2017 Annual Meeting: Dr. Shirley Paulson’s Presentation
On Saturday September 23, Broadview hosted their 2017 Annual Meeting. The program included presentations by staff, board, and featured guest speaker Dr. Shirley Paulson. Below you’ll find a detailed summary of her hour long presentation.
by Dr. Shirley Paulson
The original title of this talk was ‘Second-Generation Christians and Second-Generation Christian Scientists’ to fit with the theme for the year ‘Lessons in Healing from Second-Generation Disciples.’ But the topic stretched a bit to include second-century followers of both Jesus and Mary Baker Eddy, because we contemporary Christian Scientists are second-century Christian Scientists. The shocking similarities and differences we find between us and those second-century disciples of Jesus can both challenge and inspire a deeper understanding of our own place in Christian history.
Shifting from Jesus’ era to the second century, and then through the nineteenth century, and on to the twenty-first century reminds me of the ever-renewing images in a kaleidoscope. Regardless of how often you turn the dial, the beautiful gems inside remain the same but form wholly new and beautiful designs. In this presentation, we are going to focus on the healing ideas that remain the same but form new designs throughout the centuries. They are scientifically true forever, but their ever-beautiful designs shift with the changing needs of each generation.
When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God and demonstrated its meaning in our human experience, this image is always present and at work. Shifting the metaphorical kaleidoscope, we see the design that represents Jesus’ view of the kingdom, then that of his second-century followers, then of Mary Baker Eddy the 19th century, and then of us in the twenty-first century. Each view is beautiful and unlike the previous one.
With a closer look at the gems within this kaleidoscope, we discern three main themes every time it turns. First is that God is both omnipotent and loving. While it may seem natural to conceive God as all-powerful and all-loving, theologians and Christian scholars throughout the ages have wrestled with the notion that these two ideas could be true about God simultaneously. In the face of human suffering, it would appear that God may be all-powerful but unwilling to solve the problem, or else God may be loving enough to do so but unable to solve the problem. Nevertheless, Jesus teaches and demonstrates that God is both omnipotent and loving simultaneously.
The second theme is that evil has no power, because Christ exposes it as a fraud. Again, this is an idea that runs contrary to human observation, but Jesus was adamant that evil was no god, and he exposed its false claims. Finally, the third theme is that healing itself is the inevitable outcome of understanding God’s kingdom, because it is fully integrated with salvation. Western Christianity especially has disconnected the work of bodily cures from the saving of souls, and consequently the interrelatedness of healing and salvation has been obscured. However, these three themes appear prominently in Jesus’ teachings, and they form the shapes and pieces within the ongoing movement of the kaleidoscope.
Jesus’ ideas ran contrary to the ordinary sense of the world, so he spoke in parables and in the context of the world he shared with his contemporaries. Referring to sheep and the coin that “belongs to Caesar” are examples. But what is the view in the kaleidoscope of these ideas when it shifts to the second century? As second-century Christian Scientists, we can learn a great deal from the clues left behind from the second-century disciples of Jesus. But since this period is the least known to us, I will dwell on this in a bit more detail.
Second-century followers of Jesus believed in what he had taught, wanted to follow him, defend him, and acknowledge his authority. Romans still ruled the empire, still persecuting both Christians and Jews. But even within the small band of Christians, power struggles mingled with their outward defense of the deepest meaning of Christianity. I’m especially intrigued in the urgency with which Christians struggled to distinguish themselves from Jews and simultaneously defended their Hebrew origins with Greeks and Romans. Like Jesus, they sought the means for explaining their relevance in a widely diverse society.
The following seven-minute video explains more fully where these second-century struggles originated and what impact they had on the Christian church then and now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OMikIVS768. One of the ancient texts referred to in the video, the Secret Revelation of John, caught my attention because of its focus on the same three themes I mentioned earlier.
