Is Christian Science a Dying Religion?

“But the time cometh when the religious element, or Church of Christ, shall exist alone in the affections, and need no organization to express it.”
– Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings, p. 145

“When students have fulfilled all the good ends of organization, and are convinced that by leaving the material forms thereof a higher spiritual unity is won, then is the time to follow the example of the Alma Mater. Material organization is requisite in the beginning; but when it has done its work, the purely Christly method of teaching and preaching must be adopted.”
– Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings, p. 358-359

“It is not indispensable to organize materially Christ’s church. It is not absolutely necessary to ordain pastors and to dedicate churches; but if this be done, let it be in concession to the period, and not as a perpetual or indispensable ceremonial of the church. If our church is organized, it is to meet the demand, ‘Suffer it to be so now.’ The real Christian compact is love for one another. This bond is wholly spiritual and inviolate.”
– Mary Baker Eddy, Miscellaneous Writings, p. 91

A friend of mine recently pointed out an article in The Federalist titled, “How Christian Science Became a Dying Religion” In the article the author, Alfred Siewers, writes: “Today, demolished or converted Christian Science churches testify to its decline…The number of Christian Scientists in the United States was 270,000 in 1936 (the last reliable public count). Today, despite growth in the nation’s population, actual church membership in the U.S. could well be down to 50,000, based on a steep drop in numbers of congregations and registered healers.” And he mentions that the last Christian Scientists in Congress, Representatives Bob Goodlatte and Lamar Smith, are no longer members of the legislature.

Here’s my reaction to all of that:
– Regarding Goodlatte and Smith: I don’t care what religion (or non-religion) legislators practice just so long as they are in Congress to help bring equality, justice, and fairness to all Americans, to serve the constituents (rather than corporations), and to save our environment.

– Regarding the closure of Christian Science churches: Back in 1879, when Mary Baker Eddy was trying to share Christian Science with the world, there weren’t televisions, computers, radios, or the internet – and I’m thinking the most effective way for her to share her discovery of Christian Science at that time was through a church. Maybe an organized religion is no longer the most effective way to share the Science of the Christ (Love, Truth, Life).

I believe Christian Science is more a way of life than a religion. Christian Science isn’t something that needs to be housed in a material structure. It’s not dependent on a human organization or a physical building. Christian Science can be practiced anywhere at any time by anyone. The power and presence of Love – the power and presence that brings us healing – isn’t limited to people who are card-carrying members of the Christian Science church. It’s available to all of us – no matter our church or political affiliations, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. No one is ever separated from the power and presence of Love.  The power of Love doesn’t discriminate or judge us, or leave anyone out. As Mary Baker Eddy writes in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Love is impartial and universal in its adaptations and bestowals.”

– Regarding the “declining” membership: Big numbers or little numbers, lots of people or just a few, popular or unpopular – I. Do. Not. Care. I don’t follow ANYthing just because it’s popular, or because celebrities and the “cool kids” like it – and I’m guessing you don’t, either, right?  I follow something because it resonates with me – it feels “right” to me – I follow an idea because it helps make me a better person, or gives me the tools to make the world a better place. I follow the teachings of Christian Science because it has brought me healing.

Is Christian Science a dying religion? I guess my response to that question would be another question: Isn’t Christian Science MORE than just a religion?

church

 

Communing with Love

We went to church today. It had been a while. It felt good to be back among my church family again. I looked around at the faces there – all of them dear and familiar to me – and realized that, of all the people sitting there, I was one of the people who had been attending this church the longest – almost 33 years. I began remembering, then, all the beautiful people I’d met in this edifice. A parade of precious faces from the past went by my inner vision. Gordo and Babs. Gordon and Jane. Another Jane and her three beautiful daughters. Sue. Laurie. Sabra and Dave. Darlene and Elliot, John and Linda and Becky and another Linda and a Zach. Mary and Serena and Jennifer and two Walts and a couple of Dons. Magnolia and Connie and Win and Bob.  The Tall Family. Jack and Anne. Geraldine. Marcie. Shirley. Merrle! All of them had played a part in my spiritual journey – nurtured and cultivated the good in me, and shared their inspiration with me. I felt filled with gratitude for each and every one of them – fellow adventurers and explorers and pioneers.

That final scene from Places in the Heart came to my thoughts – that scene where the camera pans down the pews in the church as the characters in the story drink from a communal cup – passing it from person-to-person – and we realize that the characters who died during the movie are sitting there, too, sharing in the cup. And we realize that the people who had battled with each other during the movie are also sharing in the cup. We see forgiveness. We see fellowship. We see love.

We don’t, literally, pass around a cup or eat wafers in the Christian Science church. But we do commune with Love. We do share in the atonement, the at-one-ment, with Love. And there have sure been some wonderful church friends sharing in that atonement with me.

