reclaiming Reality from Ms. Eddy’s Matrix

 

Mary Baker Eddy talks a lot about “reality” and Man’s True Spiritual Identity as a Child of God. Reality is even the title of one of the bi-yearly Weekly Bible Lesson topics. (1) Sunday School teachers were always trying to come up with analogies to explain the ever-present idea of the Adam Dream, the unreality of matter, and our True Spiritual Identity, and most of them failed fantastically. Then one day, the  movie The Matrix came out, mind you, it is now over a decade ago (fifteen years ago to be exact), but in the years that followed, The Matrix analogy was the best one they could muster – although, to be fair, after that we may have only had less media-and-teen savvy teachers. In The Matrix, a computer hacker (Neo) learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. (2)

Our Sunday School teachers likened us to Neo, being awakened into our True Spiritual Identity — if only we could recognize it we too could move mountains (I’m fairly sure they meant this figuratively because to the best of my knowledge none of them ever managed such a feat, and mountains aren’t real because none of this existence is real, but I digress). I agree, in many ways, Christian Science is like The Matrix: this is all the Adam Dream and any day now we’ll wake up and rediscover our True Spiritual Selves. Come to think of it, Christian Science is exactly like the Matrix, but not in the way Christian Scientists would like you to think.

In The Matrix, “reality” as projected by  the Machines is used to subjugate the humans (the science and logic involved in this is vague and sketchy at best). When Neo “wakes up” he realizes there is the Real World, outside the Matrix, beyond the control of the Machines. The machines remain an ever-present threat, sort of like Ms. Eddy’s baddies-of-choice Error, Mortal Mind and Malicious Animal Magnetism.

I don’t think Ms. Eddy ever set out to subjugate humanity, but I do feel her misguided teachings have done more harm than the Matrix’s less-than-benevolent overlords. In the Matrix, the humans are totally unaware of the fact they are being subjugated, manipulated and deceived. The Matrix is a dull, but mostly safe, place to be as long as you don’t question authority. In both the Matrix, and in Christian Science, the people are aware of something else, something bigger, something more.

Neo is one of those who is seeking the “something more” and while his story is interesting, I am more interested in the Christian Scientists and their paths. Some Christian Scientists take the need to find “something more” as a sign they should immerse themselves in “the books” and spend hours analyzing Ms. Eddy’s works, others leave Christian Science to “find Jesus” or take another path entirely.

I’m not going to critique those who have “found Jesus” – they seem happy on their path. I’m one of those who has taken another path entirely. In some ways, I feel a bit like Neo (but not badly dressed, pale and badly acted part), I’m waking up to the Real World — not the fantasy world of the Christian Science Matrix.

Christian Scientists are encouraged to “live in the Absolute” but until you have ascended into Heaven and are as the Angels you’d better take care of the material body, regardless of how “unreal” you find it to be. Ignoring physical ailments will not magically make them go away — except when it does, and that’s not the “power of prayer” that’s the resilience of the human body and we are very resilient.

The Matrix  — and Ms. Eddy — may try to convince us there is no spoon, but the spoon, and ice-cream I’m eating with it, are very real. In Christian Science, Ms. Eddy’s “reality” is a “perfect day of understanding, [when] we shall neither eat to live nor live to eat” (3) and this stands in stark contrast with the commonly accepted idea that

Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible. (4)

Ms. Eddy’s “reality” calls for dissociation, varying from mild detachment from immediate surroundings (a TV commercial for pharmaceuticals) to more severe detachment from physical (everything from strokes and heart attacks, to something milder like headaches and hangnails) and emotional experience (the death of a loved one). Fellow former-CS-blogger MKHuggins has two excellent pieces on this: Christian Science and Dissociation in which she argues, quite convincingly, that Christian Science is a dissociative disorder, and a follow up piece entitled Christian Science is a Dissociative Disorder Part 2.

