As I walked by the First Church of Christ, Scientist outside the campus of Harvard University, I could not help but notice the verse of Scripture on the sign in the front lawn: “I am God; there is none else.” This quotation from Isaiah 45:22 stopped me in my tracks. “Amazing,” I thought. “It is just amazing how two people can read the same verse from the Bible, and yet interpret it in two entirely different ways!”
Why? How can this happen? The answer lies in one’s world view. We define the phrase as a person’s view of the world (and universe) and her/his place in it. As a Christian Scientist your world view is quite different from mine. Though most of you probably never have thought about it, the world view espoused by the writings of Mary Baker Eddy is that of Absolute Pantheism. (Yes, I am well aware of Mrs. Eddy’s Christian Science Versus Pantheism contained in the Prose Works, but her argument is unconvincing.) Absolute Pantheism sets forth the thesis that absolutely all is God, and that therefore the material world is illusory. Accompanying this is a Monistic view of reality. From the Greek monos (one, only, alone), Monism is the belief that there is only one reality. Now, if all is God (Mind), then that reality must be God. If God is Spirit, and all is God or Mind, then the material world must not be real. As Mrs. Eddy States: “There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind, in its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all..” (Science and Health, p. 468)
Most, if not all, Christian Scientists are not aware that this world view is a grandchild of one particular philosophical school of Hinduism known as Advaita Vedanta. Advaita means non-dualism. In this philosophy the non-dualism pertains to Spirit (God or Brahman) vs. Matter. The Indian philosopher Shankara (780-820 A.D.) set forth from what he considered to be the true interpretation of the Hindu Upanishads (one of many sacred writings of the Hindus) that absolutely all is Brahman and the material world is Maya (illusion). All this, you say, may be coincidental. True, but there is evidence that Mrs. Eddy gleaned from, and was familiar with, Hindu thought. In texts of Science and Health up to the 33rd edition there are quotations from the sacred Hindu text The Bhagavad Gita, as well as allusions by Mrs. Eddy to Hindu philosophy. These were omitted in later editions, causing modern-day Christian Scientists to be unaware that their founder gleaned from Hindu philosophy.
Back to our Bible text quoted at the beginning of this letter. What does Isaiah 45:22 mean to you? Well, if you were to impose your world view upon the text, it means that there is none else but God — no material world, no disease, no death, no evil. Yet, to me it means that Yahweh is the only true and living God, and that His material creatures are not to worship idols (other “so-called” gods).
My world view is Theistic (which lends to the view that God is personal and His material creatures, as well as the material world, are very real; so are death, disease, and sin, and these terms are to be defined in the classical Christian sense) while yours is Pantheistic. Thus my interpretation of the text will be quite different from yours.
“All well and good,” you say. “If that’s your interpretation, fine!” I do not wish to argue with that. I do, however, take issue with your imposing this world view upon the Bible and interpreting it with this world view when the world view itself cannot be taken from the Bible! Allow me to illustrate: “Babe Swats Homer!” What if someone were reporting this news to you? Do we not owe it to the author of this statement to find out what he/she intends for us to learn by it? Of course. In order to properly do so, we must engage in several things: (1) find out in what context this phrase occurs; (2) find out what each word means in this context; (3) find out why the author wrote this; and (4) endeavor to get at the intent of the meaning of the author. After all, the phrase could mean that a baby slapped a man named Homer. And this interpretation would be correct if the writer were reporting “family community events” in your neighborhood. But if this phrase appeared in the Brooklyn, NY sports pages in the Summer of 1927, would not the author be concerned if you interpreted the phrase in the former way? Yes. Moreover, could the interpretational framework of “family community events” be drawn from any portion of the sports pages? No.
The point is that we cannot read the Bible and spiritually profit from God’s intended meaning for us if we read into the Bible a world view that does not come from God or the Bible itself. Thus, the challenge goes out to Christian Scientists to seriously answer the following:
Can you disprove that Mrs. Eddy quoted from and gleaned from the Bhagavad Gita and Hindu Philosophy?
Can you disprove the similarity between Advaita Vedanta Hinduism and Mrs. Eddy’s view of God and the material world?
Can you prove that your world view is substantiated by the Bible? To do this, can you prove by using scholarly resources (Hebrew-English and Greek-English Lexicons for the meaning of words, theological dictionaries for cultural studies and word studies) that your world view was Moses’, Jesus’, Paul’s, Peter’s, Matthew’s, etc. world view?
If Mrs. Eddy restored primitive Christianity, can you point to any ancient Christian sources containing your philosophical world view? If not, can your world view be found in non-Christian sources such as Advaita Hinduism and ancient Gnosticism?
Especially in light of #3, how do you defend interpreting the Bible the way you do?