I was recently reminded that not everyone who comes across this blog is/was/has been a Christian Scientist. I’d like to reach out to them and offer them a little hope and some explanation. There are so many things that being “in Science” involves. In many ways I feel fortunate to have escaped with a mere Sunday School education and not gone farther with Primary Class Instruction, nor was I ever involved in church policy at any level.
Generally speaking, Christian Science is an individual religion. People study the Bible lesson all week and come together on Wednesdays (for testimony meetings) and Sundays to be read the same lessons they’ve been reading all week again. It is about individual spiritual growth. There are no social groups for adults or kids, there are no church pot lucks*.
The BIG ISSUE surrounding CS is the issue of prayer for healing. While a lot of unpleasant stuff can happen, I have known many individuals who have taken responsible action when it came to healthcare decisions. I have known many “good” CS who have taken themselves to the hospital (for a variety of reasons), been vaccinated before trips to out-of-the way places (or complied with state law and vaccinated their children instead of choosing religious exemption), been responsible with their own health care and that of their children, and not “radically relied” on healing. Those CS don’t make the news, they live their lives, they volunteer in their churches, and they fit in nicely with the rest of society, perhaps a little more conservative in their stance of no-drinking, no-drugs (with an exception for things like coffee** of course).
Much of the unpleasantness happens at CS “inspired” institutions and regions where large numbers of CS gather. The judgement one another on their spiritual growth, effectiveness of their physical healing capabilities, becomes far more obvious. Most churches have one or two radicals who criticize others lack of perceived physical healing. These radicals are often unpopular as they’re also the ones who say no to church pot-lucks and question antibacterial hand soap in the bathrooms.
So where does this idea of radically relying on prayer above all else come from and why are people judging others? Ms. Baxter sums up a simplified version of the logic involved on p. 58 of her book, Open the doors of the Temple:
If it’s true that you can demonstrate your increased spirituality by healing (and this all-too-often came to mean physical healing) then it is also true, they reasoned, that if you aren’t demonstrating physical healing you aren’t growing spiritually. In short, you are letting not only yourself but God down if you don’t stick with it until you find physical healing. No matter what, through pain and suffering, all will contribute to your spiritual growth and that is what Christians are after. (emphasis mine)
If/when prayer and radical reliance on God fails, then it is perfectly acceptable (Ms. Eddy has a lot of say about judgement and distancing yourself from people who aren’t practicing CS “properly”) to pass judgement on them. It usually sounds a little like this:
“I knew her demonstration wasn’t up to the level it should be. Her spiritual understanding fell short.” (Baxter, p. 58)
Yeah, I’ve heard that before.
As if surviving an often life-threatening situation by turning to medicine isn’t awful enough, you are then labeled a failure because you were not able to treat yourself with Christian Science. You have failed. You have let down God. You have let down CS. There will inevitably be someone who knows someone who had the “exact same” situation as you did but they prayed about it and were healed.***
Very, very few CS ever admit to visiting a medical doctor or using medication. Things like glasses or braces on teeth that can’t be hidden are grudgingly accepted as “suffer it to be so now” and the person should continue striving to overcome the need for physical aids.
There is a certain level of denial/impracticality surrounding the practice of Christian Science for non-physical-healing issues as well.
During my time at Principia I had a roommate who had taken on far more projects/classes/responsibilities than she felt she could handle. She was perpetually exhausted and stressed, often waking up at 6:30 am and working late into the night. She had “so much to do” and was “so stressed out” so she decided to pray about it. Reading the lesson/praying took up an hour or more of her time each day, leaving her school work and other projects untouched. This time sink only added to her stressed-out situation. I tried to point out if she spent more time working on her projects and less time stressing about how to prayerfully address her stress maybe she’d be less stressed and have more time to get things done. Instead she continued to work late into the night, sleep through her ambitiously early alarm clock, and stress about it until the term’s end.
In CS prayer is always the answer. Healing not happening? Pray more. Have faith. Know the Truth. It will happen. Still not happening, PRAY BETTER. Have you actually been reading your weekly Bible Lesson?! Christian Science is never at fault, your lack of understanding is the problem.
I know I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what Christian Science is, does, or means. Please e-mail me or leave a comment if you have more questions. I will do my best to answer them!
Further reading for the curious new-to-CS, also see Resources
- Daily Struggles for Healing
- “just” go to a Doctor
- Filled up Full
- passing on too soon, preventable deaths in CS
- the Unreal Little Pink Box of Common Cold
- there is no church protocol
*There are some exceptions and some churches/CS-inspired organizations are forming groups, and holding pot-lucks, but 125+ years of tradition is hard to break. There is a fervent debate about what “Ms. Eddy would have wanted” and “what is written in the Church Manual” and The Mother Church usually goes by what is written with little room for interpretation (there will be forthcoming posts on the Church Alive weekly questions).
**Caffeine is a drug and should be avoided, extreme CS avoid coffee all together, or drink exclusively de-caf. The Principia dining hall serves exclusively caffeine-free sodas.
***One of the more common situations where this happens is childbirth – I had an unpleasant experience with Kid1, and opted for a scheduled c-section with Kid2. A friend of the family had an unpleasant first experience and c-section, but went on to have a successful vaginal birth – she had prayed about it and had an amazing healing. Why didn’t I have one too?