Thinkin’ Out Loud: “The Placebo Effect”

By Lewis Willis

No, this is not the title of the latest 007 movie or the title of a CIA thriller or the latest rage on the best seller list of current novels, though I do admit that is sounds like it. In fact, I think an imaginative person might turn it into a money-making production.

On second thought, imaginative people have already turned it into quite a productive fund-raising idea. It is the life blood of every “faith-healing ministry” in the country. And to illustrate the effectiveness of “The Placebo Effect” in raising funds, just observe the big buildings, technical equipment trailers and the deceived masses who gather around the users of “The Placebo Effect.” Remove it from these ministries and they would quickly die a natural death – as surely as a person dies when his “blood” is gone.

The Akron Beacon Journal (August 21, 1982) reported a visit from one of these faith healers to our area. On September 11, at the Hudson Holiday Inn, she participated in a two day symposium of the Association for Research and Enlightenment, Inc. The Association grew out of the work of psychic Edgar Cayce. The seminar included ESP experiments, lectures on the development of psychic ability and the testimony of “faith healer,” Olga Worrall. Mrs. Worrall is listed in Who’s Who of American Woman and she is the author of a book, The Gift of Healing. This Cleveland native is one of the most researched healers in the nation. She helped open the New Life Clinic at the Mt. Washington United Methodist Church in Baltimore. She reports she discovered her clairvoyance as a child. At that time, she had visions of people she did not know, only to discover that these people died about the time she “saw” them. She says, when she lays hands on people, “sometimes wonderful things happen. Tumors disappeared, and things of that nature.” Because she feels her “gift” is God-given, there is no charge for the treatment. However, if you wanted to hear her tell about the treatment, it would have cost you $59.00 in advance or $69.00 at the door, if you went to the seminar. If you only wanted to hear her speech, it cost you $6.00 at the door.

With regard to the great research that has gone into her work, Science Digest reports that most scientists and doctors attribute the favorable results of the testing to “sloppy research” and attribute the apparent cures affected by faith healers to “The Placebo Effect.” The Beacon Journal defines “The Placebo Effect” in the following manner: “A placebo is an unmedicated preparation given to a patient to humor him or to be used as a control in an experiment. Thus, a placebo effect is a cure effected by causing a patient to believe he is being cured” (my emphasis, L.W.).

Any physician will tell you that many patients can be “cured” if you can make them believe the treatment given will bring about the cure. And our national hypochondria presents both physicians and faith healers with an ever present reserve of “patients.” Furthermore, both the physicians and faith healers are making a fortune off these people who “think they are sick.” Obviously you do not have to have much “power” to “heal” a person who only thinks he is sick. The measure of success at every healing “ceremony” (as you know, not every case is healed) is determined by the number of people susceptible to “The Placebo Effect.” And I can do the same thing for those folks that Ernest Angley, Rex Humbard or Oral Roberts can do for them. Come to think about it, I could probably pay off my car with a healing service on the parking lot out here if there was just some way to certify those who are susceptible to the power of suggestion.

I surely would like to see Mrs. Worrall, or one of her buddies try using “The Placebo Effect” on some of the following situations: (1) In Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus calmed a storm to the amazement of His disciples. Do you suppose “The Placebo Effect” would work on a tornado? (2) In Matthew 14:15-21, Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes. Any faith healer who would like to attempt this feat with “The Placebo Effect” has an invitation to try and I volunteer to supply the loaves and fish! (3) In Luke 4:1-6, the Lord produced such a draught of fish that the fishermen’s nets broke in bringing them aboard ship. This happened after they had fished all night without success. Do you suppose “The Placebo Effect” would work for the frustrated fisherman? And, (4) Find one of these fellows who will try “The Placebo Effect” on raising the dead, as Jesus did in Mark 5:35-42 and John 11:38-46. I will volunteer to drive them to the “cemetery of their choice.”

I am persuaded that you could look for five years for a faith healer who would attempt any of the above and be unsuccessful in your search. And, I think we all know why! Let the hypochondriacs be victimized and let the spiritually blind applaud. But, let not our faith be shaken by “The Placebo Effect.”

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 3, p. 76
February 3, 1983