Part 10 (1/2)

Mrs. Eddy's sin is far too simple. There is, once more, a sound reason for that. Mrs. Eddy is twice-born, if you will, but the struggle from which she finally emerged with whatever measure of victory she attained was not fought out with conscience as the field of battle, or in the final reconciliation of a divided self finding unity and peace on some high level.

If Mrs. Eddy's true struggle was of the soul and not of complaining nerves she has left no record of it anywhere. It was rather the reaction of a speculative mind against the New England theology. Her experience is strangely remote from the experience of Saul of Tarsus, or Augustine, or John Bunyan. This is not to deny that in the practical outcome of Christian Science as evidenced in the life of its adherents there is not a very real power of helpful moral adjustment, but the secret of that must be sought in something else than either its philosophy or its theology. Christian theologians themselves have been by no means agreed as to what sin really is. Under their touch it became too often a theological abstraction rather than entanglement of personality caught in manifold urgencies and pulled this way and that by competing forces battling in the will and flaming in pa.s.sion and desire. But a sin which has no reality save through a mistaken belief in its existence is certainly as far from the fact of a world like ours as is a sin which is only one factor in a scheme of redemption.

But at any rate, if sin have no reality except our mistaken persuasion that it be true and if we are delivered from it directly we cease to believe in it and affirm in the stead of it the reality of love and goodness, then while there may be in such a faith as this both the need and possibility of the recasting of our personal lives, there is in it neither need nor possibility of the Christian doctrine of the atonement.

Naturally since man is incapable of sin, sickness and death, he is unfallen, nor is ”his capacity or freedom to sin any part of the divine plan.” ”A mortal sinner is not G.o.d's man. Mortals are the counterfeits of immortals; they are the children of the wicked one, or the one evil which declares that man begins in dust or as a material embryo” (page 475).

Here also is an echo from an early time and a far-off land. It is not likely that Mrs. Eddy ever heard of Mani or Manicheeism, or knew to what a travail of soul St. Augustine was reduced when he fought his way through just a kindred line of teaching which, to save G.o.d from any contact with or responsibility for evil, affirmed our dual genesis and made us on one side children of darkness and on the other the children of light, without ever really trying to achieve in a single personality any reconciliation of two natures drawn from two entirely different sources. Nor does Mrs. Eddy know that one Eusebius, finding much evidence of this faith in the Christianity of the fourth century, dismissed it briefly enough as ”an insane heresy.” Heresy it certainly was for all those who were fighting their way out of their paganism into an ordered Christian faith and whether it be insane or no, it is of all the explanations which have been offered for the presence of evil in a world supposedly ruled by the love and goodness of G.o.d, the one which will least bear examination. It has been dead and buried these thousand years.

We may deny, if we are so minded, any freedom of the will at all, so involving ourselves in an inevitable sequence of cause and effect as to make us also simply weather-vanes driven east or west by winds of inheritance and environment which we have no power to deflect and to which we can only choose to respond. But to deny us the freedom to sin and so to shut us up to a determinism of goodness is no more in accord with the facts than to deny us the power to be good and shut us up to a determinism of sin. If we are free at all we are free in all directions.

_The Sacraments Disappear. Mrs. Eddy's Theology a Reaction from the Rigid Evangelicism of Her Youth_

”Science and Health” deals in the same radical way with the sacraments.

Nothing at all, apparently, is made of baptism save that Mrs. Eddy says our baptism is a purification from all error. In her account of the Last Supper the cup is mostly dwelt upon and that only as showing forth the bitter experience of Jesus. The bread ”is the great truth of spiritual being, healing the sick” and the breaking of it the ”explaining” it to others. More is made of what is called the last spiritual breakfast with the Disciples by Lake Galilee than of the Last Supper in the upper room.

”This spiritual meeting with our Lord in the dawn of a new light is the morning meal which Christian Scientists commemorate” (page 35). ”Our bread,” she says, ”which cometh down from heaven, is Truth; our wine, the inspiration of Love” (page 35). All this is of a piece with the general allegorical use of the Old and New Testaments in ”Science and Health,” but it is a marked departure from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper even in the simple memorial way in which it is kept by non-liturgical churches.

Mrs. Eddy's theology, then, is in part a reaction from the hard phrasing of the evangelical doctrines in which she was trained and it is indeed in part a reaching out toward the interpretation of these doctrines in terms of life and experience, but as a theology it is extraordinarily loose and even though the familiar phrases of Protestant and Catholic faiths are employed, what is left is wholly out of the current of the main movement of Christian theology heretofore. The central articles of the historic creeds practically disappear under Mrs. Eddy's treatment.

Here, then, is a philosophy which will not bear examination, a use of Scripture which can possibly have no standing in any scholarly fellows.h.i.+p, and a theology which empties the central Christian doctrines of the great meanings which have heretofore been a.s.sociated with them.

And yet in spite of all this, Christian Science gets on and commends itself to so considerable a number of really sincere people as to make it evident enough that it must have some kind of appealing and sustaining power. Where, then, is the hiding of its power? Partly, of course, in its s.p.a.ciousness. There are times when a half-truth has a power which the whole truth does not seem to possess. Half truths can be accepted unqualifiedly; they are capable of a more direct appeal and if they be skillfully directed toward needs and perplexities they are always sure of an acceptance; they make things too simple, that is one secret of their hold upon us. This, of course, is more largely true among the spiritually undisciplined and the mentally untrained, but even the wisest folk find it easier upon occasion to accept a half truth which promises an easy satisfaction or deliverance than a whole truth which needs to be wrestled with and may be agonized over before it brings us into some better estate.

