Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/October 1899/Christian Science from a Physician's Point of View

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 55 October 1899  (1899) 
Christian Science from a Physician's Point of View by John B. Huber


By JOHN B. HUBER, A. M., M. D.

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE is stated to be a religious system which was "discovered," in 1866, by Mrs. Mary Baker G. Eddy, a lady now living in the vicinity of Boston, Mass., who has passed her eightieth year, and who is called by her followers the "Mother of the Christian Science Church," or "Mother Mary." Mrs. Eddy has formulated Christian Science in a book entitled Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, in which book are to be found the principles upon which this system rests. We are told that to him who studies this book reverently and conscientiously there will be revealed "the Truth," for which man has been searching without avail since the beginning of his existence; that the faithful student will find in Christian Science an infallible guide for the conduct of life in all its phases; and that the Christian Scientist has the power to heal without any therapeutic means, other than that of the influence of mind upon mind, all imaginable ills, surgical or medical, which afflict mankind and the lower animals. Mrs. Eddy tells us that she and her followers have had this power transmitted to them from Jesus Christ, and that they are able to heal the sick and to perform miracles as He is said to have done. In Science and Health all religious systems other than "Christian Science" are held to have been erroneous and pernicious in their influence upon mankind, and the practice of medicine, as it is taught in the medical colleges, is considered to be hurtful rather than helpful to humanity, and to have increased disease rather than ameliorated human suffering.

It is said that in 1898 there were in the Greater City of New York three thousand Christian Scientists and seven Christian Science churches. The whole number of Christian Scientists is declared to be one million, of whom one hundred thousand, it is said, are engaged in the business of "healing," and are called "healers." The movement has been and is spreading day by day.

Tn religions matters Christian Science has divided many homes, and has destroyed not a few through the mischief produced by its propaganda. It is claimed that Christian Science has cured many who have not been benefited by the efforts of regular practitioners of medicine. On the other hand, many have died during the exclusive ministrations of Christian Scientists. Moreover, Christian Science considers itself entitled to disregard such sanitary laws, including those concerning infectious diseases, as have been found effectual to preserve intact the general health of communities and peoples.

Christian Science, then, is a cult unusually powerful and far reaching in its influence, and it is therefore entitled to and should invite correspondingly careful investigation of all its various aspects.

I have been interested in Christian Science from the viewpoint of the medical man, and I have felt quite unaffected, for the reason which I shall presently give, by Mrs. Eddy's stricture that "a person's ignorance of Christian Science is a sufficient reason for his silence on the subject." The system of medicine, as it is taught in the great medical colleges of to-day, is an epitome of the accumulated study and experience of mankind from the time human beings first became ill up to the present day. All systems of cure, or of alleged cure, have been examined by men who have made it the work of their lives to treat the sick. Whatever has been found curative has been retained, and unsubstantiated claims to cure have been discarded; so that the regular degree of doctor of medicine states that its recipient has acquired a knowledge of the system of treating disease which is a crystallization of the world's best medical thought, study, and experience.

As the possessor of such a degree, I have been engaged during several months in an investigation of the cures which Christian-Science healers are said to have accomplished.

Before beginning this work I reflected that mental suggestion, or the influence of the mind of the physician upon that of the patient, is a potent factor in the treatment of such diseases as are not characterized by permanent pathological changes in the tissues, and I remembered that when judiciously influenced by the physician's mind, the mind of the patient can affect his body favorably both in functional disorders and in disorders which may result from nervous aberration—such as hysteria in all its protean forms, the purely subjective, as headache and hyperæsthesia, and also those exhibiting objective manifestations, as hysterical dislocations and paralyses.

I knew that medical men, in their own unadvertised work, employ mental suggestion as a therapeutic means, rely upon it as a part of their armamentarium, and use it in appropriate cases, either alone or combined with other means of cure, as electricity, hydrotherapy, and drugs—which last, despite Mrs. Eddy's foolish denunciation, are quite as much entitled to be considered divinely appointed therapeutic agents as is mental suggestion.

What I did want especially to discover was whether the Christian Scientist could cure such diseases as are considered by the medical man to be incurable—as cancer, locomotor ataxia, or advanced phthisis—and also what were the results of their treatment of typhoid fever, pneumonia, diphtheria, malaria, etc. And I wanted also to investigate the claims of Christian Science concerning the alleged cure of surgical conditions, such as necrosis or hæmorrhage from severed arteries, by no other means than the sole exercise of thought. If the Christian Scientist could have healed in such cases, I for my part would have declared him a worker of miracles. Therefore I searched diligently for such cases.

