Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Delia Knox - Miracles and healing, cynicism or wonder?

Today the story of Delia Knox has jumped out of Christian subculture into the mainstream UK media, with this story on the Daily Mail website. Knox is filmed leaving her wheelchair after being prayed for at the Bay of the Holy Spirit Revival in Mobile, Alabama. Watch the 13 minute video embedded there, if you can. Most people will have one of two reactions to this: either you will be deeply moved, or you will find yourself overwhelmingly cynical about the whole thing. The second of the two seems to be the reaction of choice for Mail Online readers, who queue in droves in the comments section to pour scorn on the whole thing.

Why are people sceptical about spiritual and miraculous healing? Mostly because they simply don't believe it. The prevailing secular atheist worldview has no slot available for this kind of thing - it simply doesn't happen (although a more thoughtful and informed atheist might allow for some kind of psychosomatic factor in healing). But even among those who are less rigidly rationalist, there is huge cynicism about miraculous healing, because there has been so much deceit and abuse practised on people in the name of healing, and especially in the name of Christian healing.

I admit my sympathies are often with them. I've seen too many people hurt by false expectations of healing, too many Christians credulously swept along by the latest wave of "miracles" perpetrated by someone trying to make a fast buck, and quite frankly, too much lying by so-called Christian leaders, to be anything other than very cautious when presented with amazing claims of divine intervention. But, on the other hand, I've seen enough to know that God is not bound by our scepticism and amazing things do sometimes happen.

Let's look at the arguments people are using to say that this is a hoax. Argument number one is "I don't believe this". This is most people's idea of a clincher, but really is completely useless in logical terms, as C. S. Lewis would tell you (what do they teach them in these schools nowadays?). You may for example, be utterly convinced that black is white, but that doesn't make you right. You may never have seen a Giraffe, but that in itself doesn't mean Giraffes don't exist. And even if all your friends share your wrong views, they are still just as wrong.

In fact the only way of evaluating the authenticity of something like this is by looking at the evidence. If the evidence doesn't stack up, then this is a cruel hoax. If it does, then cynicism has to take a hike.

The first knock of doubt for the cynics comes from the identity of the person concerned. As far as I can tell, Delia Knox has been known as a wheelchair user for many years. She has had a high-profile role as a singer and charismatic pastor, sharing a ministry with her husband, Levy Knox. She is not an anonymous fake who has been produced like a rabbit out of a hat to be conveniently "healed". She has a past which ought to be verifiable. Read her bio here and take a look at this video on her website. Also this one below, which to me is more impressive and moving than the "show" one which the mail picked up on:

You can see that at this point she was still quite shaky on her feet, something which makes this more convincing rather than less. The other thing I find persuasive is the way in which this has been publicised. Fake healings are intended to boost the reputation (and usually the income) of the person responsible, the smooth-talking "evangelist" with the global ministry, send your credit card details to this number. That isn't the case here. It's striking that the evangelist who prays for her is hardly name-checked at all in the "miracle" video, and he isn't (at the moment) out there trying his damndest to cash in on it, as we would expect from a fake. Even the Knox's own elaborate website still only mentions the incident as an add-on, indicating that they are still adapting to their changed circumstances. You might also like to look at their Facebook page, which describes this as a "progressive miracle", a careful description that doesn't smack of sensationalism.

It's always possible that what appears genuine at first might turn out to be a deception, bruising our faith once again. But on the basis of what I've seen, I'm persuaded. And why not? As the Nativity plays out on prime-time TV in the UK, Christians are reminded that they believe that God sent his Son to walk among us, "a bridge between heaven and earth", as the scriptwriter put it. If you believe that, then what greater miracle could there be for you to put your faith in? Is there anything more incredible and wonderful than the eternal Word incarnate, Mary's baby born to change the world? Anything else is just a lesser miracle than reminds us of the great one.

And if you don't believe it, then I can understand why you look at Delia Knox and see snake oil, smoke and mirrors, and a nasty mirage. But if the evidence didn't justify that view, would that make you think again about the other miracle, the child in the manger?

10 comments:

Stuart said...

Oh gosh this is such a tough call.

We don't want to deny a miracle and many of us believe in God of miracles, but then, we don't want to be duped and as you rightly allude, much damage has been perpetrated in this regard.

Revjean said...

Much as we always try to disprove a so called miracle and we do or remain credulous, there are elements of this that do ring true. All of the points you mention but also the faces of the parents and the woman. And when she says to her mother that she didn't realize how small she was.
Miracles are still happening, small ones every day. Why is it so hard to believe in a big one?

MisterDavid said...

