BLTC Press Titles

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The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Characters of Theophrastus


Counterfeit miracles

by Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield


It is easy immediately on perceiving the idealistic presuppositions of Christian Science to go off into laudations of idealism in general, in contrast with the sordid materialism of our age. But it is our own idealism we are lauding, not Mrs. Eddy's. Her idealism is a sheer pantheism, involving a complete acosmism, which sinks, not the material universe only, but the world of individual spirits as well, in the ocean of undifferentiated Being. If it be said that Mrs. Eddy does not work her pantheistic assumption out consistently, that is true in one sense and quite untrue in another and much more important sense. It is true that she is constantly making assertions quite inconsistent with it; that in her attempts to expound it, she cannot maintain her consistency three sentences at a time, but everywhere presents us, as Miss Sturge puts it,50 "with such a tangle of incoherent, inconsistent, confused statements, contradictory to each other, as has, perhaps, never been seriously given to the world before." But with all her inability in expounding the details of her thought to keep in view its fundamental pantheistic postulate, Mrs. Eddy does not fail to make this pantheistic postulate consistently fundamental to her system, or to press it explicitly to its extremest implications. Her system is precisely acosmic pantheism, that, all that, and nothing but that.

From another point of view also it is absurd to speak in terms of praise of Mrs. Eddy's idealism. It is but a sorry idealism at the best. It does not take its starting-point from the vision of the spiritual, from an enlarged mental outlook and a soaring sense of the value of spiritual things —but from a cringing fear of the evils of life, as life is and must be lived by creatures of sense. It makes all the difference whether we begin by affirming spirit and draw the inference thence to the relative nothingness of the material; or begin by shirking the material and inferring only thence that spirit is all. The centre of gravity of the two attitudes, though they be described in identical language, is antipodal; their reactions on life—expressed in thought, feeling and doing—are so completely contrasting as to be in point of fact directly contradictory. Mrs. Eddy's beginning lay in the denial of matter, that the suffering and trials of life might be, if they could not be escaped, yet as far as possible circumvented. Her attitude is that of flight, flight from the evils of life. There is nothing heroic about it; nothing elevated or elevating. We fear that we must say that it looks from without rather sordid. Her idealism is a sham idealism; merely a mechanical device for the eluding of life, a life which must be lived in a world of suffering (of which Mrs. Eddy has the keenest sense) and sin (of which she appears to have no sense at all).51 Of course the device is as vain as it is mechanical. To deny the evils of life, however stoutly, unfortunately does not abolish them. Mrs. Eddy herself suffered from disease and weakness; she too grew old and died.52 Her idealism is as false to all the facts of experience as it is mean in its origin. And we must add that it is as cruel as it is false and mean. We see it in its full enormity only when we see it at work on helpless sufferers—on those too ill to speak for themselves, on tortured infancy. The annals of the practice of Christian Science on sick and suffering babies belongs to the history of atrocities.53

