Christian Science – Part 2

TW: child and maternal death, medical negligence

We left off on things seemingly looking up for the Church of Christ, Scientist. They were officially chartered, had navigated a mass exodus, were weathering fierce criticism, and had opened the Massachusetts Metaphysical College. With land in hand, they were finally ready to open a permanent church building,

Except, things weren’t so rosy in the church, despite the progress towards true establishment.

A split between the Mary loyalists and those who only believed in the principles she taught was forming. There were many things that the loyalists claimed, but chief among them being that Mary had direct communication with God and from that the holy text of Science and Health was delivered. They would go so far as to essentially claim a second immaculate conception had happened, though instead of birthing a man, it had birthed a book.

It’s also important to note that through-out Mary’s life she has claimed comparison with the life of Jesus, or some other event in the Bible. For example, the refutation of predetermination she claimed happened when she was 12 was directly lifted from a story of Jesus’ life. At this point, given how much we’ve discussed her and the organization, I hope you’re beginning to see this trend of manipulating Biblical events to suit whatever claim Mary or the church needed to make.

From The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy: "We find that "Careless comparison or irreverent reference to Christ Jesus is abnormal in a Christian Scientist and prohibited." It is probably that no Christian church had ever before found it necessary to make such a prohibition."

It’s also equally important to point out that a lot of what the church believes is wrapped up in this idea of Mary as Mother Church. That her and her church are the divine feminine God made manifest. During this time her loyal defenders would go to great lengths to prop her up on a pedestal and we see a lot of wild comparisons and claims being made by them.

Thankfully, Julius Dresser would re-enter the picture at this time.

In the first part discussion on Mary Eddy, I had drawn attention to the fact that early in her life Mary had been seen by the “mental healer” Quimby. That at the time of her fall on the ice, she had called on Julius Dresser to use Quimby’s methods of remote healing to heal her from her fall. Well, after many years in California, Dresser returned to Boston and set up shop. Once settled, he learned about what Mary had become and done with Quimby’s teachings, and Dresser began calling Mary out.

This enticed many dissatisfied students into questioning Mary’s claims. They began investigating the work of one of Quimby’s former patients – Rev. Warren Evans. Evans had written two books on the subject of mental healing, The Mental Cure and Mental Medicine. Armed with the knowledge they found in these books, many students left Mary and would join in Emma Curtis’ New Thought movement.

This would force Mary to enact a new edict that eventually found its way into the Manual of the Mother Church – Christian Scientists were not to read any other works on mental healing and, to prevent possible “conspiracy” among the students, no two students were to engage in any unauthorized discussion or debate of Christian Science concepts without the whole Association present.

From the Life of Mary Baker G Eddy: "Christian Scientists were held even more rigidly than before to the rules forbidding them to read any but Mrs. Eddy's writings on mental healing. This was against heresy was carried on too zealously at last, and when the Journal (October, 1890) admonished beginning students to lay aside the Bible of Science and Health, it was felt even by Scientists that this was going too far. The Journal also instructed Mrs. Eddy's loyal students to burn all forbidden literature. "Burn every scrap of 'Christian Science literature,' so-called" it said, "except Science and Health, and the publications bearing..."

This would begin a long period of critique from former students. Some weren’t even former students when they began critiquing Mary’s ideas. She struggled to keep a tight reign on things, now that she had educated so many, and – as we saw with Emma Curtis and the New Thought schools – students left Christian Science to investigate more liberal and permissive schools of mental healing.

Trigger warning – child and maternal death, medical negligence.

This is not the only reason that people left Mary at the end of the 1880’s.

The church used to teach an obstetrical class. It was a series of six sessions, five of which were used to discuss malicious animal magnetism. Only one class in the series was on childbirth itself, and even then it was largely teaching practitioners to deny or downplay any complications that could arise.

Naturally, this wouldn’t end well. A student was asked to essentially be a midwife for a friend’s daughter during her childbirth. Complications arose – very serious complications – and instead of getting a doctor involved, the student did as they were taught: deny any complications and continue to use their mental healing skills. This ended in tragedy for both mother and child.