Thank you for that beautiful video - watching her mother crying made me wonder how many prayers that woman had prayed for her daughter's healing, payers which had seemingly not been answered. It makes me want to repeat the prayers of mine that haven't 'got anywhere' yet.

I think part of the issue we have is that if this happened in a parish church in England, we would be far less cynical. We have been taught not to believe what we hear from the church in America. It's so sad, but is not without cause.

Simian said...

As you know Charlie, I'm an atheist, but I don't hold the cynical view you suggest. I think those involved genuinely think that a miracle has taken place.
But I think the most likely explanation is that this is in fact more to do with the culmination of a very long healing process combined with the immense power of this lady's subconscious. The 'healer' is clearly very charismatic, and is able to help this lady tap this subconscious and have immense confidence in her own ability. By close analogy, anyone who has seriously broken their leg will realise how hard it is to retrain the nerves and muscles to work after being immobilised for a time. The mechanics are there, and exercise will make them stronger, but the body appears to have forgotten how to use them, until suddenly the brain gets its act together and starts working with the new/repaired tissue.

I do worry that feats such as this raise expectations in others who are indeed incurable, only to have their hopes cruelly dashed. I wonder if this is really such a kind thing for all those for whom this kind of thing cannot work, no matter how hard people pray.

Fiona said...

Hi, just came across your blog. I am atheist myself, although not utterly dogmatic about it. I tend to think there may be something deeper and larger that we respond to and that people give it different names. It just bothers me when some people declare that there's only one interpretation and the rest are false. Look where that leads...

Anyway, I found this because I just got sent a link about this 'miracle'. I would like to know why she was wheelchair-bound in the first place. That would help explain the psychosomatic contribution, if there is one. I tend to think Simian is right and that it was probably a long healing process, suddenly given a huge boost by the suggestive aspects of the revival.

I have always been fascinated by Christ's healings. Again and again he says: "Your faith has made you whole" and next, he "straightly charged him" not to tell anyone. What could make it more certain the healed person would tell everyone he could?

Hence, more people come to believe and turn up, ready primed.

Yet when Jesus went to Nazareth, the people flooded out dragging the sick for healing and then stopped dead, because they knew this guy, he was the carpenter's son and his family still lived there. They couldn't believe in him. "And he could do no great work there."

He was Jesus, Son of God! He should have been able to heal them, faith or not!

Charlie said...

Ah, yes, "there are more things in heaven and earth..." Thanks for your comment, and for dropping in. We may find that the Nazareth incident is something like a paradigm for Jesus being rejected by his own but embraced by the wider world.

That's not to say your reading is incorrect, but nor is that a particularly compelling argument to invalidate the claim to be the Son of God. Surely the point is that God will not force grace on to those who aren't willing to receive it?

Anonymous said...

I have been a Christian for many years and remember when she had her accident.(20 years ago) At the time she sang inspirational gospel music and the accident was quite tragic. Naturally I am moved and believe, because I remember the incident. Funny how people want to believe anything other than God being a healer, but guess what? You skeptics are going to see more and more of these healing's. Just watch and see!

trenton carson said...

This story is very much true. I used to work at the tv station where her show is produced. During the first season I used to see her riding around in a wheelchair and her assistant helping her in and out her chair for every episode. When she came back for season 2, after her miracle she was still in her wheelchair because she has limited muscle use for being paralyzed for 20 yrs. When she came in to start season 2 she used her wheelchair to the end of the set and stopped. She began to get up out her chair and WALKED to her seat. God was in the building and had healed her. It was so moving to see this once paralyzed woman walk around the set, this is truly GOD's working.

Anonymous said...

Praise Jesus! I dont know how He does it, I dont know when He does it, but I can tell you what I know: GOD IS A HEALER AND I'VE SEEN HIM HEAL THE SICK!!! I'm glad most of you out there concur with the plain truth but I must comment about the poor atheists. Boy, they made me laugh! They remind me of Psalms 1:2,4 "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?... He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision." God brought flesh, skin and life upon dry bones (EZE. 37) and then someone is talking of progressive healing process??? Before posting such conclusions I think it would be wise to conduct a research on how many such "progressive healings" have occured in the past to a similar or exact condition. Which part of the word MIRACLE dont you understand? To another one, the fact that you dont know what caused her condition is a manifestation of your mere ignorance. Everyone eager about this miracle can get all the facts straight in a matter of minutes. I did. May God's mercy locate you.

Anonymous said...

I saw her at my Church singing in a wheel chair 20 years ago. She Was crippled . I cant believe people think this is a hoax , or Come up with some dumb theory why she was healed . God heals and Jesus is Lord !