Are the views on religious authority changing? You bet, and like so many changes in the history of religion, that change is coming from the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid. As a student of Christian Science, I understand those at the top of the Christian Scientists hierarchy don’t like the idea of saying the Church’s views are changing because it implies their views were wrong in the past. But, in truth, the institutional church is always changing. No question, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, has changed dramatically over the last 125 years.
Admittedly, religious institutions need leadership, but when leaders stop following the followers attitude, a religious authorization sets in, and eventually becomes a big turn off to society. For example, hierarchy, installed by, and for, The Church of Christ, Scientist, clearly cares about promoting precise descriptions of orthodox institutional religious doctrines and guidelines. But that doesn’t mean their work or words have any more authority in Christian Science than the rest of us who work and write from the pews at the back of church, or from unauthorized places—homes, schools, other denominational services, acupuncturists, social services and doctor’s offices, or school campuses—where religion employs major power.
The main book used for Christian Science study, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, was revised (changed) hundreds of times by its author, Mary Baker Eddy during her 19th century life. However, words written by Mary Baker Eddy have been authorized. Which means what? Certainly, this declaration didn’t give Eddy’s words, or give Science and Health, more authority or power, but it did seem to allow human radicalism to sprout and grow into a vigorous defiance against any change that resembles something less than idolization of words. Inevitably, and with the ally of change, this human element is being bucked.
As someone who has been writing about Christian Science for 20 years, and who revised Science and Health at the turn of the 21st century, I stand by my observation that views on religious authorization are changing and adapting to the authority of the whole, not a few—to the authority of God, not human beings. The revision of Science and Health illustrates transition, not in the doctrine of Christian Science, but in the stance of those who profess Christian Science. Curiously, a tiny sign of this transitioning view of authority within the Church was recently given by Louis Benjamin, from South Africa, who was allowed to post online at ChristianScience.com his article titled, The Branch Church Constitution. In reference to his local branch church, Benjamin posited a pregnant question in this statement, “We felt we should continually be looking at our constitution and bylaws to reduce the human element. We should continually be ‘keeping abreast of the times’ (Church Manual, p. 44). How many times did Mrs. Eddy revise Science and Health? If we accept that she is our Leader, maybe we should be following her example.” Leaders are stronger when they follow—not a localized mindset that believes in religious authorization—but follow a globalized empathy, wisdom, and honesty.
For almost one hundred years after Eddy’s death in circa 1910, the path taken to revise Science and Health was neglected and had become overgrown with prickly thick masses of misinterpretations, busy work, fear, piousness, and diminishing returns. Ten years ago, in order to produce 21st Century Science and Health, I began hacking through the revisionist path set by Eddy. Current day Church leaders attempted to convince me to stop and take on the mindset which is woefully convinced dogma can be authorized, or that an expression of Christian Science can be restricted to a select few. I listened briefly before turning away and resuming the revision work—leaving behind the spite and apathy aimed toward a revision.
Coincidently, to a select few, my book, 21st Century Science and Health comes across as a surgeon’s knife slicing through the dense growth of claims that a revision changes Eddy’s words, or that the revisionists words are not Christian Science, or that the revision is plagiarism. If the growth is not removed, the ridiculous claims will be repeated until they self-destruct. However, if the growth is removed, the claimants will one day follow the revisionist’s path, either thinking they are leading, or actually pitching in and helping as a whole. But, most people, even if they’ve been turned off by religion in the past, are bucking the old concept of religious authorization and successfully pursing a spiritual path. Here is an email I received recently:
I got the kindle version of 21st Century Science and Health. I appreciate your work and your path. I am an acupuncture doctor. I have always been acutely aware of Mary Baker Eddy’s work. Until I ran across your work, though, I didn’t think a bridge could exist between my path, Eddy’s path, and especially the path of the institution currently designated as Church of Christ, Scientist. The fact that you recognize that doctors are often on a spiritual path (and NOT just evil mesmerists) is of immense importance!!
Your work is a breath of fresh air. Many thanks.
History has shown that people at the bottom of the ladder are capable of experiencing astounding spiritual and religious progress. Therefore, we can firmly set ourselves on a spiritual path that beats back the nonsense of selective religious authority. Our authority to experience Life, Truth, and Love, is the reflection of God’s authority and it allows us, as a whole, to approve the positive dynamics of religion, without disapproving other religions or science.