After this event, charges of malpractice were brought against the student. It was highly publicized and only added to the bad press the church was getting. Their only saving grace was that, during the court proceedings, it was determined that even a skilled obstetrician would have had trouble with the situation.

This resulted in Mary ultimately distancing herself from this student. She claimed that she never gave permission for this student to actually attend the birth. The obstetrics class was reworked twice, once to include an obstetrician and then again to remove the discussion on birth complications – until it was ultimately dropped as a lecture series entirely.

By no means did the church suffer that much or for that long, however.

For some context, before the New Thought split off, the church had 111 individual “professional healers” listed in The Christian Science Journal and was taught at 21 different institutes (likely little more than individuals homes, to be clear.) That was in 1886. Two years after the split, in 1890, there were 250 practicing members and 33 institutes claimed by the Journal. Additionally, 20 Christian Science churches had been organized and held services, while as many as 90 assemblies were working to become incorporated churches.

By no means was the church really suffering. Instead, the movement only seemed to be growing. With it would come actual licensed physicians to legitimize the movement, like Dr Foster.

Let’s actually have a little chat about Dr Foster. He was one of the few actual licensed doctors in Mary’s inner circle and was key in recovering the Church’s image after the failed attempts to include obstetrics lessons. Shortly after the issues in 1888, and after 30 some odd members had left, Mary called on Dr Foster to become a teacher at the Metaphysical College and teach the obstetrics courses.

More than that, Dr Foster became her son. If you recall, in part 2 of the article on Mary we discussed how George Glover, her actual son, had come to visit and settle Mary’s affairs. As soon as he was gone, Mary petitioned the courts to allow her to adopt a 40-year-old man as her son. The courts agreed and on Nov 5, 1888, Dr Foster became Dr Eddy.

Why him? Reports seem to indicate that he was very pliant and didn’t challenge Mary. He didn’t talk back to her or challenge her ideas, instead he was the perfect sponge. This wouldn’t go over well with Mary’s inner circle and planted a seed of discontent in them against this new favorite.

Despite the growing success of the church, Mary was getting older, and the problems the growing church was having were becoming too much for her to bear. So, in the spring of 1889, she went back to her favorite scapegoat – malicious animal magnetism. Not only were the usual suspects to blame, but so too were some of her inner circle.

Once again, she believed that her every action was being spied upon and she was no longer safe in Boston as she had once thought. In a fit one morning, she left Boston and – at the advice of her adopted son – moved to a home in Barre, VT.

This wouldn’t last long because Mary hates fun. A band would regularly play music outside in the town square, Mary told Mr Frye (a background inner circle member) to have them stop, they refused, and that was enough to send her back to Boston. This would happen all over again with a different home just outside of Boston. She paid over asking price for a house out in a suburb, then declared her neighbors were mesmerized, and left the house.

She then moved to Pleasant View, her final home in Concord, NH. It was here that she could finally divest herself of the administrative needs of the church and focus on another revision of Science and Health and begin working on Manual of the Mother Church.

From the Life of Mary Baker G Eddy: "NOTICE 
1. I shall not be consulted verbally, or through letters, as to whose advertisement shall or shall not appear in the Christian Science Journal.
2. I shall not be consulted verbally, or through letters, as to the matter that should be published in the Journal and Christian Science Series.
3. I shall not be consulted verbally, or through letters, on marriage, divorce, or family affairs of any kind.
4. I shall not be consulted verbally, or through letters, on the choice of pastors for churches.
5. I shall not be consulted verbally, or through letters, on disaffections, if there should be any between the students of Christian Scientists.
6. I shall not be consulted verbally, or through letters, on who shall be admitted as members, or dropped from the membership of the Christian Science Churches or Associations.
7. I am not to be consulted verbally, or through letters, on disease and the treatment of the sick; but I shall love all mankind---and work for their welfare. Mary B. G. Eddy"

Part of divesting herself of the administrative chores of Church running was for Mary to step down from her editorship at the Christian Science Journal. In the same year, 1889 for context – just one year after her retreat from Boston, Mary also decided to close the Metaphysical College. And then she didn’t. But then she did again.

