An open letter to followers of the Christian Science movement
The following article is addressed to Christian Scientists (not scientists who are Christian)--those who have embraced the teachings popularized by Mary Baker Eddy.
As I walked by the First Church of Christ, Scientist outside the campus of Harvard University, I could not help but notice the verse of Scripture on the sign in the front lawn:
“I am God; there is none else.”
This quotation from Isaiah 45:22 stopped me in my tracks. “Amazing,” I thought. "It is just amazing how two people can read the same verse from the Bible, and yet interpret it in two entirely different ways!"
Why? How can this happen? The answer lies in one's world view. We define the phrase as a person's view of the world (and universe) and her/his place in it.
As a Christian Scientist, your world view is quite different from mine. Though most of you probably never have thought about it, the world view espoused by the writings of Mary Baker Eddy is that of Absolute Pantheism.
Absolute Pantheism sets forth the thesis that absolutely all is God, and that therefore the material world is illusory. Accompanying this is a Monistic view of reality. From the Greek monos (one, only, alone), Monism is the belief that there is only one reality. Now, if all is God (Mind), then that reality must be God. If God is Spirit, and all is God or Mind, then the material world must not be real. As Mrs. Eddy states:
"There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind, in its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all." (Science & Health, p. 468)
Most, if not all, Christian Scientists are not aware that this world view is a grandchild of one particular philosophical school of Hinduism known as Advaita Vedanta. Advaita means non-dualism. In this philosophy the non-dualism pertains to Spirit (God or Brahman) vs. Matter.
The Indian philosopher Shankara (780-820 A.D.) set forth from what he considered to be the true interpretation of the Hindu Upanishads (one of many sacred writings of the Hindus) that absolutely all is Brahman and the material world is Maya (illusion). All this, you say, may be coincidental. True, but there is evidence that Mrs. Eddy gleaned from, and was familiar with, Hindu thought.
In texts of Science and Health up to the 33rd edition there are quotations from the sacred Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita, as well as allusions by Mrs. Eddy to Hindu philosophy. These were omitted in later editions, causing modern-day Christian Scientists to be unaware that their founder gleaned from Hindu philosophy. (See further information in Hinduism Invades America, by Wendell Thomas, © Beacon Press).
Back to our Bible text quoted at the beginning of this letter…
What does Isaiah 45:22 mean to you?
Well, if you were to impose your world view upon the text, it means that there is none else but God—no material world, no disease, no death, no evil. Yet to me, it means that Yahweh is the only true and living God, and that His material creatures are not to worship idols (other “so-called” gods). My world view is Theistic (which lends to the view that God is personal and His creatures, as well as the world, are very real; so are death, disease, and sin, and these terms are to be defined in the classical Christian sense), while yours is Pantheistic. Thus, my interpretation of the text will be quite different from yours.
“All well and good,” you say. “If that’s your interpretation, fine!”
I do not wish to argue with that. I do, however, take issue with your imposing this world view upon the Bible and interpreting it with this world view when the world view itself cannot be taken from the Bible!
Allow me to illustrate: “Babe Swats Homer!” What if someone were reporting this news to you? Do we not owe it to the author of this statement to find out what he/she intends for us to learn by it? Of course. In order to properly do so, we must engage in several things:
find out in what context this phrase occur;
find out what each word means in this context;
find out why the author wrote this; and
endeavor to get at the intent of the meaning of the author.
After all, the phrase could mean that a baby slapped a man named Homer. And this interpretation would be correct if the writer were reporting “family community events” in your neighborhood. But if this phrase appeared in the Brooklyn, NY, sports pages in the Summer of 1927, would not the author be concerned if you interpreted the phrase in the former way? Yes. Moreover, could the interpretational framework of “family community events” be drawn from any portion of the sports pages? No.
The point is that we cannot read the Bible and spiritually profit from God's intended meaning for us if we read into the Bible a world view that does not come from God or the Bible itself. Thus, the challenge goes out to Christian Scientists to seriously answer the following:
Can you disprove that Mrs. Eddy quoted from and gleaned from The Bhagavad Gita and Hindu philosophy?
