Christian Science Maneuvering

April 12, 2010

Since their church was founded in 1879, Christian Scientists have subscribed to the dogma that physicians, whom they regard as quacks, should be avoided. Now, however — responding to dwindling membership, public disapproval of their rigid thinking, and the legal consequences of withholding medical treatment even from gravely ill children — church leaders are encouraging followers to seek the services of a doctor if they deem it truly necessary. (See Paul Vitello, "Christian Science Church Seeks Truce with Modern Medicine," The New York Times , March 24, 2010.)

Christian Science was created by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910). The youngest of six children, Mary Baker developed an interest in spiritual healing when she was twelve, after a prayer seemed to cure a fever. Her "discovery" of Christian Science was an outcome of a fall on an icy street in 1866. She felt she was critically injured but, after reading a biblical passage about Jesus healing a man of palsy (Matthew 9:2), she promptly recovered. This is hardly surprising since, as a pampered, spoiled child, she had frequently gotten her way by apparent malingering — exhibiting various symptoms and seizures which the family physician diagnosed as "hysteria mingled with bad temper."

After Spiritualism became the rage in the 1850s, she went on to become a medium — although she would later deny it. She had often lapsed into trances in which she believed she had clairvoyant visions. As a Spiritualist, she began to receive otherworldly communications and even "saw" ghostly entities standing beside her bed (a phenomenon now understood as a "waking dream"). When she held séances, she claimed as her spirit control one of the Apostles or even Jesus himself. (See Georgine Milmine, The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science , Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971.) Eddy has been identified as having a classic fantasy-prone personality.

In 1874 she married her third husband, Asa Gilbert Eddy, who became her first convert. Declaring the Bible as her "textbook," she formed a Christian Science association in 1876 and a fledgling church in 1879. She defined the religion as "divine metaphysics" and "the scientific system of divine healings," characterizing its most important teaching as the distinction between that which is real (God, health, truth) and that which is apparent but unreal (hell, illness, falsehood).

Her husband’s death of heart disease after only six years as a Christian Scientist was an embarrassment to Mrs. Eddy. She responded by getting a quack doctor to confirm her own "diagnosis" that he had been poisoned by her enemies, and when an autopsy failed to find poison but revealed a diseased aortic valve, she countered that her husband had died of "metaphysical arsenical poisoning" which left no trace. Such was the bizarre thinking of the prophet of Christian Science.

Actually Christian Pseudoscience or Antiscience would have been a more accurate name. Adhering to Church dogma, devout members of the sect rejected all forms of medical treatment — not only drugs and instruments like thermometers, but even such simple measures as ice packs or back rubs. Instead, members previously depended solely on faith healers called practitioners , whose training consists of religious tutelage and whose treatment is limited to praying. (See my Looking for a Miracle , Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993, pp. 154-158.)

The Church continues to try to get Christian Science "treatments" included in health care legislation. However, in a statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics, said: "Given the complete lack of scientific evidence of the efficacy of prayer in treating any illness or disorder in children, mandating coverage for these services runs counter to the principles of evidence-based medicine."