The long and short of this arc is that at first she was going to hand teaching off to her brand new adopted son – Dr. Foster – while she remained the president. After a brief trial period, she decided to shut it down because she didn’t want people to ask to be taught by her. But then in the summer she contacted a preacher from Cleveland and he came out to reopen classes. And then a month later Mary changed her mind, uprooting this man’s life once again, and she closed the college for good.

Next to go was the College Association. Essentially all that happened here was that the Association voted to wipe the slate clean and “meet as a voluntary association of Christians to promote growth in spirituality.”

Still, she hadn’t really divested herself of anything. That’s the thing about Mary. She says he wants control, then doesn’t want control…but then still pulls the strings anyway.

With that said, with the printing of the next Science and Health book in a strange state, Mary decided to stick her nose back into the business of the Christian Science Journal. In the autumn of 1889, she would order the publisher of the Journal to immediately pick up and move out of Boston. Once again, mesmerism is to blame here, as she had convinced herself it was interfering with things.

The publisher tried to reason with her about how difficult that would be, but she overrode him, and he ended up in Philadelphia. Just after he had shut everything in Boston down and was about to sign a contract with a new printer, Mary decided she wanted the Journal in Boston after all.

Finally, though, in 1890, she really would start to give up more oversight. The Journal would publish a list of rules she had written, including that she was not to be consulted about the personal or church difficulties of her followers.

A subtext from The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy: "The exact steps of this transaction were as follows:
In 1886 the Boston church, through its treasurer, William H. Bradley, had purchased from Nathan Matthews the plot of ground upon which the Christian Science church now stands, paying down $2,000 and assuming a mortgage for $8,763.50. By December, 1888, the church had paid upon this land, in all, $5,800, reducing the mortgage to $4,963.50. At this date Mrs. Eddy, through her lawyer, Baxter E. Perry, later disbarred, secured an assignment of the mortgage from Mr. Matthews for exactly the sum due upon the land. Although this assignment occurred December 6, 1888, it was not recorded until August 6, 1889, this date being also the date of the recording of Mrs. Eddy's foreclosure of the mortgage. The Suffolk County Register of the Deeds shows that Baxter E. Perry sold the Falmouth Street lot at a mortgage foreclosure sale held on August 3, 1889, to his brother and law partner, George H. Perry, for the sum of $5,000. George H. Perry the deeded the land to Ira O. Knapp, for the sum of $5,100, the additional $100 apparently forming Mr. Perry's fee for his part in the transaction."

Additionally, there was the divesting of land to do. The mortgage for the Boston church located on Falmouth Street had initially been paid by church members – about $5k of the $10k mortgage. However, in a round-about questionably legal move, Mary would end up purchasing the land at a foreclosure auction and essentially waste whatever equity the church members had managed to accrue.

This was done in order to keep the deed out of the hands of people within the organization that Mary didn’t trust. While she wanted the land to serve as the “Mother Church” for all Christian Science, she was far more interested in maintaining personal control until she had installed a board of directors that she felt she could trust. Her first attempt to do this ended with her trustees resigning after the title insurance company refused to insure the title, due to some questionable inclusions to the title.

She didn’t stop trying, however. In 1892 she finally managed to convince four trustees to take on the deed. Of course there were certain provisions they had to meet:

1. A church building costing no less than $50k should be erected within 5 years

2. That all services must be kept in strict accordance with what Mary taught in the 71st edition of Science and Health and any subsequent edition

3. That the trustees were to be called the Board of Directors and any vacancies that arise be filled – by election – with a member that is a “firm and consistent believer in the doctrines of Christian Science.”

