Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/April 1889/Science and Christian Science


THE doctrine known as Christian Science has gained so large a number of followers, it promises the freedom from disease which so many afflicted persons are longing for, it appeals to the religious sentiments, which are so powerful to sway the mass of mankind, and also claims a basis in science from which the world is constantly expecting fresh surprises, that it has aroused the interest of thousands who are trying to decide whether it is a revelation of truth or a contagious delusion.

Christian Science was "discovered" by Mrs. Mary B. Eddy, then of Lynn, Mass., in 1866. The leading features of her doctrine are that "everything is Mind," that there is but one Mind, which is God, and that "man is the idea of God." Our bodies, and the things around us, houses and furniture, trees, rocks, and earth—all things composed of matter—do not really exist, but are only the ideas of mind, something like the things of a dream. Matter,

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being unreal, can not feel or know anything, and hence can not be sick; and mind, being divine, is perfect, and hence can not be sick either. Therefore, there can be no sickness in anything, and what we call sickness is only a belief—not a belief of the one Divine Mind, but a belief of what she calls “mortal mind,” which is itself unreal. Hence, when the belief is destroyed, the disease is destroyed also. She deems this theory fully verified, because, proceeding in accordance with it, she states that she has “prevented disease, preserved and restored health, healed chronic as well as acute ailments in their severest forms, elongated shortened limbs, relaxed rigid muscles, restored decaying bones to healthy conditions, brought back the lost substance of the lungs, and caused them to resume their proper functions.” She asserts that sin is an error of similar nature with disease, and yields to similar treatment. “Healing the sick and reforming the sinner are one and the same thing in Christian Science.” Death also is all a mistake. The doctrine is set forth very fully in Mrs. Eddy's book, “Science and Health,” of which over thirty thousand copies have been sold. Many other books and pamphlets have been published by the Christian Scientists, and they issue a number of periodicals, the chief of which are: “The Christian Science Journal” and “The Mental Healing Monthly,” in Boston; “The International Magazine of Christian Science,” in New York; and “The Mental Science Magazine” and “The Christian Metaphysician,” in Chicago. In each of these cities there are several “schools,” “institutes,” and “universities” for the teaching of “Christian Science,” or “metaphysical healing," or the “science of spirit,” or “Christian pneumatopathy,” or essentially the same thing by some other name; and there are one or more such institutions in a number of other cities.

The two parts of the name “Christian Science” indicate that the doctrine has a mixed character. As to the genuineness of its Christianity, the doctors of divinity are best qualified to judge; the religious side of the subject lies outside the domain of science, and will not be treated here. I will only say that the garb of religion has often been a convenient cloak for fraud and delusion. But Mrs. Eddy calls her system of healing a science. If it really has the character of a science, it will endure all the tests that a genuine science will endure. If Christian Science is true, not only should cures always result when its precepts are followed, but, when a part of the theory is disregarded, failure should be sure to result. Any mental healer who tried to cure disease without denying that disease exists, or without denying that matter exists, or without asserting that all mind is one, should meet with discomfiture and defeat. In the case of a genuine scientific doctrine, such as the law of gravitation, any operation like the erection of a tower or the calculation of the path of a cannon-ball will result in success or failure according as it is or is not performed in complete agreement with this law.

Now, the Christian Scientists are continually making failures. Patients whom they have treated for a long time still have poor health. The healers plead that these patients have been helped some, but the gain is doubtful; and, besides, their theory does not leave room for any partial successes. “The rule, and its perfectness in my system, never vary,” says Mrs. Eddy. There are other patients who might have been numbered among the successes of Christian Science if they had not unfortunately died under the treatment. Such instances furnish frequent items for the newspapers. “The Medical and Surgical Reporter” gives this case: The wife of a physician in Cincinnati had a cancer. The growth was removed, but after some months the disease reappeared, and everything that the best medical skill of the country could do for the patient proved in vain. She was urged to try the faith-cure, but her husband naturally refused to allow this. When, however, it began to be whispered about that, because she was married to a physician, she must die for want of freedom to avail herself of all methods of cure, he could resist no longer. Under his protest she went to the faith-healers, and every day they told her that she was getting better, while she was really growing worse, and soon died.

