The one vital prerequisite to an understanding of Christian Science Class Instruction is an open mind. It is human nature for everyone to assume that he is open-minded, but mental freedom is evidenced only where there is a genuine delight to see the cherished landmarks slip away (S&H 323:32-4). The progressive attitude is more easily affirmed than achieved. Make no mistake about that. It cannot be too strongly emphasized at the outset that the effort to abandon intellectual orbits of a lifetime's tracing – and that is just what the revolutionary process of Christian Science education entails – must rouse all the resistance of which the human mind is capable.
Any student who believes that he is immune to the automatisms of finite mentation is the sure victim of them. The tendency of the mortal to misperceive and distort through unconscious emotional bias and inherent inertia is so widely acknowledged that there is not a court of law anywhere which does not make broad allowances for glaring discrepancies in testimony under oath. It is a fact that two normal people may observe the same event and yet, despite honest efforts to describe it accurately, contradict each other on the major points.
Now taking up Christian Science does not immediately immunize us to these universal trends. Nor do we master these limitations of human thought by ignoring them. We recognize them as something to be guarded against. And let not the "seasoned" church worker presume that he is exempt, for he is more likely than the average newcomer to have a lot of fixed views and honored fallacies, invisibly obstructing his passage from sense to Soul. Plainly, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich (encumbered) man to enter the kingdom of heaven. We cannot hope to drag all our excess baggage – our favorite preconceptions and our entrenched convictions – through the straight and narrow way of the Pearly Gates. No matter how far along one is in his study of Christian Science, all progress ceases when childlike receptivity flags. Complacency is fatal to unfoldment.
William D. McCracken used to tell an amusing story that is apropos here. He was traveling in what was then the Far West of this country, during those pioneer days before the clattering thunder of the Iron Horse had shattered the primeval silence of the Great Rockies. On this occasion, the driver of the stagecoach was expert enough to be jauntily nonchalant about the drive, spurring his horses on to a lively clip along the familiar trail. To the passengers from the plains back East, it seemed that the carriage fairly careened along the rims of high precipices and tipped precariously over yawning chasms at the curves. Unused to the dizzying mountain heights, they drew back from the windows in mortal terror, instead of drinking in the epic scenery unfurled before them. Glancing back, the driver saw that his charges were sitting stiff as ramrods, desperately clinging to their seats and looking neither to the right nor to the left. Without slackening his pace, he called cheerily back over his shoulder, "Aw, ya gotta set loose to enjoy the ride!"
If we are in earnest, we are embarking upon the highest of the high roads to adventure. Let us sit loose and enjoy the ride. To do this, we must resolutely set aside, at least for the time being, everything we have ever believed or thought about Christian Science, and consider each proposition as a wholly new proposition, making no gratuitous comparisons with traditional positions and orthodox attitudes. Fear to leave the old must prevent anyone from embracing the new, and any effort to reconcile fact with fable is bound to retard progress.
Have no qualms. As a Scientist, you will hardly be expected to accept anything that is not recognizable as Truth to you. There is no vicarious unfoldment (S&H 22:23-27). All truly scientific teaching is by way of analysis. This excludes personal opinion utterly. Such analytical and impersonal teaching is designed to lead thought forward to find for itself the Truth which is its impulsion, thus establishing Mind's communion as self-evident, irresistible, individual realization (S&H 467:29-3).
Another point. Instruction in the things of Spirit does not involve memory. "Memory" implies forgettery and invites uncertainty. Christian Science is not something that you learn, it is something that you come to see. This point accepted brings a measure of emancipation at once (S&H 223:21-22 and 90:24-25). The Christ consciousness is not an intellectual structure, nor is it in any way contingent upon academic qualifications (S&H 505:22-28). It is simply the divine Presence realized (S&H 68:27 only). Intellectuality is mental measurement, and a religion would be a mockery which would employ such a yardstick to determine spiritual fitness. There is not a conscious creature on earth who is not equipped with the God-given means and ability to comprehend the saving Truth, the Christ, and this will become patent as we proceed (S&H xi:15-21).
Memory, scientifically understood and demonstrated, means the present perception of permanent realities (S&H 518:29-2). Only a relative sense would make it appear to be the recalling of things from the past. Still, through the demonstration of Christian Science, it will continue to appear to be just that, so long as that is the only way in which we can see it. The understanding that nothing can be lost out of consciousness operates as a law of recollection to whatever has been lost sight of in belief (S&H 302:8-9). True memory is not recollection, but perception.
