As Europe has grown increasingly secular, the US has become a fertile ground for new religious traditions. Years after religious exiles settled North America, the United States would play host to a Second Great Awakening. Far more recently, another belief system has turned heads—particularly in Hollywood. We speak about Scientology, a faith whose believers are a veritable who’s who. But wait: are Christian Science and Scientology the same thing? The names would lead one to believe they are.
Where It Began
Let’s revisit the Second Great Awakening. In this 19th-century phenomenon, new faiths sprouted like weeds throughout the Northeast, particularly the “burned-over district” of upstate New York along the then-new Erie Canal. This movement focused largely on a “restorationist” approach to Christianity, claiming that the Roman Catholic Church lost its direction along the way—the genesis of the Protestant Reformation—and that it had strayed from the original apostolic church to begin with. Thus sprang new and distinctly American denominations such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Seventh-Day Adventists.
Building on this approach of restoring a long-lost form of Christianity was Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist in 1892. Eddy believed that Christianity had lost its original aspects of physical healing by faith, a topic the Bible mentions often. This new metaphysical faith would assert the primacy of the mind over the physical world. Christian Science shares many traits with other emergent American denominations of the 1800s, such as preaching abstention from alcohol and tobacco and a rejection of the trinitarian conception of God that most denominations share. Though headquartered in Boston, Christian Science Reading Rooms are nearly ubiquitous throughout the US.
On the other hand, there is Scientology. Science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard created a page-turner of a story about UFOs that took on a life of its own as a denomination unto itself. However, it has precious little to do with the restorationist principles of Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science. Instead of hoping to reinstate a Christian tradition of healing, Scientology instead claims that human beings have been hijacked by the spirits of aliens from outer space, and it’s only through a series of costly courses that one can hope to purge these alien souls. Even to the most cynical atheist, it should be clear that Christian Science and Scientology are not the same thing—not even close.
Keep Them Straight!
Now that you know the difference, what’s the best way to avoid conflating the two? Remember the “Christian” in Christian Science—Christian Scientists read and study the Bible, alongside its adjunct Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Scientologists, however, prefer a work of science fiction.
Categories: Interesting Stuff