4. That the board elect the pastor, speaker, or reader; maintain public worship; and was fully invested with the power to make all necessary rules and regulations

5. That in the case of any omission or neglect of compliance with the conditions outlined, the title would be returned to Mary or one of her heirs or assignees

6. That if the board ever feels that it is unfit to maintain public worship in accordance with the deed (read: in accordance with Mary’s teachings), then everything should be deeded over to Mary or her heirs forever

Essentially, Mary had the ability to ensure that she could appoint the board of her choosing, suggest to them appropriate replacements, and – if the board did not do as she said – she would regain complete control of the organization. Sounds fair to me.

Only one minor snag arose: they needed to incorporate, but the State of Massachusets would not grant them a new charter as the old one from 1879 was still in force. In the now proud tradition of right-leaning lawyers, Mary had her lawyers find an obscure law that would allow them to circumvent the old charter and still incorporate. With this all neatly tied up, Mary now had complete control of the church by way of a group of directors bound to her teachings. She would no longer have to answer to the public.

From The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy: "In reviewing this real-estate transaction in the Journal, Mrs. Eddy said: I had this desirable site transferred in a circuitous, novel way ...I knew that to God's gift, foundation and superstructure, no one could hold a wholly material title. The land and the church standing on it must be conveyed through a type of representing the true nature of the gift; a type morally and spiritually inalienable, but materially questionable---even after the manner that all spiritual good comes to Christian Scientists to the end of the taxing their faith in God and their adherence to the superiority of the claims of spirit over matter or merely legal titles...Our title to God's acres here will be safe and sound "when we can read our titles clear" to heavenly mansions."

Without much fanfare, the Mother Church was officially organized on Sept 23, 1892. The first meeting wouldn’t be held until a year later on Oct 3, 1893. Though there had been elections of church officials before this point, many Christian Scientists both in Boston and abroad were not aware of them.

They discovered that not only had Mary appointed the Board of Directors, but she had also chosen 12 charter members whose duty it was to vote upon anyone who wished to join the church. Even members who had been with the church since its original charter had to be voted on before admittance. Essentially, Mary ensured that anyone associated with the church was favorable to her.

At last, after a brief financial setback in early 1894, the first brick of the Mother Church would be laid in May 1894. It would take 18 months for the building to be completed. You can “take a tour” of the current building via Google Maps and witness the splendor for yourself.

From The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy: "The original Mother Church is a solidly built structure of gray granite, with a seating capacity of 1,100. In its equipment it is very like any other modern church of its size. Its one unique feature is the "Mother Room," since 1903 called the "room of our Pastor Emeritus." This room, consecrated to Mrs. Eddy's personal use, is finished in rare woods, marble, and onyx, and contains a superfluity of white-and-gold furniture. In the alcove are a stationary was-stand and a folding-bed --- in which Mrs. Eddy has slept once. All the plumbing in this alcove is gold plated. A stained-glass window represents Mrs. Eddy seating at her table in the old skylight room at Lynn, engaged in searching the Scriptures; through the open sky-light shines the star of Bethlehem, enveloping her in its rays. Before this window hands the Athenian lamp which was formerly kept burning night and day."

Dedication services were held on January 6, 1895. It was so popular, now that the congregation was over 3000 members, that they had to hold the services four times. Though they read a message from Mary, she was not present to deliver a speech. According to The Life of Mary Baker G Eddy, she would only speak at the Mother Church twice and stayed in the accommodations made for her only once.

Finally, we can turn our attention to the internal organization and practices of the church. With the Mother Church firmly established, Mary would go back to writing more changes to Science and Health, as well as issue a series of by-laws that would eventually become The Manual of the Mother Church.

The first thing to do was to divest any human pastors of their power. Instead, Mary would decree that the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures were to be the pastors instead. This was soon followed by the removal of the position of preacher. Instead, all the churches were to elect a First and Second Reader that would read sections of the previously mentioned books to the congregation. This is how things are run to this day.

Additionally, Mary also made sure that no Reader could rise in popularity by limiting their term. In the same proclamation that removed the role of pastor and preacher, she declared that the position of Reader could only be held for a maximum term of 3 years.

