In her review of a new book by Melanie Thernstrom entitled, The Pain Chronicles, Helen Epstein wrote, “Except for a reference to her favorite grandmother, a Christian Scientist, Ms. Thernstrom tells us little of her family’s attitudes toward pain.” (The New York Times, 8/20/10)
Several days after first stumbling over this statement, I’m still wondering: What does that mean?
What is Ms. Epstein implying — or assuming — when she shares this fact about the author’s “favorite grandmother”? What does her being a Christian Scientist say about the family’s “attitudes toward pain”?
Ms. Epstein’s statement presents an opportunity to share some facts about Christian Science in an attempt to dispel the misconception that Christian Scientists ignore pain or allow suffering.
This seems to be a common misconception about Christian Scientists — but nothing could be further from the truth. Our way of treating and overcoming pain is mental and private. While we are praying — applying the Science of Christianity — to see the reality of life as spiritual and harmonious, not material and subject to pain, we try not to give pain any power to claim our attention. So what may look from the outside like stolid stoicism is actually the Christian Scientist’s decision to yield to the truth of spiritual being. That prayer is private, between the individual and God. By necessity, this results in not discussing pain, because talking about something makes it seem more real.
It’s not that Christian Scientists do nothing or ignore pain — the opposite is true. We actively endeavor to acknowledge the ever-presence of God, good, who knows no pain.
A Christian Scientist’s prayer begins with a loving Father-Mother God, who would never condemn his children — you and me — to suffer or be in pain. Christian Science teaches that we are made in God’s image, according to the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible, and that means we must be spiritual beings, not mortal sufferers. That’s the premise. And what really counts is that Christian Science prayer based on this premise gets results. It permanently heals all kinds of painful conditions. That’s the expectation whenever we pray.
As explained in the textbook of Christian Science, pain is experienced mentally:
You say a boil is painful; but that is impossible, for matter without mind is not painful. The boil simply manifests, through inflammation and swelling, a belief in pain, and this belief is called a boil…. The fact that pain cannot exist where there is no mortal mind to feel it is a proof that this so-called mind makes its own pain — that is, its own belief in pain. (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy)
Here’s another quote that I think many people can relate to: “Where is the pain while the patient sleeps?”
Christian Scientists are sometimes thought to be less than compassionate or sympathetic with someone who is suffering. If it sometimes appears that way, that’s not the intent. Again, some information may shed some light and help clear up this misunderstanding.
Suppose a Christian Scientist encounters a friend who is in pain. He or she would likely begin immediately to consider God’s view of that friend as a whole and healthy spiritual being, not a suffering human. Seeing only the spiritual image of God, he or she would not be likely to engage in discussions about pain. So, his or her silence may be misinterpreted as coldness or indifference to suffering. But in fact, the Christian Scientist is offering his or her friend the mental support that he/she knows from experience relieves suffering and facilitates healing.
My thanks to Ms. Epstein for forcing me to think publicly about this subject. We Christian Scientists need to do a better job of communicating with our friends so they understand our attitudes toward pain. Perhaps our friends will then experience and appreciate the genuine care we are feeling. Please consider this a step in that direction.