eligions, I have quipped around the corridors of Vision TV, are generally started by men.
Typically, this is their pattern: the man wanders off from his family and community in order to meditate on the divine nature. This is done somewhere in the wilderness, on a high mountain, or under a tree. After a period of reflection the man announces the new faith, states that he is its prophet and begins to gather disciples.
I’m not criticizing this pattern. A great deal of good has come of it. But Mary Baker Eddy was different. She was a woman who founded a religion — The First Church of Christ, Scientist — as well as a newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor.
I became acquainted with her for the first time through the award-winning documentary Soul of a Woman, produced by New Hampshire Public Television. As a student of religions, a feminist and a journalist, I found the story of her life a bit of a revelation. It is inspiring, curious, angermaking and joy-causing. Eddy was one of the most influential and controversial women of the 19th century — and unique in the annals of the founders of religions.
Mary Baker Eddy came to her enlightenment through physical and mental existential suffering. During her spiritually formative years she was a single parent responsible for the well being of her child and herself. No wilderness. Taking Protestantism all the way, she founded a religion with
no clergy. She believed that she and others could come to understand the Divine through their own efforts.
Mary Baker Eddy did have disciples, or at least students. But, confounding the pattern again, the majority were women. There were also urban factory workers. The power of spiritual knowledge went to those who do not usually have power.
As for the newspaper, its aims were to tell the truth and “injure no man” (aims which, incidentally, coincide with ours at Vision, truth and non-injury). Soul of a Woman suggests that destructive experiences with the press probably gave Eddy her journalistic objectives. And if they sound simplistic, it should be noted that The Christian Science Monitor has won six Pulitzer prizes. It’s also worth mentioning that the religion and the newspaper were founded after Mary Baker Eddy was over 40. The message: it’s never too late, women — or men — to start again and to deepen faith, truth-telling and healing.
RITA SHELTON DEVERELL is Vice-President,
Production and Senior Producer at Vision TV, Canada’s faith network. Ijf
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