Christian Science and the Worth of Man
David W. Rennie, C.S.B., of
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
"Does the individual have transcendent worth regardless of his family, his theological beliefs, or whatever?" This issue, says David W. Rennie, a Christian Science lecturer, is more than a query about religious belief; it's a question that affects the welfare of all mankind. Mr. Rennie examines those attitudes in modern thought that would make someone feel unworthy. The lecturer points out that "worth isn't gained through an egalitarian leveling downward of all men to a common denominator of mediocrity. Worth is gained by lifting all men up, lifting each one up to true self-expression as God's son."
lectured Monday in The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in
The lecturer has been in the
full-time healing ministry of Christian Science since 1953, when he left a
position as an electronics engineer. He is a teacher of Christian Science and
has served as Committee on Publication for
Mrs. Lorraine Bole, a local member of The Mother Church, introduced him.
An abridged text of the lecture follows:
What does actually constitute the worth of man? It's a question that has fascinated - often troubled - mankind through the ages. And doesn't the human heart often cry out, "I want my life to mean something - to be worth something! I'd like what I do to make a difference!''
Down through the centuries theology has had a good deal to say about man in relationship to God. But theology hasn't generally emphasized man's worthiness before God, but his unworthiness!
Perhaps it's because man's unworthiness has been traditionally affirmed that men have often looked away from God, away from Spirit, for confirmation of worth. And where, but to Spirit's opposite, matter and the material senses.
History gives us a grand assortment of ways to be thought worthy, with complete indifference to theology. Fame, title, wealth, have been used to measure a man's worth. As has the lack of wealth - asceticism - even begging. The list is endless.
But all such measurements still leave the basic question untouched: Does the individual have transcendent worth regardless of his family, his theological beliefs, or whatever? I believe he does! But how do we recognize that worth?
History records many times when what we'd like to think is worthy isn't recognized at all. For example, the Bible records a scene where a man with a withered hand was healed instantaneously by Christ Jesus. Would you be happy about that healing if you witnessed it? The easy answer for us today is yes. Of course! But what about the crowd that actually did witness it? Do you think they were filled with gratitude? Well, according to Luke the answer is no! "They were filled with madness" (Luke ).
Jesus or Barabbas?
We naturally feel, knowing what we know today, that we wouldn't have reacted with madness if we had been there. But would we? Let's say that today is 2,000 years ago, and you're at Jesus' trial. You're standing in the mob milling about outside the Judgment Hall. The Roman governor has just offered you the option of freeing either Jesus or a man named Barabbas. You and everyone else in the crowd know that Barabbas is a murderer and thief. If you choose to free Barabbas, Jesus will be executed - and vice versa. Let's say the man standing next to you asks you, "Whom do you want to live? 'That fellow,' Jesus, or Barabbas?" How would you answer him?
You may not like the thought of choosing the life of one man over the other. But it's a belligerent, hostile crowd, and let's say they gang up on you and force you to answer. Would you say, "Well, in my opinion Jesus is living the more worthy life"?
Why? What basis would you have for choosing Jesus? Remember, you're there on the scene 2,000 years ago. No New Testament has yet been written.
We need also to remember that much more than a belligerent crowd was there to influence your decision one way or the other. On the one hand, you might have witnessed the healing of the withered hand, and perhaps other healings. That should be a plus for Jesus. To tell the truth is a measure of worth, and you remember that once Jesus had been constrained to say, "Now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God" (John ).
Worth seen as spiritual
On the other hand, what if Jesus were teaching ideas that denied your sense of God and religion? What if his teachings were contrary to your sense of pleasure and self-fulfillment? The high priests would be telling you Jesus was a false Messiah, that the truth he claimed to speak wasn't true at all, that he healed through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils, that he was a friend of sinners.
Yet to you, healing ability, honesty, concern for others, love, living a life through which others find holiness and godliness, could well indicate something of real worth. Those qualities were in Jesus for all to see. They were never plainer in any man. Yet the crowd chose Barabbas! People who might have felt in their hearts, "I want more meaning in my life," condemned Jesus and chose to free a common criminal.
