Pious fraud (Latin: pia fraus) is used to describe fraud in religion or medicine. A pious fraud can be counterfeiting a miracle or falsely attributing a sacred text to a biblical figure due to the belief that the "end justifies the means", in this case the end of increasing faith by whatever means available.
Use of the phrase
The Oxford English Dictionary reports the phrase was first used in English in 1678. Edward Gibbon was particularly fond of the phrase, using it often in his monumental and controversial work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in which he criticized the likelihood of some of the martyrs and miracles of the early Christian church.
William W. Howells wrote that shamans know that their tricks are impostures, but that all who studied them agree that they really believe in their power to deal with spirits. According to Howells, their main purpose is an honest one and they believe that this justifies the means of hoodwinking his followers in minor technical matters.
U.S. President Thomas Jefferson once referred to a doctor who gave more placebos than real medicine as a fraud, even if a pious one.
- William Howells, 1962. The Heathens: Primitive Man and his Religions New York City: National Museum of American History  in Robert S. Ellwood Civilized Shamans: Sacred Biography and Founders of New Religious Movements, in New Religions in a Postmodern World edited by Mikael Rothstein and Reender Kranenborg (Studies in New Religions Aarhus University Press) 2003 ISBN 87-7288-748-6
- The Meaning Response and the Ethics of Avoiding Placebos