“Christian Science” in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America
Simmons, John K. “Christian Science,” Pages 89–112 in Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America. Edited by Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcraft. Westport, CT: ABC-CLIO/Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.
Simmons contextualizes Mary Baker Eddy amidst the late 19th-century era of revolutionary change showing how her forebears (Swedenborgianism, Mesmerism, Transcendentalism and Spiritualism) “prepared the psychic way” by making explicit to “the American spiritual imagination the connection among physical, psychological, and spiritual health” (94). Simmons reviews Eddy’s theology and Christology, the influence of Phineas P. Quimby, Christian Science evolving into an institution, Eddy’s growing authoritarianism, and the pushback from some of her followers. Simmons sees today’s Christian Science decline due not only to the Church’s inflexibility, but also to the fact that Christian Science is “simply no longer extraordinary in a world informed by quantum physics, neurotheology, New Age spirituality, and the ever-expanding expertise of medical practitioners” (100). Lastly, Simmons embraces as instructive the conflicts and controversy surrounding Christian Science and many emerging New Religious Movements because “opposing interpretations generate historical clarity” (102). Simmons elaborates on three conflicts instructive for studying New Religious Movements: faith versus historical fact; the multidimensional personalities of charismatic religious leaders; and the dilemmas of institutionalization (103). For Christian Science, the ultimate conflict needing clarification is whether Christian Science is mostly an alternative healing method dressed in Christian language, or a “deeply Christian and spiritually authentic understanding of the presence of God” (108).