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Church of Christ, Scientist

aka Christian Science, Christian Scientists

To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, today is big with blessings. The wakeful shepherd beholds the first faint morning beams, ere cometh the full radiance of a risen day. So shone the pale star to the prophet-shepherds; yet it traversed the night, and came where, in cradled obscurity, lay the Bethlehem babe, the human herald of Christ, Truth, who would make plain to benighted understanding the way of salvation through Christ Jesus, till across a night of error should dawn the morning beams and shine the guiding star of being. The Wise Men were led to behold and to follow this daystar of divine Science, lighting the way to eternal harmony.

Having read the above passage from Science and Health, by Mary Baker Eddy, answer the following multiple-choice question:

When Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, back in 1879, she almost certainly did so in the fervent hope and belief that her new creed would NOT go down in history as a bunch of gruesome, child-torturing, intellectually challenged shitheads. Nevertheless...

a) The best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley. And how!

b) The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And how!

c) Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And how!

d) The principle of garbage-in, garbage-out applies not only to computers, but also to religion. And how!

e) All of the above. And how!

Christian Scientists believe in three basic ideas: God is love, people have souls, and God heals. Many religions agree unreservedly with the first two statements, and most would get behind a conditional version of the third.

It's the unconditional insistence on the third that gets the Christian Scientists into trouble.

The church has been around for more than a century, based in Boston with branches around the globe. Weirdly, the overall church has no clergy except for a book, the Church Manual, written by Eddy, which is officially designated as the pastor. Individual parishes are democratically run. All this sounds very progressive and indeed, refreshing, until you get to the faith healing part of the story.

The church's actual beliefs about faith healing per se are not especially unique or even remarkable in the context of world religion. Basically, Christian Scientists believe that the body and spirit are connected. That's a pretty common belief. The Christian Scientists also believe that spiritual healing can heal the body. That's also a pretty common belief. It's the following passage from Science and Health, however, that notably sets the Christian Scientists apart from the masses:

According to Holy Writ, the sick are never really healed by drugs, hygiene, or any material method. These merely evade the question. They are soothing syrups to put children to sleep, satisfy mortal belief, and quiet fear. (...)

Unless an ill is rightly met and fairly overcome by Truth, the ill is never conquered. If God destroys not sin, sickness, and death, they are not destroyed in the mind of mortals, but seem to this so-called mind to be immortal. What God cannot do, man need not attempt. If God heals not the sick, they are not healed, for no lesser power equals the infinite All-power; but God, Truth, Life, Love, does heal the sick through the prayer of the righteous.

In other words, if God doesn't deign to heal you, then FUCK YOU.

Christian Scientists take this notion very, very seriously. If you get sick and die, no other explanation is possible than "it's God's will."

Other forms of spiritual and alternative healing allow the afflicted to seek care from a doctor at the same time that they are pursuing the alternative approach. Most alternative approaches actually tend to encourage patients to work with a doctor, for rather obvious liability reasons.

Many Christian Scientists read the passage above as an explicit ban on seeking medical care. Christian Scientists have repeatedly made headlines for refusing to allow their young children access to even the most routine medical care. This often results in grotesquely painful deaths from the simplest of conditions.

When adults refuse medical care for themselves, even to the point of suicide, it's classified as "principled" or just "stupid," and no one really gives a fuck. It's a different story when adults inflict pustulating boils and death by gangrene on kids, which is one reason that Christian Science is frequently referred to as a cult by former members and outside observers.

While the Church hierarchy supposedly encourages members to seek medical aid when it seems appropriate, the actual practice of Christian Science is entirely dedicated to making sure it never seems appropriate.

Christian Science summer camps have become known as breeding grounds for measles, among other preventable diseases. Other treatable conditions that habitually kill Christian Science babies include bowel obstructions, diabetes, epilepsy, meningitis, pneumonia and dehydration. Dehydration! Where does it say God doesn't want children to have fluids?

Dozens of cases have led to criminal charges in several U.S. states, all invariably defended on First Amendment grounds of freedom of religion. (The Framers of the Constitution no doubt had in mind the principle of slow painful deaths for children when they put pen to paper.) The legal outcomes of these cases have varied.

Letting children die from simple infections doesn't sound particularly scientific, which is half the problem with the name "Christian Scientist." The other problem is "Christian."

Other scandals abound. Numerous stories have circulated for years about the proclivities and actual intentions of the religion's founder, Baker Eddy. During her lifetime, as early as 1909, the Church's critics cited mind control and cult techniques used to keep believers in line. As far as theology, Christian Scientists dispense with most of the traditional beliefs of mainstream Christianity. Christian Scientists believe in a dual-gender God and that the material world is more or less an illusion (much like the Gnostics).

There is some controversy about their beliefs regarding Jesus Christ himself, but the general thrust of it is that they don't put much stock in the physical act of the crucifixion, focusing instead on the spiritual whatever-ma-bob process. The language gets kind of dense. Non-Christian Scientists tend to read all this as a denial of the basic Christian premises of the trinity and the redemption, but Christian Scientists insist that is not the case.

With all this nuttiness and child-killing, you'd think that the estimated 100,000 Christian Scientists would be shunned and pushed to the periphery of public discourse. However, you would be failing to account for the kind of respectability that owning a major media outlet can provide.

The Christian Science Monitor is the most visible and respectable arm of the far-flung Christian Science Publishing Society. Eddy founded the Society with the idea that it would make money to support the Church, but it has actually worked out the other way around, with the Church subsidizing the Publishing Society to the tune of $20 million a year or more.

The Monitor is one of the most respected publications in the U.S., with a magazine and a daily radio news program on public radio. Oddly, no one questions the fact that the Christian Scientists are running their own news outlet, as they would if (for instance) the Baptists were doing the same thing.

Meanwhile, the death toll continues to rise, its precise number unknown thanks to the ambiguity about where to draw the line. Many states have exemptions to child abuse laws for parents who allow their children to die out of religious conviction.

There is currently no acid test for the depth of such beliefs, such as infecting the parents with a fatal and painful disease -- let's say, rabies -- and then seeing whether they ask for a shot or simply await God's will with quiet resignation and serenity. A videotaped record of the procedure could serve as a religious inspiration or a deterrent to child abuse, depending on how it turns out.


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