Probably written in the early second century, the Secret Revelation of John is an elaborate explanation of creation based on Genesis 1 and 2. The first third of the book describes God’s goodness and omnipotence (as in Genesis 1). All is good in God’s realm, and God is Infinite Spirit. The middle third of the book is based on Genesis 2, altering some aspects of it to emphasize that the god who created sinning, suffering man is not the same as the God who created through Spirit. But the evil monster representing evil –Yaldabaoth – created demons who torment people will mental and physical ailments. Finally, the last third of the book explains the means by which the Savior saves people from the effects of demonic influence, returning sufferers to God’s kingdom of goodness.
The similarities and differences between this early Christian text and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy are startling for twenty-first century Christian Scientists, especially since Mrs. Eddy never had a chance to read the text that was only discovered in 1945. All three themes – God’s goodness and omnipotence, the fraudulence of evil, and the correlation of healing and salvation – are present in the Secret Revelation of John, but differences are worth noting as well.
For instance, this God is all-powerful and all good and is depicted as Father and Mother. God is too great to be fully conceived by the human mind, and creation occurs by God’s thinking. And yet, unlike Eddy’s teachings, this same God in the Secret Revelation of John is also the Son and is both young and old. The subject of the second theme, the origin of evil, preoccupied Greek philosophers especially, and the author of the Secret Revelation of John found answers in the Hebrew text, Genesis 2. His interpretation envisions evil personified as a ‘counterfeit spirit’, a fraud, attempting to usurp the power and glory of the one good God. The evil god creates demons who attempt to manipulate body and soul through deception. But, in keeping with the third theme, the Savior overcomes the work of the demons by awakening mortals to their original state as the offspring of God. Those who had been afflicted from the demons are saved from sin, bodily suffering, and death itself.
As in the first century with Jesus, these same ideas were not without opposition in the second century. One of the most important church Fathers, Irenaeus, argued against the teachings of the Secret Revelation of John. Until the text was discovered in 1945, Christian scholars only knew the existence of the Secret Revelation of John through Irenaeus’ polemic writing. Christians have long presumed, in accord with Irenaeus, that it was an evil teaching – until we had a chance to read it!
Readers of Science and Health will easily identify those same three themes in Mary Baker Eddy’s writing too. She argued that Mind is all, that Spirit/Mind is the only creator, and that matter is inherently powerless and unintelligent. Like the second-century opposition to these ideas, Eddy also faced the popular views on Newtonian physics and Darwinian theories of evolution in her day. ‘Animal magnetism’ had also taken the Western world by storm in the nineteenth century, and many proclaimed it the new breakthrough in healing because it was based on the invisible fluids of mental energy. The meaning of salvation had also split from its original meaning into two parts: saving from hell after death, and healing the body before death. But Eddy’s firm conviction in the presence of the healing Christ again upholds the integrity of the third theme – that healing is inextricably interrelated to salvation – despite the popular opposition.
With a turn of the kaleidoscope, we discover the same phenomenon remains true today. Christian Scientists are still affirming the authenticity and veracity of all three themes. And yet there are significant differences between the world of Mary Baker Eddy in the nineteenth century and our twenty-first century world. She never experienced the way modern medicine has exploded in technology, money, power, and influence; Western churches have faced significant decline; and the holocaust and 9/11 have sparked fears of new enemies. But the faithful continue to hold fast to a God who is loving and omnipotent. New discoveries in quantum mechanics and astrophysics continue to expand our understanding of the ‘reality’ of things around us. At least on a particle level, quantum physics can demonstrate how things can only appear first in consciousness. Some argue that genes do not determine our lives, but we can govern our genes.
Evil appears in new guises, but its supposed power and identity continue to dissolve in the light of Christ. Cyber attack threats and nuclear war threats are greater than nineteenth-century bayonets; climate change threatens global security; and terrorism bubbles up wherever a vacuum allows it space. New Age, psychology, and humanism promote the human mind above the Mind of God, but these mental powers have not lessened the dominance of fear. Contemporary concerns always need to be addressed, as evil did in the second and nineteenth centuries, but there are ever-new answers. The Christian Science Monitor plays as critical a role in society today as it did in the nineteenth century, when its light shed hopeful perspectives on the concerns of the day. The Christian Science teaching of dominion over mental malpractice and animal magnetism recognizes the new guises of the claims of evil and denounces their supposed powers.
