The Questions of my Friend
From the April 27, 1907 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel by Katherine Yates
In the supposed conversation contributed by Mrs. Yates to the March issue of The American Queen she answers several of the trite criticisms of Christian Science which the followers of that faith have had to meet on many occasions. Mrs. Yates has told her story so well that the thought of many of our readers will immediately turn to some experience of their own of a similar character. — Editor, Sentinel.
A friend said to me the other day: “Of course I know that there is ever so much good in Christian Science, and I have seen plenty of people who have been helped by it, and of course I think it is all right for certain things; but do you honestly believe that when there is something serious the matter, something really serious, that Scientists ought to try to get along without a physician?”
“Well,” I said, “what do you think is the reason that we employ a Christian Science practitioner instead of a physician?”
“I suppose —” she hesitated, “I suppose it is because you think it would be wrong to have a doctor; and because you wish to be consistent, and —” she seemed at a loss for further explanation of our very peculiar conduct.
“You have,” I said, “omitted a most exceedingly important point.”
“What is it?” she inquired.
“This: that we wish to get well.”
She looked somewhat taken aback.
“And that, quickly,” I added, “and permanently Don’t you think this a fairly good reason in itself?”
“Yes,” she said, “but you don’t always.”
“Do doctors’ patients, always?”
“No,” she admitted rather reluctantly; “but I don’t see how you can think that you can get well without a doctor, that is, from anything serious. It doesn’t seem reasonable. I don’t understand what foundation you have for such a belief.”
“Have you ever studied the matter?” I asked.
“Well, no, I have never exactly studied it; but I have asked, ever so many times, to have it explained to me, and no one ever made it seem reasonable to me, though they do seem to understand it themselves.”
“Now listen for a moment,” I said. “Suppose that a civil engineer is engaged in his work, and remarks that a certain tree, upon the opposite side of the river, is at such and such a distance from the bank.
“But,” observes a bystander, “how do you know? You have not been to that side of the river.”
“I have a means of calculating,” says the engineer, “which brings me the right result, without the need of crossing over.”
“Nonsense!” exclaims the bystander, “how can you calculate a thing like that? There is no way to find it out but by going over there and measuring.”
“And yet I do calculate it correctly, by means of my instruments and my rules.”
But the other shakes his head. “It isn’t reasonable,” he says, “to believe that you can measure that space without going over there.”
“Well,” says the engineer, “I don’t care to argue the matter with you; but if you wish, go over there and measure the distance, and then come and verify my figures.”
The man does so, and finds that the engineer’s figures are correct. He is momentarily puzzled, then declares it to be a mere coincidence; adding, “for nothing can make me believe that there is any rule for working out a thing like that.”
So the engineer selects another tree and once more proves the accuracy of his calculations. The man becomes more interested. “It really does seem to work!” he exclaims. “Tell me how, so that I may do it.”
“I cannot explain it in a few words,” says the engineer. “You will have to study the process, as I have had to.”
The other looks incredulous. “It is very odd,” he says, with some irony, “that if there really is a rule, you cannot tell it to me, so that I may use it for myself, — or perhaps it is a secret that you do not wish others to know?”
“No,” says the engineer, patiently; “the facts and methods are open to all who care to take the pains to learn; but they cannot be stated in a few words; they must be studied, practised, and proved.”
“Well,” rejoins the other, “I don’t understand it, and I could never have any confidence in a rule like that. I could never place any dependence upon it. It might be all right to experiment with, in small matters; but I would never base any important calculations upon any such basis as that. I’ll take my measuring line and go across the river every time.”
“But suppose that your measuring line is inadequate? Suppose that you wish to know the width of a river where there are rapids and no bridge? What will you do then?”
The other considers for a moment. “Well,” he says, “when I can’t use my measuring line, I’ll throw up the sponge. Anyway, I haven’t the slightest confidence in that method of yours, and I don’t understand it, and I don’t think that you ought to be allowed to use it in important calculations.”
But the engineer only smiles. “It is your privilege,” he says, “to use your own methods in your own affairs, and I claim the same right. I have proven my rule over and over again, hundreds and hundreds of times, and I know that it is not coincidence or guesswork. I know that it is founded upon a solid basis of mathematical truth. Your measuring line may stretch or shrink, or be inadequate for your purpose; but my method is always accurate and sure. Wherever I have failed to obtain an immediate and correct result, the fault has been in some mistake in my reckoning, not in the method itself, and this I have always discovered by a careful review of my work. The method is logically clear and correct when one has studied it, — so clear and so logical that, had I never once obtained a correct answer, I would still know that the rule is exact, just as you know that two absolutely straight horizontal lines must be parallel to each other, whether your hand is steady enough to draw them absolutely and accurately horizontal, or not. Your result may not show parallel lines; but that is because your hand trembled, or your eye was not true, not because of any variation of the fact. Your wavering lines cannot affect that.”
