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88 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing Views of Eddy and American Culture, February 4, 2006
"Marinating in materialism" is an apt sound bite describing society entering the 21st century. Some nostalgics might yearn for a simpler time-say a hundred years ago-before cell phones, high speed Internet and the Jerry Springer Show.

According to Stephen Gottschalk, other than new technology, little has changed in media strategy and social values in the last century. His new book, "Rolling Away The Stone: Mary Baker Eddy's Challenge to Materialism" focuses on the period from 1890 to 1910, the ending twenty years in the controversial career of Mary Baker Eddy, religious leader, church founder, publisher and media lightening rod.

Through meticulous historical research, including new original source material recently made public, Gottschalk portrays both the heart-rending struggles and triumphs of a religious reformer who challenged the growing encroachment of materialism in society and particularly in religion. Through her Bible study, hard-knock life experiences, experimenting and discovery (or as she called it "reason and revelation") she felt she glimpsed the essential vitality of original Christianity. Not encumbered by formal education, no degree in classical theology, her reading of the Bible bore through centuries of tradition, ritual and dogma to share with the world a view of "primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing."

Much of 19th century church teaching was colored by doctrinal assumptions dating back to ancient church councils where it was agreed to make God the cause of not only infinite good but of matter and finitude which lead to death and suffering in human experience. Healing, common in the first years of the Christian era, was considered something confined to Bible times and not for contemporary practice. This cold formality made many feel uncomfortable as the 1800's came to an end, despite the era's astounding accomplishments in the field of industry and science. Eddy and her followers saw medical materialism and ecclesiastical materialism as obscuring the belief that God's power had a direct effect on human experience. That stone of materialism needed to be rolled away, like the stone at Jesus' tomb, to assist what she saw as the advancing spiritual era.

In 1890, after a remarkable career, Mary Baker Eddy yearned for a much-deserved retirement-the hope of sitting in the rocking chair on the veranda of her New Hampshire country home, aptly named Pleasant View. But the view for the next twenty years was far from pleasant.

As a public figure by this time, Eddy was one of the best-known women in the world. The notable growth of her movement and church became easy targets by the emerging mass media of newspapers and magazines. Ethics in journalism were identified by both courageous muckraking and what was to be labeled "yellow journalism," creating news and "facts" to sell more papers. It was the precursor to today's relentless Paparzzi and wild tabloid scandal sheets. The 1900's began with a bizarre law suit sponsored by Joseph Pulitzer's New York World attempting to declare Eddy mentally unfit to handle her own affairs (including the administration of her church). Without any foundation, this episode ultimately vindicated Eddy but not after undergoing much stress and public humiliation.

Then there was the sardonic wit of humorist Mark Twain poking fun at this woman who rose to such rapid popularity. On top of this were problems within her movement where Eddy found some students drifting away from the central Christian message of Christian Science and morphing into popular positive thinking factions and mind-healing groups which ignored the sacrifice and cross bearing of true Christian discipleship. Gottshalk examines two much publicized cases of errant students, Augusta Stetson and Josephine Woodbury, who could turn any teacher's hair white with their public power plays and distortions of her teaching.

Faced by the dynamic of these strong pressures from within and without, Eddy took on the role of both gyroscope-keeping her message and students on track-and as a mother protecting her child (or vision) from increasing attacks and distortion. Rolling Away the Stone, as both history and biography, allows the reader to feel present during those tumultuous times in American history as well as feeling the loneliness of a religious pioneer faced with peril at every step. The reader gets a deeper appreciation of her challenges and feels the emotion of Eddy's poem, later set as a popular hymn: "O make me glad for every scalding tear, for hope deferred, ingratitude, distain! Wait, and love more for every hate, and fear no ill,--since God is good and loss is gain." It is this sense of human drama that involves the reader.

Focusing on only twenty years of a life spanning ninety years, it is impossible to cover the entire scope of Eddy's work and all the details of Christian Science. As an historian, Gottshalk does not artificially color his subject with melodrama but lets the carefully documented facts tell the story. If anything, this book encourages the reader to launch out and do more reading on these subjects, in particular, wider scope works like the expansive biographic trilogy on Eddy by scholar Robert Peel.

Twain scholars will appreciate the nuance Gottschalk finds in Twain's dual view of Eddy and Christian Science. Twain was satisfied to treat Eddy's fame the same as any contemporary industrial tycoon, with critical distain. Not only that, she had the audacity of being a woman competing in a man's world! However, most of his commentary on Christian Science tended to be almost complimentary. He wrote, "The thing back of it is wholly gracious and beautiful." He shared Eddy's protest against the prevailing Christian notion that God is the source of human affliction, yet he died in anger, shaking his fist at that kind of God. Gottshalk presents a heart breaking view of Twain's deep melancholy that seems to rival that of Abraham Lincoln's inner pain, as revealed by recent scholarship. Twain, the world famous comedian, was conflicted with a deep sense of failure and guilt, crushed by grief at the loss of loved ones closest to him.

