Crazy Christianity: Christian Science

In an attempt to highlight the many, many different branches that have grown from the tree of Christianity by way of human interpretation, I have decided to start a little mini series spotlighting some of the most interesting ones. I wanted to start with Christian Science since it happens to be one of the most interesting I have come across in quite a while.

What it’s all about:

MARYBAKEREDDYThe Christian Science religion was founded in 1879 by a woman named Mary Baker Eddy. She was sickly most of her life and after suffering a fall that inflicted internal injuries in 1875 she turned to the Bible for answers about her healing. It is at that time she claimed to have come to a working understanding of pain, sickness and injury through reading the scriptures which lead to her speedy 3-day recovery. She wrote a book describing her experiences and revelations, started preaching and putting to practice her new-found healing methodologies and the church was built 4 years later.

The basic premise of Christian Science is that the immortal, material world is an illusion in which we fall victim to suffering and illness. Matter is not real; only the spiritual world is real and can be accessed through prayer. They believe that “sickness and death are illusions caused by mistaken beliefs, and that the sick should be treated by a special form of prayer intended to correct those beliefs, rather than by medicine.” (Source)

These beliefs, as you can imagine, are incredibly controversial and potentially very dangerous. In fact, “between the 1880s and 1990s the avoidance of medical care and vaccination led to the deaths of a number of adherents and their children; several parents and others were prosecuted for manslaughter or neglect, and in a few cases convicted.” (Source) The modern Christian Science church takes a different stance on healthcare today in which they do not advocate for the complete non-use of medical treatment, but instead advises its followers to pray about what option they should take and make a decision that best fits their family’s needs (which almost always leads to a decision not to utilize modern medicinal treatment).

The_First_Church_of_Christ,_Scientist,_BostonChristian Science churches do not have pastors or reverends as typical Christian churches do. Actually, Mary Baker Eddy ordained the Bible and her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as the pastor of the church. There is one main church located in Boston (called the Mother Church since it was the first location) and many branches throughout the world. Each week, every church studies the exact same lesson from the Bible. They meet on Wednesdays to discuss with each other how the lesson has affected their lives and to share stories about how the lesson has healed them in some way. Then, they meet on Sundays for a church service in which that particular lesson is read aloud; there is no personal sermon given by any leader.

Ultimately, the followers of this religion believe that Jesus was able to heal people and even bring them back to life because of his closeness with and un-wavering trust in God. They believe that if they pray and develop a closeness with God as well, that they will then be able to heal themselves and others. While they know that they will never achieve the kind of closeness Jesus had to God, they believe that they can certainly approach it.

Why it’s harmful to society:

This religion requires complete trust in god to heal and prevent all illnesses which can and have lead to more than a few very avoidable deaths and/or complications. Many children suffer the consequences of not being vaccinated or actively treated for their illnesses in the appropriate ways causing their otherwise well-meaning parents to be accused of (and rightfully so) neglect.

This is one of those religions in which someone had an idea about the Bible and wrote their own supplementary text with the intention that they be read together. These authors, while most vehemently deny any parallels or comparisons between themselves and god, almost always believe that their writing is just as important as that of the Bible. I find it strange that someone with the capacity to believe the Bible to be a divine text with all of the answers one will ever need in it could also believe that some random person has the ability to write a guidebook or a partner book that describes the correct interpretation and how you should live your life accordingly.

A lot can be said for the healing powers of the mind. Many studies are being published about the affects one’s mindset can have on that person’s ability to heal and many cancer patients can attest to these seemingly miraculous cures. We already know that things like pain can be attributed almost entirely to that particular person’s idea of it which explains why some people enjoy hanging from the ceiling with hooks stuck through the skin on their backs and others can be completely crippled by a stubbed toe. However, to attribute these natural brain phenomenons to a divine deity is incredibly ignorant and dangerous. For minor illnesses and injuries I believe it is perfectly acceptable to resort to any type of treatment one feels is best for either themselves or their family, whether natural, homeopathic, divine, medicinal, etc. However, for life-threatening illnesses and injuries I believe, especially in the case of children who are unable to make medical decisions on their own, the power of healing through one’s mind (or prayer as the Christian Scientist will believe) should be used in conjunction with any and all modern remedies and solutions available; anything less is just plain irresponsible.

