The Pseudoscience of Healing Crusades
My first public encounters as a rationalist were with evangelists – the crusading ones claiming to heal the sick, the blind and the lame. It was in 1975 or so when I was a student at Kasturba Medical College, Manipal. I used to come to Mangalore on Saturdays and Sundays. One of these weekends when I had come home and was relaxing with friends, we got the news that there was a miracle healer called Chris Panos having his sessions on one of biggest maidans of Mangalore. One of our friends who is now no more was gushing about him having restored hearing to two of his cousins and he was a medical student! So, that lent all the more credibility to the claims and some of us rushed to the place. There was a high podium there with a well-dressed man in a three-piece suit, holding a microphone in his hand and shouting at the top of his voice – “Heal in the name of Jesus” and was exhorting the audience to shout “halleluiah praise the lord” which they were doing at the top of their voices. One of those on the dais was a familiar figure – he was the retired chief engineer of Mangalore Harbour project and his name was Panditaradhya. He was led to the stage holding a walking stick and was ordered in the rolling baritone of Chris Panos throw away that walking stick and walk in the name of Jesus and the stick was snatched from his hands. The poor man somehow managed to reach the sides of the stage and held on to the ropes hanging on for dear life and then came shout from the hero – look Jesus has healed him! Again there was a big shout from the audience- praise be to the lord! Then was the turn of a girl whose arm was paralysed since birth – again the voice took over – Chris Panos said bend your hand and she bent it. At this I saw the arms of the girl – both were of the same size. So, I went to the stage and asked him how come both her hands appear the same since you claim that one of them was paralysed since birth! He was flummoxed and told me that it was a miracle.
There were hundreds of people waiting to be cured some of them in very pathetic conditions and my temper was slowly rising. On the sides I saw a quadriplegic beggar who was crawling on all four limbs and a begging bowl on a wooden trolley. I bribed him with 50 paise (which was a good amount in those days) and asked him to come with me. I took him near the stage and requested the volunteers to take him on the stage and get him cured. They told me that cures do not happen on stage but only the cured are allowed there. I told them that this man was deaf also and his deafness was cured and hence he was to be taken on the stage to let all know about it! But, the volunteers could sense a trap in that and said no, I told them why not and there was a commotion. Disturbed by this the great healer came to the side of the stage and demanded to know as to what was happening. I told him that this man should be cured. He said I don’t cure. I asked him then who does? He replies Jesus. I told him in that case ask Jesus to cure him! There was a commotion and a policeman asked me what was happening and why I was creating a disturbance. At this, the healer came to the side of the stage and kicked the railings and shouted go back. When I looked around there was no one and I was the only one left! I told the policeman that I just want to check the healing powers of this guy and he said fair enough go ahead! At this Chris Panos called me to him asked for my hand pulled me close to him and whispered, “Go away peacefully my friend in the name of god!” I said I am an atheist and god is a dirty word to me. Then he told me go my friend otherwise something may happen to you. I replied don’t worry if something happens to me twice that or probably more is going to happen to you. Just at that moment somebody threw a wire at the power cables and the lights went off. Then there was a disturbance and the healing session came to an end! I was furious and started shouting at all the helpless people who had come in search of a miraculous cure there! In the meanwhile some of the saffron gang who had come there to try and disturb his meeting asked me whether anything happened when he kept his hand on my head – I told them nothing. Their reaction was that they had all been scared that he had some sort of a power and that is why they did not have the courage to disturb him and that they now knew that nothing happened to me despite he keeping his hand over my head, they would come next day and teach him a lesson!
Teaching him a lesson is something that they really did the next day! They waited until it was dark and then tripped the electricity connection by short circuiting the wires and started molesting the girls when they raised their hands shouting halleluiah which resulted in a stampede and the cancellation of the proposed one week healing program in two days! Then followed the mutual recriminations the Catholics said he had been invited by the Protestants and they said the opposite! Any way the whole thing ended in a fiasco and Chris Panos had to stop his healing sessions.
