A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: faith

15 August 2009
Hello and Merry Meet.

reply: I get suspicious when people greet me with the secret handshake or the pagan hello, but maybe you're different.

I have a bit of a problem with your little challenge.

reply: I think you have me confused with James Randi. He's the one who has challenged all psychics to prove their powers once and for all. Do it and he'll give you $1,000,000. Frankly though, if you think you're psychic and you don't know the difference between James Randi and Bob Carroll, I'd say the odds of you winning the challenge are about the same as the odds that there is an intelligent designer to the universe.

I deal with areas other people should not deal with.

reply: Don't we all!

I do happen, on occasion, [to] deal with the supernatural. While I have had plenty of experience I would never consent to going public with it. Nor would any other legitimate person in my position.

reply: I know. You're special, and it would be insulting to ask you to prove just how special you are.

Do you have any idea how many nut cases I have to deal with just because I'm a Gypsy? That was before I ever even picked up a deck of tarot cards. All the phony psychics and little scam artists who have darker skin think it's ok to call themselves Gypsy, kind of like a white person with a deep tan suddenly calling themselves black. Doesn't happen.

reply: A phony psychic is like a white person calling himself black? Hmmm. I'll have to think on that for a few millennia, then I'll get back to you. Actually, I've thought about it long enough. I think a phony psychic is more like a tornado without the wind.

I have dealt with Angels. I've dealt with ghosts. I've even dealt with Satanists, both annoying teens and young adults playing with crap they shouldn't, and the real thing.

reply: You mean you've dealt them your Tarot scheme and blew wind in their direction, providing guidance to the desperate? Or do you mean that you have been engaging in funny business with spirits? What I'm saying is that "dealt with" is pretty vague and the rest of us aren't as gifted as you are. We need to be told what you did in order to get the idea.

I think it's sad that someone like yourself, who has has more then a few experiences in the areas I know, has so little faith in it himself. To live every day thinking this is it. You can't see the handiwork of one above us all when you see flowers, birds flying? You don't see a creator when you hear thunder? Rainbows to you are just a trick of light? Where's the smoke and mirrors then? You poor little man. No imagination, no faith, no nothing.

reply: It obviously doesn't take much to make you feel sorry for people. It's true, though. I don't have faith in the spirit world. Faith seems to lead people to see things that aren't there and to imagine that whatever they imagine is true, is true. I see rainbows, flowers, and birds and am amazed at the beauty of things and of the wondrous fact that I'm conscious and able to perceive them. Rainbows are more than a trick of light. They are one of nature's most spectacular light shows. Rather than drive me to think of a creator, rainbows make me wonder about optics, meteorology, the evolution of the human brain and color vision, and the human drive to understand what they are and how they form.

I spent a night in Xilitla, Mexico, during a long and violent thunderstorm. The lightning brightened the night as if it were noon on a sunny day. The thunder roared and echoed in a valley of the Sierra Madre Oriental. It was one of the most exhilarating nights of my life. The windows of our cheap hotel rattled throughout the night. I didn't think of a creator. I thought of the power and randomness of nature, how awesome it can be if it doesn't kill you. The next morning our party visited Las Pozas. The vision and art of Edward James remind us how wondrous imagination can be.

You are right, I have no faith, but you overestimate the value of imagination. It depends on how you use it. Used to explore cosmological questions scientifically, it becomes enlightening and stimulating. Used to stop thinking by claiming some magical being whose origin needs no explanation is the cause of every little thing there is, it becomes a stifling force. Used to trick yourself into thinking you have special powers or knowledge, it becomes a blinding force, deluding you into thinking you are something that you're not and that others are lesser beings for not sharing your imaginative fairy tales.

Maybe someone will perform a psychic intervention for you. Then you can just donate that money to a cause that can use it. It can do a lot of good to the many retired magicians out there. Not to mention their assistants. I'm willing to give you something to believe in, but I will not go public, for anyone. I have a fairly complicated life. Not everyone needs to know my talents. And I don't need or want money. I've never accepted payment for my gifts. I didn't buy them, how could I sell them? As I mentioned previously, being known for these talents would only make life more difficult. Skeptics can be just as rabid as the Born Again crowd.

reply: It's just as well that you won't agree to be tested in public where you would be exposed as another deluded psychic. But if you ever change your mind, contact James Randi. He's the magician who is offering money to anyone who can prove she has psychic abilities.

I hope you do one day regain the faith you had as a child. And I hope you realize just how rich it will make you.

reply: If I were a man of faith, I would hope that some day you will come to your senses and see the world for what it is: an endless puzzle full of many things, none of which is made more interesting or significant by believing that there is a creator behind it all.

Peace, Merry Part, and Many Blessings.

P.S. Please do not publish my name anywhere. Maybe some day I'll feel comfortable with coming out of the 'broom closet'. That day however ain't coming anytime soon. Besides, if I was known, I couldn't keep flushing out the trash from the real psychics and like. The frauds are so much fun to toy with. I know, I'll prove the paranormal stuff to you, and instead you can just teach me a magic trick or two. Prestidigitation has always been something that's eluded me.

reply: You've proved the power of faith. It may not move mountains, but at least it puts a smile on your face and a bit of smugness in your heart.