In the beginning I had the honor to meet Mrs. Stetson, the "pastor," or the "first reader," of the "First Church of Christ, Scientist," at 143 West Forty-eighth Street, New York city. I had prepared a number of questions concerning Christian Science which I wished to ask Mrs. Stetson. She preferred, however, not to answer them herself, but told me that she would be pleased to forward them to Mrs. Eddy. I then wrote out these questions and put them, together with a letter to Mrs. Eddy, very respectfully requesting her consideration of them, in Mrs. Stetson's hands. Mrs. Stetson then very kindly forwarded them to Mrs. Eddy. Among the questions which I asked were the following:

Is the treatment of the sick a part of Christian Science?

Upon what principles is the Christian Scientist's method of treatment founded?

How do you define health?

How do you define disease?

When a patient presents himself to you, do you inquire concerning the causes of his illness?

Do you investigate symptoms? (Symnptoms, I stated, are the signs of disease.)

Do you make diagnoses? (A diagnosis, I stated, is a consideration of symptoms by which one disease is distinguished from another or others.)

In what does your treatment consist?

In treating a patient, do you administer any material substance, and require that it be taken into the body as one would food?

Do you consider cleanliness, good order, and the attainment of æsthetic effects in a patient's environment a part of treatment?

Do you take any steps to isolate the patient sick of an infectious disease, or to protect those about the patient from the disease?

Do you treat structural diseases, as cancer or locomotor ataxia? Do you consider you have cured such diseases? If so, how do you know you were treating a structural disease, such as cancer or locomotor ataxia?

Would you treat cases of fracture of bones or violent injury? If so, what would you do in such cases?

Will you give me the names of patients whom you have treated, with permission to inquire concerning their illnesses, your treatment of them, and the effects of your treatment upon them—upon the distinct understanding that their names are not to be published?

Do you deny the existence of matter? In Science and Health it is stated that "all is mind, there is no matter." How is it possible, in treating disease, for you to separate mind from matter?

Animals sometimes become sick; could they be cured by Christian-Science methods?

From Mrs. Eddy I received no answer nor any communication whatever. But, some time afterward, Mrs. Stetson informed me that the matter had been turned over to Judge Septimus J. Hanna, Mrs. Eddy's "counsel." Just here I reflected how Jesus Christ, whose representative Mrs. Eddy declares herself to be, would have acted under those circumstances, and I wondered how he would have appeared in this odd atmosphere hedged about by "counsel" and other legal paraphernalia. Presently thereafter I had the honor to receive a note from Mrs. Stetson, appointing a time for me to call. When I did this, Mrs. Stetson gave me a letter which had been sent her by Judge Hanna, and which she permitted me to use as I should see fit. This is the letter:

"Boston, Mass., November 18, 1898

"Editorial Office of The Christian Science Journal, Mrs. A. E. Stetson, New York City:

"Dear Sister: Mr. Metcalf handed me the questions submitted by Dr. Hubor. I have also received and carefully read your letters. As I think Mr. Metcalf has informed you, this matter was referred to me from Concord. I have been so very busy that I have not had time to give this matter the thorough attention it needs until now.

"I have carefully read and considered the entire paper. My conclusion is that it will be wholly impractical—indeed, I may say impossible—to answer these questions in such a manner as to make an entire paper fit for publication in a medical journal, or in any other magazine or periodical. The questions submitted touch the entire subject of Christian Science, both in its theology and therapeutics. These questions can be answered only in one way so that they can be understood, and that is by just such study of the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures as the earnest, sincere Christian Scientists are giving them every day of their lives, and have been for years. When we think of the helps provided by our leader, the Rev. Mary Baker Eddy, for her own students in arriving at a correct interpretation and putting in practice the teachings of these text-books, such as the publications established by her, the Bible Lessons made up of selections from the Bible and our text-book, constituting the sermons for our service in all the Christian-Science churches; the many auxiliaries she has published and is publishing in further illucidation of the textbooks—when we stop to consider that even those of her students who may be considered the most advanced are as yet infants in the understanding and ability to demonstrate the truth contained in these text-books, can we not easily see, and will not your friend the doctor at a glance see, the utter futility of attempting to answer his questions so as to make the answers intelligible to the medical profession and their readers? I admire greatly the kindly spirit manifested by the doctor and those for whom he is acting,[1] and the entire fairness, from their standpoint, of the questions submitted, but this does not relieve the difficulty of the situation. I therefore return the doctor's questions, with many thanks in behalf of our leader and the cause for the impartial spirit manifested.