“The New York Herald” prints the following:

Chicago, Ill., February 21, 1888.—F. Benedict, late an employé at W. W. Kimball & Company's piano ware-rooms, lies dead in the La Burnham flats, a victim to “faith-healing,” and to-morrow Dr. C. R. Teed, the editor of the Christian Science organ, “The Guiding Star,” will be called upon to answer charges of criminal malpractice in connection with the case.

From the “Boston Herald” I learn that Mrs. Lottie A. James, of West Medford, Mass., died April 20, 1888, in childbirth, under the treatment of her mother, who was a Christian Scientist. The child also died. Her husband was absent. The mother was charged with manslaughter, but the grand jury failed to indict her. The following item appeared in the “New York Tribune”:

Springfield., Mo., May 28th.—Mrs. John Truesdale last night drowned herself in a reservoir. She had acted strangely for the last two or three weeks, owing to strict adherence to the teachings of a Christian Scientist, James Reed. He told Mrs. Truesdale that he could teach her the science of healing by prayer so that she could heal her husband, who is an engineer, but has been ill with consumption for several months. Grasping at anything that promised any hope for her husband, she visited Reed frequently, and the general opinion is that out of her experience grew the despair that caused her to kill herself.

Still another case was reported in "The New York Times":

Chicago, May 30th.—There is another unpleasant case for the faith-healers to explain. Mrs. Mary Reiter, a young woman, came to this city from Valparaiso, Ind., recently, suffering from pulmonary troubles, and put herself under the care of Mrs. J. C. Barker, a Christian Scientist, for treatment. She died last night, and the faith-healer being unable to give a death-certificate, the coroner to-day took up the case.

Like Dr. Frog in the fable, these physicians also fail to cure themselves. Arlo Bates writes to the “Providence Journal” that a prominent Boston dentist was called from his bed at two o'clock one morning to go to the relief of a lady who was suffering the agonies of toothache. He at first declined to go, but finally went, relieved her pain, and went again in the daytime to do something more to the teeth. He had not taken much notice of the name given him at his first visit, but on reaching the house the second time his eye fell on the door-plate, and he found that he had been called in such hot haste to relieve the pain of one who makes a handsome income by teaching that there is no such thing as pain. His patient was a shining light of Christian Science, but she could not cure her own toothache!

Mr. Charles M. Barrows mentions the following cases in his “Facts and Fictions of Mental Healing”: “About three years ago a well-known citizen of Boston was thoroughly cured, to all appearance, of a distressing chronic malady, and embraced the doctrines advocated by his healer, a ‘Christian Scientist.’ He also became a very successful healer of others, and was so confident in his own ability to resist disease that he frequently declared it was impossible for him ever to be sick. Yet within a twelvemonth this same man, who sincerely thought he had risen superior to all finite ills, was hurried to the grave by a hæmorrhage of the lungs. During the past year four active mental healers have succumbed to the fell destroyer of mortal life; and only last summer one of the great lights of ‘Christian Science’ was prostrated with nervous exhaustion and obliged to seek medical aid.”

Any theory of physics or chemistry which admitted of such utter failures as Christian Science suffers would be pronounced, even by its friends, unworthy the name of science. Mrs. Eddy does not take these failures as indications that her theory needs modifying, but throws the blame of them upon her luckless disciples. She says to her pupils, “If you fail to succeed in any case, it is because you have not demonstrated the rule and proved the principle.” She and her theory remain infallible, but she has avoided inconvenient tests of her own powers of late years, and prints in her book this note: “The authoress takes no patients, and has no time for medical consultation.” As president of the “Massachusetts Metaphysical College,” she doubtless feels that her time is more profitably used, and her luxurious home on Boston's finest avenue testifies to the magnitude of the profits.

