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The spiritual life : studies in the science of religion online

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into account the fact that the way is not open for a
public avowal of failure to heal as it is for such
avowal of success. Indeed, even if the managers
were willing to present any trustworthy statistics,
the victims would be restrained from testifying by
their pride, their mortification, or even by their hope
that they may yet be cured in spite of a first failure.
Thus, not only is the law of suggestion sufficient
to account for much at least of the success of the
modes of healing here under consideration, but it
is likewise fitted to be a source of exaggerated and
in the end utterly misleading accounts of what actu-
ally takes place. This, then, is the present net result
of our discussion : We have the positive scientific
clew to some and perhaps all the kinds of healing in-
cluded under the terms mind cure, Christian Science,
faith cure, etc. ; and we find ourselves under peculiar
obligations toward the evidence that is offered for
such cures. What is now required is to define the

known or probable limits of suggestive therapeutics,



and then ask whether all that is verifiable in the prac-
tices just referred to can be included within those

As to the visions that frequently accompany the
healing work of faith, of shrines, etc., enough has
been said to show how, under perfectly natural prin-
ciples, they might occur to many a suppliant. All
that is previously required is a considerable degree
of suggestibility, a stock of active images of the
saints, the Virgin, Christ, etc., emotional pressure,
and intense concentration of attention for a consid-
erable time upon divine things.

Limits of Mental Healing.

Medical men are pretty generally agreed that sug-|
gestion reaches directly none but functional disturbs
ances ; that is, disorders in which the organ remains
intact but shows excessive, defective, or otherwise
irregular activity. For example, ordinary consti-
pation, biliousness, and indigestion are functional as
contrasted with acute diseases like typhoid fever,
and organic diseases, in which the organ is wholly
or partly destroyed, as tuberculosis, cancer of the
stomach, etc. Suggestion does not replace an arm
shot off in battle; it does not set broken bones or re-
duce dislocations; it does not dislodge a cancerous
growth and replace it with healthy tissue ; it has no
way of reaching a brain once in the grip of progress-
ive senile dementia ; it knows not how to kill or ex-



pel from the system the bacilli which cause so large
a proportion of diseases; nor can it claim to be an
antidote to any active poison. I am speaking here,
let it be noticed, of the prevailing medical view of
suggestion. Various systems opposed to medica-
tion deny that their methods are thus limited.
Whether this claim is just or no will be a question
for future inquiry.

But, while medical men assert that suggestion,
reaches directly none but functional difficulties, they
do not fail to see that, even so, it may have an im-
portant indirect influence upon all classes of cases]
whatever ; for heightening or depressing the various
functions of nutrition, secretion, etc., determines foi|
good or ill the general basis upon which all medica-
tion and even surgery must rely. Or, to take the
very simplest case, if suggestion can assist a patient
to secure needed sleep, it thereby contributes a not
unimportant factor toward recovery. It is there-
fore not at all impossible that suggestion, through
its indirect connection with organic disease, should
now and then be the decisive therapeutic agent ; that
is, that with which the patient recovers, without
which he does not. Suppose, for example, that a
tuberculous patient is led to have complete faith that
the Lord is going to heal him, or does now heal him.
One natural consequence would be a general toning
up of the system due to the new state of cheerful-
ness. This of itself would be something. But an-



other consequence would be that the patient would
begin to act as though he were well ; he would take
exercise, thus bringing the uninjured parts of the
lungs into action and improving the quality and the
circulation of the blood. Now, it has happened
again and again that a tuberculous lung has healed
over through just such hygienic means as these.
The destroyed part has not been restored, by any
means, but absorbed and dried up. A determined
will that sets one to mountain climbing or to sawing
wood has done this, and there appears no reason
why suggestion should not have the same effects.
On the other hand, there is no reason to doubt that
many a patient has died for the want of a proper
mental attitude toward his disease.

