Nothing to atone for?

October 26th, 2017

Recently a friend asked me to attend her Christian Science church service. The Bible lesson was on “Doctrine of Atonement.” Twice a year for forty years, prior to leaving Science,

I had studied that all week, and sat through it on Sunday, without — I realized that day — ever asking myself why Mrs. Eddy put it in Science and Health and made it a lesson-sermon subject.

So why was it? My conclusion now is that she was explaining it only to explain it away, as part of her ambitious attempt to recast 1800 years of Christian theology, and Scripture itself.

But it got me to thinking about some questions we could ask the Christian Scientist as a point of entry into (unlikely but not impossible) mutual understanding. Such questions as these…

Have you ever done anything you needed to atone for? Anything you couldn’t atone for? What was the outcome of that?

When you look in the mirror, do you see a sinner? If not, do you see someone who is flawed, fallible, less than perfect? How is that different from being a sinner?

Are you, as I am, often aware of displeasing God? And sometimes greatly displeasing him? What’s your solution to that?

Mine is based on “Christ died for our sins,” Paul’s gospel in I Corinthians 15:3, referencing Isaiah. But you as a Christian Scientist must have a different solution, since the Atonement chapter in your textbook says Jesus didn’t “relieve [us] of a single responsibility.”

Would it be fair to say Science just teaches you can think your way from a wrong relationship with God into a right one? How confident are you of that approach for daily life now and for eternal life in the future? How permanent are the results? Is there a “hold” function on the mental work you do, so it stays put?

If the first tenet of Christian Science affirms the reliability of the Bible, why don’t you accept that Jesus died for our sins? If he didn’t die for our sins, why did he die?

Or do you even believe he really died? Mrs. Eddy after all, states categorically that there is no death, and she specifically says Jesus “had not died” (S&H 46:3, see also 44:28). Then again, in her metaphysics, sin is no more real than death or hell — so what need is there of atonement for sin anyway?

Well, my list of questions could go on, but you get the idea. In imagining a dialogue of this kind, I’m not trying for the easy satisfaction of winning a debate, but for the genuine exploration of thought with an earnest Scientist who claims to believe “the time for thinkers has come.”

Which is, as I said, unlikely given the closed circularity of that belief system — but still worth trying for. And this approach of building a ladder of honest, respectful, fact-finding questions to engage the (hard to find) open-minded CS’er feels promising to me. I’m going to keep working on it.

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