as ‘territories in dispute’. A semantic which gives Israel more credence for ownership.[Pg. 539] Fisk believes that Israel’s acceptance of 242 would be a strong step for peace in the Middle East but finds it unattainable in the Israeli psyche. It is so far from the Israeli mindset that when he conversed with a young Israeli immigration officer she did not even know that the resolution existed.[Pg. 550]

The 1991 liberation of Kuwait, and the 2003 war on Iraq move strengthens his thesis. The United States singular desire to take down Saddam Hussein at the expense of the civilian population paid a hefty future price of disrespect. The severe sanctions against any imported items into Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait was an act of inhumanity according to Fisk. He details the problem of much needed medical supplies for hospitals badly required for treating the higher than the average number of children acquiring leukemia. A condition that is much greater than world standards and arguably through contact with depleted uranium shells used by the American and British forces. The American administration would not allow for import of these medicines for fear that they convert them for weapons of mass destruction. Fisk himself performed a donation drive in Britain, convincing both the Americans and Iraqi Government to the rightness of his cause, and personally delivered medical supplies to these children in several Iraqi hospitals.

The semantics is found in the words collateral damage. Fisk documents the cluster bombs being thrust on civilian populations and indiscriminate bombings of civilian homes to which the American Government never apologized. The U.S. simply stated that this was collateral damage. A term that dehumanized and ignored the innocent victims. This arrogant behavior intensified the anger within the Iraqi populace. He puts the reader into a paradox. If the United States was only interested in taking down Saddam and his regime why were the average citizens of Iraq being punished? The Iraqis felt like the overthrow of one regime was simply supplanted by another foreign one that didn’t care about their welfare at all. Worst of all, a non-Muslim one. These sanctions fostered a negative reaction to the West. Fisk chose to quote Margaret Hassan, a British woman married to an Iraqi, and who also who ran the CARE office in Baghdad, on how negative the sentiment was;

They think that we will be so broken, so shattered by this suffering that we will do anything – even give our lives – to get rid of Saddam. The uprising against the Baath party failed in 1991, so now they are using cruder methods. But they are wrong. These people have been reduced to penury. They live in shit. And you have no money and no food, you don’t worry about democracy or who your leaders are.[Pg. 867]

There are some references to religious conflict between Muslim and Christians, Muslim vs. Muslim, and Muslim vs. secular Muslim, but this is mostly tertiary according to Fisk. He believes these are internal and foreign government policy failures expressed in the brutality, executions, and torture. These have fomented a great part of the current Middle-Eastern scenario today. This leads the reader to think that the failure of government and international communities to bring about justice and root out brutality has led many civilians and organizations to turn to Islam as a better alternative.

Fisk does not believe religion is the most important catalyst in these conflicts. There are two exceptions to this which are traced to the U.S. and Britain’s participation in the liberation of Kuwait. The first one relates to the military staging area of Saudi Arabia which contains the two holiest places of the Muslim religion; Mecca and Medina. The Americans and the British, perceived as Christian nations, underestimated the religious backlash of militarily building up a strong presence in Saudi Arabia. Fisk quoted Ali Mahmoud, the Associated Press chief in Bahrain, to explain this repercussion which now appears prophetic, “The fact that the theocratic and nationalist regimes have invited the United States to the Middle East will long be resented and never will be condoned. When the crisis is over, [Iraq’s invasion into Kuwait] the worst is yet to come.” [Pg. 725] The Western Christian forces should never have assembled in Saudi Arabia.

The second one was in promoting an insurrection in Iraq during the 1991 war. George Bush authorized the broadcast and air-dropping of millions of leaflets in Iraq, encouraging the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam and his regime. An act that prompted the Shia Muslim minority in the south, and the Kurds in the north, to rebel. It was a strategy that ended in a bloody response by the Iraqi Republican Guard while the U.S. stood aside and did nothing to protect them. Both these groups, especially the Shiite Muslims felt betrayed.

These injustices to the Arab peoples throughout the Middle East were expressed in the destruction in the World Trade Centers in New York which Fisk believed, “represented not just a terrible crime but a terrible failure, the collapse of decades of maimed, hopeless, selfish policies in the Middle East, which we would at last recognize – if we were wise – or which, more likely, we would now bury beneath the rubble of New York, an undiscussible subject whose mere mention would indicate support for America’s enemies”, [Pg. 1027] and then further added, “No, Israel was not blame for what happened on September 11th, 2001. The culprit were Arabs, not Israelis. But America’s failure to act with honour in the Middle East, its promiscuous sale of missiles to those who use them against civilians, its blithe disregard for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children under sanctions of which Washington was the principal supporter – all these were intimately related to the society that produced Arabs who plunged New York into an apocalypse of fire.”[Pg. 1037]

After reading the book, and spending a considerable amount of time reviewing his videos, he does not have a political agenda. His purpose follows the historical pillars of journalism. He believes that the role of a journalist is to “challenge authority – all authority – especially so when governments and politicians take us to war, when they have decided that they will kill and others will die.” [Pg. XXIII] His task is to uncover truth, and convey it to the public – a truth that is often purposely obscured, misappropriated, or spun by those who possess such power to tell.

Fisk is sprinting to get this message out about Arab injustice and how to rectify it. It may also be a form of catharsis for him.

I haven’t read a historical account that takes in such a comprehensive listing of forces, influences, corruption, power and revolt since Josephus’ War on the Jews written almost 2000 years ago. The geographic location is almost the same, with Rome being replaced by the United States. It is a repeat of a similar story.

This book answers for me one of the most difficult questions that I have asked for almost thirty years, who are the Arabs, and why are they so angry?

This work explains the Middle Eastern psyche for the Western reader without spin from either a religious or government perspective. Such coverage is a rarity.

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, by Robert Fisk, answers that question in great detail, and much more. The book has an incredible amount of information about the Arab world, its psyche, and their place in the Middle East. He also focuses on the universal problems of war, corruption, lies, betrayal, and deceits. His historical record is fresh and is not the same as the typical Western accounts eschewed by Governments and pundits. In fact, he expansively wrote to rewrite history properly without the spin that is considerably different.

One thing he leaves out entirely, and maybe purposely is the role of corruption in this whole process. A factor that may be too subjective that cannot be so easily documented or proven, except on petty levels with taxis or lower government agents.

There is so much more that I would write about Fisk’s book, but it overruns the limit for standard book reviews.

If anyone wants to think about or understand the Middle East, this should be one of the primary source books for the Western reader. It is mandatory reading for anyone interested in this genre.

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