suffering is oft the divine agent in this elevation

I recently re-read Open the Doors of the Temple: The Survival of Christian Science in the Twenty-first Century by Nancy Niblack Baxter. It is a thought provoking read, by a mostly sympathetic convert of over fifty years. Ms. Baxter obviously feels strongly about CS, the direction it is headed, and makes several excellent suggestions for improvement, there will be a post (or several) about all that later.

On page 49, Ms. Baxter talks about Ms. Eddy’s intentions about the potential for “do-or-die” physical healing.

Did Mrs. Eddy intend her followers to pursue physical healing through her methods forever, even when it was not bringing results? To die for it? It is my strong belief that by 1890 she came to be aware of the trap her church members could fall into, to say nothing of the lawsuits, so by the turn of the century, and as she finalized the revelation, she allowed for escapes in the case spiritual healing did not bring results.

The case for her conviction that do-or-die healing in her church was not productive can be made in a strong manner by reading her own words:

Ms. Baxter then cites two sections from Science and Health from Chapter 13, Teaching Christian Science along with a passage from Misc. Writing, and letter excerpts. The S&H experts are of particular interest (and easy to find). Interestingly, one of the passages is about the “right use of temporary means” which is the same one Principia uses to theoretically “allow” the use of doctor-prescribed medications.

 If Christian Scientists ever fail to receive aid from other Scientists, — their brethren upon whom they may call, — God will still guide them into the right use of temporary and eternal means. (S&H p. 444)

In looking at the larger context of the quote, Ms. Eddy comes across as somewhat of a superior, know-it-all bitch*. Ms. Eddy starts Chapter 13 off on a very superior tone:

When the discoverer of Christian Science is consulted by her followers as to the propriety, advantage, and consistency of systematic medical study, she tries to show them that under ordinary circumstances a resort to faith in corporeal means tends to deter those, who make such a compromise, from entire confidence in omnipotent Mind as really possessing all power. While a course of medical study is at times severely condemned by some Scientists, she feels, as she always has felt, that all are privileged to work out their own salvation according to their light, and that our motto should be the Master’s counsel, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Sure, you can consult something other than omnipotent Mind, but then you’re not recognizing that it is ALL POWERFUL and can heal. You’re not ready for that? Great, you can go work on your salvation somewhere else. We won’t judge, really. She continues on:

If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind-physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief. Thus such invalids may learn the value of the apostolic precept: “Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” If the sick find these material expedients unsatisfactory, and they receive no help from them, these very failures may open their blind eyes. In some way, sooner or later, all must rise superior to materiality, and suffering is oft the divine agent in this elevation. “All things work together for good to them that love God,” is the dictum of Scripture.

Note, “if PATIENTS” – not if Christian Scientists, fail to the experience healing power and choose to seek medical care, they can (and should!) be dropped, eventually, they’ll suffer enough at the hands of doctors (back in 1890 there was much suffering to be had) and realize that Christian Science is the only way.

If Christian Scientists ever fail to receive aid from other Scientists, — their brethren upon whom they may call, — God will still guide them into the right use of temporary and eternal means. Step by step will those who trust Him find that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

It seems like Ms. Eddy is limiting Christian Scientists to only receiving aid from other Christian Scientists: they may call upon their fellow CS brethren, and God. Thankfully the CS-establishment has set up CS-nurses to provide temporary means, so you never need to venture outside the CS community, it and God will provide everything! That is all very well and good, and the passive-aggressive tone continues in the very next paragraph:

Students are advised by the author to be charitable and kind, not only towards differing forms of religion and medicine, but to those who hold these differing opinions. Let us be faithful in pointing the way through Christ, as we understand it, but let us also be careful always to “judge righteous judgment,” and never to condemn rashly. “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” That is, Fear not that he will smite thee again for thy forbearance. If ecclesiastical sects or medical schools turn a deaf ear to the teachings of Christian Science, then part from these opponents as did Abraham when he parted from Lot, and say in thy heart: “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.” Immortals, or God’s children in divine Science, are one harmonious family; but mortals, or the “children of men” in material sense, are discordant and ofttimes false brethren.

Either you are an Immortal child of God in divine Science, or you’re a “child of man” who is discordant. As a superior Immortal child of God, you may politely part from those who have differing opinions from yours and choose not to associate with them further (just like Abraham did with Lot). The mortals are “free to work out their own salvation” (a polite way of saying they can go to hell). It is quite clear that a good Scientist will only associate with other good Scientists lest they become falsely influenced by mortal mind and material sense. This line of reasoning is one that I have seen played out at Principia and among other CS groups over the years: either you follow the party line or you’re (politely) asked to leave.

I take issue with most of the chapter on Teaching Christian Science, but I will skip down to the other passage Ms. Baxter cites on page 464:

If from an injury or from any cause, a Christian Scientist were seized with pain so violent that he could not treat himself mentally, — and the Scientists had failed to relieve him, — the sufferer could call a surgeon, who would give him a hypodermic injection, then, when the belief of pain was lulled, he could handle his own case mentally. Thus it is that we “prove all things; [and] hold fast that which is good.”

Ms. Baxter then notes:

Although she [Ms. Eddy] was generally healthy and strong after her years of conversion, at the end of her life she suffered from agonizing pain from a kidney stone and called for morphine more than once, thus in her own way legitimizing medication for the use of serious pain, a part of history some Christian Scientists have chosen to ignore. (p. 49-50)

I actually take very little issue with the quote from p. 464 except that it is not more widely paid attention to by the CS-community. I have been in such extreme pain that I could not function, much less even begin to “treat” myself mentally. Thankfully, I did not need to “call a surgeon” – getting my doctor-prescribed pain medication worked just fine. I would also like to point out, there are plenty of other remedies out there, but acknowledging that someone may need a bit of help to get in the right direction to help them focus is a fabulous starting place.

I would like to point out there is a HUGE difference between temporary pain relief, and actually being healed. In my situation, the pain was a side-effect of major abdominal surgery (that’s what a c-section is), and all I could really do was manage the pain and wait for everything to mend. Thankfully I live in 2013. In Ms. Eddy’s case of kidney stones, I would take Christian Science and morphine over the medical methods of 1900 as well.

*I fully admit to a slight bias and some level of bitterness surrounding the issue of Christian Science and the culture of radical reliance and “do-or-die healing.”