Not memorization, but earnest consideration, unhampered by preconceptions, is what is required in the study of Divinity, and the endeavor is to establish a firm foundation for scientific reasoning from which the student may arrive at his own conclusions with regard to any phase or aspect of Truth as applied to human experience. Class (Group) Instruction is the systematic and orderly unfoldment of Science from the standpoint of perfect Principle as related to present living. Since the dynamic unfoldment of Truth cannot be contained in nor limited to any mere word forms, the method of providing a rounded survey is utilized to enable the student to grasp the meaning of that infinite something which outlines but cannot be outlined" (S&H 257:27-29 and No. 45:27-28).
The imaginative faculty is generally considered an asset in releasing thought to broader vistas, but flights of fancy have no place in Science. We cannot depict – that is, visualize in terms of matter or finity – we cannot depict the divinely spiritual facts of being. We may not know what they are from the human standpoint, but we do know that they are spiritually, with all the positive assurance of direct perception. We do not see them with the uncertainties of materiality, but we are through divine impartation more profoundly familiar with them than we could ever be with anything materially conceived.
The objects of the most vivid imagination are ephemeral at best, whereas the realities of Science are constantly accessible, changeless, indestructible, utilizable, satisfying. Demonstrable Science takes the mystery out of religion, establishing the divine Presence as a tangible help in time of trouble, whether we have taken the wings of the morning to dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, or made our bed in the sulphurous depths of hell. The lambent aura loses none of its beauty thereby, but takes on instead a brighter effulgence. The romantic excursions of mysticism have too long diverted us from the contentment that practicality alone can furnish. Seeking Christian Science as a means of escape from their circumstances, many fail to understand that it provides not for the evasion but for the solution of our problems. We are no escapists, but realists; and any demonstrating Scientist will enthusiastically testify that the scintillant splendor of the reality far outshines any promise held out by the imagination.
The purpose of all teaching is, of course, enlightenment, and the endeavor in Class Instruction is to rouse the dormant or potential understanding, "the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world," providing an impregnable foundation from which the student may in any instance arrive at his own conclusion with regard to any phase or aspect of Truth applying to his experience. The teacher who succeeds in this can say, "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon." (I Corinthians 3:10). Can this be done through blind faith in the words of another? Or must it be firsthand knowledge of Principle, anchored in demonstration?
Our revered Leader, in her important article "Principle and Practice," (Sentinel, Vol 20, P.10) warns against the universal tendency to accept Science through faith instead of through the understanding, pointing out that the approach through mere blind belief must dull spiritual perception and so rob the naive student of a workable knowledge of Truth. Statements are not true because the book is based upon Truth. Even though you parrot the words, twice-two is not four to you unless you actually perceive the truth of it (Un. 8:5-8). So far as you are concerned, it can only be present as your knowledge of it. Then individual realization, rather than hopeful belief, is requisite if one is not to fall into that thwarted class whom Mrs. Eddy pityingly labels "faith Scientists."
Paul says and our books reiterate that every man must have ready a reason for the faith that is within him (Un. 48:1 only). An inner conviction, fortified by reason and confirmed by demonstration, is the thing. It is not enough to seek understanding lo, here! or lo, there! outside yourself. Jesus drives this point home by saying that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. No one else can be born for you. That is to say, you alone are responsible for what you entertain as your own thinking. All experience is mental experience, and so is never external to individual consciousness. Because belief must yield to knowledge, you find your dominion in scientific conviction. Not another's conviction, but your own (S&H 412:7-9).
You may be quickened and guided by another's example, but you truly understand only that which unfolds spontaneously as your own active knowing. The chanting of fancy phrases is but vain repetition, such as the heathen use, for what you echo as a mechanical act of memory does not begin in you and is therefore not necessarily truth to you. But what you yourself understand, can and does develop irrepressibly, as it is through application and experience made concrete and practical. The purely mental will not be confined nor restricted to a finite form, but expands endlessly of itself. Cultivate it, and you will see that the static sense inevitably yields to dynamic understanding (My. 253:26-27 and 159:14-18).
This is worth exploring. When the parrot says twice-two-is-four, that gets him nowhere mathematically, for it is just a sound pattern to him. That illustrates finite fixation or corporeality. On the other hand, the instant you recognize the truth of twice-two-as-four, thought bursts from the corporeal outline and soars into twice-two-billion-is-four-billion, and so on and on, ad infinitum. It can no longer be confined. Genuine understanding always escapes from the lesser to the greater, from the inward to the outward, so that we increasingly find our higher nature – the freedom of our spiritually mental identity (S&H 262:14-16). When you think of yourself as a corporeality, you are leaving out most of yourself. Realization is the New Birth, going on every moment (S&H 548:15-16).