I remember young women at Principia who struggled month after month with horrible menstrual cramps, curled up in their beds with a heating pad for comfort (if they were lucky). Why allow a heating pad but not ibuprofen, or hormonal remedies? Why force otherwise healthy, capable young women to miss day after day of classes because they had been rendered nearly non-functional from pain? In Ms. Eddy’s Christian Science Matrix, the women were suffering from a false belief, in The Real World these women likely had ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, or other untreated issues. Could these young women seek treatment? No. That would be acknowledging and empowering Mortal Mind, Error, Mortality and Death.

I know from personal experience is only so much one can disassociate from before reality peeks in. Christian Science damages the ability to have empathy for the sick or injured — they should be working on their demonstration, not laying in bed hallucinating from a fever! The ailment is not real, it is attention seeking behavior!

Breaking free of Ms. Eddy’s Christian Science Matrix means learning about emotions — it is OKAY to be upset, to be angry, to be afraid, to be nervous. It is OKAY to acknowledge (and treat) physical ailments.  I don’t have to be constantly filled up full with thoughts from God, and that’s OKAY.

The Christian Science Matrix talks a lot about the nature of reality, how we are all spiritual ideals, lofty thoughts for sure, but I’m not seeking perfection or an otherworldly lack of need for food — I don’t need to ascend into some exalted unreal spiritual state, I’m seeking okay-ness, I’m seeking to be a better mother, wife, friend, person. I don’t need the layers of “reality” that are layered on by the Christian Science Matrix, I can fend for myself in the Real World just fine.

Further Reading

End Notes

  1. http://christianscience.com/bible-lessons/related-information/about-the-bible-lessons/bible-lesson-subjects, http://biblelessons.rolf-witzsche.com/Christian-Science-Bible-Lessons/0097.html
  2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/ emphasis mine, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY9UhIxitYM
  3. Science & Health p. 388
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociation_%28psychology%29

 

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Fate vs. Freewill: Did Jesus have a Choice?

300px-Buddy_christThe fate vs. freewill discussion always fascinated me, it was one of the few discussions I enjoyed in my high school English class, and I was quite curious how it applied to Biblical lore: Adam and Eve had a choice to disobey God – I always found that poorly planned on God’s part, but that is a post for a different day.

I was an inquisitive child. My father encouraged my questioning and actively encouraged me to read and question, particularly when it came to religious matters. I was given free reign to read whatever I could get my hands on, and took similar liberties with my parents collection of records.

For whatever reason my father had the 4-record set of Jesus Christ Superstar which I listened to (loudly) in the living room until my parents got me the two-CD set so I could listen to it in my room and not disrupt the entire house.

Being the Good Little Sunday School attendee that I was, I was reasonably versed in the Jesus story: the Old Testament tales that foretold of his coming, the virgin birth (which still makes me uncomfortable), his mission, healing, teaching and the last supper, betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.

Questions in Sunday School where all the grades are in one big, echoing room, are dangerous things, particularly when I was the one asking them. So when a 1970s rock-opera made me question the official Jesus story my Sunday School teachers were less than thrilled.

What was this awful question I was asking? I thought it was simple:

Did Jesus have a choice?

My Sunday School teachers were not really prepared for this question, nor did they ever have an adequate answer. It brought up more questions:

  • Is Jesus simply a very inspired man? Is Jesus actually God in human form?
  • If Jesus did not have a choice, what does that say about God’s need for a human sacrifice, and God’s role as loving Mother/Father?
  • If Jesus did not have a choice then what about us? Do we truly have free-will or is everything ore-ordained by some Divine plan?
  • If this is all simply the “Adam dream” as Ms. Eddy refers to it, than what does it matter? Jesus was no more real than the table we were sitting around, and it is all an allegorical story.

The line of questioning about Man/God and fate vs. free will usually caused the Sunday School teachers to panic and have the Sunday School Superintendent come over to “talk” with me about the need to “stay on topic.” On topic meant whatever was in that week’s Bible Lesson, or worse, going over the 10 commandments again.

