Faith-Healing And Snake Oil In Nashville

Nashville’s largest healthcare provider, St. Thomas Health, has been running this super-creepy “faith-healing” ad campaign for the past year or so now. I can’t even tell you how offensive and obnoxious I find it. It exploits is based on a quote from the Gospel of Luke, “nothing shall be impossible with God,” and while they leave out the “with God” part, the images that accompany the campaign are so overtly religious, it’s obvious what they’re selling here: faith-healing, snake-oil, and promises of miracles for those who believe.

Imagine seeing this image plastered all over town, on billboards, buses and full-page newspaper ads:Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 5.36.07 PM_0

How does this not trivialize religion?


The TV ads are even worse. Seeing a team of doctors and nurses holding hands in prayer over an operating table does not make me want to go to this hospital. It makes me want to run in the opposite direction, as far and as fast as possible. It does not inspire confidence in the surgical team. It makes me think of this charlatan:


On top of which, there are quite a few things that are impossible at St. Thomas Hospital. An abortion, for one thing.

I’ve been really uncomfortable with this ad campaign for a long, long time, and while I haven’t posted about it, others have (notably the Huffington Post, here, and this medical blog, here.) Interestingly, some of the campaign’s biggest detractors are religious people. From the latter link:

As I drive home from work (at an unashamedly for-profit hospital) everyday, I pass one of Nashville’s omnipresent “Nothing shall be impossible” billboards. While I am a Bible believing Christian with complete faith in God’s miraculous healing powers, the sight of the ad campaign makes me uneasy. I’m not one to be particularly politically correct or easily offended but the ad campaign gives off the illusion that if you become a patient at St. Thomas, God’s healing power is on your side.

To me, the scriptural slogan seems to imply an unintended opposite effect- it minimizes the power of God. My God cannot be contained within one hospital’s walls. He does not work in ways that we can direct with publicity stunts, let alone ways we can ever hope to understand. He may choose to heal you as a patient at St. Thomas…but he may not. That’s for him to decide, not for hospital admins looking for a raise to direct.

It’s just so tacky to exploit peoples’ religious feelings to sell something. It’s gross, and it’s disrespectful. And let’s take a look at exactly what kind of miracle we’re selling here, shall we?

Few of the people I spoke to had any idea about the actual context of Luke 1:37. It comes when Mary questions the angel Gabriel about how she will become pregnant since she is a virgin. Gabriel points to her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant after many years of having been barren, and announces, “nothing will be impossible with God” (NRSV). Indeed, Mary does become pregnant. The implication of draping this verse across a hospital entrance is that any kind of healing is possible: a barren woman becomes pregnant, and then even a virgin becomes pregnant.

St. Thomas Health does not offer fertility treatments.

So much fail.


Filed under advertising, Nashville, religion

9 responses to “Faith-Healing And Snake Oil In Nashville

  1. Joseph Stans

    Recently I had to go into a religious based hospital for some minor tests. it was Catholic but it was very good and highly rated. I told them that if anyone came near me to proselytize or save my soul there would be a disturbance of Brobdingnagian proportions. Seemed to work.

    • democommie

      Don’t know how they are these days but my experience was that they were content to minister to their own and let the rest of us go to hell.

  2. Is Divine Intervention taxable? I bet it’s not covered by TNCare.

  3. Yet another problem with the Catholic takeover of so many community hospitals – aside from no contraception after rape, no abortion, no reproductive services like vasectomies, etc.etc – is that you have no idea if they will follow your end-of-life or healthcare proxies or DNR wishes, even if you have codified them six ways from Sunday. You don’t know if they are going to ignore your directives or what.

  4. greennotGreen

    I have two problems with this ad campaign. If my recurrent ovarian cancer kills me before science has found either a cure or a treatment that gives me time to die of something else, it will be science that has failed (though it’s doing a pretty decent job at a lot of things.) If I die younger than I’d wished, and my consciousness continues in some form far beyond my knowing or understanding, as I believe it will, how has God failed me? “Nothing shall be impossible with God” may well be true, but what does that mean for our puny earthly existence?

  5. ThresherK

    Makes our local “St Midnight Cab Ride*” hospital, merging with real, non-Catholic hospitals, and turning them into Holy Zygotes, look benign by comparison. And that takes a lot of doing.

    (*H/T to Joe Lieberman, who invented the fantasy of this solution for any woman raped and possibly inseminated and taken to a no-abortion hospital in an ambulance.)

  6. CB

    Both of my children were born in a Catholic hospital in Buffalo. I was treated well there. Not once while I was a patient there, not for tests, or during my childbirth visits, did any of the medical or nursing staff there say a word about religion to me. It wasn’t the only Catholic hospital in the city, and there were secular hospitals also, as the very large medical school at SUNY-Buffalo made the city a hospital-rich environment. When my husband was being prepped for his first cancer surgery at one of the latter institutions, a group of women from a local church came in and asked us if we would like to pray with them. We were alone at the time, and scared, and welcomed them in. They and I stood around his bed and recited Psalm 23, which is about as “His will be done” as scripture gets.

    I agree with you. Parading faith institutionally in the public streets, as though you have all the answers, is crass. I have a sneaking suspicion that Almighty Providence doesn’t care for it, either.

    As a footnote, when I asked my ob-gyn if I could please have sterilization surgery, so we didn’t find ourselves tempting fate — I was 40 and diabetic — again, he scheduled it at Children’s Hospital, not Sisters’ or Mercy.

    • In her final years my mother had to go to the hospital numerous times. Out of necessity we were forced into several different flavors — secular (UCLA), Jewish (Cedar Sinai) and Catholic (St Vincent). By far the worst was St. Vincent. The room was so spare as to be sterile. My mother was miserable and even though she was raised Catholic, the priest lurking in her doorway was far from comforting. We moved her to Cedar Sinai as soon as we could.

      • CB

        Never saw a priest when I was in the hospital. I’m sure there was at least one there, but I was marked on my intake forms as an unwashed Protestant. That may have had something to do with it.