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Deadly Blessings: Faith-Healing on Trial.

Deadly Blessings: Faith-healing on trial

A young couple watched their eighteen-month-old child die of bacterial meningitis while their Christian Science practitioner promised that reverence and prayer were all that the child needed. The parents were eventually prosecuted for homicide.

A Filipino "psychic surgeon" practiced "bloodless" operations. He claimed that tumors could be removed without breaking the skin. Victims were shown bloody organs that were supposed to have been wrenched from the throat. "There's your cancer," the "surgeon" said. When police caught up with him and examined the "tumor," it proved to be a chicken liver. He had been stopped for a brief period. Having fled the United States, the fake doctor surfaced in Manila and maintains a clinic that plays hide-and-seek with the police.

Richard Brenneman, in his book Deadly Blessings, describes many cases of psychic surgery, a practice that flourishes in parts of our country. Its practitioners do not confine themselves to that specialty alone; psychedelic psychotherapy is another faith-magic form of doctoring that includes psychedelic drugs. Personality disintegration and death are among the consequences.

The author, a former Christian Scientist, reflects upon his early religious convictions, describes the disillusionment that followed, and attempts to make a case against the sect's spiritual healing.

There are not many similarities between Christian Science and fraudulent alternative medical therapies. The latter are practiced by individuals who are usually outright frauds and perpetrate their horrors for money. Christian Scientists are usually intensely sincere, devoted to a principle of faith that promises little monetary reward for the practitioners.

Perhaps this idealism, rooted in self-sacrifice that includes surrendering a loved one's life for a religious conviction, often collides with an awakening to reality that is tragic. Brenneman quotes several cases in which parents of dead children became consumed in remorse, saying they would never make such a decision again.

Could the dilemma be clarified if a distinction were made by the church: that medical treatment is not the same as eliminating doctoring? Many people avoid relying upon orthodox medical doctors, but are quite willing to use their services when there are no practical alternatives. Critics of overdoctoring note that the healthiest part of the population consists of individuals who don't run to a doctor for every bit of discomfort.

There is much to be said for a positive, healthful attitude. Longevity is clearly linked with avoidance of medications, unnecessary surgery, and the climate of illness - real or imagined. Self-healing, however, hasn't added to Christian Science followers' well-being, according to the author. Their lifespan, he says, does not correspond to the national average, falling below expectations considering the higher economic levels and educational background occupied. Unlike the Mormons, for example, the avoidance of alcohol and tobacco has not been enough to overcome lack of medical care.

Brenneman also claims that Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the faith, resorted to pain killers when discomfort became unbearable. He writes: "She relied on opiates to kill the pain of kidney stones. The Christian Science Board of Directors was forced to acknowledge this when, after her death, memoirs of household members surfaced in the press. To what extent she used the drug is uncertain. In his diaries, her devoted aide Calvin Frye describes multiple instances of morphine use by the prophetess."

"To a Christian Scientist, Mary Baker Eddy is nothing less than the vehicle chosen for the second coming of Christ," Brenneman says. "The healing power of God's presence demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth [has been passed on to Mrs. Eddy]." "The same power which heals sin also heals sickness," she wrote.

"There is no formal clergy in Christian Science," Brenneman notes. "Anyone who studies Mrs. Eddy's writings can become a healer. To become a church-endorsed practitioner requires the believer to take an intense ten-day indoctrination into the faith taught by a church-recognized leader." There is no shortage of practitioners.

The Church founder's sincerity, and possibly her critics' charges of self-deception, are succintly stated in the following excerpt from her writings:

"If the case is that of a young child or an infant, it needs to be met mainly through the parent's thought, silently or audibly on the aforesaid basis of Christian Science. The Scientist knows that there can be no hereditary disease, since matter is not intelligent and cannot transmit good nor evil intelligence to man, and God, the only Mind, does not produce pain in matter. The act of yielding one's thoughts to the undue contemplation of physical wants or conditions induced those very conditions."

Brenneman's book serves to explain how well-intentioned, God-fearing people can serve their convictions without regard to self-inflicted tragedy. It also emphasizes the fact that there may be no villains in the act of villainy.

The Church does not celebrate Easter or Christmas. The spiritual Christ was never born into matter, it avows, nor could he die. Neither are the birthdays of Scientists celebrated. Humility and self-deprecation are not characteristics of frauds. The reader cannot help but become sympathetically enmeshed with the travail of a sincere, dedicated and devoted people caught in the enlightenment of an age of medical science.

"Got stomach cancer? Liver disease? Suffering from abdominal pain and afraid to go to a doctor? Just been told you're going to have to take dangerous medications for the rest of your life?"

"Then talk to Brother Joe."

"He'll rub you down with eucalyptus oil a few times, then plunge his bare hands right into your gut and pull out a bloody mass of tissue, the source of all your troubles. You'll be healed. There won't even be a scar. No insurance claims, no anesthetics, no infections, no incapacitation, no pain, no metastases reaching deadly fingers into the brain, the lungs, the sexual organs, the gut, gnawing away at your life, your dignity, your humanity."

"No, none of that. Brother Joe, Jose Bugarinm is the master of an arcane art. He doesn't use a knife because he does not need one. He has the Power, the Power from God. When he reaches inside you, molecules part before his fingers. . . the Red Sea before Moses' wand - he's a psychic surgeon."

With this breath-taking introduction, the author introduces a branch of fraud and chicanery that has no equal in the world of nonmedical quacks. Despite the unfavorable publicity attending apprehension of these fake doctors, many people have followed them through alleys and backroom clinics, from continent to continent, always hoping and persistently believing.

The chapter that Brenneman devotes to this sensational aspect of charlatanism merely confirms Barnum's dictum that there is a tragic, believing dupe born every minute. Other chapters deal with money-hungry television evangelists, the New Age cult of healing through "channelling," and a return to spiritualism reintroduced with much fanfare by the actress Shirley MacLaine.
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1990
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