Consternation will greet the publication of this book in many quarters, for Christian Science Class Instruction has come to be one of the most closely guarded secrets of this age. In fact, it has become so sacrosanct that whenever a pupil discloses even a part of what has been said in his Class, he is branded with the scarlet letter of "disloyalty" and the flames of religious intolerance are fanned against him.
But, one asks, if this basic presentation of the spiritual essentials is the truth that shall make men free, as it assuredly claims to be, why should it be hoarded? The reason is not far to seek. The human mind has ever been avaricious, and in matters religious it bolsters its proprietary attitude with the specious justifications of priestcraft. "We must protect the Truth from those who are not yet ready for it." Fancy Truth needing protection!
We have something more important to do than to contend over these transparent devices, so obviously set to control the floodgates of revelation and to build up a temporal monopoly on Truth. Such things are unworthy of the followers of Christ. Special dispensations from a mundane authority have no place in the stately ascent of Christian enlightenment, and no one is going to think otherwise who has not fallen into the mesmeric lockstep of ecclesiasticism.
That anyone calling himself a Christian Scientist – thereby implying that he is a thinker – should keep a sacred cow, seems incredible. Yet, as I write, there lies before me a thundering letter from a prominent disciple of Mary Baker Eddy challenging the right of the ordinary church member "to even discuss the subject of Class Instruction among interested friends" – and I quote! This, mind you, in the face of Jesus' injunction to preach the Gospel to every creature and of Mrs. Eddy's unequivocal statement that her followers must heal by teaching and teach by healing.
(Mis. 358:4-6) The student who heals by teaching and teaches by healing, will graduate under divine honors, which are the only appropriate seals for Christian Science.
Repressive measures, if submitted to endlessly without question, must inevitably strangle the entire Cause and extinguish the last remaining spark of inspiration and individual initiative. Somewhere along the way, it is imperative that someone who stands within the guarded precincts speak up for the spiritually underprivileged. Such a one must know so positively that Christian Science can sustain and protect that he will not be intimidated in taking every step God gives him to take, in his progress with his fellows from sense to Soul.
The law of God realized precludes any fear of ecclesiastical despotism or any dread of retaliation by outraged bigotry. Spiritual wickedness in high places cannot come as a surprise to him who is alert, for the claim has always been that evil can accomplish anything in the name of good, God. No doubt it will shout from the churchtops, in order to give itself a semblance of stature, but nothing can gainsay the vital, self-evident truths recorded herein. Truth, here as elsewhere, is divinely authorized.
Observe that it was the devil who led Jesus up to the pinnacle of the temple. The point of the story, you will recall, is that the devil would have persuaded Jesus to cast himself down to destruction, for evil had not the power of itself to do anything at all. Do we not know that we are servants only to whom we yield ourselves? Obedience to God means loyalty to Principle; it means acting up to your highest concept of right – and no one and nothing outside of yourself can determine what this is for you. Let us not be caught napping. It is evil which would ensnare the age into indolence, robbing us of our very volition.
The arguments that can be marshalled by entrenched interests, in a rising tide of religious fascism, would do credit to a Machiavelli! Naturally. Because it is the last stand of the carnal mind as the anti-Christ, which would curtain the spreading dawn at any cost. Mrs. Eddy is quoted out of context and the Church Manual is waved irrelevantly in a desperate effort to justify rule by persons instead of guidance by Principle.
So we have before us the shoddy spectacle of self-appointed custodians of Truth, declaring that Class Teaching belongs only to the select few, chosen by those who must assume the mantle of popelike infallibility. One cannot become a party to this tacit conspiracy without sacrificing his own integrity in the sure knowledge that it must ultimate in the stagnation of the entire Christian Science movement.
What are the irrefutable facts in the case? The First Teacher of Christian Science never pledged her pupils to secrecy. Nor is that all. She often took into her class people who had never heard of her doctrine previous to her invitations to join one of her study groups. They did not have to wait years for this privilege, as many do today. Here are a few out of many instances:
It is a matter of record that Mrs. Eddy solicited Captain Joseph S. Eastaman when he called upon her to arrange only for his wife's tuition. ("Mary Baker Eddy," by Lyman S. Powell, p.161.) He proved such an apt pupil that she made him a valued Director. Another time, she invited the argumentative Dr. James Henry Wiggin, an ordained Unitarian minister, into a class without so much as requesting him to forswear his denominational commitments.
(My. 318:16-18) I invited Mr. Wiggin to visit one of my classes in the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, and he consented on condition that I should not ask him any questions.
Augusta Stetson was reluctant to accept Mrs. Eddy's urging of Class upon her, but at length enjoyed three such courses and became a beloved favorite. (Reminiscences, by Augusta Stetson, p. 1.)
Mrs. Eddy was not always so happy in her choice of students, of course. Pupils of long standing, as well as some newcomers, plagued her with counter-teachings in her name and some revolted within the fold and others drifted away. In her famous Class of '98, she included two newspaper representatives – Allan H. Robinson and George H. Moses – to give the public an unbiased account of the event. (Powell, Biography, p. 212-313.) Mr. Moses, who was then Editor of the Concord "Monitor and Statesman" and later United States senator, publicly declaimed in 1929 that he had ever been or could ever be a Christian Scientist. (Monitor, June 19, 1929.)
In other words, the Founder of the Christian Science movement never instituted the policy of secrecy and suppression. On the contrary, the documented history of the Church shows plainly that the proscriptive policy was spawned in the years following her disappearance from our sight. Foreseeing the inroads that evil was sure to attempt through ecclesiasticism, she deliberately placed permanent restraints and limitations on her church organization, which would compel demonstration of new means and methods when Christian Science had outgrown this temporary and dispensable vehicle, as she describes it.