If Mrs. Eddy can claim that failures are sufficient proof that the healer does not practice the right method, she must likewise accept success as sufficient proof that the healer does practice the right method. Now there are several different methods. Although she denounces as heresy any deviation from her doctrine, yet some of her former disciples, who do not hold that every person's mind is a part of the Divine Being, have success in healing that will compare favorably with that of the faithful. Hence this part of Mrs. Eddy's doctrine is of no consequence in healing. These heretics prefer to be called “mental healers.” Then there is the faith-cure, with its “Beth-shan,” in London, its conventions at Old Orchard, Maine, and its sanctuary in Jersey City. It has also been used somewhat in England by the Salvation Army. The theory of the faith-curers is simply an extension of the Christian's belief in the efficacy of prayer for the sick. They do not assert that matter is unreal, and that nothing exists but mind, yet they perform enough cures to show that this part also of Mrs. Eddy's doctrine is of no consequence in the practice of healing.

A variety of faith-healing has been practiced in the Roman Catholic Church for hundreds of years. There is plenty of testimony, as good as the Christian Scientists can furnish, that persons have been healed by the aid of the prayers of priests and bishops, by touching the bones or other relics of saints, or by bathing in the water of sacred springs. A noted locality for such cures at the present time is the grotto of Lourdes in France. The Mormons are not behind the Catholics or Protestants in making cures. One of the chief methods employed by their missionaries in gaining converts is to pray with the sick, who often recover and join the sect. The cures credited to the wonderful Dr. Newton, who flourished twenty-five to thirty years ago, as well as those which gained Dr. Perkins's “tractors” their fame at the close of the last century, must be counted as mental healing. Hence, there have been successful mind-curers before Mrs, Eddy, although their theories agreed in little or nothing with hers. In fact, from the teachings of one of the irregular healers who preceded her, Mr. P. P. Quimby, Mrs. Eddy is charged with appropriating everything of importance in her system. This charge she indignantly denies.

Moreover, cures have been effected when healer and patient held a belief that was demonstrably false. Prince Radzivil, of Lithuania, visiting Rome at the time of the Reformation, received from the pope a box of precious relics. After he reached home the relics were used by the monks for the cure of a demoniac, who had held out against every kind of exorcism. The success was instantaneous and complete. But the prince observed a knowing smile on the face of the young man who had been keeper of the relics, and upon inquiry learned to his disgust that the genuine relics had been lost on the journey, and their place had been supplied with bones of cats and dogs picked up by the road. This lot of rubbish it was that had performed the miracle. Any one who believed that the touch of Queen Victoria's hand could cure him of scrofula (king's evil) would be unanimously declared out of his mind; yet it was the general belief in England for seven hundred years, from the reign of Edward the Confessor to that of Queen Anne, that the touch of the royal hand could heal this disease. Historians and physicians of the time testify to the usual success of the operation. Every one has read of the noisy antics employed by the medicine-men among the Indians, and by the fetich-doctors and voodoos among the negroes, for driving diseases out of their patients. Explorers and missionaries report that surprising cures often follow such treatment. No Christian Scientist would acknowledge fellowship with these ignorant impostors, and yet the voodoos cure disease without material means like the disciples of Mrs. Eddy.

I do not wish to be understood as giving full credit to all the reports of cures by any of these agencies. Doubtless in many instances the recovery is spontaneous; it is effected by the healing power of nature, and in spite of the treatment rather than by means of it. The patients would have got well as soon or sooner if nothing had been done for them. Moreover, in many cases reported by persons with little medical knowledge, the disease was not as serious, and hence the cure was not as wonderful, as is represented. Still, there remains enough evidence to show that in each one of the above ways real disease has been thrown off by aid of mental influence.

