Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Church of Christ, Scientist
The Church of Christ, Scientist, often known as The Christian Science Church, is a nontrinitarian Protestant Christian denomination, founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879. The Bible and Eddy's book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures are together the church's key doctrinal sources.
Christian Science has no connection with Scientology, which was founded nearly a century after Christian Science, and is not based in Christianity. Christian Science is also considered somewhat controversial because of its rejection of modern medicine.
Theology and healing
Origins and early development
The Christian Science church and independent historians differ about the origins of Christian Science. The former ascribes the creation of Christian Science solely to Mary Baker Eddy's own efforts, while historians point to her longstanding association with a prominent mystic of the time.
Several years before founding Christian Science, Eddy was a follower and patient of a "mind-healer," Dr. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. Quimby practiced a form of mesmerism (i.e. hypnotism) and the laying on of hands, sometimes with magnets.
The state of nineteenth-century medical science was so crude that such self-proclaimed doctors commonly found a following and made a living from their practices, as they often were no worse than their medically trained counterparts. They also brought the added benefit of the placebo effect, because these various mystics were willing to make promises of recovery that medical doctors of the time could not make, due to their widely known failures. The ineffectiveness and unreliability of medicine at that time was a major factor in Eddy's theological rejection of medical science, and in the early, explosive growth of her church.
In 1862, Eddy traveled to Portland, Maine to study with Quimby, who introduced her to the idea that would eventually be the bedrock of Eddy's religion: that disease is merely a belief, and that if the belief of disease is dispelled, then so is the disease itself. His writings also contain several specialized words and phrases that continue to be used in Christian Science today.
For a time, Eddy wrote enthusiastic letters to New England newspapers extolling Quimby and his theory, although she and her followers would later deny that Quimby had any positive role in the development of Christian Science theology, much less a formative one. Indeed, in Science and Health, Eddy writes that "[a]s early as 1862, she [sic] began to write down and give to friends the results of her Scriptual study, for the Bible was her sole teacher" (p. viii, emphasis added).
Shortly after Quimby's death in 1866, Eddy fell on a patch of ice and sustained an injury. Though Eddy called it life-threatening, some independent biographers have disputed the severity of her wounds. Eddy later wrote that she spent several days reading and praying on a Bible passage, resulting in a complete healing, and in what she called the discovery of Christian Science. Later, Eddy was to grant herself the title, "Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science."
To this day, the Christian Science church continues to deny Quimby's role in the religion; it says only that Eddy gained temporary relief from Quimby's methods, but that she ultimately rejected them because they were not based on any "divine principle" (see the "1862" entry on Quimby on the church's official timeline of Eddy's life).
However, Christian Science was not the only major movement to grow out of Quimby's teachings. Several of his students went on to found the New Thought movement, which itself spawned other movements such as Religious Science and the Unity Church. These movements are considered precursors of the contemporary New Age movement.
In Science and Health, Eddy argued that given the absolute goodness and perfection of God, sin, disease, and death were not created by him, and therefore cannot be truly real. This led her to conclude that the material world was an illusion that obscures God's world of spiritual "Truth," which she felt was the true reality. Eddy came to believe that this misperception, which she called "error," could be remedied through a better spiritual understanding of humanity's relationship to God, and contended that this understanding was what enabled the biblical Jesus to heal.
This teaching is the foundation of Christian Scientists' belief that disease – and any other adversity – can be cured through prayerful efforts to fully understand this spiritual relationship. It is encapsulated in Science and Health as "The Scientific Statement of Being," a kind of Christian Science creed that is arguably the most cited textual passage in Christian Science practice; it is also read aloud in churches and Sunday schools at the end of every Sunday service:
- There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter.
- All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all.
- Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error.
- Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal.
- Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness.
- Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual. (p. 468)
This belief in the unreality of imperfection is the basis of Christian Scientists' characteristic reliance on prayer for traditional medical care, often with the aid of Christian Science practitioners, who are, with the permission of the church's Board of Directors, listed in the Christian Science Journal, their only form of official recognition by the church and among the Christian Science laity. (Some "unlisted" practitioners maintain active practices as well, but they do so without the prestige that a Journal listing brings.)
Practitioners "treat patients," in Christian Science parlance, through prayer. Such treatment usually, though not always, is for health-related problems, and a practitioner's patient may request help for personal problems as well, such as relationships, workplace difficulties, and so on. Practitioners may also charge modest fees for their services.