The Immaculate Conception is the unfoldment of pure Mind, without any material antecedents whatsoever. "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually." (Hebrews 7:3). God chooses you for this blessed event, just as the rising sun selects the highest mountain peak to paint first with the pale gold of the dawn. It is a matter of receptivity, as determined by individual progress. The most advanced thought earliest perceives the Truth (S&H 333:19-26). Jesus – another name for spirituality – is saying to you, if you have ears to hear: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name [nature], He may give it you." (John 15:16). In a manner of speaking, you do not possess understanding, but understanding possesses you, in that it is divine Mind unfolding as your consciousness, taking possession as your Mind.
Where does the textbook fit into this scheme of things? Humanly speaking, "Science and Health" is the original and correct statement of Christian Science and, as such, remains permanently as the standard with which all scientific statements must accord. But if God being is Mind unfolding, this unfoldment cannot be ended with the printing of a book, however true, fundamental and vital that book may be. Mind's statement of itself cannot be circumscribed nor confined nor terminated. Thought of strictly as a book, "Science and Health" would obviously be a material volume of paper and ink; under-stood from the standpoint that God is actually All-in-all, it is your present sense of Mind unfolding.
To the human being, teaching can only appear as a teacher teaching, whether by word of mouth or stroke of pen. The disclosure of Truth must appear in such form as to be apprehensible, but you would lose your vision if you thought of that which is appearing as something between you and God. "Yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: and thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it." (Isaiah 30:20-21). How is this so? The student must automatically interpret the filling of his need according to his current sense of need, and so Science comes to him in the form and language of his comprehension (Mis. 370:12-13).
Question: Speaking practically, is there any technical reason why "Science and Health" could not have been written in such unequivocal style as to forestall the several divergent views of Science that we encounter among sincere students of the book?
Answer: The author says herself and repeatedly that she is handicapped by the inherent limitations of the English tongue in preparing this basic statement of her doctrine for the general public (S&H 349:13-30). To circumvent this difficulty, she iterates and reiterates her salient points in many forms, from many angles and at many levels. The unavoidable result is that the book appears on the surface to be a mass of contradictions, and passages torn from their context may be found to support or refute almost any view of the subject. In this connection, it is important to observe that her exact meaning in any instance can only be determined in the light of her writings as a whole. A consecrated study of her entire book brings one around full circle, so that all surface discrepancies are dissolved in the comprehension of her central theme.
There are other factors to be considered, and it might be worthwhile to take the main ones up briefly so that we shall not have to go back over any of this ground later on.
To function as a general textbook, "Science and Health" had to be written in such a way as to reach every grade of thinking, from the most ignorant to the cultured, from the plain stupid to the highly intelligent and from the crassest material to the eagerly spiritual. Consequently, its various statements are not of equal value. Therefore, they cannot every one of them be understood from the same standpoint. Each must be considered from the point of view which it is addressed. While the author goes out of her way on occasion to designate a declaration absolute or relative, as the case may be, to do this with every sentence would be to clutter up her argument until it was more confusing than clarifying. It is neither practicable nor desirable to hamper our free discourse with such rudimentary distinctions in order to be scientific. The reader is expected to follow her as she adroitly glides from the absolute to the relative and back again.
The thoughtful student quickly recognizes the necessity for distinguishing between those statements of absolute or spiritual Truth and those made from the comparative or human basis. Mrs. Eddy explains that she has to make concessions in order to reach thought where she finds it, just as Jesus had to walk part way to Emmaus with his groping disciples, in order to get them to turn and go all the way with him in the opposite direction (Mis. 66:31-2). Then she points out that her major work appears to be contradictory only to those who fail to go deeply enough into it to grasp her fundamental propositions. In this latter passage, she gives due warning that she is not going to preface every sentence "relative" or "absolute," as the veriest tyro should not confuse the imperfect concept with the perfect ideal (S&H 345:13-25).
When one is speaking of perfection, it should be evident that he is talking from the absolute or spiritual standpoint; while, on the other hand, any reference to the imperfect would have to be made from the comparative or human point of view.
Only in the rarest of instances should we find it necessary to use those much abused expressions, "to sense," "seemingly," "in belief" and the like. When we read that man is asleep, dreaming away the priceless hours (S&H 95:28-29), we could hardly be talking about God's image and likeness; conversely, when we say that man is as perfect as his Maker, we are not thinking of man as mortal and material (S&H 470:21-23).
When this point is understood, the reader discriminates constantly and effortlessly. When it is not, the results are often farcical, and sometimes tragic. Yet it is not uncommon to see poetic imagery confused with practical considerations, and words exchanged for realities (My. 218:15-20). A theorist, on being introduced to a practitioner at church, was asked in the course of conversation where he lived. "Oh, I live in Spirit!" was the glib answer. "Yes, I know," shot back the practitioner, "but where do you get your mail?"