Two facts, then, are established that suggestion
is a specific remedial agent in at least some func-
tional disorders, and a general adjunct in all classes
of medical and even surgical cases. When it should
be exclusively employed; when it should be em-
ployed in connection with other treatment; how it
should be employed in each case, whether through
hypnosis or without hypnosis; what devices should
be employed in each case to make the suggestion con-
tinuous and emphatic these and all the other ques-
tions that concern the practical application of what
has just been said must be left for answer to special
medical literature and the personal skill of prac-



Two Misapprehensions.

From its very nature, of course, suggestion has its /
most pronounced effects upon disordered nervous j
functions. It is in constant employment in hospi-
tals for diseased minds, and in the general duties of
the skilled nurse everywhere. It is also recognized
as one of the chief agencies at the disposal of/
the specialist in functional diseases of the nervousj
system. The large group of troubles allied to
hysteria, the group of inebrieties (alcohol, opium,
cocaine, tobacco, etc.), various difficulties of the
sexual organism, and much more these are a par-
ticularly favorable sphere for the employment of

This recognized relation of suggestion to nervous
disorders has produced a popular impression that
the troubles reached by mental treatment are im-
aginary ones; that, for instance, if anyone seems to
have been cured of rheumatism in this way, it was
not real rheumatism that he had, and, indeed, that
nothing was really the matter with him. But this
is certainly an error. For, in the first place, pain
hurts just the same whether its cause is a disturbed
function of the mind and brain or the actual loss of
some part of the bodily tissue. A headache brought
on by grief or anxiety, or a diarrhoea caused by men-
tal excitement, or indigestion resulting from nerv-
ous strain all these are real enough ; and even pain

brought on simply by imagining pain is as genuine



as any while it lasts. Again, it should be remem-
bered that the nervous system participates in all the
functions of all the organs. It is, as it were, the
central telephone station, without which no sub-
scriber can use even his own transmitter and re-
ceiver. Now, granting that suggestion has its
direct effect upon the nervous system, we do not
therefore shut up its efficacy to any one class of
functions. Much less do we give it simply the task I
of removing diseases that are- not there.

Another misapprehension is that suggestion is
effective only with persons of weak or loosely organ-
ized mind. This prejudice totally misconceives the
facts; for suggestibility is common in health as
well as in disease in persons of both sexes, and in
persons of all grades of mental power except the
lowest. As before remarked, probably ninety per
cent of the population, exclusive of infants, imbe-
ciles, and the insane, can be hypnotized, under fav-
orable conditions. Of course, some persons are far
more susceptible than others, just as there are vari-
ous degrees of response to all influences in nature.
But that suggestibility does not connote mental
weakness may be surmised from the fact that Sir
Isaac Newton was highly suggestible.

The proof of this fact is contained in a letter of his
written to John Locke, and dated June 30, 1691.
In this letter Newton relates the following surpris-
ing experience that came to him in connection with



some experiments on after-images of the sun: "At
the third time, when the phantasm of light and
colors about it were almost vanished [that is, when
an after-image of the sun had almost vanished] , in-
tending my fancy upon them to see their last appear-
ance, I found, to my amazement, that they began to
return, and by little and little to become as lively and
vivid as when I had newly looked upon the sun.
But when I ceased to intend my fancy upon them,
they vanished again. After this, I found that, as
often as I went into the dark, and intended my mind
upon them, as when a man looks earnestly to see
anything which is difficult to be seen, I could make
the phantasm return without looking any more upon
the sun; and the oftener I made it return, the more
easily I could make it return again. And at length,
by repeating this without looking any more upon
the sun, I made such an impression upon my eye
[rather, on his mind] that, if I looked upon the
clouds, or a book, or any bright object, I saw upon
it a round bright spot of light like the sun, and,
which is still stranger, though I looked upon the sun
with my right eye only, and not with my left, yet
my fancy began to make an impression upon my left
eye, as well as upon my right. For if I shut my
right eye, or looked upon a book or the clouds with
my left eye, I could see the spectrum of the sun al-
most as plain as with my right eye, if I did but in-
tend my fancy a little while upon it ; for at first, if I