Would you, as one person in the crowd, have recognized Jesus' worth? In recalling the trial scene in a "you-are-there" fashion, we can see how easily people can be misled in their recognition of the worth in others. And if in others, how about in ourselves?
Worth apparently isn't something naturally recognized by unenlightened human thought. To crucify Jesus and free the criminal Barabbas hints that the recognition of what is worthy isn't learned through a personal, material sense of things. In fact, a better way to determine worth may be through just the opposite approach - discovering it, learning about it, spiritually.
Hearing the message of the Christ
This is the approach of Christian Science. Christian Science insists, with reason and proof based on divine revelation, that, yes, there is within the consciousness of each and every human being something of the most profound worth. It is a spiritual, holy influence. In fact, we're feeling the presence of that influence whenever our hearts cry out for more meaning in our lives, cry out for justice and against cruelty, whenever we feel man should be free and lack nothing good in his life.
But let's examine that influence a little more closely. Is one human being worthy to be called the source of that justice arising in your heart? The answer is obviously no. Neither do ideas come fizzing up out of a laboratory test tube! Neither matter nor individual human consciousness is the creator of ideas. When justice arises in our hearts, we're hearing nothing we've created of ourselves. We're hearing (however faintly, however much we may need to understand it) that which Jesus said he heard but which he exemplified in the fullness of its majesty, its reality, its power to heal. We're hearing the message of the Christ.
"Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, states it this way: "Christ is the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness" (p. 332). When our hearts cry out against evil and inhumanity, we're hearing, by that much, the divine message from God - from real Mind, the source of all justice, of all qualities and ideas - speaking to your consciousness and mine.
And there is infinitely more to hear in that message than the hint of justice. For, as we learn in Christian Science, the Christ is God's self-revealing power, showing the human consciousness the nature of God's love and the character of what God is and does. And there's Christ's Christianity to hear, which destroys injustice by bringing radical change and rebirth to the human being. There's Christ's humility, which subordinates man to his Maker - and to nothing else in heaven or earth. There's Christ's constancy to hear, that enduring affection which won't stop loving and caring. There's Christ's righteousness, which, when we hear it, purifies our hearts and we see God. There's every quality from God that makes up pure and true consciousness in the complete image of God, to hear in that message. In the words of Science and Health: "Christ presents the indestructible man, whom Spirit creates, constitutes, and governs" (p. 316).
The degree to which you now recognize the Christ is the degree to which you are now conscious of man, of your true selfhood in its pure spirituality, complete in its every quality outpouring from God. Our hearts may cry out for more meaning in our lives, but only the Christ evolves an ever-expanding spiritual sense of development and achievement witnessing to the completeness of God and man.
But if we're choosing the man Barabbas over Jesus, something other than that holy message is at work in our thought.
Godís nature the nature of reality
Of course, we're not talking about actually choosing one individual over another. Barabbas is rather an example - a symbol of criminal mentality, of human will, greed, malice - a symbol of all that is in opposition to what the Christ-idea reveals about man as represented by Jesus.
We asked ourselves a little while ago, Would we have recognized Jesus' worth as he stood before us at his trial? The answer would plainly be yes, if . . . if we saw in Jesus, the Christ showing forth Godís nature - the nature of reality. Yes, if we knew that in healing the withered hand, the Christ-power was destroying nothing real but was casting out a deception of evil mind, casting it out through an understanding of manís spiritual completeness.
But if we are not hearing the Christ-idea in its spiritual significance, if we're thinking of ourselves as physical, with mind and life in matter separate from Spirit, then we'll have ears to hear, but they'll hear no truth; eyes to see, but they'll have no insight into the worthiness that animated and empowered Jesus.
The vital question for us is, How do we develop ears that hear and eyes that rightly evaluate such goodness?
The answer starts with a hungry heart longing to be good and true. Things other than what the Christ calls good have to stop seeming desirable.
