Thursday, June 4, 2015
June 4, 2015: Mount Auburn Connections: Mary Baker Eddy
[If you’re in New England, there are few more beautiful spots for a spring walk than Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. In this series, I’ll highlight a few American connections for this unique site and all it includes. Please share your thoughts, on this site and any other beautiful or evocative spaces you’d highlight, for a crowd-sourced weekend walk!]
On how her Mount Auburn memorial helps us think about a controversial, pioneering American.
There’s no shortage of Boston-area public and historic sites that can help us remember the life and impact of reformer and Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. First and foremost, there’s the downtown Boston Christian Science Plaza, featuring the Mary Baker Eddy Library, the publishing offices of the Christian Science Monitor, some seriously impressive architecture, a beautiful reflecting pool, and the unique and fun Mapparium. If you want to get more intimately acquainted with Eddy’s life and times, in the Chestnut Hill area of neighboring Newton there’s the Mary Baker Eddy historic home, one of eight such Eddy houses scattered across Massachusetts and New Hampshire. And if want to do your own private reflecting and contemplating, the city features numerous Christian Science Reading Rooms, including the first such space that was founded back in 1888 and remains in operation today.
Those are all interesting spaces, but of course all in one way or another are run by the Church of Christ, Scientist, meaning that they offer a relatively non-critical, if not indeed celebratory, perspective on Eddy and the movement she founded. To be clear, and despite the similarity in names, Eddy’s church is certainly not to my mind on the level of a cult or scam like L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology. Yet at the same time, Christian Science has some definitely problematic elements, most especially in its general rejection of medical care and treatments. While that perspective has some clear late 19th and early 20th century roots and significance, I don’t have a lot of patience with it in the early 21st century—especially when it comes to parents refusing care for their children, who of course are not yet capable of making such decisions for themselves. Almost all organized religions involve one form or another of indoctrinating children into their mix, of course; but when such indoctrinations can result in unnecessary illness or death, they become particularly troubling.
So as an organized religion or doctrine, and most especially as a multi-generational movement, Christian Science at least requires more critical engagement than that provided by its own Boston-area spaces and sites. But it’s worth recognizing that the movement and its ideas can also operate on a more individual level: asking individuals to do their own reflecting on such significant topics as faith and science, belief and education, just as Eddy herself did throughout her life. All religions likewise offer space for such individual contemplations—but in its emphasis on reading and reflection, Christian Science is particularly appropriate as a means for encouraging such practices. I can think of few Boston spaces more suited for reflection and contemplation than Mount Auburn Cemetery, and there are few Mount Auburn spots more perfect than the Mary Baker Eddy memorial. But don’t take my word for it—if you’re in the area on a beautiful spring day (or any other time), stop by the memorial and see what reflections come to you!
Last connection of mine tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other sites or spaces you’d share?