A project at work has made me curious about Christian Science. Oh, I know the basics, as many religionists do, but when trying to find a neutral treatment of the tradition I was struck by how little was out there. It is a symptom of academia, I fear, to ignore that which isn’t conventional. I’m fascinated by what are called New Religious Movements (NRMs)—many of which have sprung out of some form of Christianity. New religions never cease to emerge, but the nineteenth century was a hotbed of new faith explorations. The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Shakers (started a little earlier, now extinct), Christian Science—these traditions hold fascinating beliefs and even though some are thriving (Mormons), others seem to be slowly dying out (Christian Science).
While in Boston as a student I made a point of visiting the Mother Church of Christian Science. The campus is impressive and architecturally pleasing. I took a tour and I still remember the vast and impressive map room. The denomination is having difficulty because, I suppose, of lawsuits against parents refusing medical treatment for children. This puts their theology at odds with the larger society’s understanding of children’s rights. Indeed, if you look for books on Christian Science the most prominent are those from people who’ve left the religion. Many NRMs have become extremely secretive and some have tried to make leaving difficult. The same, however, could be said for mainstream Christianity. We tend to think moderate Christianity benign, if benighted. But all religions possess the power to abuse.
Religious beliefs make people behave in unconventional ways. I think of how politics in this country is dominated by a biblicist agenda. It doesn’t matter which party is in power, it’s the material with which we have to work. The beliefs, from any quasi-objective point of view are strange. The Bible, for example, says nothing of abortion. Life in the biblical world began with the first breath. Their concept of conception didn’t involve eggs and sperm. In other words, it’d be ill-advised to take your biology lessons from the Good Book. But this single issue drives many thousands of voters to one particular party. I don’t know about you, but I would think that few topics deserve more thorough consideration than religion. It’s what motivates people. Instead, we live in a fascinating array of beliefs, often merging official teaching and personal experience and when we try to investigate we find a dearth of interest.