Response to a Response to My Almost-Interview with NPR

My friend, Kat, a thought-provoking ex-Christian Scientist of intelligence and interesting insight, posted a comment on my last blog post that I thought was worth responding to in a whole ‘nother post. Here’s Kat’s comment:

“Why would a Christian Scientist choose Christian Science over medical treatment for her children?”

Yeah, that’s the elephant in the room CS is going to have to address head-on over and over and over again. Some CS have made REALLY BAD CHOICES and people have died.

Caroline Fraser’s book God’s Perfect Child talks about this at length. Another excellent example is Rita Swan’s son Matthew,https://thedublinreview.com/‘matthew-you-cannot-be-sick’/ (you may have heard of her, she founded C.H.I.L.D. http://childrenshealthcare.org)

I agree A better question might be: “What is it about Christian Science that appeals to you?” it no longer appeals to me, but for a while it did, and on some level, I still understand the appeal.

Hi, Kat –

The producer at NPR wanted a Christian Scientist on her show who could respond to Dr. Paul Offit’s assertion that religion is killing children – an assertion presented in his book, Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine. I was not the right fit to respond to that assertion – seeing as how I did take my sons to doctors now and then when they were youngsters.

But if I were interviewing Offit, there are a couple questions I’d like to ask him, if I had the chance: We know that preventable errors in medical care are the third-leading cause of death in this country (according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, among other sources) and have been for several years now. Knowing that about 400,000 people a year die from preventable medical errors (http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/deaths-by-medical-mistakes-hit-records ), I’d like to ask Dr. Offit –

  • How much of your time do you spend making medical treatment safer and better, as opposed to concerning yourself with other forms of treatment?
  • Do you think parents should be forced to bring their children into a system that is the third-leading cause of death in America?
  • And do you believe that when a child dies under medical treatment it is any less tragic than when a child dies under some other form of treatment?

I’ve lost friends who were under Christian Science treatment. I’ve also lost friends who died from the medical treatment they were under-going – not from the disease, but from the medical treatment itself. Neither type of death caused me less grief than the other. Humans die. I may even appear to die someday. (I know – it’s hard to believe, right? – but I think we need to consider the possibility that I may not ascend here.) And if I die while under Christian Science treatment, I really hope my loved ones don’t blame Christian Science for this. I hope they realize that Christian Science has helped make me the person they love – and that there was some part of me – maybe a part of me they love – that was drawn to this way of life.

Regarding Rita Swan: I’m not sure why Rita Swan made the choices she made when her baby became so ill. I’m not going to try to speak for someone else. But I imagine that if I’d been in her shoes I might have felt terrible guilt after my baby’s death and would have looked for someone else, or something else, to put the blame on for this tragedy – just to relieve the burden of self-condemnation a little. I wouldn’t judge anyone in Rita Swan’s position for taking the direction she took after Matthew’s death. I don’t blame her. But I’ve never been in the position she was in – as I wrote in my post, I took my sons to doctors now and then when I felt the need to do so. I’ve never felt any pressure from my church family to avoid medical treatment. And I’m pretty sure that if I ever did, it wouldn’t faze me at all. My responsibilities as a mother to keep my sons safe out-trumped any other considerations. (And sometimes that meant saying “no thank you” to drugs that doctors offered that had potentially adverse side effects and no guarantee of helping.)

Regarding Caroline Fraser: Years ago she wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly about Christian Science. Someone handed me the magazine, and I thought they were giving it to me because of the really well-written article on the environment that was in that issue. It wasn’t until a week later, when I was looking through the magazine again, that I saw Fraser’s article. What struck me about the article was the complete lack of objectivity, and the blatant bias. She wrote about Mary Baker Eddy with authority – as if she’d actually met the woman (which, of course, she had not – Eddy died long before either Fraser or I were born). Fraser acted as though she could get inside Eddy’s head and tell us all what was going on in there. I am always wary of people who set themselves up as experts on what’s going on inside someone else’s head – who presume to know what someone else is/was thinking, feeling, and believing – this is often a symptom of bigotry.  Fraser’s article made me wary of Fraser.

There’s another book about Christian Science, though, written by Lucia Greenhouse, a woman who watched her Christian Science mother die of cancer – that I think is less sensationalistic than Fraser’s writings about Christian Science. One of my friends who was raised in Christian Science could relate to a lot of Greenhouse’s experiences with Christian Science in fathermothergod  – and I think Greenhouse’s book was really helpful in validating my friend’s experience. I don’t discount Lucia Greenhouse’s experiences with Christian Science – I believe she’s telling the truth. But my experience being raised in Christian Science is very different from either my friend’s or Greenhouse’s.  My brothers and I were brought to doctors, dentists, and optometrists – and this was no big deal. We also experienced some really beautiful healings in Christian Science. (Which you can read about in Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientisthttp://www.amazon.com/dp/1419612298/ref=rdr_ext_tmb .)

