A documentary on faith healing that promised to scrutinise the practice demonstrated short-sightedness and has won for TopShelf Productions the 2001 Bent Spoon Award from the New Zealand Skeptics.
“We had lots of nominations for the Bent Spoon this year, but it came down to two programmes on TVNZ’s Documentary New Zealand slot, one on hauntings and one on healings. We realise that documentary makers these days are more concerned with entertaining than educating, but when they show vulnerable people being exploited spiritually, physically or economically, we think that they should do more to examine critically what’s going on,” says Skeptics Chair-entity Vicki Hyde.
The Skeptics point to common psychological effects at work, ranging from taking advantage of a strong pre-existing belief or desire for a response through to the pressure people are put under to comply with a group. Such practices have been used by everyone from the Nazi Party to stage hypnotists, and even play a role in people’s responses to conventional medical treatment.
“When you have someone talk about having the living daylights scared out of her by a faith-healer, it’s little wonder she was willing to follow his insistent commands that she walk despite her arthritic pain. Fortunately for her, it didn’t lead to any damage. When you get people talking about casting out demonic spirits, that’s when you really
have to start worrying because it can lead to deaths, as we saw in Auckland earlier this year.”
“Hallelujah Healing” said it would test such practices, but the people it concentrated on were ones who already had an involvement with prayer groups and healing sessions. It did not offer any alternative explanations, nor did it speak to any medical or psychological experts. Any faint questions it raised were overwhelmed by the very strong ‘witnessing’ by the members of such groups and by the supreme confidence of the healers themselves, say the Skeptics.
“We demand strong evidence from our medical fraternity when they want to muck around with our bodies and our minds. We should demand equally strong evidence before we let anyone else do the same.”
The quest for evidence was a feature of those winning Bravo Awards from the Skeptics this year.
“We know our documentary makers can produce well-researched thoughtful programmes, like Rob Harley’s ‘Desperate Remedies’ on Assignment last October, which looked at what drives people to seek alternative cures. It’s great to be able to acknowledge that sort of quality.”
Also acknowledged in the 2001 Bravo Awards are:
- Susan Woods for asking the right sort of questions regarding possible evidence for the Fiordland moose, Holmes, 27 June 2001
- Professor T W Walker, for his gardening column in the Christchurch Press which often addresses the “muck and magic” issues of various gardening approaches
- Denise Tutaki, for her item “Calling 0900 Psychic… Okay, now tell me something I don’t know”, Horowhenua-Kapiti Chronicle Feb 28, 2001
- Dr Pippa MacKay, for her commentaries on medical issues, particularly bogus cancer remedies
The awards will be officially announced at the Skeptics’ conference at Hamilton’s Waikato Diocesan School for Girls (September 21-23). The Bent Spoon Award is named in honour of Uri Geller, the former nightclub magician who claims he can bend metal with his bare mind. The Skeptics have their doubts.