Faith Healers of Yesterday, Meet the Prosperity Gospel of Today

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Religion is good for your health. Honest-to-goodness church folk tend to live healthier lifestyles. They are less likely to drink to excess, smoke, use illicit drugs, and (although news headlines indicate otherwise) engage in risky sexual behaviors. Being part of a community also has benefits—the built-in community can serve as a buffer against psychiatric symptoms or mental illness. A prayer circle or service is a release for stresses and pressures, and is intimate enough for individuals to feel cared for an appreciated. In the disorientation that is modern life, it is reassuring to have your health. In the light of serious ailments, then, it is not illogical to turn to the one thing that, by experience, makes you better.  

The incident of illness is the difference between healing and health. Health and healthiness prevent illness, while healing is the regeneration from a weakened state. Healing is therefore symbolic of far more than physical well-being, particularly when a faith-system is focused on rebirth. Faith Healing, therefore, allows an individual to be healed in both mind and spirit.

Faith Healing made sense at the time.  Doctors can poison people, and were guiltier of doing so in the early 19th century. During this period, doctors attempted to counter the symptoms, not the illness. If one was flushed, they would blood-let, draining the patient of color—a practice we clearly do not support today. Generally, medicine was deeply divided and largely ineffective. Due to the irregularity of treatment, and even inaccessibility of doctors, domestic medicine was very common. It was not a stretch, then, to turn to community leaders, the religious leaders, for guidance when sick. Those leaders turned to God.

Faith Healing kills a flock of birds with one stone. Often times, evangelical preachers (i.e. Aimee Semple McPherson, Oral Roberts, and the current Benny Hinn) made their careers by being healing preachers. They did not claim to heal individuals, but were the instruments through which the Lord cures. People witnessed miracles and strengthened their belief in the Lord. Churches gained popularity and therefore revenue. The sick were cured. By being cured, they also proved to their peers that were truly pious, or blessed by God.

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But now Faith Healing is associated with fraud. Both the curers and the cured are viewed with suspicion (much like the fights on Jerry Springer). With the advent of Televangelism, preachers started healing over the phone for a small fee or requested donation. Faith not required. Many of the benefits (and the needs for) Faith Healing, therefore, became less salient. Televangelists were reaching a larger audience than any traveling preacher ever could—and therefore needed something to keep them watching (and donating). Health-concerns became less prevalent as healthcare and sanitary standards were improved. So what was the next benefit of religion?

Enter the Prosperity Gospel. People are living longer, and it seems that the new concern is to live better.  At the cusp of this transition were the prominent Oral Roberts and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The current preacher of note is Joel Osteen. In the time of economic uncertainty, prosperity is of utmost importance. Again—it makes sense to turn to your religious group. Religious structures provide social networking, perhaps even more successfully than an alumni association. One would hope that in a time of need, a prayer group would provide for the needy—even if it is just a casserole. The optimism of the Prosperity Gospel is like affirmations: a boost in confidence and mood can make a real difference in a job search. And for some individuals, economic-miracles have indeed occurred, and have been attributed to their faith in God. The message is clear, and is not much different than the requirements of Faith Healing: dedicate yourself to the Lord, and he shall take care of you.