Thursday, June 9, 2011

Just pulling your leg!

With regards to faith healing, there is one thing I'm still trying to process.  If you watched the Derren Brown special I posted in the previous blog post you would have noticed him explaining the leg "lengthening" trick.  If a 74 minute Youtube video/700 mb file download was more than you could bite off and chew, here is a shorter clip by the Debunkmaster General, James Randi.  He explains the leg trick at about two and a half minutes in:

When you see it explained like that it seems pretty silly.  It really is the faith healing equivalent of pulling a coin from behind someone's ear;  if there was a school for faith healing this would be the thing they teach you on day one.  It shouldn't fool anyone, but strangely enough it does.  I know it fooled me.  I remember the first time I saw it at a youth camp when I was 13.  They asked if anyone there had back pain and then told us that if you have back pain it's often because your one leg is longer than the other.  Then, would you believe it, everyone who came out for prayer for their backs happened to have one leg longer than the other!  Since then I lost track of the amount of times I've seen this happen since, like I said, it's a bit like the coin trick.

Look, I get it now.  In fact I'm a little bit ashamed that I even needed to have it explained to me.  Obviously you can't go through life with one leg several inches shorter than the other and not know it!  This is the kind of thing they diagnose very early on in life and prescribe corrective footwear for.  This is not the kind of thing you suddenly discover during a prayer meeting, you either know you have it or you don't have it.  So therefore when someone discovers (and then repairs) your newly uneven legs during a prayer session that must mean they're tricking you, right?

And that is what I'm struggling to process.  See, with leg pulling being the go to move for amateur faith healers I've known a lot of devout Christians who preform this particular trick.  In fact a close friend of mine is a Christian because of a leg pull - he believes he felt the power of God lengthening his leg and that turned him into the Bible literalist, Young Earth Creationist, born again, baptized believer he is today.  How can I accept that these good, completely sincere people are all deliberate frauds?  I'll have to ponder this some more but I'd like to think that there is some kind of ideomotor effect at work here, that while they are preforming trickery they aren't doing it on purpose.  Am I being naive?


GumbyTheCat said...

When I was a wee lad my mother was friends with the wife of a Pentacostal minister. He used to treat his wife horribly, locking her in a prayer closet a la the mother in "Carrie" and worse. Anyway, one day Mom decided to drag me to one of the services at this church, and they had a healing portion of the service. I got to see the whole leg-lengthening thing, along with the glossolalia and rolling around moaning crap. The miserable puke of a minister got this dog and pony show going for the benefit for one of the congregation, a woman who supposedly had one leg shorter than the other. So people are shrieking gibberish and rolling around on the floor, and as an 8 year old I was pretty freaked out. Then people started pointing at the woman's leg and shouting that her leg was growing. I looked, and all the woman was doing was unbending her knee to make it appear as if the leg was getting longer. I mean it was plain as day what was going on, but these tongues-speaking morons were shrieking praise to god for the "miracle" they were witnessing. That I believe was the first time I had ever witnessed the fraud associated with religion, because "Stumpette" and the minister were obviously in cahoots. Luckily, neither my mother nor I ever went to another service.

Eugene said...

Wow, that story is fantastic! Have you blogged it yet? I can see how that would be scarring!

I grew up in an older, established pentecostal church which had mellowed down a lot since it's "revival" days. Sure, people told the weirdest stories with a completely straight face but I only got to see the really weird parts of Charismatic Christianity on special occasions like Youth Camps and such. It was only later when I left home to study that I got to see the pure unfiltered Charismatic crazy at the hyper charismatic student ministry I joined. Even though I was fully conditioned to believe what I heard from a pulpit, that's where I began to see serious differences between their claims and observable reality!

GumbyTheCat said...

Ya know, I hadn't thought of that experience for years, it was this post of yours that reminded me of it. I should post it, shouldn't I? It's a perfect fit for my l'il blog.