Christian Science: Its Triumph Over Atheism and Idolatry
Robert S. Van Atta, C.S., of
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
The free world can triumph over
aggressive atheism by living the teachings of Christ Jesus more honestly,
Robert S. Van Atta of
He said that the questions facing modern thinkers demand answers which go far beyond the confines of human wisdom, that the spiritual understanding of God, and man's relation to Him – put into daily practice – is "the world's hope for freedom from uncertainty, terror and ignorance." The impact of such understanding on world thinking should never be underestimated, he added.
Currently on an extended tour as a
member of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship, Mr. Van Atta spoke under
the auspices of First Church of Christ, Scientist in their Church edifice at
Spring Lane and
The lecturer spoke substantially as follows:
The broadcast powers of evil, so conspicuous today, are challenging the forces of Christianity in a bid for final supremacy. We live in the midst of a mighty revolution. The complacency of the nineteenth century has been succeeded by the turmoil of the twentieth. Long-established values in morals and ethics have been discarded; widely accepted religious beliefs have been abandoned; physical science and medicine are being revolutionized; government, business, and matrimony are dragging their anchors.
These great changes are felt all
over the world; they affect the life of every individual. There are none so
lowly as to escape, none so remote as not to feel the turbulence of these
times. In isolated corners of
Christ Jesus foresaw this violent upheaval in human affairs. He spoke of strife and warfare between nations, of hatred and infidelity between men; he foretold famine, pestilence, and disaster; be warned that iniquity would abound and the love of many wax cold; false prophets would arise showing great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, the very elect. But in his great wisdom and love for mankind he also pointed out the protective action his followers are to take when this deluge threatens to engulf the world: "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:28).
The fact is that the rule for protection from all danger and the remedy for every evil situation have been available to the world for many centuries through the inspired Word of the Bible, and particularly through the teaching and example of Christ Jesus. Why, then, have men not used the remedy and prevented the evils? Because the Bible teachings have not been interpreted and understood in their spiritual import. Surely so great a teacher as Jesus would not mean that we could expect protection and redemption merely by lifting up our heads literally. He must have referred to the need for lifting up our thinking to a higher spiritual and moral plane in order to understand God's power to redeem men from the famines of material sense, the pestilences of immorality, and the earth-shaking impact of revolutionary changes in human society.
"The People's Idea of God"
First of all, the need is to know
God. Human life is the expression of the human beliefs about God. Someone has
written, "The gods men worship write their names on their foreheads."
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, explains this
action of human belief throughout her writings. Many years ago she delivered a
Referring further to Mrs. Eddy's sermon, we read (The People's Idea of God, pp. 6, 7), "Periods and peoples are characterized by their highest or their lowest ideals, by their God and their devil." The present period and its peoples have been wonderfully blessed by the revelation of the true nature of Deity through the discovery of Christian Science. This teaching comes to the world as the "Comforter" promised by Christ Jesus, which will lead mankind into all truth. It reveals God as infinite Love, never hateful or revengeful; as divine Mind or intelligence, conceiving or creating all that is real and good and nothing that is evil; as perfect Principle, not a changeable person; as self-existent and self-sustaining Life, not subject to disease or death: as all-inclusive Truth, whose light dispels error; as all-pervading Spirit excluding matter as unreal; as the one infinite Soul, unconfined in space, the life-giving center of all creation as the divine Father and Mother of man and the universe, always present to guide, guard, protect, and preserve His children.
The impact of these higher ideas of God upon the minds of men has been tremendous! The spiritual and perfect ideal of God and man, revealed to human consciousness, has healed all types of disease, reformed sinners, lessened the expectation of death, and increased longevity. It has also stirred up latent beliefs in evil and brought them to the surface to be destroyed, as a muddy river bed is stirred to purify the stream. Thus we find the present age is characterized, not only by the higher idea of God, but also by more aggressive and subtle forms of evil.
