Mary Baker Eddy’s Spin on Berkeley
“Esse est percipi” (to be is to be perceived – Melchert, 397) is a coined phrase by George Berkeley, one that describes the main difference between him and Mark Baker Eddy. At first glance the philosophical, perhaps religious, ideas of both Berkeley and Baker seem identical. Both rest on immaterialism, no material exists. Like Locke, they preach epistemology, ideas and their conception in experience. Another similar belief boasts that without the mind ideas cannot exist. Mary Baker Eddy claims divine inspiration for her interpretation of the Holy Bible. But are her “inspirations” derivatives of Berkeley philosophy, or the misconception of? My goal is not to disprove Christian Science as presented by Mary, yet as a Protestant Christian I will expound on a few comparisons. My primary purpose will be to briefly define several views of Berkeley, and then do an extensive study on Mary’s teaching. Christian Science is not only a fraud, but also an inspiration from Berkeley rather than God, a distorted view (for clarification).
After reading some works composed by philosophers of this “new science” era in the 1600’s a feeling of depression may set in. Descartes begins by questioning existence of anything, including himself. Skipping ahead, Hume denies laws of nature and “cause and effect” relationships – so predictions are out the window. George Berkeley arises in the early 1700’s and declares that no material exists. You may say that this page, or this “word,” exists, right now as a matter of fact. Berkeley says, “You are wrong if you assume that a thing exists independently of our perception” (Melchert 397). Our introductory quote embodies this idea. Once you put down this paper, how do you know that it still exists, since you do no longer perceive it? Without perception, or mind, ideas are not existent. The summation of this argument suggests that if the “external” does in fact exist, we cannot understand this (by our senses). Since matter is not known, by the senses, there is no matter.
This conclusion appears to be a basis for Mary Baker Eddy and her “revelation” of Christian Science. She defines God as Spirit. “Spirit is divine Principle, which is Love, and Love is Mind, and Mind is not both good and bad, for God is Mind, therefore there is in one reality one mind only, because there is one God (Steiger, 31). “God is the only principle for existence” (32). God is Mind. “All experiences take place in the Mind, which is non-material” (38). This stems out of Locke, Berkeley, and others on the basis of perception. In a way this refutes Aristotle and others on the Unmoved Mover arguments. Remember that material does not exist. So if there is a God, how can he be a first cause, or mover, when there was no material caused or moved? “Man is not matter…but a likeness of spirit, God (Genesis 1 – man is created in the image of God) and cannot be unlike spirit” (Steiger 43, Baker 475). “Man is idea and a reflection of God, Mind, and is eternal.” God is Good, and man is a reflection of God. So “man is incapable of sin, sickness, and death. The real man cannot depart from holiness, God. Mortals are counterfeit” (Steiger 44, Baker 475).
Here we find Mary expounding on her definition of man, who is not a material substance. She practically steps outside of the realm of philosophy because “philosophy is restricted to conceptual thinking and the metaphysical transcends its capabilities” Steiger, 51). From here on out Mary begins to deviate from Berkeley in many ways. I will lay out numerous beliefs of Christian Science and will later clarify their exact differences with that of our philosopher of comparison.
“A cult is a religious perversion” (Beck, 7). Christian Science is just that, an “organized heresy” (7). To begin, “material principle (if you will) of a church is the central thought of its theological system. For the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod this principle is the Bible and doctrine of justification of grace through faith for Christ’s sake. Mary Baker claims the Bible as her sole source, but the understanding of it is only possible through her Science and Health and Key to the Scriptures” (How To Respond, 1st edition). Her book denies many truths to mainstream Christianity: she teaches salvation by works, no virgin birth of Jesus, in reality there was not crucifixion or resurrection, and much more.
Let us take a glance at Mary’s history and credibility. Her entire life was plagued by illness: paralysis, hysteria, poor eyesight, and sever gum problems – for which she later got dentures. She claims a high education while any of her biographers deny it. Mary declares she received lessons in philosophy, logic, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Yet she has no proof and documentation of her schooling. All of the knowledge vanished like a dream at the reception of Christian Science (How to Respond). Besides physical problems she had marital problems. At the age of 22 (1843) she was involved in spiritualism and conducted seances. Then in 1862 she met P.P. Quimby who claimed to have found Christ’s healing power. This power healed her and should be noted as the beginning of her Christian Science. She does deny any influence of Quimby’s thoughts and writings on her new science (How to Respond).
