This is another in an ongoing series of posts that look at contradictions in Christian Science–it’s teachings, practice, or both. Look for others under the category ‘Contradictions‘.
Fear is a word that I remember from an early age being turned on its side as an acronym for ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. Until I left Christian Science, I thought this was an action unique to Christian Scientists, as I had never heard this acronym used anywhere else. However, among my friends who are in 12-step recovery programs, I have heard it often. For the most part, I think it is a good explanation of what fear largely is. We always fear what we don’t know or understand, and what we don’t understand can appear different and sometimes scarier to us than it really is. Many of us also have completely irrational fears–for me, it is clowns (thank you Stephen King and your novel It), and being in a large building alone. On the other side of the coin, I also believe that to some degree, fear is not always a bad thing. Fear (usually) keeps us from doing stupid things that might otherwise harm or kill us (like putting our hand on a hot stove or walking across a rickety bridge or structure), or motivates one to seek help or remedy when something serious (and truly scary) crops up.
Christian Scientists talk a lot about fear, of the need to overcome it to bring healing, and I see their point–although probably not necessarily in the way they might think. Fear, and the concomitant stress that comes with it, can adversely affect body chemistry and possibly have an effect on a physical outcome (I tend now to look at things from a decidedly more physiological point of view). For the die-hard Christian Scientist, however, body chemistry doesn’t enter into the equation at all, although I remember some who latched on to this idea of how stress can affect body chemistry as a confirmation of the principles of Christian Science–even stating, based on this, that Mary Baker Eddy was “ahead of her time”. I call ‘bullshit’ on that! Since the body, to the die-hard Christian Scientist, is a ‘mortal illusion’, so too should be the idea of body chemistry (let’s be consistent now, please), so I don’t see how anyone can legitimately claim that as confirmation of the veracity of the teachings of Christian Science. Heck, all the material stuff around us is an illusion as well (according to Christian Science), although the kitchen knife I cut myself on a few weeks ago seemed pretty darn real to me.
It is sometimes said that Christian Science teaches the nothingness of sin, sickness, and death, and then teaches how this nothingness is to be saved and healed. The nothingness of nothing is plain; but we need to understand that error is nothing, and that its nothingness is not saved, but must be demonstrated in order to prove the somethingness — yea, the allness — of Truth.
(Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures p. 346; emphasis is mine.)
Rhetorically, Christian Scientists speak at length about fear as this illusory thing–something we should rise above and realize for its ‘nothingness’, along with all of the other material ‘illusions’. In Science and Health, Eddy talks A LOT about the supposed ‘nothingness’ of matter (the above quote is my favourite exegesis on ‘nothing’). I remember often thinking in the back of my mind that she sure made a big deal out of the nothingness of ‘nothing’. I always used to wonder how you “demonstrate” the ‘nothingness of nothing’. It always seemed like doublespeak to me. Rhetorically, fear has no power in the Christian Science universe because it is completely unreal. Rhetorically, that is.
Now, when rhetoric meets reality of practice, we get a vastly different picture. I am here to tell you that fear is very real to Christian Scientists and the boogeyman is everywhere, and anyone. I’ll start with the ‘discoverer’ and founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. Looking in from the outside as I now do, I see a woman who was at times consumed with paranoia and fear. As I see it, she originated the persistent fear among Christian Scientists of something known as ‘malicious animal magnetism‘ (MAM for short). She was often consumed with fear over malicious mental machinations on the part of her enemies (many of whom were former students).1 When her husband Asa Eddy died (of diagnosed heart failure), she claimed that he was actually killed by ‘mental assassins’.2 Seriously, I’m not making this up! Now, here I see the ‘Discoverer and Founder’ of Christian Science giving a LOT of power to something she called ‘error’ (her catch-all term for things bad–which she always liked to point out was actually ‘nothing’). She was profoundly paranoid, and in my opinion, delusional. In Christian Science, ‘nothing’ has a lot of power.
