Christian Scientists are part of an anti-medicine cult that teaches members that they can heal anything — including death itself — with nothing more than simple prayers.
I wonder if they’ll be able to resurrect their own faith that way, since it’s on the verge of death.
Practitioners have been in the news for exactly the reasons you’d expect. Several parents have allowed their kids to die of preventable deaths because they chose prayer over doctors.
Even when death is out of the picture, though, it’s not like they use prayer as a catch-all cure for whatever ails them. I once interviewed a Christian Scientist who had a lazy eye. She said she knew people who had been resurrected through prayer but that she never thought to pray for her eye to be fixed because it simply was not a “priority.”
That woman gave me the impression that the religion, which Mary Baker Eddy invented in the 1890s, was on the rise. But a recent article from Caroline Fraser, the daughter of a Christian Scientist, presents substantial evidence to the contrary.
In 20 years, drastic changes have taken place, but the most arresting is the church’s precipitous fall. It’s getting harder and harder to see all the people, because they’re disappearing.
The early popularity of Christian Science was tied directly to the promise engendered by its core beliefs: the promise of healing. The overwhelming majority of those attracted to the movement came to be healed, or came because a husband, wife, child, relative or friend needed healing; the claims of Christian Science were so compelling that people often stayed in the movement whether they found healing or not, blaming themselves and not the church’s teachings for any apparent failures.
It took a while, but it seems like people are finally seeing through the whole cult’s charade.
The decline of the faith, once a major indigenous sect, may be among the most dramatic contractions in the history of American religion. Eddy forbade counting the faithful, but in 1961, the year I was born, the number of branch churches worldwide reached a high of 3,273. By the mid-80s, the number in the US had dropped to 1,997; between 1987 and late 2018, 1,070 more closed, while only 83 opened, leaving around a thousand in the US.
Prized urban branches are being sold off by the score, converted into luxury condominiums, museums and Buddhist temples. The branch I attended, on Mercer Island, near Seattle, is now Congregation Shevet Achim, a Modern Orthodox synagogue.
The slide into irrelevance has been inexorable. The number of practitioners has fallen to an all-time low of 1,126, and during the last decade the Sentinel magazine has lost more than half its subscribers.
Even the Christian Science Monitor, the church’s prized newspaper, has lost subscribers and fired staffers.
Unfortunately, as Fraser points out, Christian Science achieved a lot in its short time as a more powerful religious bloc. Through lobbying and activism, they were able to enact several laws that protect parents who kill their children through so-called “faith healing.” Despite the imminent end of the cult itself, these laws are still on the books and need to be repealed.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Sue for the link)