Can you disprove the similarity between Advaita Vedanta Hinduism and Mrs. Eddy's view of God and the material world?
Can you prove that your world view is substantiated by the Bible? To do this, can you prove by using scholarly resources (Hebrew-English and Greek-English lexicons for the meaning of words, theological dictionaries for cultural studies and word studies) that your world view was the world view of Moses, Jesus, Paul, Peter, Matthew, etc.?
If Mrs. Eddy restored primitive Christianity, can you point to any ancient Christian sources containing your philosophical world view? If not, can your world view be found in non-Christian sources such as Advaita Hinduism and ancient Gnosticism?
Especially in light of #3, how do you defend interpreting the Bible the way you do?
Responding to a Christian Scientist
We often have readers who do not agree with our Christian worldview and teachings. While we always welcome response to our articles, we're particularly glad to hear from those who may sincerely doubt or disagree with what we present, yet remain open to further dialogue.
In response to this article above, we received a phone call, and then correspondence, from a representative of the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Maine. The pleasant gentleman calling asked if we would be willing to publish a follow-up Christian Science response to our original article. We readily agreed, as this is very much within AIIA's stated policy and purpose. The actual response was written by yet another Christian Science reader—Mrs. E (the “E” is not for Eddy)—who had written us independently, but whose letter was subsequently endorsed by the Committee on Publication as an accurate and appropriate response to the original Tsoukalas piece. We have excerpted the response in an edited portion below.
A Christian Scientist Responds to AIIA
Mr. Tsoukalas' view of Christian Science is an old view that could use some freshening up! The incorrect view that Christian Science is pantheistic was argued in Mary Baker Eddy's own day, and she answers it quite fully and clearly in her message to the Mother Church June 1898, “Christian Science versus Pantheism,” still published today both in her Prose Works and as a separate pamphlet.
Also, anyone who has read Mrs. Eddy's well known book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and her other writings can readily determine for themselves that Christian Science is not only not pantheistic, it refutes pantheism. Anyone honestly wanting to know what Christian Science teaches about pantheism can research her writings in most public libraries. Her books and concordances to them can also be found in any Christian Science Reading Room for more focused research.
Mrs. Eddy's writings include several quotations from well known sources besides the Bhagavad Gita. She quotes Ben Jonson on the opening page of her Miscellaneous Writings, and the first sentence of the Preface of that book begins with a quote from a Talmudical philosopher. In Science and Health, she quotes Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, the Rev. George R. Noyes, DD, and several medical doctors, yet I've not read or heard anyone claiming she gleaned her understanding of scientific Christianity from any of them!
The article's questions about the source of Mrs. Eddy's views are all answered in her own statement in Science and Health, "…I have found nothing in ancient or in modern systems on which to found my own, except the teachings and demonstrations of our great Master and the lives of prophets and apostles. The Bible has been my only authority. I have had no other guide in 'the straight and narrow way' of Truth." (S&H 126).
I'm sure these explanations and further objective research into Mrs. Eddy's writings will give your readers the correct answers they're looking for.
—Sincerely, D. E. E.
AIIA responds to Christian Science
We find Mrs. E's response to be polite, articulate and, without a doubt, sincere. Her line about Shakespeare, Franklin, and Noyes makes a valid point—but only to an extent, because Tsoukalas never suggested that any of these three men's worldviews engender Eddy's writings as seems true of Advaita Vedanta Hindu thought.
A larger issue is whether Christian Science (CS) espouses a pantheistic worldview. We have this dilemma:
Does Mrs. Eddy intentionally muddle standard definitions and terminology in order to try to "have it both ways?" There is some evidence that she has done this in other cases, e.g. defines the Biblical Adam as "error; evil" (S&H 579); the river Hiddekel as CS (S&H 588).
Did Mrs. Eddy muddle definitions?
Mrs. Eddy also once defined death as only “an illusion”, the “unreal and untrue.” Yet all three of her husbands eventually died and, after a lifetime of writing about the nonexistence of sin, disease, and death, on December 3, 1910, Mary Baker Eddy herself also died.
Author: Daryl E. Witmer of AIIA Institute.
Copyright © 2001, 2002, AIIA Institute, All Rights Reserved—except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools.