Christian Science is believed by its supporters to be a system of spiritually scientific truths which are summed up in the two commandments: having one God, one Mind, one Life, Truth and Love; and loving your neighbor as yourself. It is believed to bring spiritual solutions to problems and healing, when conscientiously applied. It was established by Mary Baker Eddy during the 19th century and is practiced by members of the Church of Christ, Scientist, as well as by others who study the Christian Science textbook which she wrote: Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
It teaches that we are spiritual rather than material, that truth and good are real and therefore evil and error are unreal, and that through prayer and spiritual comprehension, through knowing and understanding God, these facts can be spiritually achieved and demonstrated.
Christian Science has no connection with Scientology, and it should not be confused with theological, material or physical science. Christian Science is distinct from Christian fundamentalism. Despite apparent similarities with some of the following, specifically in the beliefs on healing, Christian Scientists do not identify with New Thought, Religious Science, Theosophy, Eastern, Holistic thinking or New Age.
Prayer, from the Christian Science perspective, does not ask God to intervene, but is rather a process of learning more of God's spiritual reality - "awakening mortal thought," by degrees, to spiritual truth. Christian Scientists show the effect of this spiritualization of thought in healing, -- physical, emotional, and otherwise. Health care is not attempted through drugs, surgery, or other physical manipulation, but through "Christian Science treatment," a specific form of prayer intended to spiritualize thought..
While there is no formal compulsion on Christian Scientists either to use Christian Science healing or to eschew medical means Christian Scientists avoid using the two systems simultaneously in the belief that they tend to counteract or contradict each other. Material medicine and Christian Science treatment proceed from diametrically opposite assumptions. Medicine asserts that something is physically broken and needs to be fixed, while Christian Science asserts that the spiritual reality is harmonious and perfect, and that any false belief to the contrary needs to be corrected.
Christian Science, as a Science of healing, is nondenominational. There are approximately 1,850 to 2,000 branch congregations in the Christian Science church.
The Christian Science Journal and the Christian Science Sentinel document instances of Christian Science healing. These are sometimes supported by the observations of medical practitioners involved prior to the application of Christian Science healing, and are always verified by three other parties.
Mary Baker Eddy began believing in this method of healing when she recovered from an injury in 1866 after rereading a passage of one of Jesus' healings. She believed that the method of healing must have been that used by Jesus Christ to heal the cases documented in the New Testament. Both her study of the Bible over many years and the application of what she learned to varied cases of illness in the late 19th century compelled her to document her findings and teach her discovery to those who were interested. The resulting textbook, first copyrighted in 1875 and the primary source for learning Christian Science, is titled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.
Mary Baker Eddy defined Christian Science in these terms: "...the law of God, the law of good, interpreting and demonstrating the divine Principle and rule of universal harmony. She saw it as "...the natural law of harmony which overcomes discord.
The basis of Christian Science healing is the view that "man" (the male/female spiritual being who appears as an individual human being) is the reflection or expression of wholly good and perfect God, and therefore is perfect. Christian Scientists believe that God loves every individual, because God is the Creator of all.
Christian Scientists also believe that sickness is the result of fear, ignorance, or sin, and that when the erroneous belief is corrected, the sickness will disappear. They state that the way to eliminate the false beliefs is to replace them with true understanding of God's goodness. They consider that suffering can occur only when one believes (consciously or unconsciously) in the supposed reality of a problem; if one changes one's understanding, the belief is revealed as false, and the acknowledgement that the sickness has no power since God is the only power, eliminates the sickness.
Christian Science makes an important distinction between the healing of sin (or moral evil) on the one hand, and the healing of sickness or disease on the other. Mary Baker Eddy writes: "The only difference between the healing of sin and the healing of sickness is, that sin must be uncovered before it can be destroyed, and the moral sense be aroused to reject the sense of error; while sickness must be covered with the veil of harmony, and the consciousness be allowed to rejoice in the sense that it has nothing to mourn over, but something to forget." (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 352.)