"Yours in Truth,
"S. J. Hanna."

I wrote Judge Hanna a note of thanks, and in reply received a letter in which he stated: "I should have been very glad if I could have seen my way clear to answer your questions in such a way as could have been intelligible and satisfactory. But it was impossible for me to do so."

Now, all this seems to me much worse than preposterous. I fail utterly to see why he who asks the question, "Do you isolate a patient suffering from an infectious disease?" would have to spend months or years in Nirvana-like abstraction before he would be able to appreciate an answer to it. No doubt Judge Hanna, who is evidently a lawyer, could, if he chose, tell the reason why.

To all who had been "healed in Christian Science" whom I met I stated plainly my object—to investigate how they had been "healed." I stated that my findings would be published, but that no names would be printed. The cases were to be numbered. I stated that I did not wish to examine nervous manifestations of a hysterical sort or purely functional disorders. I wished to see cases of disease in which the structure of the organs was likely to be or to have been involved, such as Bright's disease or cancer. Having, to begin with, explained this fully, I took the subject's history and ascertained whenever possible the name of any physician who may have treated the patient before he or she went "into Christian Science." Almost all these physicians who live in New York I visited; to the others residing in New York and to those living out of town I wrote, the form of the letter being generally as follows:

"Dear Doctor: I am investigating Christian Science from the physician's view-point, and am examining a number of people, in the hope of presenting some twenty histories. These histories would, I think, be valuable only in so far as they are scientifically accurate. Therefore, whenever possible, I request a medical account from any physician who may formerly have been in attendance. I have now under observation the case of Mr. X——, who believes himself to have been cured 'in Christian Science.' I would thank you very kindly if you would send me whatever medical information you can concerning this case, with records of examinations if possible. The cases will be numbered, not named."

In each case, having set down the subject's statements and the physician's statement, I recorded my own observations of the subject's condition.

I examined in succession and without exception the case of every willing Christian Scientist up to the number of twenty.[2] All these cases were of their own choosing; no doubt, then, they would be considered to be among their "good" cases. Their "failures" I had no opportunity to examine. There were many others who refused to testify, no doubt justifiably. Others refused for reasons not easily comprehended, considering the fact that these people hold weekly "experience meetings," in which they "rejoice to testify to the power of Christian Science." It is difficult to see, therefore, why such cases should not invite scientific investigation.

I could find in all these twenty cases no "cure" that would have occasioned the medical man the slightest surprise. What did surprise me was the vast disproportion between the results they exhibited and the claims made by Christian-Science healers. One of these cases may be cited as an example of the loose generalization upon which many of the claims of these healers rest. A lady stated that she had had pneumonia. I asked how she knew she had had pneumonia. She declared she knew, because her nurse "could tell at a glance she had pneumonia." No medical examination had been made. I asked what symptoms she had had—how she had suffered. She told me she had purposely forgotten—she had tried to dismiss from her mind all recollection of this distressing illness. Well, this is no doubt commendable enough; but how do we know, then, if she really had pneumonia, or anything more than an ordinary cold?

I heard during my investigation of cases of yellow fever, phthisis, cancer, and locomotor ataxia which had been "healed in Christian Science." But truth compels the statement that my efforts to examine these cases were defeated by the cheapest sort of subterfuge and elusion. To be explicit: On November 2, 1898, a man arose in an "experience meeting" which I attended and stated that he had been one of a party of twelve who, while in Central America, contracted yellow fever, he having suffered with the rest. All took medicine but himself; instead, he read Science and Health. Among his companions seven died; he recovered completely. Several days later I called at the church and asked for the name and address of this gentleman, and twice, on this and a subsequent visit, the clerk promised to send me his address, not having received it, I called a third time, on November 21st. The clerk told me he could not find this eel-like specimen, and could not get his address. This man was, however, a member of that church, and had, on the evening I was present, a number of acquaintances in the congregation.

