Christian Science by Mark Twain
Four years ago I wrote the preceding chapters. I was assured by the wise that Christian Science was a fleeting craze and would soon perish. This prompt and all-competent stripe of prophet is always to be had in the market at ground-floor rates. He does not stop to load, or consider, or take aim, but lets fly just as he stands. Facts are nothing to him, he has no use for such things; he works wholly by inspiration. And so, when he is asked why he considers a new movement a passing fad and quickly perishable, he finds himself unprepared with a reason and is more or less embarrassed. For a moment. Only for a moment. Then he waylays the first spectre of a reason that goes flitting through the desert places of his mind, and is at once serene again and ready for conflict. Serene and confident. Yet he should not be so, since he has had no chance to examine his catch, and cannot know whether it is going to help his contention or damage it.
The impromptu reason furnished by the early prophets of whom I have spoken was this:
"There is nothing to Christian Science; there is nothing about it that appeals to the intellect; its market will be restricted to the unintelligent, the mentally inferior, the people who do not think."
They called that a reason why the cult would not flourish and endure. It seems the equivalent of saying:
"There is no money in tinware; there is nothing about it that appeals to the rich; its market will be restricted to the poor."
It is like bringing forward the best reason in the world why Christian Science should flourish and live, and then blandly offering it as a reason why it should sicken and die.
That reason was furnished me by the complacent and unfrightened prophets four years ago, and it has been furnished me again to-day. If conversions to new religions or to old ones were in any considerable degree achieved through the intellect, the aforesaid reason would be sound and sufficient, no doubt; the inquirer into Christian Science might go away unconvinced and unconverted. But we all know that conversions are seldom made in that way; that such a thing as a serious and painstaking and fairly competent inquiry into the claims of a religion or of a political dogma is a rare occurrence; and that the vast mass of men and women are far from being capable of making such an examination. They are not capable, for the reason that their minds, howsoever good they may be, are not trained for such examinations. The mind not trained for that work is no more competent to do it than are lawyers and farmers competent to make successful clothes without learning the tailor's trade. There are seventy-five million men and women among us who do not know how to cut out and make a dress-suit, and they would not think of trying; yet they all think they can competently think out a political or religious scheme without any apprenticeship to the business, and many of them believe they have actually worked that miracle. But, indeed, the truth is, almost all the men and women of our nation or of any other get their religion and their politics where they get their astronomy--entirely at second hand. Being untrained, they are no more able to intelligently examine a dogma or a policy than they are to calculate an eclipse.
Men are usually competent thinkers along the lines of their specialized training only. Within these limits alone are their opinions and judgments valuable; outside of these limits they grope and are lost-- usually without knowing it. In a church assemblage of five hundred persons, there will be a man or two whose trained minds can seize upon each detail of a great manufacturing scheme and recognize its value or its lack of value promptly; and can pass the details in intelligent review, section by section, and finally as a whole, and then deliver a verdict upon the scheme which cannot be flippantly set aside nor easily answered. And there will be one or two other men there who can do the same thing with a great and complicated educational project; and one or two others who can do the like with a large scheme for applying electricity in a new and unheard-of way; and one or two others who can do it with a showy scheme for revolutionizing the scientific world's accepted notions regarding geology. And so on, and so on. But the manufacturing experts will not be competent to examine the educational scheme intelligently, and their opinion about it would not be valuable; neither of these two groups will be able to understand and pass upon the electrical scheme; none of these three batches of experts will be able to understand and pass upon the geological revolution; and probably not one man in the entire lot will be competent to examine, capably, the intricacies of a political or religious scheme, new or old, and deliver a judgment upon it which any one need regard as precious.