She also sought to keep control by limiting the amount of students a Christian Science teacher could teach in a year. While she was at it, she also limited the amount a teacher could charge for classes to $50 a student. Remember, when Mary was teaching her classes would charge $300 a student, and for many years after she stopped teaching classes were still $100-$200 a student. This change, she said, was justified in order to promote “healing better than teaching.”

Before she could formalize the Manual of the Mother Church, Mary would issue the Church Manual of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Mass. This work contained all the initial by-laws Mary would give and went through forty different revisions. Some highlights include:

– The Board of Directors being sworn to secrecy, not allowed to record or discuss conversations during Board Meetings or in meetings with Mary.

– The role of president changes yearly, along with the clerk and treasurer, all of which must be approved by Mary.

– Additional board members (or “executive members”) are essentially powerless; they have no duties and aren’t allowed to be present in business meetings. They also must reside within 500 miles of Boston. They must hold one meeting a year and attend any special meetings as Mary saw fit to ask of them.

– Branch churches in other states are under even more scrutiny. They must be organized by someone from the Mother Church, they can’t use “the” in their title, they aren’t allowed to hold conferences outside of the annual Mother Church conference. No one, even their congregants, are allowed to discuss the teachings brought up during their service and they are told to “go in quiet thought.” This, in addition to Mary needing to appoint lecturers to each branch church, really paints a picture of someone afraid to lose control.

– Lest we forget our favorite scapegoat of malicious animal magnetism and mesmerism, don’t worry! Mary says that anyone caught practicing mesmerism is to be excommunicated. No trial, no chance for appeal.

– One last thing I want to draw attention to is the Publication Committee. This committee exists purely to promote Christian Science propaganda. The role of the members of this committee are to combat any criticism of Mary or the Church, and to insert as much favorable press about the Church into periodicals as possible.

Now, to be clear, these were all things laid out in the first edition of Mary’s formalized by-laws. Let’s turn our attention then to the Manual of the Mother Church and see how things are run today:

– Nothing has changed! In fact, in the 1990’s, the church was accused of silencing internal criticism by firing staff, de-listing practitioners, and excommunicating members. Wonder if any of these above by-laws had anything to do with that…

Before we turn our attention too much to the modern day, let’s briefly discuss their beliefs. I’ve been avoiding it till now, so I suppose this is as good a time as any.

Science and Health is an interesting book. It begins by explaining that people are a unique “idea of the Divine Mind”, not a physical being, and that sickness, sin, and evil are not a part of God’s world. Since these aren’t a part of God’s world, they are simply fake, and to think otherwise is a mistake. The way to heal the self is to simply visualize the perfect image of a person made by God without sin or sickness, and with that the affliction would apparently just lift.

Some additional beliefs that would put Christian Science at odds with the Christian church of the time: Jesus was not a divine being. Instead, we see Mary refer to him as “Master” throughout the book, and would describe him as “the highest human corporeal concept of the divine idea, rebuking and destroying error and bringing light to man’s immorality.” She also claims that Hell is not real but is an evil belief of man, such that the sinner makes his own hell by committing evil acts. I think her and Sartre would have much to discuss on the topic.

In earlier versions of the book, Mary described “malicious animal magnetism.” Mary claimed that any illnesses or personality clashes that happened to Christian Science leaders or herself were the work of detractors that would think evil thoughts about them. While this was later removed from Science and Health, we know that she continued to talk about it and even tried to sue a former student for using it against her.

In the first edition of Science and Health, Chapter V was originally titled “Animal Magnetism Exposed.” In it, Mary describes how animal magnetism can heal and also harm. She would call these harms “mind crimes” in the book and went on to state that the cure for these “mind crimes” was to have people in close physical proximity that could intercept these malicious thoughts. In a later edition, this chapter would be greatly expanded and retitled “Demonology” before being removed entirely in editions after that.

But, let’s not get off track into the weeds of mesmerism again.

The Holy Trinity is also rewritten. God is seen as, essentially, non-binary (though Mary would often refer to God as ‘she’) and is represented by the synonyms of “Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love.” The Holy Spirit is basically all of Christian Science. The church is non-trinitarian in that respect and often seems to quibble with greater Christian theology.

