The illusionist Derren Brown has spent the last six months using his talents to expose the scam of faith-healing. In his new show, Miracles for Sale, Derren looks for a candidate to train as a fake faith-healer by hosting auditions for the star of a new TV show. Derren eventually picked a diving instructor named Nathan. As Derren was aware, Nathan believed in God and could easily have rejected the challenge before him, but he seemed quite up for it. Half a years work was squeezed into an hour long programme aired at 9pm on Monday 25th April.
Derren has previously confronted charlatans who profit from the grief and gullibility of others such as mediums, psychics and ghost hunters. He often poses as a practitioner of one of these trades/crafts, imitates their techniques perfectly or even better than the original and then explains how this can be done using the powers of suggestion. Although Derren is very skeptical of the phenomenon he investigates, it is important to note that he seems to be motivated by a concern for those whose belief in the paranormal is exploited by charlatans. Despite this, many people who believe in such paranormal phenomenon have found his approach quite unsettling and have developed a dislike for the man.
In his new show, however, Derren appears to be incredibly sensitive about the beliefs of other people and repeatedly emphasises his concern for those who give their trust and what little money they have to faith healers, who then blame the victims for not having enough faith if they aren't healed. One of the founders of the Trinity Foundation, a group of Christians who investigate fraud committed by faith-healers and televangelists, describes how he is motivated by a phonecall from a woman which he received after he was seen on TV successfully exposing a Televangelist:
"She had a thirteen year old daughter who had multiple sclerosis, and there was a testimonial...where a woman had made a thousand dollar vow of faith and, supposedly, was healed of multiple sclerosis. Of course it was an actor that did it. And so she, unbeknownst to her mother over the course of the year, paid off the thousand dollars - mostly from her grandmother.
So at the end of that year when she'd finally paid it all off, she wasn't healed - she was far worse. She called the man of God that told her she would be healed, and he told her that... the reason she wasn't healed was that she had secret sin in her life. And this little girl, now fourteen, went to the back yard and poured a can of gas over herself and lit herself, and committed suicide. And the mother just begged me to do something about this."
This really seemed to strike a chord with the crew especially Nathan, the faith healer in training, who was having doubts about the project. Throughout the show it was obvious that Nathan was uncomfortable with the extent of deception involved, as were the rest of the crew (including Derren) who decided to cut their ties with a man who ran a Texan Christian PR company for fear of negative impacts such a stunt could have on his business. I thought that such a moral decision should be commended, and it is a stark contrast to the disgraceful deceit and lack of concern for the opposition in the making of creationist films such as Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.
The founder of the Trinity Foundation drilled home the fact that there are necessary evils which need to be addressed in order to serve the greater good.
We are so sickened by what we see, these guys taking advantage of people, and if you're successful in teaching this guy that you 'took of the street' to do the same thing that they're doing there couldn't be a better example to show how foolish these people are by continuing to support these idiots. You've got to be a hypocrite for a while so that the reality can be shown.
For me the most interesting parts of the show were the examples Derren gave of the techniques used by fake faith healers such as:
- Misleading the audience about the extent of someones condition and presenting examples of things they can already do as 'proof' of change.
- Stating that one leg is shorter than the other by loosening the shoe from the heel of the foot furthest away from the audience, and suggesting that they they are lengthening other leg by slowly sliding the shoe back onto the foot.
- Creating slight pain by keeping body parts raised for a while and then releasing them to alleviate the pain and claiming that they're healed.
- Whipping the audience into a frenzy so that adrenaline will temporarily dull the pain.
- Claiming to know details about people in the audience via god, despite the fact that they had to fill in cards before the event.
Check it out on YouTube or 4OD and see what you think.