Mary Baker Eddy Had Chutzpah

        Millions of unprejudiced minds – simple seekers forTruth, weary wanderers, athirst in the desert – are waiting and watching for rest and drink. Give them a cup of cold water in Christ’s name, and never fear the consequences.
Mary Baker Eddy, from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures

I’ve started reading Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy again. This is probably the fourth time I’ve read this book. I get something different out of it each time I read it – I come upon lines that, for whatever reason, I never noticed before and that leap out at me and grab my attention. It’s like going on a treasure hunt.

This time what is jumping out at me is the sheer audacity – the unabashed chutzpah – of the book’s author. She doesn’t beat around the bush. She doesn’t try to sugar-coat what she believes to be Truth. She doesn’t write what she believes will make her popular. She doesn’t try to appease anyone else’s ego or try to make her book more palatable to the cynical or worldly. There is a kind of innocent, almost child-like, honesty in her words. I like her. She writes, “The author has not compromised conscience to suit  the general drift of thought, but has bluntly and honestly given the text of Truth.” And she ain’t kidding.

She first published Science and Health in 1875 – almost 140 years ago – and when you think about what the world was like in 1875 – what most religious folks believed at that time, what most scientists believed, what the common thought was regarding spiritual healing – I cannot help but admire the courage it must have taken to publish a book that pretty much went against most peoples’ most cherished beliefs. Her thoughts were progressive then, and they are still progressive today. She writes about atomic power, space travel, evolution, and what today might be classified as ideas found in quantum physics. She went against the common religious beliefs of her day with her thoughts on eternal damnation, heaven, an anthropomorphic god, the story of Adam and Eve, and atonement.

Regarding an anthropomorphic god, Eddy wrote: “The word anthropomorphic, in such a phrase as ‘an anthropomorphic God,’ is derived from two Greek words, signifying man and form, and may be defined as a mortally mental attempt to reduce Deity to corporeality. The life-giving quality of Mind is Spirit, not matter. The ideal man corresponds to creation, to intelligence, and to Truth. The ideal woman corresponds to Life and to Love. In divine Science, we have not as much authority for considering God masculine, as we have for considering Him feminine, for Love imparts the clearest idea of Deity.” (Holy shamoley! Can you imagine how well THAT passage must have flown in a society in which  women didn’t even have the right to vote, yet!)

Regarding heaven and the idea of God sending her children to a place of eternal damnation, Eddy wrote: “Heaven is not a locality, but a divine state of Mind…” and “It would be contrary to our highest ideas of God to suppose Him capable of first arranging law and causation so as to bring about certain evil results, and then punishing the helpless victims of His volition for doing what they could not avoid doing. Good is not, cannot be, the author of experimental sins.” (Even today you’ll find people in “civilized” countries who believe that God sends his own creation to a place of eternal, torturous “time-out” – can you imagine how Eddy’s ideas about heaven and hell must have been received by the general population 140 years ago?!)

Eddy several times referred to the story of Adam and Eve as an “allegory”, she wrote, for example: “In the Scriptural allegory of the material creation, Adam or error, which represents the erroneous theory of life and intelligence in matter, had the naming of all that was material.” (In 1875 the story of creation and Adam and Eve was interpreted as a literal happening by most Christians. Her thoughts about the book of Genesis might have been considered heresy by some. Actually, her interpretation of Genesis might still be considered heresy by some.)

And regarding the atonement and the belief that Jesus died for our sins, Eddy wrote: “ATONEMENT is the exemplification of man’s unity with God, whereby man reflects divine Truth, Life, and Love. Jesus of Nazareth taught and demonstrated man’s oneness with the Father, and for this we owe him endless homage. His mission was both individual and collective. He did life’s work aright not only in justice to himself, but in mercy to mortals,- to show them how to do theirs, but not to do it for them nor to relieve them of a single responsibility.”

Yeah. I am not at all surprised that there were – and still are – people who got all ruffled and riled up by her views. The close-minded, the arrogant, pompous, stodgy and self-righteous, were alive then, just as they are today. They can be found in every group (ahem, even, I am embarrassed to say, amongst those who call themselves “Christian Scientists”). But I don’t think Eddy was at all worried about what those people thought of her. She wrote her book for the other ones – the open-minded, the humble and the honest.

