Why do Christian Scientists go to optometrists (but not doctors)?

One of the most common questions the ExChristian Scientist site gets is “Why do Christian Scientists go to optometrists but not doctors?” Yeah, that is a good question. While we were raised in Christian Science, practiced Christian Science, and have since left Christian Science, the “logic” eludes us too, but we’re giving it a try. 


TL;DR

  1. Extreme Christian Scientists often choose not to go to the optometrist 
  2. MBE’s reasoning allowed for loopholes to avoid lawsuits and CS taking the blame for failure, you may need to so some mental gymnastics, but as a Christian Scientists, you’re used to that, and you can make it work
  3. Optometry was a well-established comparatively evidence-based practice in the 1800s.
  4. MBE is known to have used glasses at various points in her life 

—————

1) One is fairly self-explanatory, Extreme Christian Scientists often choose not to go to the optometrist, pointing to S&H 167:12We cannot serve two masters nor perceive divine Science with the material senses.”

2) The right use of temporary means” loophole, “obey the law” and other excuses that have been used.

Using glasses is fine as they are “aids” to “assist” us until we reach a higher level of understanding & are better able to heal ourselves. S&H 56 3-6 “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus’ concessions (in certain cases) to material methods were for the advancement of spiritual good.” (Yes, we know this is from the chapter on Marriage, but it applies to so many things).

If Christian Scientists ever fail to receive aid from other Scientists, – their brethren upon whom they may call, – God will still guide them into the right use of temporary and eternal means S&H p. 444:7-10 

Glasses are temporary means, until one can demonstrate perfect vision, one must make due. Some CS find glasses to be too obvious, like you’re wearing error on your face, and instead opt for more discreet contact lenses. 

MBE compels Christian Scientists to “Obey the Law” (The Christian Science Journal, Volume 18), and you have to pass a vision test to get a drivers license, as most CS do want to drive, corrective lenses are as a necessary aid. 

Depending on how you read Science and Health, you can find loopholes that “allow” for medical treatment. You may need to do some mental gymnastics, but as a Christian Scientists, you’re used to that, and you can make it work. 

3) Optometry was a well-established evidence-based practice in the 1800s. 

By MBE’s day, the notion of using lenses to help with vision had been around for centuries, and were far more evidence-based than the questionable notions of humors being used by doctors of the day. The Time line history of optometry and optometry research journals from Wiley Online Library places the earliest use of Hand-held reading stones (lapides ad legendum) were probably in use as desk magnifiers in European monasteries before the year 1000, with the final part of the 13th century bringing about primitive nose spectacles, etc. By MBE’s day (mid-1800s onwards), corrective lenses were a well-established practice

4) Ms. Eddy is known to have used glasses in her time. If using glasses was OK for her, it is OK for current-day Christian Scientists. There are some mixed takes on this, as some pro-MBE sources say she was able to heal her eyesight and dispose of her glasses in later years. 

From The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy – ch. 14

“Mrs. Eddy came up from Lynn on Sunday afternoon, attended by Mr. Eddy, and often by several of her students. She usually wore a black silk gown and a hat when she spoke, used gold-bowed spectacles, and was confident and at ease upon the rostrum.” (p. 262)

“The necessity for wearing spectacles embarrassed her. When she sometimes wore glasses in her own home, she apologized for doing so, explaining that it was a habit she often rose above, but that at times the mesmerists were too strong for her.” (p. 271)

Final Thoughts

It is worth noting that while MBE is quite set against mesmerism, hypnotism, homeopathy, drugs, hygiene, minor curatives, material medicine, chemists, botanists, druggists, doctors, nurses, vegetarianism, hydrotherapy, narcotics, cataplasms, whiskey, apothecaries, man-midwifes, and material hygiene to name a few. Interestingly, optometrists don’t get an obvious mention

Additional Resources 

Christian Science in Historical Context – Further Reading 

History of Optometry – Further Reading 

19th Century Medicine – further reading 

Christian Science Links – Science & Health in full text as a searchable PDF https://christiansciencemedia.org/files/2010/03/Science-and-Health-with-Key-to-the-Scriptures.pdf

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Life_of_Mary_Baker_G._Eddy/Chapter_07

Hindsight is 20/20

This is Part 2 of a multi-part story of one woman’s journey leaving Christian Science. For all posts see ‘Spice‘.


