Thursday, July 17, 2008



You may have heard of Todd Bentley, the latest in a long line of Pentecostal Christian "healers" who have aroused controversy. Besides Bentley's ... um ... unique personal appearance -- close-shorn head, multiple tattoos, body piercings, etc., rather than gaudy suits, pinkie rings and overdoses of hair spray -- he has a ... how shall I put it? ... surprising method of laying on hands ... balled in a fist. Bentley regularly punches and kicks the sick people who come to him to be cured, allegedly at the direct instruction of the Holy Spirit. He has even kicked a man with stage IV colon cancer in the gut. Orac gives the medical view of such a procedure, which is, as you might imagine, more than dim.

This story from the Louisville Courier-Journal gives an overview of Bentley's "ministry" and the criticism, from both inside and out of the Pentecostal movement, that surrounds it. What caught my eye was this:

One person unimpressed with Bentley is William Dembski, a former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, who is best-known as a proponent of the "Intelligent Design" theory as an alternative to evolution.

Dembski, of Texas, said in a Baptist Press column that he and his wife drove 130 miles with their 7-year-old autistic son to a service led by Bentley, hoping for a divine healing.

But after hours of music and preaching, the family was turned away when they tried to bring their son up for prayer, Dembski said, though others were allowed up.

The family left at midnight, feeling exploited, Dembski wrote.

"Nowhere in Bentley's message did I see an emphasis on the love and compassion of God -- that healing is an expression of God's goodness and care for humanity," Dembski wrote. "Rather, the emphasis throughout was on power."

There are a lot of jokes to be had in there but, frankly, it makes me sad rather than gleeful. No matter our differences on science and education, I wish Dembski well in his personal life and hope for the best for his family.

P.S. Here is Dembski's article in the Baptist Press. It ends:

We found ourselves avoiding talking about the event until the children fell asleep. Then, as they drifted off in the early morning, we talked in hushed tones about how easily religion can be abused, in this case to exploit our family. What do we tell our children? I'm still working on that one.

I agree fully with your comments.

Tom S.
Dembski is currently a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
While I am sympathetic to his family's situation, for him to turn around and say

"we talked in hushed tones about how easily religion can be abused, in this case to exploit our family. What do we tell our children? I'm still working on that one."

is really just being disingenuous. After all, this is exactly what he does.

What should he tell his children? He should come clean and explain that what the faith healing fraud did to them is what he does on a much grander scale. That would be a start.
But he also says this:

Call us stubborn, but my wife and I are unimpressed with doctors who see our son's condition as hopeless. We believe that God still heals and that His means of healing include conventional medicine, alternative medicine, prayer, fasting, love and, yes, miracles. In any case, we haven't given up on our son's recovery (we still remember the day when he was developmentally on track).

And that is a very human thing to say. It must be particularly difficult when the autistic child is a twin and you can see the other boy growing up normally.

If life were only so simple.
And we could say to Dembski that no skeptical, scientific, materialist atheist would have anything to do with such nonsense except, perhaps, to try and expose it for the quackery it is; that it is the very credulity of believers that charlatans like this are able to exploit so profitably.

On the other hand, when faced with our own imminent demise or that of someone we love and when told by doctors that they can do nothing about it, who amongst us would not be at least tempted by these promises of miraculous cures?

The sad reality is that for as long as there are such tragic and desperate people there will those who will exploit them. I believe science will eventually put an end to the faith-conners but not until medical science is able to do a lot more than it can now.
I'm appalled that Bentley has any kind of a following and that someone doesn't charge him with assault.

As for Dembski, his family's situation is tragic. I commend your sympathy toward him.
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