Part 5 & 6: and final thoughts

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 5: “God’s Requirement”

Part 5, is entitled “God’s Requirement”: Christian Science on the Air. Starting on page 344 and continuing through page 395, it is broken into eleven sections, and predominantly deals with the rise and fall of the Mother Church’s attempt at a media empire. The TL:DR version of the chapter can be  summed up as follows:

High ranking officials at The Mother Church mismanaged an attempt at a cable network and lost the church millions. This mismanagement also caused budget problems with periodicals and The Christian Science Monitor.

To compensate for the monetary losses, they published the highly controversial book that claimed Ms. Eddy was the Woman in Revelation — The Destiny of the Mother Church by Bliss Knapp so they could get the funds from the Knapp estate (they could only get the money if they published the book).

The bungling of the media empire and publishing of Destiny caused some rifts within the church and the membership. I vaguely remember some heated discussion about wether or not Destiny should grace the shelves of our local church’s Reading Room, but I was too young to be involved (or even really told what was going on).

Chapter five is full of interesting characters, with equally interesting motives. It provides well researched insights into the workings of the Mother Church attempts at public outreach from the 1950s-1990s.

Part 6: “God Will Do the Rest”

Part 6, is entitled “God Will Do the Rest”: Resurrecting Christian Science. Starting on page 399 and continuing through page 447, this part has only five sections. Part six reflects on the cold realities of the Church’s present situation, and the Church’s denial.

Dismal figures from the 1990s (yes, the numbers are old, but they’re not trending up) of declining JournalSentinel, and Monitor subscriptions reflect the declining participation, and diminished numbers of Christian Scientists. Fraser also notes declining numbers of Christian Science practitioners, as well as an excess of job openings that require class taught Christian Scientists, at the Mother Church and other C.S. institutions.

Fraser touches on the 1990s campaign by then-member of the Board of Directors, Virginia Harris, to make Science and Health relevant, with the release of a trade edition designed to be sold in bookstores (not just Reading Rooms) to people seeking books on spirituality.

Harris gave interviews in the New York Times, and successfully had Ms. Eddy entered into the National Woman’s Hall of Fame. Harris has also given talks before the Harvard Medical School’s “Spirituality and Healing in Medicine” courses (GPC 408), giving her lectures an air of credibility — and pushing Christian Science into the realm of alternative health care.

Fraser points out the 1990s trend for books on the connections of health and spirituality, and Harris did her best to capitalize on that. With Christian Science neatly repackaged as alternative healthcare some important details were overlooked: there was no scientific verification of anecdotal healings; some confusion over the issue of radical reliance and withholding medical treatment from children. Easy details to gloss over.

Fraser is quite right with the sub-headings “accentuating the positive” and “eliminating the negative.” The Mother Church, and indeed most Christian Scientists are quite good a pointing out all the healings they’ve had — there are “thousands” of documented “healings.” For them it is not a mere religion, Christian Science is a Science, “God’s laws” are provable. Fraser pulls out the age old 2+2=4 not 5 example used by Sunday School teachers everywhere. “Finding the correct answer in math is the same as realizing the correct answer in metaphysics; everything else follows” (GPC 417) — the correct answer is, of course, Christian Science.

Christian Scientists are eager to tout modern advances in physics as backing up Ms. Eddy’s claims about reality and matter, and enjoy telling apocryphal stories of Albert Einstein‘s interest in Christian Science (GPC 418).

In a similar vein, Christian Scientists are eager to share their testimonies of healing, modern testimonies are all pretty much the same: I had a brief nondescript problem, I corrected my thought using some passages and C.S. logic/hymns/S&H readings, and the problem resolved — completely and totally.

With all the focus on the positive it seems the church would prefer that the negative just go away. The Church does not maintain records of the deaths of children or adults. Fraser lists several examples of falsified or selectively edited testimonials, and the long gone “Questions and Discussion” department (1889-1893) of the Journal which fielded questions from Christian Scientists who were not getting the results they’d prayed for (GPC 429).

