Mark Twain Christian Science Essay

Christian Science is a 1907 book by the American writer Mark Twain (1835–1910). The book is a collection of essays Twain wrote about Christian Science, beginning with an article that was published in Cosmopolitan in 1899. Although Twain was interested in mental healing and the ideas behind Christian Science, he was hostile towards its founder, Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910).

Background[edit]

Twain's first article about Christian Science was published in Cosmopolitan in 1899. A humorous work of fiction, it describes how he fell over a cliff while walking in Austria, breaking several bones. A Christian Science practitioner who lived nearby was sent for, but could not attend immediately and so undertook to provide an "absent healing." She sent a message asking Twain to wait overnight and to remember that there was nothing wrong with him:

I thought there must be some mistake.

"Did you tell her I walked off a cliff seventy-five feet high?"

"Yes."

"And struck a boulder at the bottom and bounced?"

"Yes."

"And struck another one and bounced again?"

"Yes."

"And struck another one and bounced yet again?"

"Yes."

"And broke the boulders?"

"Yes."

"That accounts for it; she is thinking of the boulders. Why didn't you tell her I got hurt, too?"[1]

In the third chapter of this story (as published in the book form described below), Twain estimates more than 120 fractures, some or many of which were visible to him, as well as 7 dislocated joints, including his hips, shoulders, knees and neck. All of these were healed within three hours of the "Christian Science doctor's" visit of the second day of the story. Immediately following this healing, he turns to the local country horse doctor to cure a headache and stomach ache.

In 1907 he collected this and several other critical articles he had written and published them as a book, Christian Science. Twain himself believed that mind could influence matter to some degree.[2] He nevertheless took strong exception to the writings of Eddy, calling them "incomprehensible and uninterpretable."[3] He was particularly incensed by the thought that Eddy was using Christian Science to accrue wealth and power for herself.[4]

Critical responses[edit]

Gillian Gill, a biographer of Mary Baker Eddy, has argued that Twain was "ambivalent" towards Christian Science, and that passages of the essay were in fact "pretty unambiguously pro-CS." In response Caroline Fraser writes that Gill has misread the text, and that Twain praised Christian Science "in the most backhanded and ironic way." Fraser writes that whatever Twain's view of Christian Science, his view of Eddy herself was overwhelmingly hostile.[5] He called her "[g]rasping, sordid, penurious, famishing for everything she sees—money, power, glory—vain, untruthful, jealous, despotic, arrogant, insolent, pitiless where thinkers and hypnotists are concerned, illiterate, shallow, incapable of reasoning outside of commercial lines, immeasurably selfish."[6]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  1. ^Twain, Mark. Christian Science, Chapter I.
  2. ^Schrager, Cynthia D. "Mark Twain and Mary Baker Eddy: Gendering the Transpersonal Subject", American Literature, 70(1), 1998, p. 29.
  3. ^Horn, Jason Gary. Mark Twain and William James: Crafting a Free Self. University of Missouri Press, 1996, p. 123.
  4. ^Stahl, J.D. Mark Twain, Culture and Gender: Envisioning America Through Europe. University of Georgia Press, 2012, p. 202.
  5. ^Gillian Gill; reply by Caroline Fraser, "Mrs. Eddy’s Voices", The New York Review of Books, June 29, 2000.
  6. ^Twain 1907, Chapter XV.

From Mark Twain’s book Christian Science, 1907 edition, pp. 208-209

[Mary Baker Eddy is] grasping, sordid, penurious, famishing for everything she sees—money, power, glory—vain, untruthful, jealous, despotic, arrogant, insolent, pitiless where thinkers and hypnotists are concerned, illiterate, shallow, incapable of reasoning outside of commercial lines, immeasurably selfish—
[But] to her followers she is this: patient, gentle, loving, compassionate, noble hearted, unselfish, sinless, widely cultured, splendidly equipped mentally, a profound thinker, an able writer, a divine personage, an inspired messenger whose acts are dictated from the Throne, and whose every utterance is the Voice of God.

HILARIOUS.

I was an enthusiastic believer until age 20, when I picked up Mark Twain’s book Christian Science in a book store. I read two pages, and it felt like a glass dome around me shattered. I bought the book but hated it for what it had done to my perfect illusion. The transformation I experienced while reading it felt involuntary, like someone had tapped me rudely on the shoulder and disturbed my reverie.

Priceless. I was rolling on the floor.

– Katie J.

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