Christian Science, Modern Science and Herbal Medicine

By J. Donald Capra | THE JOURNAL RECORD, October 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Christian Science, Modern Science and Herbal Medicine


J. Donald Capra, THE JOURNAL RECORD


A recent biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, by Caroline Frazer, provided some relaxing reading over the summer. Later, a book review The New York Times by Philip Zaleski stimulated some thoughts as to why this "religion" (some do not classify Christian Science as a religion, thus the quotation marks) has declined in membership so dramatically during the 20th century, yet some of its major tenets are alive and well in the use today of modern herbal medicine, spiritual medicine, and organic foods.

At the turn of the century, Mary Baker Eddy was alive and Christian Science was flourishing. One of the very few religions founded by a woman, Christian Scientist healers in 1950 numbered more than 11,000 in the United States, a number that has dropped to fewer than 2000 today. Probably no other religion has lost as much of its membership as Christian Science. Mary Baker Eddy's contributions to the role of spirituality in healing are legend, and her church flourished in such a way that Christian Science churches in Boston and New York are remarkable edifices of the success of the movement. Yet there can be no denying that the churches are today virtually empty.

With the decline of Christian Science has come the rise of modern medicine. Medical science today is at a pinnacle of its capabilities (the delivery of medical care is another subject). Indeed, it is humbling as a student of medical history to realize how very little a physician could do for his or her patient a hundred years ago.

Prior to vaccination, understanding the germ theory of disease, antibiotics, blood transfusions and surgery as we now know it, the physician of a century ago had little in his medicine bag to really help people. The appeal of spirituality in healing, then, made sense. Also, it would seem logical (although clearly nothing more than supposition) that with the rise of effective modern medicine, reliance on a strictly spiritually based healing process would decline.

What then can we make of the resurgence of the "alternative medicine" movement? There is, at most, the most marginal evidence that herbs, channeling, healing seminars, and the like are remotely effective; they simply do not pass the test of "double blind" effectiveness, have not passed through clinical trials, or other rigorous testing or scientific processess.

Let us digress a moment and ask why the federal government does not label these types of therapy as "medicine. …

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