Furthermore, disease has been cured, with no theory of treatment whatever, by an accidental impression made on the mind. Mr. Barrows tells the following: The wife of a wealthy Pennsylvania farmer had been bedridden for many years, and unable to rise or walk without help. A Baptist minister visited the family, and the host showed him about his thrifty farm, in which he evidently took an honest pride. “Your farm seems to be one of the best in this section,” observed the guest. “Yes, it is, sir,” answered the host, with a beaming face; “and, what is more, it's all paid for.” Similar comments on the barns, stock, etc., brought forth assurances that they, too, were “all paid for.” Dinner-time came, and the family, with, their guest, gathered at the table. The invalid occupied a bedroom adjoining the dining-room, in order that when the family were at table she might hear their conversation through the open door. The clergyman was asked to say grace, and began thus:

“O Lord, we thank thee for the abundance now spread before us; we thank thee that it is all paid for—”

Here a sudden interruption came from the invalid in the next room, who, on hearing her husband's pet phrase put into a prayer, burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Entirely forgetting her condition, she sprang out of bed, and stood holding her sides and shaking all over with mirth when the family rushed in. That solemn joke cured her, leaving nothing to be paid for. The same author tells of a New Hampshire lady who was also cured after being bedridden for a long time. In pleasant weather her grown-up sons used to lift their mother tenderly into a carriage, and take her for a drive. It was their opinion, however, that her case demanded heroic treatment, and they resolved to make the experiment. Near the house a brook crossed the road, through which they often drove to let the horse drink, instead of crossing by the bridge. The ford was usually safe and easy; but one day the carriage was suddenly upset by some stones previously placed in the water by the boys, and the invalid was thrown into the middle of the stream, from which she must scramble out or drown. She fathomed the well-meant plot, and was very angry; but the remedy was effectual, and her lameness was cured on the spot. A lady in California, who had suffered much from neuralgia and become blind, on hearing an alarm of fire regained her sight. Accidental mental excitement caused by explosions at the cartridge-factory in Bridgeport, Conn., has cured many cases of intermittent fever. A physician, writing to the “Medical News,” tells of a man being cured of a chronic rheumatism, and another of nervous exhaustion, by the earthquake-shock at Charleston.

Hence we see that disease can be cured through the mind in a great variety of ways. The true science of mind-cure will explain all of them, but Mrs. Eddy's doctrine does not satisfy this condition. Moreover, hers is a complicated theory; and experience has shown that in science, where the facts can be explained in a simpler way, a complicated theory is likely to be false. Furthermore, a theory which, like Mrs. Eddy's, contradicts scientific laws that we see proved true every day of our lives, can not itself be true also. If her “Science” were to become established, all that we now know as science would have to be abandoned as inconsistent with it. Not only would the science of physiology, which she directly attacks, be destroyed, but the sciences of physics, chemistry, zoölogy, botany, astronomy, and geology would also be reduced to chaos, for these together with physiology are based on observation and induction, which Mrs. Eddy declares we can not trust. “Christian Science eschews what is termed natural science,” she says, and she condemns the use of observation when she asserts that “it is morally wrong to examine the body in order to ascertain if we are in health.” “Putting on the full armor of physiology, and obeying to the letter the so-called laws of health (so the statistics show), have neither diminished sickness nor lengthened life”! On the other hand, she affirms that “science is the watchword of our day,” and calls attention to some of its benefits; in another place she indorses the results of astronomy. But that she is wofully ignorant of science is shown by such expressions as, “The angle of incidence is the reverse of the angles in the objects reflected”; “The blind forces called attraction, adhesion, and cohesion are not substances of matter”; “We tread on forces. Withdraw them, and the universe would collapse.”

The genuine science of mental therapeutics is a very simple one. It has been discovered by physicians here and there at various times, and, if not adequately developed, it at least does not contradict the principles on which all science is based. The theory is, that mental impressions, however produced, act through the nervous system upon the various organs of the body so as to stimulate or obstruct their functions as the case may be. Such mental action is a matter of common observation. Whenever the cheek flushes with embarrassment or pales with fear, mental influence is producing its effect on the body. Great anxiety or grief causes loss of appetite, and may bring on an attack of dyspepsia or any other disease to which the person is liable. Fright has turned the hair gray in a few hours. Dr. Murchison wrote: “That jaundice may have a nervous origin has long been known. There are numerous instances on record of its being produced by severe mental emotions, such as fits of anger, fear, shame, or great bodily suffering.”