One of the chief devils – or evils – at large in the world today is militant atheism, presenting itself as a philosophy or teaching suitable as a foundation for government and society, and organized to propagate itself and destroy religion. It is improbable that the propaganda of organized militant atheism has impressed itself to any great extent upon the minds of my listeners in this audience, but the very prominence which the teaching claims to occupy in world thought furnishes us a useful challenge to examine our own beliefs and conclusions and to find and eliminate from our own lives any lurking elements of atheism or its wretched relations, agnosticism and idolatry. The atheistic individual claims there is no God; the agnostic says there may be a God, but you cannot know Him for sure; the idolater entertains false concepts of God and worships falsity in the name of truth. Christian Science comes to all types of human thinking, as the Apostle Paul once went before the citizens of Athens, bearing the same God-inspired message, "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you" (Acts 17:23).
A great many people do not need to be convinced that there is a God; to others the fact of a Supreme Being is not so apparent – they wish to be shown. Such an attitude is permissible; it may even be commendable when honestly held. But how is the nonbeliever to be convinced of the reality of God? How is the doubter or skeptic to be enlightened?
Learning of God
In considering the question how mortals may learn of God, suppose we ask: "How do we learn anything? How does a practical and successful individual arrive at reliable conclusions in whatever activity he engages?" Mrs. Eddy writes in the textbook (p. 199), "The devotion of thought to an honest achievement makes the achievement possible." Successful results in business, advances in scientific discovery, improvements in government, in society, and in individual well-being, these all come about through the exercise of intelligent thought, through observation, reason, experience, revelation, and proof. May we not, then, expect to achieve right conclusions in matters of religion by the same practical process? Is not true intelligence able to penetrate the vast realm of spiritual knowledge and to reveal God's nature and man's relation to Him? Is knowledge of material things to become more and more important while at the same time we are limited to blind belief, speculation, and chance in the far more important matters of holiness, eternal salvation, and God's kingdom on earth?
One recognizes the truth of a new idea by its consistency with other ideas which he already knows, and has proved, to be true. So one may learn to know the true God as the divine origin and Principle of the spiritual good which he already claims and practices.
Universe and Creator
In our efforts to discover the nature or character of God as the creator and ruler of the universe, let us consider first the nature of the universe we are trying to account for. Suppose one looks about him and notes the earth, sky, and people, and says to himself: "Here I am, a corporeal mortal, living in a material body, subject to material conditions, and dependent upon them to preserve me. Where did it all start? Who or what is responsible?" Conceiving the universe to be material, he is obliged to find a material cause for it, and such material cause must be held responsible for all the disasters to which the material world seems subject – earthquake, famines, disease, cruelty, and death. Such a concept of primal cause or God is blindly worshiped by pagans through rituals designed to placate His vengeance. This is pantheism, the opposite of Christianity.
But, instead of starting with earth, sky, and people, suppose one considers the charity and love which he feels in his heart, the wisdom and intelligence he sees expressed around him, the hope, faith, joy, and courage so vital to human life, so present and real to him who appreciates them. Now let him ask himself: "Where do these things originate? How is it that men are capable of such grand and noble ideals? What is it that will cause people to turn away wrath with gentleness, meet hatred with love, sacrifice themselves to help others, and face danger with confidence?" The only way to account for these spiritual higher manifestations is to attribute them to a primal spiritual cause; so here we have the Christian or true concept of God as pure Spirit, the all-knowing divine Mind, the origin of all spiritual reality.
Belief and Conduct
We have, in our society today, a large number of men and women who seldom go to church; they make no profession of religion. If you were to ask them about God or the things of God they would probably say, "I don't know." And yet these people are honest in business; they are good citizens and good neighbors; they are intelligent and worthy. Why do they reject religion? One reason is that while they conduct their daily lives and achieve whatever success comes to them through reason and intelligence, if they go to church on Sunday it seems to them they are asked to put aside reason and intelligence and blindly believe without understanding what they are told about God. Their honesty makes them rebel against such inconsistency; so they let the religion go. Many people of this sort have found the Christian Science explanations of God, man, and universe completely satisfying and convincing, for human reason rightly directed and divine revelation are here seen to coincide. Such people who have turned to Christian Science find no conflict between their everyday duties and their service to God. On the contrary, they understand and prove that the teachings of pure Christianity, revealed and demonstrated today in Christian Science, are entirely practical and able to meet legitimate human needs in matters of health and work and in dealings with other men.