“Atonement is the exemplification of man’s unity with God, whereby man reflects divine Truth, Life, and Love.”
– Mary Baker Eddy

 

I Could Feel Her with Me today

I could feel her with me today
as I sat on the pew surrounded
by song and peace and love.
I could feel her in the calm,
in the courage, and in the hope.
She was with me in that space,
with me in my thoughts,
and she was real – as real as you
and me and the music.
As long as I can love, she’ll be with me –
and her love will live on in me –
whether it’s on a trail in the forest,
lunch with dear friends, or a church
on the corner of 6th and Cedar.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

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“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God…”
– Romans 8

Church with Moz

I took a drive up to Bellingham yesterday. I decided to avoid the freeway and stick to the back roads. I had a yearning to meander.

Mindy Jostyn’s album, In His Eyes, played on my CD player as I drove down roads arched and lined in gold. Autumn leaves drifted gently down around me. There was no hurry here.

The title song of Jostyn’s album began playing, and I thought of Moz as these words filled my car –

In His eyes, you’re a fire that never goes out
A light on the top of a hill
In His eyes you’re a poet, a painter, a prophet
With a mission of love to fulfill
Outside there’s a world so enchantingly strange
A maze of illusion and lies
But there’s never a story that ever could change
The glory of you in His eyes… 

Moz had loved that song. When she’d been lying on a hospital bed in my living room – her last day – I’d played Mindy Jostyn’s CD for her and I remember how, during that song, she’d gotten quiet and still – her breathing not labored – and her eyes had focused as she listened to the words. There’d been peace in the room.

And there was peace now in my car as the song played through the speakers. I could feel Moz with me. I felt surrounded by her expression of Love.

“The structure of Truth and Love…” is part of Mary Baker Eddy’s definition for “CHURCH” in the Christian Science textbook. And, listening to Mindy Jostyn’s song, I felt Moz and I coming together to have our own church service in my car. Under the golden trees. On a quiet country back road.

Autumn Road

“Do you people realize what you have here?!”

Like pretty much every other group of people, I guess – Christian Scientists, too, have their “Albert Einstein Stories” – stories that indicate Einstein felt WE were on the right path. I know. The further we get from the actual life and times of Einstein, the more we seem to turn to him as the ultimate authority on… well, pretty much everything, and the farther we seem to get from knowing what he actually thought and believed about stuff.

Ahem. I’m pretty sure OUR stories are true, though. 🙂

Anyway. One of “our” stories says that Einstein once said to a group of Christian Scientists at the end of a Christian Science service, “You people don’t realize what you have here.”  And, whether or not this story is actually true, I can totally imagine Einstein saying it.  And I can totally imagine the circumstances that would lead him to say it.

I had occasion to hear a visitor to a Christian Science Organization meeting once say something really similar. I haven’t often shared this particular story because it’s embarrassing.  In so MANY ways.  And I inwardly cringe every time I think about it. But I think now might be a good time to re-tell it.

Years ago – back when I was a student at a state university – the young woman who was scheduled to conduct our next Christian Science students’ meeting called to ask me if I could do it instead. I was delighted to do so. If I don’t mind saying so, I have a real knack for putting together readings that present a message in a harmonious way. And I’ve always been really good at oral reading, too – I seem to have a natural gift for knowing when to go up with my voice, and knowing when to go down, knowing when to pause, and knowing when to not, and knowing, instinctively, how to bring meaning to the text I’m reading.  But I’d never before had the opportunity to conduct an “org” meeting, and none of my fellow CS students knew I was good at this kind of thing. This would be my opportunity to use some of my gifts, and I was excited about it.

It so happens that our organization had, just the night before, held our annual Christian Science lecture.  It had been a wonderful, funny, inspiring talk given by a man named Harvey Wood – who was most excellent at connecting with college students and sharing Christian Science in a natural way – without aggression, pushiness, or self-consciousness. That night Harvey had been a real hit with the visitors to our lecture, and many of them had left the lecture wanting to learn more about this way of life.

At our organization meeting – the one I was prepared to conduct – we found ourselves with a lot of visitors. Weirdly (but not really) the young woman who had asked me to read for her, suddenly showed up, sat down next to me, and said she could lead the meeting after all. And this is where I made my mistake. Not willing to make a scene, I handed over the books.  Now I had marked the books for myself – I knew where all the arrows went, knew what my little codes meant, knew how to read these passages with meaning and the emphasis I needed. The young woman who took the books from me was soon completely lost. She kept shaking her head, and asking me for direction – making it look like I had somehow failed in my attempt to put together coherent readings for this meeting, and totally distracting from the message I’d wanted to convey that night. (Lesson learned. Today if someone tried to pull something like that on me, I would simply say, “No. That’s alright. I’m prepared to read tonight. But thank you for offering.”)