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52 comments

  1. Thanks for this post, I always wondered what Christian Science was but never got round to checking. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series! Perhaps you could consider adding a ‘why it’s cool’ section. I like Christian Science because, for a change, a woman is responsible for the nonsense.

    1. Many of the statements made on this site are NOT true & are mis-informed. CS is not in opposition to the Bible. It does not teach to allow people to dies or neglect their children. Nowhere in the doctrine does it say not to go to doctors..! The principles are totally based on the same premise that Jesus taught us, to Love & heal..! Why not try God first!

  2. That was a great entry! I often find myself debating with theist on various issues but have not come across this one quite yet. Very well written–I wish I could write this easily–and very informative. Here is an interesting article about “The Great Prayer Experiment.” In this case those who knew they were being prayed for actually recovered worse than those who had no idea at all! Check it out. I can’t wait for your next entry.

    http://therationalviewpoint.blogspot.com/2010/09/great-prayer-experiment.html

    1. Thank you for reading, I am glad you enjoyed it! Also, great blog article. I wonder what a person who believes in the power of prayer would think about these results.

  3. What’s the difference between an organization that is “Christian”, an organization that derives from Christianity, and an organization that includes the name “Christian” but has no other substantive connection?

    1. I would say that there isn’t a difference. An organization that derives from Christianity is still Christian– it has just changed the details. For example, Catholicism is derived from Christianity but is very different in its practice. However, it remains a Christian institution because it holds itself and its followers to the Christian rule of law (as outlined in the bible). To go even further, Lutheranism, which disagrees with many of the Catholic practices it is derived from, would also be Christian. I believe a religion is Christian if they hold themselves accountable to god as represented in the Bible, accept Jesus as their savior and acknowledge that he was “crucified, died and was buried and will come again to judge the living and the dead.” (gnarly, I still remember that!) There are a thousand different ways to interpret everything in between, hence why there are about a thousand different flavors of Christianity. To my knowledge, there are no religions that claim to be Christian that do not have this same substantive connection.

      1. Christian Science doesn’t accept Jesus as a savior that was crucified, dead, and buried and coming again to judge the living and the dead, etc etc. That’s what prompted me to ask the question, frankly.

          1. The divergence of Christian Science is most readily apparent in #3, where they talk about “belief in sin” being punished. Christian Science denies the existence of reality itself; it is an offshoot of second-century Gnosticism.

            I noticed you selected “crucified, died and was buried and will come again to judge the living and the dead” as the barometer for what constitutes Christianity (notably, Christian Science denies that Jesus will return in judgment of anything). That’s a small subset of the Nicene Creed. Typically, the Nicene Creed is used as the simplest and most concise definition of orthodoxy. The vast majority of self-labeled Christians, both now and throughout history, would agree on using the Nicene Creed to determine which groups are and aren’t actually Christian.

            Would you agree with using that same standard? Or do you have a specific reason for selecting a subset of it?

            1. Yes, I would use the same standard- that is what I meant by what I said. Perhaps I should be careful with what I think is implied.

              I would still argue that Christian Science is in fact Christian, even with the slight divergence presented in #3. Wouldn’t that be considered just another interpretation of what sin is? Let’s take homosexuality for example. Christian Scientists view homosexuals as simply on their way to discovering the spiritual love of Jesus. They believe that homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible, but should not be punished as it is simply an expression of someone who is on a journey to moral completeness. The sin, while present, does not exist to those who have fully realized god’s love. Fundamentalists will agree that homosexuality is always a sin and is abominable in the eyes of god. For the most part, Lutherans (not including those identifying as part of the Missouri Synod) would argue that homosexuality is not a sin and that that law should be treated the same as the one that says we should not wear clothing made of different fabrics. These are all examples of how different each subset of Christianity can be on even one issue and there are many more.

              So, to me, saying that the denial of reality itself differentiates Christian Scientists from Christianity so much so that it completely separates the two, is just not right. All of the basic tenets are there; they just view some aspects as being entirely mental, while others view them as completely real. I don’t think it makes one right over the other. In fact, to be frank, I would argue that they have the right idea about the world, they just have it backwards: the denial should be of the existence of god, not reality.

