(Note: The paragraphs in the original document are very long. I have divided these into smaller paragraph for readability online.)
What is Christian Science and How does it heal ?
A frank discussion to respond to skeptics
Michelle Nanouche, CSB has been a Christian Science practitioner for 26 years, and is based in Paris (see Psychologie Réussir, March-April 2014 issue). She is also a Christian Science lecturer. Taking every opportunity to feed the curiosity of our readers on the impact of spirituality on one’s health, Psychologie Réussir has obtained permission to print the broad themes of her lecture entitled, “Christian Science: What it is and how it heals.” A written text can’t replace, of course, a live presentation followed by an interactive discussion. However, it can give readers interested in the relation between spirituality and health, an interesting foretaste of the subject.
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The influence of thought on experience, including the lives of others, is a subject of reflexion for modern thinkers. Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” When Christian Science first hit the mental byways of the United States after the publication of Mary Baker Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in the United States in 1875, it caused a stir. Old-time intellectual debates on the influence of thought on experience was suddenly up against a wall – one that would require going higher and further to see that in reality it isn’t merely the human mind that influences the body, but that the divine Mind – or God – is essential to be reckoned with to improve health and to heal.
Today, I would like to respond to 4 questions about Christian Science and how it heals that I frequently encounter in my travels – questions that, without adequate answers, might block serious consideration of Christian Science. Here are the questions:
- Isn't healing a question of purely physical factors based on a patient's biology and genetic make-up, then applying drugs and surgery to correct it?
- Isn’t Christian Science prayer treatment an out-dated method in the light of modern medical advancements?
- Is Christian Science healing synonymous with positive thinking or faith-healing?
- How can we consider Christian Science to be scientific when it excludes matter and material methods in its approach to healing?
Mary Baker got her start in the early 1820’s, born to orthodox Christian parents in the northeastern state of New Hampshire USA. Bible study and prayer were central to her family life. In particular, Mary’s mother, in particular, nurtured her daughter’s natural tendency to lean on God and to pray for healing. Archival evidence points to healings of family members and animals on the family farm through her childhood prayers. And such spontaneous healings followed her into adulthood.
As you can imagine, life was not particularly easy for a woman of a family of modest means in the early nineteenth century. In particular, Mary and those in her social circle frequently struggled with recurrent health problems. Throughout her young adulthood prayer was a constant source of comfort and direction. The Bible was never far from her side. She prayed for healing for herself. She prayed for healing for others. We know that there were cases of eye disease and other illnesses reported as healed through her prayers some ten years before she discovered the scientific explanation for healing through prayer.
Healing continued, if only sporadically. Looking for consistent health for herself and others fueled Mary’s early interest in allopathy, homeopathy and popular mind cures. She even became a practitioner of some of these methods for a time. Through this practice she drew certain conclusions regarding healing through material and mental means. For example, she observed that the healing results were often inconsistent, and that the morality and spirituality of the practitioner, regardless of the method they practiced, influenced outcomes. One by one Mary abandoned these various healing systems and, continuing to trust her Bible to guide her to her next steps to find answers to her questions about health and healing.
Mary once described a healing experience she had when she was in her mid-thirties. In 1857, she was confined to bed with a long and severe illness. Several physicians attempted to heal her. She tried every remedy she knew, without success. In her extremity, Mary promised God that if He would restore her, she would devote her remaining years helping sick and suffering humanity. She did recover and her vow was not forgotten. Mary took up earnest study of the New Testament. She saw that Christ Jesus expected his healings of sickness and sin should be copied by his followers and that his same methods should be employed. Ultimately, Mary concluded that the means he employed was of Spirit, that is, of God, and that the only true method of healing is the spiritual method.
This discovery that Spirit, or God, was not simply an aid to healing, but that God is the only true healer on any case didn’t yet have a full explanation. But, the dramatic healing experiences recorded in the Bible, which had before seemed miraculous to her, she now saw as natural and repeatable. She glimpsed in Christ Jesus’ teachings and healing, as well as the miracles of patriarchs and prophets, disciples and apostles, the operation of a divine law of God relative to health and healing. Thus began her research in the Bible for the method of the Science of the Christ that explains the divine laws of healing and how to apply them.
