Some reflections on Christian Science/Mary Baker Eddy, as included in “Smile or Die!” by Barbara Ehrenreich

Investigative author Barbara Ehrenreich has a helpful, interesting historical perspective on Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings as being a catalyst in lifting Americans out of the more severe repercussions of nineteenth century “Calvinist gloom”.  She has also undoubtedly struck a chord with many in the mainstream media in the UK.  (See this blogs views on that in “Isn’t there room for hope and healing?”)

However, it is not correct to lump the teachings of Christian Science in with New Thought, which tends to gravitate around metaphysical ideas stripped of the Christian context in which Mary Baker Eddy firmly rooted her own metaphysical teachings.  It is equally inaccurate to associate Christian Science and its founder with later positive thinking methods which would classify themselves as Christian, such as the approach of Norman Vincent Peale and of many televangelists.  Christian Science does not seek, nor have a long track record of, wealth generation, although most Christian Scientists would gratefully say that they consistently find they are helped by its teachings to overcome lack of all kinds.

It is true to say that Christian Scientists feel hopeful and expectant of good when their prayers lift them to the consciousness of God’s love and power.  However, this very communion with God involves yielding the positive as well as the negative thinking of the human mind for the joy and spirituality available to all in the divine Mind.

For those wishing to dig a bit deeper, below are comments on some of the specific points made in Ms Ehrenreich’s book.

Mary Baker Eddy “claimed Quimby’s teachings as her own”.

Comments:    Not only did Eddy claim a clear distinction between her ideas and Phinneas P. Quimby’s, so did his son and defender.  George A. Quimby insisted Christian Science differed significantly from “Quimbyism” because of the wholly religious nature of the former.  [“The religion which [Mrs. Eddy] teaches certainly is hers…In [Quimby’s method of] curing the sick, religion played no part. There were no prayers, there was no asking assistance from God or any other divinity. He cured by his wisdom”’ (Dresser, Horatio W., ed. The Quimby Manuscripts. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company Publishers, 1921. – p436)]

There was a significant connection between Quimby and Eddy.  She spent time with him, and never lost her appreciation for what she called his “rare humanity and sympathy” on which, she said, “one could write a sonnet.”  But as she also explained, “He certainly had advanced views of his own, but they commingled error with truth, and were not [divine] Science.” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 379:15)

In the course of her search for a more reliable healthcare system than the medical approach of her day, Eddy became interested in, and found relief from, Quimby’s method for a brief period in the early 1860s.   However, this was not permanent and she suffered a relapse and a little later, in 1866, she had an unexpected recovery from severe internal injuries following an accident.  This came about as the result of a profound spiritual insight she gained while reading her much loved Bible, in particular pondering the healing ministry of Jesus.

She traced that insight, and her later articulation of her understanding of how she had been healed, to her lifelong study of the Scriptures and to glimpses gained into the mental nature of physical difficulties through her study of the medical approaches of her day,  most notably homeopathy.  Through conclusions drawn from her practice of the latter  she could be said to have identified the placebo effect well ahead of general recognition and naming of it.

Her significant recovery from the serious accident led to overall improvement of her health.  After further years of practising what she had glimpsed, by healing others and through – as she put it – diligently “searching the Scriptures”, she authored Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.   She also went on to found the Church of Christ, Scientist (the Christian Science church).  Her teachings and her church are based solely on Biblical interpretation and revelation which are the antipode of the mind-cure approach of Quimby which she had taken an interest in along the way, thinking – at the time – that it was something quite different from what she later saw it to be.

Her followers “still insist that she was the originator of the New Thought approach.”

Comment:   This is an odd comment.  Even if it were correct to say that Mrs. Eddy is the originator of New Thought, which Christian Scientists dispute, it is totally skewed to say her followers claim that for her…precisley because Christian Scientists actively dispute this suggestion!

