Mrs. Eddy Builds Her Empire

Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures

by Mary Baker Eddy
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 700 pp., $18.00

With Bleeding Footsteps’: Mary Baker Eddy’s Path to Religious Leadership

by Robert David Thomas
Knopf, 363 pp., $27.50

Christian Science

by Mark Twain
Prometheus Books, 196 pp., $15.95

The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy & the History of Christian Science

by Willa Cather, by Georgine Milmine
University of Nebraska Press/A Bison Book, 501 pp., $14.95

Americans have always been besotted with the power of the individual. This preoccupation has taken many forms—political, social, and religious—but one form has survived virtually intact, changing only the superficial spots of its rhetoric: the notion that everyone has the power to heal himself of whatever physical, fiscal, or spiritual ills ail him. It appears in both religious and secular movements. Virtually all these movements proclaim their distinctiveness and rely on the anecdotal testimonials of their believers to support their claims. Recently published books with titles like Remarkable Recovery, Perfect Health, and Spontaneous Healing, about so-called natural healing, spontaneous remission, and the “mind-body connection,” are only the latest examples of a phenomenon that has been known as New Age, New Thought, Mental Science, mind-cure, and the power of positive thinking. And virtually every twentieth-century book or sect that promotes healing through the power of mind is in some ways a repackaging of the work of one woman, Mary Baker Eddy, the self-proclaimed “Discoverer and Founder” of Christian Science and the author of Science and Health.

The Christian Science Church, founded by Eddy in 1879, recently re-issued Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in a paperback trade edition designed to be sold in bookstores (previously the book was sold through the Church’s own Reading Rooms) and hired a publicist to develop a mass-market campaign to take advantage of this latest craze for mind-over-matter miracles. In this campaign, the Church, which has been searching over the past decade for ways to bolster its dwindling membership, has portrayed the book as “non-denominational,” although Eddy herself proclaimed it, along with the Bible, the only “pastor” of her Church. Adopting the ad-speak with which publishers have heralded their own alternative medicine titles, the Church’s advertisements for this new edition, run in national newspapers, do not mention Christian Science. The ad that ran in Publishers Weekly read “Spirit, Mind, Health, there are no limits.” Some Christian Scientists have been shocked at the temerity the Church has shown in introducing a Publisher’s Note and an index to Eddy’s inviolable text; this is, after all, a religion whose faithful have preserved the horsehair rocking chair in which Eddy revised her book, as well as nearly every New England house in which she composed it. But The New York Times‘s recent headline—“Alternative Medicine’s Rise Cheers Christian Scientists”—does not seem inaccurate given the Church’s claim that sales of Science and Health rose 25 percent in 1993.

It is not a long leap from Anne Hutchinson, who believed that the saved Christian was actually inhabited by the spirit of the Holy Ghost, to Mary Baker Eddy and her belief in the all-inclusive Divine Mind. Eddy’s doctrine that man is a perfect manifestation of a perfect God is a strange amalgam of Calvinist perfectionism (Jonathan Edwards’s “seeing the perfect idea of a thing”), Ben Franklin’s pragmatism, the Transcendentalists’ rejection of “the illusions of sense,” and …

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