File:Refraction through glasses 090306.jpg From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

I have been unable to see properly for at least half of my life.

While a lot of modern day Christian Scientists don’t go to doctors, many of them do go to eye doctors, because Mary Baker Eddy herself went to eye doctors. Eye doctors and dentists are exceptions to the rule of not seeking medical care — but that’s a whole ‘nother article. For now we’ll just leave it with the concept that Christian Scientists are allowed, under religious doctrine, to go to eye doctors and get and wear glasses.

Even though both of my Christian Scientist parents wore glasses, they didn’t know how to help me navigate what I feel is the labyrinth of optometry.

I first found out that I needed glasses at the DMV, testing for my driver’s license at age 16. Having been raised by Christian Scientists, I was exempt from vision screening in school. I was also exempt from health class, scoliosis screening, hearing screenings, and vaccinations.

I was at the DMV after a rough driver’s ed experience in school. I didn’t pass the course and needed additional hours with the instructor which took additional time, cost additional money, and further inconvenienced my parents who had to transport me. Within my family, I got a reputation as being a bad driver.

After the DMV, my mother took me to Wal-Mart for an eye exam and to buy a pair of glasses. I remember being scared and frustrated and crying during the exam, because he was asking me which lens I “liked” better, and I didn’t know. I didn’t know by what criteria I should like one lens over another, and I was very scared at my first experience at a doctor’s office. I remember when I first put them on and looked across the big store, I could now read the signs across the ceiling. The first time I wore them outside I reveled in the ability to see each individual leaf on a tree. Being able to see was amazing, and driving became much easier.

I don’t think I got another pair of glasses until I was away at college, a couple of years later. Why would a good Christian Scientist get their eyes checked every year? That would be acknowledging the idea of mortal decay and giving it power. Well, I accidentally left my glasses on a desk in a classroom and never found them. In a panic, I had to figure out how to get — and pay for — another pair of glasses. And why would a good Christian Scientist have a backup pair of glasses? That would be acknowledging that things can be lost, which is error.

From Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy, “Recapitulation,” p. 472:

 

Question. — What is error?
Answer. —

Error is a supposition that pleasure and pain, that intelligence,
substance, life, are existent in matter. Error is neither Mind nor one of Mind’s
faculties. Error is the contradiction of Truth. Error is a belief without
understanding. Error is unreal because untrue. It is that which seemeth to be and is not.If error were true, its truth would be error, and we should have a
self-evident absurdity — namely, erroneous truth.Thus we should continue to
lose the standard of Truth.

 

I found a coupon in the newspaper for a $25 exam, which sounded great to me, being on my own financially. I went to Wal-Mart to pick out a pair of frames and get an idea of the price. (After all, my mom had taken me to Wal-Mart for glasses. Isn’t that where everyone gets glasses?) Then I went to the optician designated on the coupon for my eye exam. Afterward they asked if I’d like to look at frames, and I said I could not afford the glasses that they sold there, and that I needed my prescription to take to Wal-Mart. They did not want to release my prescription, and I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or the law stating they were required to give it to me. So I bought from them glasses that were out of my budget even after discounting. (The coating wore off of those glasses before my year warranty was up, and those bastards charged me for “shipping” to replace/recoat the lenses.) I was at this shady place because I didn’t know about medical insurance, what I had access to via my parents or the university while in college, or that I could have had a proper exam from a non-swindling eye doctor. I didn’t know that non-swindling eye doctors existed until several years later, and I hated “the glasses racket” and treated it with proper disgust and distrust.

