Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910), a frail woman deeply interested in medicine and the Bible, founded the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1879. Eddy wrote a book, Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures, and the teachings of Christian Sciences were grounded in the principles of the book. She stressed the elimination of sin and healing of the sick through prayer alone. This was grounded in the principle of the “allness of Soul, Spirit, and the nothingness of matter.”
This spiritualism extends to humanity and the universe. The reality of truth and goodness implies the unreality of evil and error. The Church of Christ, Scientist teaches that God is divine mind. Only mind is real; thus, matter, evil, sin, disease, and death are unreal illusions.
Physical suffering is an illusion, the philosophy continues, and can be conquered by the spirit-filled mind. However, a person who is not grounded in prayer or an understanding of God can attain this realization.
Can Christian Scientists go to their own doctor or a hospital for medical care?
Christian Scientists say that they always have freedom of choice in caring for themselves and their families. If an individual departs from the use of Christian Science by choosing some other kind of treatment, she is neither condemned by the church nor dropped from membership.
Eddy had a stern Calvinist upbringing, which she rebelled against. In her search for good health, she experimented with alternative healing methods: homeopathy and suggestive, charismatic therapeutics as practiced by Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. Following Quimby’s death, she increased her studies toward finding a universal spiritual principle of healing in the New Testament. Her recovery from a serious illness in 1866 deepened her commitment to religious healing.
Study and prayer are basic requirements of the denomination, as is the readiness of members to meet the challenges of Christian healing. All Christian Science churches maintain reading rooms for this purpose.
Christian Scientists say that healing comes through scientific prayer or spiritual communion with God. It is specific treatment. Prayer recognizes a patient’s direct access to God’s love and discovers more of the consistent operation of God’s law of health and wholeness on his behalf. They know God, or Divine Mind, as the only healer. A transformation or spiritualization of a patient’s thought changes her condition.
Those members who indulge in a full-time healing ministry are called Christian Science practitioners and are listed in a monthly directory. They usually charge their patients a nominal amount.
The spiritual aspect of healing has come under direct criticism by the medical profession. There have been cases in which the law has stepped in to force conventional medical treatment, particularly when a child is involved.
The church is known worldwide and has a well-earned reputation of excellence for its international daily newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, which is published in Boston, Massachusetts. Mary Baker Eddy started the publication in 1908, and it was in print a century later in 2008 with a circulation of 56,000. But revenues declined and it moved from print to online the following year.
Three books — Healing Spiritually and A Century of Christian Science Healing, both published by The Christian Science Publishing Society, and Spiritual Healing in a Scientific Age by Robert Peel give detailed accounts of purported healings.
Membership figures for Christian Science have been unavailable since 1936, when there were 250,000 members in North America.