So Mary Baker’s art of healing began, which she taught at her Metaphysical College. In 1875 she produced Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. This is the primary basis for all of Christian Science, our focus. For Mary there are two possibilities: Mind or Matter. Both cannot exist. Since “matter (sin & sickness) is contrary to God, there is no material truth” (Eddy, 273). She also puts a new twist on perception, which yields existence. “The five senses are misdirected, manifested beliefs of the mortal mind, and do not affirm the spiritual” (274). So to Mary nothing exists, even that which is perceived. The mortal mind perceives, and the mortal mind “is that which sins, suffers, and dies“ (Steiger, 63). So what is the point of faith, seeing as nothing really exists? “The Christian Science practitioner must be conscience of the metaphysical fact (29). ‘God is All. Mind is All. God is Mind.’ “Mind is an all-power, and assigns sure rewards to the righteous. Mind shows that matter can neither heal nor make sick, create nor destroy” (Eddy, 203). “Through repentance one puts off material beliefs” (242). Since matter does not exist, sin, sickness, death, you, and I do not exist. Christian Science aims to relinquish the idea of anything material, physical, that which is matter. “At the pinnacle of God’s creation is the true, spiritual man. We are God’s image and (since God is perfect) we never need to gain perfection” (Monitor, 17). But if we, created in God’s image, are also perfect, why do we get sick? “These make up an illusive, mortal concept of existence. Imperfect concepts of life are invalid. They fade from our lives in proportion as we recognize our spiritual identity” (18). The feeling of pain therefore is really a sin. Pain, tiredness, and eagerness are all desires and/or sufferings and creations of the mortal mind, which does not exist, thus they are sins. Repentance absolves these sins, which are mortal beliefs. As an individual realizes that the pain in his/her broken arm is not real (neither is his/her arm) then comes the experience of relief. “All things will continue to disappear, until perfection appears and reality is reached. Disease, immorality, unhappiness, lack, are all among those illusive elements that will continue to disappear, until the spiritual, true concept of ourselves – the joyous, immortal, complete individuality we each have as a reflection of God – is universally gained and lived” (Monitor, 18).
Since matter does not exist, and the belief in it is sin, how does Jesus – the Son of God – fit into the picture? To begin, Mary classifies Jesus as “the most scientific man that ever trod the globe” (Eddy, 313). “He plunged beneath the material surface of things and found the spiritual cause.” Jesus therefore “demonstrated Life, never fearing nor obeying it” (244). The role of God’s Son was merely as a great teacher, or demonstrator. He commands everyone to follow his example and “Be perfect, just as your father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). So really forgiveness is received by our own doing, through our own understanding of Life and Mind. Now wait, is this correct? What does Christian Science say about the Christian view of the crucifixion and its meaning for our lives? “Salvation is through reform, not pardon” (Eddy, 285). “The Lamb was slain according to the corporeal senses, but undying in the deific Mind (334). The material blood of Jesus was not efficient, or useful, to cleanse from sin (25). One sacrifice, however great, is insufficient to pay the debt of sin” (22). Atonement and forgiveness is not received through Jesus’ death on the cross. “Atonement is the exemplification of man’s unity with God, whereby man reflects divine Truth, Life, and Love” (18).