Dr. Durand, of New Orleans, according to the “Picayune” of that city, recently made a test of mental influence by giving a hundred patients a dose of sweetened water. Fifteen minutes after, entering apparently in great excitement, he announced that he had by mistake given a powerful emetic, and preparations must be made accordingly. Eighty out of the hundred patients soon fell to vomiting.

On the other hand, the tonic effects on a patient of hope, cheerfulness, and a determination to get well, have been frequently commented upon, and many intelligent physicians have made good use of such mental aids in practice. Dr. John Hunter wrote a century ago, “There is not a natural action in the body, whether involuntary or voluntary, that may not be influenced by the peculiar state of the mind at the time.” The chief store-house of facts of this class is Dr. D. Hack Tuke's work on “The Influence of the Mind upon the Body in Health and Disease” (London, 1872), his attention having been called to the subject in 1869 by a newspaper article on “The Curative Effects of a Railway Collision.” The evidence furnished by Tuke and other writers leaves no room to doubt that mental action is a powerful agency which can be applied in the cure of disease.

Dr. Tuke says, in the preface to his classic work: “There are two classes of readers to whom I wish more especially to address myself. The medical reader who, I hope, may be induced to employ psycho-therapeutics in a more methodical way than heretofore, and thus copy nature in those interesting instances, occasionally occurring, of sudden recovery from the spontaneous action of some powerful moral cause, by employing the same force designedly, instead of leaving it to mere chance. The force is there, acting irregularly and capriciously. The question is, whether it can not be applied and guided with skill and wisdom by the physician. . . . ‘Remember,’ said Dr. Rush, in addressing medical students, ‘how many of our most useful remedies have been discovered by quacks. Do not be afraid, therefore, of conversing with them, and of profiting by their ignorance and temerity.’” Not only when disguised under some pretentious and illogical quackery has the mental force been employed, but it has already been utilized, with a full appreciation of its nature, by physicians of high standing. Sir Humphry Davy's cure of a case of paralysis by repeated applications of a thermometer is a much-quoted instance.

In a paper entitled “Bodily Conditions as related to Mental States” (“Popular Science Monthly,” vol. xv, page 40), Dr. C. F. Taylor, of New York, reports the case of a young man sent to him from a Western city. Dr. Taylor was informed that the patient had broken his thigh-bone two years before, that this fracture had united, but that a year later the same bone had been broken in another place. The regular treatment had failed to secure a union of the second fracture. On examination. Dr. Taylor found the muscles of the leg wasted and soft, with a large outward bending in the middle of the bone, but he could not find the slightest evidence that any second fracture had occurred. The patient thought he had refractured his thigh-bone, and this impression caused him quite unconsciously to withhold muscular action in the limb so completely that a relaxed and powerless condition was caused, which was mistaken for a broken bone. A mere explanation of his condition was not sufficient to enable him to relax his mental hold on the limb. Dr. Taylor caused the young man to take certain exercises with his arms, of so violent a character that they absorbed all his attention, leaving none for his lower limbs. Within three days he gave up restraining the injured leg, and he began to walk involuntarily. In this case it was the mind which needed treatment. A young lady was sent to Dr. Taylor from Albany for a supposed partial paralysis of the left foot and ankle, which caused her to drop her toes in walking. Her trouble proved to be entirely mental, and she was cured within ten days by restoring consciousness of power in the affected foot. He gives other cases to show that mental influence over bodily function causes not only loss of muscular power, but also increased muscular action simulating muscular spasm, increased or diminished bodily sensations, and disorders in the involuntary processes of life. His experience indicates that in such cases treatment directed toward the mind is the only sort that can be effective. He only alludes to “the important subject of mental influence on actual disease” in this article. “Suffice it here to say,” he remarks, “that, as must be inferred from the facts and arguments already adduced, no system of therapeutics can be complete which does not embrace the design of controlling psycho-biological relations in general, and with reference to chronic diseases especially.”