Fraser cites several damning studies, including one that compared Principia students with Universe of of Kansas students. Principia students had notably lower life expectancies, even though they abstained from alcohol and tobacco (GPC 434).

Finally, Fraser touches on the Remarkable Providences of Christian Science, the dangerous ideas that refuse to die. Mesmer and his magnetism, Quimby’s therapeutic touch, Ms. Eddy and her malicious animal magnetism. All that is old is new again, and once again quackery and Christian Science are being repackaged as alternative healthcare.

Although my edition of God’s Perfect Child was published fifteen years ago (2000), Fraser’s concluding thoughts continue to ring true. The Committee on Publication and Practitioners have taken to the internet and done their best to sell Christian Science as a science, as a reliable method for healing, as everything that it is not.

A few closing thoughts

I think it is worth noting that God’s Perfect Child benefits, not only from hindsight, but also from a vast array of resources not available to turn-of-the last century biographers. God’s Perfect Child is quite dense, fully footnoted, and some sections are very difficult to read. Fraser is aided by her goal of writing about the history of the Mother Church/Christian Science Movement – not just Mary Baker Eddy.

I was left with the overwhelming desire to purchase a huge stack of books and send them to every Christian Scientist that I know with the second chapter clearly marked as a MUST READ! Budget restrictions (and courtesy) prevent me from doing this, as well as the knowledge that God’s Perfect Child is not the sort of book that should be undertaken lightly, you have to be ready to be receptive to the information within, and even then, some times it makes for difficult reading.


Part 3 & 4: Nothing Has Gone Right, God’s Law is never wrong

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 3: Nothing has Gone Right

Part 3, is entitled “Nothing has Gone Right Since 1910”: Christian Science After Death. Starting on page 170 and continuing through page 257, this section has eleven sub-sections and a ream of photographs.

Having grown up in Christian Science, I had heard about some of the incidents discussed, they all happened well before my time (this chapter discusses just after Ms. Eddy’s death up until the mid-1970s). As I heard them, they were more apocryphal tales than historical events bolstered by research and footnotes. Even with this background knowledge, there were still some sections that made me wonder if I was reading an article from The Onion. This section also covers a number of topics that I knew very little about, several of which I will touch on.

The Telephone in the Tomb

Augusta Stetson suggested to the press that the Board of Directors had posted a guard to make sure Ms. Eddy didn’t rise from the dead. Others thought the guard was there to welcome their Dear Leader back. Eventually a church spokesperson was forced to make a statement that Christian Scientists “do not look for her return to this world” (GPC 172).

Nothing Succeeds Like Supply

This is something I’ve never been quite able to wrap my head around, for all that matter is unreal, the accumulation of material wealth is a “demonstration” — God is supplying! “The expectation of perfect wealth, along with perfect health, follows from Eddy’s teachings about a perfect world” (GPC 191). Wealth and material accumulation is “an expression of spiritual riches” (GPC 193).

Masochism & Radical Reliance in Hollywood

The most notable example is of Carol Channing — preforming with a broken arm, high fever, in a wheel chair, in a neck brace, and while suffering from allergic reactions to her hair dye, all the while glorifying and romanticizing the image of Christian Scientists “never missing a day of work” (GPC 213-4). Fraser says Channing’s endurance “verges on masochism.” I agree, there is a strong masochistic streak that runs through the Christian Science community, Ms. Eddy reminds us that we are suffering because we want to be, because we have not yet aligned our thought properly with God, it is our failing to do so that is causing our suffering. We must put up a good fight and emerge from our battle with error victorious.