Although she later would recall this period of discovery as “sweet, calm, and buoyant with hope,” it was accompanied by a definite focus and urgency. She explained, “I knew the Principle of all harmonious Mind-action to be God, and that cures were produced in primitive Christian healing by holy, uplifting faith; but I must know the Science of this healing, and I won my way to absolute conclusions through divine revelation, reason, and demonstration.”
Nine years later, Mary would publish Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures - her exposition – her full explanation of the divine Principle of healing and the method of Christian Science prayer. Science and Health, published under her married name of Mary Baker Eddy, is the textbook of Christian healing in its modern form, rooted in Scripture and developed over 44 years of Mrs. Eddy’s personal research and practice. Science and Health explains how Jesus healed and how we can do likewise.
Christian Science practice is capable of repeating the kinds of healing that Jesus was able to perform. Christian Science has this beautiful, clear, pure simplicity to it. The entire theology can be boiled down to a few basic points: 1) God exists. 2) God is good. 3) God is all. 4) The universe, including man, is the reflection of God. 5) Evil in any form - disease, violence, death – is illusory, never the product of God or even allowable by God.
Mary Baker Eddy’s work consisted of 2 parts: 1) Discovery of this Science – of these five basic points and 2) Proof by present demonstration that this is the Principle by which Jesus healed.
Mary Baker Eddy discovered the action of the divine Mind that is God on the physical and natural world, in particular, on human minds and bodies. Her observations found precedence in Jesus’ teachings and healing practice. But to constitute a scientifically measurable experience, and not just a one-time exceptional phenomenon, Mrs. Eddy understood that such healing had to be repeatable today. For Christ Jesus, theology and medicine were one and the same. Jesus understood God to be good, and man to be what the Bible declares him to be – the image and likeness of God. He proved through healing the sick that evil, including sickness, is a lie – a misrepresentation of what God is and what God made, hence it has no power or permanence and is unreal.
Mrs. Eddy saw illness as a challenge to the simple theology of Jesus. To test his theology, Mrs. Eddy submitted it to certain questions: Can we depend on the fact that God is good? Can we prove it? Is man really the image and likeness of God? Can we demonstrate it in healing the sick?
In Science and Health, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, « After a lengthy examination of my discovery and its demonstration in healing the sick, this fact became evident to me, — that Mind governs the body, not partially but wholly. I submitted my metaphysical system of treating disease to the broadest practical tests. Since then this system has gradually gained ground, and has proved itself, whenever scientifically employed, to be the most effective curative agent in medical practice.” (111)
That took some nerve to write. And one might say it takes some nerve to say today. But she wrote from experience. Here is a partial list of conditions healed by Mary Baker Eddy in her early practice of Christian Science: Abscessed eye, dumbness, boils, nervous breakdown, cancerous growths, emaciation, lameness, mental disability, heart disease, insanity, enteritis, bowel obstruction, consumption, tuberculosis, infected wounds, paralysis, membranous croup, cataracts, crossed eyes, diphtheria, hernia, asthma, childbirth complications, blindness and deafness. And this list goes on. Yes, she wrote from experience.
And she isn’t alone. I do, too. I am a Christian Science practitioner, which means I help others to heal their physical and other types of problems through prayer. Christ Jesus taught his disciples to pray and gave them the command to heal the sick. To me, that implies that healing is a completely logical outcome of prayer. Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Spirit is omnipotent; hence a more spiritual Christianity will be one having more power, having perfected in Science that most important of all arts, — healing.” (Miscellaneous Writings, 232 )
I am going to give you an insider look at one of my cases of healing. One day I received a phone call from a father whose child had jumped from a tree house. His lower leg was badly distorted, rendering him unable to bear weight. I was asked to give Christian Science treatment through prayer. The parents discussed taking the child to the emergency room; but in the end, he was healed so quickly that they didn’t have time to go. But here I am getting ahead of myself… This is what happened on my end as the practitioner.
When I hung up the phone I immediately began to pray for the child. Christian Science treatment is systematic and original prayer. When I say original, I mean prayer treatment doesn’t involve auto-pilot repeating of phrases or memorized lines. While every treatment includes certain basic elements, it doesn’t follow a formula of thinking certain thoughts for certain symptoms. The person praying doesn’t have to have any particular expertise in certain problems. The healing Christ – that is, the true understanding of God and of man made in God’s image and likeness - is the expert in every case.
1. An acknowledgement and understanding of the authority of God who is Spirit, divine Love, over the case; and of the healer’s reflected ability to treat and heal. This authority begins immediately to eliminate fear in both the practitioner and the patient.
