SEEING AND BELIEVING: THE POWER OF FAITH�
SPECIAL TWO HOURS OF ABC NEWS' "20/20,"
AIRING FRIDAY, MAY 11, BEGINNING AT 9 P.M., ET
Faith � from images to casual conversation, it is something we encounter most everyday. Politicians, celebrities and songwriters all talk about it. But just what is faith and why does it matter so much? ABC News anchors and correspondents including Diane Sawyer, John Stossel and Elizabeth Vargas take an unconventional look at faith during two back-to-back hours of "20/20," airing FRIDAY, MAY 11 (9:01-10:00 & 10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
THE POWER OF A HUG: Her name is Amma, and she has gained near superstar status among her followers around the world through the simple act of hugging. John Qui�ones travels to India to get a first-hand look at the pomp and circumstance this living deity is granted � more than 200,000 people gather from around the world just to be touched by this woman. Who is Amma, and why do people flock to her just for a hug? "Love is not ordinary. Love is what sustains life� If we have compassion, we will automatically help people who don't have the basic necessities of life," she tells Qui�ones.
WHAT IS FAITH: "Faith is basically when you feel part of something larger than yourself and you give yourself to it," says Dr. Paul Knitter, a professor of theology at New York's Union Theological Seminary who was spent years studying world faiths. He tells Deborah Roberts that faith does not have to be religion; instead people express faith in simple ways like appreciating the beauty of nature, being in love with someone or the birth of a child.
MIRACLES: What drew hordes of people from around the world to the life of a bedridden 23 year-old? For two decades she never spoke a word, never walked, but some say she was a messenger of God who had the power to heal the sick and inspire the hopeless. Since she was three, Audrey was trapped in a coma-like state. Her modest home became a Mecca where mysterious things are said to have happened, including icons that inexplicably weep oil. Don Dahler updates a report.
FAITH AND THE BRAIN: Where does the power of faith come from? University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg, and author of "Why We Believe What We Believe," studies the intersection of faith and the brain -- and asks some profound questions: "How do we know what's real, how do we know if we have an experience of God, that God is really out there, or is it nothing more than just what is in the neural inner workings of our brain?" He uses brain scans of various people, from a Buddhist to an Atheist, to try to answer these questions and to trace the paths of faith in the brain. JuJu Chang reports.
ATHEISM: What is it like to be an atheist in a town where faith is a way of life? As John Stossel reports, for Nicole Smalkowski it has been horrible. After moving to Hardesty, OK three years ago at the age of 16, Nicole says she was called a "devil worshipper" by classmates, was harassed by teachers, and alleges she was ultimately suspended because she wouldn't recite the Lord's Prayer after high school basketball games. Fearing for their daughter's safety at school, Nicole's parents decided to home school all three of their kids. Nicole's father says the high school violated the Constitution by endorsing school prayer and Christian beliefs. The school district strongly denies the charge. Stossel also speaks with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the best-selling book "God Delusion," who says there is no basis for faith. "We've all been brought up to think that religion deserves a kind of free ride, free from all criticism," he tells Stossel.
THE CLOISTERED WORLD OF NUNS: Diane Sawyer has rare access inside the cloistered lives of nuns, women who believe they stand at a mystical and secret place in God's heart because of the purity of their radical beliefs: silence, sleeplessness, isolation from the secular world binding them ever closer to God. Sawyer's journey began at the Poor Clare's Monastery in Roswell, New Mexico nine years ago, where nuns opened up about their austere practices. "20/20" is also there at the beginning, when seven women gather for a vocation weekend, their first glimpse into the hidden world of the cloister, to decide if they will continue the journey to become a nun.
THE PROMISE OF A CURE � BLIND FAITH?: Jim Avila investigates a televangelist who, some say, preys on desperate people seeking help from a divine source. Reverend Peter Popoff peddled the promise of a "miracle release, miracle money, miracle healing, miracle deliverance in your life" by using his special spring water and dead sea salt. Sound too good to be true? Twenty years ago Popoff was exposed as a fraud and went off the air. He is now back on TV and pushing miracles again.
EXORCISM: "The Exorcist" became a cultural landmark in horror fiction, yet official Catholic exorcists say they've actually witnessed the demonic phenomena the film portrays -- rotating heads, levitation and vomiting strange objects. For a rare look inside an exorcism, "20/20" visits a family in Litchfield, Connecticut whose mother, Pat Reading, felt possessed by demonic spirits and went through a series of 16 exorcisms � witnessed first hand by her then teenage daughter, Michelle. "When you see the person that you love, that gave birth to you and took care of you� And then you see her being attacked by something invisible, so heinous and so disgusting� I mean, it really is a disgusting situation, and you will do anything to stop it," she tells Elizabeth Vargas.
"At what point you suspend logic to believe in something� belief in exorcism, belief in demonic possession� these are elements that go beyond logic and science to really become the essence of faith," says Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times Rome bureau chief and author of "The Vatican's Exorcists."
MAGICAL THINKING: Everyone wishes for something and lots of people believe they know how to make their wishes come true � magical thinking. As Chris Connelly reports, for magical thinkers, it is faith in the power of their wishes, their feeling and their positive thinking to affect their lives directly, like in the bestselling book, "The Secret." "20/20" talks to two magical thinkers to see if the power of their thoughts really helped shape their lives.
"20/20" is anchored by Elizabeth Vargas and John Stossel. David Sloan is the executive producer.