My friend nodded her head over the little allegory. “Yes,” she said, “I see. I suppose that you can depend upon what you understand and prove for yourself. But, honestly, if you were very, very sick, wouldn’t you be afraid not to have a physician?”
“My dear,” I said, “I’d be afraid to have one. Not but that I believe them to be honest and noble in their profession, but —”
“Ah,” interrupted my friend, “there is your fanaticism, that you fear to be punished for doing what you think wrong, and there is your stubborn effort toward consistency, also.”
“You are wrong,” I said, “entirely wrong. Now suppose that you had been very ill, and had employed Doctor Jones, and that you liked and respected him; but that you were confined to your bed for many weeks, and that for a long time afterward you suffered from the effects of the illness. Now suppose you were again attacked in just the same way, with symptoms just as severe, conditions just as serious, and suppose that you employed Dr. Smith this time, and that his mode of treatment was radically different from that of Dr. Jones, and that he explained to you its process and the reason for its results, so that you understood; and suppose that this time you recovered within a few days, and that there were no evil effects remaining. Now, should you, in the course of time, be taken ill again, what would be your natural inclination? To send for Dr. Jones, under whose care you lay in bed for weeks, or for Dr. Smith, who had you on your feet in a few days? Would you stop very long to consider the question?”
“No,” said my friend.
“Now,” I continued, “suppose that some one should say to you: ‘I don’t see how you dare to employ Dr. Smith. I never tried him. I always have Dr. Jones, I have a standing account with him, for I am sick a great deal; but I wouldn’t trust Dr. Smith. He may be all right in small matters; but I don’t understand his methods, and I wouldn’t trust him with anything serious. I think that you go too far in your loyalty and your effort to be consistent with your eulogies of him and his methods, when you trust him with grave cases or with the care of your innocent little children.’
“‘But,’ you say, ‘I have tried Dr. Jones, and I was nearly always sick while under his care, and I have had very little illness, and that quickly met, by Dr. Smith. I would be afraid to go back to Dr. Jones.’
“‘Oh,’ says your friend, ‘you are afraid that Dr. Smith would do something to revenge himself, if you should leave him.’ Now what would you say to her?”
My friend nodded again. “It does look different from that point of view,” she said; “but still, I cannot bear the idea of using Science alone upon little children, who cannot choose for themselves.”
“My dear,” I said, “you know a good many Christian Scientists, have you ever noticed that they seemed to care less for their little ones than do other people?”
“Oh, no, — no indeed.”
“Well, now, do you know of any normal, loving mother or father who would deliberately risk a little one’s life for a mere stubborn whim? You know what a child’s life is to its parents; then you surely need not question whether that parent is or is not going to employ for that little one the method of healing which he honestly and earnestly believes in his heart will bring to it the swiftest and surest relief. Look at it from a common-sense point of view. We are not pagans, sacrificing our lives and the lives of our little ones to some sense of religious fanaticism, to some cruel pagan god; but we are normal men and women, using for ourselves and for those dear to us that which we have learned to know is the wisest and most efficacious remedy, and trusting ourselves to the conduct of a tender and loving God. That we have studied along certain lines which cause our opinions to differ from yours, does not argue that we are, necessarily, in the wrong. When you have studied as diligently and as honestly along the same lines, you will think with us.”
My friend shook her head doubtfully. “I haven’t much time for study,” she said, “and, besides, I don’t seem to have much success when I use Christian Science. I guess I haven’t faith enough. I tried it on the last cold I had. I just made up my mind that I wouldn’t take any medicine or do one thing for myself. My husband was worried almost to death, for I coughed day and night for two weeks. I never did have a cold hang on so. But I just told him that I was going to stick to it, and see what Science would do; and when I did finally get well, he said he hoped I was satisfied, so well satisfied that I’d never try it again. I told him I guessed I was.”
“Did you see your practitioner often?” I asked.
“Oh, I didn’t have a practitioner! I just used it myself.”
“But, — but you have never even read the text-book!”
“No, but I just thought I would see what I could do with it.”
“Well, you say you used it; how did you use it?”
“Why, I told you, — I didn’t take any medicine, or do anything.”
“And was that all?”
“Yes, only I tried to think I didn’t have a cold.”
“And you call that using Christian Science?”
“Yes. What do you call it?”
“Well,” I said, “if you wish my honest opinion, I call it a very foolish proceeding.”
“Why? Isn’t that what you do?”