If that which opposes Christ - if worldliness, dishonesty, etc. - now satisfies us, we are but satisfied with the Barabbases of deceptive belief. And that satisfaction will first have to be broken before thought awakens to perceive the genuinely worthy in man. Science and Health puts it this way: "Mortal belief must lose all satisfaction in error and sin in order to part with them" (p. 296). And: "If at present satisfied with wrong-doing, we must learn to loathe it. If at present content with idleness, we must become dissatisfied with it" (p. 240).
Dependence on drugs healed
Never let dissatisfaction with evil discourage you. That dissatisfaction can lead to holy power - power to unstop those ears not hearing truth. We can learn, as the prodigal son in Jesusí parable had to learn (see Luke -24), to become dissatisfied with all that's unworthy to be called God's man.
To explain it further, let me tell you about a young woman who became dissatisfied with sin, and how that dissatisfaction helped open her eyes and impel her to gain a more worthy sense of herself.
Her home was deeply unhappy, her father alcoholic and often unemployed. At the age of 14 she was on drugs, selling them to keep herself supplied. After high school she married a young man who was also on drugs. But she soon discovered he was bisexual. He beat her repeatedly. To support his addiction to heroin, he started stealing.
She developed ulcers and became so dissatisfied with life that she tried to blot out everything with amphetamines in the morning and alcohol in the evening - even mixing the two, hoping that, in her words, "maybe it'd kill me and I wouldn't know."
Yet, through it all, she felt that there must be a God. She read extensively in all kinds of religions, bouncing from one system of beliefs to another. The more she searched, the more confused and desperate she became. But her desire to do what is right was greatly intensifying - as was her agony, because she was becoming keenly aware that she didn't know what right was. Desire to do right is prayer. That's a fundamental point in Christian Science. And with that desire, coupled with a heart growing sick of sin, she was actually taking her first steps toward developing eyes that recognize true worth.
She had a job as a waitress. At the restaurant, a co-worker had greatly impressed her with her honesty, her thoughtfulness and kindness. The friend was a Christian Scientist, and occasionally they talked about it.
One day, when everything seemed especially upside down, she cried out to her young friend, "All I want to do is know right from wrong. I know that if I only knew how to pray, I'd be OK. Can you tell me how to pray?" Her friend introduced her to a Christian Science practitioner.
Reformation the test of sincerity
The practitioner agreed to help her through Christian Science treatment and gave her a copy of Science and Health, suggesting she study the chapter entitled "Prayer." And bringing to her study an intense yearning to know right from wrong, plus willingness to change from wrong to right, she found herself responding deeply to such statements as this: "The habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer. Its motives are made manifest in the blessings they bring, - blessings which, even if not acknowledged in audible words, attest our worthiness to be partakers of Love" (p. 4). And: "Sorrow for wrong-doing is but one step towards reform and the very easiest step. The next and great step required by wisdom is the test of our sincerity, - namely, reformation" (p. 5).
She never again touched drugs. Nor were there withdrawal pains. Such pains had prevented her from quitting drugs earlier. The ulcers were healed instantly. She went back to school. Her life turned around naturally. She joined a Christian Science branch church. Today she's remarried and has a fine job.
But it isn't a question of one big awakening and worthiness is effortless forever after. Worth has illimitable depth in Christ. And conscious experience takes on Christian worthiness in proportion as thought is spiritually reborn. And her healing was only the beginning. It started her down the road to progressive spiritualization and Christianization of her thought and life - which lead to enlarging abilities, which lead to heightening usefulness and service to mankind, which lead to the glory and dominion of true manhood as God's son, exemplified fully in Christ Jesus' sacred example.
Do you remember Jesus' words, "He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me"? (Matt. 10:38). Dissatisfaction with sin was an important element in impelling this young woman to take the cross, to assume responsibility to face evil in her thought and cast it out. And, recognizing and following the Christ-idea voicing good to her consciousness, she found something of her worth.