Christian Scientists regard the material world as a kind of consensual illusion which is due to a misperception of the true spiritual world. Such a misperception can, they believe, be changed by reorientation of thought, or prayer in Christian Science terms. Thus the illusion can be dispelled, revealing the present spiritual reality. The result is healing.
Christian Scientists believe that prayer works through love--in its Christian sense of unselfed, unlimited and unconditional awareness of the inherent worth of another--and that this is the way Christ Jesus healed. Their aim is "to reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing" (Manual of The Mother Church, p.17) which, they believe, was lost after the early centuries of Christianity. They cite such Bible texts as ; in support of their contention that Christian faith demands demonstration in healing. This is a faith in the omnipotence of God, which according to the Christian Science interpretation of the Bible, logically rules out any other power: . The Christian Science view is that Jesus taught that we should claim good as being present, right here and now, and that this will result in healing: (). Christian Scientists point to Jesus' teaching that his followers would do "greater works" than he did and that a person who lived in conformity with his teachings would not be subject even to death:
An important point in Christian Science is that effectual prayer and the moral regeneration of one's life go hand-in-hand: that "signs and wonders are wrought in the metaphysical healing of physical disease; but these signs are only to demonstrate its divine origin, to attest the reality of the higher mission of the Christ-power to take away the sins of the world." (S&H 150:13). Christian Science teaches that disease is mental, a mortal fear, a mistaken belief or conviction of the necessity and power of ill-health -- an ignorance of God's power and goodness. The chapter on "Prayer" in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, gives a full account of healing through prayer, while the testimonies at the end of the book are written by people who believe they have been healed through spiritual understanding gained from reading the book. Christian Scientists claim no monopoly on the application of God's healing power through prayer, and welcome it wherever it occurs.
Christian Science believes in the unreality of matter. According to Christian Science, what we call the material world is a distortion of the underlying spiritual reality or divine idea, a distortion which can be dispelled through prayer and recognition of matter's unreality. Christian Science, like Buddhism, believes in the illusory nature of the world of the senses, but unlike Buddhism it does not believe that aging and death are inevitable - according to Christian Science they can be overcome with the defeat of sin or "mortal mind": (). Consequently immortality is possible, and indeed inevitable. The reality of each one of us is believed to be a spiritual idea only and not born of the flesh. Therefore, sin, disease and death are illusions,as the material body is an illusion. Christian Science believes that Jesus overcame death as the ultimate demonstration of spiritual reality. Christian Science teaches that the spiritualization of consciousness can (and should) have a practical effect in physical, as well as in moral regeneration. Christian Science was articulated by Mary Baker Eddy who rejected the "coldness" of traditional philosophy and emphasized the importance of spiritual love as well as abstract thought, and the integration of thought and feeling. She claimed that it is not enough to think true thoughts: our consciousness must be imbued with the Love which is God, and furthermore that Love must be lived as well as felt. She referred to this futility of a mere intellectualism, in Science & Health 366:30-9, stating: "If we would open their prison doors for the sick, we must first learn to bind up the broken-hearted. If we would heal by the Spirit, we must not hide the talent of spiritual healing under the napkin of its form, nor bury the morale of Christian Science in the grave-clothes of its letter. The tender word and Christian encouragement of an invalid, pitiful patience with his fears and the removal of them, are better than hecatombs of gushing theories, stereotyped borrowed speeches, and the doling of arguments, which are but so many parodies on legitimate Christian Science, aflame with divine Love."
In light of the above, the question might be asked as to what one "loves" in a spiritual or Christian (agape) sense about those closest to us. It is presumably nothing physical or material, as those material/physical attributes would refer to materially human personality or psychology, as opposed to God's creation. Loving, in a Christian Science sense is "seeing," witnessing to or upholding, accepting as valid only the spiritual individuality or identity of each individual as God's likeness or expression or idea. This spiritual identity consists of this individual's own particular reflection of the qualities, attributes or ideas of their Maker/Creator/God, such as love, innocence, intelligence, and so forth. In Christian Science terms these are the 'real' qualities that constitute our true spiritual being, eternally known to God and maintained by God regardless of what the finite material senses testify to. These qualities cannot be perceived materially but only through spiritual sense, which Mary Baker Eddy defines as "a conscious, constant capacity to understand God". (S&H 209:31-32) This is an understanding of what God is and what our relationship to God is.