Later in college, I lost my glasses while out dancing. Of course I blamed myself horribly for losing them, because Christian Science teaches that “nothing is lost in God’s Kingdom.” This is probably based on the phrase, “thy kingdom come,” found in “The Daily Prayer” from The Manual of The Mother Church, Eddy:

Daily Prayer. Sect. 4. It shall be the duty
of every member of this Church to pray each
day: “Thy kingdom come;” let the reign of
divine Truth, Life, and Love be established in
me, and rule out of me all sin; and may Thy
Word enrich the affections of all mankind,
and govern them!

In reality, people lose or break glasses all the time. It’s so common that it is normal to have a “backup pair” of glasses so that this exact situation does not happen. My prescription was expired, so I had to do another “fire drill” to get replacement glasses in a hurry. You can bet I didn’t go back to those bastards for a $25 eye exam.

After graduating college, I had a reimbursable cash incentive from my employer for medical expenses. Because I was driving slowly when approaching signs, the coworkers I was on a business trip with suggested that it was time for new glasses, which was embarrassing. I found an independent eye doctor and got an exam. He suggested that I get my eyes checked every year. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

I got eye exams every year for the four years that I had that job because of this reimbursable cash account. The next time I went to this doctor for an eye exam, he said that my prescription had changed only slightly and started to write a new one. I begged him not to change my prescription if it was only slightly different, because new prescriptions gave me horrible headaches. I remember the look he gave me, like I had just asked him to commit a felony. I didn’t learn until 10 years later that headaches upon getting a new glasses prescription is not uncommon, but in the meantime this reinforced my disgust and distrust in what I perceived as being “the glasses racket”.

After that I went to graduate school, which is very reading-intensive. I knew the signs that my vision was going by now, so I went to an independent eye doctor for a prescription and went along just fine. After a couple of years the lenses became crazed, and I needed to replace these glasses. I was so frustrated and did not have the time, money, or patience to deal with it. Since I felt like I could see just fine and had a deep distrust in “the glasses racket”, I decided not to play their game this time. In the state where I lived then, a glasses prescription was good for 2 years, instead of 1 year, which had been the case where I lived previously. Well, if 2 was just as good as 1, then why not 3? I felt like it was all bullshit anyway, just designed to make eye doctors money. So I did a forensic copy job on my prescription and extended it for a year so that an unnamed optical provider would make me another pair of glasses. (Thankfully, the statute of limitations has expired on this. I did not know at the time that this is very, very illegal, but that is no excuse.)

After I graduated and started my next job, the first thing I did was to get Lasik. It had been about four years since I had had an eye exam and gotten new glasses, and the doctor thought that my prescription was stable. Lasik was a terrifying experience, but was well worth the emotional upheaval. I remember seeing every individual snowflake falling outside the window the next morning with my naked eyes. I proudly went to the DMV with my Lasik letter to get the corrective lens restriction removed from my license. I could see as soon as I woke up everyday! Life without glasses was SO FINE.

A little over a year later, I was in an accident that caused a vision problem called Purtcher’s Retinopathy. It took a while to diagnose and affects the retina — a different part of the eye than Lasik fixes and which glasses corrects (the cornea). While signing myself into the ER after the accident, I asked if the pen worked because I couldn’t see my signature on the admittance paperwork. The ceiling tiles were also fuzzy as I laid in the ER bed. But, we had much bigger fish to fry (injuries to treat), and the doctor said that the accident probably kicked up floaters, that my body was under stress, and that it would clear up.

Two days later I was following up with my primary care doctor, and they were asking me for all kinds of information for the insurance claim. I couldn’t read well enough to get insurance info from my email on my phone. I successfully advocated for myself at that appointment and begrudgingly got orders for a CT scan, which did not show any abnormalities. (By this point, I had been getting medical care for 10 years.) Purtcher’s Retinopathy takes two days to fully present. That night, I picked up a plate full of liquid that I couldn’t see, and splashed the liquid all over myself. After watching me do this, my husband took me to the ER at a hospital with a well-known eye center. My intake eye exam (which I cried through) revealed my vision was only 20/200. The ER resident was able to confirm that there was nothing wrong with my Lasik flap,and that my optic nerve looked fine, and agreed my problem must be caused by floaters. I pushed back and said that I felt like I was looking through snow on an analog TV and the interference stayed in the same place wherever I looked, which is not explained by floaters. I ended up seeing a total of six eye doctors over four months before getting definitive test results proving that I had a vision problem. Every time they gave me the same stupid exam, and every
time I bawled my eyes out because I couldn’t see.