Drama, Suppression & the Church

  •  The Board actively attempted to suppress Edwin Franden Dakin’s book on Ms. Eddy — their attempts backfired. As one reviewer wrote “The total effect of his work is sympathetic; it is the facts that alienate us….” (GPC 219). Christian Scientists put out a “threefold attempt” to stop the book — attempting to stop the publication, when that failed, visiting libraries and bookstores, and letters to every newspaper or magazine that reviewed it. They threatened boycotts, and it is clear that the campaign was organized by the top levels of The Mother Church (GPC. 222-3).
  • “The Paul Revere” pamphlets – really esoteric stuff that only Christian Scientists cared about that caused more schisms in the church. Bickering and finger pointing about the power structure and how much individuality branch churches should be allowed. A number of people are excommunicated and some form unauthorized groups to carry on what they feel Ms. Eddy’s “discovery” actually entails. One such example is  the Kappeler Institute
  • The unauthorized works of Arthur Corey. Corey published Christian Science Class Instruction and Behind the Scenes with the Metaphysicians, with the intention of making Christian Science more accessible. Corey was one of the few Christian Scientists to acknowledge the dangers posed to children, and was “particularly scathing about those who pressed on with Christian Science treatment even when it became painfully absurd and absurdly painful” (GPC 237). Corey also spoke out about Ms. Eddy’s own use of medicine and eyeglasses, and pointed out the illogic of accepting dental care, but not medical care.
  • The Kerry Letters – A series of letters written by Reginald Kerry charging the church with corruption. The letters get quite heated, charges of immoral behavior of the Board. The letters are not currently available online. The Kerry Letters were the impetus for the Church to run several editorials in the Christian Science Monitor and religious periodicals, that homosexuality was immoral and could be healed through Christian Science, soon after, periodicals began to run testimonies by those claiming to be “healed” of impure desires (GPC 255).

This chapter was quite an eye-opener and a very firm reminder that the Christian Science Church, for all it’s “divine inspiration” is run by humans, with their own agendas, bickering and infighting. It was like picking up a log and seeing all the little creepy crawlies underneath scurrying away from the light, and there are many creepy crawlies that the Church would prefer to remain hidden. Fraser notes the Church set itself up for failure as it forbids Christian Scientists to write, debate, or discuss the Church and its teachings. There are no ways to air grievances, or seek guidance. The disgruntled have no official channels so they make their own.

Part 4: “God’s Law”

Part 4, is entitled “God’s Law”: Christian Science Goes to Court. Starting on page 261 and continuing through page 339, this section has only seven sub-sections.

This was a particularly challenging section for me to read, more than once, I found I had to put the book down and come back later, the atrocities committed while practicing Christian Science are numerous, and many of the stories echoed experiences I’ve heard from friends and fellow former-CS.

While all of God’s Perfect Child makes people face uncomfortable truths about Christian Science, Part Four made me particularly uncomfortable as it dealt with the (lack of) treatment of children, and the “treatment” meted out in Christian Science Sanatoriums — where Christian Science Nurses provide care.

Christian Science vs. the American Medical Association

The American Medical Association and Christian Science both got their start in the mid-1800s. The AMA focused on public health policy, rooting out quacks, and promoting medicine based on scientific criteria (allopathic medicine). Early on, several Christian Science Practitioners were tried for manslaughter (or murder) following the death of their patients. The CSPs cases were often dismissed because there was no ability to conclusively prove that medical science could’ve saved the patient’s life, and that CSPs had not committed any criminal act because they were preforming a religious, not medical service (GPC 262).

Consistent Legislative Action

Starting in the late 1800s, Christian Scientists rallied and pressured legislatures to pass statutes exempting Christian Scientists from medical licensing requirements. This went smoothly until modern medicine began to out-heal Christian Science in key areas: namely serious illness and contagious disease. Deaths in the general population began to decline, and Christian Scientists continued to die (GPC 270). Christian Scientists argued that “children died under medical care as often, if not more often than, children under Christian Science care” and in 1902 this came across as a reasonable defense (GPC 271).

Christian Scientists have successfully lobbied for exemption from criminal and civil child abuse laws in Arizona, for fees of CSPs and CS Nurses to be deducted as medical expenses, and religious exemptions from immunizations (GPC 274). The Church has gone as far as to publish booklets for each state with lists of exemptions.

