Why don't Christian Scientists allow doctors to treat them?

By November 16, 2014 One Comment

Full Question

I know someone who is a Christian Scientist, and he doesn’t believe in going to a doctor when he gets sick. He tells me it’s against his religion. Can you explain this to me?


In order to answer this question a little of the background on the Christian Science sect is necessary. It was founded by Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), whose teachings are set forth in the book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, first published in 1875. The book describes a belief system Eddy claims to have “discovered” in 1866.
Throughout her early life, Eddy suffered from various emotional and physical illnesses. As a result she developed a morbid fear of the medical profession. She began to view the physical world as an illusion and maintained that the only reality was the spiritual world–possibly as a defense mechanism to deal with the difficulties of her sicknesses.
To Eddy, truth (which she calls “the divine Principle” or “divine Life, Truth, and Love”) is a healing spiritual force. She believed that Jesus came to enlighten humanity regarding this truth: “Jesus taught the way of Life by demonstration, that we may understand how this divine Principle heals the sick, casts out error, and triumphs over death” (Science and Health [1971 ed.], 25). The material or physical world, she maintained, is illusory, a product of a wrong perception of our true spiritual nature.
According to Christian Science, things like sickness, suffering, pain, and sin have no objective reality. So when humans experience these things, they are guilty of misperceptions-what Christian Scientists call “error.” Christ came to provide spiritual and physical healing by correcting our wrong perceptions. For the Christian Scientist, Christ’s passion and death were ways he demonstrated his triumph over wrong thinking rather than being a physical reality he endured: “Jesus bore our infirmities; he knew the error of mortal belief, and ‘with his stripes [the rejection of error] we are healed'” (Science and Health, 20; brackets in original).
Of course, the problem here is that Scripture–as well as human experience–paints a radically different picture. Christ did not come to destroy mere “illusion” or “error.” He came to destroy the objective realityof sin and its tangible results: pain, sickness, suffering, and physical death itself. This is why Paul says, “If Christ was not raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). There is not even a hint here of something illusory or immaterial. Christ’s death and resurrection were objectively real, historical events which triumphed over humanity’sactual sins.
So for your friend to consider a visit to the doctor, he would be guilty of not having applied the “Truth” or “divine Principle” which Christ taught. In his mind he is not experiencing an objective illness but rather “error,” or a mistaken perception that he is sick. Therefore, going to a doctor in search of a physical cure would be diametrically opposed to his belief system and would only fuel the fire of his “error.”

One Comment

  • I don’t know anything about your friend, but I can speak for myself (as a Christian Scientist) that there have been times in my life when I just told people that it’s against my religion to go to doctors, or to drink, or to have premarital sex (whatever the case may be) simply because it is an easy explanation and saves me the trouble of getting into an extended conversation about theology. I would guess that you friend would be happy to talk more about his beliefs and health care decisions with you if you approach it gently from a position of sincere curiosity and understanding.
    Also, I want to make a few corrections to the historical narrative that is supplied here in the answer. It is true that Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science and discovered of the system of healing that she named Christian Science (CS), dealt with fragile health for much of her childhood and adult life. In particular, she suffered from serious injuries following a fall on ice in the winter of 1866, which the attending doctor could not remedy, and so she turned to her Bible. Shortly thereafter, she experienced a rapid and complete healing. From that point on, she began to study the Bible more deeply in order to understand how she was healed. Her discovery of CS was not the result of “morbid fear of the medical profession.” In fact, she explains in Science and Health and other writings that she had tremendous respect for medical professionals and that she felt that they had a common mission in the alleviation of suffering.
    Additionally, I just want to clarify that CS does not teach its students to avoid doctors. There is no prohibition anywhere in this teaching of seeking medical attention. CS teaches that prayer and a right understanding of man’s spiritual nature and relationship with his Father-Mother God restores health and harmony, and that that is something we can rely on to handle any kind of challenge, including health challenges. Each individual is free to choose whatever kind of remedy that they want for any given problem, and there are no consequences (e.g. excommunication, eternal damnation, etc…) for choosing medical care.
    If anyone is interested in additional information the Wikipedia article on Christian Science (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Science) offers a pretty impartial explanation, or you can read about it from the people who understand it best (the Christian Scientists themselves) at christianscience.com.

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