"Evil is a negation, because it is the absence of truth. It is nothing, because it is the absence of something. It is unreal, because it presupposes the absence of God, the omnipotent and omnipresent. Every mortal must learn that there is neither power nor reality in evil." (Science and Health 186:11-15)
This statement should not be taken as meaning that Christian Scientists ignore the belief of evil, and its effects, but they do not see evil as either an aspect of God, or as a real power separate from God. Evil is not fundamentally "real" because it is not part of God's being or His creation. But it may appear to be real as a mistaken concept of God and man. Christian Scientists believe God and His creation to be wholly and only good.
To answer the question whether God punishes evil-doers, Christian Science teaches that any thought or action contrary to our God-given goodness results in some kind of suffering, just as the misunderstanding of a mathematical principle results in incorrect answers. The principles of mathematics do not cause the mistakes; rather, the mistakes are the result of a misconception of the principle. From God's perspective evil does not exist because He/She has created all and it is good.
The term "Christian Science" predates modern discussions regarding scientific method. In Christian Science, there is believed to be a Christianly scientific law that changing the mental cause manifests in a healing effect.
According to the widely, though not universally, accepted ideas of Karl Popper, a scientific theory must be falsifiable. Using this definition, the scientificity of Christian Science healing may be questioned, as it is difficult to see how an experiment could be set up which could falsify its claims: any failure to heal could simply be put down to a failure to practice Christian Science correctly, and the teaching is thus self-validating. However, Christian Scientists argue that the efficacy of Christian Science has been demonstrated for over a century by over 50,000 documented healings with signed witnesses (A Century of Christian Science Healing 1991). The argument used by Mary Baker Eddy was that if only one case is provable, then rather than it being a fluke, there is a provable scientific reason. Many cases have been attested to by medical doctors and so by the "one case" definition, healing by correction of thought is feasible. A change in thought results in a change in human experience (like physical healing). The proof is in the pudding, the living of a Scientific Christian Life. (Similarly, to forget to affirm, know or live Scientific Thought may have discordant results in one's life.)
Christian Science avoids the theological problem of evil by its teaching of the unreality or nothingness of evil. However, it does not address the "problem" of where the illusion of evil came from – beyond the position that, since it is nothing, it came from nowhere. (Asking the question, for Christian Scientists, is like a mathematician spending his/her time trying to work out where the illusion that 2+2=5 came from – a waste of time that gets one nowhere and indeed postpones the solution of the problem.) Christian Scientists believe that if one changes a belief in evil to an "understanding" of the universality of good, one's experience will adjust accordingly, and that eventually the question "where does evil come from?" will disappear with the negative phenomena that occasioned it.
Christian Science differs from conventional theology since it regards God as both Father and Mother. This does not refer to any anthropomorphic, quasi-physical characteristics, but simply to the teaching that God is characterized by qualities traditionally considered feminine (gentleness, compassion, nurturing and so on) as well as by those traditionally considered masculine (strength, support, protection etc.) According to Christian Science, every one of us, as God's image or reflection, embodies those qualities as well in their essential being.
Christian Science distinguishes between "Jesus" the man, and "the Christ" or divine manifestation. In considering the question of the relationship between divinity and humanity in reference to Christ Jesus, it is important to consider the Christian Science definition of God as "The great I AM."
While some Christian Science teachings are unorthodox from the point of view of conventional theology (as in the rejection of substitutionary atonement and of Hell as a place of eternal punishment), others are orthodox (acceptance of the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Jesus).
