They say be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. I wonder if that’s how Jonathan Calder is feeling today. Way back last September he said he wanted to hear much beloved Party President Tim Farron make an unpopular speech. I disagreed with Jonathan at the time because I felt that Tim was hardly a shrinking violet at saying what he thought, especially as he’d waded into the most controversial debate at Scottish Conference when he was seeking election.
You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.
It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?
If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on Muamba’s life being saved due to appropriate and immediate medical attention we know is crucial in cases of cardiac arrest rather than divine intervention for a start. And media reports that some people were praying for the footballer are not advertisements. The worst bit of the letter for me, though, is the idea that because healing is faith based, there should be less of a burden of proof on claims made by religious organisations. Surely rules, or the law, have to treat everybody equally and if your claim can’t be proved, it shouldn’t be made in the context of an advert.
Face cream and baby milk companies are serial offenders when it comes to getting advertisements banned for making misleading claims. Jo Swinson has had a hat trick of victories against cosmetics giant L’Oreal and Nutricia and Danone have both had to change ads for formula because of claims that cannot be verified. Changing the paramters to allowing adverts based on the belief that something worked would deny the public the protection from unscrupulous advertisers that it deserves.
If I buy something that claims to work in a certain way, I expect it to work in that way. Not even the most passionate advocates of faith healing would suggest that if you ask for healing you would get it. If it were, we wouldn’t need to spend billions on health care. There currently exists absolutely zero proof that even if God exists, this supreme being can heal the sick. And the onus is on the person making the claim to substantiate it. That’s how our justice system is based – the prosecution has to prove that the accused is guilty of the crime, it’s not the job of the accused to prove that they didn’t do it. I worry, too, that lack of healing might lead people to think that they were in some way inadequate, that it was their fault for not being good enough, or faithful enough. You have to also take note of evidence from the New York Times that prayer can actually make things worse for the person being prayed for, even if it makes the people doing the praying feel better.
So, we’ve established that I think Tim and the other members of the All Party Christian Group are talking mince, to put it politely, on this. Jennie puts it so much better, in her own inimitable style. Martin Robbins in the Guardian is really quite cruel about it, but it’s undeniable he has a point.
I was not impressed to see, however, people basically saying that Tim should not say these things because he’s Party President. Don’t get me wrong, if he’d done it as Party President, in my name, I’d have been first in the queue at his office door in a blind fury. But he didn’t. He was doing it in a completely different capacity.
We say that we don’t like identikit political clones who never say anything interesting – but then we jump down the throat of anyone who comes out with something controversial that we don’t agree with. We really can’t have it both ways. I would much rather my politicians to be human beings who speak their mind – even if they occasionally, in my view, get it hopelessly wrong.
In some ways, it’s good that Farron and Co have brought this up – because it draws attention to the issue and the huge amounts of material out there refuting the idea and showing it to be based on no evidence whatsoever.
The controversy should have no bearing on his performance as President, which is pretty darned good. Mark Valladares over at Lib Dem Voice raised the issue of Tim’s CARE interns. I will do my utmost to argue against any organisation which has any truck with the idea that gay people can or should be “cured”, but there’s something about showing them the sort of tolerance they fail to show to others that makes me wonder if it’s so bad to engage with them in that way. I think that a spell in the liberal, questioning environment of a Lib Dem office and the exposure to Lib Dem ideas might just be good for the young people involved. That said, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea at all.
And, finally, Mr Calder has realised he’s finally got what he wished for and made some very wise observations on the issue of faith healing.
And, really finally this time, amid all the talk of face cream, this article on the BBC News website, entitled “Chocolate ‘may help keep people slim'” amused me. It’s a balanced piece of reporting, with fruit and vegetables not mentioned until the end. Clearly I’m not eating enough of the stuff and Mark Pack is.