American Orthodox Catholic Christianity

Faith Of Our Fathers Series

Christian Science

      On a winter's day in New England in 1866, a frail middle-aged woman lay gravely ill with serious internal and spinal injuries. Her Protestant pastor had stopped by "to prepare her for the worst" (Robert Peel, The Years of Discovery: 1821-1875). After he left she opened her Bible and began to read Matthew 9:2: And behold, they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy..

      "Quite suddenly she was filled with the conviction that her life was in God--that God was the only Life..At that moment she was healed....It was as simple as that. In a moment of vision she saw all being as spiritual, divine, immortal, wholly good. There was no room for fear or pain or death, nor room for the limits that men define as matter" (Ibid.). 

    Thus began a remarkable 50-year odyssey, culminating in the writing of a now-famous book and the establishment of a now-respectable worldwide Church. The woman was Mary Baker Eddy; the book is Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures, and the religious organization is called today "The Church of Christ, Scientist," whose members are known simply as "Christian Scientists."

      Unable to humbly accept the simple fact of her instantaneous healing, Mrs. Eddy began to make a thoughtful and reflective search of Scripture, without reference to Protestant theology, historic Christianity, the commentaries of Holy Fathers, or anything or anyone else. She was convinced that Christian healing was a misunderstood "science," and she set herself the task of outlining its methodology.

      As she "searched Scripture" she wrote down her discoveries and insights, forming a complete system of "theology" all her own---an astonishing mixture of primitive psychology, New England Transcendentalism (especially Emerson and Thoreau), a few accidentally discovered truths, and what we today would call "positive thinking," self-hypnosis, and a smattering of New Age ideas.

      These writings were revised and refined throughout her life and, under the title Science and Health, became the supplementary scriptures of Christian Scientists. Mrs. Eddy (or "Mother Eddy," as she came to be called by her devoted followers) was in fact from a worldly standpoint--a rather remarkable thinker far in advance of her time and more "acceptable" in our own pluralistic age. In other ways, however, she was very much a product of her own time and place. She knew about the "adventist'' fever that had swept America, and towards the end of her life quite seriously observed:

      'It is authentically said that one expositor of Daniel's dates [in the Old Testament] fixed the year of 1866 or 1867 for the return of Christ....It is a marked coincidence that those dates were the first two years of my discovery of Christian Science ....

Some modern exegesis on the prophetic Scriptures cites 1875 as the year of the second coming of Christ. In that year the Christian Science text-book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, was first published (quoted in Edwin Dakin's Mrs. Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind).

      Usually she referred to herself simply as the "discoverer" (one of the titles her Church later gave her) of the "science" of healing. She sincerely believed her writings to be divinely inspired, and second only to the Sacred Scriptures, as do her followers today.

      In 1879, Mrs. Eddy and a mere 26 of her students founded the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston--since known as the "Mother Church." It is impossible to obtain census figures from the Mother Church, but it is believed that today there are two or three hundred thousand Christian Scientists throughout the world. Mrs. Eddy's writings have been translated into scores of languages, including Russian.

      Unlike most sects, Christian Scientists are not aggressive missionaries or proselytizers. Their presence in our society is very quiet and "low-key," consisting of seemingly omnipresent Reading Rooms, open to the public in every major city, locally sponsored and well-advertised lectures on healing, and the witness of their famous and quite reputable secular newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor (which now also sponsors a daily cable-television program, "World Monitor"). Specific theological publications include the Christian Science Sentinel, and The Christian Science Journal--all published by church headquarters in Boston.

    Perhaps because so much controversy surrounded Mary Baker Eddy during her lifetime (and even since her death at an advanced age in 1910), Successive presidents of her Church have kept a relatively low profile, preferring to de-emphasize personalities in their movement. Since 1988 the President of the Mother Church has been Pearline B. Thompson. Recent controversies surrounding the death of a child (who was given "spiritual treatment" rather than medical) has brought the soft-spoken Nathan Talbot, a church representative, somewhat reluctantly into the public eye.

      The fact that Christian Scientists prefer "spiritual healing" to medical treatment has made them the butt of many superficial jokes and outright contempt. This is unfortunate, because--aside from the fact that healing obviously has a legitimate place in Christianity--it misses the whole point of Christian Science theology, which is actually quite profound in its error and attractive to the modern mind It is dangerous because modern science has, in fact, begun to discover a strong cause-effect relationship between illness and mind or emotions.

      Mrs. Eddy's primary text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, is not called "Key to the Scriptures" for nothing. Without her "key," one cannot understand the mind of Christian Science at all. For example, the book contains a glossary in which all significant biblical terms are reinterpreted or redefined according to Mrs. Eddy's theology Once this "reinterpretation" is accepted, everything else falls into place and "makes sense"--even though based upon a syllogistic fallacy.

      Christian Scientists deny the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, and the Redemption on the Cross. But the central emphasis of Mrs. Eddy's theology can be summarized as follows:

      "God is All and God is Mind, therefore all that really exists must be mind or spirit. Matter cannot exist if all is mind, since mind is not matter. Not only so, but God is good....If God is good and all is God, evil (which includes sin, sickness, and death) cannot really exist. If such things appear to exist, it is only because man refuses to recognize the fact that God is all. When man is confused by such misconceptions he is said to possess 'Mortal Mind,' a mind controlled by error, a false view of reality. The way out of the labyrinth of Mortal Mind is quite simple: 'Change your mind [about reality] and change your life.' As soon as one sees life and reality through the lenses presribed by Mrs Eddy, sin, sickness, and death will fade away (since they don't exist anyway) and will become God, all will become good' <Frederick Harm, The Science Religions).

      In witnessing to a Christian Scientist it is important to point out that his faith is in the experience and writings of a particular person (Mary Baker Eddy), whereas ours, as Orthodox Christians, is in the real and living Son of God, Jesus Christ- the radiant center of our life and hope. On this basis only might one penetrate the semantic "enthusiasm” of a Christian Scientist.

Fr. Alexey Young (Russian Orthodox Church Abroad)

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