In recent years thousands of religious figures have taken up faith healing. They use all kinds of approaches, but basically they claim that through their charismatic prayer and laying on of hands, God acts: He cures everything from cavities to brain tumors, releases sexual inhibitions, and even increases earning capacity. The faith healers have gained so much influence that many believe their craft should be recognized as one of religion's essential components. Says one elder healer, "People are putting healing back into the mainline churches, where it belongs."

But like psychiatrists, faith healers offer cures for the body, not the soul. Calling on God to fix up my finances or arthritis or my relationship with my wife is very poor religion, and not even good sense. It recalls a story about a pious washerwoman who tripped and fell and dropped her bundle off her head. She prayed to God, and after He appeared and asked her, "What do you want?" she answered, "O dear Lord! Please lift this load back on my head!"

In their attempt to improve people's lot in this temporary world, faith healers demonstrate precious little understanding of the nature of the soul or the soul's relationship with God. As the Vedic literatures inform us, the real self, the eternal soul, will never be satisfied by any adjustment or improvement we can make here, any more than a starving man will feel happy if we simply offer him entertainment or counseling. A starving man has 10 have food, and the soul has to reawaken his eternal relationship with Krsna, God. However much we comfort our bodies through faith healing or this or that until we achieve pure love of God we'll undergo reincarnation and get more bodies and more misery, on and on. But if we revive our devotion for the Lord, then when we pass away we'll go to His abode for an eternal life of bliss and knowledge.

What if a Krsna conscious devotee finds himself with some bodily trouble? He understands that it's the result of his own past sinful acts, his own karma. Of course, he'll seek standard medical treatment, but he won't chant God's name as though it were merely a medical formula, a sure cure for all that ails. He'll chant just to glorify the Lord, as always, and the rest he'll leave to Him. In the ancient Srimad-Bhagavatam a devotee expresses these same sentiments: "My dear Lord, one who constantly waits for Your causeless mercy and goes on suffering the reactions to his past misdeeds, offering You respectful obeisances from the core of his heart, is surely eligible for spiritual liberation."

So faith healing is mundane; it's pseudoreligion, at best. Actual religion is pure devotional service to the Lord, and somewhat paradoxically, it's only when nothing else matters to us but this pure devotion that we'll be completely healed. Pure devotees who teach this secret are the only faith healers worthy of the name.

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Though various religious groups claim millions of followers, the present age is irreligious. Despite nominal allegiance, the so-called followers disobey even basic religious laws and have little or no knowledge of the God they profess to worship. If one neither knows God nor obeys His laws, there is little meaning in claiming to be a Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist.

For instance, in every scripture we find an injunction comparable to the Biblical commandment "Thou shall not kill." And yet we see that the so-called followers of these scriptures are themselves the most expert killers. They fight doggedly in political wars and kill millions of helpless animals in slaughterhouses. They may try to justify their atrocities through theological word jugglery, but if God Himself has outlawed killing, then how can they be constantly engaged in it?

Then, too, in every scripture we find the equivalent of the commandment "Thou shall not commit adultery." It's a simple idea, really: if a person is actually religious, he'll have sex only within a God conscious marriage, and only to beget God conscious children. But how often do we see this standard upheld even theoretically by today's religious leaders? Under the pressures of mass promiscuity and licentiousness, the leaders endorse contraception and abortion and take part in the "normal" promiscuity of modern life. But as long as they're disobeying God's basic laws, then how can they be religious?

If I love someone, then the first symptom will be that I do what he asks. If I won't do what God asks, then how can I say I love Him? And if I don't love Him, how can I say I know Him'? Today's so-called religionists may pay lip service to adages like "God is great," "God is love," and so on, but they have little or no knowledge of God. Otherwise, they wouldn't act the way they do.

All of this brings us back to the faith healers and charismatics. If these people are actually seeing God and speaking with Him, as they claim, then why can't they give up such obvious transgressions as killing and adultery? If God is actually appearing to them in visions, then why hasn't He been able to convince them to clean up their own act? This disparity between the healers' "divinity" and their day-to-day lives makes us wonder whether their mystical experiences could be as intense or as genuine as they claim

Fortunately, the Vedic literatures detail the symptoms of God's authentic representatives. First, a representative of God is a member of a disciplic succession that originates from God. And he teaches the same information his predecessors taught he doesn't concoct some new interpretation he teaches what appears in the scriptures. So from time immemorial there is a system of checks and balances: the representative of God describes what is in the scriptures, and the scriptures describe what is in him the symptoms or characteristics of an actual spiritual master. For instance, the spiritual master is in control of his mind and senses and is free from sinful habits. He knows that material pleasure is temporary and illusory, and he never compromises with modern standards of promiscuity and consumption. If someone claims to be a spiritual master and yet lives a life no different from that of any other materialist, what is the value of his oratory, his visions, his speaking in tongues? Of course, people who are sincere will never deride an authentic spiritual master, regardless of the scripture he follows, But neither will they tolerate the hypocrisy of those who claim to know and love God and yet cannot save anyone even themselves from the common vices of a sinful age. SDG