A Silly and Uninformed BBC Article

With a hat-tip to the Part-time Pilgrim, who points to this article from the Evangelical Alliance.  They accuse the BBC of misleading the public, with regard to Pentecostals’ views on charismatic healing and medicine.

It did seem misleading, but I suspect the problem is not so much deliberate trouble-making as what dear Kenneth Williams called “the terrible BBC tradition of charming incompetence”. Put simply, I can’t believe the article is written by someone who knows anything about science, or religion. Or evidence, or statistics.  I reckon anyone who wants to do a degree in Media Studies should instead do a combined honours in Theology and Science.

The reference to “some” pastors, for example – which statistically could be anywhere between 2, and one less than all of them. Quoting small surveys, of locally-chosen people, it’s slack and unscientific and it’s dreadful journalism. It fits, however, into a lazy “religion v science” motif which probably gave it the credibility that got it onto the Internet. I’d not criticise the charity concerned, however, as they’re talking about the situation where they work.

I have met more than “some” Pentecostal pastors. Some of them have interesting views on demons, it’s true. Not one of them has ever believed you shouldn’t use proper, scientific medicine. This isn’t necessarily a scientific study either, but it’s as good as the BBC’s quoted survey.

The point is – this whole prayer-good-medicine-bad thing goes against the whole tradition of Christian teaching. St Luke is referred to as a “physician”, and has always been a patron of doctors. Nurses are called “sisters”. Even someone like George Herbert,  when not being killed in the road, was a part-time physician, as often the only educated man in the village.  I personally know many church-going doctors and nurses, and even members of these professions who are also Anglican priests.

It also goes against the whole Christian view of the world. The world, according to Genesis 1, is ordered by God and logical, predictable – in a word, “good”. John 1 sees Christ as the Logos – God the Son as the logic that underpins a rational world, and makes sense of it by getting involved in it.

To oppose God’s work to science is an absurdity. For “in him we live, and move, and have our being.” This world is ours to understand and explore, and the things that it gives up to us are ours to use. As we understand the world’s wonders, we uncover more of the mind of God – rational, beautiful and terrible as it is.

So do “some” Christian pastors tell people not to take medicine, and rely on prayer instead? Yes I’m sure a few do. It’s a terrible abuse of their positions, if they do. Do “many”? Can’t see it.  It’s a bit like assuming that “doctors oppose the MMR vaccine” because that one attention-seeking fool did. And nobody would believe that MMR caused autism, just because of irresponsible reporting by the media of the claims of Andrew Wakefield,  would they?

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6 thoughts on “A Silly and Uninformed BBC Article

  1. An important point here, which is mentioned but only in passing in the BBC article (perhaps because it is politically incorrect) and ignored in the EA response, is that this seems to be an issue mainly in churches for African immigrants, who have brought with them from Africa “an exalted view of the authority of pastors” but probably also a sceptical view of medicine. Especially in London these African churches are huge and growing rapidly. I hope that the EA is looking into this issue, at least among its African church members, but perhaps choosing to keep quiet about what could be a racially sensitive issue.

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  2. I suspect from a BBC perspective, “Pentecostals refuse medical treatment” sounds rather better than “Africans refuse medical treatment”. Other religious groups have refused treatment in the past, but it has always seemed a Gnostic attitude.

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