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I want to share some perspective I’ve gained on the purpose of this institution since leaving Principia, perspective on the cause it serves and what my experience has meant to me.
I graduated from Principia College in June 2009. I think my friends and mentors there would support me in saying that I was a model Principia student and a success story of “the intended outcomes of a Principia education.” I had a good GPA; was involved in many activities on campus; served on the Clara/Brooks House Board and the CSO Board; never went to Community Board or Restorative Justice, and only broke house hours on a couple of isolated occasions (which my friends will never let me forget). The funny thing is that it wasn’t until the summer after graduation that everything really clicked for me — that I started to understand what Principia is really all about and why it was set up the way it was.
Soon after graduation, I went through primary class instruction. In preparation for class, I read Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer, which helped me clarify my understanding of the keystone of Christian Science — healing. For those who have not read this biography, it tells the story of Mary Baker Eddy’s life through the lens of her healings and does a great job of emphasizing the essential role of healing in Christian Science. Of course, then I went on to spend two weeks learning all about healing.
At this time I was also thinking a lot about morality. Throughout college, Principia had defined morality for me in large part through the Blue Book. In addition, I had a very strong set of moral principles instilled in me by my family. Nearing the end of my senior year, I had been confronted with a major challenge to my sense of right and wrong, which kept this issue of morality at the front of my thought all through spring quarter and into the summer.
Upon going through class and spending hours reading from Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, The Bible and Prose Works, one thing that stood out to me was the importance of morality to healing. Jesus was the ultimate example of God’s man – sinless and eternal – and he was an amazing healer. Likewise, Mrs. Eddy is very firm in her directives that we cannot heal effectively if we are not upholding the moral law. I learned about law in Christian Science, beginning with the Ten Commandments as the moral law. These Jesus condensed into the two Great Commandments, which, together with his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, constitute the spiritual law. And finally, Christian Science represents the scientific law.
All of these laws go hand-in-hand. So, fundamentally, following the moral, spiritual, and scientific laws in large part enables us to replicate the healing work of Jesus Christ.
Now, back to Principia and its purpose. The College website displays the mission statement, “The Principia shall seek to serve the Cause of Christian Science through appropriate channels open to it as an educational institution.” To me, the key segment of that statement is “to serve the Cause of Christian Science.” This part was also the most elusive during my time there. I remember throwing that phrase around in house board meetings and other conversations with authority, as though I knew what it meant – I did not.
So what is the Cause of Christian Science? And how does Principia serve it? My experience and study during primary class instruction led me to the simple conclusion that the Cause of Christian Science is healing. As Christian Scientists it is our duty to study God’s law and demonstrate it by bringing healing to others. This, in my view, is what Jesus meant when he told the disciples to spread the gospel: “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils; freely ye have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). From this point, I extrapolate that the purpose of Principia, serving the Cause of Christian Science, is to cultivate healers. As an educational institution using the “appropriate channels open to it,” Principia ought to be giving its students the knowledge and tools to go out into the world as healers.
The implication of this that is perhaps most pertinent to Principia’s students is the framework that is in place at the Principia to help it achieve this purpose. This is related to my earlier discussion of morality. Principia’s rules, outlined in the Blue Book, are the subject of relentless debate among students and in the apartments of ever-patient Resident Counselors. Opinions range from gratitude and appreciation to grudging acceptance or impassioned hatred. Of main concern to me are what I think of as the three cardinal rules: no drinking, no drugs and no premarital sex.
What I learned in primary class about morality changed my perspective on these rules and gave me a deeper appreciation for their purpose. I think many students see the rules as a burden or a limitation on their behavior, something intended to control them. “After all,” they ask, “what place is it of Principia to tell me how to conduct myself in my relationships, or to tell me what I can and cannot do on my weekends?” They feel that the rules are in place to control and shelter students.
A moderate interpretation might just be that the rules represent a standard of behavior that we as Christian Scientists ought to strive toward for our own well-being and spiritual progress. This view point is incomplete, and the former is clearly misguided. It is my understanding that Principia’s moral code, contained in the Blue Book and epitomized by the three essential rules, exists not to control and shelter students, nor simply to encourage us to protect ourselves from destructive influences, but to foster our capacity to heal.
Mrs. Eddy is very clear in Science and Health about the necessity of maintaining one’s own purity and uprightness in order to heal oneself and others. The Old Testament, the Gospels, and Paul’s letters all explicitly address the issue of morality and its relationship to healing. Abstaining from premarital sex, drinking, and drug use are three of the most concrete ways to demonstrate purity, and are a superb starting point for the less tangible purification of thought that follows. Principia asks its students to uphold this moral standard because its purpose is to cultivate healers; therefore, it must begin by setting students on a course of spiritual growth that fosters their healing practice.