Each of us is precious
This young woman had found the crucial point for all of us. Each and every one of us has equal worth spiritually. Not in a personal human sense of righteousness. But in a spiritual sense, each of us is equally precious in God's sight. That's why justice and love arise in our hearts. Because each of us, each in his own way, images forth the infinitely diverse qualities and individuality outpouring from real Mind, the one God. And that means equal potential as a child of God to do His will. Never divorce your sense of worth from what you do. The act of loving another as yourself, the act of maintaining purity and integrity in the midst of immorality in business, in government, or even in your own home, show forth your manhood in the doing of God's will. And when you do come to know yourself in the doing of His will, you won't want to be anyone else. You won't apologize to yourself or others for being the individual you are. And you'll appreciate the worth in others, with envy precluded. But the Christ needs vastly increased recognition and expression in you and me.
As this young woman learned, worth isn't gained through an egalitarian leveling downward of all men to a common denominator of mediocrity. Worth is gained by lifting all men up, lifting each one up to true self-expression as God's son. It is worthiness to which each and every individual has been called - and which will ennoble him and empower him to the extent he perceives and obeys Christ, Truth.
The "lifting up" in that young woman's life came about in discerning something of the saving Christ by studying the Bible and Mrs. Eddy's writings, especially Science and Health. Mrs. Eddy herself was a spiritual thinker of the highest order, prayerfully searching out her path with the Bible, and especially Jesus' teaching and example, to guide her.
She saw the scientific challenge to materiality made by Jesus' lifework - that Jesus was introducing a spiritual conception of life and conduct which exposed the worthlessness and futility of a material and personal sense of life.
Putting down the carnal mind
For example, Jesus said, "Without me [that is, without Christ] ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). In those words, wasn't Jesus showing mankind that justice, that every quality and attribute of being or existence, is of Spirit, God; that man does not function separately from God but as God's expression or idea of Himself?
"Without me ye can do nothing" constitutes an expose of the carnal element in human consciousness, which denies Truth and says, "Malarkey! Without Christ I can do anything I want to do."
Now, let's go back to that scene in which the crowd demanded Barabbas's freedom. Isn't that the way the crowd must have felt when they shouted for Jesus' crucifixion, that they could do anything they wanted without Christ? Now we're beginning to understand what was going on in that crowd. They were caught up in the very material mindedness that claims there is truth besides God and His Christ - that claims to love but hates the spirituality animating Jesus, that claims to cherish but would kill the highest exponent of Life.
An aspect of Mrs. Eddy's unique worth to mankind is seen in her uncovering of this criminal mentality. She called it mortal mind. It's the mentality of which Barabbas is a symbol. And her writings, together with the Bible, enable the hallowing of human consciousness by spelling out the Christianly scientific know-how of recognizing the carnal mentality for what it is, a lie and liar, "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44), and dealing with it to its destruction.
That's what the discovery of Mary Baker Eddy enables us to do. That may sound like nothing more than my own religious belief. But when Christian Science is understood, you'll stand in awe and wonder at what she achieved. You'll see that she took Christ Jesus out of the realm of dogma and mysticism and restored him to his rightful place as Exemplar - that is, example or Way-shower. In other words, Jesus did his God-appointed job. He showed us the way of Truth and Love. Now we've got our own job to do - our own spiritual selfhood to realize - through practicing Christ's Christianity - in love destroying hatred, in spirituality destroying materiality.
Our salvation is safe
But Jesus warned his followers that materiality would not take kindly to its destruction, that there would be war between flesh and Spirit and great resistance to Christ-demanded repentance and rebirth.
For that matter, the crucifixion was the supreme effort of mortal mind to be rid of Jesus. It was the supreme challenge that material mind not only wasn't going to repent, but could defeat the Christ-power.
But Jesus' resurrection proves Christ to be an all-powerful permanency, ever present in human consciousness to heal and save. Our salvation is safe. There's always a way to find healing, to prove the indestructibility and harmony of man in God's likeness.