The primary fact of individual existence is consciousness, or awareness. This fact is self-evident but much overlooked; yet all questions of life and God must be worked out in consciousness. In the realm of one's awareness dwell all the issues of being. But materialism claims there is something outside of consciousness, a realm of mindlessness, real, fixed, and unaffected by thinking, named matter. How and where does the materialist know this? Why, in his thinking! And intelligent thinking, my friends, is a flat contradiction of the claim of mindlessness or matter! Consciousness is the basic reality, and no explanation is valid which loses sight of that fact.
Human life is entirely mental. That primary fact should be obvious to all. If this is a new concept to you, you only need to work with it to find it true. A person is rich or poor, sick or well, merry or gloomy, only as he believes himself to be. A young engineer was greatly helped and enlightened when he learned, through his study of Christian Science, that his profession was essentially a mental one. He had supposed engineering was material because it dealt with steel, wood, concrete, and so on. But be came to see that an engineer deals with those things in thought, and he is a good engineer in the measure that he has good, sound, useful thoughts on the subject. This is true of every human vocation; whether you are a cook, a carpenter, musician, farmer, clerk, or storekeeper, your work is primarily mental. As you accustom yourself to this fact you will be ready for the next step, which is to learn that in the mental realm all true reality is spiritual and good, proceeding from the one infinite, divine Mind or Spirit. Thus we prove the statement in Science and Health (p. 269), "Metaphysics resolves things into thoughts, and exchanges the objects of sense for the ideas of Soul."
If you believe your universe to be material, that is, outside of consciousness, the Christian ideal of God will remain a mystery to you. But when you see that your daily life is a call to mental dominion, if you have accepted the challenge to master yourself, if you are mentally beset with suggestions of fear, pride, jealousy, and covetousness, if material remedies have failed to heal the body, if you long for moral strength and mental freedom, then you can begin right now to learn the truth about your mental universe, to learn that there is one real Mind, universal, ever present, and divine; that it is creator, king, and ruler in the mental realm; that this divine Mind is your Mind here and now, and that your present understanding of this divine father brings you wisdom, inspiration, freedom, strength, and such a deeply entrenched peace that the storms of earth batter your ramparts quite in vain.
Is it not clear to us, then, that there is a God, since there is something outside ourselves which moves us to good thoughts and deeds? And since God is inescapable, is it not the path of practical common sense to find out about God so that our relations with Him are on an intelligent footing?
Let us have an end of denying the obvious, of doubting things plainly seen and easily understood. Man is alive, he knows he is alive, and since he did not himself create the existence in which he finds himself he must be the result of the working of a higher power, a primal intelligence, Life, or Mind. This primal intelligence or power cannot be matter, because matter is by definition mindless. The results of scientific reasoning are here seen to coincide with primitive Christian teaching, for Jesus declared, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). So it is the divine Spirit, Mind, or Soul, which Jesus understood, demonstrated, and taught, which is now revealed in Christian Science as the true God.
"Salvation" is a fine old word which has lost some of its practical usefulness through taking on certain specialized theological connotations. A dictionary tells us that salvation refers to being saved. From what do people need to be saved? Obviously, from sickness, danger, poverty, sin, and death. And when do they need to be saved? Well, right now, of course. So the same dictionary gives the Christian Science definition of "salvation" from Science and Health as, "Life, Truth, and Love understood and demonstrated as supreme over all; sin, sickness, and death destroyed" (Webster – later editions).
Note how the concept of salvation is colored by the concept of God that goes along with it. The belief of a God afar off, living up in the sky perhaps, who is to be met only after death (if at all), logically leads to the belief of salvation hereafter, the corollary of which is suffering and trouble in the present. On the other hand, the revelation of the true character of God as ever-present good, all-pervading divine Spirit and power, awakens thought to understand the powerlessness of sin and disease and to the present demonstration of eternal, harmonious Life.
