The “Christian Science” movement and its standard-bearer, the “Church of Christ, Scientist” have been around since the late 1800’s. Having been founded by Mary Baker Eddy, the movement is based on American Protestantism, but specifically claims that mankind and the universe are inherently spiritual and not physical entities. It shouldn’t be confused with the Church of Scientology.
Despite the name of the Church, it’s about one of the most anti-science organizations around, especially when it comes to medical science. This tradition is one of the hallmarks of Christian Science and the one that it has become the most associated with. Traditionally, followers of the teachings of Christian Science reject any science or medicine that is not derived directly from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” which claims that health and disease are metaphysical, with disease being a spiritual state which is to be treated through prayer and religion. The root of all disease, according to Christian Science, is fear, sin, lack of faith or ignorance.
To this end, the Church has generally opposed any medical intervention or care by doctors, in many cases, even in the most dire circumstances. Every once in a while, a major court case makes the news when the parents of a child with a severe but treatable disease attempt to deny their child treatment based on Christian Science beliefs. It’s less common to make the news when an adult dies of easily cured conditions, but it also happens.
Indeed, it’s no secret that Christian Scientists regularly die from relatively easily remedied conditions, some of which are excruciatingly painful to maintain untreated. For example, just this year, Neil Beagley of Oregon died as the result of a urinary tract obstruction. This condition, which is fairly straight forward to correct, is an excruciating way of dying. Imaging having to go to urinate so badly that your bladder is on the verge of rupturing, you can’t relieve yourself due to a blockage. Pressure increases and your kidneys shut down. Eventually other organs fail.
Last year, seventeen year old Zakk Swezey died of a ruptured appendix when his parents refused to seek medical attention for his severe abdominal pains. There are many other examples of young children dying for lack of medical care in this belief system. Others have died of bleeding ulcers, septic shock, brought on by easily treatable infections and other conditions.
Of course, the Church of Christ, Scientist is quick to defend its methods, pointing out the successful examples of refusing medical treatment.
Here is one example:
Ear infection healed through prayer
One of the things you learn in Information Technology (IT), the area in which I work, is that you canÃ¢â¬â¢t solve a problem where itÃ¢â¬â¢s not. In IT this erroneous approach often takes the form of trying to use hardware (physical equipment) to solve a software issue (a problem with the programs that determine how the physical equipment behaves).
Software problems can look like hardware problemsÃ¢â¬âthe processor is running hot, the memory resources are exhausted, the disk is thrashing. But if the issue is poorly written software, or even malware (e.g., a virus), then fiddling with the hardware never really fixes it. You can spend time and money swapping components, adding resources, adding whole servers, sometimes many servers. But often the situation lingers or recurs. You may mask it for a while, but you never actually fix it.
ThereÃ¢â¬â¢s a parallel in Christian Science. Christian Science explains that disease is an error of beliefÃ¢â¬âa software problem if you like. And when the belief is corrected with spiritual truth and removed from thought, the bodily (hardware) symptoms disappear with it.
The healing experiences IÃ¢â¬â¢ve had, as in the following case, have clearly illustrated this for me.
Some years ago, I found myself at a low point in my life, and I contracted an ear infection that was very painful. I could hardly sleep or eat. After some ineffective tinkering myself, which mingled inconclusive prayer with material hygiene, I became very frustrated. Yielding to the prompting of a concerned friend, I decided to take the situation to a doctor, even though I knew in my heart that Christian Science was the better way to go.
The doctor inspected my ear and then prescribed a course of treatment which I followed. Eventually, after a week or two more of great discomfort, the problem gradually disappeared from view.
You can see where this is going. Some while laterÃ¢â¬âprobably less than a yearÃ¢â¬âthe situation resurfaced. Same ear, same symptoms, same sleepless nights. By this time, I had made some progress in my understanding of Christian Science and my determination to rely on it. Now I recognized that the fundamental trouble was mental, and took the case to a Christian Science practitioner.
To make a long story short, the individuals ear infection went away after seeing a Christian Science practitioner. As someone who works in IT, I can tell you we’re all not wackos like that.
Nobody will deny that sometimes diseases go away on their own. In cancer, it’s called spontaneous remission. With infections, the body’s immune system can often overcome the disease on its own. Often, but certainly not always. In the case of a minor infection in an otherwise healthy person, it’s not that unusual for the body to be able to fight off invaders without the need for additional aid. Of course, it’s far from a sure thing and the odds are far worse with more severe infections.
Needless to say, Christian Science has gotten some pretty bad press over these kinds of beliefs and the pile of dead bodies they result in. It seems that may finally be getting to the point where the movement is actually rethinking its anti-medicine stand.
Christian Science Church Seeks Truce With Modern Medicine
Since the founding of their church 131 years ago, Christian Scientists have been taught to avoid doctors at all cost. It is a conviction rooted so deeply in church dogma that dozens of members have endured criminal prosecution rather than surrender an ailing person to what they see as the quackery of medical science.
But faced with dwindling membership and blows to their churchÃ¢â¬â¢s reputation caused by its intransigence concerning medical treatment, even for children with grave illnesses, Christian Science leaders have recently found a new tolerance for medical care. For more than a year, leaders say, they have been encouraging members to see a physician if they feel it is necessary.
Perhaps more significantly, they have begun a public campaign to redefine their methods as a form of care that the broader public should consider as a supplement rather than a substitute for conventional treatment, like biofeedback, chiropractic or homeopathic care.
In recent years, the church has been lobbying to convince lawmakers that its approach is an alternative way of tending to the sick, and that its costs should be covered by insurance companies and included in health care legislation.
Lobbyists succeeded in getting provisions that encourage private insurance coverage of Christian Science care into both the 2006 legislation overhauling health care in Massachusetts and the United States Senate version of the health care overhaul; both measures were removed in negotiations. Church officials say they intend to keep trying, at both the state and federal level.
Ã¢â¬ÅIn the last year, I canÃ¢â¬â¢t tell you how many times IÃ¢â¬â¢ve been called to pray at a patientÃ¢â¬â¢s bedside in a hospital,Ã¢â¬ said Philip Davis, 59, the churchÃ¢â¬â¢s national spokesman, who has been tending to the sick for three decades as a Christian Science practitioner. The church trains and registers its practitioners to help patients with their prayers.
Thankfully, they have not managed to get any recognition for their “care” by medical insurance or government health care programs. It seems that now they’re recasting their beliefs and their prayer-based response to disease as “complimentary and alternative” medicine, not intended to replace real medicine. Grouping themselves with homeopathy and chiropractic care certainly makes sense, as those are other prime examples of medical care that’s based on fantasy and doesn’t actually work.
Could this be a step in the right direction? On the surface it might seem so. While other “alternative medicine” treatments like homeopathy don’t do any good for disease, at least they’re not as prone to actively encourage people to avoid real medicine at all costs. That said, they certainly do manage to discourage many from seeking medical care, even if they don’t explicitly forbid it.
The flip side is that if Christian Science does manage to go more mainstream, it could lead to the so-called treatment being adopted by more than just a small core following and thus hurting more individuals in the end. When it comes down to it, magical beliefs and faith healers do no good. The only question is how severe the harm is.
This entry was posted on Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 4:12 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, Quackery, religion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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