Insurance Coverage for “Spiritual Health Care”?

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.

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4 thoughts on “Insurance Coverage for “Spiritual Health Care”?

  1. admin Post author

    My general policy is not to allow comments, as stated in the “About Blog” section. I get comments daily from people who are offended by something I have said about their particular religion or faith, or who argue matters of revelation of theology. This blog is devoted to the origins of supernatural thinking, the evolution of belief, and the historical development of religions. It is not about the particulars of any one faith, the theology of any religion, and most certainly is not a forum where anyone who claims to have had a revelation from any deity is given prominence of place. This is a forum where things like facts, evidence, data, and empiricism are required, none of which are matters of personal belief or metaphysical speculation.

  2. Anne Condon

    You say that “this is a forum where things like facts, evidence…are required….”

    When I read the original article in the Denver Post about the burn victim, who was a Christian Scientist, the concluding “fact” was that he was healed through prayer. The “evidence” of the healing was that he returned to work within a month with no noticeable scars. The ER doctors’ prediction of his facing six months of skin-graft surgeries was unnecessary.

    So why weren’t those facts and the evidence posted on your blog? By not including them, the reader’s perception of Christian Science is inacurrate.

    To state that “Mary Baker Eddy, whose imagination elaborated this mind over matter mysticism into what is today known as Christian Science,” bears neither fact nor evidence.

    Eddy wrote: “Christian Science reinforces Christ’s sayings and doings.”

    And what Jesus said was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself; what he did was to heal sin, sickness, and death.

    Christian Scientists emulate his example to the best of their ability, and Eddy’s book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” shows them how. They’ve had a mostly successful history of spiritual healing for over one-hundred years now.

    These are the correct facts, and there’s an abundance of evidence to prove it.


  3. admin Post author

    These are precisely the kinds of debates I wish to avoid here, but because of your persistence, I will briefly indulge. A story from a newspaper and the information a reporter conveys through a story are not facts. They are stories filled with unverified hearsay.

    We do not have the medical reports, so we do not know what the injuries were, whether there were divergent diagnostics, or what the prognoses were. Self reported “healing” is not a fact; it is a claim coming from a person who has a vested interest in the tenets of a particular faith.

    Here are the facts: all religions and faiths claim that through their particular beliefs and/or practices, a supernatural entity or force can heal. And it is also a fact that people from all religions and all faiths experience healing — some of this is self healing (which would have occurred in any event and without supernatural or other intervention) and some of this occurs through the undeniable power of placebo, which is well studied and has been shown — through double blind studies (the gold standard of science) to be effective when it comes to health outcomes.

    Belief in the supernatural goes back at least 40,000 years and may be as old 75,000 years. The vast majority of this belief is associated with shamanisms, which concerns itself largely with healing. If supernatural beliefs are adaptive, as some evolutionary theorists maintain, the adaptiveness is in all likelihood related to the healing aspects of shamanisms. These healing aspects arise from the power of placebo, not the hundreds of thousands of spirits that shamans throughout history claim to have contacted in an effort to heal injured or diseased persons. On these issues, I recommend reading James McClenon’s book, Wondrous Healing: Shamanism, Human Evolution, and the Origin of Religion. For scientific studies of the placebo effect, I recommend Tor Wager’s many studies on the subject.

    The long and short of it is that this blog does not assume facts not in evidence, such as the existence of supernatural agents, deities, spirits, or forces. The evolved mind naturally gives rise to supernatural beliefs that are then culturally shaped into religious faiths. Each of these faiths makes claims quite similar to your own. How are we to choose?

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