Commentary: Healing and the nature of humanity: A Christian Scientist’s view
Diane R. Hanover, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Arizona
Nov 3, 2016
Is human experience limited to what can be measured with scientific instruments? If not, what is the nature of reality? A Herald column (published Sept. 23) raised these and other issues that thinking people, religious and non-religious alike, have wrestled with through the ages. As a Christian Scientist, I agree that questions so important need answers grounded in reason and practical experience.
More than a century ago, as sociologist Emile Durkheim gathered data to support his theory that religion is the product of human rather than divine activity, religious leader Mary Baker Eddy sought evidence for a “scientific” Christianity based on spiritual law. Eddy viewed the unmatched life and teachings of Jesus Christ as the supreme example of divine truth. But she
agreed with Durkheim that believing wasn’t enough. As she wrote in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “The hour has struck when proof and demonstration, instead of opinion and dogma, are summoned to the support of Christianity…”
Eddy felt that Christians need to live and demonstrate—not merely preach—Jesus’ teachings by following in some measure his example of healing sickness and sin.
For her, genuine Christian healing wasn’t “supernatural,” a matter of praying for miracles, or even “having enough faith,” as one might have in a placebo. As she understood it, turning to God in prayer for healing, as Jesus’ disciples had, involves deepening of character, genuine moral uprising, spiritual growth in grace and understanding, the purifying of a heart in communion with God.
What was the result? In Eddy’s day, William James, a leading secular philosopher and trained physician, said of the healings that were occurring: “I assuredly hold no brief for any of these healers… But their facts are patent and startling…”
More recently, a rigorous “Empirical Analysis of Medical Evidence in Christian Science Testimonies of Healing, 1969-1988” published by the denomination examined more than 10,000 instances of physical healing in published accounts. Some 2,337 of these comprised significant healings of medically diagnosed conditions, involving hundreds of specialists, hospitals, x-rays,
and follow-up examinations, including 222 cases given terminal or life-threatening prognoses by physicians.
The diagnosed conditions healed included cancer (27 healings), tumor (42), polio (16), tuberculosis (68), pneumonia (38), heart disorders (88), kidney disorders (23), broken bones (203), childbirth complications (71), meningitis (9), appendicitis (24, 8 acute) scarlet fever (16), rheumatic fever (16), cataract (11), diabetes (12), pernicious anemia (13), rheumatoid or degenerative arthritis (12), gangrene (2), glaucoma (3), hepatitis (7), leukemia (3), multiple sclerosis (6), blindness (7), vision deficiencies (48), goiter (13), curvature of the spine (8), epilepsy (13), crossed eyes (3), and cleft palate.
Such healings have often been dismissed as “obviously” impossible—the fantasy of deluded believers—or as examples of some as-yet-unexplained power of the human mind. To this day, objective examination of prayer and religious healing by physical scientists remains infrequent and problematic.
Yet these healings happened. Even in this technological era, it’s hard to brush aside so many experiences. As a Christian Scientist wrote in a church publication, denial and disbelief “can’t erase the simple, striking fact of healing, often in defiance of medical expectation, in so many thousands of people’s lives.”
Of course, a list of conditions healed doesn’t illumine the individual human encounter with the power of God, divine Love. The practice of healing is humbling, and no thoughtful person would say that authentic Christianity is easy. Christian Scientists are deeply conscious of how much more we have to learn about this power and practice of Love and how it heals.
Still, such healing has tremendous meaning, not only for Christian Scientists but for humanity—for understanding who and what we are as human beings. Are we just transient biological packages, or is there more to each of us, an irreducible spiritual identity at our core? As the Book of Job declares, “There is a spirit in man.” The great breakthroughs of spiritual inspiration that have moved humanity forward haven’t necessarily fit what people at the time considered explicable in material terms—and still don’t today.
Diane R. Hanover is a lifelong Christian Scientist, raised in Tucson, where she serves an appointment to represent the branch Churches of Christ, Scientist, in Arizona.