Mary Baker Eddy
When you look at a picture of Mary Baker Eddy, you don't
immediately leap to the conclusion: Fruity New Age guru
without a clue.
Which is exactly the problem. Like the religion she
founded, Eddy was not what she seems.
Christian Science is neither particularly Christian, nor
especially scientific. And Eddy was not the stern,
level-headed pragmatist that her photo seems to invoke. The
story of how Baker Eddy became the leader of the most lethal
cult of child-killers in Western civilization is a strange
Mary Baker was born in New Hampshire in 1821, the
youngest in a brood of six. The sky was not exactly the
limit for women with brains at that time, especially if said
women were also sickly. Not to mention homely.
Young Mary was frequently "sick" as a child, a
condition which would endure through her life. If that
sounds imprecise to you -- well, there's a karmic
correctness to that, as you will soon see.
Mary grew up with tutors and various chronic complaints
of the undefined variety. She married a Southerner who lived
just long enough to impregnate her before croaking from
yellow fever. She returned home and gave birth to a son,
followed by more sickness. Her mother got sick and also
croaked. Her son was carted off to be raised by her late
As a life goes, it must be said that Mary Baker's had
been pretty crappy indeed up to this point. Things didn't
improve much when she remarried in 1853, to a man her
official biography describes as an "itinerant
dentist." Which is a pretty lousy way to be remembered
by posterity, if you think about it. She divorced him after
20 years or so.
Given this miserable state of affairs, it's little wonder
that the decreasingly young and increasingly unhealthy Mary
would start looking for creative ways to say
"bye-bye" reality. If she had been a child of the
1960s, it would've been free love and LSD all the way. Alas,
she was a child of the 1860s, which means she took the much
less stimulating path of spiritualism, animal magnetism and
Mary was obsessed with her health, as people living lives
of constant, unbroken pain and misery often are. Mistrustful
of the establishment health care system, she turned to
alternative methods, including (but not limited to)
hydropathy, snake-oil-style diets, homeopathy, placebos (as
actual treatment), laying on of hands, and healing through
prayer. The latter approach proved to be of particular
interest to her.
The fact that none of these techniques actually worked to
improve her health did little to curb her enthusiasm.
As her quest to be "not sick" continued, Mary
turned to a Maine healer named Phineas Quimby. Now, it's
clear to anyone with half a brain that a guy named Phineas
is going to be trouble. But Mary somehow missed this glaring
Quimby's healing practice consisted of a combination of
techniques that modern day medicine classifies under many
different labels. As he himself put it, he transferred
magnetic fluid from his body to that of his patient. Today,
you might call such an approach therapeutic touch,
suggestions, the placebo effect, or simply
Later, rumors would abound (as rumors so often do) to the
effect that Mary had stolen Quimby's ideas as the basis for
her religion, Christian Science, but these rumors are only
really of interest to people who believe in Christian
Science, which amounts to very few people, and even fewer
reasonable ones. So let's just acknowledge the rumors exist
and move on.
After Quimby died in 1865, Mary relapsed into ill health.
This time she had really done it, suffering spasms and
supposedly incurring internal injuries after a fall. Then,
the Holy Truth came to her. As she recounted it later
in her writings:
"I called for my Bible, and opened it at Matthew
ix. 2. As I read, the healing Truth dawned upon my sense;
and the result was that I rose, dressed myself, and ever
after was in better health than I had before enjoyed. That
short experience included a glimpse of the great fact that
I have since tried to make plain to others, namely, Life
in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of
Thus, a religion was born. Mary spent the next decade
or so concocting a rationalization to explain her recovery.
She outlined her conclusions in the 1875 book Science and
Health, which purported to be a scientific examination
of the divine healing techniques used by Jesus Christ.
In fact, Science and Health was a barely readable
conglomeration of half-hearted Bible study and flagrantly
idiotic medical advice. The overall thrust of Science and
Health through its many revisions is the notion that
sickness is sent by God to punish evil, that we only die if
God wills it and that seeking traditional medical assistance
is not only useless but sinfully wrong.
Now, if death by appendicitis or bowel obstruction is
God's way of thinning the herd, there are a few difficult
questions we must face. First off, why does God target
children for his vengeance, when you'd think middle-aged
people would be more deserving targets of his ire (having
had decades more in which to sin).
Even more troubling, from a theological standpoint, is
the extreme lameness of God in this scenario. Think
about it. If God kills off the unworthy through minor
illnesses, why the heck would these illnesses be so easy to
treat? Let's face it, if you can stave off the wrath of God
with a round of penicillin, your God's August Majesty leaves
something to be desired. God's justice is thwarted by
outpatient surgery? Somebody should've told Lot's wife.
Simply put, there is no divine dignity for a God whose
vengeance can be defeated by a laxative.
Not that any of this mattered to Mary B., now known as
Mary Baker Eddy after wedding the man whose name she would
append throughout posterity. She married Mr. Eddy in 1877,
using her techniques to heal his illness so effectively that
he died five years later. (She told people he had been
murdered by her enemies.)
Since no respectable Christian church wanted any part of
Mary's questionable credoes, she was forced to found her own
church, the Church of Christ, Scientist. The church so
enthusiastically embraced her beliefs that its members
frequently let their children die agonizing deaths from
easily treatable illnesses, because "it's God's
Fortunately for Eddy, the intellectual climate of her
time was friendly to crackpot beliefs. She founded the
Massachusetts Metaphysical College in Boston to peddle her
line of goods through 1889, opening the first of the famous
"Christian Science Reading Rooms" and founding the
Christian Science Publishing Society a few years later.
By the time she died in 1910, Eddy had become an
inexplicably respectable figure, and her religion became
inexplicably popular. She died as an eminently respectable
Boston lady, outliving even more patients than she had
outlived husbands. Despite all this, she told acquaintances
before her death that she was being "mentally
murdered" by her rivals. How this squares with God's
will has never been satisfactorily explained.
The only upside is that the number of Christian
Scientists out there has declined from a peak of around a
million to fewer than 100,000 today. All it'll take is a
large outbreak of tonsillitis to cut that number down to the
low five digits.