Christian Scientists also lobbied insurance companies, gaining much needed “recognition” — now it is not just a religion to be protected by the first amendment, it is now a “proven” and “effective” healthcare system — proven by the Church’s own claims as published in the Church’s own periodicals (GPC 275-6).

Child Cases

This was a particularly difficult section for me to read as it discusses children and Christian Science, starting with a focus on Rita Swan and the formation of C.H.I.L.D. it is a gut wrenching read.

This section also touches on measles outbreaks at Principia College, as well as polio outbreaks at  the Daycroft School, in Greenwich Ct, a diphtheria outbreak at a Christian Science camp in Colorado (GPC 303), as well as several other heart wrenching stories of children suffered greatly as their parents chose to rely on Christian Science for healing.

The  Fruitage & C.S. Nursing

The rest of Part IV reads like an anti-Fruitage (the Fruitage is the last chapter of Science and Health recounting the amazing healings people had), it is a very difficult read and it touches on topics ranging from gas lighting (why CS Parents opt not to seek medical care), to Christian Science Nursing. Fraser interviews people and recounts experiences from a wide range of people who were all directly and negatively impacted by Christian Science “treatment.”

I was going to try and talk further about Chapter Four, but I can’t bring myself to go back through it right now. It really speaks for itself — and speaks volumes about Christian Science as an alternative health care method.

Extra reading

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby & Mary Baker Eddy

This is one of several posts exploring the accusations of plagiarism leveled against Ms. Eddy, as well as what may have influenced the writing of Science & Health. This, and future posts dealing with this topic will be tagged MBEPlagerism.

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The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity has an extensive piece on Ms. Eddy’s relationship with P.P. Quimby.  I highly recommend reading it:

Update – these PDFs appear to have been removed from the website! 

I’ve mentioned Ms. Eddy’s relationship with P.P. Quimby (1) before, but have not yet done an in-depth piece on their relationship and P.P. Quimby as a source of “inspiration.

While Ms. Eddy was undoubtedly influenced by Quimby, the general consensus is that the conclusions she came to are entirely her own. I particularly like Dakin’s analysis of this relationship when he writes

Others of his pupils lost themselves in Quimby’s philosophy, but Mrs. Glover lost Quimby in herself” (Dakin, 92).

Eddy biographer, Gillian Gill devotes a number of pages to the issue of Ms. Eddy and P.P. Quimby, (2) taking a far more sympathetic stance on the subject than Dakin or Fraser. Gill systematically dissects any claims made by Quimby’s other students, mainly Julius and Horatio Dresser, poking holes in their claims, pointing out that they showed little interest in Quimby’s work after his passing until Ms. Eddy’s Christian Science started to gain popularity (Gill, 146).

One of the more interesting comparisons of P.P. Quimby’s work with Ms. Eddy’s is in the July 10, 1904 New York Times, in a piece entitled True Origin of Christian Science (3). Gill dismisses the piece as “bad faith or bad scholarship” (Gill, 231-232). “Bad scholarship” aside, it makes for interesting reading.

NYTimes July 10, 1904 Eddy/Quimby

NYTimes July 10, 1904 True Origins of Christian Science  (3)

Gill’s assertions of poor scholarship are not entirely incorrect, as her claims are extensively footnoted. The main point of contention being that The Quimby Manuscripts, were not published by Horatio Dresser until 1921, by which point P.P. Quimby had been dead for over 50 years, and Christian Science was well established and thriving. Furthermore, they had not been given directly to Dresser, but had instead passed through several others before arriving with him (Gill, 121). Gill’s further research shows Dresser omitted papers that were not favorable to Quimby  (Gill, 138) — the fact that the early Church attempted to suppress some of Ms. Eddy’s early work seems lost on her (Fraser
, 142).

