No doubt you have seen Christian Science reading rooms in various cities where you have traveled. You are also probably familiar with the Christian Science Monitor news service. The visibility of the reading rooms and the news service are a couple of the places where the Christian Science faith has picked up notoriety. There are also quite a number of famous people who claim Christian Science as their faith of choice. The list includes well known people from many walks of life. Among actors and actresses, we have such notables as Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Val Kilmer, Audry Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Doris Day, Henry Fonda, Milton Berle, Robert Duvall, Carol Channing, Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Rooney, Robin Williams, Marlon Brando, Bette Davis and Gene Autrey. Then you have such people as Muppets creator Jim Hinson, and journalist Kay Fanning. Musicians Mike Nesmith of The Monkeys, Lionel Hampton, and Ray Connif, Jr. are all Christian Scientists. We could go on with this list naming famous politicians, athletes, astronauts and others.
But in spite of all of the famous people who have this background, Christian Science is still a relatively small and little known entity. Official membership figures are confidential, but estimates of the numbers range from below 100,000 to around 400,000 worldwide. The truth is probably in the lower range. The greatest number are found in the US, but significant pockets exist in Germany, Great Britain and Canada, as well. The church claims about 2,300 congregations in 60 countries. Their heyday seems to have been around the 1930s.
There has also been a certain amount of controversy surrounding the practice of Christian Science – particularly in regard to their approach to healing. There have been cases where individuals have died because they chose not to seek medical attention for illnesses based on their beliefs regarding healing. There have also been controversies regarding the non-treatment of children for medical problems which ultimately resulted in their deaths.
The founder of Christian Science was Mary Baker Eddy. She was raised in a strict, deeply religious home. From that background, she developed a lifelong interest in Christianity and the Bible.
Growing up, Mary was chronically sick. She suffered with many illnesses including such things as paralysis, hysteria, seizures and convulsions. At the age of twenty-two, she married the first of her three husbands, George Glover. Sadly, he died within six months of their marriage. Following Glover’s death, she became involved in hypnosis and the occult practices of spiritualism and clairvoyance.
Later on she married Daniel Patterson, a dentist and homeopathic practitioner. This marriage ended in divorce, but it was during this period in her life that she met the mental healer Phineas P. Quimby. It was Quimby’s influence that would ultimately lead to the doctrines of Christian Science – particularly the ideas which seem to have a Far Eastern Thought basis. It is interesting to note that Ms. Eddy never did any significant study of Far Eastern Thought ideas and denied the influence of Hinduism in her faith. In fact, she always maintained a strong commitment to the idea that the Bible was her authority source. That being said, the Far Eastern Thought ideas from Quimby’s system have a very prominent place in the religion.
Dr. Quimby, for his part, was influenced by a French hypnotist named Charles Poyen. Poyen had developed a system of mental healing that he called “The Science of Health” or “Christian Science.” Following his lead, Quimby believed that illness and disease could be cured through positive thoughts and healthy attitudes. Mary bought into this approach to healing and, through her association with Quimby, she claimed to have been healed when she suddenly experienced some physical improvement.
Shortly afterwards, she fell on an icy sidewalk and severely injured herself. Her claim, and that of the church, is that she was not expected to survive this incident. On what she believed to be her deathbed, she read in the Bible about one of Jesus’ healings and suddenly realized that healing does not come from internal bodily processes or the power of a person’s mind, as Quimby’s approach asserted. Rather, she concluded that it came from the “Divine Mind” – that is God. The story goes that at this realization, she was instantly cured!
Based on this experience, Mary took Quimby’s teachings one step further and claimed that sickness, death, and even our physical bodies do not exist, but are only imagined. For a three year period, she withdrew from society in order to conduct a deep search of the Bible to discover precisely how her healing had taken place. She wished to share this knowledge in order to help others experience the elimination of sin and the accomplishment of good health as she had.
As she developed her belief system, she claims to have received a further revelation from God that goes beyond the Bible. She believed that what she received was a new divine truth that was previously unrevealed in Scripture. She claimed that Jesus Christ had demonstrated these principles of healing in his life, but that they were not carried on by the church through the ages. Thus, Christian Science has restored the lost element of Christianity related to physical healing.
Mary then wrote her main book Science and Health, later called Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In this work she explained her unique interpretations of Scripture upon which Christian Science was founded.
She married her third husband, Asa Eddy in 1877 at 56 years of age. Following that, in 1879, Mary and some of her students voted to establish the Church of Christ Scientist in Charleston, Massachusetts. The name was changed to the First Church of Christ Scientist in 1892.
The Church Manual was published in 1895 and spelled out the procedures for governing the church – which have not been changed since Mary’s death. Later, in 1908, she founded The Christian Science Monitor, a renowned international newspaper which is now available both in print and on the internet.
The current headquarters of the church are in Boston, Massachusetts. The church operates Christian Science Reading Rooms throughout the country where the public is invited to read the Bible and various other literature published by the Church. It has no official ordained clergy. Before she died, Mary proclaimed that the Bible and her book, Science and Health, were to be the pastor for worldwide Churches of Christ, Scientist.
Although she taught that death is an illusion, Mary Baker Eddy passed away December 3, 1910.
Basic Beliefs and Practices
Christian Science does not have an organizational creed, but there are certain doctrines and practices which define its uniqueness.
1. The Bible is regarded as its primary authority, but it must be interpreted according to the principles espoused in Science and Health.
2. Jesus Christ is acknowledged to be the means by which individuals achieve healing. While physical healing is an important element of life, Christian Scientists believe that healing also involves character transformation, harmony in relationships, schooling, career, marriage, mental health and every other aspect of life. All of these kinds of healings are believed to be accomplished through prayer.
