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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 732

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This is the grave of Mary Baker Eddy.

Born in 1821 in Bow, New Hampshire, Eddy grew up in a very religious household, with her father being a fire and brimstone type who also supported the South as slavery became a greater part of the nation’s politics. She was a sickly child and also clashed constantly with her father. He tried to keep her out of school and uneducated, but she managed education on her own, reading whatever she could.

Eddy married in 1843 and moved to South Carolina, where her husband had business interests. But he died six months after they married. Pregnant, she returned home to New Hampshire. She was separated from her son by her father’s second wife, who refused to take care of him while she was bedridden and weak for several years after the birth. He was raised by relatives and she pretty much lost touch with him, not seeing him from the time he was 4 until he was in his 30s, after he had fought for the Union in the Civil War. He was told she was dead.

Eddy remained quite weak, finally falling under the mental health care of Phineas Quimby in Maine. Described as a “mental healer,” he used mesmerism heavily upon her. She credited him with finally curing her from her massive depression that had defined her for two decades. He would be a huge influence when she founded her own religious movement. In 1866 though, she fell on ice and seriously injured her spine. She spent much of the next three years in bed, where she engaged in intense biblical study. It was at this time, after her work with Quimby, that people could be cured by faith alone, without medicine, without drugs, without attention to hygiene. Christian Science, one of the greatest quack religions in American history, was born.

Eddy spent her next several years dabbling in spiritualism, another quackery movement of the late nineteenth century that believed one could communicate with the dead. She became a medium herself and claimed she could communicate with Abraham Lincoln. OK.

In 1875, Eddy published Science and Health with the Key to the Scriptures, the foundational text of Christian Science. This was the combination of her religious beliefs and healing practices. Amazingly, this bullshit actually attracted followers and continues to do so today. She marred Asa Eddy in 1877, her third husband after a disastrous second marriage and that’s where her name comes from.

She spent the rest of her life building her church and exploring other religions. It turns out there are plenty of similarities between parts of Christian Science and Hinduism and she uncomfortably moved around the edges of that. She and her students officially established their church in 1879. She then founded an expensive college that she ran from 1882-89 where she trained students in her methods and became much more well off. She sent her students around the country to practice their healing methods. She pushed publishing as a major method of dissemination and, somewhat ironically given the eye-rolling ridiculousness of her “religion,” founded the Christian Science Monitor, one of the top flight news publication of the 20th century, in 1908.

Christian Science is one of the roots of the anti-vaxxer idiocy that is going to dominate 2021 as people refuse to vaccinate against COVID. She herself was wishy-washy on the point and urged people to get vaccinations if the state mandated it while praying that they wouldn’t harm you. She also believed in what was called “malicious animal magnetism,” where someone could use their mental powers to destroy you, which she believed one of her students was doing to her so she expelled him from her church. She became increasingly delusional as she aged, both in terms of thinking people were using their mental powers against her and being addicted to morphine. She died in 1910, at the age of 89.

That people continue to follow this garbage belief system today does not exactly make one feel better about the intelligence of humanity.

Mary Baker Eddy is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit other American religious figures, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Blandina Seagle is in Cincinnati and Richard Allen is in Philadelphia. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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