[From the Baltimore Evening Sun, Feb. 28, 1927. Reprinted in, and the text below copied from, A Mencken Chrestomathy (New York: Vintage, 1982), pp. 343-46]
In more than one American State, I gather, a Christian Science practitioner is forbidden to accept fees from the faithful. That is, he may not accept fees as fees. If a grateful patient, cured of cancer or hydrophobia by his sorcery, tips him $5 or $10, it is apparently all right, but if he sends in a bill he may be jailed for it. What could be more idiotic? Either the citizen in this great Republic is a free man or he is not a free man. If he is, then he has a plain right, when he is ill, to consult any medicine man he fancies, and quite as plain a right to pay that medicine man for his services — openly, without impediment, and according to a scale satisfactory to him. If that right be taken away, then one of his essential liberties is taken away — and the moment a Christian Scientist begins to lose an essential liberty, then all the rest of us begin to lose ours.
The fact that a certain section of medical opinion supports the existing laws is surely no argument for their justice and reasonableness. A certain section of medical opinion, in late years, has succumbed to the messianic delusion. Its spokesmen are not content to deal with the patients who come to them for advice; they conceive it to be their duty to force their advice upon everyone, including especially those who don’t want it. That duty is purely imaginary. It is born of vanity, not of public spirit. The impulse behind it is not altruism, but a mere yearning to run things. A physician, however learned, has no more right to intrude his advice upon persons who prefer the advice of a Christian Scientist, a chiropractor or a pow-wow doctor than he has to intrude it upon persons who prefer the advice of some other physician.
Here, I hope, I shall not be suspected of inclining toward the Eddyan buncombe. It seems to me to be pure balderdash. I believe that the services a Christian Science practitioner offers to his customers are no more valuable than the service a foot-wash evangelist offers to a herd of country jakes. But the right to freedom obviously involves the right to be foolish. If what I say must be passed on for its sagacity by censors, however wise and prudent, then I have no free speech. And if what I may believe — about gall-stones, the Constitution, castor-oil, or God — is conditioned by law, then I am not a free man.
It is constantly argued by the proponents of legislation against quacks that it is necessary for the public safety — that if it is not put upon the books, the land will be ravaged by plagues, and that the death-rate will greatly increase, to the immense damage of the nation. But in all this there are a great many more assumptions than facts, and even more false inferences than assumptions. What reason is there for believing that a high death-rate, in itself, is undesirable? To my knowledge none whatever. The plain fact is that, if it be suitably selective, it is extremely salubrious. Suppose that it could be so arranged that it ran to 100% a year among politicians, executive secretaries, drive chairmen, and the homicidally insane? What rational man would object?
I believe that the quack healing cults set up a selection that is almost as benign and laudable. They attract, in the main, two classes: first, persons who are incurably ill, and hence beyond the reach of scientific medicine, and second, persons of congenitally defective reasoning powers. They slaughter these unfortunates by the thousand — even more swiftly and surely than scientific medicine (say, as practised by the average neighborhood doctor) could slaughter them. Does anyone seriously contend that this butchery is anti-social? It seems to me to be quite the reverse. The race is improved as its misfits and halfwits are knocked off. And life is thereby made safer and cheaper for the rest of us.
The section of medical opinion that I have mentioned stands against these obvious facts. It contends that the botched and incompetent should be kept alive against their will, and in the face of their violent protests. To what end? To the end, first, that the rest of us may go on carrying them on our backs. To the end, second, that they may multiply gloriously, and so burden our children and grandchildren. But to the end, mainly, that hordes of medical busybodies, unequal to the strain of practise, may be kept in comfort.
Every now and then one of these busybodies, discovering that some imbecile woman is having her child treated for a fractured skull or appendicitis by a Christian Scientist, fills the newspapers with clamor and tries to rush the poor woman to jail. A great sobbing ensues: it appears at once that it is the duty of the government (i.e., of certain jobholders) to rescue children from the follies of their parents. Is that duty real? If so, then let us extend it a bit. If it arises when a foolish mother tries to cure her child of diabetes by calling in a healer to read nonsense out of “Science and Health,” then doesn’t it arise equally when another foolish mother feeds her darling indigestible victuals? And if bad food is sufficient reason to summon the Polizei, then what of bad ideas?
The truth is that the inhumanity of Christian Science mothers is grossly exaggerated. They are, in the main, exactly like other mothers. So long as little Otto is able to yell they try home remedies — whether castor oil or Christian Science is all one. But when it becomes plain that he is seriously ill, they send for the doctor — and the ensuing hocus-pocus is surely not to be laid at their doors. What is the actual death-rate among the offspring of Christian Scientists? If it can be proved to be more than 5% above the death-rate among the infant patrons of free clinics I shall be glad to enter a monastery and renounce the world.
As a lifelong patriot and fan for human progress I should rejoice if it were five times what it is. Is it desirable to preserve the lives of children whose parents read and take seriously such dreadful bilge as is in “Science and Health”? If so, then it is also desirable to cherish the children of parents who believe that a horse-hair put into a bottle of water will turn into a snake. Such strains are manifestly dysgenic. Their persistence unchecked would quickly bring the whole human race down to an average IQ of 10 or 15. Being intelligent would become a criminal offense everywhere, as it already is in Mississippi and Tennessee. Thus a genuinely enlightened State would endow Christian Science and chiropractic on eugenic principles, as our great universities already endow football. Failing that, it is the plain duty of statesmanship to let nature take its course.