Christian Science is the name for a religious denomination formally known as First Church of Christ, Scientist, and for that denomination's system of beliefs. It was established (or, as its adherents prefer to say, discovered) by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, and presented in her book, Science and Health, With Key to the Scriptures.
Christian Science lays emphasis on curing disease through faith. It holds that disease is contrary to the will of God and therefore represents a "state of error" which can be corrected through prayer alone.
Christian Scientists maintain that the denomination is Christian in every sense of the word, despite some idiosyncrasies in its practices ("non-material" celebration of Baptism and the Eucharist) and terminology (Christ Jesus is referred to as the "wayshower.")
Christian Science and the medical establishment
The relationship between Christian Science and the medical establishment is complex and tense. Christian Scientists who seem to be ill are supposed to seek help from "Christian Science practitioners" for prayer and spiritual counseling, instead of seeking medical treatment from doctors. Accounts vary as to the degree of social and spiritual pressure that is brought to bear in their decision-making, but certainly a decision to seek medical help is a difficult one for Scientists. Christian Scientists come into conflict with public health and child welfare officials when they delay or deny medical treatment to their children. In a tragic, high-profile 1977 case, a Christian Science couple's 15-month-old son died of untreated meningitis.
In 2006, a Christian Scientist in Boston contracted a case of measles, causing concern that the disease might spread quickly within the largely-unvaccinated population; according to Church officials, rapid action was taken, six individuals were quarantined at home, and the church informed its membership, including how to get vaccinated—stating that "The Church neither encouraged or discouraged vaccinations, and has no policy against the procedure."
The Church of Christ, Scientist is headquartered in Boston, in a large complex which includes the Mother Church, the Christian Science Publishing Company, and a unique world globe called the Mapparium. It has about two thousand branches in seventy countries; however, the strongest support for it continues to exist in the northeastern United States, where it originated. The church does not publish membership figures, but it is thought to have about half a million adherents worldwide, and its well-publicized recent financial difficulties have led outsiders to surmise that its membership is in decline.
A network of "Christian Science Reading Rooms" are operated by the Church; each is usually associated with a nearby church, and provides a form of outreach. Passersby can enter and study, borrow, or purchase copies of Science and Health or the current issue of the Christian Science Monitor. Often in storefront locations, in the United States they are a ubiquitous part of the urban and town landscape.
The Christian Science Monitor is a newspaper founded by Eddy in 1908, partly in response to what she felt was biased coverage of Christian Science in the publications of the day. The New York Times referred to it as the "Eddy cult". Mark Twain published a blistering book-length attack, suggesting that the Church was a device for the "concentration of money and authority in the hands of an irresponsible clique" and saying of Eddy that "I do not think her money-passion has ever diminished in ferocity, I do not think that she has ever allowed a dollar that had no friends to get by her alive." Eddy wanted her own publishing outlet.
From the beginning, the Monitor's coverage was never limited to Christian Science, and by the 1930s it had become a serious and well-respected newspaper. In the 1980s and 1990s the church attempted to expand into electronic media, with a syndicated radio news program, a Boston television station, and a cable channel, and became overextended, creating a financial crisis for the church.
Notes and references
- Matters of Faith and Death, Time Magazine, 1984.
- Measles in Boston: Collision of Church and State, Science and Journalism, Medgadget
- known as The First Church of Christ, Scientist, as distinguished from the others, designated simply "First Church of Christ, Scientist"
- 400,000 according to adherents.com
- The fictional city of Springfield in the animated cartoon series The Simpsons contains one.
- "Christian Science Denounced. Plainfield Clergyman Preaches on the Unchristianity of the Eddy cult." June 10, 1901, p. 1