(Mis. 91:4-20) It is not indispensable to organize materially Christ's church. It is not absolutely necessary to ordain pastors and to dedicate churches; but if this be done, let it be in concession to the period, and not as a perpetual or indispensable ceremonial of the church. If our church is organized, it is to meet the demand, "Suffer it to be so now." The real Christian compact is love for one another. This bond is wholly spiritual and inviolate.
It is imperative, at all times and under every circumstance, to perpetuate no ceremonials except as types of these mental conditions, – remembrance and love; a real affection for Jesus' character and example. Be it remembered, that all types employed in the service of Christian Science should represent the most spiritual forms of thought and worship that can be made visible.
It early became evident that if the organization was to survive even briefly, the disruptive effects of the growing competition among official instructors must be forestalled, and so she confined every church teacher to one class a year of thirty pupils only. Then she did a most significant thing. She froze the total number of teachers under the jurisdiction of the organization for all time by providing for the certification of just thirty triennially. (Obviously this was a protective measure for the organization, applying only to members.) It is unthinkable, and it is also contrary to her own statements, to say that she did not envision a vast expansion of the Movement, requiring the services of an ever-increasing number of teachers. What is the only possible conclusion then? Indubitably, that she expected and required followers to demonstrate new means and methods of carrying on the Movement according to the need of the hour – as she illustrated so amply with her own progressive steps up to the very day of her passing.
What more logical then than a book at this time? There is not a busy Christian Science practitioner anywhere who is not daily asked why there are no books available to supplement the basic textbook, "Science and Health," as there are auxiliaries in every other field of thought. The answer usually given represents an unconscious rationalization of an indefensible position. It is customary to beg the question by saying that "Science and Health" is "complete." Of course it is. So is the Bible. Still, we study the Bible in conjunction with "Science and Health." Nor does any practical student hesitate to use various books in connection with scriptural study. Mrs. Eddy kept on her desk several Bible commentaries, as well as seventeen editions and translations, along with the "Apocrypha." ("Mary Baker Eddy," by Bates-Dittemore, pp. 474-476.)
As a textbook, "Science and Health" is complete – in exactly the same sense as other textbooks. That is, it covers all the essentials. However, it declares in so many words that it makes no attempt to go into the vast ramifications possible to the subject, leaving it to the student to establish his own correlatives and reach his own conclusions from the standpoint of individual experience.
(S&H x:13-15) She has made no effort to embellish, elaborate, or treat in full detail so infinite a theme.
What Mrs. Eddy says bears amplification and demands demonstration, so that we can never tie ourselves down to stereotyped views of her meanings. Like a textbook on mathematics, "Science and Health" gives the full premises and then just enough examples to illustrate the operation of the Science. To attempt more would make it so unwieldy as to be self-defeating. It provides the irreplaceable foundation from which to expand. If revelation stopped with the drying of the last period on Mrs. Eddy's monumental manuscript, Class Teaching (which she advocated) would be discredited as superfluous, if not downright dangerous, and all the official publications of the Church would be impeached.
The author of "Science and Health" gave to the world "Miscellaneous Writings" with the formal announcement that this new book was "calculated to prepare the minds of all true thinkers to understand the Christian Science textbook." (Journal, Vol. XIV, p. 571 (March 1897)) This is her own public statement that there can be no legitimate objection to study aids. That she was the only one to prepare such aids she denies, when she writes that others may compose volumes on this subject, correct and useful, without encroaching upon her province.
(Ret. 76:4-7) A student can write voluminous works on Science without trespassing, if he writes honestly, and he cannot dishonestly compose Christian Science.
Despite all this, the claim is often heard that if the publication of Class Teaching were legitimate, Mrs. Eddy would have done it herself. There are at least two reasons why that argument is untenable. The first is that Mrs. Eddy vigorously disapproved anything in the way of a monopoly on spiritual enlightenment, and the other is that world conditions have altered fundamentally since Science was originally launched in 1866.
It would be monstrous to presume that this great spiritual leader would arrogate to herself the exclusive right to speak the Truth to every creature, in any way that intuition would dictate, or that she would attempt to rob her followers of the right to progressive demonstration in times to come. The necessities of Mrs. Eddy's day are not perforce the necessities of today, and she has admonished us to keep abreast of the times. Priestly pleaders for a status quo are hampered by the well-known facts, for as long as she was personally at the helm, there was a constant changing of modes, expedients and techniques to cope with the ever-shifting circumstances of human existence.
The practices of yesterday are not necessarily the best for our own high noon, and we must not be deceived by the innate tendency of all organization to crystallize and traditionalize everything within its reach. If we are not awake to this, we shall find the acceptance of standardization and classification to be nothing less than sterilization, stultifying our own growth and drying up the very wellsprings of inspiration. Principles do not change, but practices must. The reactionary attempt to force the solution of today's advancing problems through the set patterns of the dead past violates every known and established essential of progressive learning. Progress compels us to subordinate the means to the end, and this cannot be done unless we recognize that mere forms and procedures are never more than temporary steppingstones to be used and then abandoned, without a backward glance, as we go upward. To tarry on any one of them is to remain behind with those stunted zealots to whom nothing is sacred but tradition.
Consider. In 1875 Mrs. Eddy's proclamation of matter's insubstantiality met with scornful incredulity from the man in the street. Today the unreality of matter is such a common subject of general discussion that the average school boy is quite familiar with it. Whether he accepts it or rejects it, he finds no difficulty in comprehending its meaning and implications. You see, we no longer have to cushion our approach to this subject with roundabout delicacy, cryptic phraseology, theological verbiage, trope and metaphor. Public antagonism is not now stirred by the blunt statement that all is mental. Then are we going to linger in the vestibule while the world goes on by?
[more to come...]