Twice in the last year some North American lead- ers in Christian Science have helped me rethink my views on the controversial religious group founded
by Mary Baker Eddy. In part they have been responding
to the assessment of Christian Science I offer in my book
Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions: A Comprehensive Introduction to the Religions of the World (Thomas Nelson, 2009).
Here are four questions I’ve been asking myself as I’ve
probed my earlier critique. Am I willing to admit mistakes? Do I stand by my perspective? Do I regret anything
I wrote? Have I learned anything from my new study? For
each question the answer is yes.
Before we get into the detail, one starting point is crucial. Christian Science is not Scientology. Shirley Paulson,
a leading Christian Science scholar (and one of my recent
dialogue partners), begins every talk she gives on Christian
Science by noting that huge identity mistake.
Christian Science was started by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879
while Scientology was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954.
The central text of Christian Science is Science and Health with
Key to the Scriptures (published in 1875) while Scientology has
its focus on Dianetics, the best-seller published by Hubbard in
1950. Christian Science is based in Boston while Scientology’s
international headquarters is in California. For the record, the
famous actor Tom Cruise is a member of Scientology and not
the group connected with Baker Eddy.
Looking back, I know the basic facts I offered about
Christian Science are correct. Baker Eddy was born in
New Hampshire in 1821. She claimed the turning point
of her spiritual life came in February 1866 after she experienced divine healing from life-threatening injuries after
a fall on the sidewalk. She started public teaching of her
own healing views in 1870.
The movement grew rapidly in the final two decades
of the 19th century, with missions to Canada by the end of
the century. The Mother Church in Boston was dedicated
in January 1895, and the movement published the first
issue of The Christian Science Monitor in 1908. Baker Eddy
died in 1910 at age 89 in her home near Boston.
Further, I stand by my linkage of Baker Eddy with what
is called the Mind-Science tradition and the work of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802–1866), a pioneer in the field
What’s good about the religious group
founded by Mary Baker eddy?
of mesmerism in the United States.
Also, I do not regret drawing attention to ex-Christian Scientists like Doug and Rita Swan and Caroline Fraser, who
have exposed the darkest side of Christian Science practice
as it relates to neglect of the health needs of children.
Taking faith to an absurd level, various Christian Science parents harmed their children by adopting Baker
Eddy’s theories that sickness was not really real. For example, Ashley King died in Arizona in 1988 because her
parents refused to have her bone cancer treated.
Last, but with sadness, I remain totally convinced
Christian Science makes major errors related to Baker
Eddy, the nature of God, the reality of evil, the deity of
Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, the atonement,
the resurrection, and the authority and interpretation of
the Bible. We are not talking doctrinal trivia here.
To be sure, these theological blunders are not about
explicit denial of Christian truths, but rather major misinterpretations caused by unquestioning allegiance to Baker
Eddy and the Christian Science system.
So how have I changed after new study and reflection? I
now wish I had written in a softer tone about my concerns
and given more space to the high ideals of Christian Scientists. The latter realities became obvious in the long conversations I had with Shirley Paulson (who lives near Chicago), as
well as Denis Hall and Wendy Margolese, two well-known
leaders in the Christian Science community in Canada.
All things being equal, Christian Science members are
loving, caring, gentle and generous. On this last point, Hall
and Margolese came to my class – and Margolese came
with Paulson a second time – even though they knew I
was very tough on their tradition.
As for new learning, I am glad to report that Christian
Science members are now being far more careful in relation to medical treatment for children in Christian Science
homes. Twenty and 30 years ago, there were high profile
cases of deaths directly linked to parents refusing to take
their children to doctors and hospitals.
The resulting political, legal and criminal firestorms
led the Mother Church to moderate practices regarding
children with life-threatening illnesses. The changes here
are part of a growing openness and self-criticism in the
movement, a major improvement that is a sign of hope
for future conversations.
Evangelical influence in that conversation will go much
better as we moderate our tone, lower our voice and speak
truth in love, a love so winsome that truth can be heard. FT
JAMeS A. BeVeRLey is professor of Christian thought
and ethics at Tyndale seminary in Toronto.
Religion Watch n BY JAMES A. BEVERLEY