For Christian Scientists, this book will be an eye-opener and may challenge some views developed over the years about their leader. For many this will be an exhilarating and liberating perspective giving them a greater appreciation for what she contributed by her life struggles. For others, seeking a more iconic view, this could prove disturbing and make them question the author's intent. For those not involved in the church or religion, this book presents a fascinating look at the turn of the last century, showing how little has changed in political and corporate power struggles and how the mass media, as we know it today, began permeating and influencing public thought. It spotlights the incredible career of a woman whose only goal was to share a renewed view of the vitality of Christianity in everyday life-restoring healing as an act of worship and as the "outflowing life of Christianity."
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50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars With Grace, February 27, 2006
Gottschalk has written a graceful, lucid, and heartfelt book that captures both the inner life and outward struggle of Mary Baker Eddy, one of the more unique figures in American religious history. Though a Christian Scientist himself, he is no apologist but a clear eyed, sympathetic scholar who has the intellectual wherewithal to place her in a historical context (see his explanation of her Puritan background or the section on Mark Twain for example) and to do justice to her religious ideas. He does this while keeping in view her humanity and the steep price she paid for holding true to her own conscience-driven mission. Not a quick read but well worth the time spent.
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69 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dispersing the mist., February 24, 2006
My comments below will review the book, and also speak to a review in The Christian Science Monitor 2/21/2006 (available in archive at csmonitor [dot] com).

This book is an important story about a significant contributor to the intellectual history of the world. But the 'official' review by Monitor reviewer, Richard Bergenheim, editor of the Monitor, seems to wish Gottschalk had told a different story. And he bases some of his critique on the story not told, dismissing the book, in part, as dogmatic -- yet he does not establish his assessment charging 'dogmatism' by citing a single quote. (Here's one of his: "Regretfully, Gottschalk feels compelled to tell the more familiar story yet again, leaving examination of what Mrs. Eddy achieved during this period and how it was accomplished still largely unexplored. . . . Its tone, however, is often uncomfortably dogmatic.") 'More familiar?' RB seems to miss the point that the book is not about the church but about her challenge to materialism. What a pity. Perhaps he's the dogmatist, being more fixated by the (failing?) empire, than focused on the significant insight about the nature of matter and the way of treating it which Eddy has delivered to the world.

Yes, the book revisits ground covered by Robert Peel (in what still remains the leading scholarly biography on Eddy), but Gottschalk is on a new mission. The intrigue of prominent thinkers (Twain, Cather, Pulitzer, et al) and their differing perceptions of reality was, for me, worth contemplating. I came away with the distinct feeling that Eddy would have been much further ahead had she not allowed herself to be distracted by the founding of a centralized church, an effort she attempted to resist. (Let the local branches be the church!) And one of her appointees strongly attempted to save her much of that trouble, which burdened her shoulders with the cares and struggles of a human institution; (he endeavored to help her focus her efforts, instead, almost exclusively on a publishing thrust).

This was refreshing to me. It revealed what could have been. But Eddy was not to be deterred by an underling (especially a man!), even though she herself had resisted organizing a central church. (Why does the story always seem to end by the church crucifying and/or deifying its founder?) What I found fascinating was, that at the very end, some of her closest students sought with determination to revise her intentions, and from what I can see, they did. But it is likely that those at the top don't want the pew-sitters to notice "that man behind the curtain."

This book deserves the careful attention of any who are truly interested in excellent scholarship on the history of Eddy's radical teaching and lifework. Her central thesis, called 'the scientific statement of being' found on p.468 of her seminal text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, treats matter in a powerful new way which is far in advance of that even of today's modern physicists such as Penrose, et al, who are presently (and belatedly!) working on this very issue, questioning the relationship between consciousness and matter. They should be realizing that an unschooled little old lady from New England got there ahead of them!

Gottschalk provides a balanced view of a remarkable and dynamic woman which effectively dispels or contests much of the falsehood put on record by ax-grinding critics with dubious agendas. He shines light on the many histrionic claims targeting this vibrant 19th century thinker, at their very source. This is dogmatism? In my view, Gottschalk has helped to melt the fog surrounding this controversial, but very dynamic, figure.

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christian Science, being absolute, is at the point of perfection, April 15, 2007
Mary E. Sibley (Medina, Ohio, USA) - See all my reviews
Mary Baker Eddy took a radical stand against materialism, and, resultantly, evil. Both Mary Baker Eddy and Mark Twain experienced moments of blackness, despair. Although Twain could believe in healing through Christian Science, he could not believe that God is Love.

This new scholarly biography by Stephen Gottschalk is of interest to both historians of religion in America and Christian Scientists. The author's focus is Mary Baker Eddy's final twenty years. For the most part these years were spent by her at her New Hampshire retreat near Concord, Pleasant View. Gottschalk uses pressure points encountered by Mrs. Eddy to organize the book. The first is the regrettable Next Friends Suit triggered by inquiries of Pulitzer's WORLD. Other points used are the vehement opposition of Mark Twain to Mrs. Eddy and the World Parliament of Religions.

In the near term the Parliament was deemed a success by Christian Science adherents. Mrs. Eddy had, nonetheless, fear of overexposure and she was more perceptive than her followers in this regard. The discussion of MBE and Mark Twain is interesting in terms of the Calvinist background they shared. Mrs. Eddy is characterized as a reluctant Charismatic. Her position was a radical one. Dissension in the movement threatened its prosperity. Through unity of action the Mother Church was built in 1894. Mrs. Eddy made unremitting demands upon members and officers for concerted purposeful action. The boom in branch church edifices, though, signaled a danger--creeping materialism. Mrs. Eddy believed her source of authority was spiritual listening.

More than Emma Hopkins and Augusta Stetson, Josephine Woodbury was a conflicted follower of Mary Baker Eddy. She passed from ardent disciple to adversary. She had drama and flair. She and her students lived by a sort of miracle play of their own. Ex-communicated in 1895 for thought transference, Josephine Woodbury conducted a campaign against Mrs. Eddy in 1899. Later she sued for libel. Until victory was achieved two years later there was an atmosphere of fear and malice.

Mrs. Eddy was not always a tower of strength. She disliked self-justification. She saw it as resistance to spiritual progress. In 1908 she instructed the Trustees of the Christian Science Publishing Society to establish the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR in one hundred days. The name cemented the unbreakable link of newspaper and church.

In 1909 Mrs. Eddy sought to consolidate her gains in the affairs of the movement. Fighting old age and death, she withdrew, even from events in her own household. After Mary Baker Eddy's death the movement lost vitality. Mrs. Eddy's leadership had been bold, forward marching.

The notes and bibliography are useful to Christian Scientists and others. What is presented that is absent from other biographies is information about the households in Concord and Chestnut Hill, a sort of loss statement pertaining to the Next Friends Suit, more vivid explanations of the controversites with Josephine Woodbury, Augusta Stetson, and, for that matter, Foster Eddy.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well done, March 24, 2006
T Goodspeed (Boynton Beach, FL USA) - See all my reviews
I found Gottschalk's work inspiring, insightful, and very well written. I have read several biographies about the venerable Mrs. Eddy, and this one may just be the best.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliantly written, inspiring to read, December 11, 2007
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Stephen Gottchalk's writing is articulate and illuminating. A fascinating book which I could hardly put down. Very inspiring and enlighening at times. He thoroughly understood his subject and brings forth his vast and detailed understanding to the reader in a way that is easy to comprehend. It clears up fallacies and inaccuracies . It is an important book for sincere readers.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite biography, February 17, 2010
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I have read most of the biographies of Mrs. Eddy and have found Rolling Away the Stone to be the most thought inspiring of them all. I felt the book brought a new dimension to the trials and victories of the discoverer of Christian Science. As a student of C.S. I felt a renewed impetus to put into practice the love for others which my religion demands.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars inspirational and informational, November 24, 2007
Very few books make me want to read to the end. This one did. Someone could actually use this to deepen and widen their faith of God as taught
through Christian Science. I could return to book and reread it. As Mrs. Eddy said to understand her was to understand Christian Science. So I
highly recommend this work. This is not light reading it more like a textbook. But I like that if its well done. Deep thinkers well enjoy this
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Gottschalk, December 10, 2007
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For those who remember Stephen's articles for the Christian Science periodicals, this is classic Gottschalk. In other words, it is highly detailed, well researched, well thought out, and tends to be much more theologically based than the writings that come out of the Publishing Society. He also has a marked tendency to drift from his focus on occasion, and to get side-tracked onto peripheral lines of thought. In general, a candid and thorough look at the later years of a remarkable life. More analytical and less folksy, this book belongs alongside the biography by Gillian Gill - as both a supplement to it, and as an effective insider's look from someone who truly understands Christian Science theology perhaps even better than many at The Mother Church.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those who seek Truth, April 28, 2008
Solard Claude (Paris area, France) - See all my reviews
This book is for people looking for the meaning of life, a meaning to be found only in the search for God. It explains the quest of Mary Baker Eddy, Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science at the end of the 20th century, a new Christian denomination, but also a way of thinking and living. Very scholarly, very interesting for people who feel concerned by "the new paradigm".Rolling Away the Stone: Mary Baker Eddy's Challenge to Materialism (Religion in North America)
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Rolling Away the Stone: Mary Baker Eddy's Challenge to Materialism (Religion in North America)
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