In 1977, he came once more to Mangalore and this time we were well prepared, we had printed pamphlets asking why this man from Greece had to come to India to heal when there were enough number of patients there itself. We had also questioned as to why the police were not taking action against him for practicing medicine without a license etc. These pamphlets were distributed in such a bold manner even to those who were in the audience that many thought that it was something being handed over by the organizers themselves! We had also challenged him that we would show him patients to be cured and if he did that we were ready to admit that he had the healing powers. At that time something really surprising happened – the program was cancelled. We were summoned by the police who asked for our pamphlets. Later on we came to know that the police inspector who was in charge of the security had called this man Chris Panos shown him the pamphlet and had told him that we had complained that he was practicing medicine without a license. He was also told that the Inspector would take him to the nearby hospital and show him a few patients to be cured. If he did that he was assured nothing would be done to him but if he did not he would be arrested for fraud! Chris Panos told the police that he was just conducting prayer meetings and he was not curing people. He was asked to give that in writing and was let off. Later on we came to know that many of the so called cures were stage managed affairs with paid people first acting as if they were handicapped and then appearing normal when summoned to the stage as an evidence of being healed. In the case of the ex chief engineer it was said that he had had a brain hemorrhage and was slowly recovering. When he was called to the stage and his walking stick pulled away he had no alternative but somehow try to reach to the side of the stage as he did not want the public embarrassment of falling down as there was nothing to hold on there!
The next day the ads about blind seeing, deaf hearing, and the lame walking were off and instead there were announcements of prayer meetings. The show was a flop and was wound up earlier than planned. So, that was the end of our session with this man Chris Panos. A few years later another healer called Peter Youngren appeared on the scene and his ads were too of the same type. This time we were ready with our pamphlets and had repeated the same challenges. But, here there were the police in full strength and we were not allowed to go into the venue but were asked to distribute our pamphlets at a distance from it. I had the time to visit it and it was quite apparent that the whole thing was an attempt at proselytizing in the name of healing and probably a few psychosomatic cases would have got some relief.
But, as the protests against these so called healing sessions started, the modus operandi of these people also changed. They started calling their meetings as prayer meetings and claimed that the ill would be prayed for. The venue of the meetings was also shifted to a place called as mission compound which was an enclosed area surrounded by the houses of Christians and would be easily protected from the attacks from outsiders. The process of saffronisation had also started and the Hindu groups were gaining strength. Around the end of the 20th century as rumors started about the end of the world, there was the big ‘prayer meeting’ of Dinakaran organized at Mangalore where large crowds of Christians – both Roman Catholics and Protestants were supposed to gather and pray, there were some feelers from the Hindu outfits that we should protest against that and I realized then that they wanted to use our shoulders to fire at them and told them that if they wanted to do that they could do it on their own. A few years later there was this man from Philippines- Alex Orbito who was supposed to perform psychic surgery- operating with his bare hands and removing what was called as bad elements from the body. He used to plunge his hand into the patients abdomen and a pink liquid would ooze out- an obvious case of palming! At the time when he was in Bangalore, his first session was in the Karnataka Legislative assembly and his first ‘patients’ were the ministers of the Karnataka govt! This got him publicity and the next day there were long lines of ‘patients’ waiting to be operated by him outside the hotel where he was ‘operating’ it was estimated that he had collected several millions of rupees in one day charging a sum of Rs.3000 for a 3 minute session of ‘operation’. I could not visit that place as I had already fixed programs at a nearby place for three days. But, he was spirited away by organizers of his program as one lawyer from Kolar had filed a case against him at the Karnataka High court and the court had ordered his arrest. He was allowed to escape as some of the top police officials were his supporters and had arranged for his going out of the country. Later on it was revealed that he had been jailed in USA for practicing medicine without a license.
But our campaign against his healing went on full swing and I went to Bangalore to demonstrate this ‘psychic surgery’ at a TV studio along with a panel discussion which was supposed to be attended by one of the members of the Karnataka cabinet who had subjected herself to this ‘surgery’. It was not a surprise that the lady did not turn up! Along with this we demonstrated this in a few medical colleges including the Bangalore Medical College. It was here that I came to know that a pediatric surgeon was one of the supporters of this Alex Orbito and had arranged for his program. I also met one Dr.Rao who was the Chairman of the anti quackery cell of the Karnataka State Branch of the Indian Medical Association. He informed me that when he had gone to a meeting at a very prestigious venue where Alex Orbito was giving a public lecture he was ridiculed by a supposedly upright policeman called Sangliana that what he was doing protesting when his President was on the dais. That was a fact as the meeting had the state President of the Indian Medical Association on the dais! This clearly shows the hypocrisy of the medical profession. Anyway, this Dr.Rao had taken a list of the names and addresses of the ‘patients’ who had been treated by Alex Orbito and was trying to follow up on that. The ‘psychic surgery’ performed by me for the TV channel was broadcast and I got a number of invitations to demonstrate that. I was told that a number of religious maths had invited Alex Orbito to do his treatment which he could not as he had to run away! Anyway, some of the top cops of Karnataka had helped him to escape.
