Washington -- There is a troubling tendency in news reports and commentaries about the cases involving Christian Scientists to presume that prayer treatment cannot seriously be expected to be effective. But this willingness to discount the significance of spirituality raises a host of questions.
If we were to do survey of all who engage in regular religious worship how many instances of physical healing would we find? We see occasional articles in the paper about individuals or families who attribute recovery from life-threatening illness to the power of prayer. But the overall tendency is to discount the frequency of such occurrences. After all, no one is keeping records on this phenomenon the way cases are tracked in hospitals. But the effect of earnest prayer in overcoming disease may be far greater than is commonly acknowledged.
In its periodicals over the years the Christian Science church has published thousands of authenticated reports of healings including children's healings of appendicitis, leukemia, polio, cerebral palsy and heart disease through Christian Science treatment.
In the context of social action, my own experience in the Baltimore area working with members of other religious groups in an ecumenical or interfaith setting is that many of the most effective social programs in this community are founded in spiritual conviction and in prayer. Our governor and his cabinet aides have on at least two occasions acknowledged the unique contribution of this spiritual dimension in solving intractable problems -- addiction and homelessness.
The tendency of our materialistically oriented society is to discount all this and assume that it can be little more than wishful thinking. But what are the facts?
For one thing, though Christian Science has been established in Baltimore for more than a century, there is no evidence that these generations of children growing to maturity among us have been less lovingly and effectively cared for than the general population. In fact, there is no evidence nationally that the loss of children among Christian Scientists is greater than among children in general. Yet the the presumption that prayer treatment is unreliable underpins court cases and media commentaries.
Is society really ready to say that God doesn't heal or that prayer to Him is ineffective? Should parents who have found a regimen extremely effective for years in healing illnesses be denied the opportunity to apply it with their children only because it is religious treatment? If a religious minority chooses to put full reliance on prayer while carefully respecting society's laws and shows no greater rate of failure than is found in the population at large, should their practice of religion nevertheless be restricted and categorized as criminal?
These questions should cause us to stop and consider the extent to which we as a society have allowed ourselves to discount the spiritual aspect of life. We are in danger of focusing so narrowly on purely material solutions to problems that other approaches are disparaged or discounted. This certainly undermines the meaning of religious freedom.
Roberto Cuniberti is a representative of the Christian Science Church's Committee on Publication.