Pseudoscience

It’s All in Your Head: A Statement on Which Both Christian Scientists and I Can Agree

Out of curiosity, I ask the woman I have been speaking to for a minute about the “Science” in “Christian Science”. She approached me at the end of the talk because the presenter had asked everyone in the room to introduce oneself to a stranger and talk about one’s inner qualities.

I don’t remember if this particular woman got around to enumerating her inner qualities, but I do remember her talking to a fellow attendee before the talk started. She was saying she has only had good tenants in the building she owns. Of course, she immediately added, she prayed for this to happen.

The reason this particular Christian sect claims to be scientific is because it purports to have uncovered Jesus’ laws, truths so powerful and immutable, they are said to be scientific.

I am reminded of something the speaker said earlier. “The body can’t resist great ideas.” Mine is. Or perhaps it’s not such a great idea to begin with.

I was not familiar with Christian Science before attending this lecture but, as a scientist myself, the bait was particularly tempting. Now armed with a free copy of their “holy” book—Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy—, an issue of the Christian Science Sentinel, and a handy pamphlet which answers many common questions—such as whether or not this is a cult—, I feel more knowledgeable already. Almost enlightened.

Before I delve into the medical reasons why Christian Science is particularly dangerous and one of the more “cracked” of pseudosciences, let’s explain what it’s all about.

Christian Science claims the Judeo-Christian god is all around us and that it’s only a question of tuning our mind to his frequency to feel his everlasting love. So far, so Christian. I asked the landlady with the heavenly tenants why she chose this particular denomination of Christianity as opposed to the tens of thousands of others. Her answer?

It’s the only one that can physically heal you.

***

The speaker’s name is Ginny Luedeman. She is impeccably dressed and looks like most people’s idea of a sweet and wise grandmother who is still sharp enough to argue with you. She also knows how to keep people’s interest for an hour. She uses no technology except for the hotel’s microphone as she relates the story of her difficult childhood. Poor family. Alcoholic father, who abandoned his family when she was 15. Pregnant and married at 16. Ended up a hard rock singer, “playing in concert with The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones”, and more, and doing drugs to find creativity.

While overdosing on LSD, she cracked open a Bible at a random page and saw, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” She did not know the meaning of the word. She repeated this twice, always landing on the same page. The third time, the word “adultery” appeared darker than before, as if some supernatural being was communicating with her. She started a conversation with the Big Guy Upstairs and dedicated her life to him. She claims her acid trip stopped right there and then and she was filled with warmth. That must have been the first time LSD caused someone to hallucinate and to experience a range of profound emotions.

She is now a Christian Science teacher who regularly gives seminars. She claims her positive attitude in life has actually healed members of her family: her mom went from dirt poor to starting a successful business and her deadbeat father gave up alcohol after hitting rock bottom, calling her up to ask if she had been responsible for this. The psychic healing claims may be laughable, but the stealth bomb she drops casually in the middle of it all is not: “I had what was evidence of a cancer dissolve.” The claim jettisoned, she moves on, but the damage to her audience of church-going elders is probably already done. She also claims she had a bump on her thumb and started to experience pain in her hands, like her grandmother who probably had arthritis. She prayed it away in eight months. With Christian Science, wishful thinking can cure you.

***

Make no mistake: there is nothing scientific about Christian Science. Using faith to claim the existence of rigorous divine laws is not rational but profoundly unscientific. And the plural of anecdote has never been data.

In the July 22 & 29, 2013 issue of Christian Science Sentinel, I read about how Christian Science can heal mental illness. The proof offered to the curious reader? It’s in the Bible. Jesus used to permanently heal all kinds of diseases (“[…] cases of lameness, blindness, deafness, as well as insanity…”) and lucky for Mary Baker Eddy, she rediscovered Jesus’ methods. The treatment? “It is rather about vehemently refusing to acknowledge anything as real but the law of goodness.” I would challenge the author on this. Ignoring a tumour will not make it go away.

Imitating Ginny Luedeman, I open my copy of Science and Health, the Bible companion of Christian Scientists, at random pages. I find nonsense that could set one on a dangerous path.

Page 150: “The doctrine that man’s harmony is governed by physical conditions all his earthly days, and that he is then thrust out of his own body by the operation of matter,—even the doctrine of the superiority of matter over Mind,—is fading out.” Sorry to burst your bubble, Mary Baker Eddy of 1875, but materialism has not faded out in the intervening years.

Page 114: “Christian Science explains all cause and effect as mental, not physical.” This seems to be the very driving force behind the movement and its appeal to people at the worst moment of their lives. In relating the story of her Biblical acid trip, the speaker said, “Suffering makes you really receptive.” That, it does, Ginny. That, it does.

Page 164: “But all human systems based on material premises are minus the unction of divine Science. Much yet remains to be said and done before all mankind is saved and all the mental microbes of sin and all diseased thought-germs are exterminated.”