Now we have discovered that the foundation of Christianity has been perverted. Christ Jesus did not really die for us. His sacrifice does not ensure forgiveness. And his resurrection does not even assure us eternal life with God. Of course matter does not exist, so Jesus could not have died and risen again. His death was merely “refuge from his foes…to set the seal of eternity on time. He proved Life to be deathless (44). Resurrection from the dead (that is, from the belief in death) also exemplified Life. Eternal life is God, Life is God, and man may live the divine Life in God” (Eddy, 49). The whole foundation of Christianity is being undermined. Basically, works righteousness is occurring. Jesus’ death does not bring about forgiveness. Our own realization of error and conscious effort, with God, to put off material beliefs provides forgiveness, and eventually infinity as God, the one and only God. “We aren’t to worry about what we’ll eat or where we’ll sleep (Mathew 6:25-34). If we fail to see our connection with God all we are doing is setting up a counterfeit existence apart from him, a mortal existence. Jesus knows our needs and will supply them. God is to be the top priority. To repent, literally, is to rethink, change thought, change one’s mind” (Monitor, 9). The article continues, “Christian Science shows that the material universe is a counterfeit of the real universe, which is created by God, wholly spiritual. Jesus discredited the notion that God’s kingdom is a place we wait to go after death. It is a divine stated of consciousness that can be found in the here and now, in proportion to our understanding of who God is and how He made us.”
Matter does not exist, so Jesus did not die. Even so, his death means nothing for us spiritually. Yet Christian Scientists partake in the Lord’s Supper. But what good is this sacrament? Jesus death did not bring forgiveness, and the bread and wine is not real. “Jesus aided in our reconciliation to God by giving a truer sense of Love (Eddy, 19). The efficacy of the crucifixion lay in the practical affection and goodness it demonstrated for mankind. The material blood of Jesus was not effective. His true flesh and blood were his Life (25). The Lord’s Supper closed forever Jesus’ concession to matter…have you shared in the blood of the New Covenant, the persecutions which attend a new and higher understanding of God” (Eddy, 33)? Communion for them is really a reminder of the perfect Life of Jesus and an aid reminding us to focus on Mind.
Mary Baker Eddy took one concept; matter does not exist, and thus changed the whole concept behind Christianity. God is the only principle of existence. God is Mind and All. Thus the devil does not exist because he is a lie and error - as is death, pain, and even Adam” (Steiger 32, Eddy 579)! “Christ is the idea of sonship” (34). “Evil is not reality, only a belief, an illusion of the material sense” (Eddy, 71). Christ does not forgive; he only demonstrates how to reach that complete state of Mind. “An improved belief is one step out of error…still believing one to be partly physical, they experience the healing, better business, more attractiveness in physical looks” (Steiger, 68).
Now that confusion is in the air, another stepping stone may be: How can someone learn about Christian Science since he/she would be learning with the physical, mortal mind? Yes, it is true that “conceptual thought is used by the Christian Scientist student for the comprehension of metaphysics” (Steiger, 72). Whereas “philosophy has made God manlike, Christian Science makes man Godlike. Metaphysics is above physics, so no matter relies on the divine Mind. The believer exchanges objects of sense for ideas of Soul” (Eddy, 269). So yes the student uses conceptual thought, his mortal mind, to comprehend his/her religion. But even though we may infer that realization of man’s true state can only occur with a mortal mind, the study relies not on philosophy but metaphysics and transcendence (which Immanuel Kant denies), which is above physics and thus matter (Melchert, 450).
Before we embark onto the connections between Mary and Berkeley, let us answer one other question. Is Christian Science a replica of eastern religion or thought? For the most part a connection does exist between the two (New Age has its roots in Hinduism and the like as well). Hinduism and the caste system contain the idea of immaterialism. One desires to do good and eventually reaches the highest, the Brahman, caste and is thus “with the gods.” “Brahman has a moral code, admonishing (urging) desirable qualities, to free individual from material existence. A Hindu does good to alleviate hardships and create a better life” (Steiger, 124ff.). Perhaps the difference is the emphasis on works. The collect amount of good works in Hinduism is what determines your location in the caste system. For Christian Science the main factor, or emphasis, is not as much on works as it is on the Mind and putting away the idea of the mortal mind. In addition, a Christian Scientist does not have the need of numerous reincarnations before reaching his true identity as divine Spirit, Truth, Love, Mind, etc. In conclusion, many of the practices are similar. Works are emphasized in both religions, cults. There is a slight difference however on how one advances to the state of “Brahman.”