There’s more on Eddy, but I’ve given enough of the picture to give you an idea–feel free to research further on your own. Let’s move on to present day Christian Scientists. Many, if not most of them, have also inherited her paranoid fear of MAM–a fear that is woven into the genetic fibre of Christian Science. When I took Class Instruction, I was admonished to keep my involvement a strict secret. When I put in for the two weeks of vacation time for it, I made up a story to my boss that I was going to some sort of reunion. Also, absolutely anything that was said or discussed was to be kept strictly confidential. I sort of wondered as I went into it if I was about to be given the keys to the United States’s nuclear arsenal or something. Even at the time, I thought the desire for secrecy was a bit overblown. But, it was to ‘protect’ the activity of Class from what I recall was termed ‘malicious outside influences’. Like my boss at the time or anyone else would have been able to figure any of it out or even care about it at all.
My own father, who otherwise was a rational and clear thinking man throughout most of his life, swallowed this paranoia Kool-Aid by the gallon–especially later in his life. Shortly before he took Class, he suffered what I now believe to have been a stroke. He firmly believed this was a result of ‘animal magnetism’ trying to keep him from attending Class. When the time came a few years later to retire and relocate to a new city, he expressed that he felt an inordinate amount of mental pressure, manifesting itself as physical sickness, from people simply expressing that they were going to miss him. He saw it as ‘aggressive mental suggestion’ that was trying to keep him from doing what he was planning to do. I saw it simply as people who were just going to miss him because he was moving away, and his own personal doubts and misgivings about the planned relocation.
My own Christian Science Teacher (the same one my Dad took Class from) really bought into this paranoia, and perpetuated it. I firmly believe it was his influence that affected my Dad in a large part and caused him to also buy into it. I found it all somewhat intriguing, but for the most part I brushed it all off. I used to argue a lot with my Dad about this paranoia about MAM. I would always say, and still maintain to this day, that if MAM is nothing, why worry so much about it? Nothing can do nothing, after all. I always thought it was all a bunch of hocus-pocus bullshit. I have never been a believer in supernatural things. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “but you believed in Christian Science!” Sometimes one can use extreme mental gymnastics to find the rational in the irrational. I will say that I believe there is much about the universe that we do not know about, and maybe there are things like ghosts, extra sensory perception, or telekinesis, but if they exist, there is a rational explanation for it.
In Class and in Association meetings I recall learning a lot about Mary Baker Eddy’s deep concerns and fears about malicious animal magnetism, and how very real a force it was to her. She lived in fear of it much of the time after her ‘discovery’ of Christian Science–however as presented in Class and Association, it is not portrayed as paranoia on Eddy’s part, so much as real and genuine efforts by her enemies to bring about her downfall. She was portrayed as a martyr being buffeted by malicious forces all around her. Now, I don’t doubt that there were plenty of people who did want to see Eddy fail, but the jury is out for me as to whether or not their thoughts in and of themselves affected her, or perhaps it was more Eddy’s thoughts and fears that affected her. If Eddy were alive today, she’d likely be considered a whacked-out conspiracy nut.
So, I ask rhetorically, if Christian Science is this absolute, infallible, provable science, why so much fear of outside influence, and consequent need for the veil of secrecy? Why be afraid? Fear, after all, is an illusion n’est ce pas? I don’t read anywhere that Jesus has the same fear of MAM. If Christian Science is as absolute and infallible a ‘science’ as it claims to be, why does it seem so fragile and in need of protection from something that is arguably ‘nothing’? Science (the real kind) simply is. It doesn’t need protection. Yeah, just another illogical contradiction. I find more and more that Christian Science crumbles in the face of applied logic. There are too many things that just don’t add up, and this is and always has been a big one for me. A friend (and former Christian Scientist himself) aptly coined a favourite term of mine: ‘mental gymnastics’. That’s what it takes to even begin to get a glimpse of an understanding of Christian Science, or to even begin to find logic within it. It’s a complex house of cards, and the slightest breath of logic blows it all down.
1 Fraser, Caroline. “A Demonic Strain” God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company. 1999. 71 – 73. Print.
2 Ibid., p. 78 – 79.