shut my right eye, and looked with my left, the
spectrum of the sun did not appear till I intended
my fancy upon it; but by repeating, this appeared
every time more easily. And now, in a few hours'
time, I had brought my eyes to such a pass, that
I could look upon no bright object with either eye,
but I saw the sun before me, so that I durst neither
write nor read; but to recover the use of my eyes,
shut myself up in my chamber made dark, for three
days together, and used all means to divert my im-
agination from the sun. For if I thought upon him,
I presently saw his picture, though I was in the
dark. But by keeping in the dark, and employing
my mind about other things, I began in three or
four days to have some use of my eyes again, and,
by forbearing to look upon bright objects, recovered
them pretty well, though not so well but that, for
some months after, the spectrum of the sun began
to return as often as I began to meditate upon the
phenomena, even though I lay in bed at midnight
with my curtains drawn. But now I have been
very well for many years, though I am apt to think,
if I durst venture my eyes, I could still make the
phantasm return by the power of my fancy." He
closes the account by remarking that the power of
the fancy is a knot too hard for him to untie. 1

Now, that Sir Isaac Newton was able to give him-
self this hallucination of the sun by merely "intend-

1 Sir David Brewster, Memoirs, etc., of Sir Isaac Newton^ i, 2368.


ing" his mind upon the thought of the sun is not
only not an evidence of intellectual weakness, but,
on the contrary, it is a natural consequence of his
marvelous power of analysis. It was his trained
capacity for intense voluntary attention that gave
his mere mental idea the character of a present sen-
sation. It would therefore be a mistake to assume
that only the weak-minded have anything to hope
for in mental healing. It is true, of course, that the
requisite concentration of attention may be secured
through other than voluntary means; the mind of
the simple may be overawed by a commanding per-'
sonal presence and voice, or by fear of invisible in-
fluences near at hand, or through a properly ar-
ranged ensemble of exercises reaching their united
climacteric in all-abounding faith. But a corre-
sponding condition of susceptibility may be reached
through rational conviction which justifies similar
concentration of the mind which is also the sub-
mission of the mind upon the health-giving idea.

The Scientific Aspects of Faith Cure.

Under the term faith cure is here included not
only what commonly goes under that name, but also
the cures wrought at the shrines of saints, by relics,
etc. In all these, it is clear, the subjective state of
the patient, if a cure is to be wrought, must be one
of intense faith. Now, such faith is already just

the concentration of attention upon a health-giving



idea wherein therapeutic suggestion consists; there-
fore, whether or no there is in faith cure anything
more that the influence of suggestion, there is no
denying that suggestion is actually operative there-
in. As a consequence, we are compelled to ascribe <
to suggestion all the curfcs of functional ailments j
wrought in the name of faith.

In general, there is a popular misapprehsion of
the logic of the case. As a general rule, both
believers and unbelievers in faith cure assume that
the only alternatives are all and nothing; as though,
if one case of faith cure fell outside the law of sug-
gestion, all the other cases did also. This is certainly
illogical. Principles must not be multiplied beyond
necessity, and cases that can be explained by refer-
ence to an established natural law must be so
explained. It follows that the question whether
anything beyond suggestion is operative narrows
itself down to the relatively few cases in which sug-
gestion is not clearly seen to be adequate. There
has been a great deal of hunting for cases of organic
disease cured by faith, and what has seemed to be
game has been started repeatedly, but the amount
actually bagged is one does not like to make a
categorical denial of what depends upon the com-
petence of others' observation, but it is safe to say
at least this: that the defenders of faith cure have
collected their test cases by methods that lack scien-
tific precision, and that supposed proofs have been



so uniformly exploded whenever trained physicians
have examined them that the medical profession of
to-day is entirely justified in ignoring the new an-
nouncements of miraculous cures made from time
to time.