2. An acknowledgement and understanding of the allness of God, His total goodness, power, presence, etc. Treatment involves a sincere communion with God, an understanding of what God is and is doing through Christ. Christ is the divine and everpresent manifestation of God, divine Good, blessing His creation.
3. An acknowledgement and understanding of the true nature of man, including the patient, as the image and likeness of God and the expression of His Christ. Treatment involves seeing the 100 percent spirituality of the creation of Spirit, in both general and specific ways relating to the case.
4. Such an awareness of what is true spiritually, of the reality of the present wholeness and goodness of God’s creation, that whatever the problem appears to be begins to lose substance and reality to the healer. This doesn’t involve simply visualizing a problem disappearing, but understanding why and how the problem lacks reality, substance and permanence according to God’s law of perfect being.
5. And here is another element of treatment: the acknowledgement and understanding of the total unity and inseparability of God and man, therefore the inseparability of the divine Mind and its perfect idea, of cause and effect, of the sun and its rays, of a person and his health, etc.
6. And this results in an awareness and experience of joy, gratitude, power, dominion, that results in healing that is quick and permanent.
I could elaborate more, but that would require more time than an article permits. So this is simply the basic illustration of elements of a treatment. It may seem like all that could or would take some time – and it often does. But sometimes the points are covered very quickly, even simultaneously, depending on the case. Some of Jesus’ healings occurred over a short period of time and others immediately. His teachings indicate that he was nearly always engaged in thinking profoundly on one or more of these points. Therefore he was often already at some point on the treatment before encountering his “cases”.
When I received the call to help this child, I had already been thinking deeply about God’s total authority and dominion over evil. I had been reading my Bible at the time of the call, studying the events after Jesus’ crucifixion, when he appeared to the disciples after overcoming death. I was thinking deeply about God as the source and preserver of all life and of what is the real life and substance of man and body. So at the point of the call my treatment was already underway.
I had Science and Health open on my desk. I looked down and read the first words Jesus spoke to his disciples when he showed himself to them for the first time and having been crucified. They were confused when Jesus suddenly showed up. They thought they were seeing a ghost. He said, Spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.” The last they had seen, he was a broken and crucified man. Now he stood before them alive.
Instantly I knew I shouldn’t be fooled to judge the child’s case by physical appearances. Not flesh, not bones defined his true state. My prayer was to see the child as the image of Spirit, that he had and all that he was came from Spirit, God. I saw him as the Scriptures described him in Genesis chapter 1 – as the image and likeness of the Spirit that is God.
I realized that Spirit knows this child the same way Spirit knew Jesus, the way Spirit knows us all - as perfect, spiritual, whole, unbroken, invulnerable, unfallen. Matter had never and did not now define him or confine him to a broken physical state.
I was quite moved by what I was discerning of spiritual reality. I even thought perhaps that the healing work was done and that I could move on to other subjects. But then I thought, Wait a minute, What about the leg bone? Is this realization in prayer enough to heal it? Jesus once taught, “Let your statement be, 'Yes, yes ' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil." Matthew 5:37 He was teaching his disciples how to heal – to say Yes, Yes to the plain and simple reality of unbroken, uninterrupted spiritual being in prayer; and to have the understanding, wisdom and courage to say a direct and clear No, No to sickness for what it really is – an illusion that God neither produces nor permits. And that is what I did to finish the treatment.
My explanation is taking longer than the actual treatment itself! The whole thing only took a couple of minutes. When the mother called me shortly after, she explained that about two minutes after they placed the first call for help, they heard a distinct sound coming from his leg “like the sound of a zipper.” And he was healed just like that.
Mary Baker Eddy said that “this system has gradually gained ground, and has proved itself, whenever scientifically employed, to be the most effective curative agent in medical practice.” She healed by its method and so have many, many others since its discovery.
Mary Baker Eddy didn’t see Christian Science as a system in competition with medical science. She saw it as a fresh start from a different premise – beyond the medical viewpoint that considers man as a material entity requiring material means to accomplish the healing that God could not or would not do. But she didn’t cast doctors into the category of charlatans. Rather she had great respect for the motives and aspirations of those that she termed “the higher class of physicians” She herself knew that certain physicians were motivated by their love for humanity and desire to relieve suffering. She once wrote, “I should have more faith in an honest drugging-doctor, one who abides by his statements and works upon as high a basis as he understands, healing me, than I could or would have in a smooth-tongued hypocrite or mental malpractitioner.”
