The other day the Awkward Moments Children’s Bible Facebook page shared a collection of horrifying “Christian Music” videos gathered from YouTube. I followed some of the links to their logical conclusions, and came across “I Just Want To (Be A Sheep)“
The sheep theme reminded me of the guest post by the (obviously a pseudonym) Vicomte de Chagny, — if you haven’t read his awesome post “Why Religion Makes me Uncomfortable” I highly recommend it. The dear Vicomte tells us that:
One of the most famous texts of the Bible starts out “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Similarly, one of the most oft-sung hymns in the Christian Science Hymnal begins “Shepherd, show me how to go.” Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote that hymn, also defined “sheep” partially as “innocence…those who follow their leader.” With a shepherding God to direct them, sheep (that is, all of us) by definition do not need to think for themselves. But earlier in the same book containing that definition, on the first page in fact, Eddy writes without hesitation or apology, “The time for thinkers has come.” Can these two seemingly contradictory statements coexist? Is it really time for the unthinking sheep to start thinking? Christian Science seems to think so. I’m not so sure.
The Vicomte then goes on to explain how Christian Science does not really want you to think about it too deeply, if you do, the whole thing unravels into a mess (I’m paraphrasing — you really should go read the piece).
As the Vicomte points out, the very first page of Science and Health, in the second paragraph starts with the heavily quoted “The time for thinkers has come.” The phrase is so popular that the cool-hip young-adult outreach website for the church is called “time4thinkers” (you can google it, I refuse to give it link traffic). I have taken a screen-shot of the passages in question, from the Preface of Science and Health:
It is interesting to note that before Ms. Eddy starts of on the importance of thinking, she starts in with dependence, “to those leaning on the sustaining infinite” and then with the sheep metaphors. There is a “wakeful shepherd.” You are not really supposed to think for yourself, you should be leaning on the sustaining infinite, the God-Shepherd.
As for the hymn the Vicomte is referring to, it is entitled “Feed thy Sheep” and is a poem written by Ms. Eddy. It is set to music in several different ways, although most congregations are only good at singing one of the versions.
“Feed thy Sheep”
Shepherd, show me how to go
O’er the hillside steep,
How to gather, how to sow, —
How to feed Thy sheep;
I will listen for Thy voice,
Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice
All the rugged way.
Thou wilt bind the stubborn will,
Wound the callous breast,
Make self-righteousness be still,
Break earth’s stupid rest.
Strangers on a barren shore,
Lab’ring long and lone,
We would enter by the door,
And Thou know’st Thine own;
So, when day grows dark and cold,
Tear or triumph harms,
Lead Thy lambkins to the fold,
Take them in Thine arms;
Feed the hungry, heal the heart,
Till the morning’s beam;
White as wool, ere they depart,
Shepherd, wash them clean.
(Poems by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 14)
There is no space for independent thought in Ms. Eddy’s shepherd-sheep relationship, the sheep (ostensibly her followers) should listen for Thy voice — the voice of Omniscient Mother-Father God, so that their footsteps don’t stray. The sheep are also in for quite a walk as Ms. Eddy tells us the way is rugged, but we should follow and rejoice, because OMFG knows what is best. This is not the time for questioning the Divine Shepherd.
Ms. Eddy’s lyrics are not as crude as pop-culture creepy-puppet Christian children’s music videos, instead of repeating over and over “I wanna be a sheep,” Ms. Eddy appeals to the pseudo-intellectual inner struggle, to borrow an analogy from my high school English lit, the inner Jekyll and Hyde: Thou wilt bind the stubborn will, a line or two down from that she continues, make self-righteousness be still — keep Mr. Hyde in his place.
Ms. Eddy’s shepherd also offers food, healing and purification — they are white as wool er they depart, I don’t think Ms. Eddy ever dealt with much wool, in a natural unprocessed state it is beige (or brown depending on the color of the sheep) with little bits of twig. I digress.
I find the people-as-sheep with OMFG-Shepherd analogy to be disconcerting. The wikipedia article on sheep tells us that sheep are not known for straying far, they prefer to stay in a group this flocking behavior makes them easier for experienced shepherds to control, if anything, they get upset when they are separated from their flock. Sheep need a leader and often the “leader” is whichever sheep makes the first move. Wikipedia also tries to reassure us that sheep are not stupid — they are as smart as cows and pigs, and can recognize faces and be trained.
People can recognize faces, be trained, and when properly conditioned (through religion and other methods) they too will follow group flocking behavior. If you’re busy following the leader, this does not bode well for thinking.
Christian Science teaches us to Think, but not too critically. Question, but not too much. As long as the answers you come to are ones that are sanctioned by our Beloved Leader Ms. Eddy and her Authorized Christian Science Literature, or The Mother Church, you’re welcome to come to those conclusions, but if you stray too far from the Authorized Message, you quickly get abandoned by OMFG’s Flock.
If you do have the time to think, your thought may turn to why follow the Shepherd along the rugged way, why not take your own path? Obviously it is because The Shepherd (OMFG) knows best. If you educate the sheep (OMFG’s followers) they won’t have use for the Shepherd and the flock falls apart — at this point the problem is more for the Shepherd than the sheep because OMFG is without a flock, and what is the point of being OMFG (or Ms. Eddy) if you have no followers/people to control?
Can a God-figure exist if no one believes in it? Are we God’s creation, or is God ours, and why would we create such a jerk?