Christian Science's focus on the idea of spiritual healing led to some measure of stir in the theological realm at first. Under the eye of the scientific revolutions of the 19th century, many mainstream denominations had relegated spiritual healing to the realm of a one-time dispensation rather than a modern practice. During Christian Science's early days of rapid growth, claims of healing under its influence became a subject of heated debate at Christian conventions, but for the same reason it also became a subject of reawakened interest in the 1960s and 70s.
Spiritual healing in the material world
Christian Science's healing theology has been controversial since the church's founding. In refusing medical care in favor of their religious beliefs, a number of people have died from illnesses later determined to have been medically treatable. This sometimes results in wrongful death lawsuits against the parents of deceased children who were given Christian Science treatment in lieu of medical care, including the recent case of Robyn Twitchell , which gained nationwide attention that was deeply detrimental to the church.
Christian Scientists accused of negligence or manslaughter counter that death alone is not grounds for prosecution, and claim that spiritual healing has cured numerous cases declared incurable by medical professionals. Indeed, the church regularly publishes claims of individual and practitioner-assisted healing in its religious periodicals.
While reliance on the theology of spiritual healing is important to Christian Scientists, it is also not officially required of them, which has led to mixed legal opinions as to what constitutes negligence in its use. In practice, however, any reliance on medical treatment is strongly discouraged among Christian Scientists, most of whom regard it more as an almost blasphemous last resort rather than simply an option. Practitioners treating a patient who decides to switch to medical care will no longer pray for that person, "mixing" of methods being forbidden in the Christian Science church.
But in the rare instances when church members do avail themselves of medical care, they are often stripped of offices or positions they held in their branch churches, though they still retain their church membership. The church Manual (see below) itself is unclear on the right of Christian Scientists to seek medical care, saying only that "[I]t shall be the privilege of a Christian Scientist to confer with an M. D. on Ontology, or the Science of being" (p. 47).
There are some notable exceptions to Christian Science's prohibition on medical care. Christian Scientists may, for example, freely visit dentists and optometrists, and may also have a broken bone set in a cast. Pregnant Scientists are also encouraged to give birth in hospitals with the assistance of obstetricians. Though this seems to conflict with the church's official stance against medical science, the church justifies these treatments as physical manipulations and not medicine per se. Christian Scientists may, however, accept novocaine for dental work, perhaps the only pharmaceutical effectively allowed them.
Some historians ascribe these exceptions to widely publicized deaths early in the church's history that convinced Eddy to allow medical professionals to provide her followers with non-invasive and non-medicinal assistance as a way to head off eager prosecutors and antagonistic physicians. In addition, when Eddy's followers learned that she had accepted injections of morphine while ill late in life, Eddy revised church practice to allow the use of "hypodermics" for cases of extreme pain (Science and Health, p. 464).
The Mother Church is the church's world headquarters, and is located in Boston, Massachusetts. (A newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, founded by Eddy in 1908 and winner of seven Pulitzer prizes, is published by the church through the Christian Science Publishing Society.)
Branch Christian Science churches and Christian Science Societies are at once related to the central church but with large autonomy. They can be found worldwide, primarily in the US though also in Europe and other locations, and usually maintain a Christian Science Reading Room for reading and study open to the public. Churches have usually a one one-hour church service each Sunday, consisting of hymns, prayer, and readings from the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. They also hold a one-hour Wednesday evening testimony meeting, with similar readings and accounts by those attending, and sponsor Christian Science lectures in their communities annually.
There are no clergy in any Christian Science church. Though Mary Baker Eddy and some of her senior students regularly gave sermons at services during Eddy's lifetime, no one was permitted to preach in the church after Eddy's death. Instead, a committee in the church's Boston headquarters determines each week's "Lesson-Sermon" by selecting brief, complementary passages from the Bible and Science and Health to be studied throughout the week and read aloud in churches on Sundays.
There are 26 set topics for the Lesson-Sermon, selected by Eddy herself. The topics follow each other in an unchanging, predetermined order, and the progression starts over mid-year so that every week in the year has a topic devoted to it. Typical topics include:
- God the Only Cause and Creator
- Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force?
- Are Sin, Disease and Death Real?
