Mary Baker Eddy, The Mother Church, Vaccinations, Doctors & Practical Health Care

This post was originally going to try and show Christian Scientists that Mary Baker Eddy was not totally against doctors and people doing their best to meet their needs at their own current spiritual level, and abide by the law. So far I’ve come across one article from the from The Christian Science Journal, Volume 18 By Mary Baker Eddy (1)

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Some have interpreted this to mean that Christian Scientists should follow the law and be vaccinated, while others have argued it simply means Christian Scientists must report contagion to the proper authorities. Mary Baker Eddy teaches contagion is unreal, and Christian Science Nurses are not trained to recognize disease, so I’m not sure how this is supposed to happen (2).

There is the oft-talked about Christian Science Church Seeks Truce With Modern Medicine, from the NYTimes, May 24, 2010 (3), but it is fluff and PR.

In June 2011, the young-hip-cool Time4Thinkers had a piece entitled “Let’s get over the judgement thing” (4) which cited a passage in Science and Health, and attempted to claim that Ms. Eddy was okay with people using doctors if they felt the need. It is okay, we won’t judge. If you actually read the rest of the Chapter XIII, Teaching Christian Science (5), you’ll see Ms. Eddy was actually saying is that they’ll learn the hard way how wrong they are, try to be nice about it, but distance yourself from them.

I could take a number of the passages from Science and Health out of context to create the appearance that Christian Science is okay with people seeking medical aid, but context is very important.

I don’t usually like to block-quote things from wikipedia (6), but in this case, it is well footnoted so I will only make a few comments. First, the assertion that Ms. Eddy was addicted to morphine:

A diary kept by Calvin Frye, Eddy’s personal secretary, revealed that she was addicted to morphine, and had a lifelong dependence on morphine pills and shots.[100] Miranda Rice, a friend and close student of Eddy claimed to have treated her hundreds of times with morphine. Rice wrote “I know that Mrs. Eddy was addicted to morphine in the seventies. She begged me to get some for her. She sent her husband, Mr. Eddy, for some; and when he failed to get it she got it herself. She locked herself into her room and for two days excluded everyone.”[101] However, biographer Gillian Gill notes that the prescription of morphine was normal medical practice at the time, and that in her view Mary Baker Eddy was at no time addicted to morphine.[102]

“Addicted” or not, she used morphine. The excuse that “prescription of morphine was normal medical practice” is hollow at best, as Ms. Eddy regularly rails against morphine and other treatments of the day (7).

Towards the end of her life Eddy wore glasses and was frequently attended by doctors, these things acted in direct contradiction to the tenets of her own religion, in the view of critics.[111] On this subject Walter Martin in his book Kingdom of the Cults (2003) wrote:

  • The Christian Science Church has known for many years that though Mary Baker Eddy spoke vigorously against doctors and drugs as well as vigorously affirming the unreality of pain, suffering, and disease, she herself was frequently attended in her declining years by doctors, received injections of morphine for the alleviation of pain, wore glasses, and had her teeth removed when they became diseased. However, despite this, the Christian Science Church insists upon the validity of Mrs. Eddy’s teaching, which deny the very practices Mrs. Eddy herself exemplified.[112]

I think the passage from Kingdom of Cults sums it up nicely. Ms. Eddy could not live up to her own “spiritual standards,” perhaps because they were, themselves, unreal. Not unattainable, or unrealistic, but simply UNREAL.

I find it interesting that the Official Christian Science website’s A closer look at health/Christian Science (8) focuses heavily on the placebo effect. There has been much debate about the ethics of prescribing placebos (see Further Reading below), and I wonder if the PR machine at the Mother Church has done their research. Wikipedia notes that

The placebo effect occurs more strongly in some conditions than others. Dylan Evans has suggested that placebos work most strongly upon conditions such as pain, swelling, stomach ulcers, depression, and anxiety that have been linked with activation of the acute-phase response.[65] (9)

I happen to agree, a good Christian Science Practitioner can be an excellent ally when it comes to depression and anxiety, but for everything else, unless the “healing” is  instantaneous (10), I’d use a bit of caution. Neither Christian Science or a placebo will regrow a limb. Very few Christian Scientists will submit to having the efficacy of their prayers tested in a laboratory setting, and to the best of my knowledge, The Mother Church frowns upon such testing (11). It is also worth noting that most Christian Scientists do not ever receive an official diagnosis, so they often speculate on what they might have been healed of based on vague symptoms — appendicitis or constipation? Several symptoms could be the same, so claim a healing of the more impressive one.

So what is a Christian Scientist to do? I strongly feel, if the healing is not instantaneous — the way Jesus is purported to have healed — you should seek medical care. Unlike many Christian Science Practitioners, most doctors will not judge if you choose to seek a medical path and choose to simultaneously pray about it. Use prayer to allay your fears about turning to the medical community for help.

Further Reading

Sources Cited

  1. The Christian Science Journal, Volume 18 By Mary Baker Eddy
  2. Outbreak Investigations Around the World edited by Mark Dworkin, Chapter 8 Measles Among Religiously Exempt Persons Charles E. Jennings p. 133-144
  7.  (p. 416)

8 thoughts on “Mary Baker Eddy, The Mother Church, Vaccinations, Doctors & Practical Health Care

    • kat @ kindism says:

      Anonymous, Thanks for the link. I agree, the American Healthcare system is not perfect, and I have had my share of negative experiences when dealing with them. However, the medical system is evolving, they no longer cling to outdated notions like the idea that cucumbers are the cause of cholera.

  1. Bill Sweet says:

    The big deal in all this is that there has to be a scientific distinction between the power of the placebo effect and the power of prayer. It isn’t an easy process since so many Christians and Christian Scientists have fears about modern science. Look at the behavior of the Creationists, for example.

    • kat @ kindism says:

      I’ve often wondered about the placebo effect vs. prayer, somewhere I’ve started a collection of articles that talk about it further. It is on my list of things to explore further. For me, the important thing is that it (be it prayer or placebo) works consistently every time and offers repeatable results.

      During my time in CS, the only consistent, repeatable results I experienced from prayer were that of it failing, over and over to heal, which resulted in a fair bit of dental work made all the more unpleasant by the initial insistence that I would not “need” local anesthetic while my teeth were being drilled into. The medical system may not be perfect, but well-placed local anesthetic worked consistently every time.

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