As I wrote in my last post, what draws me to Christian Science is the transformation in my nature that I feel when I experience healing – and I HAVE experienced healing in Christian Science. Christian Science healing doesn’t just make me better physically – but it brings me closer to Love – it lifts my thoughts, inspires me, gives me courage – fills me with joy and gratitude and good will to my fellow man and woman. These are not things I’ve experienced in medical science treatment.

And now I give you a picture from my morning bike ride – just because I wanna… 🙂

Samish River (photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell)

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8 thoughts on “Response to a Response to My Almost-Interview with NPR

  1. Hi Karen. Thanks for this (and all your other posts and discussions, too). I do so appreciate your take on these issues. Gotta say, though, I think you would have been the perfect person to address the accusation that Christian Science, at least, is a religion that kills since, first of all, it has given back a sense of life and health to many people, including children, who have been diagnosed with incurable physical ailments and, secondly, there is no prohibition to keep members of our church from taking their children (or themselves) to doctors if that seems necessary, even though, quite often, the practice of CS keeps that from becoming necessary. I think the world really needs to know that.

    • The misinformation regarding CS and CSists can be a little frustrating, eh? I think the best thing any of us can do, really, is just keep loving our fellow man and woman, and proving in our own lives what CS is able to do for us. I know there are people who want to be disabused of their prejudices, and are receptive to what CS has to offer. Keep on shining like the sun, Merri!

  2. Thank you for your reply! I have read Lucia’s book, parts of her experience echoed my own — the secrecy surrounding parental illness, family problems arising from some being “in Science” and others not.

    We are each drawing on our own experiences, they differ quite a bit, to say the least! You have a unique perspective, and and I’m glad you’ve found a way to make CS work for you, balancing prayer and responsible medical treatment.

    I’m not for “forcing” medical treatment on anyone, but I’m also against children suffering unnecessary because their parents don’t take them to doctors for easily treatable problems — I speak from experience on this one. You may have had access to proper medical care as a child, and you may have done the same for your children, but not all CS parents do that, often leaving children with an underlaying terror of the medical world that leaves them unable (or unwilling) to seek medical care if the need arises. This is one of the biggest challenges that ex-CS face.

    As for the healthcare system, after every appointment we’ve had with our doctors we’ve had a follow-up survey asking how our experience went, when complaints have been made, has been accountability. It is an imperfect system, and I’ve never seen that with a CSP, if a healing failed to materialize than someone’s thought wasn’t “correct.” At the least CS should come with a warning “your results may vary” — as Ms. Eddy encouraged her followers, don’t give up trying to eat just yet. 😉

      • Modern medicine does not promise it can fix everything and everything comes with warnings, possible side effects, etc. Christian Science promises it can fix everything — as long as you know properly, etc. I find this misleading.

        I’ve yet to hear of a CS who ascended the way Jesus (supposedly) did. There was a CS virgin birth scandal back in MBE’s day, but that’s different than ascension. 😉

      • I’ll stick with doing tangible things, like making cookies. Ascension can’t really be proven or disproven, cookies on the other hand, can be enjoyed in the here-and-now.

      • Kat says, “Modern medicine does not promise it can fix everything and everything comes with warnings, possible side effects, etc. Christian Science promises it can fix everything — as long as you know properly, etc. I find this misleading.”

        I would actually argue that Christian Science and medicine/science are in the same boat here. I can’t oppose the suggestion that maybe there needs to be more clarity in the way CStists talk about how healings happen, e.g. emphasizing that it’s not just miracle-working and that transformative change accompanies physical healing and is sometimes a prerequisite to the physical change. However, the way that everyone talks about medicine as a whole — not individual medicines, but the whole system — it sure sounds to me like they are promising that medicine will some day cure all of humanity’s ills. The billions of dollars donated to and invested in medical research for things that are not yet curable should be ample evidence of that. We understand that we’re not there yet and that there will be loss of life along the way as we make progress, but there is a great deal of conviction, promoted by the medical field itself, that medicine has the key, as it were, to salvation from disease and death (not so much sin 😉 ).

        And I would say that Christian Science is right there with it. From my read of MBE’s writings, I understand that she would assert the same thing: Christian Science is going to “save” the world from sin, disease and death — albeit, in a totally different way than medicine promises to. She doesn’t say that that is just going to happen overnight, or that some day a switch will flip to usher in the apocalypse, or that all we have to do is put on a name tag that says “Christian Scientist” and we’ll be saved. It takes a lot of work. She explains that the final “salvation” will come once everyone comes to the understanding that Life is in God not matter, and she even acknowledges that the necessary change in understanding for any one individual may not happen before death. So if you assert that CS promises a miracle cure through prayer to simply make matter more comfortable, and that it therefore fails to live up to its promise, then I think you misunderstand the promise.

        Each person has to make their own individual choice about the system they follow, and with a clear understanding of the risks and commitment involved in each. But when you look at the two systems, medicine and Christian Science, in the big picture, they are offering similar outcomes and with similar terms. And irrespective of the promise of each, we should not have so much tolerance from either for suffering and loss of life.

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