Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

I Want to Believe: A Short Psychobiography of Mary Baker Eddy

Academic journal article The Journal of Psychohistory

I Want to Believe: A Short Psychobiography of Mary Baker Eddy

Article excerpt

In season one, episode one of the hit television series, The X-Files, we meet F.B.I Special Agent, Fox Mulder. He investigates paranormal phenomena and stretches the limits of science and belief. When the viewer first meets him in his basement office of the F.B.I.'s headquarters in Washington, D.C., there is a poster of a flying saucer hanging on the wall with the inscription, "I Want to Believe." This simple declarative sentence would become the hallmark of the show, and for those who watched it every Sunday night. Chris Carter, the creator of the series, had constructed a world where there are monsters hiding in the dark and government conspiracies concealing the existence of extra-terrestrial life forms.

In many ways the life and work of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the First Christian Church Scientist, mirrors the reactions of those to The XFiles. Mrs. Eddy's principal work, Science and Health: With Key to the Scriptures, outlines a very different reality than the one in which most people believe. She claims that pain, illness, and all manner of malady and ailment are illusions. Once individuals allow their minds to be fully connected with God, and disconnected from the body, they might become free of all sickness and disease; faith can cure all ills.

Many people want to believe in the elimination of disease for the same reason that Fox Mulder wanted so badly to prove that alien life existed: the loss of a loved one. Fox Mulder's sister was allegedly abducted by aliens when he was a young boy, and no one had believed him. He was afraid of encroaching insanity, but most importantly he was afraid of being alone-the loss of his sister constantly weighing upon his thoughts and his feelings. Mrs. Eddy's decree that faith can cure all ills, is something many desire and hope to be true with every fiber of their being. Would it not be so wonderful if that disease that took our relatives from us had a cure? What if that cure was more simple, accessible, and easier than turning on our television set?

Yet no matter how much one wants to believe in extra-terrestrials or the faith healing that Christian Science offers, one must come to terms with the fact that our existence has an expiration date. This article does not intend to prove or disprove the tenants of Christian Science or of the existence of extra-terrestrials. It seeks to better understand the personality of the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. Her desires, her fears, the way in which she came to this doctrine, and her state of mind throughout her life.

Her childhood, adolescence, all three of her marriages, and a number of aspects in her life will be examined through a psychoanalytical framework. It is not my aim in this article to definitively diagnose Mrs. Eddy with any psychological illness or malady. It is my intention to try and humanize a woman who is most often believed to either be a saint or a charlatan. She lived a fascinating life, one filled with trauma and loss, as well as success and fulfillment.

CHILDHOOD

Mary Baker was born on July 16, 1821 in Bow, New Hampshire. She was the youngest child of Mary Ann and Mark Baker. Some biographies of Mrs. Eddy, such as the one written by Sibyl Wilbur, would claim that Mary's childhood would foreshadow her later greatness. Yet, her childhood was not extraordinary; it was, fairly typical of many girls reared in the 19th century. Mark Baker, Mary's father, was a middle-class farmer, though he and his sons had higher aspirations than the life of a farmer.1

During the formative years of her life she could often be found at the side of the person who recounted her family's heritage: her maternal grandmother. Mrs. Eddy reports that in her grandmother's trunk was a sword besto- wed to one of her ancestors by the Scottish revolutionary, William Wallace.2 She also claimed to be a descendent of revolutionary war hero, General Henry Knox, and a Scottish knight, Sir John MacNeil, who at one time served as ambassador to Persia. …

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