Commentary A Christian Science Perspective

To find what the world is trying to be

Today's column examines our role as individuals in building a just society and healing a world in great need.

  • Thomas Johnsen

“Your job is to find what the world is trying to be.”

It’s a line from a poem titled “Vocation,” by the American poet William Stafford. The poem, which is unflinchingly frank about troubled family relations, describes the “dream the world is having about itself” and hints at glimpses that “tell something better about to happen.”

The mission to find what a troubled world “is trying to be” isn’t just for poets. It could also apply to journalists – and, in a compelling sense, to the mission of The Christian Science Monitor.

The purpose of the Monitor reflects the ethic and values of the church which publishes it. Mary Baker Eddy, who established both the newspaper and the Church of Christ, Scientist, summarized this ethic in the first issue in 1908: “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 353).

The Monitor isn’t intended to propagandize for a religious doctrine or a partisan political position, but its purpose flows from the denomination’s basic Christian commitment to minister to the needs of humanity – to be a genuine healing influence in the world.

A newspaper addresses thought. It speaks to the consciousness and conscience of society. And consciousness determines the direction in which history will go. As the late Czech President Václav Havel pointed out, for example, the astonishingly peaceful revolution that ended totalitarian domination of his country took place first in the consciousness of ordinary citizens. The outward change in society resulted from a change in the people’s thought.

The Monitor’s founder took a similar view. The healing of society – like healing of the body in the serious ministry of prayer, as she held – comes fundamentally through awakening in thought.

In her early years, she witnessed the profound sea change in human attitudes that led to the abolition of slavery in the United States. “The history of our country, like all history,” she wrote, “illustrates the might of Mind” – the power of God – “and shows human power to be proportionate to its embodiment of right thinking” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 225).

“Right thinking” here doesn’t mean a particular set of opinions. Eddy stated bluntly, “In Christian Science mere opinion is valueless” (Science and Health, p. 341). The charged intensity of political opinions often inflames divisions and confines the thinking of whole groups within narrow prejudices. The effect is mesmeric. In today’s polarized world, it takes serious moral effort to come out from the grip of strong personal opinion and recognize the “image” of God – the spiritual likeness or expression of divine Love – reflected in those with whom we differ.

This is the spirit to which the Monitor calls its readers as well as its journalists. There’s nothing saccharine in this commitment. It isn’t about avoidance of evils or merely “looking for the positive.” In reporting on social and political issues, the newspaper strives to keep in focus what is ultimate and lasting, what actually redeems and heals. In responding to these issues, readers are challenged to lift their own sights beyond personal self-concerns to a broader vision of humanity – and of their own indispensable role as individuals in building a just society and healing a world in great need.

In a discouraging time for the people of Israel, the prophet Habakkuk caught a glimpse of the illumined spiritual relation of God to the whole of creation: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, New King James Version). The prophet’s reference to the knowledge of God’s glory is significant. Our need isn’t for God’s glory, God’s kingdom, to be more present than it already is. Our need is to know this divine reality and to let it inspire our thoughts and actions. The salvation Habakkuk is pointing to is first and foremost an inward change, beginning in individual hearts but reaching to all humanity.

To “find what the world is trying to be” begins with understanding the world as it actually is. Today’s prevalent materialism isn’t the exhaustive realism often presumed; it misses the spiritual heights and depths in human experience. Neither (as this newspaper’s founder insisted) is the biblical recognition of “true humanhood” in the spiritual image of God a backward-looking religious ideal.

What the image of God is includes and transcends the best of what humanity is “trying to be.” It is what each of us already and always is in the light of divine Love. This insight changes the world as it transforms humanity’s understanding of itself. It brings to light possibilities for genuine healing and progress in society that are urgently needed – and powerfully practical – in these tumultuous times.

Adapted from an editorial in the October 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal.

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