Similarly, when we are tempted to praise Christian Science for the honor which it does to Truth, we are bound to stop and ask, not only materially, what this Truth is to which it gives honor, but also, formally, whether it can be commended for the functions which it assigns to Truth in its system. What it calls "Truth," when it speaks honoringly of Truth, is just its pantheistic theory of Being— that all is mind, and mind is God, and besides God there is nothing. To this "Truth" as such—that is to say, to its mere apprehension as true—it ascribes all healing power. It is therefore that it calls itself "metaphysical healing," healing, that is, by metaphysics, and that it named its college, founded in Boston in 1881, the "Massachusetts Metaphysical College." This is, in point of fact, its only distinguishing feature, borrowed indeed from P. P. Quimby, but made all its own. There are other systems of mental healing abroad, seeking healing through other mental activities—faith, say, or the will. Mrs. Eddy remarks:54 "The common custom of praying for the recovery of the sick finds help in blind belief, whereas help should come from the enlightened understanding." "Willpower is not Science," she says again.55 "Willing the sick to recover is not the metaphysical practice of Christian Science, but sheer animal magnetism. . . . Truth and not corporeal will is the divine power which says to disease, 'Peace, be still.'" A "Christian Science Healer" explains the whole matter clearly.56 Every man, he declares, has a "God-given right" to "spiritual, mental and bodily wholeness"; and this wholeness is "received in proportion to man's intelligent understanding of the Godnature and its operation." We pass by the mere phrases "God-given right," "spiritual, mental and bodily wholeness." The former is only a fashion of speaking with no specific meaning on a Christian Scientist's lips except as a strong way of saying, it is an inalienable right. The latter is merely rhetorical enumeration to emphasize the single idea of completeness; on Christian Science ground mind and body are both nonentities and no man can have a right to anything mental or bodily—he has only a right to be rid of all such things. What is to be noted is that everybody is affirmed to have an inalienable right to wholeness, and this wholeness to which every one has an inalienable right is affirmed to be actually enjoyed only—here is the point, note it well—in proportion as each has an intelligent understanding of "the God-nature and its operation." Here, you see, is a truly rampant intellectualism, a pure Gnosticism. To understand is to have and to be. In proportion as we understand, and understand intelligently, we possess. The thing to be understood and the understanding of which brings wholeness is described as "the God-nature and its operation." In this system "the God-nature" is defined as the All. "God is all," we are told, "and all is God." Understand that, and you are "whole." It is the mere understanding of it that does the work; it always does the work, and the work is not done where this understanding is not present. This is the reason why puzzled pastors sometimes complain—surely they are themselves showing little understanding—that members of their flock who are tainted with Christian Science are found to have turned away from historical Christianity. It is the first step in Christian Science that you must turn away from historical Christianity.57 It is the "new knowledge" that does the work. Unless you have the "new knowledge" you have no Christian Science; for Christian Science is just this "new knowledge," and this "new knowledge," being just pantheistic acosmism, is the contradiction of historical Christianity. You can have a little Christian Science in your Christianity just as little as you can have a little water in your fire; and a little Christianity in your Christian Science just as little as you can have a little fire in your water. The things are mutually exclusive.

This bald intellectualism is pressed even to the absurd extreme that curative value is ascribed to the mere reading of Mrs. Eddy's writings. "The perusal of the author's publications," she tells us herself, "heals sickness constantly." 58 A palsied arm, we are told, was cured by reading a single sentence: "All is Mind." Sometimes, no doubt, appearances are against this doctrine. But Mrs. Eddy has her explanation and her encouragement to offer. "If patients sometimes seem the worse for reading this book," she says,59—and who can wonder, if they do?—"the change may either arise from the alarm of the physician, or may mark the crisis of the disease. Perseverance in its reading has generally healed them completely." This is healing distinctly by reading. ToUe, lege, is the command in a new sense.

It puzzles us greatly, therefore, to learn that healing can apparently be had nevertheless without the reading of Mrs. Eddy's book, and indeed without the understanding which we are instructed to look upon as itself the healing. Mrs. Eddy tells this story:60 "A case of dropsy, given up by the faculty, fell into my hands. It was a terrible case. Tapping had been employed, and yet the patient looked like a barrel as she lay in her bed. I prescribed the fourth attenuation of Argenitum nilricum, with occasional doses of a high attenuation of Sulphuris. She improved perceptibly. Believing then somewhat in the ordinary theories of medical practice, and learning that her former physician had prescribed these remedies, I began to fear an aggravation of symptoms from their prolonged use, and told the patient so; but she was unwilling to give up the medicine when she was recovering. It then occurred to me to give her unmedicated pellets, and watch the result. I did so, and she continued to gain. Finally she said that she would give up her medicine for one day, and risk the effects. After trying this, she informed me that she could get along two days without globules; but on the third day she again suffered, and was relieved by taking them. She went on in this way, taking the unmedicated pellets—and receiving occasional visits from me—but employing no other means, and was cured." What had "metaphysical healing," that is, healing through understanding, to do with this cure? If understanding is healing, how was this woman, who did not understand, healed? Of course, Mrs. Eddy would say that by the deception practised on this woman she was got to project herself gradually a well-body, and so she gradually found herself with a well-body. But that is not "metaphysical" healing, in which knowing is being.

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