The absolute and the relative are admirably illustrated by the man climbing the mountain. As he ascends the slope, the view alters continuously. If he were to describe what he sees from different elevations, his descriptions must vary and perhaps even sound contradictory. That which loomed large beside him at the start of his journey has diminished in size as he climbed away from it, while the summit – which was a mere speck at the beginning – has grown out of all proportion, so that its pebbles have become huge boulders and certain trees which at first appeared close together are found to be simply on a line with each other but actually far apart. However, from the vantage point of the summit, the true proportions and relationships can be seen so that all the previous discrepancies become reconciled.
At the tip of Mt. Everest, the climber can properly say, "I am at the highest point on earth." The very same statement, made anywhere else on the globe, would be incorrect. At other elevated points, it would be relatively true. As your friend descended before you, you say, "She grew smaller and smaller as she walked down the path, finally disappearing altogether." This may be true enough from where you stood, although you know that your friend did not shrink and she knows that she did not disappear.
Similarly, a statement made at one point in "Science and Health" may not be true at any other point in the book. This must be kept in mind if the book is to be understood and controversies over doctrinal points avoided. Relative statements, in the light of absolute Truth, are seen to be relatively true, though not absolutely so. "Science and Health" challenges the fledgling at every step, thus forcing him to develop his understanding through the constant endeavor to resolve the literal discrepancies in reaching for the absolute. As the summit of spirituality is approached, the initial incongruities begin to disappear, and from the altitude of Spirit itself, they no longer exist.
Jesus discriminated between the absolute and the relative when he said, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." By qualifying the noun "truth" with the article "the," he made it plain that not merely the fact about something, but the Truth itself, is what frees. And John had no sooner declaimed that "Now are we the sons of God!" than he quickly added, for the benefit of that thought which might not follow, "But it doth not yet appear" – meaning, of course, that we must not say man is perfect if we are holding in thought an imperfect sense of man as mortal.
Likewise, Mrs. Eddy addresses thought where she finds it, in order to pick it up and carry it beyond its embryonic limitations. Even a treatise on mathematics must engage the attention with the most rudimentary propositions, and then gently, perhaps imperceptively, lead the student on to consider the most advanced applications of the fundamental principle it sets forth. If it were to speak in advanced terms throughout, it would be beyond the beginning student's comprehension, and so fail to accomplish anything. For the same reason, Mrs. Eddy finds it expedient often to qualify her own absolutely correct statements in the same book, chapter, paragraph or even the same sentence. The most striking example of this last is where she writes that "good and evil talk to one another; yet they are not two but one, for evil is naught, and good only is reality." (Un. 21:7-9).
It is legitimate to state metaphysics from the absolute or spiritual standpoint, or else from the standpoint of advancing human understanding. Superficially considered, these statements would not appear to be in agreement. While presenting verbal contradictions and inconsistencies, they do agree metaphysically, and this becomes readily apparent as the student progresses (S&H 354:31-2). But to judge relative statements from the absolute standpoint, or vice versa, or to deny the value of certain relative statements at this period, leads to obstructive confusion and to unfair judgment. Teaching statements, being explanatory, are largely relative, while the affirmations of Truth in treatment must be absolute. Absolute statements are always in the singular and also in the present tense. Observe that in making verbal statements, we are necessarily addressing corporeality, in the realm of belief, and we must speak accordingly (S&H 599:3). While we may think in the absolute, we have no alternative but to act and speak in consonance with what appears to be reality at the moment (My. 235:1-13).
A good way to set this point once and for all would be to look up examples of corresponding absolute and relative statements in Mrs. Eddy's writings. Here are some arresting contrasts to show concretely what is meant:
My. 242:8-10: Man is spiritual
My. 242:10-12: Man is not spiritual
Mis. 282:4-5: Personality deprecated
'01. 5:14-16: Personality glorified
S&H 405:1 only: Mortal mind the culprit
S&H 487:21 only: Mortal mind nonexistent
S&H 305:12-13: Gender is of mortal mind
S&H 508:13-14: Gender is of God
S&H 462:31-1: Evils have real cause
S&H 207:20-23: Good is the only cause
S&H 411:20-21: Sin causes disease
S&H 419:10-12: Sin cannot cause disease
S&H 517:18-19: There are countless ideas
My. 239:17 only: There is only one idea
Mis. 333:17-21: Universe includes man
Un. 32:6-7: Man includes universe
My. 120:2-4: To be found only in her books
My. 133:26-27: Acquaintance not limited to book
S&H viii:30 only: Scriptural writings sole teacher
S&H 110:17-19: Taught by no writings
S&H 1:11: Prayer is desire
No. 39:17-27: Prayer is consummation
These citations, and many others which you can find, show that the matter of absolute and relative statements is no minor issue. Only through understanding this can you surmount the incongruities that must arise in the explanation of Divinity to humanity.