Sure, Christian Science is an obscure religion with few followers now, and even at its height, it never even approached much over one million followers worldwide, if even that many, according to information I’ve been able to find. However, if you look at some other spiritual and religious movements, you might see echoes of Christian Science in them, with New Thought and the Church of Divine Science being the best known. You might even think that these are different incarnations of Christian Science, or that Christian Science has had more influence than it’s been given credit for. You’d be half right in that assumption. In this post, I’ll give a brief overview of these philosophies and how they relate to Christian Science.
Almost all true-blue adherents of Christian Science will angrily debate me on this, but probably the single biggest influence on Christian Science is the philosophy of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (see the Wikipedia article on him). He was a 19th century philosopher and mental healer from Belfast, Maine. Mary Baker Eddy was a student of his for several years, and his influence is visible in much of her own philosophy which became Christian Science. In his biography of Eddy, Mrs. Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind, Edwin Dakin spends several chapters discussing the long-time and close relationship between Eddy and Quimby, the influence he had on her, and how much of his philosophy formed the foundation, if not most of the structure, of Christian Science. However, Eddy was not the only person to venture forth and spread Quimby’s teachings. Christian Science has a few relatives.
As I began to leave Christian Science, I explored many forms of spirituality, including New Age and other similar philosophies. Among those was New Thought and it’s closely related offshoot Religious Science. A friend invited me to a local Centre for Spiritual Living, which is a collection of worship organizations (calling it a church would not really be right, so this is the best way I can describe it). I attended for a few months. First off, I was dumbfounded at how similar the ideas presented were to what I was extremely familiar with from Christian Science. It provided a weird sort of comfort to me. At the time, I had only just begun my journey away from Christian Science, solid in the knowledge that Christian Science wasn’t for me; and sure, my anger and hatred of it were beginning to build; but total departure was also a leap I was still anxious about making. I wanted to do it, but it was hard to do–kind of like convincing yourself to jump off the high diving board for the first time. So, I found a sense of comfort there.
A quick cursory research on New Thought, which arose in the United States in the early 19th century, reveals its basis: the teachings of Quimby, not Christian Science, although I have heard some people state that New Thought sprang from Christian Science. That’s why it seemed so familiar to me. The chief tenets of New Thought will sound quite familiar to anyone exposed to Christian Science:1
- We affirm God as Mind, Infinite Being, Spirit, and Ultimate Reality.
- We affirm that God, the Good, is supreme, universal, and everlasting.
- We affirm the unity of God and humanity, in that the divine nature dwells within and expresses through each of us, by means of our acceptance of it, as health, supply, wisdom, love, life, truth, power, beauty, and peace.
- We affirm the power of prayer and the capacity of each person to have mystical experience with God, and to enjoy the grace of God.
- We affirm the freedom of all persons as to beliefs, and we honor the diversity of humanity by being open and affirming of all persons, affirming the dignity of human beings as founded on the presence of God within them, and, therefore, the principle of democracy.
- We affirm that we are all spiritual beings, dwelling in a spiritual universe that is governed by spiritual law, and that in alignment with spiritual law, we can heal, prosper, and harmonize.
- We affirm that our mental states are carried forward into manifestation and become our experience in daily living.
- We affirm the manifestation of the kingdom of heaven here and now.
- We affirm expression of the highest spiritual principle in loving one another unconditionally, promoting the highest good for all, teaching and healing one another, ministering to one another, and living together in peace, in accordance with the teachings of Jesus and other enlightened teachers.
- We affirm our evolving awareness of the nature of reality and our willingness to refine our beliefs accordingly.
Tenet numbers six and seven especially resonate with me as a familiar reference-points in relation to Christian Science, but all of these tenets have echoes of Christian Science in them–or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Christian Science has echoes of these tenets in its own theology. After all, before there was Christian Science, there was Quimby, and New Thought was already gathering its followers before Mary Baker Eddy had her infamous fall on the ice in 1866. I have a friend who is a devoted New Thought follower, and I’ve heard him make many statements that are similar to ones I heard and made as a Christian Scientist.
Religious Science, an offshoot of New Thought, was started by Ernest Holmes in the 1920s, and outlined in his book The Science of Mind. It wasn’t intended to be a religion per se, but rather a teaching method. Holmes was heavily influenced by Emma Hopkins, who was a Quimby devotee and former student of Christian Science. She also influenced the founders of the Church of Divine Science. Religious Science has a credo and core beliefs that parallel New Thought, and which also ring true to anyone familiar with Christian Science. Its closest relationship is to New Thought.
The Church of Divine Science
The Church of Divine Science, which arose in the 1880s in San Francisco, California2 shares similar parentage to New Thought and a close on-going relationship. Its founders, Malinda Cramer and Nona L. Brooks were directly influenced by Quimby and a New Thought devotee–Emma Hopkins. Like Christian Science, Divine Science puts emphasis on healing, and its foundational ‘truth’ will ring familiar to any current or former Christian Scientist: “that limitless Being, God, is Good, is equally present everywhere, and is the All of everything.”3 Divine Science does have more direct connections to Christian Science than New Thought does. One person who played a key role in the founding of the Church, Kate Bingham, met a Christian Scientist who advised her on childbirth. Bingham gave birth to three children under the auspices of a Christian Scientist. Ideas from Christian Science infuse Divine Science, however Divine Science takes a more pragmatic approach regarding physical healing in that it doesn’t entirely eschew medical treatment. It also has deeper elements of positive thinking philosophy than Christian Science does.
Relationships to Christian Science
I’ve heard some people say that Christian Science was a forerunner of New Thought. As I’ve briefly traced some of their origins here, that’s not true. It would be more accurate to say that New Thought and Christian Science are half-siblings. Christian Science did not give rise to New Thought. If it did, you would see it in the historical record, and in New Thought literature, and I’ve seen no mentions of a connection anywhere. New Thought also arose before Christian Science did. I don’t see any reason why the New Thought movement would shy away from the connection if it existed. One did not beget the other, they just had the same father: Phineas Parkhurst Quimby. The similarities I see between New Thought/Religious Science and Christian Science point toward their common parentage, and further support the idea that Quimby’s teachings are at the core of Christian Science, contrary to what Christian Scientists may claim.
The influence of Christian Science on Divine Science is more direct, and you might say that they both evolved on parallel paths. Both are now relatively obscure movements, and interestingly existing more and more as on-line entities. Like New Thought and Christian Science, Divine Science owes much of its DNA to Quimby, but Christian Science is a direct ancestor in this case as well. Quimby and Christian Science are the parents of Divine Science; and Divine Science, Christian Science, and New Thought come together in Religious Science.
1 “About INTA.” INTA International New Thought Alliance. International New Thought Alliance. n.d. Web. 9 Sep. 2016.
2 “Church of Divine Science.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8 Nov. 2016. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.