19 May 1999 
While perusing your marvelous website--many, many thanks, by the way--I came across this recent segment:

'Dr. Sloan and his team acknowledge that faith can help patients deal with illness, but caution that "linking religious activities and better health can be harmful to patients, who already must confront age-old folk wisdom that illness is due to their own moral failure.''' I have long been curious about the true health value of faith.

So I thought you might be interested in the following:

Two quoted sections from the Skeptic Magazine Hotline. The first is part of a response by Steven B. Harris, M.D., a member of the Skeptics Society advisory board, to an article by Michael Shermer on the death of Susan Strasberg and her use of "alternative" medicine. Dr. Harris deals regularly with cancer patients. His position seems to reflect an increasingly accepted (by non believers) view of on the role of faith. .

"...Breast cancer is a long, drawn-out thing. You can spend 5 or 10 or 15 years in a constant agony of anxiety about having a fatal disease, or you can find a lie and be happy for the same time. Which is better? That's the conundrum facing all skeptics. Lies allay anxiety-- and too much anxiety, particularly about the future and death and pain, which are inevitable, is one of the things that makes life not worth living. Skepticism aims to find out the truth in all things. The lie which skeptics tell themselves is that the truth always, in the end, makes things better. Always. That lie is to relieve the anxiety THEY have that sometimes, occasionally, what they're doing AS skeptics, is not the kindest thing they can be doing. It's recursive and VERY ironic."

That was the setup for this--to me--startling view from Dr. William Jarvis, who Shermer calls "arguably one of the world's leading experts on alternative medicine (from a scientific perspective)". Dr. Jarvis was responding to a longer version of the above quote.

"The idea that cancer patients who delude themselves by attending miracle healers (whether of the psychic variety or otherwise) have a better quality of life than those who submit to standard therapies with their side-effects is not doubted by many (most?) in the medical community. However, the only test of the idea that I am aware of, found this not to be the case.

Cassileth et al obtained the cooperation of Virginia Livingston-Wheeler, MD, who operated a fringe cancer clinic in San Diego circa 1990. Seventy-eight pairs of patients were matched according to sex, race, age, diagnosis, and time from the diagnosis of metastatic or recurrent disease, who were enrolled over a period of 3.5 years. All patients were followed until death. Livingston-Wheeler patients were given her dubious "vaccine," BCG injections, vegetarian diet, and coffee enemas. They All but six of the control patients were on chemotherapy. The patients' quality of life was assessed using the Functional Living Index-Cancer. Researchers expected to find a higher quality of life among the optimistic, deluded VLW patients, but it didn't turn out that way. The VLW patients scored consistently lower than those treated by standard methods. (New Engl J Med, 1991;324:1180-5).

This surprising finding was consistent with two other studies that demonstrated how faulty subjective experience can be when attempting to evaluate a cancer treatment program. The Bristol Cancer Self-help Center (BCHC) in the UK offered patients a stringent diet (partially raw and partially cooked veggies, with soya proteins, and pulses), active participation in the healing process, positive thinking, etc. The program directors and staff were so certain that their patients were doing much better than patients treated in the standard way that they asked a team of doctors and researchers to test their program. This was done, and much to the shock and chagrin of the BCHC people, the finding were that metastasis-free survival was significantly poorer among the BCHC patients, and survival of relapsed patients was significantly inferior as well. (The Lancet, 1990; 336:606-10.)

Bernie Siegel, MD, has made himself into a New Age guru by touting the superiority of his ECaPs (Exceptional Cancer Patients). He has written several books, and appeared on the media touting the idea that optimism, love, and social support are life-enhancing. Nevertheless, a ten-year follow-up of the ECaPs program found no benefit. (J Clin Oncology 1993;11:66-9)

reply: One added benefit of doing the book/talkshow/lecture circuit: you don't have to face those dying patients every day.

It is interesting that even health professionals with standard training can be fooled by the subjective clinical experience. This was documented by Roberts, et al, who looked at five different clinical procedures that had come into use based upon clinical reports, but which were later found to be ineffective when subjected to randomize, blinded clinical trials (Clinical Psychology Reviews, 1993;13:375-91). This review documented the deceptive clinical illusions that physicians can experience who rely upon clinical experience without blinded, objective testing.

Alternativist physicians have the same vulnerability, plus the added problems imposed by their nonconformist personalities. They seem to know about the possibilities placebo effects, and other dynamics that can create clinical illusions on an intellectual level, but seem incapable of sorting these factors out experientially.

Or, like Herbert Benson, they don't think it is important to sort these things out because they believe that belief per se is the most powerful healing factor.

(I have accused Benson of having bumped his head on the cornerstone of the Mother Church of Christian Science there in Boston where he works). The "mind over matter" beliefs of the proponents of positive thinking are very often at the root of alternativism.

I believe these people, both patients and practitioners, are wishful thinkers who, as the old song says, "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with Mr. In-Between." They hate science because it attacks their delusions."
John H. Mazetier, Jr.



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