_The Real Power of Christian Science is in Neither Its Philosophy Nor Its Theology_

We have already seen what predisposing influences there were in the breaking down of what we have called the accepted validations of historic Christianity--due, as we have seen also, to many contributing causes--to offer unusual opportunity to any new movement which promised deliverance. But one must seek the conditions which have made possible so many strange cults and movements in America, not only in the breakdown of the historic faiths, but also in the state of popular education. Democracy tends, among other things, to lead us to value a movement by the number of people whom it is able to attract. We are, somehow, persuaded that once a majority has accepted anything, what they have accepted must be true and right. Even a strong minority always commands respect. Any movement, therefore, which succeeds in attracting a considerable number of followers is bound to attract others also, just because it has already attracted so many. One has only to listen to the current comment on Christian Science to feel that this is a real factor in its growth.

Democracy believes in education, but has not commonly the patience to make education thoroughgoing. Its education is very much more likely to be a practical or propaganda education than such training as creates the a.n.a.lytical temper and supplies those ma.s.sive backgrounds by which the departures of a day are always to be tested. In America particularly there is an outstanding want of background. It needs history, philosophy, economic understanding and a wealth of racial experience to give to any people either the power to quickly discriminate between the truth and the half-truth, or to carry itself with poise through a transitional period. But one may not dispose of the distinct hold of Christian Science upon its followers by such generalizations. The real inwardness of no religion can ever be known from its theology. A sincere devotion may attend a most deficient theology and we need to be charitable in judging the forms which other people's faith takes. What seems unreasonable to one may seem quite right to another and whatever carries a sincere faith deepening into a positive spiritual experience accomplishes for the moment its purpose. These studies of Christian Science are severe--for one must deal with it as honestly as he knows how--but the writer does not mean that they should fail in a due recognition of the spiritual sincerity of Christian Scientists. We must therefore go in to what is most nearly vitally central in the system to find the real secret of its powers. It continues and grows as a system of healing and a religion.



Christian Science practice is the application of its philosophy and theology to bodily healing. This is really the end toward which the whole system is directed. ”Science and Health” is an exposition of Mrs.

Eddy's system as a healing force. Her philosophy and theology are incidental, or--if that is not a fair statement--they both condition and are conditioned by her system of healing. There is hardly a page in her book without its reference to sickness and health. Her statements are consequently always involved and one needs to stand quite back from them to follow their outline. Here, as elsewhere, one may read deeply and indirectly between the lines att.i.tudes and beliefs against which she is reacting. Her reactions against the environment of her girlhood and early womanhood affect her point of view so distinctly that without the recognition of this a good deal of what she says is a puzzle without a key.

_Christian Science the Application of Philosophy and Theology to Bodily Healing_

She had been taught, among other things, that sickness is a punishment for sin. One may safely a.s.sume this for the theology of her formative period fell back upon this general statement in its attempt to reconcile individual suffering and special providence. One ought not justly to say that Mrs. Eddy ever categorically affirms that she had been taught this, or as categorically denies the truth of it, but there are statements--as for example page 366--which seem to imply that she is arguing against this and directing her pract.i.tioners how to meet and overcome it. This perhaps accounts for the rather difficult and wavering treatment of sin and sickness in a connection where logically sickness alone should be considered.

Mrs. Eddy would not naturally have thus a.s.sociated sin and sickness had they not been a.s.sociated for her in earlier teaching and yet, as has been said, all this is implicit rather than explicit. The key to a great deal in ”Science and Health” is not in what the author says, but in the reader's power to discover behind her statements what she is ”writing down.” Her system is both denial and affirmation. In the popular interpretation of it quite as much is made of denial and the recognition of error as of its more positive aspects, but in the book there is a pretty constant interweaving of both the denial of evil and the affirmation of well-being.

There is a sound element of wisdom in many of her injunctions, but more needed perhaps fifty years ago than now. We must remember constantly that Mrs. Eddy is writing against the backgrounds of a somber theology, a medical practice which relied very greatly on the use of drugs which was at the same time limited in its materia medica and too largely experimental in its practice. She was writing before the day of the trained nurse with her efficient poise. The atmosphere of a sick room is not naturally cheerful and generally both the medical procedure and the spiritual comfort of the sick room of the fifties and sixties did very little to lighten depression. When, therefore, Mrs. Eddy urges, as she does, an atmosphere of confidence and sympathy she is directly in the right direction.

_Looseness of Christian Science Diagnosis_

As we pa.s.s beyond these things which are now commonplace, what she says is not so simple. It is difficult to say how far the healing which attends upon Christian Science is in her thought the result of Divine Power immediately in exercise, and how far it is the outcome of disciplines due to the acceptance of her theology and philosophy. It is hard also to distinguish between the part the healer plays and the contribution of the subject. There is no logical place in Christian Science practice for physical diagnosis. ”Physicians examine the pulse, tongue, lungs, to discover the condition of matter, when in fact all is Mind. The body is the substratum of mortal mind, and this so-called mind must finally yield to the mandate of immortal Mind” (page 370).