I was rather upset, in my secular English lit classes we could talk about Fate vs. Freewill in the context of literature, why was it frowned upon in my Sunday School class where we were supposed to be learning about the Nature of  and our relationship with the Omnipotent Mother/Father God?

Occasionally one would say something about the need to “fulfill the prophecy” or that JC needed to “die to prove that death was an illusion.” Prophecy fulfillment brings back the free-will/predetermined issues, and “death is an illusion” doesn’t really answer the question. I agree, nothing is lost when we die, our energy remains, albeit in a very disorganized form, but “death is an illusion” is side-stepping the question.

One Sunday School teacher finally asked me “does it matter [if Jesus had a choice]?

If you’re using Jesus’ death and resurrection as one of the key features of a religion I think it makes a difference.


*The scene that made me question the most comes from the garden at Gethsemane where Jesus questions if he really has options, God says nothing, and Jesus resigns himself to his fate – lyrics in full under the cut

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millions of unprejudiced minds

In Science and Health, p. 570 Ms. Eddy refers to

Millions of unprejudiced minds — simple seekers for Truth, 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.

The Church Alive Weekly Questions are showing that the minds are skipping out on Church entirely, that true reform is unlikely to happen at any level, and that to a “Spiritual Expert,” whatever that is, “prayer” is always the answer.


The following are a selection of Church Alive Weekly Questions which seemed to go along a similar theme: Wednesdays are dull, children are not attending, we can’t get new people. The problems are related.

  • Week 8: “I love my church and the fellow members, but we spend a lot of Wednesdays sitting mostly in silence during the testimony period. How can I pray about this?”

I love the Spiritual Expert’s explanation:

Silence at a church meeting, in some instances, may be born of honesty or wisdom. We can actively pray during quiet times and realize that healing and renewal may occur at any moment of the meeting. Sometimes a quiet moment at our church has opened the way for a visitor or infrequent testifier to speak.

That is all well and good, but sometimes the reason everyone is sitting in silence is because there are five people there – the usher, the organist, the reader, and two (maybe three) people in the congregation. The organist is often not a CS and does not feel compelled to speak. The reader has nothing to say – they picked all the readings for the evening, and even if all of the two-three people spoke up for 2-3 minutes, they are unlikely to fill the twenty minutes set aside for testimonies.

  • Week 50 also addresses Wednesday testimony services: “Why don’t more children come to Wednesday testimony services?”

This time it is one of the commenters that nails it:

I like what MW says “there are hundreds of kids & teens who have gone to weekly testimony meetings at summer camps for christian scientists.Why stop when camps close?”
I think one of the main reason for this is that they are really good fluid meetings and well attended, this does encourage young people to go.however the same cannot be always be said for local meetings at branch churches,          (emphasis mine)

The simple answer is because they are boring. I hated going to Wednesday evening testimony meetings as a child and they have not gotten any better as an adult. I also loathed the CSO-sponsored Tuesday morning testimony meetings at Prin – while they were far better attended, it was a lot of “look how Spiritual I am!” They also served as a reminder about what a failure I was at CS, although some of the testimonies given also gave me pause to wonder if I was practicing the same religion as much of the rest of the congregation.

  • Week 22 also deals with young people: “I think many young people don’t transition from Sunday School to church because young people are not used to sitting and listening to someone read to them for 30 to 40 minutes. Is there any reason why the ‘Present Order of Services in The Mother Church and Branch Churches’ listed for the Sunday service (see Church Manual, pp. 120-121) isn’t being looked at for possible updating?”

As a young person who “didn’t transition from Sunday School to church” (unless under duress while living rent-free at home), the problem is not sitting for 30-40 minutes being read to, the problem is that we’ve (theoretically) read the lesson all week long on our own, and that the readers are usually as exciting as watching paint dry.