Prof. G. Buchanan, of Glasgow, has placed on record cases of the same nature as these described by Dr. Taylor. Still others are related by Walter Moxon (“Contemporary Review,” vol. xlviii, p. 707) and by other writers. Animal magnetism, first brought forward as a healing agency by Mesmer a century ago, has since been studied scientifically under the name of hypnotism. The work of these later investigators has established the fact that a large number of functional diseases are benefited, and even permanently cured, through the mind by hypnotic suggestion.

Now, in view of what has been done in curing disease by the aid of mental influence, the public has a right to demand that our physicians shall give us the benefit of this healing agency. Mental influence is a pleasant and inexpensive medicine; it cures in some cases where drugs fail, and it shortens the term of sickness and lightens its pains in many other cases; furthermore, it has no injurious incidental effects. But the mind-cure should be taken out of the hands of the untrained and irresponsible visionaries and the impostors who now practice it, or it will add a terrible amount of suffering and death to what it has already caused. These enthusiasts, carried away by their seeming successes in a few cases, insist that the mind-cure is the only treatment that is worth anything in all diseases and for all persons. They know too little about the nature of disease to recognize symptoms which indicate the fitness of this agency, too little of science in general to realize that a means suitable to remove one condition may be entirely inadequate or unsuitable to counteract another. Hardly a means of healing is known but had extravagant claims and prophecies made for it when it was first brought into use, which afterward settled down into a very moderate compass. Take, for instance, the transfusion of blood. The early transfusionists reasoned, in the style of the Christian Scientists, that the blood is the life. Take the bad blood out of a man and put new blood into him, and you draw off his diseases and infirmities and put new life into him. They even hoped to dispel insanity by this infusion of new life, and some went so far as to prophesy that moral infirmities would be cured in this way. The theory of Christian Science may seem very beautiful to persons of a highly religious and highly emotional nature, but it has no more connection with the cure of disease than a rainbow has with the multiplication table. It is a pretty fancy, and one hardly has the heart to dispel the illusion, but it is “as false as it is fair.” Many of the most sanctimonious healers, who make the most impressive appeals to the piety of their victims, are in the business simply for the money they can get out of it. Others are honest, but are themselves deceived. It is fortunate that the patients of the Christian Scientists generally go back to the physicians when anything serious is the matter with them, or we should see a greater slaughter than has already occurred. About ninety-five per cent of the believers in this doctrine are women, and to their sensitive feelings the above may seem like ill-natured and hasty language. But it is neither. It is an earnest and deliberate effort to use the tests of science so as to show how unsubstantial is this rainbow-bridge upon which they are asked to trust their lives.

The Christian Science craze will have its day and then die out, like the blue-glass delusion and other crazes of like character. Already signs appear that it has reached its highest limit in the eastern part of the country, and that its decadence has begun. It is not occupying so much space as formerly in the newspapers; and it is becoming less profitable to those who practice it. A lady and her husband who set up a Christian Science school and hospital in New York recently found themselves a thousand dollars out at the end of the winter and gave up the business. In the West, however, where it appeared later, the movement still maintains considerable vigor.

It will have done good if it compels physicians to adopt mental healing, not as a panacea, but as an addition to the curative means now at their command, and for occasional intelligent use. This done, the sooner Christian Science, as a distinct mode of treatment, passes away, the better for all concerned. It is one more of those wonders of which Byron wrote:

"Thus saith the preacher, 'Naught beneath the sun
Is new,' yet still from change to change we run;
What varied wonders tempt us as they pass!
The cow-pox, tractors, galvanism, and gas
In turns appear, to make the vulgar stare.
Till the swollen bubble bursts—and all is air!"

English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.