Again, I had been told that a young lady living out of town had been "healed" of consumption. I wrote her mother, who sent me a kind note, inviting me to call several evenings later, and inclosing a time-table. She stated, "I shall be happy to give you any information in my power, as Christian Science has been a great blessing in my family." Before the appointed evening I received a note, breaking the engagement. Again, at an "experience meeting" a man arose and declared he had cured a case of locomotor ataxia, "so that the patient's two former physicians had been lost in amazement at the change." I learned also that his wife, another "healer," had cured a case of cancer of the tongue. I wrote this gentleman, and he sent me an answer, kindly inviting me to call at his house. He lived out of town. I went to his house, and spent the greater part of an evening trying to prevail upon these two people to show me or to introduce me to these subjects of locomotor ataxia and cancer of the tongue. They utterly refused to do so. Their line of argument was quite of the same sort as that contained in the letter of their better-known "brother in the church," which appears earlier in this paper. I was not investigating in the right way. What I ought to do was to study Science and Health and the other elucidatory works—above all with an obedient spirit, and "the truth" would come to me in time. Or it may be this pair of "healers" had in mind this reasoning, not new in my observation of this odd cult: In the mind of the Christian Scientist the locomotor-ataxia patient was healed, but he was withheld from inspection by the deceptive senses of those outside the Christian-Science pale, to which senses the patient might appear to stagger about and be as ill or more ill than ever before. Following is this "healer's" letter to me:

"My dear Dr. Huber: I received your letter with Joy, and name next Monday eveng as a time to give you for your enquiry into the workings of Truth as it has come under my notice. Our field is a broad one coverig several towns, and we have not lately had an eveng free for discussin the subject coverig this sublime and stately Science That leads into all Truth even to the solving of the problem of Being. The healing of the sick is only the primary steps this step however is an important one as its demonstration with proof attests its divine origen even God—Good, its principle source and ultimates in Eternal Life. For the Life is in his Son and Divine Science reveals this son Even our own Christ our spiritual Individuality God being our Father and mother,

"Yrs. in Truth

The writer of this letter is the leader of that Christian-Science church in New Jersey a member of which was a woman who died, in June of this year, of consumption,[3] and this woman's "healer" was the writer's wife. The woman who died left the Episcopalian Church and became a Christian Scientist in January, 1899. In April she contracted a heavy cold, to which she gave no attention. Her husband remonstrated with her, and wished her to consult a physician, but she would not do so. She declared she could not be ill, but that she was well and happy. The services of her "healer" were the only ministrations she received. In the beginning of June her condition was so bad that her husband prevailed upon her to see a physician, who examined her and found her hopelessly ill with consumption. Another physician examined her and reached the same conclusion. She then turned "longingly and earnestly to the religion in which she had been brought up."

Two weeks after, she died, "asking the prayers of her co-religionists in behalf of herself, her husband, and her children."

Mrs. Eddy declares that she "healed consumption in its last stages, the lungs being mostly consumed"; that she "healed carious bones which could be dented with the finger"; and that she "healed in one visit a cancer that had so eaten the flesh of the neck as to expose the jugular vein so that it stood out like a cord."

Judge Hanna has published statements to the effect that "cancer, malignant tumors, consumption, broken bones, and broken tissues have been healed in Christian Science, without the assistance of any material means whatever." Mr. Carol Norton, a Christian-Science lecturer, has publicly announced that Christian Science has healed "locomotor ataxia, softening of the brain, paresis, tumor, Bright's disease, cancer," etc. And many other Christian Scientists have made like claims. Very well, then. Who are these people that have thus been cured? What are their names? Where do they live? How can they be found? Will Mrs. Eddy and her followers submit these cases for scientific examination? I and other investigators are asking, and have for years been asking, these questions, and we are all of us still waiting for answers.

The importance of all this is no doubt manifest. The healing of disease is, we are told, the outward and visible evidence upon which Christian Science expects to be judged and accepted. Therefore the cult must stand or fall upon the results of an investigation of the healer's claims. "By their fruits ye shall know them."

There are Christian Scientists who will say that these statements of Mrs. Eddy and her associates must be taken upon faith and as ipse dixit utterances. This is in the last degree silly. With such statements faith has absolutely nothing to do. They are solely matters for scientific inquiry.

Every Christian Scientist may be a healer. A little child may be a healer in Christian Science. The treatment is said to consist in thinking, speaking, and writing. It is declared that no material substances are used. The following oddity in mental processes is here to be noted: A healer told her patient to take a certain drug during her illness, and that she would then demonstrate the power of Christian Science over this drug.

The healer does not need to see his patient. He may, if he will, treat "absently," by a species of thought transference. He would consider his treatment effectual if he were in New York and his patient were in Hong Kong.

I have rheumatism, let us say, and at midnight my swollen and inflamed joint gives me pain. I send for a Christian-Science healer. In all probability my messenger will call upon a person who has had no preliminary medical education whatever. He is likely to find some one who is quite illiterate, as witness the letter last presented. He may, as I have, come upon some one who has been engaged in the occupation of amusing the habitués of beer saloons by playing upon the zither before he took up the more remunerative business of Christian-Science healing. Or he may, as I have, come upon some one who is engaged simultaneously both in the business of selling drugs and in the practice of healing by mental therapeutics alone.

