In a conversation I had with a business acquaintance a few years ago, we were discussing a multi-level marketing company we had both at different times had a brush with, which sells various financial and investment instruments through a network of independent distributors, most of whom have no prior experience or education in the finance or investment fields. He had gone much farther with the company than I did and became a representative and manger for awhile before realizing how flawed the company’s business model was and leaving. I attended one informational meeting at the behest of another friend of mine who was a distributor. When I rather quickly realized the business was a multi-level marketing scheme, I beat a hasty retreat. My acquaintance likened the company’s business model to “giving machine guns to monkeys”. This was his very astute way of describing the handing over of a complex task to someone completely unqualified for it. You’d think that no reasonably sane person would do that, but many do–sometimes with disastrous results for their financial portfolios. Personally, I’ll stick with a financial advisor who has the requisite business or economics degree, and relevant experience.
In a sense, Christian Science also gives “machine guns to monkeys”. When one calls up a Christian Science practitioner for help with a physical ailment (say, such as cancer), they’re calling up someone who has only two weeks of training in their field of practice as a healing practitioner of Christian Science. That’s it! Usually, that person has had no other experience in any sort of healing therapy whatsoever, and absolutely no knowledge of anatomy or physiology. It would be like asking someone who has no understanding of the laws of aerodynamics to fly an airplane. Also, they are not licensed by any governmental or professional authority, and are not stringently accredited except for listing in the Christian Science Journal, and that requires only the testimony of about three or so people who can vouch for the healer’s ability. No background checks are done, and no follow-up evaluation is ever performed. Once you’re in, you stay in unless you remove yourself, or in some way run afoul of Church authorities. Also, anyone who has simply had Christian Science primary class instruction can advertise themselves as a Christian Science practitioner, without being listed in the Journal and meeting even those rather miniscule qualifications. There is no way to research or confirm the ability or track record of a Christian Science practitioner, such as there is for almost any other healing practitioner.
Most other alternative healing practices require much more intense training; and the licensing and/or accreditation requirements are far more stringent, and usually require regular renewal and follow-up education and training. For example, the acupuncturist I visit on occasion is required to be certified by a professional society, she has undergone extensive education (in China, no less), and had to pass a rigorous examination before she got her initial credentials to practice acupuncture. She also partakes in on-going training and education to retain her certification. Likewise for registered massage therapists, naturopaths, and many other such practitioners, at least where I live in Canada. Most such services are covered by extended medical benefits, and some are partially covered by our universal government-funded healthcare if one qualifies financially. Thankfully, at least here in Canada, not so for Christian Science. Generally, if it isn’t proven to be credible, it isn’t covered here, and as a religious practice, it would never in any way be covered by government-funded healthcare here, such as care in Christian Science nursing facilities is in the United States under Medicare/Medicaid.*
While the scientific jury is still out on whether or not things such as acupuncture, and naturopathy or other alternative healing practices are effective or not, at least for the most part, these practices do not generally shun the idea of analysis and research, and they do not in any way discourage a person from pursuing conventional medical means of treatment. In fact, many such practitioners endeavour to work in complement with conventional medical treatment. Christian Science on the other hand, eschews both–quite vehemently I might add. I personally have found great beneficial results from acupuncture for instance, and know many others who have as well. I had noticeable and immediate reduction in pain from a recent shoulder injury when I partook of acupuncture treatment, and that aided my treatment regimen quite effectively. It worked well in complement with conventional physical therapy.
The Christian Science movement steadfastly resists any sort of scientific analysis of the effectiveness of Christian Science as a healing method. The line I always heard while I was in Christian Science was that you cannot measure something “spiritual” with material means, or you cannot limit God by material measurements. I call ‘bullshit’ on that! If your healing method is effective, prove it, don’t just say it. If it works, there can be simple comparative statistical analysis done which will prove it. Allow it to be subjected to critical, scientific and statistical analysis.
Interestingly enough, the effectiveness of Christian Science healing has actually been statistically analyzed at least once, but not with any sort of cooperation on the part of the Church, or Christian Scientists in general, and the results don’t speak well for the supposed effectiveness Christian Science as a healing therapy. In the abstract to a 1989 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association comparing the longevity of graduates of Principia College in Elsah, Illinois (a liberal arts college exclusively enrolling actively practicing Christian Scientists), with that of graduates of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas (a state school), it was found that “graduates from Principia College had a significantly higher death rate than the control population [University of Kansas graduates].” (from the abstract)** The Kansas college was chosen as a comparison to Principia, due to similar size and demographics of the student body, from what I understand. The study compared known deaths of graduates of both colleges between 1934 and 1983–an almost 50 year timespan. Despite the lack of cooperation on the part of Christian Scientists or the Church, it is the most solid analysis of the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of Christian Science as a healing method that I am aware of. I wonder why the Christian Science Church, and Christian Scientists in general, steadfastly refuse to cooperate in subjecting Christian Science to any sort of genuine scientific or even statistical scrutiny? Me thinks it’s because they won’t like the results. They can offer up all the excuses they want, but If it really works, it should stand up to critical scrutiny.
So, bottom line, why would anyone put their lives into the hands of someone who has undergone only two weeks of training (four if they’re a Teacher), has no training or knowledge of physiology, and who practices a method of healing that steadfastly resists any sort of critical scientific analysis? It’s stupid! But many, including myself, have done it, and many continue to. I would say it comes down to blind belief and (in my case) lifelong brainwashing. And, most frighteningly, they choose this for their children–sometimes with tragic results. My own mother died due to a large tumour growing in her abdomen, and she only consulted a practitioner who had this primary two week training, and also training as a teacher (another two weeks). The Christian Science “nurses” who cared for her in her dying days knew nothing much more than how to roll her over, modify her food as needed, clean wounds, and read passages to her from the Bible and Science and Health. Their training is a little more extensive in duration than that of practitioners, but it doesn’t even include training in basic first aid. I work in an administrative capacity (writing proposals, and assisting with accounting), and as an intake worker in a front-line social service organization and I have far more training in first aid than any of these “nurses” have! This is what my Mom put her faith in, and she died–in agonizing pain.
So, do you turn to methods that are scientifically proven, constantly subject themselves to scientific scrutiny, and are evidence-based, or do you go with the monkey with the machine gun? It’s your choice. But, be careful when you’re making that choice for someone else, such as a child.
* Physical care in some Christian Science nursing facilities in the United States is covered under the federal Medicare program (a universal health care plan for senior citizens), and Medicaid (a program funded by the federal government but administered by the states for qualifying low-income individuals). This has been the law for several years, and was put in place due to aggressive lobbying on the part of Church of Christ, Scientist, as the Christian Science Church is formally known. No other such privilege is afforded to any other religious practice in the United States as far as I know. It is worth noting, however, that the Medicare/Medicaid coverage covers only the physical care aspects of the nursing home experience. Care from Christian Science practitioners is not covered by Medicare/Medicaid, although it is covered by some private insurance plans. I had regular medical insurance through my employment at The Mother Church, and in addition to conventional medical care, it did include Christian Science practitioner care. As far as I know, this is all entirely unique to the United States.
** The full text of this study can only be viewed if one is a subscriber to the JAMA Network website.