A favorite method of 'proving a miracle is to
adduce evidence that competent physicians diag-
nosed a disease as organic, and then that it was re-
moved by prayer. Obviously, the value of this
reasoning depends on two assumptions : that the dis-
ease is really gone, and that the physicians who pro-
nounced it organic were not mistaken. To make
good the former assumption we ought to have com-
petent diagnosis extending over a sufficient period
to make assurance doubly sure; but to make good
the latter we must give to physicians' opinions a
degree of authority which they do not claim for
themselves. The task of determining whether a
given ailment is functional or organic is often ex-
tremely difficult, so difficult, in fact, that any candid
physician admits his liability to error and is ready
to correct and supplement his diagnosis by observ-
ing the course of the disease itself. Even if, in a
given case, one or more physicians should be very
positive, how should we determine in the end
whether they were right or not? Suppose they
themselves admitted that a miracle had been
wrought; would even that sufficiently justify the

assumption in question? A consideration of such



points ought to bring us speedily back to the recog-
nized criterion of scientific truth, namely, the
general consensus of competent investigators in the
given field. If, in addition to all this difficulty with
the evidence, we take into consideration the fact,
already admitted, that suggestion may be the de-
cisive, though indirect, factor in curing even some
organic diseases in some of their stages, we shall
behold the already narrow margin of questionable
cases shrinking away toward nothingness.

What keeps alive these beliefs, however, is the
portion of truth that they contain, namely, the really
marvelous extent and depth of the influence of sug-
gestion. Without understanding the process, and
therefore attributing it to occult powers, whether of
mind, of spirits, of Satan, or of God, men have always
employed suggestion for the causing, the preven-
tion, and the curing of diseases. Bernheim says:
"Therapeutic suggestion is not new ; what is new is
the methodical application of it, and its final adop-
tion in general medicine," 1 Many apparently in-
credible tales are really worthy of acceptance to a
certain degree. If a missing member is said to
have been restored, or an emaciated person to
have attained his normal weight in an instant,
or a tuberculous lung to have been made whole,
we may assume either that the facts have
been exaggerated and distorted in the telling or

1 Suggestive Therapeutics^ 197.
I8 7


else that the diagnosis was incorrect either be-
fore or after the cure; but it is scientifically credi-
ble that rheumatic cripples should go to a shrine on
crutches and come away without them, and that bed-
ridden women should arise and walk. On the same
grounds, too, we are bound to accept the testimony
to similar cures effected at the shrines of other re-
ligions than the Christian before the feet of idols,
by means of charms and amulets, and much more.

Professional faith healers, then, may work many
genuine cures. All that is necessary is to work up
confidence in one's gifts or abilities, and this can be
done in various ways. Anything that will arouse
the right state of mind in the patient will do. Para-
celsus is said to have remarked that the statue of
Peter will do as well as Peter himself provided only
that the faith itself is as strong. 1 It is therefore
possible for quacks, impostors, and men who do not
understand their own powers to perform genuine
cures. I once knew a pastor of a Protestant con-
gregation who became a healer without intention on
his part. The fact seems to be that he was so loved
of his flock that his mere presence in the sick room
or the mere touch of his hand came to have cura-
tive powers all unknown to him.

Understanding these things, the physicians of a
certain hospital in Paris actually send scores of de-
vout Catholics in the course of a year to the shrine

1 Bernheim, 102.



of the Virgin at Lourdes. This leads to the remark
that Zola's novel Lourdes is, in general, a correct
description of the process of the mind in faith cure
and the like. The heroine of the tale injures her
back in girlhood and becomes a helpless woman, un-
able so much as to turn herself over in bed. All
ordinary medical treatment fails to restore her.
Only one possible help remains she will make a
pilgrimage to the shrine at Lourdes. Possibly the
Virgin will have pity on her. Here follows an ex-
ceedingly skillful description of how hope is deep-
ened to faith, and how faith gradually intensifies
until it reaches a state of ecstasy and a self-induced
hypnotic trance in which the suggestion of walking
finally takes complete effect ; but, from the inception
to the climax of the process, there is not one circum-
stance or force manifested which is not recognized
and made use of by the medical profession of to-day.

The Scientific Aspects of Christian Science.

