Derren Brown vs Faith Healing

There are few things more difficult for the skeptic to let go of than their faith in their own intelligence.  After all, recognizing the untruth of something lots of people believe in (gods, psychics, bigfoots) does give one a sense of intellectual superiority.  I've certainly been guilty of a sort of mental vanity that is borderline absurd — not because I'm not smart but because no one is smart enough to overcome the inherent fallibility of the human mind.  Smart people are often just better at tricking themselves into believing whatever it is they wish to be true.

And this is why I so appreciate the work of Derren Brown, a mentalist and magician who captivated me last year when I read his book "Tricks of the Mind".  He reminds me of Stephen Fry — brilliant, funny, atheist, gay and charming — like something from an Oscar Wilde play, not of this time.  Derren's schtick is to do magic tricks while explaining why the mind falls for them — he's sort of like a psychologist of magic.  It's similar to Penn & Teller, but his tricks are less sleight of hand and more sleight of mind.  He has gotten some flak in skeptic circles because he usually has a trick or two he doesn't explain, retaining some of that appeal to mysticism that he's otherwise debunking, but it's all part of the show.

If you share with me a love of the horrifically compelling documentary "Marjoe" or the delightful Steve Martin film "Leap of Faith", or if you just hate swindlers, especially those abusing religion to take advantage of people, then you'll be interested in Derren's latest TV Special, slated to air in the UK on C4 Monday night at 9.  It is called "Miracles for Sale" which is a rather tame title considering the subject matter.

The special will follow Derren's attempt, which one assumes was successful since it's airing, to turn an average Joe from the streets into a faith healer, using only tricks of the mentalist trade.  Basically, he's going to see if people fall for obvious fraud.  Derren claims that this is not about God, but about exposing fraud, though it can't help but paint religion and the entire idea of faith healing in an intensely negative light.

Although I don't hide my own lack of religious belief, my repulsion at this scam comes as much from my days as a Christian as it does from simply being a human being observing ego- and money-driven fraud.

As a former Evangelical, Derren manages to have street cred with Christians, although many others see his de-conversion as some sort of personal insult or, typically, a sign that he was never really a Christian in the first place.  And of course he's already getting the kind of braindead responses you'd expect from the faith healing crowds.  "U say there's no proof of genuine miracle?  Where have u been looking??  I've personally SEEN the blind SEE the Deaf hear and many other miracles…" "Jesus heals people all the time.  It is not faith healing though.  When Jesus speaks to someone they get healed.  Everything he does works."

So much for helping those in need.

Derren Brown vs Faith Healing

3 thoughts on “Derren Brown vs Faith Healing

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    I watched the link to Marjoe that you included and it totally sucked me in. I ended up watching the whole documentary. That was really good. It was interesting to see one of those evangelists confirm what I had always expected about them. Hopefully Derren Brown’s special will end up on YouTube or some other out let that I can watch over here.

    It’s one thing to tithe to a church for the express purpose to support the maintenance of the church or its operations. But I just don’t get how these folks buy into the statements of these evangelists who are telling these folks that God wants them to give money to these shysters. “God wants you to give me $20!” I remember when I was a kid in Dallas, it was at the height of Robert Tilton’s televangelism, and his ministry infomercials would come on late at night, and he would talk about how God wanted all the viewers to send him a $1000 “vow of faith.” And the sad thing is that many, many people did it. Of course, he was a shyster, and he was eventually discovered. But here we are, years later, and he’s back playing the game and still making money at it. It seems that exposing frauds like Tilton and the countless others operating today has limited or no impact on the view of these evangelists as a whole. The folks that fall prey to these people don’t seem willing or able to make the connection between the evangelists that get caught and the larger practice.

    I think there is a particular reason that these evangelists, faith healers and other swindlers are so successful. The folks that fall prey to these guys (a) believe in an actively interventionist god; and (b) they probably have desperate need or desire for that intervention. So, given their belief in the interventionist God, they have to believe that god talks to people and tells them what he wants. They are desperate to believe that, and they are desperate to find the people that God talks to. So they seek out these assholes, and they’re taken in by their flash and their energy. And when these guys ask for money, they hand it over, because they want to believe that god is speaking through these crooks, and if they’re acting for god, it isn’t inconceivable to the victim that God wants them to give money to the crooks.

    Meanwhile, everyone else is on the outside looking in and thinking WTF!? When people are desperate enough, anyone will believe someone telling them exactly what they want to hear. But I think that there is something about evangelical Christianity that makes people more susceptible to being swindled.

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