              1. If we’re going by the Nicene Creed (which, I think, is pretty fair to do), Christian Science specifically denies the physical incarnation of Jesus, the divinity of Jesus, and the existence of the Holy Spirit. They also deny that Jesus ever actually died. Definitely not Nicene-kosher.

              2. I’m a Christian Scientist and I am open minded to any thoughts or ideas others have on my religion, and I enjoy reading about said thoughts and ideas (positive or negative),as I find they add a certain insight to my faith. However, when I find something blatantly untrue, I feel the need to comment, especially when it comes to our beliefs on homosexuality. I am an avid supporter of the rights of the LGBTQ community, and I can tell you, that my religion in no way sees sexuality of any kind as a sin or problem that needs to be fixed. Like all in religions, there are some people who don’t condone homosexuality, but it in no way reflects how the Christian Science community views this topic as a whole. We support love, no matter the gender. Sorry for my ramblings, this is just an issue I feel strongly about. I find your website very thorough and informative as a whole, keep doing what your doing!

                1. The acceptance of homosexuality in the CS church is a fairly recent development. If you go back to the 1980s and earlier, there are articles in the periodicals that say that it’s a sin and can be healed.

  4. I know someone who traces their lineage to Mary Baker Eddy (or MBE adjacent, I don’t really remember), I regularly sit by that reflecting pool and sketch, and it just dawned on me that I have never met anyone who actually follows Christian Science. I guess I should wander into one of their Reading Rooms and see what’s up.

    1. I think they are very rare! I knew a girl in college that was one, but at the time I think I related it to Scientology for some reason. You know, Christian Science, Scientology, same thing. Boy, was I wrong!! I think you would be completely welcomed into their reading room. Their website offers locations of reading rooms and names of people in your area who are more than willing to show you around and enlighten you. Might prove interesting.

    1. Ooohh! You are one step ahead of me– Seventh Day Adventism is my post for tomorrow! Mormonism and Islam, huh? I will have to look into that one; it intrigues me.

  5. As a former Christian Scientist I think you covered the topic fairly well. I would like to point out while “official church policy” does NOT advocate for the complete non-use of medical treatment, almost ALL of Ms. Eddy’s writings advocate for radical reliance on prayer & prayer alone (there are some exceptions but they are buried deep in Science & Health and are usually overlooked).

    1. Thanks for mentioning that. I think that is a pretty scary thing! The church itself does not advocate for it so as not to fall into any lawsuits or sticky legal situations, yet the teachings from the book that is the second most important book to the religion remain just as strict! If I were a follower, I know what I would choose! What other choice would I have, really?

      1. Several of the CS-inspired institutions (not officially affiliated with the Mother Church but “inspired” by CS – the distinction is very important here) are a bit stricter, the big one is Principia College (see post: http://kindism.org/2013/05/25/right-use-of-temporary-means/). Essentially if they “catch” you taking medication you’re asked to leave, and if you “rely” on it (as per Drs. orders & are up front about it) you’re asked to leave until you don’t need it anymore.

          1. There are “official” church groups – namely the Mother Church & their “authorized” literature and then there are those “inspired by” Christian Science which are NOT “officially” affiliated w/TMC. The “inspired by” groups tend to be a LOT more radical w/their reliance on CS/no medicine requirements. Then there is the “unauthorized” lit & websites (of which there are many) which send out their own views of CS. It gets really special really quickly.

  6. You wrote: “the power of healing through one’s mind (or prayer as the Christian Scientist will believe) should be used in conjunction with any and all modern remedies and solutions available; anything less is just plain irresponsible.”

    As another ex CSer speaking: Unfortunately, every practitioner I ever knew of, went off the “case” once medicine was employed. No adjunct prayerful support from this church.

    They claim their founder rediscovered true Christian healing, but I dispute that when they let cases stay under prayer for weeks or months (and years) with no results and sometimes dreadful results, including preventable deaths. Yet most feel guilty and shamed to resort to medicine and many hide it from other CSers when they do seek such help.