Putting aside the scholarship and origin story issues — unless we get a time machine it is unlikely those will ever be sorted out, let us look at what comprised the core of Quimby’s teachings. There are several websites (see Further Reading below) that talk about Quimby’s work, one of them thoughtfully shared the following condensed list of Quimby’s ideas.

Seven Element List compiled by Horatio W. Dresser to explain Quimby’s ideas (4)

  1. The omnipresent Wisdom, the warm, loving Father of us all, Creator of all the universe, whose works are good, whose substance is an invisible reality.
  2. The real man, whose life is eternal in the invisible kingdom of God, whose senses are spiritual and function independently of matter.
  3. The visible world, which Dr. Quimby once characterized as “the shadow of Wisdom’s amusements”; that is, nature is only the outward projection or manifestation of an inward activity far more real and enduring.
  4. Spiritual matter, or fine interpenetrating substance, directly responsive to thought and subconsciously embodying in the flesh the fears, beliefs, hopes, errors, and joys of the mind.
  5. Disease is due to false reasoning in regard to sensations, which man unwittingly develops by impressing wrong thoughts and mental pictures upon the subconscious spiritual matter.
  6. As disease is due to false reasoning, so health is due to knowledge of the truth. To remove disease permanently, it is necessary to know the cause, the error which led to it. “The explanation is the cure.”
  7. To know the truth about life is therefore the sovereign remedy for all ills. This truth Jesus came to declare. Jesus knew how he cured and Dr. Quimby, without taking any credit to himself as a discoverer, believed that he understood and practiced the same great truth or science.

While there are undeniable parallels between the seven elements and Ms. Eddy’s teachings, neither the students of Quimby or Ms. Eddy wish them to be associated with one another. The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity’s piece Ms. Eddy’s relationship with P.P. Quimby has a wonderful quote from Gottschalk’s Rolling Away the Stone (5). On page 72 he writes

George Quimby, a strong champion of his father’s originality, wrote, “Don’t confuse his method of healing with Mrs. Eddy’s Christian Science, so far as her religious teachings go… The religion which she teaches certainly is hers, for which I cannot be too thankful; for I should loath to go down into my grave feeling that my father was in any way connected with “Christian Science.”

Ms. Eddy biographer Gillian Gill, while not a Christian Scientist, takes several opportunities to poke holes in the Quimby/Eddy inspiration story (5). Short of discovering time travel and witnessing these events for ourselves, it seems unlikely this mess will ever be unraveled, and P.P. Quimby and Ms. Eddy forever be remembered together.

  2. Mary Baker Eddy, by Gillian Gill,+Gill&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FS3GUfKOMcmZiQKY34GgDQ&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Quimby&f=false
  3. New York Times, July 10, 1904 True Origin of Christian Science

Further Reading

Parts 1 & 2: Mere Historical Incidents & Building an Empire

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.

This post contains some affiliate links. Thank you for your support of

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.

I am/you are, God’s Perfect Child

One of my goals for this year is to read my way through a stack of books that have been sitting on my desk for months now. They are about atheism, religion, philosophy, science, social issues, parenting, and a few works of fiction. We’ll see how far I get.

If you are only going to read one book about Christian Science, I highly recommend God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline FraserI was initially going to read through  God’s Perfect Child in a few weeks and just make it one post, but I found it to be a very challenging read for me (I’ve had to put it down several times and walk away for a few days), and so densely packed with information that it deserved more coverage.

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I first came across God’s Perfect Child in the very early 2000s, as a high school senior, or possibly freshman at Principia. I acquired my copy from local used bookstore where it was tucked away in the corner with all the other religion-related volumes, next to several trade editions of Science and Health (the ugly red/green one) – they always had at least two or three copies and my mother often picked up a stack for $3 each to leave by the front door to hand out to people along with their housewife-based-pyramid-scheme samples.