Fun fact: there are no criteria for a doctor clearing you to drive after you have vision problems. I asked about the fact that it took me 10 seconds sometimes to make out a letter and the several times that, as a passenger, I did not see a scooter, small, neutral-colored car, or pedestrian. They said to just “use my judgement.” My husband drove me to all of my appointments and to work for six weeks. Then he needed to go on a business trip, so I started driving again. I got a new GPS and used voice prompts and drove slowly. By the 4-month point, I was testing at 20/35, which was close enough to 20/30, the legal requirement for driving. This should scare the hell out of you. It scared the hell out of me.

A year after the accident, I passed a DMV vision test and my retinologist said that my retinas looked just as good as any adult’s off the street.

Life went on for a couple more years. I started treatment for migraines that included medication. I didn’t feel like I could see very well and blamed it on the meds, like a good semi-pseudo-sorta-former Christian Scientist. In fact, after a few days on one medication, I almost missed a school crossing guard, and immediately quit taking that medication. It got so bad that I avoided driving at night as much as possible and drove very slowly on exits and when taking turns. I thought to myself: ”I am too young to be having these kinds of vision problems and limitations.” I read about blurred vision in my medication side effects. (Spoiler alert: they ALL say this.) I discussed this with my doctor, and we slowly reduced the medication until I no longer took it. My vision improved slightly, but was still so bad that I couldn’t read signs across the room. My husband told me to try on his glasses. Goddamnit, it was time for new glasses. AGAIN.

At this point, it had been 4 years since I got Lasik, and my eyes kept deteriorating. I’m sure that some of my Christian Science family members blame my having gotten Lasik for needing to wear glasses again. I didn’t solve my vision the “right” way, through prayer. Yeah, ok.

So it turns out that I will not achieve my goal of cutting the glasses industry out of my life. But now (I think) I know how to deal with it like a rational adult. I now have not only one pair of backup glasses, but also a fashion pair, plus prescription sunglasses. This feels like pure luxury.

Because I was raised as a Christian Scientist, I got the reputation for being a bad driver during my formative years and felt guilty for needing glasses and for not being “God’s perfect child.” I did not get eye exams every year or even every two years while in high school and college — the prime age range for getting into a car accident for non-vision-related reasons. My lack of knowledge about eye doctors and the glasses industry made correcting my eyesight a very painful and expensive process — not to mention incredibly dangerous, because without a backup pair of glasses, I was out on the open road unable to see properly. All of this stress occurred during the most important years of my education. As an adult, I unwittingly committed a felony by changing the date on my prescription, because I was sure I knew better than these swindling, glasses-hawking eye doctors. Finally I blamed my vision problems on meds and did
not have the self-awareness — or body-awareness — to recognize that I had needed new
glasses for over 8 months.

“​My lack of knowledge about eye doctors and the glasses industry made correcting my eyesight a very painful and expensive process — not to mention incredibly dangerous…”

I have major emotional baggage when it comes to glasses and vision. What I went through was completely unnecessary thanks to 14th century technology (glasses) and middle-class means (the ability buy a backup pair) during modern times when vision screening is mandatory during elementary school (unless you have a religious exemption). I have been terrified of driving, made to feel like it was my own fault that I couldn’t see, felt swindled, despaired that I would never be able to see again, and I committed a felony. My troubles didn’t occur in 1900 — this was Anno Domini 2000+. Except that for Christian Scientists, it may as well have been 1900s — medically speaking.


image via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Refraction_through_glasses_090306.jpg

My eyesight was on the line!