While Christian Scientists revere Mary Baker Eddy as the discoverer and founder of Christian Science, they do not regard her as having added anything to essential Christianity but simply as having elaborated its essence and consequences. (A comparison might be made to the status of Thomas Aquinas for Catholics, Martin Luther for Lutherans, or John Calvin for Calvinists.) Another way to illustrate the foundations of the theology of Christian Science is to consider the problems involved in the philosophy of dualism. Many belief systems posit a "god versus something else" or "spirit versus matter". Mary Baker Eddy in a sense followed the reductionism of her time, but instead of reducing all things to the material, she reduced all things to the spiritual.
Webster's online dictionary defines the term Christ in Christian Science as "The ideal truth that comes as a divine manifestation of God to destroy incarnate error." This definition mirrors Mary Baker Eddy's own definition in Science and Health as "The divine manifestation of God, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error." Both definitions establish the Christ as completely divine, spiritual and not material. Jesus, the son of God therefore embodied the Christ to such a degree that he, and he alone will carry the title Christ, but as a corporeal being he was not the totality of the Christ. Christian Scientists point out that Jesus never claimed to be God, and indeed that he implicitly denied it:
Mary Baker Eddy writes "Throughout all generations both before and after the Christian era, the Christ, as the spiritual idea – the reflection of God – has come with some measure of power and grace to all prepared to receive Christ, Truth" and even today, the Christ, according to Christian Science belief, continues to come to mankind, giving us a greater understanding of our wholly spiritual identity through healing and the destruction of sin.
Although many uphold the Trinity as defined by the Nicene Creed (the term "Trinity" does not appear in the Bible) the Trinity in Christian Science is found in the unity of God, the Christ, and divine Science, or: "God the Father-Mother; Christ the spiritual idea of sonship; divine Science or the Holy Comforter."
The Christian Science Church does not forbid the use of medicine by its members, nor does the Church exert informal pressure on them to eschew it. An exception is the case of Christian Science Centers which may require certain employees to sign a statement of principles. Though Christian Scientists respect the work of medical practitioners, most of them prefer to use prayer and to rely on God. Christian Scientists who choose to rely on medical treatment for a specific problem normally give up Christian Science treatment for the period of treatment. This is because one treatment approaches healing from a material and the other from a spiritual perspective. Because the method of prayer includes denying the reality of matter and affirming the perfection of the individual--while medicine is used to fix matter and a person with a problem--these two means are seen as incompatible. Most Christian Scientists are practical when it comes to using material aids such as vision correction, splints for broken bones and dental services and will use what seems appropriate at the time. However, numerous healings of near- and far-sightedness, dental problems and broken bones have been claimed in the periodicals published by the Church, some of which have been confirmed by medical practitioners who previously deemed them to be medically unhealable.
Mary Baker Eddy's views on this subject are as follows: "If Christian Scientists ever fail to receive aid from other Scientists--their brethren upon whom they may call,--God will still guide them into the right use of temporary and eternal means.
"On April 12, 1879, it was voted at a Christian Scientist Association to organize a church to commemorate the words and works of our Master, a Mind-healing church, without a creed, to be called the Church of Christ, Scientist, the first such church ever organized." At this meeting, "on motion of Mrs. Eddy, it was voted,--To organize a church designed to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing." "The charter for this church was obtained in June, 1879." (Ret 43:23-5; Man 17:8)
Christian Science is a Bible based religious teaching that practices spiritual healing in the way that its adherents believe Jesus did and taught others to do. The teachings can be found in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures written by Mary Baker Eddy, first published in 1875. Students of Christian Science are usually, though not always or necessarily, members of The First Church of Christ, Scientist (also called The Mother Church) in Boston, Mass.
Each Sunday, church members hold services where citations of the Bible and Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures are read by lay members of the church. These Readers are voted into their office by the members of the church, for a limited period of time (usually for three years.) Most often mid-week public Testimony Meetings are held in their churches. This is a time when anyone can testify to what, Christian Scientists believe, is the healing power of the Christ in their life.
