Faith Healers

At yesterdays Hardest Hit rally I, along with many other disabled people, were approached by a person from an allegedly christian group. They were offering to work out what ‘ancestral curse’ we were suffering under so that we – for a price – could be cured of it. Would we in wheelchairs like to be able to walk again? Would we like the pain to vanish? Then we needed the curses we were suffering under removed.

Faith healing is nothing new. The suggestion that disablement stems from curses, evil, witchcraft or a punishment from God has been around for centuries. The suggestion that it should be cured is not a new one either. Historically people born with disability have been scapegoated as evil or cursed. The cure always comes at a cost, be it physical (e.g. flagellation), social (e.g. exclusion) or financial. It’s often done under the guise of compassion and love and seen by many as harmless or kind. I don’t really believe it is when you look closely at it. The more I think about it the more the gesture seems to stem from a base assumption that as a disabled person I am a ‘victim’. As we all know prejudical stereotypes given to marginalised groups, like those with disabilities, are harmful.

Once labled with the ‘victim’ stereotype one can easily fall prey to the just world hypothesis. The just world hypothesis is simply a fallacious assumption that overall the world we inhabit is just. It follows that in a just world ‘bad’ things don’t happen to ‘good’ people. People that follow that assumption often rationalise that the victim deserved their fate it in some way. Blaming disability on poor diet, habits, morals, etc. regardless of the actual cause of the disability is fairly common and is a symptom of this phenomenon. This way people can feel that if they are ‘good’ then they can protect themselves and avoid the fate of the victim. It’s essentially victim blaming. The faith healers are saying to me, “If you hadn’t been a heathen/ morally lax you wouldn’t have become disabled”.

I think that’s why it upsets me so much; I feel like my personal morals & ethics are being judged as lacking. I feel like myself or my loved ones and the way they chose to live their lives are being judged as ‘bad’ by someone with no experience of them at all. I’m being told by a stranger that I’m a poor excuse for a human and that the guilt that inspires should drive me to pay (with either money, time or an ordeal) a person of faith to make me whole. I dislike having any faith pushed on me, just as others dislike having atheism or skepticism pushed on them. It’s not right or fair.

As a disabled person I can tell you, from my perspective, that this adds to the horrendous pressure put on me by society to be ‘normal*’. It suggests that I should endeavour with all my might not to be sick any more, not to be a burden, not to need extra assistance, not to need to arrange my days in advance. It also adds to the pernicious and damaging way of thinking which suggests that those who have not gotten better, or are unable to function as a ‘normal person’, are just not trying hard enough. Surely, if we were, we would have found a solution to our impairments. I dearly hope all you reading this can see, or at least imagine, how damaging and soul destroying the weight of these false expectations can be.

I don’t expect people to go protest their local faith healer or change their beliefs, I just want to make people aware that this behaviour exists, as a consequence of that, and that it’s damaging to people who already have more than the average weight on their shoulders.

* read ‘normal’ as a white, British, straight, upper middle-class, able-bodied male

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