There's been a bit of a furore over the past couple of days after a brave citizen reported the Bath contingent of the "Healing On The Streets" (or "HOTS") movement to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for making the unsubstantiated claims that God could heal you (on the street) through them. You can read the actual account of the complaints made at the blog of the complainant, Hayley Stevens.
Hayley is an atheist but, more importantly, a skeptic and complained on skeptic grounds that HOTS were misleading people with claims that cannot be supported by evidence and could detrimentally influence the weak and vulnerable away from authentic medical treatment. ASA agreed and have ruled that HOTS have to remove these claims from their advertising material.
Do HOTS respond with tales of clear and unequivocal healings performed by HOTS teams? No. Of course, HOTS had the opportunity to counter the complaint with convincing evidence that supports their claims but they have none. (Their website contains "Hot Stories" of successful healings - presumably their most convincing stories. Judge for yourself how anecdotal they both(!) are. Why is it that God never regrows an amputated limb or anything else unambiguous and unattributable to placebo?) Instead, they try to deceive and grope for support by playing the "religious persecution" card, totally inappropriately, including a news article disingenuously entitled "UK Advertising Standards Authority try and stop HOTS Bath from sharing the Gospel!"
Well, if HOTS cannot - or will not - tell the difference between "sharing the Gospel" and making unsubstantiated claims, then I think that speaks volumes about both the evidence for their Gospel message and their true motivation for "healing" strangers on the street. (I thought the Gospel was about forgiveness from sin, not healing from physical ills. I obviously did not pay enough attention in Sunday School.)
It's not just HOTS, though. Bible Reflections also ran the story, saying that the ASA "would now like us to recant our Christian faith in the Bible". No, they wanted you to agree to "not make claims which state or imply that, by receiving prayer from [HOTS] volunteers, people could be healed of medical conditions." They are welcome to believe it, they are just not allowed to push those beliefs on others without evidence. Like HOTS themselves, BR went for a misleading headline, claiming that ASA were "trying to stop Healing on the Streets". Again, no. It was not trying to stop them entirely, just to stop their unsubstantiated claims.
The complainant - an individual, not a group, as claimed by Bible Reflections - was not complaining on anti-Christian grounds but rather on anti-non-evidence-based medicine grounds. And quite rightly, too. Anecdotes are not evidence. If people wish to seek out faith healing then that is their business. However, accosting the vulnerable in the street and encouraging them share personal matters with strangers in the hope of unproven potential to be healed is a different matter, and wrong. It would be wrong if it were Homeopaths, wrong if it were psychics and wrong if it is faith healers.
But isn't it all harmless, even if it doesn't work? HOTS are not making money or trying to con people, like psychics or homeopaths.
Well, in some ways, I think faith healers are even worse. HOTS may think that faith healing is harmless because they believe it. But who do they believe God heals? Those with faith, presumably. And what is one of the "reasons" that faith healing does not "work" when it fails? Insufficient faith. How do you prove your faith in God's healing? By avoiding conventional treatments. Sure, HOTS may not explicitly encourage this but it would be very naive to believe that it is not a subtext. Almost as bad, what's the other "reason" it doesn't work? "God's will." Given that most people are not healed - either that or their "Hot Stories" editor needs sacking - what HOTS are really doing is going around implying that people are sick either because they lack faith or it's God's will. That's wrong on many levels.
No one is asking you to "recant your faith", HOTS, just to stop meddling and misleading people with your unproven beliefs. I've seen these people before in Winchester and felt annoyed but not had the guts to do anything about. Well done, Hayley Stevens.