Then was the Benny Hinn episode – that was a year after the tsunami had struck the shores of India. He was supposed to come to Bangalore, conduct his prayer meetings for the peace for the souls of the affected people and also conduct the healing sessions. We were the first group to protest against his coming and had challenged him to demonstrate his healing powers on patients shown by us. At that time the congress party was in power and probably to please their ‘madam’ they rolled out a red carpet welcome for this man. The protests against his visit turned violent and there was quite some damage to public property due to the protests of the saffron gangs and the Bharatiya Janatha Party which was in the opposition at the time. The meeting was at a airport which was no longer in use and was attended by millions of people and was taken as a show of strength by the Christian community! The meeting was attended by the Chief Minister and some ministers of the central govt. too! However, the tough ex cop Sangliana who was then a member of the parliament of the Bharathiya Janata Party issued advertisements in the local press asking people to attend the meeting when the rest of his party colleagues were busy protesting against that!
There was supposed to be an encounter with a healer called as Jira Ma in Jamshedpur which did not take place! She was supposed to be a very famous faith healer of the area drawing thousands to her sessions. Her healing sessions would start with her going into a trance and reading the Bible. Her devotees who by then would be seated would have two bottles with them one of water and the other of oil. At the appointed time they would remove the caps of these bottles and pray along with her. After that they were to put on the caps and take them home for use- the water was for internal use and the oil was for external use! There was a regional meet of FIRA at Jamshedpur and the very next day her session was at a nearby stadium. So, we wanted to attend that and check on her powers and decided to do so after discussions. But, we had not been aware of a reporter of a local daily around when these were going on. The very next day the newspaper carried on its front page our photographs with a bold headline – Jira ma is going to be exposed by the top rationalists of India. The element of surprise was gone and we were advised by the locals not to go there and get attacked by her devotees and we had to drop our plans. However, within a few years her nemesis came. At one of her meetings a heart patient who was waiting to be healed by her collapsed and died on the spot. She was arrested and imprisoned. These supposed healing sessions are called Changai Sabhas in the North and we have some of these ads. Our Nagpur groups have been successful in getting the Drugs and magic remedies (objectionable advertisements) act applied to them as they claim to cure disease. But, some of the Christian groups rally behind these so called healers, treating our questioning their powers as an attack against their religion. There are some of their activities going on in places on a permanent basis like in Potta in Kerala.
This was my last encounter with these groups in December, 2011 and the result of that is also mentioned along with. Since this was an attack on healing in the name of Jesus Christ most of the local papers which would be reluctant to publish anything against such claims from the groups linked with cow’s urine, exorbitant claims of yoga and Ayurveda were keen to publicise this. This was the statement:
Healing disease by Chosen Generation of Ministries!
For those who may be having problems with married life, parents and children. Financial, health etc. etc. including things like satanic bondage the solution is well at Hand as Jesus is coming soon!
I am in possession of a pamphlet by an organization called as Chosen Generation of Ministries® which states that all these problems and more can be solved by the and two cell numbers ########## and ########## have been provided when I called them and informed that I was suffering from cancer of the prostate and was told by one Mr.John that they could heal it, I was asked to come to Suratkal (a suburb of Mangalore) on the coming Monday and their god would heal anything!
Funnily enough this issue was brought to my attention by a Roman Catholic who was angry with this group for ‘baptising’ people and giving them communion again thereby converting them to their sect. I was also told that they were seeking donations for their cause and were mesmerizing people. While we had a Minister who claims that rolling on leaves on which Brahmins have had their meals can cure diseases, these people have gone one step ahead and have claimed that their god can heal all diseases!
In fact this hand bill attracts the provisions of the Drugs and magical Remedies (objectionable) advertisements ct, 1954 under which claiming cures for certain diseases is a cognizable offence. The authority for taking action under this is the drugs controller of Dakshina Kannada. Because, when one claims all disease, those under the provisions of this act are also covered.
The address of this organization is Chosen Generation of Ministries® Church Post box no 76 Udupi -576 101 and the founder and senior pastor is one Peter Quadros. Well one can claim the freedom to profess ones religion and also practice it. But, how about the claims made herein?
Of course however much I was keen to get my prostate healed by their prayers it was not to be. Not only I was busy that day, but the Hindutva brigade was far busier. There was an attack by them on the premises where these ‘healings’ were going on and the usual violence followed!
This is an account of our encounters with those who heal with the power of Jesus. Though I have been quite keen about exposing these frauds we have to be a bit on the careful side due to the propensity of the Hindutwa brigade to use our shoulders to fire at them. Not that they are exclusively dependent on us for that, but even our little bit helps! Of course we have such with those who heal with the power of many such gods, goddesses and spirits and what have you. More about that, some other time.