I have sat through longer sermons at other churches with far more engaging pastors/ministers, I have also sat through lecture courses where the information was new and interesting, but the format of the CS service – read it all week and then have it read to you again is tedious at best.

In this case the “Spiritual Expert” totally misses the mark

For me this question of transition from Sunday School to church is really more about preparation rather than needing to change the order of services.

Oh really?

For the young person, moving on to church should be something to look forward to—a completely normal, natural next step forward in their Christian Science journey. And Sunday School teachers can help them in taking this wonderful step. Sunday School students can learn right in Sunday School that it’s the sacredness of sitting prayerfully in church and feeling God speaking directly to them through the pastor—Science and Health and the Bible—that will continue to inspire progress in their lives.

Going from sixteen years (assuming you start Sunday School at around four and continue through the age of 20) of discussion about the Bible and S&H and being able to question and learn from a teacher and your peers to reading the lesson on your own and sitting being lectured once a week is supposed to be something you look forward to? To abruptly go from a setting where conversation and questioning are (somewhat) encouraged to the “sacredness of sitting prayerfully in church” is going to inspire progress? This sounds like it should be a condescending Wonka meme not advice from a “Spiritual expert.”

The other “expert” fares no better:

Besides the Lesson being the “sermon” for Sunday services, we have these Bible verses and their key to study all week. So when we attend church on Sunday we have the double advantage of familiarity with the topic as well as our own expectation of what it means. We then listen, not to a person, but the Word of God given in the Lesson-Sermon and have the opportunity for further enlightenment and application.

Or I could simply read the lesson again from the comfort of my own bed (or the beach, or a hot tub, or a hammock, or not at all because I’ve READ IT ALL WEEK) and not bother to get to church in the morning.

Since a major part of the church service is listening to the pastor for 30 minutes, what makes listeners receptive and look forward to hearing the pastor? What was it that drew multitudes to listen to Christ Jesus sometimes for many days at a time?

Jesus provided snacks, he didn’t want money, and wasn’t lobbying the government for special funding. He also told really cool stories. Christian Science Sunday Services fall short of Jesus’ high standard.

The “expert” continues:

It’s not about the reading. It’s about receptivity to the message. If we approach each service expecting to hear the Word of God—the same kind of message Jesus delivered—how could our young people want to be anywhere else on Sunday morning?

That’s all well and good, but the weekly lessons are falling short of the sort of messages Jesus delivered and young people are picking up on that.

  • Week 12: “In the Church Manual (p. 120) the heading for the order of Sunday services and Wednesday meetings reads: “Present Order of Services in The Mother Church and Branch Churches.” Does the use of the word ‘present’ imply that this order could or should be changed?

The “experts” again fail to address the question, the Order of Services is pretty much set in stone, the Church Manual can’t be modified with out Ms. Eddy’s permission, and so it will remain the same forever. The Expert’s

own observation, after attending services in some 40 countries, is that branch churches yearn to have services that heal. One way is by making those services appropriate for their time and culture, especially musically. I’ve attended services in the Argentine Andes in Salta, where the hymns were accompanied by guitar; in Kampala, Uganda, where the solo was a series of beautiful unrehearsed, a cappella vocal riffs based loosely on a text from Psalms; and in Alhaurín el Grande, Spain, where the congregation sang texts of Christian Science hymns to well-known local melodies. In each of these instances, the branches weren’t seeing the “Order of Services” as limiting, but were allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through the “Order of Service” in a language and spirit that touched the heart of participants— like on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-12).

completely misses the mark, so people changed up the music, big deal. They still had the 30-40 minute BLOCK OF LESSON READING (see above as to why that’s driving people away). The comments in this particular section are rather insightful (all emphasis mine)

  • Some people may find no problem at all with this format. It may well give them another opportunity to listen to the “Lesson” again in the quiet and peaceful sanctuary of the church. But for the newcomer I can only imagine that they have a very difficult time staying alert during approximately 35 minutes of non-stop “reading”, no matter how good that reading is. Reading to someone is simply not the most effective way of getting the message across. Recently, I listened to the Sunday service from the Mother Church. The reading was very good, but I found that I simply could not stay with the reading without interruption, so every two sections or so, I put the broadcast on pause for a few minutes. What I did find very enjoyable was the special music provided by a brass quintet (it was the Sunday before Christmas).
  • My sense of that use of “present” concerning order of service means she intended it to be open for future adjustment. There are two reasons to think that: first, because she did not use “present” concerning order of Sunday School services (so that’s clearly locked in) and the other place she used “present” in the Manual was for directors’ salaries, implying that they would be—and no doubt have been—subject to substantial change. So if one use of “present” has been accepted as the ability to change salaries it would also seem order of service would fit in the same category.
  • It is interesting that in the latter half of 2009 a variety of new explorations of worship and fellowship, by dedicated Christian Scientists who love The Mother Church and its Church Manual, began in the midwest and on the west coast. If readers of this thread are interested in first hand accounts of these developments the following are the websites of these groups:
    St. Louis: http://www.ngcsf.com
    Chicago: http://whatishappeningchicago.wordpress.com
    Los Angeles: http://www.livinglovecs.org/LivingLove_CSInAction/Intro.html
  • What may seem very normal, even comforting, to those who have long familiarity with the traditional Christian Science church service, is not necessarily what will speak to any (or at least many) of the “millions of unprejudiced minds” MBE says are yearning for the help Science can offer and to whose yearning we are supposed to respond.

They continue to go back and forth similar to a church committee only on a much larger scale. The Church must serve both the long-time membership AND the new comers which the churches so desperately need.

As with all the problems, TMC’s Spiritual Expert appears to think the problem is not with the Order of Services, the lesson format, dwindling congregations, or dreadfully dull content (I’m going to disagree on all counts), but the flock’s inability to allow the Holy Spirit to speak through it and their lack of Divine Inspiration. Ms. Eddy and TMC policy remains infallible, the flock remains flawed, and they wonder why people are leaving.

Maybe they’re doing it wrong.

Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force?

The day after I mailed in my letter of voluntary withdrawal from The Mother Church I got junk mail from the same organization:

Special Offer – 20% Savings! complete with the option to enroll in the Automatic Renewal Program. The pre-checked box said:

YES! Please send me 12 issues of the Christian Science Quarterly Bible Lessons– Full-Text Edition for just $120.00 That’s a savings of 20% off the cover price.

That’s totally bogus. I get better savings from Martha Stewart Living – they most recently tried to entice me with the “please come back!” price of $12/12 issues plus a complimentary tote bag, I already have a tote bag from the last time, it is nice, but not $12 worth of nice.

The letter is generic, apparently they can’t mail-merge the generic “dear Friend” to match the “Kat at Kindism” on the mailing address, it then goes on to make sweeping generic assumption about me which are blatantly false:

As you explore your deep, fundamental relationship to God and experience the healing that naturally comes from that pursuit, the Christian Science Quarterly Bible Lessons are an invaluable tool in your study and practice.

So are Bible Lesson Cozies.

Having a subscription to the Quarterly’s Full-Text Edition ensures that the complete text of the Bible Lessons will be ready when and where you are, providing immediate inspiration and healing solutions for life’s challenges – big and small.

Why not make a smart phone app?*

They continue with how convenient it is to just give them your credit card information and they’ll bill you every year. Poof, there goes $120 and

The full text of the Bible Lesson will arrive in your  mailbox each month, ready for you to dive in and enjoy the many benefits that comes from regular Bible Lesson study.

You mean like a nap? Bible Lesson study is very different from Bible Study. I’ve been to both. Bible Lesson study usually means you sit quietly and read very carefully selected and edited passages that have been approved by a committee to conform to a theme for the week. There are 26 topics and they are cycled through twice a year.

  • God
  • Sacrament
  • Life
  • Truth
  • Love
  • Spirit
  • Soul
  • Mind
  • Christ Jesus
  • Man
  • Substance
  • Matter
  • Reality
  • Unreality
  • Are Sin, Disease and Death Real?
  • Doctrine of Atonement
  • Probation After Death
  • Everlasting Punishment
  • Adam and Fallen Man
  • Mortals and Immortals
  • Soul and Body
  • Ancient and Modern Necromancy, alias Mesmerism and Hypnotism, Denounced
  • God the Only Cause and Creator
  • God the Preserver of Man
  • Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force?
  • Christian Science.

The committee edits carefully and has no problem playing favorites with which books of the Bible they include. They enjoy jumping around a book/chapter and often cut out verses which might make God, or the protagonist of the story totally bat-shit. To get the full story you really do need to read the lesson from the books themselves, but the full-text is so convenient and a great way to stay away in church – follow along with a pencil and mark any mistakes the readers make.

The first few topics, like Life, Truth and Love all sound reasonable, the latter half of the list: Probation After Death, Everlasting Punishment, Ancient and Modern Necromancy, alias Mesmerism and Hypnotism, Denounced, and my favorite Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force? get some of the Sunday School teachers all wound up.

The topic Is the Universe, Including Man, Evolved by Atomic Force? remains a favorite. I once had a Sunday School teacher, Ms. S, who emphatically declared the answer to be “YES!” Her reasoning: Atomic Force is another term for God, and by working to harness atomic force man could unleash awesome power.

“You mean like an atomic bomb?” I asked. She blinked blankly for a few moments, “an atomic bomb for God!”

My father called her line of reasoning “muddled metaphysics.” I decided she was just crazy.

Adam and Fallen Man always reminded us that Adam was just sleeping, he never woke up from the dream state God put him in when he created Eve in Genesis 2, and that Adam’s name was “A-DAM” (conveniently leaving off the “n” to make him “Adamn”). As good CS we didn’t buy into the dream state, we were to only hold steadfastly to the Genesis 1 version of creation, and lets face it, everything after Genesis 1 gets pretty trippy (although so does Ms. Eddy’s glossary of terms at the back of S&H).

God the Only Cause and Creator was always unpleasant for my Sunday School teachers because I’d haul out the tried and true “why do good things happen to bad people” line. They’d groan and remind me that God is not in the earthquake, wind and fire… which is great, but what about people like Job? Suddenly it was time to move on to a new topic.

Are Sin, Disease and Death Real? was another tricky one. Who cares about sin, it isn’t real. Disease and death on the other hand, those are up for debate. Fact-check-able-Science shows that viruses and bacteria are often the causes of disease, not mortal mind (although the human mind can do some pretty weird stuff).

Looking back at this list, I find that I miss Sunday School. I miss the discussion and debate that often carried over to lunch. Church is so much less fun, and reading the Bible Lesson on one’s own is great if you want to put yourself to sleep.

Bible Study is when a bunch of people who’ve all been reading the same chapter/verses in a particular book of the Bible get together and have cookies and tea and chat about it, often hauling in maps, outside references, exegesis, etc. and having a discussion.

The average CS Sunday School and church set up frown upon this sort of activity. If it isn’t authorized literature, it isn’t allowed. Some will make allowances for slightly different variations of the Bible (the churches in Germany for example use Martin Luther’s translation), and a few might allow for Biblical-based maps which are dubiously accurate at best – they’re based off a book of myths and legends and further distilled by 2000 years of patriarchy, interpretation, political intrigue and general scandal.

I wonder what Ms. Eddy was thinking when she picked the 26 lesson topics. Several of the latter ones sound pseudo-scientific but, as with all the other lessons, they are pulled exclusively from the Bible and Science and Health. The Bible is not scientific, and Science and Health gets progressively more difficult to follow as Ms. Eddy delves deeper into the pseudo-science of mortal mind and unreality.


*That was meant to be scarcastic, then I googled and turned up eBible Lessons.