“Let us have another illustration,” I said. “Suppose that you had been living upon an entire meat diet, and should decide to become a vegetarian, and should begin by recognizing the very important point that you must stop eating meat. Therefore you stop. Now suppose that in so doing you entirely lost sight of the fact that a very necessary feature in being a vegetarian is that one should eat vegetables. You did not take that into consideration, — you simply stopped eating meat; and, as you had been eating nothing else, and now substituted nothing, you ate nothing whatever. You merely kept telling yourself that vegetarians averred that meat was not necessary, and went on, from day to day, growing hungrier and hungrier, and thinner and thinner, and stating to all enquirers that you were testing vegetarianism to see what was in it. It wouldn’t take you very long to come to the conclusion that vegetarianism was not practicable, that you, at least, couldn’t get along without meat, and you would notify your friends that you had tested the theory to your sorrow; and then you would return to your meat diet, sadder and not much wiser; but well convinced of the error of vegetarianism; for you are positive that you would have starved to death if you had kept it up. Now, in so doing, are you giving the vegetarian theory a fair showing? Aren’t you really slandering it and misleading those who do not understand exactly your method of testing it?”
“Yes, I suppose so; but to test it that way would be absurd.”
“Now, you needn’t laugh,” I said, “for that is exactly the sort of test that you gave Christian Science. The foundation of your method of treatment was negative, — not to take medicine. A continuous negative never yet brought a positive result, its ultimate is nothing. Your foundation must be positive, an accepted fact; and your method must contain more positives than negatives, more knowledge of the truth than denial of error, if you would realize a positive result. That you took no medicine, no more argued that you were using Christian Science than that you were using osteopathy or voodoo practices; and as for having given it a fair trial, — well, what do you think about it now, yourself?”
My friend pursed her lips. “I suppose you are right,” she said; “but I didn’t see it that way before.”
“And you have told others that you used Christian Science on that cold, and what the results were?”
“Yes, I suppose I have. — quite a number.”
“Well, don’t you think that it would be a good plan to modify that statement to them, when you have a chance?”
“Yes,” she said, “I will. And I suppose it wouldn’t hurt me to really try Science some time.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t think that it would hurt you, and the chances are that it would do you a lot of good.”
“There is one more thing that I would like to ask,” she went on. “It seems to me that if the healing is of God, it ought to be free. I don’t see how the practitioner can think it right to charge for it.”
“I’ll tell you one reason,” I said. “You see, the practitioners have not yet demonstrated over the necessity of eating food and wearing clothing and having roofs over their heads. When a person gives up his ordinary pursuits which have heretofore furnished him with a livelihood, and takes up the study and practice of Christian Science, can you tell me by what means he can obtain the necessaries of life if he makes no charge for the time which he devotes to this work? He cannot give all of his attention to it, and still carry on other vocations, and yet he must eat and be clothed. Can you solve the problem otherwise than by the charge of the very low rate for the time given to the patient?”
“No,” said my friend, “I suppose that he has to live, the same as the rest of us.”
“He surely has,” I said, “and there is, also, another reason for the charge. A gift, as of work in this case, given without charge, and accepted by the recipient as his right, not as a favor (for that seems to be your argument), has little value. It has cost no effort, — it makes little impression. It is a small matter. If it fail, there seems to be little lost; hence much of the efficacy of the treatment is forfeited through the indifference of the recipient. His attitude of apathy is a bar to the good which he might otherwise receive. But let him feel that he has something at stake, and lo, his attitude is eager and receptive. And, again, were this work given without charge or price, the mere curiosity seeker, the searcher after new experiences, the chronic sponge, the seeker for something for nothing; all of these would so fill the time of the practitioner that the real sufferer, the earnest seeker, the honest investigator would be crowded from their places; for it would be well-nigh impossible to supply practitioners enough to do the work.”
My friend nodded once more. “I see the argument,” she said, “and I am glad to know your side of the question. I have argued quite a number of such questions with Christian Scientists, and they always seem to get the best of the argument. As I said, I think that there is a lot of good in it; but there are quite a number of points that I don’t believe. I can’t argue them very well, though, for I am not exactly sure as to what you really do think. You see, nearly all of the absurd things that people say you accept, I find are just as ridiculous to Christian Scientists as they are to me, and that you really do not believe them at all. I don’t argue as much as I used to, though, I just ask questions,” she added.
“That is a good sign,” I said, laughing; “but let me give you a word of advice, — read the text-book. Then you will know what we really do accept, and what we really do prove, and that will be better than asking questions to find out what we don’t believe and what we don’t practise. And when you have read it, you will be in a very much better position to argue than you are now.”
“But,” protested my friend, “perhaps I will not wish to argue when I have read the book.”
“Perhaps you will not,” I agreed, heartily.