Christian Science churches maintain Reading Rooms in most major cities in the world, where Mary Baker Eddy's writings can be read, borrowed or purchased. Many Reading Rooms have bound volumes that contain articles on Christian Science and verified testimonies of healing spanning more than 125 years. The Christian Science church publishes a weekly periodical called the Christian Science Sentinel, a monthly publication called the Christian Science Journal, and the international, award-winning newspaper the Christian Science Monitor.
Some Christian Scientists after having had class instruction on how to heal effectively, become what are called Christian Science Practitioners. These are lay persons who after years of healing, go into the public practice of healing. These Practitioners devote all their time to healing and charge for their services. It should be noted that there is no manipulation, or laying on of hands, in a Christian Science healing treatment and that healings are often accomplished without the Practitioner ever having met the patient who may live a great distance from the Practitioner.
Throughout the history of Christian Science there have been a small number of dissenting people, unacknowledged by the Boston organization. Such dissenters often point to certain "estoppel" clauses of the last Church Manual issued by Mary Baker Eddy before her death which, had they been interpreted literally, would have led to a radical decentralization of the Christian Science Church. The issue has involved the Church in repeated litigation brought by dissenters, most prominently between 1919-22, when a group of Trustees of the Christian Science Publishing Society filed a suit against the Christian Science Board of Directors. Current controversies within the Christian Science Church include the format of the weekly Bible Lessons, and a debate as to whether, or to what extent, the use of the King James Version of the Bible should be replaced by that of more modern translations.
Christian Science has been criticized by skeptics from the very beginning. Mark Twain devoted an entire book to the topic, in which he humorously attacked not only the belief itself, but also its practitioners. However, later he seemed to reverse his stance as Paine wrote:
His daughter, Clara Clemens, became a Christian Scientist (although there is some question as to her seriousness or commitment), and authored a book on the subject: Awake to a Perfect Day, published by Citadel Press, NYC, 1956.
Heavy metal band Metallica has a number of songs harshly critical of Christian Science, most famously "The God That Failed"; singer James Hetfield's parents have both died of cancer, refusing to seek medical treatment due to their religious beliefs.
Controversies around Christian Science usually involve medical or theological issues.
Christian Scientists have been controversial for their failure to provide conventional health care for children (Asser and Swan, 1998). In the United States, the constitutional guarantee of protection of religious practice from intrusion by government has been used by Christian Scientists and other religious groups to seek exemption from legislative or regulatory requirements regarding child abuse and neglect, including medical neglect in more than three quarters of the states. There are now statutes in 44 states which contain a provision stating that a child is not to be deemed abused or neglected merely because he or she is receiving treatment by spiritual means, through prayer according to the tenets of a recognized religion. Although these exemptions take different forms and interpretations in different state jurisdictions, the overall effect has been to limit the ability of the state to prosecute parents for suspected or alleged abuse or medical neglect of children when such occurrences may be the result of religious practice.
Two important sets of interests are in apparent opposition - those of children in the perceived benefits of medical care, and those of parents in making a decision about their children's well-being. Some parents believe that the constitutionally protected freedom of religion allows them to choose the method of healing (spiritual or medical) they feel will best benefit their children. However, this interpretation of the US constitution is in contradiction to important court rulings to the effect that parents may not martyr their children based on parental beliefs and that children cannot be denied what is regarded as essential health care.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (22 September 1989) reported on a study of more than 5,500 "Christian Scientists" as compared to a "lay group" of almost 30,000. The death rate among "Christian Scientists" from cancer was double the national average, and 6 percent of them died from causes considered preventable by doctors. The "non-Christian Scientists" on the average lived four years longer if they were women and two longer if they were men. It was speculated that the reason for this was that male Christian Scientists are more likely to seek medical help than female believers. This cohort study does not directly address the efficacy of the healing system of Christian Science since it is conceded that some people defined as Christian Scientists may in fact have sought traditional medical treatment. Furthermore, the "lay group" (with which the group of Christian Scientists were contrasted) were presumably using conventional medicine or some alternative healing means rather than nothing at all. Consequently--at best-- the study only evaluates the comparative efficacy of Christian Science vis-a-vis some other system or systems, rather than its healing efficacy per se. Defenders point out that many people turn to Christian Science after medical techniques have failed; consequently, the two groups may not be comparable.
