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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 most vile 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 most vile will offer Psychic Surgery services. At best, they'll take your money. At worst, they'll persuade you to forgo conventional treatment—and die.

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Usually found traveling in a tent, but 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 you're not fooling people.

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.

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 Scam Religion.

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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Examples:

Film

  • 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.
  • In Red Lights, a fake faith healer named Leonardo is debunked in a scene which closely follows the real-life debunking of faith healer Peter Popoff by stage magician and skeptic James Randi.
  • 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.

Literature

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Live-Action TV

  • 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 is supposed to have 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 plain to expose Danforth as a fraud at another of his tent revivals.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • In Hasamba 3G, Elimelech's brother Zerah, a former embezzler, is now a fraudulent "energetic healing" guru known as "The Microwave".
  • 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 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 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. 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.
  • 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.

Music

  • "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.

Theatre

Video Game

  • 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.

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 works 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 run 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.

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