This is part of a series of posts on God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline Fraser. For all posts on this topic, see the tag God’s Perfect Child.
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Part 1: Mere Historical Incidents
Divided into fifteen sections, Part 1 begins with an overview of the time period Ms. Eddy came of age in, then progresses through a brief biographical sketch covering her childhood, first marriage, child, second marriage, introduction to and falling out with P.P. Quimby, the fall on the ice in Lynn, early years and formation of Christian Science through the death of her third husband, Asa Gilbert Eddy in 1882 of mesmeric poison.
In my two pages of notes on pages 23-79 that comprised Part 1 a few things stood out to me more than others, it is those I will focus on and share. While much of what was covered in Part 1 was not new (I’d read much of it in Dakin’s biography), Fraser’s perspective (and hindsight) allowed her to condense and highlight the main ideas from Ms. Eddy’s early years.
In Part 1, section 2, Fraser reminds readers of Ms. Eddy’s self-proclaimed right to manipulate the facts as she saw fit, and the Christian Science Church has followed her lead, revising and expunging, reshaping and elaborating the mythology she wove around her self, preferring that the world see Eddy as a religious genius and leader, divinely inspired. (GPC, 26) With this in mind, Fraser goes on to finely balance the Eddy apologists with the Eddy critics. It is no easy task, but Fraser does it admirably, carefully calling out and comparing the differences in what the Church-approved biographers say and what contemporaries/critics have written. To the chagrin of the apologists, there is often more evidence on the side of the critics. There are several of these examples through out Part 1 (this is by no means an exhaustive list, just my favorites)
- Ms. Eddy’s “attacks,” the fits of poor health that continued through her life, balancing the critics with the apologists perspectives, and carefully noting that even Robert Peel — one of the most apologetic of the group — tends to agree that Ms. Eddy’s symptoms may have been caused by “the romantic melancholy she shared as a literary fashion of the age.” (GPC, 35)
- The Fall in Lynn — when Ms. Eddy is said to have “discovered” Christian Science — is a lovely story, but Fraser reminds us that whatever the exact circumstances of the fall, given Mary’s predilection for “spells” and collapses, it is difficult to accept at face value her assertion that her accident was life-threatening. (GPC, 53) The homeopathic doctor attending Ms. Eddy agrees.
- The year of 1866 when Ms. Eddy moved “at least eight times” — church biographers paint the picture of a woman just beginning to formulate her healing method and to discover its wondrous powers, while non-church sources paint a very different picture, claiming she had not paid rent, or healed them. (GPC, 54)
God’s Perfect Child also touches on a few new issues that I would like to explore further:
- In section 10 (pages 63-65), Fraser touches on the idea that Ms. Eddy was influenced by Emmerson’s Transcendentalism. While I was aware of Emmerson and Transcendentalism, I had not come across the Christian Science connection and hope to explore it further.
- On p. 75, Fraser makes it quite clear that Ms. Eddy is not a feminist. While some of my Sunday school teachers may have felt differently, I tend to agree with Fraser’s analysis of this. She may have been a woman who founded a church, but she also steadfastly refused to put women in positions of power on her Board, and undermined women who gained power in branch churches.
Part 1 comes to conclusion with the death of Ms. Eddy’s husband, Gilbert, and Ms. Eddy’s accusations that malicious mesmerism caused him to be mentally murdered. Fraser points out that Gilbert had been diagnosed with a “diseased heart” but such details did not matter to Ms. Eddy, obviously the death was caused by a former student, and “malpractioner” who used “mesmeric poison.”(GPC 78)
Ms. Eddy’s reaction to Gilbert’s passing set up the Christian Science worldview that death is not a natural event. Death is the failure to assimilate the “truths” of Christian Science, and Christian Science deaths are regularly accompanied by the reactions of anger, defensiveness, and disassociation from the human emotions of grief and sorrow. (GPC, 79) Fraser calls the Christian Science response to death one of Ms. Eddy’s “most painful legacies” and I find I could not agree more.
Part 2: Building Her Empire
Part 2, is entitled “You Will Have to Learn to Love Me More”: Mrs. Eddy Builds Her Empire and spans nearly 100 pages (from p. 83-167) and 18 sections (and a postscript). The chapter starts in 1882 with the hiring of Calvin Frye as her secretary, concludes in 1910 with her death, and has a postscript which sums up Ms. Eddy’s Place in history, and the Christian Science movement. As it encompasses over 80 pages of concise ideas, I’ve chosen to cover the issues that continue to plague/exist in the church today (or at least they were issues of relevance five-plus years ago when I was still going to church).
Ms. Eddy’s competition the Mind Quacks!
