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Fake Faith Healer

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The Fake Faith Healer, who combines elements of the Sinister Minister and the Phony Psychic, is one of the vilest types of Con Man.

Most con artists target the greedy, but this fellow targets the hopeless and desperate. The Fake Faith Healer will usually claim to heal through the power of faith and laying on hands. The vilest will offer Psychic Surgery services. At best, they'll take your money. At worst, they'll persuade you to forego conventional treatment—and die.

Usually found traveling the roads and setting up a tent or table to pitch to people. Keeping on the move helps to reduce the likelihood of having to deal with disgruntled ex-clients. The most successful will have their own churches and will visit large arenas.

Note that this still counts as a con even if the person believes in their own powers. Fooling yourself doesn't mean that you're not fooling others.

On the other hand, the Placebo Effect suggests that phony healing treatments can sometimes actually improve people's health, since Your Mind Makes It Real—to an extent. As well, another tactic they use is to tell clients that the psychic healing may take several rounds of sessions to take effect. Since many minor aches and pains are temporary, if the "healer" convinces the client to wait a few weeks, by that time the aches may heal naturally (but the psychic healer will claim this was his "special powers" at work).

Compare Snake Oil Salesman, who offers similar fake healing, but without the religious overtones. If the religious overtones are kicked up a notch, on the other hand, it may result in a False Prophet or even a Scam Religion. Or if they have a TV show, they’re probably a Greedy Televangelist.

Sadly, this trope is very much Truth in Television. Faith healing is a controversial practice with little to no scientific evidence in support of it, and has led to deaths in situations where it was used in place of conventional medical treatment, such that many skeptics have a low opinion of it. But since we're here to document fiction, well...No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Film — Live Action 
  • The film adaptation of The Day of the Locust adds a scene where Faye and Homer take Harry to a scammer/fake faith healer called Big Sister, who is purely in it for the money.
  • Leap of Faith is about a cynical fake faith healer who starts to develop sympathy for the people of a small town when he gets stuck there.
    • The director of Leap of Faith, Richard Pearce, was a cameraman on 1973 documentary feature Marjoe, about Real Life con artist preacher (he admits it on camera) Marjoe Gortner. Gortner is shown laying hands on people and crying out to Jesus for their pains and illnesses to be gone. One such sequence is followed by an interview clip in which Gortner matter-of-factly admits that he's a fake and that what he does is 90% psychosomatic.
  • In Red Lights, a fake faith healer named Leonardo is debunked in a scene that closely follows the real-life debunking of faith healer Peter Popoff by stage magician and skeptic James Randi.

  • In the Dear America book Color Me Dark, the protagonist's parents take her sister Erma Jean to a faith healer after Erma Jean becomes mute following her uncle's death. When Erma Jean is still unable to speak after the "treatment" is complete, the healer claims it didn't work because Erma Jean didn't have enough faith, at which point their father calls the healer a charlatan and marches Erma Jean out of there.
  • Patternist: One of the titular Psychics is a variant — the faith is fake but the healing isn't. She's a psychic vampire who draws in crowds with a charismatic preacher act, harvests their energy in a way that satiates her without harming anyone individually, and uses the excess to work genuine miracles of healing.
  • Stephen King's Revival, Pastor Charles Jacob decides to become a fake faith healer after losing his faith.
  • In Sunglasses After Dark, primary antagonist Catherine Wheele is a rich and powerful evangelist and faith healer. She is actually an extremely powerful psychic with Mind Control powers, but she doesn't have a bit of healing power — that part is pure con.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One of these is featured on 1000 Ways to Die. Before one "show", he grabs an ungrounded mic while standing in water and gets electrocuted.
  • Carnivàle has the titular carnival setting up one of these to turn a profit in a town where their usual acts would get them thrown out, having one of them act as a minister and "heal" another member of the carnival hiding in the crowd. Ironically enough the guy they pick for the minister actually does have Healing Hands abilities, they just require him to drain the life from something nearby. In the series finale, they set it up again and actually heal people in order to drain life from the villain nearby.
  • In an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Quinn challenges a fake faith healer, who weasels out of the test by insisting that they should combine Quinn's medicine with his prayer.
  • One episode of Friday The 13th: The Series has a fake faith healer who finds a magical glove that temporarily gives him real healing powers. Unfortunately, it's one of the artifacts the team has to reclaim, and much like the other artifacts in the series, it carries an ugly price — the glove works by transferring the ailment upon its user, which the user can then transfer upon someone else.
  • In Hasamba 3G, Elimelech's brother Zerah, a former embezzler, is now a fraudulent "energetic healing" guru known as "The Microwave".
  • In one episode of Houdini & Doyle, the pair investigate a faith healer, and eventually establish that the faith was real, but the healing was not.
  • One episode of House, M.D. has a teenage faith healer who seemingly manages to cure one of Wilson's cancer patients. It later turned out that the faith healer just happened to have an infection that he transmitted to the cancer patient, and the infection attacked the cancer cells in the patient's body.
  • One episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent involved Logan and Barack investigating a young woman who appeared to be able to cure people with voodoo. They managed to prove that she was a fraud, though not before she nearly convinced Logan that she'd put a curse on him.
  • The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Careless" has the rare sympathetic version. Not only does he believe in his own powers, but he also believes he's responsible for the death of a child—and he's wrong about that too.
  • Little House on the Prairie, episode "The Faith Healer": A faith healer named Reverend Danforth comes to town, and everyone is very impressed by his claims and his apparent faith until a young boy that he supposedly had healed ends up dying. Even with that, Danforth still maintains his grip on Hero Township until late in the episode, when Charles — along with several prominent Walnut Grove residents (Dr. Baker, Rev. Alden, and Mercantile owners Nels and Harriet Oleson) — successfully hatch a plan to expose Danforth as a fraud at another of his tent revivals.
  • My Name Is Earl featured a rather young one after Earl fell into a coma. It turns out that when Earl was bad, he and Joy had gone to him for an injured leg and a facial blemish. After the kid cures those, Earl and Joy pull off a robbery that would have been impossible if they hadn't been cured, leading the boy to quit faith healing. Randy convinces him to come out of retirement to cure Earl's coma. It's then revealed that the boy doesn't actually have any healing powers and Earl and Joy were hired by his father to pose as clients.
  • One Life to Live's Angela Holiday, who made her living as a traveling evangelist, and would often stage miracles in which she "cured" people of various ailments after fervently praying over them. Her former partner got suspicious upon overhearing her arguing with one of the people she'd "healed", who was demanding his cut of the donations her church had raked in.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Revival", Ezra Burnham travels the US with his revival preaching the word of God to a different congregation each week. He claims to be able to sense people's pain and heal them through the power of God's love. In reality, his daughter Sarah takes down the information of various people in the congregation and feeds it to him through an earpiece (similar to what Peter Popoff's wife did using his audience's prayer requests). Ezra then calls the relevant people up on stage and puts on a big song and dance about healing them. If they ever do feel better afterwards, it has to do with the power of suggestion rather than any supernatural powers on Ezra's part. Luke, who later joins Ezra's revival, can heal people but that is because he is an alien as opposed to him possessing any God-given powers.
  • Perry Mason (2020): Sister Alice is accused of this by dissident former church members, as one wheelchair-using man whom she "healed" was only temporarily recovered before relapsing (depending on what his condition is, it might have been a placebo effect, which is known to happen from such "healings"-it's not said he's paralyzed).
  • On Roswell, New Mexico, Max and Michael chase one down in Texas when they see she's using their alien symbol, thinking that she is an alien like them (as several of them have Healing Hands). She's completely unapologetic about it, saying that if people already dehumanize her as a Magical Native American and Nubile Savage she might as well get money from it. She knows nothing about aliens, but her mother does, as the tribe hid an alien on their reservation for decades until she died.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "The Trance", Don becomes the business manager of a supposed faith healer in Panama after the strange voice in control of Leonard Randall exposes their claims about being able to channel the ancient warrior Delos as a scam.