Salvation is individual. There is no mass consciousness. Nations are saved as people are saved. Perhaps someone says, "There are many millions of people in the world, and if they have all got to be converted one by one it is going to take a long time." But the job is not so big as it seems, for it is not a case of converting millions but of saving only one – number one, in every case. If you and I will but take care of number one we may be amazed at the results. Have you ever exchanged your opinion about something for a better one and discovered to your surprise that many others feel the same about it as you now do?
A young man, new in the study of Christian Science, began to wish to be healed of smoking and drinking; but as his thoughts traveled down the vista of the future he saw himself attending social and business gatherings where everyone but he smoked and drank and had a good time! "No," he thought, "that would be too lonesome for happiness." But before long the desire for purity and freedom carried the day; with the help of a Christian Science practitioner he was healed of those enslaving appetites. To his surprise he found that there are large numbers of nonsmokers and nondrinkers, a great and glorious company of those who did not bow the knee to these twin idols of self-indulgence, and he was not at all lonesome in his newly won freedom.
Toward the end of the first century the first epistle of John was written to combat the growing menace of Gnosticism. This little book is outstanding in all Christian literature for its teachings of love and purity and fellowship with God. The letter ends with the simple counsel, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." Obviously the idols John meant were the false teachings against which he had been warning them.
Idolatry may be the worship of material objects; it may be the worship of some manifestation of God in place of God Himself; or it may be the worship of a false conception of God in place of the true. The idols of modern civilization are different from the idols of ancient paganism, and Christian idols may be more deceptive than heathen. One form of idol worship is the adulation of the human personality. A human being may express a high quality of spiritual goodness – or godliness – but he is not the creator of that goodness. Jesus, the Master, declared, "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John ); "The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (John ).
Jesus and Christ
Jesus was not understood by many of the people of his time, especially his enemies. It is important to understand the dual nature of Christ Jesus, otherwise some of his statements about himself seem contradictory and hard to understand. Christian Science dispels the mystery. It points out that Jesus was the name of the human man who was born, brought up, carried out his mission, and at last disappeared to material sense. The name was common among Hebrew boys and men.
But this man Jesus was different from all other men who have ever walked the earth. To state it simply, he knew more about God than any man before or since; he lived what he knew, and he proved the practical power of spiritual understanding in overcoming every type of human trouble – sin, danger, disease, and even death itself. His friends and associates soon began to perceive that here, right in their midst, was a truly Godlike character. While it reached its highest expression in and through the man Jesus, it was not for him exclusively. Others began to share the divine understanding; their lives, too, became imbued and inspired with the divine nature, enabling them also to do great works of healing. For centuries the Jewish people had expected some such manifestation of godliness among them; earlier writers foretold its appearing as the Messiah, the Christ, the Coming One, Immanuel, or God with us. So when Jesus began to teach and heal, many devout Jews recognized that he was indeed bringing what they had been waiting for.
Christ, as defined in Science and Health (p. 583), is "The divine manifestation of God, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error." Jesus' work, in revealing the power and presence of God on earth, was incomparable. He stands alone. So the word Christ was attached to him as a title. It stands for the Godlike nature which animated him, and must not be confused with Jesus as the name of the human person.
Keeping in mind this dual nature, we see how inaccurate it is to say that Christ was born on Christmas Day, or that Christ was crucified and died. It was Jesus who was born and later crucified and rose from the dead; the Christ, or true spiritual nature, was quite untouched by these material changes, just as the quantity two remains unchanged when you erase the figure 2 from the blackboard. The quantity two is a mental conception; the figure 2 is a material symbol. The symbol is subject to change or erasure; the quantity is always the same because it is a mental conception.