Christian Science Committees on Publication around the world (such as the author of this blog!) – are tasked with helping reporters and broadcasters needing source information about the religion and its founder.  We consistently  endeavour to help the public see that Mary Baker Eddy herself has nothing to do with New Thought.  It is, however, true to say that students of hers (such as Emma Curtis Hopkins) who weren’t keen on the Christian discipleship involved in genuine Christian Science went their own way and in turn were instrumental in New Thought during its formative years.

What Christian Scientists do claim for Mary Baker Eddy is that she is the sole originator of Christian Science itself, as a Bible-based theology leaning on God divine Mind, not on positive thinking divorced from Deity.

“Quimby proved that New Thought provided a practical therapeutic approach which the prolific writer and charismatic teacher…went on to promote”

Comment:     After only a short period of interest in Quimby’s therapeutic approach – in which she did publicly promote it – Eddy went on to radically depart from his approach and to encourage those who appreciated and were healed by her ideas to look to ‘the inspired word of the Bible as [their] sufficient guide to eternal Life.’ (See “The Tenets of Christian Science“).   In particular, the teachings of Jesus Christ were understood by her to be, and were promoted as, the bedrock of what she came to call Christian Science.

“The world is dissolved into Mind, Energy and Vibrations all of which are potentially subject to our conscious control.   This is the “science” of Christian Science, much as “quantum physics” (or magnetism) is the “scientific” bedrock of positive thinking.”

Comment:     No sincere student of Christian Science would recognise the above articulation (attributed in “Smile or die” to a Dr. Sue Morter) as describing what they study and practise.  The ‘Science’ of Christian Science refers to divine laws, or the laws of God, underlying reality and it recognises universal forces as being under God’s control, not man’s, when understood correctly.  Yielding to God’s governance in humble, Christian prayer, does bring people a sense of spiritual empowerment, because God is good and so the practical consequences of proving God’s control are consistently desirable.  This brings a sense of having the ‘dominion’ referred to in the Bible’s opening chapter, which results in changes for the better.  These changes, however, are first and foremost evidences of God’s influence that changes one’s character for the better, bringing aspirations and desires into line with what God would want us to want.  They cannot be manipulated by human will to suit one’s own preferences.

“Of the various currents of New Thought, only Christian Science clung to the mind-over-body notion that all disease could be cured by “thought”;  the results were often disastrous as even some late-twentieth-century adherents chose to read and reread Mary Baker Eddy rather than take antibiotics or undergo surgery.”

Comment:     Christian Science has always based its healing ministry on the teachings of Jesus who instructed his followers to heal the sick.  Healing occurs  as the result of spiritual regeneration and  prayer to God based on an understanding of His nature as divine Love, as revealed in the Bible and as unpacked in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.   At the back of Science and Health is a chapter called Fruitage which includes 100 pages of gratitude accounts of serious illnesses healed through the insights and inspiration found in the book.  In addition, over the last 140 years, tens of thousands of accounts of healing of all kinds of ailments have been recorded by the Christian Science Publishing Society in monthly and weekly magazines.  (These can be read at most Christian Science Reading Rooms.)

The majority of adherents, from the inception of Christian Science up until the present day, have regularly chosen prayer-based spiritual healing as their primary form of healthcare and cure.  Most would say they have done well on it, many over a whole lifetime, and often over several generations of a family.   That’s not to say that Christian Scientists have a 100% record any more than any system of healing can boast that kind of success.  Its overall record, however, is good.  And members of the Church of Christ, Scientist are always free to choose medical or alternative options should they prefer to do so.  There are no church rules to dictate individual or family healthcare choices, and peer pressure to do so is not in accord with the Christian tenor of the teachings of Christian Science.

“In her later years, Mary Baker Eddy even brought back a version of the devil to explain why, in this perfect universe, things did not always go her way.   Bad weather, lost objects, imperfect printings of her books – all these were attributed to “Malicious Animal Magnetism” emanating from her imagined enemies”.

