Healing and the human brain

A Christian Science perspective on daily life.

"How faith can heal," a recent Time magazine cover story (Feb. 23), outlines the influence of religious thinking on the brain and its ability to influence and enhance prayer. Noting that "a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that faith may indeed bring us health," the article cites studies that show some positive effects of regular church attendance and of religious belief on health. But its main message is that religious thought and activity can be found primarily in the brain's parietal lobe. The article identifies the brain as, "our spiritual data-processing center," asserting that a material structure is what's central in humanity's efforts to learn about God and to explore spirituality and healing.

This view of faith is a far cry from the spiritual healing that Mary Baker Eddy established as the Science of Christianity that all could understand and practice. While acknowledging the effect of the patient's beliefs about the body on health and well-being, Mrs. Eddy proved that permanent healing could come only from reliance on God, the divine Mind, by changing the patient's matter-based perception of reality to an acceptance of Spirit's completeness and of oneself as the spiritual idea of God. She wrote: "The brain can give no idea of God's man. It can take no cognizance of Mind. Matter is not the organ of infinite Mind" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 191).

The roots of Christian Science are deep, resting in the Bible's own examples of restored health and even resurrection from the dead. As early as Elisha's ministry in the Hebrew Bible, there is an account of a child whose life was restored through the prophet's prayers (II Kings 4:32–37). Much later, Christ Jesus consistently proved God's power and willingness to heal men, women, and children. When a leper came to him saying, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean," Jesus' spiritual clarity enabled him to reply, "I will; be thou clean," and the man was healed (see Mark 1:40–45). A woman who'd struggled with bleeding for 12 years, despite the aid of physicians, came behind Jesus, thinking that just touching his robe would be sufficient. But the spiritual basis of Jesus' healing work wasn't in his garments. It rested on his understanding of God. So when the Master felt her touch, his spiritual response to her need healed her instantly (see Luke 8:43–48).

Jesus may not have known about parietal lobes, but he did know that his Father (and ours) is a loving God whose ever-present healing power was meant for everyone from the lowliest leper to the most elegantly clad Pharisee. And he healed both types of individuals.

By pointing to matter – the brain and its parts – as a source of spirituality and as governing spiritual experiences – the Time article suggests that biochemical reactions and other material processes can be the source of knowledge about God. This means that humanity's knowledge of infinite Spirit rests in a finite material substance. Allegedly finding Spirit in matter also raises questions about God's reality – if God can "die" out of matter when someone passes on, does this mean God is diminished? And how can infinite Life know death?

Speaking of the unreliability of matter, Mrs. Eddy wrote: "To love one's neighbor as one's self, is a divine idea; but this idea can never be seen, felt, nor understood through the physical senses. Excite the organ of veneration or religious faith, and the individual manifests profound adoration. Excite the opposite development, and he blasphemes. These effects, however, do not proceed from Christianity, nor are they spiritual phenomena, for both arise from mortal belief" (Science and Health, p. 88).

The dialogue over faith, health, and healing is an important one. But to understand the value of faith and its impact on healing, one needs to look beyond matter to divine Spirit – away from the brain to God, the divine Mind. This is where Jesus and his followers looked; this is where the simplest and the most challenging healings took place. It is in God, not the brain, that humanity can gain the permanent health and peace it seeks.

Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.

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