Having been found, the healer, first requiring a fee from my messenger, treats me "absently," while lying abed in his own home. His treatment consists in sending me word that I only imagine I am ill, that my joint is really not swollen, that it is really not inflamed, and that it really does not pain me, but that, on the contrary, I am really very well and very happy indeed.

Some diseases are in Christian Science considered to take longer to heal than others; I have not understood why. If "all is mind, and there is no matter,"[4] as the Christian Scientist holds, and if, therefore, the varying densities of tissues need not be considered, why should not cancer or locomotor ataxia be healed as easily and as rapidly as a headache or a hysterical manifestation? Christian Science despises bodily cleanliness, the use of baths, and the most ordinary sanitary regulations. "To bow down to a flesh-brush, bath, diet, exercise, and air is a form of idolatry."[5] We learn, finally, that "the heart, the lungs, the brain, have nothing to do with life."[6]

Christian Science has stood by the bedside of an infant sick with diphtheria, has prevented interference with its incantations, and has seen this infant choke, grow livid, gasp, and expire, without so much as putting a drop of water to its lips.

Most Christian Scientists are well to do. Their tenet is that "no one has any business to be poor." In New York their churches are in the neighborhood of the wealthy, and there are no missions by means of which the professed blessings of Christian Science may be disseminated among the poor. Christian Science is demonstrably a powerful organization for the accumulation of wealth, and by easy calculation one may see that her propaganda has made Mrs. Eddy, who is said to have been at one time very poor, conspicuously rich even in these days of enormous fortunes. When we consider that this woman claims to be actuated by the spirit of the poor Nazarene, has hypocrisy ever gone to greater length?

Mrs. Eddy despises all metaphysical systems, yet her writings display her inability to think logically through half a dozen consecutive lines.

Mrs. Eddy declares that "no human being or agency taught me the truths of Christian Science, and no human agency can overthrow it."[7] But there are published statements,[8] of the truth of which the writer offers to give legal proof, in which it is shown, by means of the "deadly parallel," that the essential ideas underlying her system are all plagiarized from the writings of an irregular practitioner to whom, many years ago, she went for treatment. Published accounts of her illness at that time present a picture of hysteria pure and simple.

Mrs. Eddy claims to possess healing powers nothing short of miraculous, yet the writer just mentioned declares that she has probably not been a well woman these forty years past. Certain it is she almost never appears in public, and only a few of her followers have ever seen her face except in copyrighted photographs.

The medical profession is most stupidly reprobated by Mrs. Eddy and her associates, especially for its "mercenary motives." A specific statement may here be not malapropos. In the year 1895 there were 1,800,000 inhabitants in the lesser city of New York, and on the rolls of its hospitals and dispensaries were more than 793,000 names of people for the treatment of whom New York's medical men received practically no pecuniary reward whatever.

It is declared that Christian Science is a religious system, that the treatment of the sick is a part of this system, and that, as the Constitution forbids interference by the States with religion, no laws can be enacted which could compel the healer to desist from his work. But there is a sharp distinction between religious liberty and license to commit, in the name of religion, unlawful acts. A man would not be justified in killing his child in obedience to a fanatical belief, as Abraham was about to do; but Christian Science has sacrificed the lives of little children upon the altar of its pseudo-religion. Had not these children rights which ought to have been safeguarded? If the Christian Scientist's position be admitted, a thug might, upon the same principles, be justified in committing murder, on the ground that murder is a practice required by his religion; and a Mormon might; on the same basis, practice polygamy. When a healer treats for hire a sufferer from typhoid fever, is he acting in a religious capacity?

The observer will find in Christian Science much charlatanry (by which many honest fanatics are deceived), much to surprise reason and common sense, to offend good taste and the proprieties, to outrage justice and the law, and to mortify the pious.

And in the last degree reprehensible will appear this cult's ghastly masquerade in the garb of Him that prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "the pale, staggering Jew, with the crown of thorns upon his bleeding head," the tenderest, the divinest, the most mankind-loving personality the world has ever known.

  1. I had arranged with the editor of the New York Medical News for the publication in that journal of a paper on Christian Science, and had so informed Mrs. Stetson.
  2. These medical histories are a part of my serial paper in the New York Medical News of January 28, 1899, et seq.
  3. New York Times, June 24, 1899.
  4. Science and Health.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Science and Health.
  8. The Arena, May, 1898.