3. A primary focus of Christian Science relates to physical healing. Adherents are taught how to rely progressively on prayer alone for physical cures. For practitioners, physical healing confirms the primary mission of Christian Science – to heal “the sins of the world” through understanding the power of Christ – that is, through Divine Truth.
4. Christian Science demands that faith be present in order for physical healing to occur. It further teaches that in order to heal systematically and consistently, understanding the nature of God and His laws is necessary. It is when a person prays with understanding that healing occurs. They believe that the teachings of Jesus are central to Christian Science, and his healing work provides the foremost example of how his followers also can turn to God’s omnipotent love for healing.
5. An important part of a Christian Scientist’s religious practice is study of the weekly Lesson-Sermon outlined in The Christian Science Quarterly. This includes excerpts from the Bible and from Science and Health. This lesson also contains the sermon that is read at each Sunday service in churches throughout the world.
6. A Sunday School is typically provided for children and teenagers, and Wednesday evening meetings include readings from the Bible and from Science and Health on topics of current interest. Testimonies of healing through prayer by members of the congregation are also a common part of their practice.
God is understood to be pantheistic. He is seen to be all of existent reality, including the material world. What we perceive as matter is simply an expression of the Divine Mind. God has no personhood and no personality. He is, simply, all that exists, the infinite power source, and the Father-Mother. The Trinity is not understood to be personal, but are the three principles of Life, Truth, and Love.
Jesus and Christ are not recognized to be the same. Christian Scientists teach that Christ is the “God principle,” and that Jesus was a man who lived on earth who personified this principle. This Christ principle is seen to be the ideal truth which comes to heal sickness and sin through Christian Science. Jesus was the man in history who most fully expressed the Christ principle in human life. Rather than being a divine individual, he was simply a “way-shower” who exemplified the true principle of Christ Consciousness which indwells every human being. Christian Science teaches that Jesus did not really die on the cross. He was also not God in the flesh and, therefore, made no atonement for sin by the shedding of his blood.
The Holy Spirit is also not recognized to be personal or a part of the godhead. Rather, it is understood to be Christian Science itself.
In Christian Science, the true nature of each individual, as a child of God, is seen to be spiritual. Our physical existence is merely an illusion.
Christian Science teaches that there is no such thing as sin and death, good and evil. That being the case, there is no objective need for salvation. The things that appear to be bad are merely illusions. Since God is love, sin and sickness are only errors in interpreting the Divine Mind. God’s infinite goodness is recognized as the healing agent, and this is realized in the act of prayer. Salvation occurs when a person realizes that sin, sickness and death are illusions. At the point of true belief, healings result.
Faith Foundation (How Christian Science answers the seven worldview questions.)
1. What is the most fundamental reality? (Ultimate reality)
The most fundamental reality is God, which is an impersonal and infinite power source. God is understood to be all of extant reality, including the material world. God is all and all is God.
2. What is the nature of our material reality? (Material reality)
Matter is acknowledged to contain no life, hence it has no real existence. Therefore, material reality is understood to be an illusion. What we perceive as matter is simply an interpretation of Divine Mind. Proper prayer and training must be practiced in order to battle the “non-reality” of the material world – including illness.
3. What is a human being? (Humanity)
The true nature of each individual is spiritual. Man does not have a sinful nature but is, rather, a reflection of the Divine Mind. To achieve salvation, a person needs to understand true reality (matter is an illusion) as revealed in Christian Science teachings. With this understanding, human beings become more spiritual and finally attain unity with God.
4. What happens to a person at death? (Death)
Any material evidence of death is false because it contradicts the spiritual facts of being. When the physical body dies, the illusion of death is broken. At that point, mortals awaken to the knowledge that they are not dead and that they have simply passed through the doors of a new belief.
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? (Knowledge)
Knowledge is an expression of the Divine Mind, of which all human beings are participants.
6. How do we know what is right and wrong? (Morality)
We know right and wrong based on what is taught in the Bible as interpreted by Science and Health.
7. What is the meaning of human history? (History)
History is an illusion since all of material reality is an illusion.
Mary Baker Eddy claimed that the Bible was her final authority, but also claimed that her revelations were better and higher than the Bible. To clarify further, the Bible can only be correctly interpreted by understanding the principles taught in Science and Health – which is recognized as the voice of truth to this age.
Evidence for the Authority
The only evidence for the validity of Christian Science is the assertion and anecdotal testimonial evidence of Mary Baker Eddy and her followers. There is no objective evidence to back up Christian Science’s beliefs. Additionally, there is no attempt by Christian Science believers to prove that their interpretations of the process of healing is, in actual fact, what happens. They simply assert it as truth.
Christian Science is a strange combination of Theism and Far Eastern Thought. There is no reason why these were put together in this combination except that Mary Baker Eddy thought up the system and developed it into a religious group that attracted some followers.
In terms of worldview, Christian Science is a hybrid. The belief system maintains that the Bible is its ultimate authority, yet the principles of pantheism are used to interpret what the Bible says. These two approaches are inherently contradictory and, because of the internal contradictions which result, invalidate the belief system on its face.
In general terms, Christian Science adherents tend to be good, moral people. That being said, their conception of morality can be skewed because of their belief that the material world is not real – as evidenced by the lives of some of the prominent believers listed at the beginning of this article, and by some of the controversies which have occurred because of certain members refusal to seek medical help for illnesses. But the morality of the believers in this faith is not the main issue at hand. Based on the evidence we have seen, the teachings of Christian Science simply do not represent the truth about the structure of reality.
© 2010 Freddy Davis