Before proceeding to compare the medical work
of Christian Science with that of regular physicians
it is necessary, in the interest of clear thinking and
not less in the interest of fairness and neighborly
good will, to separate the various questions that
have been raised by this new system of religious
belief and practice. There are probably no re-
ligious movements that do not somewhere attach

themselves to the vital hunger of the soul for God
13 189


and bring to it some degree of satisfaction. The
result is always a type of spiritual life and culture
which, however incomplete it may be, nevertheless
stands for some good. This is the reason why in-
discriminate, wholesale denunciation of even fanat-
ical sects rarely hinders their growth, much less
extinguishes their influence. In the case of Chris-
tian Science, no one, it seems to me, who has can-
didly observed the type of spiritual life it tends to
foster can fail to recognize in it some sure marks of
the spirit of Christ. However erroneous its creed
may be and each Christian creed finds all the
others more or less false Christian Science may
justly claim, by virtue of its ideal of life and by vir-
tue of the type of life it actually tends to produce,
that a place belongs to it among the denominations
of Christians. Hence it is that tirades of general
denunciation have thus far fallen so harmlessly upon
it. Indeed, its head seems to have adopted the shrewd
policy of assuming the attitude of those who are
condemned without being understood. If, then,
one were asked, What do you think of Christian
Science? the wise answer would begin by distin-
guishing between the different aspects of the sys-

In the first place, then, the system is both a theory
and a practice. Its theory professes to be a system
of purely rational metaphysics. On this side, there-
fore, the doctrine must be tested by the logical



grounds adduced in its support. If this supposed
metaphysics is truly rational, it must be able to win
the assent, sooner or later, of persons trained in
metaphysical thinking by a study of the history of
philosophy. But, even if the theory is imperfect,
this will not be the first time that good living has
gone along with poor theology. On the side of
practice, again, the system is twofold : it is a type of
inner life, and it is a method of preventing and cur-
ing disease. It is with this last only that we are
now concerned.

We might easily show defects in the metaphysical
theory from which the mode of healing professes to
be deduced, and thereupon be tempted to utter a
generally adverse opinion. But is it not wiser to
begin at the other end first ask whether the method
actually produces cures, and, if so, to what extent?
As in the case of faith cure, the question will finally
be, Is not suggestion probably an adequate explana-
tion of the success actually attained by the method ?
We may grant without hesitation that Christian
Science has taken hold upon some successful prin- \
ciple of healing. What is that principle, and what I
is the extent of its application ?

It is surely significant that the rise of this system
coincides in time with the last and greatest wave of
scientific attention to hypnotism and mental thera-
peutics. Without questioning the sincerity of the
account which Mrs. Eddy gives of the origin of her


beliefs and practices, we can, nevertheless, be rea-
sonably convinced of the real connection between
them and the corresponding growth of scientific cer-
tainty concerning the facts and the law of sugges-
tion. This will be plain to anyone who will compare
the works of Mrs. Eddy with Tuke (1872) and Bern-
heim (1884). Indeed, it is doubtful whether she
herself would claim anything more than that she has
followed a given path farther than these authorities.
Let us see whether, in fact, her methods what is
safe and successful in them cannot be entirely ac-
counted for as offshoots from regular medical

Tuke, when his tooth was being pulled, repeated
to himself, "How delightful ! how delightful !" The
founder of Christian Science says: "We attack the
belief of the sick in the reality of sickness, in
order to heal them." 1 Again, she advises: "Men-
tally contradict every complaint from the body." 2
Medical science gives clear recognition to the fact
that fear or expectation of disease tends to cause
disease, and that the replacing of fear by cheerful
states of mind is one means of restoration. Simi-
larly, the founder of Christian Science says: "Al-
ways begin your treatment by allaying the fear of
the patients. ... If you succeed in wholly remov-
ing the fear, your patient is healed." 3 The last

1 Mary Baker G. Eddy, Retrospection and Introspection, Boston, 1892, 76.
* Science and Health , Boston, 1896, 390. 3 Ibid., 43.


statement means no more than this : If you can get

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Online LibraryGeorge Albert CoeThe spiritual life : studies in the science of religion → online text (page 11 of 16)