What is the connection, or deviation, between Christian Science, and Berkeley’s view on immaterialism? Could Mary Baker Eddy even have derived her beliefs from this philosopher? Facts suggest that she really was not educated in philosophy as she claims. But Berkeley and his contemporaries were in existence not long before Mary came about. At the beginning we summarized that Berkeley has dismissed the idea that matter exists. Even so, he will argue that “things exist independently of our perceiving they do” (Melchert, 393). “To be is to be perceived (by the senses).” Anything we perceive is a sensation. On the other hand nothing can exist unperceived. “You may say that you do perceive a table by means of your senses. But what you see is a thing, not a perception” (397). While we argue that a car is a car, once a car always a car. Does Berkeley declare that once everyone takes his or her eyes off the car, it may not exist? So if the car is not perceived, when we open our eyes, does the car jump back into existence? Even though we cannot perceive the matter, Berkeley would say that the car still exists. “It continues to exist in the hypothetical sense that if I were to open my eyes, then I would perceive it – also in the absolute sense that it is all the while being perceived by God” (Melchert, 401).
This puts an interesting twist on things. Yes Mary Baker Eddy derived some of her beliefs from Quimby and his “healing art,” and perhaps a few other philosophers. But if she did expound on Berkeley’s beliefs, she was a little mistaken. Mary first bases her immaterialism on the connection between the senses and the mind. “When a nerve is gone, (as if a finger had been amputated) which we say was the occasion of pain, and the pain still remains, it proves sensation to be in the mortal mind, not in matter. Take away mind and nerves have no sensation” (Eddy 212). For Berkeley, even though an object may not have matter, it still exists and is perceived (at least by God). For Mary, objects not only do not have matter, but cannot be perceived because sensation and perception is a product of the mortal mind, which does not exist. Here inlays the biggest difference and deviation between the religion of Mary Baker Eddy and Berkeley’s philosophy.
How credible is Mary Baker Eddy? She does not base her beliefs on science and philosophy, although that is what the title of her book suggests. Metaphysics is the form of study, which is above matter. “Her hypothesis runs counter to all the observable data available to science, it offers no verifiable proof for its validity” (How to Respond). By means of an axiom she proclaims “God is All. Mind is All. God is Mind” (Eddy 532). This looks acceptable, yet is easily deceptive. For instance, I could say, “All Americans are human. All Communists are human. All Americans are Communists” (How to Respond). Christian Science has similarities with numerous other religions: Hinduism, Unity, and Scientology. Another interesting point is to how Christian Science would have been received by the early church apostles. In their day Gnosticism and Docetism were the cults to combat, and they have similarities with Mary’s ideas as well. A belief that walked over the supposed death of Jesus and pronounced his body unreal, a hologram, and found no meaning in His crucifixion or resurrection would have been attacked with much pleasure.
Mary Baker Eddy may have some similarities with Berkeley on the subject of matter and substance. Yet important differences are present as well. From a Christian standpoint one should note where she locates the basis for her belief (it’s not the Bible). Everything is based off of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Also, if works are the way to heaven, because of their production of honesty, hope, compassion, love, etc., how can that stand against Ephesians 2:8-9. This passage states that we are not saved by works but through faith in Christ. Also, we must question her belief on the life and work of Jesus Christ. Scripture does insist that Jesus died for all of mankind (How to Respond). Perhaps for her life the belief made sense. Disease and illness plagued her, and by chance a healing by Quimby was performed and “worked” as she was recovering. The influence of other religions and philosophies were too strong of an influence. Or perhaps she took the L. Ron Hubbard approach, “If you want to be a millionaire, start your own religion.” At any rate, Mary’s ideas are contrary to the philosophical ideas of the day, and especially that of main stream Christianity.
Beck, Hubert F. How To Respond: The Cults. St. Louis: CPH, 1995.
---. Christian Science Monitor: “God Isn’t a Perfectionist.” 3/18/98, Vol. 90 Issue 77 page 17.
---. Christian Science Monitor: “Don’t Postpone Living.” 3/23/98, Vol. 90 Issue 80, page 9.
Eddy, Mary Baker. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Boston: Trustees Under the Will of Mary Baker G. Eddy, 1890.
---. How to Respond: “The Church of Christ, Scientist.” St. Louis: CPH, 1st edition.
Melchert, Norman. The Great Conversation: Volume II. London: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1999.HOME