    1. Wow, so you’re saying that you only get one or the other? Prayer or medicine? But never both concurrently? Yikes!

      I can only imagine the guilt and the shame associated with the use of medicine for these people…

      1. There are some CS Practitioners who will pray for you if you’re taking medication or in the hospital, but they are far & few between and it varies by the situation (mine involved a pregnancy & scheduled c-section), but for the most part if you turn to medicine you’re on your own, asked to leave Principia College & not admitted into/dismissed from any CS-Nursing facilities.

      2. Another former Christian Scientist here. Yes, there are some practitioners who will pray for you if you go to a hospital. At the end of my experience as a Christian Scientist (I have happily left the faith), I found one to pray for my father when I had to put him in the hospital (he suffered from untreated heart failure–thanks to Christian Science, which ultimately killed him). The original practitioner who had been on the case for several years while he slowly suffered, angrily left the case when I told him about Dad’s hospitalization, accusing me of betraying my father. Really nice eh?

      3. You get both if you choose. Although the common CS follower will switch from praying for the person directly, to praying for the medicine to do its intended work. ie: seeing godlike qualities in the medicine. (strength, healing, action, etc.)

  7. Yes, that is what I am saying. There is this macho culture in the church that proudly adheres to a “radical reliance on God” to heal. Define “radical reliance” as 100% nothing but Christian Science prayer.

    The Leader”, herself used pain killers and wore glasses and false teeth She said to use whatever you need to overcome the problem, maybe once, in the official literature, but the rest of her writings promote the radical reliance of God alone.

    The horror stories and deaths of members, esp. children, that have resulted from no results of the prayer and the radical reliance are blamed on the sufferer for the “Errors” in their thinking. To my mind, this is a shameful proof that they would rather die or suffer than seek outside help.

    Google CS and deaths. Look up Liz Heywood + Christian Science for a horrific story of an untreated bone infection in childhood, that influenced her life miserably until she got an amputation after she left the church.

        1. Thanks Kat & MissyJBetts for the mention. Education is the only hope for the repeal of the religious loophole in 35+ states that currently permit parents to forego medical treatment in favor of “spiritual.” I’m currently on a team working on such a project. Wish us luck!

          1. Yes, believe it or not, there are these loopholes. They are there courtesy of the original federal Child Abuse and Protection Act (CAPTA) passed I believe in 1974. There was a provision put in requiring states to enact these exemptions or lose funding. So, most did. The provision was removed from the federal law in the early 1980’s, and many states repealed their exemptions. The federal exemption was placed in the original law in 1974 at the behest of influential Christian Scientists who were part of the Nixon administration–some of them, by the way, were involved in Watergate, and were subsequently convicted for their involvements.

  8. Yet they (the Christian Science people) don’t follow teachings and acts of Jesus.
    Jesus did not die on the Cross; he was delivered in near-dead position from the Cross but alive and was treated in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea by his friends. If Jesus got recovered by treatment by medicine and prayer ; the Christian Science people should follow Jesus instead of following Mary Baker Eddy.

    1. Eh? They believe that Jesus died and raised himself from the dead, not that he never died and was nursed back to health. They don’t believe in “death” as a permanent reality but they do believe that we experience death in this existence, as Jesus did. Or are you saying that you believe Jesus was nursed back to health before death?

      Thank you for this very balanced article. I am no longer CS and the religion has caused me, family, and friends difficulty. However, most articles criticizing CS are so misinformed that I don’t see them as being very helpful. Most Christian Scientists I know would absolutely go to a doctor or bring their child to the hospital before they died. I know some who don’t regularly use medication but they still go to the doctor. It’s a very personal religion.

      Unfortunately, this is also the problem. It doesn’t teach children that they’ll burn in hell if they break certain rules. It doesn’t even preach that hell exists. (Which I’m grateful for.) But it means that YOU imbibe the teachings and decide for yourself and your family. This can involve a more relaxed view (usually not) or a more radical view. Many otherwise rational people will stay sick, even dangerously ill, because they’re sure healing will come. Some *do* die because there are no limits. There are no rules. Just do what you are “inspired” to do, which can widely vary.

      And then some institutions, as mentioned, kick you out when you are on medication or don’t practice certain guidelines–whether they are indicated in the textbook or not. One hard part is also being so alone as there are very few Christian Scientists out there. They are usually involved in the community and with non-Christian Scientists, unlike some sects, but mentally they are separate. Just my two cents.