This piece was originally published on 


By Jenny, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

When I was in my final year at Principia College, I developed some kind of eye infection. I went to the emergency room secretly, but was still somehow found out by a Christian Science nurse who interrogated me about why I was there. When I refused to tell her, she called my house mom and the dean of students. They each spent an hour or so interrogating me, trying to get me to tell them why I was at the hospital.

The crux of the issue for them was not my well-being or health or whether my eye problem was contagious, but whether I had been given a prescription. They told me that if I didn’t tell them they would have to make me move to Cox Cottage or possibly kick me out. I told them it was my body, my choice, and that I felt it was confidential.

We eventually reached a truce when I told them that if it would make them feel better I would be more than happy to lie to them and tell them that I was not taking a prescription. It was one of the single weirdest experiences of my life. My eyesight was on the line! What would have happened if I had been less sure of my decision or more concerned about public perception or what my parents would say if I was asked to leave?

Why God didn’t heal her vision problems?

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

A long time ago, a friend who was trying to convince me that leaving Christian Science was just animal magnetism told me about her ‘healing’ of an eye infection which had been exacerbated by contact lenses. She had terrible symptoms and finally went to an eye doctor who prescribed antibiotic eye drops. She used the drops, but prayed really hard too. Three weeks later she saw a different doctor who said her infection was gone. A Christian Science healing, she said!

I asked why God didn’t heal her vision problems, too? She said she was still working that part out. Years later, after leaving Christian Science, she went to an eye doctor who asked her, “Did you ever have an eye infection? I’m seeing lots of scar tissue in there.” In my experience, all so-called ‘healings’ are of this nature.

The church touts its ‘verified’ testimonies, but the verification process includes EITHER “I saw the healing,” or “I didn’t witness it but I know you are a good Christian Scientist.” That’s not verification. That’s what I call ‘none of us want to see anything other than a success,’ especially when you consider that no one in the church ever tells stories of Christian Science failing to work.

I would go on trips without my glasses with the expectation of healing

By Brett Buchanan, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

I had an INSTANTANEOUS HEALING yesterday!

After decades of extreme myopia (couldn’t focus on anything beyond five inches in front of me), my eyesight was completely restored! Since third grade, I would hear of healings of eyesight, read Journal articles about the spiritual meaning of eyes, I would go on trips without my glasses with the expectation of healing, work on my understanding of my relationship with God, sometimes discouraged by the sin or ignorance preventing perfect perception… But then I got some f*cking laser beams in my eyeballs, and my eyesight is better than ever. Thanks, science!!!

In some ways, I’m grateful to have been raised in such a bizarre religion. I think it was easier for me to question all religions, compared to someone raised in a more benign denomination, and arrive at my tentative conclusion that all religions are man-made; that although most religions strive for a cosmic connection with grand answers, awe, and transcendence, they all ignorantly capitulate to emotion or superstition or wishful thinking or dogma or authority or tradition.

I think it’s an important distinction that you can be BOTH an atheist and an agnostic. I’m both. The two labels are often conflated into a single spectrum of certainty or belief. But they answer different questions: one is about belief; the other is about certainty. I am not a Theist. I don’t believe in an intervening personal God, therefore a non-theist or a-theist.; also I am open to revision with sufficient evidence, I am not certain of anything. I am not a Gnostic, therefore a non-gnostic or a-gnostic.

It’s helpful and inspiring to sometimes name all of the Universe’s puzzles and mysteries by a single name, as Einstein did as a self-described Pantheist (a philosophy Eddy despised). But it’s important to remember that we have solved some of the Universe’s puzzles recently and we will solve more very soon…even while some of our neighbors would prefer to remain ignorant to the wonderful and useful answers of evolution, heliocentrism, or the germ theory.

Recently, science has presented a much better methodology with better and greater answers, transcendence, and awe based in reality, through clever experiments that reveal a universe immensely grander than humans and their imagination have ever imagined. Without a God in our heads giving us our purpose, we can be the custodians of our own life’s meaning. Now we can be the sole voice in our minds. Hallelujah!