In reviewing the fourth edition of Cheryl Petersen’s 21st Century Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures, I learned quite a lot about Christian Science as a modern religion.
It is important to point out that I am not affiliated with any religious organization and do not have any prior knowledge of Christian Science. The book claims to be accessible to the masses, and so perhaps at best I am a good test of that claim.
After successfully applying the Christian Science healing technique to recover from a severe burn, Petersen set herself to the task of updating the work of Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. Eddy started founding her faith system in 1866 and published her seminal book Science and Health in 1875, revising it continuously throughout her lifetime. In 1879, Eddy established a church.
Realizing that the language and modern, real-life applications for Eddy’s work had become antiquated and inaccessible for many readers in the 21st century, Petersen updated the book with more modern language, references to modern English versions of scripture (Bible scripture is referenced throughout), and with consideration for today’s social concerns, modern technology and medical issues. She also incorporated more gender-neutral language.
This was not a small effort, and it is not something that can be easily read in one afternoon. It is, however, worth the effort.
In discussing her calling, Eddy said, “Truth, independent of doctrines and time-honored systems, knocks at the portal of humanity.”
Who can argue with that? It must not have been easy to bring attention to her teachings and to develop a following that numbers almost a half million people today in some eighty countries. Jets take off against the wind and I am often willing to consider new viewpoints on religion with the idea that just because ideas are newer does not make them wrong. I wanted to understand why a woman would dedicate herself to this path and how she made enough sense to maintain a following still today. I also wanted to understand why Petersen took the time to renovate the teachings.
As I read, there wasn’t a page that contained information I had heard before. I took a deep dive into the metaphysical for the first time. So, anyone who is tired of “been there, done that” will be pleased to know it is new thought, not rehashed or repackaged wisdom. The teachings were so unfamiliar to me that they took me into an entirely new and refreshing perspective on Christianity. I have to call Eddy a thought leader.
I remembered that when I tried to study the Kabala, while based on ancient Jewish scriptures I was familiar with, it also seemed so unfamiliar. Basically, the Kabala can be insightful to anyone, and, perhaps in the same way, 21st Century Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures can be as well. I couldn’t help but make the connection time and time again to Deepak Chopra’s teachings on conquering health issues with spiritual alignment to God. Christian Science however focuses on one Spirit, divine Mind, as God, greater than the universe as we know it humanly.
While the practices of the Christian Science Church clearly differ from the larger groups of global Christians, the book itself seems to teach that a system of spiritual principles can bring a person into alignment with God.
I couldn’t see how these concepts and practices were all that incompatible with much of what I knew, although I am not deep on this topic and am pretty religiously open-minded. Nowadays, many Christians turn to Eastern based meditation practices to help recover from illness, and this is basically a set of ideas and meditations that are in some ways easier to grasp for Christians as they are heavily correlated to mostly New Testament teachings. There is a certain splash of cold water to the face in the book that says without saying “you must give yourself permission to be well.” There are familiar concepts such as never saying aloud the name of an illness, lest it be given more validity and more power, but I can’t remember where I learned that along my travels.
There are more differences from mainstream Christianity that I had to work at to understand as I read. Christian Science is a belief that does not support “faith healing” but rather a way to replace a patient’s incorrect thinking with correct thinking about personal illness. Traditionally, church members do not recognize germs or illness, but in modern times the Christian Science Church has moderated its views on medical treatment and members can use advanced medical care if they wish.
Christian Science also differentiates itself from other Christian denominations by teaching that Jesus was our Messiah but was not a deity. That said, the entire book is a devotion to Jesus. Having been acquainted with the earliest Christian church, the Coptic Christian church in Egypt, I had heard before and knew that some Christian communities do not consider Jesus to be “God.” The one concept I had not heard before was that Christian Scientists do not believe in heaven and hell as places in the afterlife but as states of mind. That concept will take me a little longer to contemplate.
When I read a book I ask myself three questions: Was it challenging? Was it memorable? Was it fun? I can’t say it was a whole lot of fun, but it was fun to see Christianity through a different lens. Was it challenging and memorable? For sure.
Was the book easy enough to read? Yes.
Did I learn something useful? Yes.
Did it shake my own faith? No.
Did it force me out of my comfort zone? No.
Would I recommend it? Yes.
Will I reference it from time to time? Yes.
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