Sometimes Jesus spoke of himself as the son of man, meaning Jesus the son of Mary. At other times he called himself the Son of God, referring to the Christ or spiritual manifestation of God. Some of his later followers became confused on this point. He had said, "I and my Father are one" (John ). Mrs. Eddy, in the textbook, explains that this means one in quality, not in quantity, "as a drop of water is one with the ocean" or "a "ray of light one with the sun" (see Science and Health 361:15-17). But the early Christians fell into the same error of which the Jews accused Jesus, the error of believing the man Jesus to be equal with God. After three hundred years it was definitely declared to be the creed of the Christian church that Jesus was God. This led to the idolatrous worship of the human personality and praying to Jesus as God.
One Mind versus Minds Many
The bedrock of true religion is the First Commandment – one God, infinite and good. One God means one Mind. Human belief would divide the one infinite Mind into many finite minds, distribute one to each person, encase it in a body of flesh, separate it completely from the one supreme intelligence, and let it go on from there operating strictly on its own, progressing or retrogressing in good or evil, as the case might be, according to whatever standard or rule it sets up for itself.
The belief of a mind and reality apart from God is the one basic error. This error is responsible for all the troubles of mankind. The belief is that there are many minds, one to each person. Each so-called human mind turns in upon itself, tries to prove itself self-sufficient, develops its own will, and takes pride in its achievements. It calls itself "I" – spelled with a capital letter. This human egotism swells into a great seeming, and yet it is basically unreal and erroneous. The call of Christian Science is to uncover this falsity, denounce it and cast it out, and return to the simple basic facts as set forth in the First Commandment of Moses and demonstrated by Jesus the Christ with great power and signs following: one God, one Mind, one Principle, infinite, good, present, understandable, and demonstrable. The reflection or expression of the true God is seen in the real man and universe.
Mrs. Eddy's discovery of Christian Science was the revelation to her of the truth of God and man: one Mind expressing itself in an infinitude of spiritual ideas. It included the uncovering of the claims of evil: many minds, knowing both evil and good, and the belief that there is real substance-matter outside the infinitude of Spirit. Finally, it included the demonstration that the understanding of these facts will cure disease, dispel sin, and harmonize human existence. The Discoverer of Christian Science is also the Founder of our church. The members of this church are governed by the divinely inspired rules in the Church Manual. The purpose of this organization is to restore to Christianity the lost element of healing; to heal and transform, but not to deify the human personality. Having seen how the worship of human personality had entered the early Christian church as a great mental and moral cloud, depriving Christians of spiritual understanding and power to heal, she resolved to keep it out of Christian Science. She declares: "Person is not in the question of Christian Science. Principle, instead of person, is next to our hearts, on our lips, and in our lives" (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 135). She consistently exhorted her followers not to pursue her personality but to find her in her writings. While she demanded strictly that her place as Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science and author of its textbook should be recognized and acknowledged, this was not because of any desire for personal glory but because she understood that mortal mind would make its attack upon her discovery by first trying to discredit her as the discoverer. The discovery must stand because it is true; the discoverer must be acknowledged because she was God's instrument.
Mrs. Eddy is no longer with us in person, but her revelation of man as the perfect expression of God remains to lead her followers on to clearer vision and unerring demonstration. There are no personal leaders in Christian Science churches, but there is no lack of leadership. The revealed Principle and rule of true being is studied and obeyed by students of Christian Science and so provides spiritual leadership for all the churches and their members, leadership that is wise, positive, and effective. A stranger going to a Christian Science church need have no concern as to whether or not he is getting in with the right people; he is getting in with the right Principle. He need not wonder who runs the church, for the true Church is spiritual, and Christian Scientists work to understand God's government and submit to it. "Again I repeat, person is not in the question of Christian Science" (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 135).
One's concept of God determines his method of approaching God, that is, the form of prayer. Believing God to be a sort of enlarged human being or person, mysterious, arbitrary, and changeable, one would petition God for special favors. But God as Principle is not reached in that manner. You do not ask favors of a principle. Would anyone implore the principle of mathematics, "Please solve this problem"? No, the principle is reached, understood, and demonstrated through understanding and applying the rule which expresses it. God is the divine Principle of His spiritual universe. His manifestation is Christ, expressed in Godlike thinking and living. Every Godlike thought, word, or deed brings one into closer communion with the divine source or Principle, and that is the purpose and effect of true prayer.
