This is another in an occasional series of posts dealing with contradictions within the practice and/or culture of Christian Science. For other posts, check out the topic ‘Contradictions‘.
There are many things about Christian Science and especially the practice & culture of Christian Science that get under my skin and annoy me, but one of the things that truly does are the odd physical care contradictions. Christian Scientists are famous for eschewing medical care of almost any form, and there are many Christian Scientists who are quite absolute on that, but there seem to be little exceptions to the rules–even for some of those absolutists. While going to a medical doctor will usually get one ostracized in the Christian Science community (and cost you your job if you work in some Christian Science-related workplaces), some forms of physical care are perfectly ok. Here, all wrapped up in a neat little package for you, is a bullet-point list of the physical care procedures that are ok:
- dental and orthodontic care: all of my life, I’ve had regular visits to the dentist, and had minor orthodontic care when it was needed
- vision care (optometrists): my very ‘radical reliance‘ Christian Science teacher wore glasses, as do many other Christian Scientists
- hearing care (audiologists): I’ve seen many hearing aids in Christian Science churches
In the realm of medical care, some things are considered to be ok:
- Vaseline is ok for treating wounds, but most antibiotic agents are not (however Bactine seems to be ok sometimes).
- Bandages are ok, stitches may or may not be ok.
- It’s ok to set broken bones, but don’t bother with any further orthopaedic procedures.
- Often, in Christian Science households, pets will visit the veterinarian regularly and will usually have all their shots, but children will often never see a doctor (I didn’t).
“If from an injury or 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.”
(Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 464)
Pain abatement is an interesting sort of quagmire with Christian Scientists. As stated above, Mary Baker Eddy seems ok with it; her statement a typical Christian Science doublespeak circle around the ‘apparent’ reality of pain, yet still maintaining its supposed unreality. In practice, within Christian Science culture, I can assure you that medically induced pain abatement is NOT ok. If you are a student at Principia, you will be asked to leave the campus if you are found to be in possession of something as simple as aspirin. If your body is being ravaged by an untreated, metastasized cancerous tumour in a Christian Science nursing facility, you can have no pain relieving medication administered to you at all. If you request such, you must leave the facility before it can even be administered.
So, why are some things like dental care and vision care ok, but going to the doctor is tantamount to treason against Christian Science? For my entire life as a Christian Scientist, these loopholes baffled me. Why I never openly questioned them, I don’t know. I think it was because I knew I wouldn’t get a satisfactory answer, so I didn’t waste my time. My answer didn’t come until I left Christian Science and began to read some other, less ‘authorized’ literature on Christian Science and some critical biographies of Mary Baker Eddy. I have discovered that in a nutshell, it all has to do with what forms of relief Eddy sought herself to relieve her own ‘illusions’ of pain or physical malady that she was unable to heal through her own application of Christian Science.
“Only through radical reliance on Truth can scientific healing power be realized.”
(Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 167)
Writing about this rule of ‘radical reliance’ on Christian Science as established by Eddy, Caroline Fraser writes in her book God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church, “…as quickly as Eddy made her rules, she broke them. And when her conduct–her breaking of the rules–became public, she was forced to devise exceptions to them…One of the most extraordinary exceptions was contrived after it was revealed in a Boston newspaper in 1900 that Mrs. Eddy had been to the dentist and had some of her teeth pulled.”1
Eddy’s exception to her radical reliance rule regarding pain abatement stems directly from her own experience with intense pain: “…at nearly eighty-two years of age, she [Eddy] had suffered several bouts of pain caused by renal calculi, or kidney stones, pain so severe and debilitating that she had called in a physician who diagnosed the illness and administered morphine.”2 Again, Eddy breaks her own rule, and an exception is made.
Despite her own exemptions to the radical reliance rule, Eddy never rescinded the ‘radical reliance’ statement in any editions of Science and Health, a book she edited over and over again to her dying day (over 400 revisions). Some of the more conservative, radical Christian Scientists, won’t even tolerate deviations from the rule of ‘radical reliance’ if they’re in accordance with Eddy’s own loopholes. While The Mother Church states that decisions regarding physical care are up to an individual’s own discretion, in practice extreme peer pressure pushes many Christian Scientists away from any embrace of medical means for treatment of disease or injury. Even The Mother Church itself has sanctioned practitioners and other Church officials who have sought medical treatment.3 Like its founder, the Christian Science Church says one thing, and does exactly the opposite. Such is the case all too often with Christian Science. It puts itself out there as an absolute science, infallible, perfect, with a concise set of rules, but in practice it is anything but. It is rife with contradictions.
Some readers who look at my cited source for this post may take issue with the fact that I cite only one source for my information. However, this source is a well researched and heavily annotated biography of Christian Science, making it easy to corroborate what it presents. The author uses many reliable primary sources for her research, balanced between supportive and critical research regarding Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy. Since I have limited time to do my own research for this blog, I choose to rely on others’ research. The citations I use here can be verified to their original sources.
1 Fraser, Caroline. “Chapter 12: Radical Reliance and Mrs. Eddy’s Teeth.” God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company. 1999. 128. Print.
2 Ibid. 130.
3 Ibid. 131.