TWO recent books on Christian Science* suggested to my mind that it would be of interest to visit one of its Churches. For ieading about a thing is never tile same as seeing for oneself.
But before describing my visit to the Church in Sloane Terrace I must enter a warning against the work of the three BostOnians who profess to prove the falsity of Christian Science. Theirs is a piece of special pleading; a work that extenuates the production of a book by enemies of the late Mrs. Eddy ,which was so inaccurail that even the picture purporting to be Mrs. Eddy was in fact someone else cannot be treated as serious.
Sir William Barrett's posthumous book, on the other hand, is a different matter. Here we find critical ability, restraint, impartiality, and a real desire to find out what-quality of truth there is in a systein Which (whatever harth it his alio wrought—and it may have wrought harm) his undoubtedly brought happiness and health to thousands. Everyone who wishes to learn the weaknesses, the strength and the probable future of Christian Science is recommended to read The Religion of Health.
It is not my purpose here to define the belief, except briefly, in the words of Novalis, that the universe is "an illuMinated table of the contents of the Spirit," that man is the expression of that Spirit, and that (I quote Mrs, Eddy) " There is no life, truth, intelligence,- nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite mani- festation, for God is All-in-all." This is indeed a cheerful creed, which any student of the Vedanta will recognize was not first conceived in the 'eighties of last century. The number of good motor-cars parked by the Church deinonstrate. more clearly than any " practitioner can do that Christian Scientists believe in movement and *The Religion of Health. By Sir William Parrett, completed by Miss. Barrett. (Dent. 38. 6d.) The Faith, the Falsity. and tA6 Failure of Christian Science. By Drs. Riley, Peabody, and Huniiston
(Allen and Unwin. 12a. 6d.) -
fresh air, and have the means to enjoy them. Yet it would be wrong to say that this is a rich man's religion.
Christian Scientists do manage to attract to themselves much of this world's gear, but I believe that this is only because of the courage and optimism they inculcate, rather than because their creed appeals—as its detractors assert—chiefly to the wealthy.
Few of the idle rich are visible at Sloane Terrace. The thing that impressed me most about the worshippers was that they looked internally as well as externally clean.
Look at any average body of English men and women, and it is no exaggeration to say that at least half of them are internally sluggish. This is a delicate matter to write about, but I suggest that some historian of the future, labelling the various ages by convenient adjectives such as Stone and Iron, may well describe the present era by the ugly epithet of the Age of Internal Stasis, Methods of transport have multiplied so amazingly that we are in danger of forgetting the importance of the transport of food along the alimentary canal, Christian Scientists keep themselves active ; one can see it in their eyes and complexions. Their little daily dose of faith achieves more than salts can do.
It was eight o'clock when I was shown to my seat by a cheerful, well-dressed usher. The auditorium and galleries were packed with people, at least thirty per cent. being men. What other church can draw such a congregation on a Wednesday evening ?
A reading desk and some chairs were on the stage. To the left was written " Divine Love always has and always will meet every human need—Mary Baker Eddy," and on the right, " Thou shalt have no other gods beside Me. Exodus xx. 3."
The proceedings opened with a hymn, followed by a reading from the Scriptures and an explanation thereof from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy.
The officiant was dressed in a morning coat. He is generally a Christian Science practitioner and holds office for three years. The order of the service is fixed and can- not be varied on any pretext, Mrs. Eddy having left definite instructions to this effect ; instructions which, it seems to me, seal the fate of Christian Science as a movement with poor survival value, in spite of its good points. After the reading there is another hymn, then a five minute interval for silent prayer, then comes the very interesting Testimony.
The first speaker somehow reminded me of a missionary lithograph. She was a devout, boring woman, who spoke about how Divine Science had helped her to keep her job—" some science " one could not help thinking. Then a bearded man, lately from the East, talked about bilious attacks—or rather, the illusion of bilious attacks and the similitude of sickness—from which he had suffered. The doctors had told him he had only three months to live, but Divine Science had saved him, and he could never be sufficiently thankful. A lady from Geneva then expressed her gratitude for something I didn't catch.
A pale, highly strung girl stood up and whispered that six months ago she had been bedridden and that her presence among us was due to the Mind of God. She convinced me, this girl with flaxen hair and low, quivering voice. Another girl, bobbed, bespectacled and with a bass voice, thanked God for Mrs. Eddy and her Sunday- school teachers. Then a spruce young man rapped out some sentences of gratitude, as if drilling an awkward squad, then a German voice dropped treacly platitudes from the balcony about international good will. Hardly had it subsided before someone, inaudible and at first invisible in the front row, was demonstrating her faith : the offieiant kindly but firmly stopped her, and said she must turn round and address her remarks to the audience, which up to then she had been too shy to do. One after another these good people—some verbose, some diffident, but all moved by real emotion—spoke of their faith and gratitude and hope. At first I was critical, but soon my hard heart of doubt was humbled and I was caught up on a wave, if not of faith, at least of enthusiasm. I did not, and do not, believe that matter is non-existent. But I do believe that the age of miracles has not passed. When Balaam's ass spoke to him under the vines, Balsam must have felt as I did, brought suddenly from the workaday world to hear voices bearing witness to their private and particular miracles.
The proceedings ended with a hymn, then the congre- gation chatted amiably together as they filed out of church. Hell-fire and damnation and miserable sinners don't exist in Christian Science, everything is friendly, with God and one's neighbour.
" These people have gotten hold of a good gun," said an American friend to me, " they may not always point it straight, but it's a good gun, I'll tell the world. . . ."
It is a good gun. About four thousand Christian Scientists are enrolled annually. There are twelve Churches of Christ Scientist in Loudon alone, and about 2,000 branches throughout the world. There are Christian Science reading rooms in every important town in England and some 6,000 registered " practitioners." The Christian Science Monitor may be said, without fear of contradiction from anyone who knows the world's Press, to be one of the straightest, sanest, best-edited daily newspapers published in the English speaking world. Decidedly these people have a powerful weapon for good in the faith that the Spirit of man may triumph over his weak body. In essence this is nothing new, but then truth always comes to men in different guises.