I read it with skepticism, at that time I was still heavily involved in Christian Science, attending Sunday School regularly, and was either in the process of applying to or already at Principia College. I undoubtedly left the book laying out around the house, but if my parents noticed it, they never said anything to me about it.

I dismissed most of the book as part of the no true Christian Scientist fallacy (similar to the no true Scotsman) and reasoned that it couldn’t be Christian Science that was at fault — it was divinely authorized! There were documented healings! It worked! It had to be the people practicing it wrong, besides, no true Christian Scientist would do whatever irrational thing that was happening. I’ve since learned that Christian Science adherents come in a range from Die Hard Committed to Incredibly Pragmatic, thankfully my parents — who were converts — were more pragmatic than some and less committed than others.

It has been several years since I read God’s Perfect Child, in those years I’ve graduated Principia, moved out, married a fellow Christian Scientist (now fellow atheist), struggled with my faith, realized it is not the right path for me, started this blog, and now I think it is time to go back to God’s Perfect Child with a different perspective.

It is worth noting, Fraser’s organizational style mirrors Dakin biography: there are parts I – VI. divided into subsections for easier reference, as well as an extensive glossary, and end notes that run for pages. Fraser also includes an extensive selected and annotated bibliography for those who seek to research the topics further. While Dakin focuses specifically on Ms. Eddy, Fraser’s book goes well beyond the Beloved Leader’s history and talks more about the Church, and consequences of following Ms. Eddy’s teachings.

The preface of God’s Perfect Child starts with a scene that was immediately relateable to me, and Sunday School students across the country. She begins by describing how in Sunday school, where we were taught

There is No Spot Where God Is Not. God was Everywhere and Everything, Omnipotent Supreme, Father-Mother, All-in-All, and we were His image and likeness. God was All. Matter was nothing. …. The table and chairs and the carpet and the knees looked real, but they weren’t. They weren’t even there. They were matter, and matter was Error, and Error did not exist. (GPC p.5)

Only in Sunday School we used is, God is Everywhere… we are His image and likeness. Matter is nothing. Emerging Gently calls it “mental gymnastics” and by the age of five I’d mastered it and could recite it all back like a pro. Even with a 20+ year age gap, Fraser’s Sunday School experience mirrored mine so closely it was eerie — I never had the car sickness issues, but I did have regular rounds of common cold which would leave trails of keenx unreal behind me.

We also had a young man who attended my Sunday School die, not quite as dramatically — no one showed up at his parents house in protest, but it still sent ripples of discontent through the Sunday School and several of his friends and family (myself included) have since left Christian Science.

Fraser goes on to discuss, albeit briefly, Ms. Eddy background and those she influenced, touching on the New Thought and New Age movements, moving on to cover the rise of Christian Science, and a quick summary of services and church activities – most notably the lack there of, and the lack of diversity as well.

Fraser hits rather close to home as she describes something I’ve seen played out again and again, both at the church I attended growing up, and over and over again at Principia.

Christian Scientists are otherworldly, in the sense of being intensely emotionally invested in an unseen world of perfection, and emotionally disassociated from the realities of this world. [Christian] Scientists are smilers, happy-talkers, positive thinkers, and they simply refuse to allow the realities of the world, its tragedies and disasters, to penetrate. …. nothing can touch the Scientist who clears his mind of fear. Thus, for Scientists, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. (GPC, p. 19)

The fourth section of the Preface is entitled I Tip My Hat, acknowledges Ms. Eddy has inspired “intense reactions” and goes on to remind readers that the Church has done an excellent job of keeping apologist literature at the forefront  and successfully lobbied to maintain protective legislation. Fraser rightly argues that the information the Church has left out should be made available, and more should be done to show how they have seriously eroded the rights of children to equal protection under the law.

Fraser makes it quite clear that while Christian Scientists are welcome to believe what ever they’d like, but they need to have their actions taken to task. I agree, Christian Science has a lot to answer for and it should not be allowed to hide behind its polite middle class respectability any longer.