- Christ Jesus
- Doctrine of Atonement
- Ancient and Modern Necromancy, alias Mesmerism and Hypnotism, Denounced
The Bible and Science and Health are Christian Science's "dual and impersonal pastor," according to church law, so churches in the faith elect First and Second Readers who are in charge of leading Sunday services by reading the Mother Church's Lesson-Sermon aloud. The First Reader reads from Science and Health, and the Second Reader from the Bible. The First Reader also selects the hymns that will be sung at the service. The Second Reader has no powers or responsibilities other than to read from the Bible on Sundays. To be the First Reader in one's branch church is one of the highest and most prestigious positions the lay Christian Scientist can aspire to.
Church services, along with every other aspect of church government, are regulated by a constitution of sorts by Eddy called the Manual of The Mother Church, consisting of various regulations covering everything from the duties of officers to discipline to provisions for church meetings and publications. The Manual enacted a rule of law over the Mother Church, though some controversy and historical ambiguity surround the Manual's current, 89th edition, causing a minority of Scientists to dispute the Manual's authority and authenticity.
One indisputable fact about the Manual is that Eddy refused to remove several so-called "estoppel clauses" that required her personal consent on a number of matters, including any changes to the Manual itself. The effect of these remaining clauses, requiring now-unobtainable consent, is felt to this day in what some Scientists privately consider an almost byzantine church administration, exemplified by its ruling Board of Directors, an unelected body of five Christian Scientists that fills vacancies by appointment only. The original Board was appointed by Eddy herself; it has perpetuated itself by invitation ever since, and has been the sole ruling authority of the church since Eddy died in 1910.
In a recent development, however, the church announced that the term of the board's chairman will be fixed, possibly as a way to "shake up" the board's leadership, which has made expensive and unsuccessful decisions over the last two decades.
Beginning in the late 1980s, church executives undertook an ambitious foray into electronic broadcast media, beginning first with a monthly half-hour television production, expanding later into a nightly half-hour news show on the Discovery Channel anchored by veteran journalist John Hart, who was not a Christian Scientist, then expanding into an elaborate cable TV superstation with heavy in-house programming production. In parallel, the church purchased a shortwave radio station and syndicated radio production to National Public Radio. However, revenues fell short of optimistic predictions by church management, who had defied early warnings by members and media experts, forcing closure of most of these operations in well under a decade. Public accounts in both the mainstream and trade media reported that the church lost approximately $250 million on these ventures.
The media collapse led to a much more serious controversy. Facing bankruptcy, the church published a series of biographies on Eddy, including the book The Destiny of The Mother Church by the late Bliss Knapp in 1991. Many inside and outside the church believed that this was done in order to secure an approximately $100 million bequest from his trust, unavailable to the church unless it published his book. But doing so was a highly controversial move, because the church had previously refused to publish Knapp's work, claiming that it strayed from official church teaching. The church's publication of the book caused such church-wide controversy that in the Mother Church alone, the editors of the church's religious periodicals and several other church employees resigned in protest. Alternate parties to the bequest subsequently sued, and the church ultimately ended up with only about half of the original sum.
Behind all of these great expenditures and acquisitions of money has been the church's desire to increase its ostensibly declining membership. Christian Science enjoyed more popularity in earlier decades than it does today; indeed, most of its churches are sparsely attended by its mostly elderly members, and more congregations are selling their own churches in order to combine with more stable local branches. Of course, this is not the case with all Christian Science churches, but the religion is facing a general downward trend. The Mother Church, however, is prohibited by the Manual from publishing membership figures, so there are no official numbers to document any rises or falls in church membership.
The church's most recent effort to stimulate interest in the faith is the newly-opened Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, a $50 million building in Boston housing Eddy's published and unpublished writings. As did the church's earlier multimillion-dollar outreach projects, the library's expense and concept caused controversy among some church members, though most supported it.
The Christian Science Church
- Home Page of The First Church of Christ, Scientist
- The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity
- "Reports of Healing" from the Christian Science Journal
- Spirituality.com The official website of the Christian Science Publishing Society
Writings of Mary Baker Eddy
- , the Christian Science textbook
- Free eBook of Pulpit and Press (6th Edition) at Project Gutenberg
- Free eBook of Rudimental Divine Science at Project Gutenberg
Criticism of Christian Science
- Christian Science by Mark Twain a 1907 work mocking Eddy's writings and the Church's financial arrangements
- The respectable cult by Laura Miller a very critical article in salon.com from September 1999
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