There you have the top crust. There will be four hundred and seventy- five men and women present who can draw upon their training and deliver incontrovertible judgments concerning cheese, and leather, and cattle, and hardware, and soap, and tar, and candles, and patent medicines, and dreams, and apparitions, and garden trucks, and cats, and baby food, and warts, and hymns, and time-tables, and freight-rates, and summer resorts, and whiskey, and law, and surgery, and dentistry, and blacksmithing, and shoemaking, and dancing, and Huyler's candy, and mathematics, and dog fights, and obstetrics, and music, and sausages, and dry goods, and molasses, and railroad stocks, and horses, and literature, and labor unions, and vegetables, and morals, and lamb's fries, and etiquette, and agriculture. And not ten among the five hundred--let their minds be ever so good and bright--will be competent, by grace of the requisite specialized mental training, to take hold of a complex abstraction of any kind and make head or tail of it.
The whole five hundred are thinkers, and they are all capable thinkers-- but only within the narrow limits of their specialized trainings. Four hundred and ninety of them cannot competently examine either a religious plan or a political one. A scattering few of them do examine both--that is, they think they do. With results as precious as when I examine the nebular theory and explain it to myself.
If the four hundred and ninety got their religion through their minds, and by weighed and measured detail, Christian Science would not be a scary apparition. But they don't; they get a little of it through their minds, more of it through their feelings, and the overwhelming bulk of it through their environment.
Environment is the chief thing to be considered when one is proposing to predict the future of Christian Science. It is not the ability to reason that makes the Presbyterian, or the Baptist, or the Methodist, or the Catholic, or the Mohammedan, or the Buddhist, or the Mormon; it is environment. If religions were got by reasoning, we should have the extraordinary spectacle of an American family with a Presbyterian in it, and a Baptist, a Methodist, a Catholic, a Mohammedan, a Buddhist, and a Mormon. A Presbyterian family does not produce Catholic families or other religious brands, it produces its own kind; and not by intellectual processes, but by association. And so also with Mohammedanism, the cult which in our day is spreading with the sweep of a world-conflagration through the Orient, that native home of profound thought and of subtle intellectual fence, that fertile womb whence has sprung every great religion that exists. Including our own; for with all our brains we cannot invent a religion and market it.
The language of my quoted prophets recurs to us now, and we wonder to think how small a space in the world the mighty Mohammedan Church would be occupying now, if a successful trade in its line of goods had been conditioned upon an exhibit that would "appeal to the intellect" instead of to "the unintelligent, the mentally inferior, the people who do not think."
The Christian Science Church, like the Mohammedan Church, makes no embarrassing appeal to the intellect, has no occasion to do it, and can get along quite well without it.
Provided. Provided what? That it can secure that thing which is worth two or three hundred thousand times more than an "appeal to the intellect"--an environment. Can it get that? Will it be a menace to regular Christianity if it gets that? Is it time for regular Christianity to get alarmed? Or shall regular Christianity smile a smile and turn over and take another nap? Won't it be wise and proper for regular Christianity to do the old way, Me customary way, the historical way--lock the stable-door after the horse is gone? Just as Protestantism has smiled and nodded this long time (while the alert and diligent Catholic was slipping in and capturing the public schools), and is now beginning to hunt around for the key when it is too late?
Will Christian Science get a chance to show its wares? It has already secured that chance. Will it flourish and spread and prosper if it shall create for itself the one thing essential to those conditions--an environment? It has already created an environment. There are families of Christian Scientists in every community in America, and each family is a factory; each family turns out a Christian Science product at the customary intervals, and contributes it to the Cause in the only way in which contributions of recruits to Churches are ever made on a large scale--by the puissant forces of personal contact and association. Each family is an agency for the Cause, and makes converts among the neighbors, and starts some more factories.
Four years ago there were six Christian Scientists in a certain town that I am acquainted with; a year ago there were two hundred and fifty there; they have built a church, and its membership now numbers four hundred. This has all been quietly done; done without frenzied revivals, without uniforms, brass bands, street parades, corner oratory, or any of the other customary persuasions to a godly life. Christian Science, like Mohammedanism, is "restricted" to the "unintelligent, the people who do not think." There lies the danger. It makes Christian Science formidable. It is "restricted" to ninety-nine one-hundredths of the human race, and must be reckoned with by regular Christianity. And will be, as soon as it is too late.