A Christian Scientist awakened one morning to find herself under a spell of sickness. She was far from home and faced a heavy schedule of duties for the day. It seemed impossible to get up and get started. She lay there and began to turn to Christian Science for help. A passage from the textbook came to her (p. 390), "It is our ignorance of God, the divine Principle, which produces apparent discord, and the right understanding of Him restores harmony." Here, she realized, was both the cause of the trouble and its cure. Reaching out in thought with a sincere desire to understand God better, she saw that she had allowed erroneous thoughts to enter consciousness, and these seemed to hide God's presence from her. She had allowed herself to become irritated, upset, unhappy, and resentful, and she recognized the need to be healed of such wrong thinking. She studied the Bible and Science and Health and accepted the truths she found there. The mental picture of an irritated, resentful mortal disappeared in the light of the truth that man is the spiritual and perfect child of God. Her thinking became spiritually clear, and she was healed. All symptoms of physical disease disappeared. She was able to arise and carry out the duties of the day in perfect freedom. She proved that it was ignorance of God – ignoring God – which had produced the discord, and the right understanding of Him had indeed restored her natural harmony.
How to Pray
There are many ways to pray; do not think to confine prayer to a fixed form or formula. Deep, honest, spiritual desire is effective prayer, bringing one into the consciousness of God's ways. To adore the divine Being is effective prayer; through it the beliefs of evil disappear from consciousness. To recognize, acknowledge, and be grateful to God for blessings is effective prayer; it opens the door to higher spiritual attainments. Obedience to God's revealed requirements is prayer; the struggle to be and do good is prayer; the practice of humility, the striving for holiness, the abiding steadfast in hope and faith, patient improvement of our present talents, continued service to divine Love – these are all forms of true prayer because they all bring us closer to God. The highest prayer is an abiding realization of God's allness and man's forever oneness with his divine Principle, as when Jesus declared, "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30).
Prayer for the World
There must be inspiration in prayer. There must be honest expectancy of good. Repentance must accompany prayer, and reform must follow. Self-justification has no place in Christian prayer; self-righteousness closes the door to the divine presence. True prayer starts with God, takes in the spiritual nature of man and the universe, and ends with God. It proceeds from the general to the particular. One is healed or saved when be recognizes that all are healed and saved. "The Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends" (Job 42:10). Prayer for others is expansive; it lifts thought above self; praying for oneself first and exclusively may darken thought and retard healing. The beloved Founder of Christian Science made it a rule to pray daily for all mankind. Could anyone so conscious of humanity's need and so sure of God's power to supply it do less? Not only did she pray for the whole world, but she also declared, "I also have faith that my prayer availeth" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 220). If all Christians and all Christian Scientists will pray as Jesus prayed and taught, if they will pray earnestly and devotedly in the light of the understanding of the true nature of God, and if they will let their lives attest their fidelity to God's ways, the millennium, my friends, may prove to be not so far off as generally believed.
New Heaven and Earth
My friends, the present age is a glorious one! Matter is definitely on the way out. Our inspired Leader declares, "We live in an age of Love's divine adventure to be All-in-all" (Miscellany, p. 158). As divine Love is understood as All-in-all, sickness, sin, and death will diminish and finally disappear. Christian Science extends to all men the invitation and opportunity to join in this divine adventure, to find God to be what He really is: a present and practical help in all things, every man's first, last, and only real friend. Divine Science will lift you above the grossness and cruelty of atheism; its light will dispel the doubts and uncertainties of agnosticism; its spiritual power will destroy the idols of human will, physical health laws, material beliefs about God and the universe, and ignorance and superstition in religion. Here is the promise of Christian Science for the future (Science and Health, p. 568): "For victory over a single sin, we give thanks and magnify the Lord of Hosts. What shall we say of the mighty conquest over all sin? A louder song, sweeter than has ever before reached high heaven, now rises clearer and nearer to the great heart of Christ; for the accuser is not there, and Love sends forth her primal and everlasting strain."