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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Do Miracles Actually Occur?

Aired April 15, 2001 - 10:12   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: At one time or another, you have probably hoped, prayed or asked for a miracle: an extraordinary occurrence that surpasses all known human powers or natural forces. Some say miracles come from God, others believe they can perform the miracles themselves. Filmmaker Anthony Thomas traveled across the world in search of a miracle, examining contemporary faith healing and the people who say they change your life. His investigative special airs tonight on HBO.

And good morning from London, Anthony.

ANTHONY THOMAS, FILMMAKER: Good morning.

PHILLIPS: Let's talk about these two self-proclaimed miracle workers with whom you followed: Benny Hinn and Reinhard Bonnke. How did they perform? What was their routine?

THOMAS: Quite similar; they go into a city -- in Reinhard Bonnke's case there are huge posters up everywhere saying, come and receive your miracle. Normally it's an event of about six services, each service lasting about 4 1/2 hours and it's a gradual wind-up of mood and emotion until you reach the climax when the preacher, whether it's Bonnke or Hinn goes centerstage and says, I feel a cancer being cured there, and so on.

And then, after that happens people come forward onto the stage and miracles are declared.

PHILLIPS: And so you really discovered some disturbing elements about this. Will you get into that and explain that to us?

THOMAS: Well, yes -- I'd just like to say how we went about this. I mean, we did go about it with a completely open mind. And when you see some of those cases of people who are dying of cancers and terrible afflictions, no one would be happier than if they had received a miracle. Unfortunately, that's not what we found.

But I want to say some positive things first: There were no paid actors or performers; there was no fakery going on. I think both the preachers and most of their followers do genuinely believe that miracles are taking place. Unfortunately, with the most rigorous investigation, we don't believe that.

PHILLIPS: So tell me what it is that you discover. Does it come down to just stimulating the brain?

THOMAS: Yes. We have a piece in the film where some very brilliant scientists and theologians analyze precisely what's going on there, and it's fascinating. It's like looking at the inner workings of a machine. The kind of recoveries -- short-term recoveries you get are in psychosomatic conditions and also conditions like arthritis, where there's inflammation of the joints, where people have not been able to move for a long time there is a release of natural opiates in the brain -- and we hope, in the film, to explain how all that works -- and then people get this wonderful temporary release from pain, run around the stage and so on.

But this is known. I mean, this is the power to heal ourselves, which we all have, which is known as the placebo effect. But the placebo effect can't cure lung cancer or a damaged brain.

PHILLIPS: And you found proof of this. You met with some people who actually thought they were healed, but then you saw their medical records and, actually, they were not healed of a cancer or a tumor.

THOMAS: Well, this is the saddest thing about it, because you have a theology which implies that the more right you are with God, the more likely you are to receive a miracle. So you have people who come forward, who feel they've received a miraculous recovery and then go into a kind of denial. When their situation gets worse they stop going to the doctors, they stop getting further medical attention.

And one woman who we were very close to, suffering from lung cancer, so wanted to believe that she was cured that she never saw here oncologist again. He heard about her death through us.

PHILLIPS: Well, let's switch gears here for a moment. You know, when the pope deems somebody a saint, there has to be proof, and this is all checked out through the Catholic Church, that that person is a miracle worker -- that when you have prayed to this person that, indeed, miracles happen. The pope then, in turn, deems that individual religious leader a saint. How do you find a balance here?

THOMAS: Well, I mean, the Catholic Church has laid down the strictest conditions for what is defined as a miracle. And I'll give you one very interesting statistic: Lourdes is a famous place of miracles, but they're no longer encouraging people to accept -- expect a physical cure. Now, in the entire history of Lourdes, over 150 years, now you get 5 million people going there a day, so you can work out the numbers. Only 66 miracles have been confirmed. Benny Hinn claims more than that on -- at a single event.

And also, another interesting statistic is that there's a phenomenon in medicine known as spontaneous remission. And if you took all those numbers that have gone to Lourdes and compared it to the expected figures for spontaneous remission, you would find that they were actually lower. So out there in the world there are more natural recoveries than have been claimed in a place like Lourdes.

But Lourdes is something quite different now, and I admire a great deal what is happening there. PHILLIPS: And it makes for interesting travel.

Anthony, before we let you go, I have to ask you: Do you believe in miracles?

THOMAS: Yes; but I believe, not in miracles of instant physical recovery, I believe a miracle has a much deeper meaning. And that means that when life really hits us hard we discover the resources, the friendships, the relationships which enable us to deal with that and to find meaning even in our worst suffering. That, to me, is a miracle. Now whether that comes from God or something you can call the human spirit, that's a matter of faith.

PHILLIPS: Definitely; whether it's God's grace or strength of the human spirit, it's all about you faith, I guess.

THOMAS: That's right.

PHILLIPS: Anthony Thomas, thank you so much. And the special's going to air tonight on HBO. Pleasure talking to you. Here is the schedule: 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight; it's also going to air again on Wednesday and Saturday -- "A Question of Miracles," an investigation by Mr. Thomas. It'll be on HBO; no doubt very interesting.

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