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)

Divine Love: Two Boats & a Helicopter

In lieu of art and iconography, Christian Science churches often adorn their walls with stark quotes from Our Beloved Leader, the Discovered and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. One of the more popular quotes to adorn sanctuary walls is

“Divine Love always has met and always will meet every every human need.”

I’ve thought about Divine Love and human needs a lot since leaving Christian Science. Other religions openly embrace modern medicine and technological advances as God empowering man with the ability to heal, while Christian Scientists seem to view this knowledge as the forbidden fruit and the very acknowledgement of it dooms them to a mortal life outside the Garden of Eden.

It reminds me of the story about the man who drowned, when he finally meets God, God is unsympathetic, and reminds the man that “two boats and a helicopter” had been sent. Clearly the man was not a devout Christian Scientist, then he would have prayed to know the encroaching water wasn’t real and couldn’t do any harm, the water would have magically parted and the man – and his property – would have been spared. God loves the Devout Christian Scientist, God thinks his neighbors are assholes (sort of like Noah and the flood). I’m pretty sure that’s NOT HOW IT WORKS, but I digress.

Let us continue with the intentionally-turned-down-opportunities theme and say the Christian Scientist dies of measles. The Christian Scientist meets God, and reminds God that they prayed and had faith, and knew that God Loved Them No Matter What. God says, why didn’t you get vaccinated or seek medical assistance? I’ve given humans thousands of years of medical knowledge to work with, why turn your back on it? The Christian Scientist attempts to argue that they are Spiritual, not material. God reminds they Christian Scientist that now they are with God now, and that’s about as immaterial (1) as they can get.

Mary Baker Eddy does offer the occasional “out” for the Christian Scientist who is struggling. Ms. Eddy reminds diligent readers of Science and Health on the first page of Chapter 13:

  • 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.”

A few Christian-Science inspired institutions, even generously allow for the temporary use of doctor-prescribed medicine apparently it will be “compassionately regarded” but let’s be honest: “Students who rely on medicine beyond one term will be asked to temporarily withdraw until such usage is discontinued.”

Then there are the Christian Science institutions who proudly proclaim the people who stay at their facility are

  • not nominal worshippers. They have set out to preclude the Adam dream by refusing to take the medical route. They have surrendered all, trusting divine Truth to break the dream. They are God’s merchandise, and will not be tinkered with by any other method. They refuse to be called just a lot of sick folk, but they are a peculiar people. These are among those who have had more than one proof of God’s care, and are waiting for the next one here and now.

How are these attitudes loving? For a religion which claims to emanate (2) Divine Love it treats those who are wrestling with “the Adam dream” (or whatever the problem is) in the most unloving and judgmental of ways.

A commenter recently challenged my statement that Christian Science does not have to be deadly, to which I responded in part by saying

  • Today’s CS seem to come with the attitude that CS is somehow superior to modern medicine, and that they have no need to avail themselves of material aid – often at their peril. While other schools of religion embrace the idea that God has given us the knowledge and technology to intervene and cure diseases, CS continues to happily deny that disease is real at all. A compromise is in order, until CS start to heal and ascend – JUST LIKE JESUS DID, responsible medical practices should be encouraged.

Yes, offer the weary seeker a cup of cold water in Christ’s name, but then offer them whatever medical aid they may need as well. Yes, Jesus preformed miraculous feats of healing, but unless you’re managing the same instantaneous results find a licensed and responsible healthcare provider.

Is it really the most loving thing to do to tell a child who has just had their wisdom teeth extracted they “don’t need anything” for the pain? Or to allow someone to suffer vivid fever hallucinations instead of attempting to bring it under control? Is it loving to allow your child’s whooping cough go untreated for days? Or allow those who are on death’s door to writhe in agony (3)? OF COURSE NOT.

If Christian Science wants to survive and thrive they need to stop denying the reality in which they are living – while they may be Spiritual Ideas of God, they also need to tend to their material selves if they want to stay in this existence for any length of time. While positive thinking and proper attention to hygiene (regardless of what Ms. Eddy says) will get you far, having a well stocked medicine cabinet, some practical knowledge of first-aid and a good primary care physician are important too.

If God really loves us so much why simultaneously endow humankind with tremendous medical knowledge and a religion which encourages it’s adherents not to use it. If this is another case of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge good and evil than the God in question is a sadist and not to be trusted (or worshiped), or perhaps Christian Science is wrong.

Both is also a possibility.

  1. That is not a typo
  2. I initially misspelled “emanate” spell-check offered “terminate” as one of the options
  3. Withholding pain medication from the dying is cruel. Withholding pain medication from people who have just had surgery is cruel too.

nominal worshippers stay home

The Mother Church neatly side-steps the issue of “radical reliance” on prayer with the official stance of “there is no church protocol.” They’ve even gone so far as to claim they’ve “made a truce” with doctors.

I hold out some hope that this is true. There are CS Practioners who will work with people who are not strictly relying on CS for healing, there are not many, but they do exist. (1) There are CS churches that have been retro-fitted/modified (or built right the first time) to be wheelchair accessible. There are CS who (sometimes) visit doctors and are responsible with their children’s heath care, and then there are those who radically rely on CS for healing.

If people choose to forgo medical treatment in favor of prayer or alternative healing methods that is their choice, but when the policy is institutionalized and a requirement for admittance it makes me angry. For many CS, taking the step of even considering going to a doctor is a huge one, and the added pressure of being ostracized from the community is often too much so they continue to pray and wait for healing.

There are Christian Science Nursing Care Facilities that make Principia’s policy about the “right use of temporary means” seem downright progressive. These groups are not directly affiliated with the Mother Church (2), they just require you are a member to be hired (3), are a Journal-listed CSP/Nurse, have had Class Instruction, have been/are currently an active church member, rely on CS for healing, etc.

Take for example the CS Nursing facility in Florida:

D– is a religious, non-medical nursing facility offering care to those who actively rely on prayer (4) for metaphysical healing and are working with a Christian Science Journal-listed practitioner.

Those who come to D– for help are the remnant of our Leader’s seed. They are not nominal worshippers. They have set out to preclude the Adam dream by refusing to take the medical route. They have surrendered all, trusting divine Truth to break the dream. They are God’s merchandise, and will not be tinkered with by any other method. They refuse to be called just a lot of sick folk, but they are a peculiar people. These are among those who have had more than one proof of God’s care, and are waiting for the next one here and now. They arrive at D–, where men as angels serve diligently to help meet their needs. The expressed love of the faithful stewards makes them feel that actually God is loving them.

This radical-reliance policy has hit a nerve among some CS-converts. It is addressed at length in Ms. Baxters Open the Doors of the Temple and is the cornerstone for her argument that CS must openly evolve –after all, medicine has. Among my former-CS friends widely used radical-reliance was one of the big reasons people left CS. The policy is particularly hard for CS converts, as they often convert from more mainstream protestant denominations, where people are open about problems and willing to help regardless of the need.

The following are excerpts from e-mails questioning the policies about why a friend was not allowed to be admitted to a CS nursing facility. The friend had an undisclosed medical procedure and was attempting to gain respite care at a CS nursing facility. I was involved in a lengthy e-mail exchange about the issue, although not in any overly helpful way — I recommended the friend seek out a medical facility (or at least one open to medical treatment), prayer is great and all, but often some practical intervention is needed.

Continue reading

the BIG ISSUE – a post for those new to CS

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

*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?

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.”