I'm a writer, artist, designer, and composer. I have a B.A. in Theater and an M.A. in Creative Writing, both from Hollins University.
During my lifetime, it has generally been believed within the Christian Science community that Christian Scientists are not supposed to take medicine or consult physicians. Going to doctors and taking medicine are considered by many, and perhaps most, Christian Scientists as straying from their faith.
What is the basis for this view? It certainly isn't the textbook of Christian Science, Science and Health With Key To The Scriptures. This book was written by the founder of the religion, Mary Baker Eddy, who lived from 1821 to 1910.
Despite the widespread belief that Eddy's book prohibits the use of medication, nowhere in Science and Health does she state that followers of Christian Science are not to use medicine or go to doctors.
In the application for membership to the church that she established in Boston, MA, called The First Church of Christ, Scientist (also referred to as The Mother Church), there is no stipulation that those wanting to join this Church must not use medicine or go to doctors. In fact, the applicants are asked nothing about their healthcare methods.
Why then is it so widely believed, and perhaps by none so strongly as those who call themselves Christian Scientists, that members of the religion should not take medicine or consult doctors?
What Does Science And Health Say On The Subject?
The book Science and Health is acknowledged by the leaders and members of the Christian Science Church to be the complete explanation of Christian Science. Its author spent many years writing and revising this book, in which she lays out all the principles of Christian Science.
Nowhere in Science And Health does Eddy state that Christian Scientists should not use medicine or consult physicians. In fact, in one passage, she says "If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind physician [by which she means spiritual healer] should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief." (Science and Health, page 443)
That is a far cry from saying that, even if the ill fail to be healed through prayer, they should not consult a doctor or use medicine. If Eddy had meant to say, "Don't use medicine and don't consult with doctors," she could have, and certainly would have, written it plainly in Science and Health, a book that she made her life's work.
Use of Medicine Not a Factor in Joining the Mother Church
The application for membership in the church that she started in Boston is included in Eddy's Manual Of The Mother Church. The final edition of this manual was published during her lifetime. Therefore, it remains the same today as it was in her day. The Church Manual is considered, like Science and Health, to be final and complete.
Since there are no questions in that application about the healthcare of the applicants, doesn't that indicate that she considered such matters outside of the Church's dictates and responsibilities?
And yet, many of those who are committed to following her guidelines are convinced that consulting doctors and taking medication are forbidden to Christian Scientists. In fact, many of her followers believe that they are forbidden even to pray for those who take medicine or consult doctors.
The Rules of Local Churches
The majority of Christian Scientists attend a local church and also join The Mother Church. In fact, Christian Scientists often join The Mother Church in Boston earlier than they join a local church, as the age requirement is only twelve. Local churches, known as "branch churches," generally have an older age requirement.
Even though the members of these local churches are followers of Eddy, they write their own applications, rather than simply adapting the one written by Eddy herself.
Although I am not familiar with the membership applications of all Christian Science churches worldwide, I am aware of applications that include stipulations that they will not accept as members those who consult doctors and take medicine. And I believe that these stipulations are typical.
The Bible Lessons
I think it's fair to say that most Christian Scientists read only the passages from Science And Health that are included in the weekly Bible Lessons. These readings include passages from the Bible and from Science and Health and are supposed to be read by Christian Scientists daily. Those who choose what passages to include in the lessons are selected by the leaders of the Church in Boston.
A very limited number of passages from Science and Health—and from the Bible, for that matter—are chosen for the lessons and are used repeatedly, year after year, with little variation. These same passages are read aloud in churches on Sunday, as Christian Science churches do not have ministers who give sermons.
Lack of Familiarity with Science And Health
Relying on the Bible Lessons for their understanding of the Bible and Science and Health, most Christian Scientists are relatively unfamiliar with either book. Still, since the Bible Lessons quote directly from Science and Health, with no interpretation given to her words, why do those who read these lessons think that Eddy states in her book that her followers are not to use medicine or consult physicians?
Those unfamiliar with the whole of Science and Health assume that Eddy must say somewhere in the book that Christian Scientists are not to use medicine or go to doctors. But this prohibition is folklore, an idea that has been repeated so many times that its basis is not even questioned. Children learn it from their parents and grandparents and, viewing their elders as authorities, accept the idea as fact.
The idea that medicine and Christian Science are incompatible has been passed down in families and communities from generation to generation for over a hundred years since Eddy's death in 1910.
Rationalizing The Failure Of Prayer To Heal
Some Christian Scientists have experienced healing through prayer. Others have not but believe that the majority of church members have been healed in this way.
However, Christian Scientists cannot miss the fact that many of their church members have gotten sick, grown worse over time, and then died, all the while refusing to consult physicians, take medication, or have medical procedures or operations.
Simple human nature causes Christian Scientists, who want to be approved of in their communities, to rationalize failures. Such rationalizations include:
- that sickness and death are illusions anyway
- that the sick person didn't understand Christian Science well enough to be healed
- that the sick person was too sinful to be healed.
The essence of Christianity is compassion. Whether or not one accepts Eddy's ideas, her dedication to healing the sick reveals her as a compassionate person.