Now what have we said here this evening to this point? We've zeroed in on the Christian promise that each of us has transcendent worth based on his spiritual sonship with God as recognized in Christ. We've seen how men have placed worth on a material, that is, a false, basis, and so were neither worthy nor ready to recognize their Saviour showing them that sonship, their true worth. But to know conscious worth, we must first become dissatisfied with material sense and sin, as did the young woman mentioned earlier.
It takes the loathing of wrong-doing to make thought ready for the next step, which is right-doing - the prayerful subordination of our thought and lives to God in Jesus' way. We're going to need a conscious, dedicated effort not to impute righteousness to ourselves but to demonstrate Christ as true manhood. The way is there, made so plain by Christ Jesus that we have no excuse for not following it.
Let's go back again 2,000 years to Jesus' trial. The crowd was manipulated by the mortally minded deception that there is truth besides God and His Christ. But what about today? Don't we face the same choices that confronted those individuals who freed Barabbas and condemned Jesus? For example, how about the general feeling of unworthiness - those feelings that say, "What I do can make no real difference anyway"? Is that feeling the result of manipulation, or is it the result of true manhood recognized?
And how about the assertion that we can generate more meaning in our lives only through self-seeking? How about helpless submission to the domination of human will?
Let's briefly consider how these attitudes, so widespread in modern thought, would make the choice of Barabbas seem perfectly natural.
First, let's consider the quest for self-fulfillment. What we really need is true self-expression - the realization that Christ-revealed manhood is our true manhood. And to that end the Christ-idea voices the power of unselfed love and inspires the human consciousness to seek its own in another's good.
Jesus said, "I am among you as he that serveth" (Luke ). He didn't say, "I am among you as an unfulfilled person seeking fulfillment in my relationship with you; and if you don't give me self gratification, then I'm leaving!" But isn't that attitude manipulating many of our relationships today? For instance, how about marriage? Today many are asking themselves, "Am I finding fulfillment in my marriage?" Now one's marriage is basically the outward evidence of one's inward concept of marriage. If our concept is that man is an unfulfilled mind in matter, basically selfish, to be satisfied through self-interest and gratification, then we've taken the same position as those that opposed Jesus and chose Barabbas.
Unselfishness the substance of marriage
The true substance of a marriage can be stated only in terms of mutual unselfishness. To seize the opportunity to love unselfishly offered by marriage is to utilize the spiritual power inherent in its substance. Having one's own way, as predetermined by an unfulfilled, self-centered outlook, will not ensure happiness in marriage. Nor does walking away from parental responsibilities, perhaps grown dull and wearisome, liberate human life. And there are few marriages that can't be saved by unselfed love and self-discipline anchored in the Christ voicing good.
And what about the exercise of human will? Jesus said, "Not my will, but thine, be done"? (Luke 22:42). Are we not driving nails into the hands of all that's worthy when we say, "No! My will be done"? In Christian Science, human will is but another term for the belief of intelligent matter opposed to Spirit, God.
Man always fulfills God's will. Man represents Spirit, not the flesh, in what he is and does. God's will can never be killed by a rebelling mortal. It can only be done. And it remains unfinished business, the very necessity of existence, until it is done.
Let's go back, not to Jesus' trial
this time, but to
Would you know your real worth, what you - one individual - can really achieve? Then seek to do nothing without Christ, the true idea voicing good to your consciousness. Put behind your every hope of achievement and meaning in life the prayer, "Thy will be done." To recognize God as the source of your being will bring out into conscious expression all that is worthy in you and me.
And there we'll be, not in the crowd rejecting the true idea, but shouting with Paul: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13) - able to do all things through Christ's Christianity, Christ's humility and constancy, Christ's righteousness opening our eyes to the understanding of what we really are as the man of God's creating, complete in his sonship with God. What meaning for your life and mine! Mrs. Eddy sums it up in one sentence: ". . . conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can" ("Message to The Mother Church for 1902," p. 17).
[Published in The Christian Science Monitor, May 11, 1982.]