In considering the third theme – the correlation of healing and salvation – the meaning of ‘healing’ has shifted dramatically since the nineteenth century. Since it has lost its connection with salvation, at least in Western thinking, ‘healing’ no longer has a distinct identification. It means something different to the healer, the healed person, and society, from feeling better to coping with the problem better.
The biggest cause of the global shift in thinking on the subject of healing is the phenomenon known as ‘liberation theology,’ which has significantly redirected Christian thinking for the past 40 years. Briefly, it began as a reaction in Latin America against the European powers of the Catholic Church. It claimed that in fact the church was participating perhaps unwittingly in Western oppression. Feminism, and then greater awareness of racism, womanism, and eco-justice rose to prominence. Religion in general has taken a strong turn toward humanism – the power to do good through better morals and human behavior – and salvation now carries a bit less importance. Therefore healing associated with salvation is more difficult to justify. But, if themes one and two are still true, then God is still greater than the human mind, and God, Mind sends forth the savior that saves us from sin (or hell after death), disease (healing bodies here and now), and death (salvation from all evil).
We have reason to be both sober and hopeful in our own times. One of the shifts of the kaleidoscope throws a new light on Mary Magdalene, who was unjustly obscured by history. Numerous parallels between Mary Magdalene and Mary Baker Eddy become apparent, and the fact that the earlier Mary is currently being lifted from centuries of denigration gives me hope for the future understanding of Mary Baker Eddy. In antiquity, under the authority of the male clergy in the Christian church, the character of Mary Magdalene was represented as a repentant prostitute, a model of female repentance; yet now evidence from these recently discovered texts reveal her as one of the leading apostles in the first century. Mary Baker Eddy also appears largely obscured by our contemporary culture. But shifting to a new view of Mary Magdalene, we see that although both Marys struggled with hierarchy, patriarchy, rejection, misogyny, and public disdain, a newer and honest look at both of their lives and messages reveals mature authority in both of them.
Karen King, the author of The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: and the First Woman Apostle, explains the value of understanding the earlier Mary in a new light: “The fact that she has received a vision further emphasizes her purity of heart and mind, since according to ancient thought, spiritual experience of this kind would not have been possible without unwavering mental strength and moral purity”(p. 84). Many of us would agree the same could be said about Mary Baker Eddy of the nineteenth century. The rediscovery of Mary Magdalene offers hope, but it also raises a serious question as to whether we are yet ready to defend Mary Baker Eddy, as the larger Christian community is doing now for Mary Magdalene.
In conclusion, we can discern how all three themes – the goodness and omnipotence of God, the fraudulence of evil, and the correlation of healing and salvation – remain in this century, fitting together and enduring, despite the new shapes and designs they make in human history. And they’re beautiful! The Science of Christ remains an eternal Science.
Regardless of how relentlessly our cultures oppose them, they re-shape themselves and remain beautiful. Considering the cultural differences between Jesus and the second century, and then the differences between Mary Baker Eddy’s day and the twenty-first century quiets the fear shifting scenes and inspire us to grasp their beauty and to live it ever more fully.
Now the promise is ours. It’s our turn to shift the design in the kaleidoscope of healing ideas. We have the privilege of seeing something entirely new, but it is still the beauty of the Science of Christ. It looks quite different from the age of Mary Baker Eddy. We’re more likely to find it on our cell phones than in the horse-and-buggy world she lived in. But God remains omnipotent and good; evil is still a false suggestion with no access to reality; and healing is inseparable from salvation.
King, Karen L. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2003. [includes Gospel of Mary]
Taussig, Hal. A New New Testament: A Bible for the Twenty-First Century. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. [includes Secret Revelation of John]