Knowing what I know now, and having read Dakin’s biography, I look forward to re-reading God’s Perfect Child with a fresh perspective.

Further Reading

God’s Perfect Child – a few thoughts from Bacon

The following is a review of “God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church” by infrequent guest contributor Bacon. My own thoughts (and a section-by-section break down) of GPC will follow in good time. 

“God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church” one reaction to Caroline Fraser’s work of subversive brilliance.

Due to the constraints of composing this review on a phone, it will merely be some gut reactions and oversimplifications. I trust any readers who are interested in further reviews will find them online.
My motive for reading the book was simple: I was out of CS and others who were also out had strongly suggested it. I ordered my copy and let it sit for at least a week before I even remotely wanted to pick it up. My upbringing in Christian Science was not particularly traumatic and I am squeamish but aware of the atrocities that have occurred in the name CS “treatment,” so I was not particularly looking to indulge a morbid fascination so much as find reassurance that I was not alone in a surreal and misguided upbringing – and that leaving the religion was justified. I’m not sure why I felt the need to seek external validation in book form, but I knew so little of the religion itself – merely what passed as precedent – that I felt more context was needed to honestly face the religion that so oddly shaped me.
God’s Perfect Child is organized in a way that makes beautiful sense to me. I had very little context regarding Mary Baker Eddy’s life beyond a vague notion that she lived in the 1800s and fell on ice in Massachusetts and was healed by reading the Bible. Certainly, I knew it was oversimplification, but I lacked further desire to read into a person who clearly wanted attention by saying that she did not want attention….. I was too caught up in “Love is reflected in Love” and trying to pull logic out of confusing words in Science & Health to worry about a human who wrote a book, “divinely” inspired or not.
Parts I and II look objectively at MBE’s baffling history of family and relationships and dissects a bewildering array of housing and allegiances and dependence. Her thoughts on her own religion prove quite similar to those who she sought for help – plagiarism, even – and in context, the whole world she built around herself was a bit maddening. Power, wealth, fame, paranoia, MBE and her rise to prominence are beautifully researched and depressingly all-too-human. Not just human, but what feels like a case study in some form of mental illness.
If nothing else, GPC starts with a history of MBE and the church that are eye-opening and actually less critical than I expected, at least. The rest of the book delves into the unresolved issues of the church and its board and members: Parts I and II stand alone, together, as required reading in their own right.
Part III and onward… It’s hard to explain how comprehensive GPC is in dealing with the aftermath of MBE’s death and the social respectability (fame/notoriety) of CS in the early 1900s. The turmoil of the board remains evident throughout the remainder of the book. The control of “approved” literature and attacking all opposition is a trademark that is highly alarming when considered in hindsight. The flurry of communication alternately praising and condemning the board is a bit confusing if you have no horse in the proverbial race, and this pattern repeated a few times throughout the book… At least the currents of prestige that were associated with The Christian Science Monitor were plainly set forth with some enlightening commentary on how and why the CS media risks took turns undermining itself. Appalling, as well, was the inner denial and Nixon connection: the political reach of CS was much more pervasive than I had certainly anticipated.
The legal cases that are discussed in GPC are heart wrenching and I feel compelled to promote CHILD (Childrens Healthcare Is a Legal Duty) here. I had absolutely no idea how involved ‘outsiders’ were in many of these cases – rather than parents, a child, and possibly a practitioner… several cases involved multi-generational Christian Scientists who wouldn’t have known HOW to go to a doctor and between several practitioners and far, far too much procrastinating (er, praying?) there were cases of excruciatingly prolonged illness and death among minors.
Overall, every single page of the book is an absolute must-read for those questioning Christian Science and/or out of it. Even better, those in CS and not questioning it – if I could plead for an objective read of an objective book, this is it. My words have certainly not done the work justice, but perhaps that’s why it exists: exhaustive notes accompany the work and I suspect it was the perfect first step in my literary exploration of non-CS works.
This book. You should read it.