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TV Interview

Derren Brown ('Derren Brown: Miracles For Sale')

By
Derren Brown

© Channel 4

If you're a fan of Derren Brown, you'll be pleased to hear that he's back with a new special on Monday! This time he's exposing the murky world of faith healing, where pastors claim to be able to cure people of various ailments - in exchange for money. Derren recently chatted to reporters about the show and why spiritual healing is so dangerous, so read on to find out what he had to say!

How did you come to find out about spiritual healing?
"I grew up a Christian, and only came out of that round the time of university. I was not seeing a lot of it over here but what I did see a lot of was a much lower and harmless level where crowd hype is valued over any kind of personal experience, any depth of faith - I was going to quite a happy clappy church. Then you became aware of these healers that do exist. It always struck me as worrisome but you don't really take it that seriously. I think coming out of Christianity altogether and just having a slightly clearer sense in my own mind of what I believed and what I didn't believe - I just looked on that as more of a scam. It's not like psychics and mediums where it's like, 'Does it really matter? People get some comfort out of it, they're just showmen, but does it really matter?' [Spiritual healing] is genuinely dangerous."

How is it dangerous?
"People do not get better at all, and not only do they not got better but they're told to throw the medicine away. Because if they take the medicine, that's a demonstration that they don't have enough faith and if they don't have enough faith the healing won't continue. Of course it never works, so everything is about the blame being put back onto the victim, for want of a better word. The people that come up on stage and bounce around and seem to be healed are basically responding to the fact that adrenaline is pumping through their veins and adrenaline is a painkiller. The next day, if anything, they're going to be worse because they're bouncing round and touching their toes which they shouldn't do if they've got chronic arthritis! Then you've got all the people the cameras don't show - people with Down's syndrome, people in wheelchairs, people on drips and in hospital beds. At the big rallies which are where it's just nastiest, there's a filtering process at the bottom of the steps where the stewards filter out the people who can be brought up on stage and be shown to be healed. Anybody with an arm missing or anything that's visible or chronic or real or an organic disease is just sent back. You've got the despair of people who do come up and they're not better and they're blaming themselves and their own faith, and then you've got the hordes of people who are following these healers around America - chronically ill people who are being carried in by their parents, just going from gig to gig to gig waiting for a healing and it never happens."

What's the money side of faith healing?
"It's closely allied to the Prosperity Gospel - they take the idea of sow and you shall reap to be a financial incentive. So Jesus bestows blessings in the form of money and to get that money you have to give. But you've got to give more than you can afford otherwise you're not really giving it in faith. You give it to your pastor and you'll get hundredfold back. If you don't, again you don't have enough faith or you've got secret sin. We heard a story of a little girl who was 13. There was a testimonial on TV of someone who had MS, and she had paid $1,000 and been cured. This was an actress talking, it was a produced advert. This 13-year-old girl had MS, so she started saving up, mainly money from her grandmother, and eventually gave $1,000 bit by bit. Of course her MS didn't go so she rang them up and said, 'I don't understand what's happened' and she was told, 'Oh well, you've probably got secret sin in your life'. So she poured petrol over herself and killed herself. These are rare cases, but there is just misery that they leave behind. And the top names are earning far more money than any Hollywood A-lister. It's also the mailing lists, it's not just the people that are there putting money in buckets. And then you hear that they've spent thousands and thousands of dollars on room service, rentboys in one case, just all on cash. This money people put in the baskets is just being spent that night."

The faith healers seem homophobic - is that something that motivated you?
"That's just sort of ground into that world, into the Deep South, Bible Belt world. One of the big name healers is gay, keeps it very, very quiet - was spending the donation money on rentboys one night. It's not a big thing for me, I don't get fired up by that sort of thing. I think there's a bigger picture that's just fairly unpleasant."

Is homophobia one of the reasons you left the church?
"Not at all - I think very few Christians are homophobic. I did go through an area of the church that was about trying to cure gay people. It was rather misjudged, but I was aware of that and I kind of flirted a bit with that... Friends of mine were in it so I was kind of aware of it. I just felt it was misguided really."

