The theory of evolution states that all living things change (evolve) over time due to natural selection. Strong, adaptable, or otherwise positively attributed individuals survive to pass on their genetic strengths to succeeding generations, thus strengthening their species and increasing its chances for survival. Species that are unable to adapt to change eventually die out.
Climate change (which has been happening since the Earth’s beginnings) is probably one of the biggest natural selectors around. Many species throughout history have died out when they were unable to adapt to changing climatic conditions. Highly specialized species are especially susceptible. Recently, I visited a unique hot-spring environment in the northern part of Canada, at around 60 degrees latitude. The plant growth in this area is similar to that found hundreds of miles farther south, and within the unusually warm muskeg ponds in this environment lives a particular warm water fish that could not survive where it does if not for the warm spring water. If that water flow were to stop, this fish would instantly become extinct because it is too highly specialized and would likely not be able to adapt to the otherwise harsh northern climate. The key lesson is, evolve, adapt, or fade into the oblivion of extinction.
This is no different for human institutions such as corporations, or churches and other religious institutions. While church attendance in many countries is declining, there are some churches that thrive and grow. These are churches that, keep “abreast” of the times, as Mary Baker Eddy famously (to anyone who is or was a Christian Scientist) admonishes the publishers of the Christian Science periodicals to do. Many of these churches tailor their services to their audience–introducing modern rock or hip hop music for youth services, having more traditional services for older audiences, and introducing multi-media components to their offerings. Some churches schedule their service times and availabilities to accommodate busy family schedules.
This world we live in is in a constant and ever accelerating state of change, and institutions that do not adapt do not survive–much like specialized species which fall before climate change. Such seems to be the fate of the Christian Science Church. The Christian Science Church is literally a barely living fossil from the 19th century. It is governed by an iron-clad rulebook that has not changed since around 1910. That’s 103 years ago! It’s church services are about as exciting as watching grass grow, and there is very little wiggle room in the format. The sermon consists of usually droll readings from the Bible (King James Version, using good ol’ 17th century English), and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (a 19th century fossil). It is a great cure for insomnia. The two places where there might be some wiggle room are the solo and the prelude/postlude, although Mary Baker Eddy does strongly recommend that the postlude/prelude to the services be organ music, so most churches stick pretty hard to that. In my parents’ own branch church it caused some controversy when it was suggested that piano or recorded music be used (organists being a somewhat rare and expensive species)…yeah, talk about big issues! Eventually, circumstances forced them into recorded music. I can’t count the number of Christian Science services I’ve sat through where the person playing the organ barely knew what they were doing. It was a travesty to music. Some churches experiment a bit with the solo, but most do not. The ones that haven’t capitulated and gone with recorded solos get by with willing folks who often can barely carry a tune in a bucket. There is about as much life and excitement in a Christian Science church service as there is in a morgue.
The whole institution of the Christian Science Church in many ways is firmly planted in the 19th century, despite it’s desires and efforts to exist in the 21st century. Yes, they webcast the Mother Church Services–oh yeah, that’s an exciting webcast! Annual Meeting is now largely an on-line affair (more by financial necessity, me thinks), and the publications are available on-line. But, as an institution, and as a faith, Christian Science is stuck in another time, a time gone by. There is little to no acknowledgement of the advances of science, or medical science. Medical care is still considered within the Christian Science community to be as fraught with peril as it actually was in the 19th century. Many of the modern off-shoots of Christian Science, such as the New Thought movement, readily acknowledge the effectiveness of evidence-based scientific medical care, and no mention is made of relying exclusively on prayer for healing–it is viewed as more of an enhancement or support. Not so Christian Science. While the Mother Church may claim that Christian Scientists are free to choose their care (and in essence they are), in practice that is not so. Peer pressure is strongly against such a choice–I speak from personal knowledge and experience. Also, many Christian Science-affiliated organizations, such as Principia (School and College) and Christian Science nursing facilities will not admit or employ anybody who even so much as takes cold medicine. The same conditions are often true for branch church membership. For many Christian Scientists, involvement in, or employment with Christian Science-related institutions and branch church membership form the base and often circumference of their lives. It did for me at one time. I kept any of my own forays into the world of medical science strictly “in the closet”. So yes, you can make your own choice, but make the wrong one, and you’re usually ostracized, or worse, fired.
If Christian Science is unwilling to change and evolve with the times, it will continue to atrophy and die away…becoming like the fossils of countless species of plants and animals that didn’t adapt to changing climate or other conditions throughout the many millennia of Earth’s history: cold, hard, and lifeless. If it continues on its current trajectory, I think Christian Science will become, in probably 50 or so years, another footnote in the religious history of the United States, much the way the Shakers became. Coincidentally, I believe much of the format of Christian Science church services, and especially Wednesday testimony meetings, are based on Shaker services and meetings. I recall this from a visit to a historical museum and replica village in Massachusetts many years ago.