The pamphlet I picked up at the talk is insidiously clear on the Church’s state regarding modern medicine. Next to the question, “Do you go to doctors?”, the answer is, “It’s up to each individual, but the norm is reliance on treatment by prayer in this Christian system of healing.” You may choose to go to a “doctor”, but you won’t be a real Christian Scientist until you pray the injury away, including a broken leg. “Some may have a doctor set the bone, but many others have seen bones set and mended by prayer alone.” This is where this particular religion goes from mind-embalming balderdash to dangerous quackery.

Ian Lundman (diabetes). Terrance Cottrell, Jr. (suffocation). Amy Hermanson (diabetes). Matthew Swan (meningitis). Nancy Brewster (cancer). Andrew Wantland (diabetes). Robyn Twitchell (peritonitis). These are some of the names of children who have died because their Christian Scientist parents or guardians either failed to seek treatment for their medical condition or intervened in a dangerous way, thinking they were curing them.

You can choose to live in a fantasy world but, sooner or later, the real world comes and bites you in the rear. Or your children’s rear.

***

So how did Ginny’s “evidence of a cancer” go away if not through scientific prayer?

There are many explanations for this and other claims of miraculous healings, such as can be found in the back pages of the Christian Science Sentinel.

A misdiagnosis is certainly not unheard of. Medicine is not perfect: doctors make mistakes.

Then there is the twisting of information, à la telephone game, in which a doctor states a fact to an overly anxious, scientifically illiterate patient, who proceeds to understand something else.

Spontaneous remission is also known to occur in certain cases. While scientists don’t currently have an explanation for them, the God-of-the-gaps argument is not a valid one. Throughout history, our increased understanding of the world has never, not once, included the realization that magic or the supernatural are real.

Acute injuries, such as a Sentinel reader’s arm and shoulder pain which arose after a backpacking trip, usually resolve themselves thanks to the miraculous power of… our physical bodies to heal themselves. Muscle strains generally go away on their own.

And let’s not forget that people lie.

But if you prefer to be convinced by a song, have this one on me: “Thank You God” by Tim Minchin.

And remember that “Christian Science” is a dangerous oxymoron.

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9 thoughts on “It’s All in Your Head: A Statement on Which Both Christian Scientists and I Can Agree

  1. Thanks for this well-written article, Jonathan. I was a Christian Science child-case who got away, i.e. didn’t die of the bone disease that kept me bedridden in agony the year I was fourteen while my CS parents & practitioner prayed. I ended up with an auto-fused knee (later amputated after I left CS) which was considered “healed”, though admittedly not “perfectly healed,” a magical state I chased for a further twenty years until my own child was born. A doctor diagnosed my bone disease and explained (as many others have since) that a child’s pristine organs can help them survive what would kill an adult. Woila: healing!

    …but I’d be interested in a healing of my above-knee amputation. I wonder if Ginny Luedeman, Spiritual Healer, would take my case? 😉

    • Liz, if Christian Science restores your leg to it’s once former glory, I will wholeheartedly go back to it, and be sitting beside you in church… 😉

  2. Reblogged this on Emerging Gently and commented:
    As a former Christian Scientist myself, and ever so happy to not be marinating in that crazy sauce anymore, it’s interesting to read the perspective of someone who is not and never has been a Christian Scientist on this crazy religion I was in for far too many years. Very interesting!

  3. One enlightening quote you missed is on pages 556-57 of Science & Health: “It is related that a father plunged his infant babe, only a few hours old, into the water for several minutes, and repeated this operation daily, until the child could remain under water twenty minutes, moving and playing without harm, like a fish. Parents should remember this, and learn how to develop their children properly on dry land.” (You can also see the quote here: http://christianscience.com/read-online/science-and-health/%28chapter%29/chapter-xv-genesis#anchor.2.15 )

  4. My experience in joining Christian Science during high school was very different than the cases related here. Fortunately, I was exposed to liberally minded Christian Scientists. Along with that exposure, I found much to my delight, that some of them had a keen interest in developing the science of Christian Science. They were aware that the religion and emotional aspect of Christian Science was pushing out the curiosity to go forward with a scientific study of the teachings.

    During Mary Baker Eddy’s last decade, 1900 – 1910, the Christian Science publications carried more articles by experts on the common elements of science and religion and where a scientific approach to supplant religious dogma with appropriate scientific truths would improve religion.

    Where did this curiosity go? It was promoted by a few students of Christian Science here and there. What happened? Religion and rules won out over scientific curiosity. There are a few scientific thinkers pondering the science in Christian Science, but they are not taken seriously and or there just isn’t the interest in what they do. You may laugh, but Christian Science in its past had some respect by thinkers including some scientific minds.

  5. Pingback: A look back at FYSTT | Moutons No More

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