Review of The Truth About Christian Science by James H. Snowden

The Truth About Christian Science, The Founder and the Faith by James H. Snowden, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1921, 313 pp.
This is really a fantastic book. I came into it knowing nothing about Christian Science except that Mary Eddy Baker was its founder. The Truth About Christian Science informed me considerably about this religion/cult and proved to be an enjoyable read.
Snowden excellently shows Christian Science’s roots in the bizarre religious atmosphere of early-mid 19th century New England. It is seen that its founder got many of her ideas from her own (poor) interpretation of philosophical Idealism (the view that the world is mind) and from a “mind-healer” named P. P. Quimby who she alternately gave credit to and denounced. But consistency was not a virtue Mary Eddy Baker possessed. This is seen over and over in the book through quotes of her confused writings.
Though steeped in the “mesmerism” (see Franz Mesmer) of P. P. Quimby, Mary Eddy Baker later made some of its views to be “her Devil” which she called “Malicious Animal Magnetism” and blamed all of her problems on it. The basic idea was that other people’s negative thoughts were harming her and were the cause of all of her problems.
The depiction I got of Mary Eddy Baker from the included testimonies of those who knew her is that she was about the worst person imaginable. As a youth she would go into fits if she didn’t get her way. She was nothing but spoiled and this changed little when she grew up. For years she was a drifter, mooching off various people and staying at their homes until she was inevitably forced out time and time again.
Much of the book reminded of E. D. Howe’s Mormonism Unveiled. Snowden, like Howe, did extensive research to trace his subject’s life from beginning to end, interviewing all available witnesses to their lives. In so doing, a picture of Mary as a charlatan much like Joseph Smith emerges. I say “Mary” and might leave off the last name as it changed a number of times. She was married three times, and so had various last times and combinations of last names throughout her life. (Positively, one might note, that three marriages pales in comparison to the number of marriages Joseph Smith had.) In her three marriages she had but one son who she basically couldn’t manage to take care of and so gave him away and saw little of him for years afterwards.
After decades of basically being a loser, Mary Eddy Baker somehow gained a following in conducting classes on P. P. Quimby’s views after his death. Her main production was a book called Science and Health which went through numerous editions. So poor was her writing that she hired an editor, the Unitarian minister Calvin A. Frye, to basically rework the whole text. Like so many in her life though, she came to disagreements with him and ended their relationship. Reading the edited works and comparing it with Baker’s other writings, Mark Twain criticized the book saying that she could not have written it. Another reviewer of the book aptly stated, “The reader can begin and stop anywhere without serious loss or gain.” (p. 92)
A good statement of a major doctrine of Christian Science is “that sickness is a subjective state of mind and not an objective bodily reality.” (p. 128) And “the efficient remedy” is “to destroy the patient’s false belief by both silently and audibly arguing the true facts in regard to harmonies being—representing man as healthy instead of diseased … Destroy fear and you end fever”. (p. 129) Prayer for Christian Science does not have any effect on God but has only subjective influence on the one who prays. Ironically, Mary Eddy Baker wasn’t able to cure her own farsightedness and “the necessity for wearing glasses embarrassed her.” (p. 176) Of course, this too she blamed on the “mesmerists.”
Snowden notes that Christian Science is truly Gnosticism (p. 93), Pantheism (p. 115), and hedonism (p. 264). As the “church” grew its founder called herself “Mother” and “began to identify herself with the ‘woman’ in the book of Revelation.” (p. 98)
But what is “Christian” about any of this? Almost nothing according to Snowden. He writes, “As Voltaire said of the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ that it was not an empire and was not Roman and was not holy, so must it be said of Christian Science that it is not science and it is not Christian.” (p. 173) Baker’s interpretation of Scripture is seen to be almost uniformly ridiculous. Snowden notes, “Mrs. Eddy hardly ever quotes or refers to Scripture that she does not utterly pervert to her own purpose, putting on it a sense the Scripture writer never dreamed of.” (p. 124) Snowden notes that a chapter called “Key to the Scriptures” in Science and Health “was not in the early editions of the book, for at first Mrs. Eddy had no thought of starting a religion.” (p. 137) And he notes that “Christian Science, though it started only as a method of mind healing, rapidly developed into a religion with a church and a creed and an elaborate system of theology.” (p. 166) But, “Christians and Christian Scientists cannot walk together because they do not agree in any distinctively Christian doctrine.” (p. 167)
How then did Christian Science gain a following? Their first church grew from twenty-six members in 1879 to 2978 members in 1894! (p. 177) By 1906 there were 82,332 members in the cult. It seems that they gained many converts from those who had come to disagree in some way with their previous church affiliations. “It is known that nearly all of them have come out of the orthodox churches, for Christian Science wins few converts out of what is known as ‘the world.'” (p. 210) And, “Christian Science has in no small degree profited by revolt against conventionalized religion toward liberal thinking.” (p. 268) It grew largely in cities (so much for the supposition that the urban people are smarter than the rural!), among the wealthy who seek the fashionable (p. 269) , and by one account at a certain time 72% of its followers were women (p. 271). Even among the growth, Snowden writes, “Many of her most prominent and efficient followers and workers withdrew from her fellowship and church, some of them going off to start rival healing movements.” (p. 178)
The ultimate conclusion of Mary Eddy Baker’s life was her own death, that which on her own views should not happen if she merely did not believe that it would. Her death, like the inevitable death of all her followers and of all people worldwide, proves her system a failure and sets one to search elsewhere for a solution to the apparent temporariness of our existence.
Christian Science practitioners today might take this one good piece of advice from Mary Eddy Baker:
“If patients fail to experience the healing power of Christian Science, and think they can be benefited by certain ordinary physical methods of medical treatment, then the mind physician should give up such cases, and leave invalids free to resort to whatever other systems they fancy will afford relief.” (p. 133)