      1. Anonymous, it may be hard to be a Christian Scientist, but I’m finding it much harder now that I’ve left. There are so few CS to begin with, the population of former CS is even smaller.

  9. Reblogged this on paarsurrey and commented:
    Yet they (the Christian Science people) don’t follow teachings and acts of Jesus.
    Jesus did not die on the Cross; he was delivered in near-dead position from the Cross but alive and was treated in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea by his friends. If Jesus got recovered by treatment by medicine and prayer ; the Christian Science people should follow Jesus instead of following Mary Baker Eddy.

  10. A lot of light can be shed on this subject by checking out the literature on “Near Death Experiences”: In particular the writings of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a noted academic, “On Death and Dying”; Dr Raymond Moody’s NYTimes bestseller “Life After Life”: Florida Surgeon Dr. Saboam who writes of his quest to to debunk Moody’s “unscientific” book by way of a formal study following accepted scientific protocols, control groups etc. His findings confirm Moody’s. These researchers come on the whole, from the medical community and appear to have no religious ax to grind.
    Their findings shed light on the nature of material existence and especially, it would seem, on Jesus’ “resurrection” since NDEs indicate that many of these subects anyway, do not experience death or any interruption of consciousness though those around them see them as “dead” with flat line brain waves, no pulse and all medical indications of death. Some subjects are reported to have revived (resurrected?)in the morgue and were able to report exact details on the trip there on a gurney as viewed from above. A look at the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” will reveal the same basic story.
    These books can be previewed for free on Amazon.com and bought for very little compared with the value ( to me anyway) of some very useful data to help me resolve the most interesting questions going — without going into the self-appointed views of the restless, controlling sort of person who invariably winds up in control of religious organizations. Jesus himself set up no organization of any kind, had nothing but distain and even insults for his own clergy ( “The whores will get to heaven before you guys”) and made of point of disregarding the religious rules of his time — the Sabbath which is Saturday (the word means seventh) Sunday is the first day EG, On the first day of the week Jesus rose from the dead – Easter Sunday. Anyway they basically took 7 or 8 words he is reported to have said about naming Peter out of which Constantine created the Catholic church of Rome. Nearly all other Christian Churches basically derive from that (see comments above about the Nicean Creed, common to most “Christian” sects) another creation of the Roman empire when they solidified and politicized Christianity in the 3rd century and conveniently announced that Jesus was God.

    Good luck with your mini-series. Your research may just lead you home.

  11. Do a little more research on a subject before you completely botch the explanation. The fact that the only source that you cite is Wikipedia is very sad. Not once do you quote the founder of the religion in order to explain the religion’s intent or foundation. You might want to tap into the writings of Mrs. Eddy before pretending that you know what you’re talking about. Your very primitive and inaccurate definition of Christian Science is so far off you might as well have been writing about proper lawn care. Sad that people like you are given the freedom to think and then transcribe that though into nonsensical prose.

  12. Hey Missy, do a little actual research on a subject before you completely botch the explanation. The fact that Wikipedia was the only source that you cited is pathetic. Not once did you quote the actual founder of the religion in order to explain her intent in founding the church. You might want to tap into the writings of Mrs. Eddy or even a factual biography of her before pretending that you know what you’re talking about. You’re very primitive and inaccurate definition of Christian Science is so far off you might as well have been writing about proper lawn care.

    The actual truth surrounding the importance of Christian Science to mankind is so far beyond your obviously limited comprehension that any attempt to correct your misguided thought would be useless. Sad that people like you are given the freedom to think and transcribe that thought into nonsensical garbage.

    1. I’m sorry I offended you and your dangerous, nonsense religion. Nothing I said was untrue, regardless of the source(s), and the fact that your response is merely an attempt to insult me rather than have an actual discussion about anything relevant is proof that even though you were offended by my thoughts on the subject, you can’t discount the facts behind my opinions to be untrue. I actually spent a large amount of time on the Christian Science website and thoroughly read it’s contents (as noted in the post) The “actual truth surrounding the importance of Christian Science to mankind” is to warn mankind of this dangerous, cult-like religion that threatens the safety and well-being of innocent people for the legitimization of an old crazy lady who had no idea what she was talking about. Mary Baker Eddy was mentally unstable and the fact that people place her works on such a pedestal and believe in her words is in and of itself disturbing.

