In today’s Denver Post, Electa Draper reports that “Christian Scientists push for health insurance that covers spiritual care.” The story revolves around an actual case:
The burn victim, in his early 20s, was a Christian Scientist. When ER doctors told him he faced six months of skin-graft surgeries, he turned to his religion. His religion told him to rely on prayer for healing.
His religion told him “he is the spiritual image and likeness of God instead of a material, biological being.” That the material world and suffering are illusory. That suffering is an error resulting from sin or fear. And that healing is “the natural outcome of gaining this spiritual realization.”
And the Church of Christ, Scientist is lobbying the federal government to give its members an option to buy health insurance that covers this kind of spiritual care.
Christian Scientists often find themselves in the news for all the wrong reasons, usually when one of their children dies because the parents did not seek medical care that would have saved the child’s life. Given the Christian Science belief that God will heal all and that seeking professional health care transgresses his will, one might reasonably wonder why they call themselves “scientists.”
Although Christian Scientists have their own mythologies that situate their beliefs, this is yet another one of those faiths whose founding is so recent — and well documented by outside observers — that we need not rely on insider accounts or emic explanations. As Draper notes, Christian Science was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879. Eddy’s creation was not, however, sui generis.
The broader genealogy of Christian Science is this: it began when a backwoods clockmaker, Phineas P. Quimby (1802-1866), attended a showing of Franz Anton Mesmer’s “science of animal magnetism.” Quimby devoted the remainder of his life to a modified form of this mesmeric healing system, which quite obviously relied on the undeniable power of placebo for its limited successes. One of Quimby’s students was Mary Baker Eddy, whose imagination elaborated this “mind over matter” mysticism into what is today known as Christian Science.
Forcing insurers to pay for these “treatments” in the absence of any scientific studies or empirical evidence demonstrating their efficacy seems like an exceedingly bad idea. Faith, after all, is free and sugar pills or snake oil have healing properties equal to those of belief.