Mary Baker Eddy counsels that Christian Scientists should obey the law: for example, being obedient to quarantines. However, since Christian Science practitioners do not diagnose disease, it is unclear how Christian Scientists are to know when they should avoid being in contact with others in order to avoid infection or contagion. Similarly, it is unclear how Christian Scientists are to decide when they should have surgery in lieu of Christian Science treatment before a condition — e.g. cancer — reaches the stage where it is considered medically inoperable.
In some cases, Christian Scientists will be examined by a doctor for informational purposes (although Mary Baker Eddy disapproved of physical diagnoses, as tending to induce disease). Testimonies of healings reported in Christian Science publications are sometimes drawn from cases in which a doctor confirmed the initial condition and the subsequent healing.
Christian Science is sometimes criticized by some mainstream Christians for its theological differences (mostly due to its assertion of the illusory nature of the material world and of evil, its definition of "Jesus" and the "Christ", its view of Jesus as the "Way-shower" rather than as the object of blood-sacrifice, and its explanation of the Trinity and a personal God).
Adherents of Christian Science cite the Bible (e.g. Mark 16: 15-18 and Luke 10:1, 9, 17) as an indication that belief in God should be demonstrated in healing. Mary Baker Eddy, however, was no biblical fundamentalist, and has often been criticised by fundamentalists who believe that the Bible is both inerrant (biblical inerrancy) and free of internal contradictions. She wrote: "The decisions by vote of Church Councils as to what should and should not be considered Holy Writ; the manifest mistakes in the ancient versions; the thirty thousand different readings in the Old Testament, and the three hundred thousand in the New,--these facts show how a mortal and material sense stole into the divine record, with its own hue darkening to some extent the inspired pages." (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 139.)
Christian Science offers an explanation of why, according to its teaching, evil is not sent from God and hence is not real. Mary Baker Eddy touches upon this subject in her book Unity of Good. In response to the question: "Does God know or behold sin, sickness, and death?" she writes: "The nature and character of God is so little apprehended and demonstrated by mortals, that I counsel my students to defer this infinite inquiry, in their discussions of Christian Science. In fact, they had better leave the subject untouched, until they draw nearer to the divine character, and are practically able to testify, by their lives, that as they come closer to the true understanding of God they lose all sense of error."
There has been internal controversy in the Christian Science movement regarding the status of Mary Baker Eddy herself. Some Christian Scientists claim (and others deny) that her appearance on the world stage was specifically prophesied in the Bible.
Some Christian theologians characterize Christian Science as a cult (Martin, 2003) (also refer to external sites providing criticisms of Christian Science) although Mary Baker Eddy constantly turned away her students from any tendency to place her on a pedestal. A basis of such criticisms includes her comment in reply to a questioner who asked how she knew there ever was such a person as Christ Jesus:
"If there had never existed such a person as the Galilean Prophet, it would make no difference to me. I should still know that God's spiritual ideal is the only real man in His image and likeness."(Eddy, The First Church of Christ Scientist and Miscellany, pp. 318, 319). This is interpreted by opponents of Christian Science as Mary Baker Eddy downgrading the importance of Jesus, rather than making a basic metaphysical point.
There are apparently contradictory statements on the question of the death of Jesus in Mary Baker Eddy's writings. However, since Christian Science teaches that death is an illusion, this may help to explain the apparent contradictions.
Christian Scientists, like Mary Baker Eddy herself, generally defend the separation of church and state as affording a protection for civil freedom and religion. However, Mary Baker Eddy insisted on obedience by Christian Scientists to state laws in regard to health care. Progressively for her time, she was in favor of women's rights, and rejected the "corporeal punishment" of children. (While she generally steered clear of politics per se, she stated her support of the Monroe Doctrine as well as her opposition to imperialism and economic monopoly--The Christian Science Monitor, which she founded, has traditionally been a staunch defender of civil liberties and individual freedom, though it did support the prohibition of alcohol.)