Digest of terms

Christian Science Ethics

Based on Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875), Christian Scientists hold that the pure gospel message is one of freedom from sickness and disease as well as from sin. This was exemplified in Jesus' healing miracles, the principles behind which it was claimed Mrs Eddy had rediscovered (in church services her book is read out along with the Bible). God is spirit and creation is spiritual, so material bodies are an illusion. Acceptance of the reality of matter leads to evil results. Illness, therefore, is unreal ('disease is mental'), part of the illusory world of matter, and strictly speaking recourse to doctors or psychiatrists only serves to compound the illusion. Drugs and medicines can appear to heal, but only as part of the illusory nature of matter. Taking this to its logical conclusion, therefore (which not all members of the church do), Christian Scientists should refuse medical treatment, relying instead on prayer; and prayer is understood to mean reaffirming belief that matter is an illusion, as a means of reinforcing the belief that physical suffering is an illusion. In cases of illness Christian Science practitioners may be consulted and involved, but these have no medical training, and their role is to strengthen people, through prayer, in their religious beliefs. Full realization of the truth of Christian Science destroys (the appearance of) illness, and countless successful healings are claimed in support of the truth of Christian Science - claims often supported, paradoxically, by medical evidence.

As with Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions, ethical controversy surrounds the case of minors in particular. Is it to be regarded as ethically permissible for Christian Science parents to refrain from, or to refuse, medical treatment for their children, even if death should occur in consequence? The church maintains in response that mainstream medicine also has its failures, with some children dying, and that deaths of minors in the church are in no way disproportionate compared with the numbers successfully healed. Christian Science parents should therefore be allowed full freedom of religion. Still, in 1990 in the United States Boston parents David and Ginger Twitchell were convicted of manslaughter following the death of their son from a bowel constriction which had failed to disappear despite obviously very sincere prayer on their part - leaving them under a weight of guilt that their faith had not been strong enough.

Not all Christian Scientists go as far as this, and apparently Mrs Eddy herself consulted doctors and took medicine, as well as wearing glasses and a set of false teeth.

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