        In the spirit of Christ’s charity, as one who “hopeth all things, endureth all things,” and is joyful to bear consolation to the sorrowing and healing to the sick, she commits these pages to honest seekers for Truth.
– 
Mary Baker Eddy, from the preface to Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures

Tony Kushner: “…With Key to the Scriptures”

“Oh God, I’m going to now read this Christian Science text… and it’s going to be heavy sledding… and I was stunned to read this absolutely magnificent kind of prose… Mary Baker Eddy was a wonderful writer… she writes gorgeously… and I kind of fell in love with it… I didn’t become a Christian Scientist, but I found it tremendously moving.” – Tony Kushner, talking about the title to his new play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.  http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201405151000

If you were to venture onto Amazon and scroll through the reviews for Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the textbook for Christian Science, you would see a lot of reviews from people who really loved this book, or really hated it, but very few reviews from people who walked away from this  book with an “eh-so-so” feeling about it. (There are 51 five star reviews, 14 one star reviews, and only 4 people who gave the book two to four stars.  http://www.amazon.com/Science-Health-Scriptures-Authorized-Trade/dp/0879520388/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0X6VT8G4FVS730E7129P)

I think one of the reviewers, Tobin Sparfield, explains this disparity really well in his review: “It should be addressed here… that many reviews are about the Christian Science Church rather than the book itself. Some individuals have had negative experiences with the Church/religion, and while their experiences are certainly valid, I am not about to defend the shortcomings of a human institution in this space. I do feel the need, however, to distinguish between a religion and its book.”

Although I might not be considered a very religious person, I am very grateful for what the study of Christian Science has brought into my life – the healings and my growing understanding of the Consciousness of Love. And I’m very grateful to Mary Baker Eddy, the author of Science and Health, for bringing us the textbook for Christian Science. Science and Health was published back in 1875, but it’s still timely today. Even in 1875 Eddy was talking about consciousness, the nothingness of matter, invention and discovery, evolution, and atomic power – topics that we see being discussed among those who study quantum physics and other physical sciences today. And the topics that are still being debated on religion discussion forums today are topics that she addressed and dealt with almost 150 years ago. God, she told us, was not an anthropomorphic being, but “God” was just another name for Love, Truth, Life, Spirit, Mind, Soul, Principle. Hell and heaven were not literal places, she told us, but states of mind. For her, the story of Adam and Eve was an allegory, not an actual event. She was progressive, far-thinking – a visionary.

The astronomer will no longer look up to the stars, – he will look out from them upon the universe; and the florist will find his flower before its seed. Thus matter will finally be proved nothing more than a mortal belief, wholly inadequate to affect a man  through its supposed organic action or supposed existence. Error will be no longer used in stating truth. The problem of nothingness, or “dust to dust,” will be solved, and mortal mind will be without form and void, for mortality will cease when man beholds himself God’s reflection, even as man sees his reflection in a glass. – Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures

 

 

“I’ll pray for you.”

So, have you ever, like, disagreed with what someone was saying, and been told “I’ll pray for you” in response?

What the heck?

Could it be  that if we’re seeing some  fallible, imperfect mortal when we look at someone else, it’s our OWN perception of God’s perfect creation that needs to be corrected? Could it be that it’s not the OTHER individual who needs to be “prayed for” – but that we need to be praying to correct our OWN thoughts?

It seems to me there’s a certain un-Christly smugness about the thought that someone who disagrees with our mortal opinions and beliefs needs to somehow be “fixed” to conform with how we think about things.  And telling someone who doesn’t want our prayers that we’ll pray for him is really pretty presumptuous, isn’t it?  A Christian Science teacher once made the analogy that unsolicited prayers are akin to going, uninvited, into someone else’s home and re-arranging their furniture. I think  we need to be careful to mind our OWN business, to mind our OWN thoughts, and trust that others are being led – just like we are – no more and no less – by God and Truth, too.

In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures Mary Baker Eddy writes: “The heavenly law is broken by trespassing upon man’s individual right of self-government. We have no  authority in Christian Science and no moral right to attempt to influence the thoughts of others, except it be to benefit them. In mental practice you must not forget that erring human opinions, conflicting selfish motives, and ignorant attempts  to do good may render you incapable of knowing or  judging accurately the need of your fellow-men. Therefore the rule is, heal the sick when called upon for aid….”

In the chapter titled “Prayer” in Science and Health, Eddy asks: “What are the motives for prayer? Do we pray to  make ourselves better or to benefit those who hear us, to enlighten the infinite or to be heard of  men?” Are we praying with humility,  quietly putting ourselves “in the closet” as Jesus admonished us to do, and humbly drawing our own thoughts near to the heart of Love and Truth? Or are we trying to use prayer as a sort of bully stick – trying to knock others around until they agree with us? 