You had a run-in with the police while filming - was that scary?
"They were very nice - they were very polite police. But we did get a criminal trespass warning. All we were doing was just driving in this area to head up to [pastor Kenneth Copeland's] church but we were suspicious because we were three vehicles who had been snooping around a bit. It was very dodgy. They were saying they'd spoken to us before and warned us about coming in which was patently untrue."

Were you worried that it was about to ruin all your work?
"Yeah, because that Saturday we were planning a final event for our pastor to perform. They're asking for our passport details, and I'm like, 'Am I supposed to tell him my name?' And then they're giving all our details to the private security guards which certainly wouldn't be allowed to happen here. So they've got my name and the pastor's name, which isn't real. If they wanted they could easily work out something's going on. They also had the flyers for the show we gave them in a misjudged moment of, 'Come along!' That was a bit of a concern. But in the end it was alright - I think they were probably just relieved we left."

Were you worried about the effect the show might have on the fake pastor?
"We knew it would be a real journey, and for the pastor too there would be a sense of, 'What happens to him?' He's the one up there doing it. He's the one who could be most vulnerable on all sorts of levels. There was a real duty of care for him and protecting him. It was hugely tense for all of us. We're with this guy who's doing a fantastic job but has never done anything like this before. It's not smooth for him by any means. And is he going to really start getting off on this? I found it myself, rehearsing with him and just running through little bits, part of me was itching to get up there and do a little bit of it myself, just from the point of view of performance. I wouldn't dream of doing it because when you start working with the audience you cross that moral line. But you can see how there's a real power trip with it and how it could become really addictive. But I'm still in touch with him and I see no signs!"

He was religious at the start of the programme - is he still religious?
"Yeah. One great thing about him was that he's very sincere and had a real earnestness about it which we knew was important. There were other people in the audition group that might have been more natural performers but we knew it was going to be really tough and if all they had was the ego of the performer they might just walk away from it. Whereas somebody who wasn't a natural performer but just had a real strong commitment to the cause, we knew would be really important."

How do you think this show will affect people?
"There's always a bell curve - there will be people that will just be outraged at the very idea of it at one end and there will be people who think it's just silly and doesn't interest them at the other. And in the middle there will be a wave of people who are either non-believers like me who think, 'Oh, that's terrible' so it raises awareness. And there'll be Christians who are sort of aware of it, but don't take it that seriously. But seeing what goes on in the name of God is a potentially horrible thing if that's where you come from, because it's nothing to do with God. It's a big thing in the show - it's not an attack on God or faith or the church. It's about a greedy scam which has nothing to do with God apart from the fact that they mention his name a lot."

Would you like the show to stop people going to these faith healing events?
"You'd hope... Of course, the horrible thing is that when you're desperate you don't really think about evidence. If someone says, 'Yeah, I can help you', you just go for it, of course. It's easy for someone who isn't desperate to say, 'Look, here's the evidence'. You just hope that if you put the information out there people can make a more informed decision. I think that's the best you can hope for."

Do you think some Christian people will think you're attacking their religion?
"Of course, that's a given. I'm sure people will think that and that's up to them. But it's very clear in the show, I make the point very clearly and some of the people helping train our fake pastor are Christians themselves that have been in that movement and are just as horrified by it. It's about that bell curve again - I think people in the middle will see beyond the fact that we're talking about Jesus. That shouldn't immediately make it offensive, when you actually look at what we're doing. This comes just as much from a distaste as a Christian I had as much as just a human being looking at exploitation."

Do you think the American authorities could take action?
"It's very tricky. The church is massively powerful, it's a huge, huge business. The authorities are reluctant to do anything because it's about religion and it's easier to leave them to it. I think one big thing that would help generally is a bit of a shift in tax law, because if you say you're earning money from a church it's tax free in the States. There's a massive tax incentive because they're not paying a penny on it, they don't have to declare it, they don't have to say where it's going, because that donation money is largely going to nice houses and jets. It's not like it's going to pay for Bibles or fuelling into the Word of God. They're just taking it and spending it on themselves."

Derren Brown: Miracles For Sale airs on Monday at 9pm on Channel 4.

Will you be tuning in to watch Derren Brown's latest show? Leave your comments below!

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