  13. Maybe you should have actually spoken to a person who practices this religion. You are actually completely false in assuming that CS followers don’t and can’t seek medical attention. Mary Bake Eddy actually tells us that sometimes medical treatment is necessary. That it depends on the persons understanding and how deep it is. Maybe you should have picked up a Science and Health and read it because you would have known this fact. You have completely insulted this religion without doing any sort of substantial research. Reading the website is not enough in this case. You are completely ignorant because you are viewing this religion at face value. It is not cult-like in anyway. In fact, it is an extremely loving, comforting and welcoming religion. You should probably further your research and update THIS nonsense that you posted.

    1. Erin, I spent the first thirty years of my life attempting to “prove” MBE’s so-called “science of being.” Christian Science is completely impractical, ineffective and unproven. It leads only to heartbreak, shame, guilt, pain and sometimes death. I was a third-generation church member. My practitioners included a man who was First Reader at TMC and became a Teacher. He never suggested medical treatment during the years I suffered through a childhood bone disease; he told me years later that the fact that I survived at all was my healing. Perfection and healing are no part of this scam, only mental illness: first delusions of an effective religion, then PTSD from the denial of conditions that are often shockingly easy to treat with medicine.

      If you had any real compassion, you wouldn’t blame the victims. But I’m not surprised. Most Christian Scientists do.

    2. Erin, I spent the first 40 years of my life as a Christian Scientist, and even worked at The Mother Church. Yes, it is true that Christian Scientists are technically free to choose their own healthcare, and many do choose medical care. However, you fail to mention the immense peer pressure there is to NOT seek medical care. You risk ostracism from your church family, and sometimes even your own family if you choose medical care. If you work for, or are otherwise connected to a Christian Science-related organization (such as Principia, for example) you must NOT seek medical care, and if you do, you MUST leave. That is the fact. It’s all sort of like how the old Soviet Union constitution, believe it or not, guaranteed freedom of religion, however, any student of history will tell you that the opposite was, in fact, true–the Soviet Union was an ardently atheist state, and those who practised religion were severely persecuted. In the Christian Science movement, yes on paper, you’re free to seek whatever care you wish, but you risk persecution if you make the wrong choice, and that persecution is NOT at all loving. I have experienced it first-hand.

  14. I think atheism is a sad concept. I wish people without faith could find it in their hearts to believe, even if only just a tiny bit. Just because organized religions have corrupted our understanding of God by using it for selfish & controlling reasons does not mean that the Creator doesn’t exist. I do believe in God. Faith is found in the heart, not in nature/ church/ the world around you. God does love us and we must believe in Him.

    1. Sophie, it is strange that you find Atheism to be a sad concept because I find the belief in a god a sad concept. I think it is terribly sad that people can’t live happy, fulfilling lives without the thought that there is some magic man in the sky looking out for them. The need for reassurance, life after death and some un-worldly form of accountability is, frankly, pathetic. I find much more satisfaction living my life knowing that I will in fact one day die and there will be nothing after that. So, I spend as much time with my friends and family as I can, I help others and I try not to take a single day for granted because it could be my last. I hold myself accountable for my actions, I never place blame on an invisible deity or give it credit when things go right. To me, that is a far less sad existence!

      I agree that organized religion has done awful things for the reputation of your god, however, each corrupted idea formed in the hundreds of different denominations came from one, very old book. A book that a supposedly omnipotent god created! This is why I became an atheist and where my first doubts began to arise. It may be a nice feeling to believe in a god and I get it, it’s easy. But I would much rather take the path of reason, questions and knowledge, even if it is much harder.

      On a side note, I truly wish people would leave their belief in a god to themselves and not feel the need to evangelize those who think more clearly than they do.

  15. I spent forty plus years as an active member of Christian Science. Its principle teaching that man is spiritual, and not a corrupt product of original sin, still touches my heart and mind in ways that Christian orthodoxy does not. Eddy’s teachings in the 19 th century, were a comfort zone in a time of crude medical practices and religious predestination. Embracing atheism is not innately brilliant or stupid. It just doesn’t speak to me.

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