Finally, after a little power struggle and a lot of tangling and tugging of egos, the readings were done. Now it was time for people to talk about their experiences with Christian Science, and ask questions. One of our visitors looked at us – an expression of bewilderment and shock on his face – and asked, “Do you people realize what you have here?!”

It was embarrassingly obvious he didn’t think we did.

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about that incident.  Once again I’m seeing a tangling and tugging of egos, people letting themselves get distracted from the real purpose of “church,” and bickering and quibbling over things that have nothing to do with that purpose.

Mary Baker Eddy defines “Church” as “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.” She writes that the “Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting our devils, or error, and healing the sick.”

If something isn’t proceeding from Love, isn’t leading towards Love, isn’t “elevating the race, and rousing the dormant understanding” and isn’t bringing healing to God’s creation – what’s the use of it? Why are we spending time with it? We all – and I’m not just talking about self-proclaimed “Christian Scientists” here – have so much to do right now that’s important and vital to the world – we have healing to do, and love to express – and, in my opinion, anything less than that just isn’t worthy of our time, or worthy of us, as God’s children.

“The vital part, the heart and soul of Christian Science, is Love.” – from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy.

Church: Inclusion or Exclusion?

” Listen, here’s what I think. I think we can’t go ’round measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.” – Pere Henri’s sermon in Chocolat

***

Chocolat is one of my all-time favorite movies. I love the quirky, lovable characters.  I love the images of chocolate being sprinkled, melted, molded, and eaten. I love the movie’s wise and wonderful dialogue.  I love the setting. I love the… did I mention the chocolate? And I love the movie’s message.

If you’ve never seen the movie, Chocolat (or read the book it’s based on), let me give a brief summary: A young widow moves into a small French town with her daughter, and opens up a chocolate store.  During lent.  Yeah.  Kind of bad timing.  The mayor – a judgmental, and obsessively restrained and rigid fellow, inclined to want to control the behavior of everyone around him – is not pleased by her lack of obedience to the dogma of his church. He proceeds to make life difficult for her – trying to coerce the people of his town to shun her and her new business.

And this brings me to the gist of what I want to write about today: exclusivism; elitism; what I call “Country Club Religiousness.” In his wonderful sermon, The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond reflects on the Biblical analogy of the sheep being separated from the goats on Judgment Day : “I say the final test of religion at that great Day is not religiousness, but Love; not what I have done, not what I have believed, not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of life. Sins of commission in that awful indictment are not even referred to. By what we have not done, by sins of omission, we are judged. It could not be otherwise. For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain.”

Why do you suppose we sometimes seem to have the need to cast judgment on others? Do you think we feel the need to put others down, shun them, exclude  them, and stamp them with labels because we don’t realize our own wonderfulness? – maybe we feel the need to put others down to somehow feel better about ourselves?  And do you think that maybe people who join organizations that promote exclusivity are people who have a need to feel like they belong to something “special?” I don’t know. I’m not a trained psychologist or anything, and I could just be (once again) full of baloney about this stuff.  Anyway…

We all know what Jesus said about judging others: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7)

In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy defines “Church” as “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.” She writes: “The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick.”

Note that Eddy doesn’t say that Church exists as a place to promote dogma, or to judge others. She doesn’t say that the Church exists only for the people who attend service in a material structure, or who obey rules of a human organization. She writes that the purpose of Church is to elevate the “race” – not just some members of the race, but all.  She doesn’t write that Church exists to serve itself, but that its purpose is to “raise the dormant understanding” of the human race.

Science is inclusive: The laws and rules of physics don’t belong just to those who call themselves physicists; A geologist can’t exclude anyone else from studying geology – nobody holds exclusive rights to the study of the earth’s surface; The principles of mathematics are universal, and available to everyone who chooses to use them.  And, just as geology, physics, and mathematics are inclusive of all mankind, so the Principle of the Christ-Science is universal, and belongs to everyone – nobody has exclusive ownership of Truth; Love, God, doesn’t belong to some people, and not others; A human institution doesn’t hold exclusive rights to Love’s healing power, and can’t prevent any of God’s children from being one with their Father-Mother, Love.

The healing truths found in Christian Science are available to everyone – not just card-carrying members of the Christian Science church.  And what good news that is for humanity! 🙂

May our physical housings of Church – our human structures – be perfect manifestations of the “structure of Truth and Love,” and may they be filled with a happy fellowship, inclusive of all.

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The members of this Church should daily watch and pray to be delivered from all evil, from prophesying, judging, condemning, counseling, influencing or being influenced erroneously.” – from Church Manual by Mary Baker Eddy