  • "Evangeline" by Daniel Amos is about how God can use even a fake faith healer to accomplish good.
  • The televangelist from the Insane Clown Posse song "Hellalujah" is a con artist of this type. He wheedles six thousand dollars from his loyal followers in order to "heal" a kid with a twisted neck, tangled legs, and a crooked spine, and when the healing doesn't actually do anything, he then tries to assuage his followers by saying that the boy's spirit has been healed.


    Video Games 
  • This is essentially the position taken by Assassin's Creed: Odyssey with regards to the prayer-based medical treatments of Ancient Greece and is contrasted with the historical figure of Hippokrates, who is considered the Father of Medicine. It's not entirely malicious, though: the game is set during the Peloponnesian War, before medical science as we know it really existed, and many healers in the world of the game are well-meaning but simply don't know any better. Naturally, it turns out that the Cult of Kosmos (read: the Ancient Greek Templars) are behind the parts of it that really are malicious, including efforts to stymie Hippokrates' research and teaching under the pretense of impiety.
  • Neverwinter Nights: When the city of Neverwinter is hit by the Wailing Death plague, several cultists working for the Big Bad infiltrate the city disguised as priests. They hide amongst the priests and healers that are trying to provide legitimate help, and offer "blessings" which they claim will protect people from the plague, but are actually helping to spread it.
  • Honey, I Joined a Cult is a nefarious Cult simulator. While you can eventually get into occult matters, the day-to-day operation of the cult is a Scam Religion that fleeces money and influence out of gullible followers via "therapy". You start with sermons in your temple and mediation but eventually end up "treating" people with Spooky Séance, Mind-Control Device, "energy spas", and... burying people in a pool of maggots.

    Web Original 
  • In SCP Foundation, "SCP-1521 - The Most Holy Bank of His Holiness Pope Leo the Tenth, Saint in Waiting" some Ambiguously Human entities work in a Roman-style building that's only visible to certain people. They use things like faith, prayers, and a bath in holy water to help people. It's all a scam and the treatments don't work.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Faith Off", the family runs into a faith healer who slaps people to "cure" them and is believable mostly because everyone presents minor ailments (like smoking) heavily subject to the placebo effect. He and Bart successfully remove a glued-on bucket from Homer's head, making Bart genuinely think himself to having faith healing powers (Lisa attributes this to the hot tent melting the glue and expanding the bucket). He realizes he doesn't when he tells Milhouse his eyes are fixed, causing him to get in an accident.
  • Xavier: Renegade Angel: Double Subverted in "Weapons Grade Life": Robbie's father runs a Christian hospital which runs on faith healing. However, when we actually see an operation, it turns out that God himself appears to be performing surgeries and actually saving lives (through prayer, God performs a heart surgery by levitating a scalpel and other implements). But then it's revealed that Robbie is secretly manipulating the instruments using levers connected to strings and magnets.