Generally, as a branch of Christianity, I personally find it fairly blundering in doctrine. It is heavily focused on ‘healing’, though unlike with other faith healing schools, the church maintains that they are a “preventative” rather than “curative” art. They claim this, but then turn around and claim thousands of curative healing events which – much like other faith healers – can’t be substantiated in the numbers they claim. Outside of this supposed “preventative healing” they don’t have strong doctrine behind them and Mary often would use the Bible to fit her narrative, rather than fitting the narrative to the Bible.

What’s interesting about this “healing” is that it mostly sounds like mental berating. Much like other manifestation based schools of thought, there are phrases that one should repeat in addition to denouncing other faiths and denying the symptoms of the disease. If you deny it, then it can’t be real; seems to be the rationale. At no point, that I could find, does one imagine a being of perfect health. Instead, a practitioner needs to constantly argue with themselves until they get better.

Now we come to the question of: Do Christian Scientists allow their practitioners to see a doctor?

In some decades, yes. In others, no. The church has no official doctrinal or by-law level position on seeing doctors. However, in the past, members have been kicked out for seeking medical advice. The most recent statement from the church, as of 2010, was that it was essentially up to the practitioner to decide if they needed medical intervention. They’ve also lobbied for Christian Science healers to be covered by insurance and Medicare/Medicaide.

Are Christian Scientists anti-vaccination?

See above. There was a time, in my memory, where they very much were. That said, in Australia in 2015, it was reported that they were no longer claiming the religious exemption and were not advising people against vaccines. In 2021, official church publications said it was ultimately a personal choice and that if people chose not to, it wasn’t because of the church.

Personally, I wonder what’s actually being encouraged among practitioners in their non-public facing conversations.

They also run a group of nursing homes. There is no nursing staff or medical staff available. Instead they exclusively employ Christian Science practitioners to heal their sick and dying. I don’t have much more insight into them than that. If you’re curious, the organization ORCHS lists homes across the US that you can explore and get a deeper sense of what goes on there.

Last but not least, let’s talk about their influence in American politics. To start, it’s not uncommon for Christian Scientists with children to be charged with murder after the death of their child. Every so often it will make headlines, but I’ll include links to articles that highlight just some of the child deaths attributable to negligent Christian Science parents.

Additionally, I’ll be linking to a Harvard Divinity School case study that very briefly discusses the influence the Christian Science church has had on politics. They also list additional resources you can look at. I will say this though: Christian Science has managed to carve out quite a few exceptions for themselves within government – from getting Medicaid to cover treatments to religious exemptions for child abuse.

I highly encourage you to dig in the weeds if this is a rabbit hole you want to go down. I will warn that you may have to dig quite deep in the search results.

There is also an organization that I would like to highlight: The Ex-Christian Scientist. It’s a group of three ex-Christian Scientists who not only tell their stories, but provide support and resources for those looking to leave the religion. Their work is far more thorough than mine and I would highly recommend checking them out for even deeper context. A link to their website will be provided below.

At any rate, this article series has gone on for long enough and I can’t think of a good way to end this. Thank you for reading through all this and I hope you’ve walked away from this series a bit more informed. Next up, we’ll be taking a look at Vedanta in the West and it’s main proponent: Vivekanada.

As always, stay safe and sane out there.

Further Reading:

  1. Williams, J. K. (1997). The Christian Scientists. Franklin Watts New York.
  2. Cater, W. (1993). The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science. University of Nebraska Press.
  3. Gill, G. (1998). Mary Baker Eddy. Perseus Books.
  4. Eddy, M. B. (2002) Mary Baker Eddy: Speaking for Herself. Writings of Mary Baker Eddy.
  5. Rhude, K. (2018) Christian Scientists in the Courts. Harvard Divinity School.
  6. Fraser, C. (1995, April) Suffering Children and the Christian Science Church. The Atlantic Online.
  7. Mazhukhina, K. (2019, January 16) Washington faith healing law leads to child death, suffering, advocates say. KOMO News.


  1. The Ex-Christian Scientist.


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