“just” go to a Doctor

People who are not raised “in Science” often do not understand why Christian Scientists don’t seek medical assistance. This is an issue that has puzzled me as well, many CS wear glasses, visit the dentist, put braces on their children’s teeth, and yet they do nothing when a child injures themselves or falls ill. I don’t really have a good answer except that many “devout” CS feel they can radically rely on prayer for healing*.

So what do CS do when “a situation” arises? First they pray, if they don’t feel they’re “at that place” where they can see the healing through themselves, they call a CS Practitioner who will prayerfully support them as well. If things are really getting bad, they might call a CS Nurse for assistance, or check into a CS Care Facility.

Is easy to say for an “outsider” to say: they should have gone to the doctor, however, in seeking medical assistance the person effectively alienates themselves from any avenue of Christian Science care for the duration of the problem (and often the duration of the recovery as well).

Many CSPs will not work with people who have also turned to medical means for healing/relief. CS Nurses are not trained in physical therapy, or medical treatment, and do not administer drugs. CS Rest Facilities, which are staffed by CS and CS Nurses, will not admit people who have turned to medical treatment, or who are currently using medicine (no exceptions). To partake in the CS larger community (including children’s summer camps, and the Principia lower/upper schools and College**) you must be 100% radically reliant on God for healing.

As Ms. Eddy succinctly sates in S&H:

We cannot serve two masters nor perceive divine Science with the material senses. S&H 167:12

The spiritual and material don’t mix, either you are a perfect child of God, or you’re material.

“No big deal” says the uninformed outsider. Actually it is. Most Christian Scientists are born into the religion, their parents were often born into it as well, and their grandparents were too. It becomes a sick game of 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon, only it’s 6-degrees of Mary Baker Eddy. There is also some discussion about which of MBE’s students made for better teachers and mini-factions have sprung up around who was taught by whom (and who taught them, etc).

To be ostracized from the church (or kicked out of the college) that you (and your parents, and grandparents) were raised in/attended is shocking. Christian Scientists can be very judgmental about their family (and fellow church/community) members turning from the church and seeking medical care, or worse yet, leaving the church entirely (although leaving the church seems almost preferable than darkening the door with the shame of their failure).

Ironically, it is often CS who are the ones saying “they should go to a doctor.” This is usually done in the case of a broken bone or tooth extraction: you go, have the doctor set it, and then pray. But don’t take an of the pain medication, they pain isn’t real.

I had this experience when I had a wisdom tooth removed, they numbed me up for the extraction (my mother said it was “for their peace of mind”) and then she politely declined any antibiotics or pain medication for me, “we’re Christian Scientists.” I was given the number of the family CSP and told to “Call Ms.-” if I had any problems. Thankfully it was a straight forward extraction, and I was “allowed” an icepack for the swelling.***

Dealing with broken bones and wisdom teeth are straight forward problems, you can see those on x-rays (if it comes to that). Things like viral or bacterial infections are a bit vaguer. Rest is a good idea when one is suffering from flu symptoms, and prayer isn’t likely to make things worse. Taking practical steps like drinking fluids help.

If there is a fever – how would a CS know if there was a fever? Most don’t have thermometers in their homes to take temperatures, no one would check if they “felt a bit warm” – that would be acknowledging the material situation. When one has a cough, some will drink hot tea (often with honey), while some fringe elements might take a non-medicated herbal throat lozenge. Some women and most athletes will use a hot or cold pack to assist with menstrual cramps or sports-related injury (particularly if they’re on a sports team).

Then there are the cases where you should go the doctor – and these are the ones that tend to get people killed. Prolonged high fevers, hallucinations, convulsions, rapid weight loss, sudden loss of movement of a limb or entire side of the body (dislocated bone, or stroke), passing out/being unconscious, obvious tumors, the list goes on. Some people claim “CS” stands for “common sense” and you’d think any number of those issues would be enough to get someone to a doctor promptly.

Sadly, such situations often fail to inspire action. For a life-long CS it is not as easy as “just” going to a doctor. It breaks years of precedent, and one has to face a ream of mostly irrational fears. In addition to failing to be healed, they have brought shame upon themselves and the movement. They let the church and church community down, they let Christian Science down. Failing to get a healing and seeking medical care is a failure beyond words. Sadly, in many cases, what would’ve been a “quick fix” has snowballed into the need for a massive medical intervention, or death.

It is part of a larger pattern that is played out time and time again: in retrospect it is easy to say they should have gone to a doctor, but at the time the tone is similarly judgmental: they’re going to a doctor with the underlying message we can’t allow them to recover/associate with other CS who have relied only on prayer! Clearly they’ve failed at Christian Science.

I remember a CS-themed talk I attended at college which stressed the importance of demonstrating healings over all else. It is imperative that healings come quickly as we must demonstrate the healing power of Christian Science. We must also lobby our state legislatures to ensure we continue to get religious exemptions from vaccinations, health classes in school, and even routine vision/hearing tests***** (often preformed by the school nurse). The furor with which they spoke about the necessity of demonstrating healings scared me, it approached a level of religious fanaticism mixed with a real fear that CS was in such a precarious place we had to constantly be vigilant or it would all come crashing down. I felt very uncomfortable with the ideas of healing at all cost.

I agree, Christian Science is “supposed” to be a demonstrable science, when “properly” applied healings are supposed to come quickly and easily, but the reality is healings don’t always come quickly or easily. I will not speculate on why healings do not come quickly (or at all). CS have answers for this, usually blaming the person for “not praying properly,” or they speculate over their spiritual sate, clearly something isn’t right if they’re not getting swiftly healed.  If they are the person who has fallen short, they shrug and citing that “God works in mysterious ways” or “God always answers prayers, sometimes God says no.”

These situations remind me of the story where “God will save me.”

When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”
And God said, “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

God has endowed mankind with the ability to use the resources at their disposal to help better their situations and ease their suffering in this existence. Pain and suffering disguised as “radical reliance” on prayer is unconscionable.*****

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Further reading:

The Atlantic Monthly; April 1995; Suffering Children and the Christian Science Church; Volume 264, No. 4; pages 105-120. *please be forewarned, the article is graphic and hostile towards CS, Ms. Fraser is a former CS with what has been dismissed by many Amazon 1-star-reviewers as “not typical.

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*I know that doesn’t explain the glasses/braces thing. The “best” explanation I’ve heard so far is that those are just “aids” to “assist” us until we reach a higher level of understanding & are better able to heal ourselves. Why not medical assistance (or Tylenol)? No good answer for that.
**Yes, you read that right. The Principia College catalog (page 9: Spiritual Reliance) sates:
Students who rely on medicine beyond one term will be asked to temporarily withdraw until such usage is discontinued. A withdrawal is not a suspension and does not negatively affect the student’s record. In reality it is frowned upon by the community to use it for even one term and once students withdraw they are often unlikely to return.
***For a subsequent tooth extraction (after I moved out) I took the prescribed codeine and ended up experiencing terrifying hallucinations all night – which is not what supposed to happen. This knowledge came in handy later when the Drs. were figuring out pain medication post-c-section.
****Often this is the only time a CS child is seen by a person with any medical training. Had it not been for a vigilant school nurse my vision problems would’ve continued to go unnoticed and unaddressed.
*****Pain and suffering in the guise of “medical treatment” is equally unconscionable. Doctors and patients should have open lines of communication about the situation, treatment options and likely results.

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