Ms. Eddy denounces any perceived competition from her fellow disciples of Quimby, as well as any/all Christian Science apostates as “Mind-Quacks” and “frauds.” The not insubstantial list included Julius Dresser, one of Quimby’s fellow students who had known Ms. Eddy as Ms. Patterson; Myrtle Fillmore, a convert to Christian Science, who went on to found The Unity School of Christian Science; Emma Curtis Hopkins, another former student of Ms. Eddys, and founder of Divine Science. Hopkins went on to set up the Christian Science Theological Seminary, which went on to influence many New Thought leaders/writers. (GPC. 88-89)
While it greatly irks The Mother Church in Boston to be lumped in with others in the New Thought movement — “Christian Science is so much more!” they implore. Ms. Eddy was undeniably influenced by one of the Fathers of New Thought (Quimby) and many of her students went on to be active leaders of the movement. It is also worth noting that of all of these new-thought, divine science movements, Christian Science stands alone in its “insistence on a complete repudiation of medical care.” (GPC 89)
The Committee on Publication
The Committee on Publication is mentioned a few times through our this chapter. Founded in 1900, to “Correct in a Christian Manner impositions on the public in regard to Christian Science the injustices done Mrs. Eddy or members of this Church by the daily press, by periodicals or circulated literature of any sort” the COP serves as the Church’s strongman making sure the “correct” views on Christian Science are shared. (GCP 120-121)
The scope of the COP is quite broad, in Ms. Eddy’s world the word, “imposition,” means both burden and deception, so her first COP manager, Alfred Farlow, began to treat all forms of critical comment on Christian Science –indeed, anything that did not agree with the Christian Science view as “lies” that placed an intolerable burden on the movement. (GCP 121-122) This includes everything from unfavorable newspaper articles to legislation that might limit the scope of Christian Science in some way. The COP may have been responsible for the Christian Science definitions in the Merriam-Webester dictionary, and was known to actively encourage libraries to group approved works relating to Christian Science away from unapproved sources. (GCP 122)
Ms. Eddy Goes to the Dentist & Seriously F*cks over Generations of CS for Life
I struggled with Chapter 2, section 12 Radical Reliance and Mrs. Eddy’s Teeth (128-132). This section left me seething with such rage I had to put the book down and walk around the block to clear my head. It deals with “Radical Reliance” which has become the bane of many a Christian Scientists existence. Ms. Eddy writes in Science and Health, “Only through radical reliance on Truth can scientific healing power be realized.” (S&H p. 167) In short, follow Ms. Eddy’s teachings, reject everything else.
Ms. Eddy, of course, didn’t rely on just Christian Science: in 1900 a Boston newspaper revealed that Ms. Eddy had been to a dentist and had teeth extracted. Fraser shares Ms. Eddy’s response to the kerfuffle:
If I employ a dental surgeon, and he believes that the extraction of a tooth is made easier by some application or means which he employs, and I object to the employment of this means, he thinks I must suffer because his method is interfered with. Therefore his mental force weighs against a painless operation, whereas it should be put in the same scale as mine, thus producing a painless operation as a logical result. (GPC 128-129)
Putting the larger question of why was Ms. Eddy visiting a dentist anyway? aside (Ms. Eddy’s occasional concessions to “physical reality” clearly include toothaches), this “compromise” on dentistry has “come to haunt subsequent generations of Christian Scientists” (I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement) — the reasoning as to why deny medical treatment when dental treatment is allowed can be a tough one to wrap one’s head around.
Fraser goes on to list a few more (occasional) concessions — child birth, the adjustment of broken bones, the “temporary means” (mechanical aids — crutches, eye glasses, hearing aids — things outside the body), and “hypodermic injection” (perhaps acknowledging her own pain and need for morphine injections). (GPC 130-131). Of course a diagnosis should be avoided, and one should never talk of disease — that gives it power, and while surgery is listed with setting of bones, very few Christian Scientists avail themselves of surgical procedures (oral surgery not withstanding, because that’s dental work, which is different somehow).
While some of Ms. Eddy’s “concessions” may appear to contradict her stance on “radical reliance” Ms. Eddy dismisses that notion (and any idea that there might be anything contradictory in Science & Health) stating “in this volume of mine there are no contradictory statements, – at least none which are apparent to those who understand its propositions well enough to pass judgement upon them.” (GPC 128)
Science & Health The Final Edition (1910)
This was a section with so many little stars in the margins I could not possibly begin to cover everything. This section, and the Radical Reliance portion of this chapter are really must-reads for those interested in, or transitioning out of Christian Science. Fraser manages to explain both Science and Health and provide a basic summary of Christian Science theology/ideology in an approachable manner. I will touch on a few of the key points — some of these may be all too familiar to former Christian Scientists, and entirely foreign concepts to outsiders.
- Prayer – a vehicle for “knowing the Truth” (note the capital “T” as Truth is a synonym for God). Christian Scientists prayers are more effective than others because instead of rote reciting, they are “conceived as revisions of their own thinking, bringing their thoughts in line with God’s.” If your prayers fail, clearly you didn’t align your thought well enough. After all, “[prayer is] an attempt to bring subjective attitudes into accord with what Science proclaims to be objective reality. It is largely silent affirmation, the application of logic to certain given premises.” (GPC, 155)
- Wholesale denial of reality & Circular Logic – aka questions I tried to ask my Sunday School teacher – If God created all, and all is perfect, where does the illusion of error come from? Error never existed, and does not exist now, the illusion of it does not exist; therefore the illusion has no source or origin. (GPC, 160)
- Jesus! – It was really nice to have a solidly clarified and explained view on Ms. Eddy’s teachings of Jesus that I could point to when others question Christian Science’s stance on the issue. Fraser clarifies the role of Jesus, Christian Science as the “Comforter” promised by St. John, hell, salvation, and at-one-ment. (GPC 162-163)
I am fairly certain that had Ms. Eddy lived longer there would’ve been more editions of Science and Health. In fact, there are more editions (21st Century Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures by Cheryl Petersen, and A Woman’s Book of Healing: An Adaptation of Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy by Carolyn Gage), but none are authorized by The Mother Church.
Even at over 1400 words, I have touched on less than 1/3 of the content of Chapter 2, parts of it – particularly the section on Radical Reliance – were difficult to read, while others left me nodding in agreement. My list of topics to explore further has grown, as has my desire to share God’s Perfect Child (or at least sections of it) with anyone who has questions about Christian Science.