Mary Baker Eddy: Who Was She?

by
March 13th, 2019

“What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” asks Pilate in Matthew 27:22. I decided many years ago, after half a lifetime in Christian Science, that my own answer to that question must be to acclaim Jesus as Savior and Lord and thus to place him on the throne of my heart. After a period in the wilderness, this led to my leaving the Christian Science church and becoming a baptized Christian.

I did not, however, even then, decisively renounce Mary Baker Eddy or her book, the purported key to the Scriptures. That took still more time. And why? Perhaps hearing about my experience of the “in between” can help you in making a clean break, or in supporting other former Scientists as they do so. Or perhaps you will choose to try and remain in-between. I hope not. In any case, here is my story.

The liberating, indeed astounding, experience of daring to read the Bible on its own terms, instead of through the lens of Mrs. Eddy’s writings, convinced me rather quickly that she had not given, as claimed, the “final revelation” of God’s truth, man’s identity, and Scripture’s meaning.

Far from being “God’s perfect child,” I realized the bad news that I was a sinner in need of a Savior — and the good news that Jesus, God incarnate, had lived and died and risen for me personally as exactly that Savior.

This was indeed a mystery, but hardly a secret. He witnessed of himself in those very terms, as did the entirety of the Old and New Testaments, for anyone with eyes to see. Only my Christian Science blinders had concealed it from me.

No Friend, No Seer

Where then did this leave Mary Baker Eddy? I realized she was obviously not the woman in the Apocalypse, foretold in Revelation 12, nor was she the woman whose leaven transformed three measures of meal, seen in Matthew 13:33, nor was hers the “little book” brought by an angel in Revelation 10.

I readily saw that following her in everything, as devout Christian Scientists do, would be a mistake in terms of her own repeated injunction to follow her “only so far as she follows Christ” (Message for 1901, 34:25, and for 1902, 4:4) — a standard which any fair-minded reader of Science and Health could recognize was, to put it mildly, not entirely met.

Yet I was so conditioned by four decades of hero worship toward her as “revered Leader, Discover and Founder,” ingrained by the Christian Science culture, that I clung to the habit of following her at least in a degree.

Part of that, I see now, came from the Gnostic rush of in-crowd allegiance to Someone Special who had revealed to us, the favored few, Something Hidden and Exclusive. I have a painful reminder of this in a largely orthodox statement of faith I wrote for a few friends in 1995, fully two years after my baptism.

In it I called Science and Health “a wise and strong friend to me” — though denying it is any sort of key to the Scriptures — and I described Mrs. Eddy as someone I could still “treasure, despite our disagreements, among those holy seers through the centuries who have witnessed for Jesus in ways encouraging us to higher discipleship.”

God help me, how brainwashed those words seem now. And yet how typical of the deep, earnest, unthinking hold the Eddy cult of personality — a blunt term, but let’s call it that — has over so many who have broken doctrinally with Science yet still cling sentimentally to its prophetess.

Soon enough I realized the perversity and peril of my remaining in-between in this way. I was in that dangerous position Paul warns against, of letting my “mind be corrupted” by someone “preaching another Jesus [and] another gospel” (II Cor. 11:4, repeated in Gal. 1:6).

Having decided I wanted the real Jesus, second Person of the Trinity, whose death on the cross bought me eternal life and pardon from sin, why on earth would I regard the book that denied or clouded these vital truths as a “friend,” or its author as a “seer”?  Why would I ever open it again, or encourage others to do? The blasphemy of it all, hit me like a thunderclap.

More Harm than Good

The question I posed earlier now came back to me with greater force and clarity: Where did this leave Mary Baker Eddy? Was she a gifted, well-intentioned, but spiritually confused eccentric? Or a charismatic, manipulative, glory-seeking charlatan? Or was she something worse — an unwitting or witting tool of the Enemy?

I honestly don’t know, and I don’t choose to speculate. What would be the point, after all? I’ve concluded, though, that Mrs. Eddy as Jesus would classify her is less like that scribe whose reverence for God placed him “not far from the Kingdom” (Mark 12:34) and, sad to say, more like those doers of wonderful works to whom the Lord says, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).

Friends who have left Christian Science but still hold her in high regard will tell me she got a lot of things right in her writings and in her lifework. Maybe so, but for me as a Bible-believing Christian she got all the big things wrong: creation, sin, salvation, the Fall, the Cross, matter and spirit, time and eternity, heaven and hell. All of that and more. This woman, even if she meant no harm, has done more harm than good. his is no seer, no friend of mine. Sorry.

And consider this in closing: Mrs. Eddy was so breathtakingly confident and grandiose in the claims she made about herself and the predictions she made about her legacy.  She asserted that before the year 2000, if her followers kept faith, “Christendom will be classified as Christian Scientists” (Pulpit and Press, 22:13).

Elsewhere she went further, adding no conditional “if,” and predicting that “Christian Science is destined to become the one and the only religion and therapeutics on this planet” (Miscellany 266:32).

Really, is there any other word for this but hubris? Megalomania even? She disclaimed being another Christ, but did call her “discovery” the second coming of Christ, or alternatively — never being very precise as a trinitarian — the promised Comforter. Are we then to consider her one of those false prophets of whom Jesus and Paul told us to beware? It’s hard to conclude otherwise.

Sad Conclusion

C.S. Lewis famously pointed out that the astounding things Jesus said about himself foreclose the possibility of regarding him as just a great human teacher. “He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity, end of Chapter II.4).

Our only options, Lewis goes on, are to accept him as indeed the Son of God, or to reject him outright as dishonest if not deranged — what has been called the “Lord, liar, or lunatic trilemma.” And I have arrived, with sadness, at much the same conclusion in making sense of who Mary Baker Eddy was.

Her system is incoherent, self-contradictory, and in the last analysis does not work. It in fact damages people.  Her church and movement are not sweeping the world but fading away.  A century and a half on from 1866, Mrs. Eddy’s “put me to the test” bravado has resulted in her unequivocally failing the test.

The world-historical greatness she took to herself turns out to have been a delusion.  More than that, it seems, she was just not an admirable person. Not a good person. Not someone to revere or to follow at all. Someone that any of us who love Jesus Christ should entirely wash our hands of. Sorry.

 

 

The author can be reached at andrewsjk@aol.com

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