Comment:     Mary Baker Eddy was never naïve about the need to face  and overcome evil in whatever form it appeared, nor did she expect her followers to be.  However, she became increasingly clear about what she described as the impersonal nature of evil and the hypnotic manner in which it acts on human thought.  So she described it as “animal magnetism” or “mesmerism”.  (Her considered thoughts on this are openly available for all to read in the fifth chapter of Science and Health.)  She would use this phrase in directing students of her ideas how to address evil effectively through their prayers and spiritual living.  She did this in order that those students could increasingly prove, by the results of their Christian efforts, one of the basic premises of Christian Science: that there ultimately is no power to evil or “the devil” and no genuine power in either hatred or any other misdirected malicious thinking.

“My own mother had no more interest in Christian Science than she did in Presbyterianism, but she hewed to one of its harsher doctrines – that, if illness was not entirely imaginary, it was something that happened to people weaker and more suggestible than ourselves……In other words, illness was a personal failure, even a kind of sin.”

Comment:  Illness is never properly seen in Christian Science as something which happens to other people who are ‘weaker’, nor as a ‘personal failure’. Rather, in Christian Science treatment sickness is spiritually understood as an unjust imposition on an individual’s right to experience the God-given health and harmony that inherently belongs to one and all.  Consequently, illness is to be overcome by gaining a sense, through prayer, of God’s great love, from which no-one can ever truly be separated…including by any misguided thought of inadequacy!

‘”YEAH I WANT MY STUFF RIGHT, NOW, TOO!” Mary Baker Eddy would not have put it so baldly, but she had articulated this vision of an all-giving God, or universe, just waiting for our orders, more than a century earlier.’

Comment:     Christian Science does not see God as ‘waiting for our orders’.   To the contrary, it is a question of ‘Thy Will be Done’ as the one turning to God humbly listens for God’s direction for occupation and provision in their lives.  This might indeed result in a person in need getting work or supplies that they require – often in unexpected and generous ways.  Equally, it might lead to someone with a high-flying career feeling impelled to give it all up to take on a more unselfish role including, for instance, working as a freelance Christian Science practitioner (healer) or as a Christian Science nurse. Both kinds of outcome would be seen as equally valid evidences of God’s goodness guarding and guidance.

‘It achieved the status of a deity, this market, [ref. Bush administration] closely related to Mary Baker Eddy’s benevolent, ever-nurturing, and all-supplying universe.’

Comment:     Mary Baker Eddy saw God as the ‘benevolent, ever-nurturing, and all-supplying’ Creator and Sustainer of the universe including man (that is, all men, women and children) who gives needed spiritual ideas, rather than ‘things’, to those who pray.  These ideas, in turn, prove practical in meeting human needs (but not selfish, self-centred wants!) as they did for Jesus and his disciples, as well as for figures in the earlier Hebrew Scriptures.

“Any lingering dissatisfaction is, as Eddy would have said, a kind of error – correctible through the right self-help techniques and optimism exercises.”

Comments:    Eddy never adopted what would nowadays be called ‘self-help techniques and optimism exercises’.  She spoke out against self-centredness and blind faith.  She always resorted to humble, prayerful communion with God in time of need.  This is also what her teachings aid those who study and apply them to do.  This prayerful communion can bring personal healing as needed.  However, if properly practised it inevitably leads to more and more unselfish lives of giving one’s time and energy to helping others.  It excludes the “error” of believing in a power apart from God, in order to bring human thinking and living more and more in line with God’s own nature as divine Love, as Jesus and the Apostles exhorted us all to do.

Prepared by the District Manager’s Office of Christian Science Committees on Publication:


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Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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6 Comments on “Some reflections on Christian Science/Mary Baker Eddy, as included in “Smile or Die!” by Barbara Ehrenreich”

  1. Jenny
    April 13, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    Way to go, Tony! Thank you so much for all you do.

  2. Courtenay Rule
    November 26, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Wow, Tony! A bit disconcerting, yes, to see that such complete and utter misconceptions of Christian Science are still being happily peddled as “fact” by mainstream authors, but what an amazing job you’ve just done in simply and clearly stating the truth about each one. Thanks from here down under (mate!) – keep on doing what you’re doing!


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