As I mentioned earlier, Mrs. Eddy placed a high value on the morality and spirituality of the healer – in fact, she was it as key to effective healing - something she learned when she was practicing homeopathy. A woman came into Mrs. Eddy’s homeopathic practice with a case of what was then called dropsy and today would likely be called edema due to congestive heart failure. The woman had been unsuccessfully treated by another homeopath, whose dosage of medicine caused an apparent bad reaction.
Mrs. Eddy took the case and treated according to her understanding of proper dosage, and the woman steadily improved. Mrs. Eddy later discovered that, in fact, her prescription was identical to that of the prior physician – the type and dosage that under his care produced horrible side-effects and under her care resulted in marked improvement.
Why were the outcomes different? She explained, “The doctor’s mind reaches that of his patient;” (Science and Health, 197) and “The moral and spiritual facts of health, whispered into thought, produce very direct and marked effects on the body.” (Science and Health, 370) Mary Baker Eddy later noted that she was praying to God to keep her from sin, and to guide her on her cases. The Greek word for “sin” is “Hamartia (Ham ar TEE ya) which is translated ‘to miss the mark”. To pray to be kept from sin is to pray to make no mistakes, to hit the mark rightly in all things.
Healers of all methods must be so alert that their thoughts and lives do not project negative influences through the open door of a patient’s thinking and experience. Healers can and should pray daily to be kept from fear, discouragement, fatigue, distraction, vice, and mistakes, in order to give their patients the best possible care.
And not only the thought of the healer, but the thought of the patient, too, has a role to play in healing. Interestingly, in treating this case, Mrs. Eddy eventually dropped the use of drugs entirely. As a responsible physician, she did not want to do anything that might cause her patient harm. Although the woman did improve under the medicine she gave, Mrs. Eddy took her off it when she learned of her prior bad reaction. The patient became afraid of going without the medicine and relapsed. To alleviate her fear and suffering, Mrs. Eddy gave her a non-medicated placebo. The woman improved dramatically and was finally cured. Mrs. Eddy would later point to this case as evidencing that one must consider a patient’s beliefs in healing the sick, and that thought governs the body entirely.
Neither is it a product of blind and naïve faith. As Mary Baker Eddy explaine, “A mere request that God will heal the sick has no power to gain more of the divine presence than is always at hand. “ (Science and Health 12) If we use prayer like an emergency flare, hoping to receive help, where is God in that prayer? Somewhere circling around the problem, needing the help of our prayers to know the problem and fix it? That is absurd, and is neither scientific nor practical. To hold disease as the center of a case and then call on God to fix it involves a misunderstanding of He who is omnipresent. Christian Science healing involves correcting misperceptions of the who and what and everywhere presence of God. God is the infinite All – the one reality, power, presence. To consider a problem or illness to be one reality and hoping to call on another reality – God – to come heal it – this would involve positive thinking or blind faith. But this approach has nothing to do with Christian Science.
While religiously-based blind faith-cures – asking God to come heal the sick - sometimes appear to give positive physical results, they sometimes produce very negative results. It all depends on the strength of the human will of the healer acting through his blind belief. But even should the results of blind faith appear to be good, there is no guarantee they will be permanent, because they rest on the sand of changeable belief, not a fixed understanding of spiritual reality.
Science and Health explains, "The common custom of praying for the recovery of the sick finds help in blind belief, whereas help should come from enlightened understanding. Changes in belief may go on indefinitely, but they are the merchandise of human thought and not the outgrowth of divine Science."
When it comes to healing prayer, Mrs. Eddy puts blind belief completely outside of the practice of Christian Science. She explains, “It is neither Science nor Truth which acts through blind belief.” Rather the Christian Science healer seeks in his prayers “the human understanding of the divine healing Principle as manifested in Jesus, whose humble prayers were deep and conscientious protests of Truth, - of man’s likeness to God and of man’s unity with Truth and Love.”
Jesus’ theology of the perfection and spirituality of man as the likeness to perfect Spirit who is God, and of man as inseparable from Truth and Love, heals. Health is the outward evidence of an inner truth. Prayer in Christian Science doesn’t change reality. It involves a thorough examination of the divine Truth that is God, of God’s omnipresence, revealing the sole reality and permanence of health in God’s creation.