Where is the compassion in dismissing the suffering and death of others as mere illusion? There is even less compassion in blaming the sick for their own suffering and death.
None of these rationalizations have their basis in Eddy's life or in her book Science and Health.
Medical Care An Option For Christian Scientists
The folklore that Mary Baker Eddy, in her book Science And Health, directed her followers to abstain from all use of medicine has been accepted as fact for far too long.
And the tragedies that have ensued as a result of this folklore should not be ignored. Christian Scientists, relying on prayer alone, have suffered and died, when they could possibly have been helped or even cured by medical science.
The accounts in the Bible of Jesus and his disciples healing through prayer may be true. Inspired by these accounts and believing them to be true, Eddy and some of her followers may have healed through prayer. However, that does not mean that prayer is the only legitimate way for Christian Scientists to treat sickness.
It is time for Christian Scientists to realize that medicine has never been forbidden to them. They should take the time to read Science and Health through from beginning to end, looking for the prohibition against medicine. Unable to find it, they will realize that medical care is a legitimate option for them.
Did you know about this religion?
About The Author
Although I am not now a Christian Scientist, I was raised in Christian Science. Throughout the time that I lived with my parents, I received no medical attention that was not mandated either by the state or the college I attended. I left Christian Science when my father endured all the horrifying stages of cancer and died, all without the benefit of medical attention.
Many years later, I returned to the church as a way of reconciling with my mother. I turned to religion for comfort when my mother died quite suddenly. I read the whole of Science and Health, studied the Bible, and prayed deeply for a better understanding of life.
For just under a decade, I worked as a Christian Science Practitioner, or spiritual healer and counselor. I also worked for a couple of years at The Mother Church in Boston, coordinating and then managing communications with Christian Science college and university students and faculty worldwide. And I published over 20 articles in the church's magazines and newspaper.
- Mary Baker Eddy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- The Mary Baker Eddy Library
Provides public access and context to original materials and educational experiences about Mary Baker Eddys life, ideas, and achievements, including her Church.
Questions & Answers
Question: I had my thyroid gland removed many years ago, so I take a hormone tablet daily. In the past, few Christian Science practitioners [listed in "The Christian Science Journal"] would accept me as a patient. Is that the reason?
Answer: Did you ask the Christian Science practitioners--the ones who wouldn't accept you as a patient--what their reasons were? If so, what did they reply?
As you might imagine, practitioners have differing views on whether to combine medicine with Christian Science's “healing prayer.” When I was a practitioner, the church’s policy was that we should not offer “healing prayer” to those using medical science.
The online practitioner page provides an email address of email@example.com or you can call 617-450-2686. Why don't you get in touch and find out what the current policy is on whether “Journal”-listed practitioners should help patients who are taking medication. I hope you'll let us all know, in this comment section, what they tell you.
© 2011 Marian Cates
BeKind on August 26, 2019:
Hello, sending greetings of peace to you! Thank you so much for posting this! I would read Christian Science teachings online and it would resonate deeply with my heart. Excited at the refreshing views I found in Christian Science, which was so different from Traditional Orthodoxy, I really wasn't aware of the vast anti-medicine beliefs. But I told my father how I was interested in joining the Christian Science community in the past. My father said he would call them for more information. He asked them general questions about prayer, and they began to tell him how they pray and don't use medicine. My father said, "But then you let them suffer?" The person who answered the phone said, "Prayer is what we believe, it is our belief." He then hung up the phone on my father. My father was upset and I was more distraught. Today, I still resonate with Christian Science teachings. I also like meditation. But I think I can only accept the philosophy of Christian science, I am not affiliated with any "church." I often wonder how many out there are non-affiliated. I also take medication due to health challenges, as I don't like pain or suffering, period. The essence of Christianity is compassion just like you said :-)
Marian Cates (author) from Stevenson, WA on June 09, 2019:
Thank you, GoodWorld.
GoodWorld from New York on June 03, 2019:
Well said. Thanks for posting.
Marian Cates (author) from Stevenson, WA on March 20, 2016:
AlwaysSeeking, thanks for your comment.
My views evolved as I gained more experience in Christian Science and, even more so, as I moved outside of the Christian Science community and was no longer influenced by Christian Scientists.
When I was a practitioner and received requests to pray for Christian Scientists who were getting medical help, my teacher gave me her explanation of the passage in "Science and Health" that I quote in this article. ("If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the Mind physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief." Science and Health, page 443) She said that this passage meant that a practitioner should not continue to pray for those who sought medical attention. For a few years, I accepted her interpretation. Eventually, I saw things differently and began to pray for anyone who asked for my help, whether they were going to doctors or not.
It was only years later that I realized that Eddy was saying in that passage that seeking non-spiritual means of healing was appropriate when spiritual treatment (prayer) failed to heal the patient. And I believe that she meant if the patient isn't healed quickly. In my experience, this is not the generally held belief of Christian Scientists.
AlwaysSeeking on January 22, 2016:
I am empathetic with your struggles. I just looked up your articles on JSH-Online and noticed the clear stance you took in your May 2, 1994 Sentinel article. Your experiences with your Dad and as a Practitioner clearly must have moved you from May 2nd 1994 to this article here. Much food for thought.