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Is matter an illusion?

SOMETIMES a magazine article or perhaps a resource book on religious beliefs suggests that Christian Science teaches matter, even existence itself, to be illusory. Such a casual statement surprises the Christian Scientist as much as it must surprise most other readers. After all, the Christian Scientist drives a car, eats a meal, picks up a newspaper just as everyone else does. Although such a sweeping statement can easily misrepresent what a Christian Scientist actually believes, it does point to a teaching that deserves to be better understood by those who have a serious interest in religious ideas. The fact is, Christian Science teaches that matter is very, very real to the physical senses. Mortals constantly see, hear, taste, smell, feel, evidence of matter. And to these material senses nothing could be more substantial. But there is another issue here. What about the material senses themselves? How responsible are they in providing an accurate description of reality? How real, how valid, are they? There are plenty of times when we dismiss what these senses tell us is real. We believe instead what our education has taught us. For example, I recently admired images in a museum of holography. But as substantial as the holograms looked, I knew that when I reached out to feel the images being projected, there would be no ``substance'' there. Not long ago I watched a jet fly into the distance. While my eyes told me the jet was becoming smaller, my education preserved my conviction that it wasn't. Obviously, the material senses are laced with limitations. They often de- ceive us in simple little ways. Though we may not want to admit it, they deceive us in larger ways too. What perspective, then, can we depend on to describe with certainty and consistency the nature of genuine reality? Christian Science explains that spiritual sense, rather than material sense, is the truly dependable basis for knowing what is ultimately real. This goes to the heart of Christ Jesus' mission and ministry. As the very Son of God, he was fully endowed with the clarity of spiritual sense. He saw existence from God's standpoint, from the standpoint of perfect Spirit, and understood that man is actually the pure child of divine Spirit. This authentic view overturned the diseased and sinning views of material sense. Jesus didn't merely brush aside a material sense of existence. He understood how real to people were their sickness and sinfulness. But he also understood how this suffering of material sense could give way to a fuller reality, the supremacy and perfection of Spirit. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes: ``Sickness is neither imaginary nor unreal,--that is, to the frightened, false sense of the patient. Sickness is more than fancy; it is solid conviction.'' 1 But even solid, mistaken conviction can give way to the awakening influence of the Christ, which reveals man to be God's beloved child, held in His care. The blessed purpose of Christianity is to awaken thought spiritually. This is a Christian's rebirth. It involves an increasing goodness, purity, integrity--a spiritual regeneration that gradually leads to a full transformation of thought. The Christian begins responding to Christ Jesus' encouragement to see existence as he saw it. When the Master promised, ``Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away,'' 2 he wasn't casually dismissing matter. He was promising that a true sense of substance, brought to light in his words, his teaching, would dawn on human consciousness. His words ``Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'' 3 take on deep significance. Christian Science does something much more fundamental than merely suggest that matter is illusory. It champions Christ Jesus' proof that the material senses themselves are mistaken about the nature of reality. He showed that Spirit and its spiritual creation are the reality. That's why the sick were healed, the sinner reformed, the dead raised. Existence isn't illusory; substance isn't illusory. But to the Christian who is growing in his spiritual sense, substance and existence are vastly more than deteriorating and decaying matter. To him, matter-based views of being, identity, and existence are to be outgrown, even if a great struggle is involved. They ``pass away,'' and we see all of creation as spiritual. This perfection is Spirit's view of the universe. As we surrender to divine Spirit, it will become ours. 1 Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 460. 2 Matthew 24:35. 3 Matthew 5:48.

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