Friday, March 26, 2010

Christian Science Church - Reform or Perish

How far can a religion go against modern science? I'm not talking about philosophical issues about origins or the meaning of life. But rather about the practical issues of modern medicine. Christian Science Church relies on prayer and rejects modern medicine - and its members have successfully prosecuted for the death of children from preventable diseases (see Faith Healers Convicted and Reliance on Prayer and Death of Children). The membership of the Church, justifiably, has been going down - not just because of these unnecessary deaths, but because people are rejecting their attitude towards modern medicine. Guess what? Now Christian Science Church is reforming its attitude towards medicine and is showing some flexibility:
Since the founding of their church 131 years ago, Christian Scientists have been taught to avoid doctors at all cost. It is a conviction rooted so deeply in church dogma that dozens of members have endured criminal prosecution rather than surrender an ailing person to what they see as the quackery of medical science.

But faced with dwindling membership and blows to their church’s reputation caused by its intransigence concerning medical treatment, even for children with grave illnesses, Christian Science leaders have recently found a new tolerance for medical care. For more than a year, leaders say, they have been encouraging members to see a physician if they feel it is necessary.

This is a small religion by numbers. But this also reminded me of the rejection of evolution by many Evangelical Christians and also by many in the Muslim world. Evolutionary science is already playing a significant role in modern medicine (antibiotics, of course, is the most obvious example), and its role is only going to increase. If a country is successful in banning the teaching of evolutionary science and in rejecting all evolution-based medical products - an unlikely scenario, but still a possibility in some cases - then it will be interesting to see how long will it take for a reform to kick-in. If such a rejection persists in the face of all the scientific evidence, they may face a future similar to the Christian Science Church. But of course, most people are practical. Even when they reject evolution, they are okay in using the treatment for evolution-based medicine. But the Christian Science Church has been more consistent (at least in the past):
Church officials recently permitted two practitioners and two patients to talk about Christian Science treatments with a reporter from The New York Times — a rare public discussion that they said they hoped would demonstrate the commitment to transparency, and would help people understand their beliefs.

They would not discuss the care of children or let a reporter witness a treatment session. And neither practitioner was willing to discuss the new flexibility described by Mr. Davis.

But in conversations liberally supplemented with citations from “Science and Health,” they explained their basic beliefs: In Christian Science, they said, sickness and suffering are misunderstandings — or as Mrs. Eddy wrote, “a mistaken belief” in the “power of ill health.”

One of the practitioners, John Q. Adams of Manhattan, said a patient who came to him with a lump under his arm was experiencing “a manifestation of fear, not a lump.”

The other practitioner, Rebecca Odegaard of Boston, said that if a patient had a bleeding gash in his arm, “I would try to calm this person, and help him overcome the fear.” Such a patient is suffering anxiety over the illusion that something has injured his “true self,” when the gash has only happened to his “material self,” Ms. Odegaard said.

In both cases, said Mr. Adams, healing requires engaging in “an argument with yourself to restore the truth.”

And then they pray for the patient. There you have it. All good.

Read the full story here.


emre said...

A Christian Scientist once gave me his holy book when I fell ill. If I prayed hard enough...

Salman Hameed said...

and you did get better... ;)

radcs said...

As a Christian Scientist, I’d like to point out that the choice between seeking medical attention and Christian Science treatment has always been an individual decision, and is not controlled by the church. In my experience this has always been the case in our church - it is not a matter of "reform."

While Christian Scientists normally choose a path other than conventional medicine, this choice is not based on irrationality or blind faith. It instead reflects a systematic approach to prayer that has proven to be reliable and effective in the lives of those who practice it (in my own family’s case, for five generations). Most Christian Scientists would agree that when praying about a health issue (especially for a child) RESULTS MATTER and that in the absence of timely, tangible results a parent has an obligation to consider other means of treatment. In my own experience, this has not been necessary, but I'll share a couple of examples where my wife and I consented to medical diagnoses consistent with what we felt were our obligations as parents.

When our two children were born, we opted to have the births in a hospital and to have standard prenatal care during the pregnancies. In both instances, the doctors identified complications that were quickly healed through Christian Science and did not require medical treatment. During the first pregnancy, my wife was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. At the urging of the obstetrician, we scheduled an appointment with a specialist. In the meantime, we requested treatment from a Christian Science practitioner. By the time of the appointment with the specialist several days later, the symptoms of gestational diabetes were gone and never returned. When our second son was born, he was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The pediatrician asked us to have it checked by a cardiologist. We again requested treatment from a Christian Science practitioner and again experienced a complete healing by time of the appointment with the specialist.
I should emphasize that in relating these examples, it is not my intent to “sell” my religion or to “prove” the efficacy of Christian Science to those who may prefer other forms of health care. I’m just sharing some personal experiences that may help others to understand why my family and I feel confident in our health care choices.

Christian Scientists don’t believe or teach that their religion somehow exempts them from the legal and moral obligations that every parent has to provide the best possible care for their children. Indeed, I believe that most feel a heightened sense of this responsibility and consistently practice their faith within that context.

Thank your for your interesting blog and the opportunity to post this comment.

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