When I’ve been asked by someone else to pray for him – well, that’s a whole ‘nother thing, of course. That’s a prayer of support coming from a place of love – and that’s the kind of prayer that heals.  Eddy writes: “If Spirit or the power of divine Love bear witness to the truth, this is the ultimatum, the scientific  way, and the healing is instantaneous.”

Now we’re talking! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

The Bible: From “Baseline Data” to a Revelation

“Definition. Baseline data is basic information gathered before a program begins. It is used later to provide a comparison for assessing program impact.” – http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/literacy/referencematerials/glossaryofliteracyterms/whatisbaselinedata.htm

…our sufficiency is of God… Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” – II Corinthians 3

SCIENTIFIC interpretation of the Scriptures properly starts with the beginning of the Old Testament, chiefly because the spiritual import of the Word, in its earliest articulations, often seems so smothered by the immediate context as to require explication; whereas the New Testament narratives are clearer and come nearer the heart.” – Mary Baker Eddy (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures)

***

The Bible is really cool in that it’s a collection of writings from people who lived thousands of years ago and took the time to write down their thoughts and feelings about life – and their writing connects us to them – lets us see that people dealt with the same feelings that we deal with today. There’s joy in those pages, and hope, and great love. There’re stories of self-sacrifice and selflessness and courage – and there’re also stories of obsession and greed and jealousy. And it’s interesting, to me, to see how people dealt with all that stuff – as a society, and as individuals.

But there’s a distinction made in the Bible between the “spirit” and the “letter.” It says in II Corinthians 3 that “the letter killeth” – and I think when people interpret the Bible word-for-word literally they are killing the spirit, the essence, of its meaning. The Bible is chock full of symbolism. Interpreted literally, a lot of it just doesn’t make any sense – it’s full of contradictions and things that are just loopy. Interpreted literally, the story of Adam and Eve has any sane person scratching her head, trying to make heads and tails of talking serpents and a rib turned into a woman and a Creator sending his creation to hell for doing what he made it capable of doing. Interpreted literally, the book of Revelation is a complete nightmare.

And sometimes it might seem really tempting to just throw the whole thing in the trash and be done with it – there is a lot of insanity displayed in The Bible – narrow-mindedness, rigidity, misogyny, tribal warfare, chaos and mayhem and rape and murder and hypocrisy – and I can understand why I’ve sometimes heard people say they hate it.

But when I read The Bible what I see as a history major is the evolution and progress of society and mankind – gradually moving away from a god of war – a vengeful, angry, jealous anthropomorphic god – to God as, literally, Love. When I read the first chapter of Genesis I see the beauty of creation – I don’t get hung up on the whole seven days and seven nights thing – Christian Scientists don’t interpret that chapter literally – what I see is a creation made in God’s image and likeness – beautiful and good and perfect. When I read the story of Adam and Eve, it’s obvious to me that I’m reading an allegory. When I read the songs that David wrote I know I’m reading the words of a man who struggled with the same things I’ve struggled with in my life – I see his flaws and I see his mistakes and his victories, and I see him growing and maturing and I take comfort in that. Jesus’ healings are evidence, for me, of the power of our thoughts, the power of love and good overcoming the challenges we all face – and they give me hope. Revelations is totally symbolic – in my mind, at least – showing the ultimate triumph of the things of the Spirit over the illusions of matter.

I think it’s important to keep what we read in the Bible in context with the culture and times in which it was written – and to view the Bible as a work that’s not static, but dynamic – that shows us a progression from beginning to end.  When we read in Leviticus the ruling that adulterous women should be stoned, and “…eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again” – I don’t see this as an edict of how we should behave today – I see Leviticus as offering us the baseline data – as the “basic information gathered before a program begins… used later to show how far we’ve come…”   (http://www.sil.org). When we later see Jesus saving the woman accused of adultery from being stoned, and read his words, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5) – I see the progress mankind has made from the baseline given in Leviticus.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5

“There will be greater mental opposition to the spiritual, scientific meaning of the Scriptures than there has ever been since the Christian era began. The serpent, material sense, will bite the heel of  the woman, – will struggle to destroy the spiritual idea of Love...” – Mary Baker Eddy (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures)

“The Scriptures are very sacred. Our aim must be to have them understood spiritually, for only by this understanding can truth be gained. The true theory of the universe, including man, is not in material history but in spiritual development.” – from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy