What’s Your Greatest Need?
William Henry Alton, C.S.B., of New York, New York
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
“Our very success or failure in living depends on knowing right from wrong, and living the right,” William Henry Alton, C.S.B., of New York City, told an audience in Boston on Sunday afternoon.
The lecturer explained that in a world of lawlessness and fluctuating moral values the great demand on each individual today is spiritual — “to bring our thinking and our lives into accord with our true nature, into accord with what God created man to be, and not settle for an ungodlike selfhood, controlled by evil.”
A member of The Christian Science Board of Lectureship, Mr. Alton spoke in The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Mr. Alton held several executive posts in business and industry before devoting his full time to the healing ministry of the Church of Christ, Scientist. He is also a teacher of Christian Science.
The title of his lecture was “What’s Your Greatest Need?” He was introduced by Mrs. Virginia Stopfel of Newtonville, Massachusetts. An abridged text of his lecture follows:
Some of you may have seen a cartoon in one of our popular magazines. It shows a man about to leave his house. His wife is holding a sawed-off shotgun and he’s saying to her, “Now cover me, I’m going to the store for some bread.”
Actually, this is a very unfunny reminder of the lawlessness and moral confusion going on in one form or another throughout the world. It’s part of a great stir and loss of values which appear to have taken over. We need only look at the captions in our newspapers — the crime, pollution, dishonesty in politics and government, gambling, squandering of natural resources, sexual permissiveness.
Psychologists tell us this kind of behavior is the result of despair over the future, particularly among youth, a kind of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” attitude — a kind of “the end justifies the means” approach to things.
There are others who contend that some of what’s going on is good, that it’s simply evidence of greater tolerance, and freedom to do what one wants to do. At the other end of the spectrum we find those who believe that dry rot has set in which imperils our very civilization. And it all adds up to the fact that people have no agreed-to standard for measuring right and wrong, and no awareness of what penalties they may be incurring.
A spiritual basis
Our purpose today is to examine this whole question of morality, of right and wrong — to show that there’s a spiritual basis for evaluating conduct and morality, and how to go about dealing with wrong thinking and acting — in ourselves, and in our world. There’s no more vital subject affecting our lives. Our very success or failure in living depends on knowing right from wrong, and living the right.
A recent book by Dr. Karl Menninger, a founder of the Menninger Psychiatric Clinic in Kansas, is most interesting. It’s entitled, “Whatever Became of Sin?” He discusses the problems of morality and conduct we’ve touched upon, and makes what sounds like an old-fashioned diagnosis — that the culprit is sin. Actually sin has become almost an archaic word — and Dr. Menninger’s purpose in the book is to restore the use of the word “sin” — not for the word’s sake, but to reintroduce a sense of moral responsibility in the hearts of individuals — to make us face up to our sins — a must, he believes, if all the worldwide moral disturbance is to be corrected.
There are many voices crying out today on this subject of sin: columnists, educators, as well as religionists — people that have vision, and love for their brother man. In fact a number of our country’s think-tank groups rate law and morality as one of the 10 greatest needs confronting mankind!
Of course, there’s nothing new about pointing the finger at sin. In Bible times Jesus and Paul stressed over and over again the importance of dealing with sin. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, urges her followers to give daily attention to overcoming sin. In fact sin is a word she uses over a thousand times in her writings, and she makes the arresting statement that “The emphatic purpose of Christian Science is the healing of sin.” (“Rudimental Divine Science.” p. 2).
After pondering what these thinkers have to say, we begin to see that much of the trouble and wrongdoing in the world are only the visible tip of the iceberg, that underneath lies the hidden basic evil — sin — that’s victimizing mankind. And it’s sin we’ve been almost totally ignoring.
Just what is sin? Probably one of the clearest definitions is from Cruden’s Bible Concordance which defines sin as “any thought, word, action, omission, or desire, contrary to the law of God.” To sin, then, is to think or act contrary to God in any way. To lose sight of God is to sin. When you get right down to it, sin consists of ungodlike thoughts — evil impulses such as hate, dishonesty, fear, selfishness, sensuality, and malice. Such thoughts are always harmful, and they’re sinful because they deny God’s presence and power.
The big question is, do we have to wait for drastic changes in the world and ourselves in order to deal with all this evil? Fortunately, no. We just have to change our concept of what the world and man really are — change it radically!
Upside down universe
The great demand on each one of us today is spiritual — to bring our thinking and our lives into accord with our true nature, into accord with what God created man to be, and not settle for an ungodlike selfhood, controlled by evil. When we think imperfection or evil or disease is true about ourselves or someone else, when we accept that man is physical, and inherently selfish, weak, violent, animal-like, we’re accepting an upside down universe as the reality. And such thinking is sinful because we’ve lost sight of God and man made in God’s image and likeness — we’ve denied God’s perfect spiritual universe, totally good. The outcome of this misconception of man and the universe is violence, smoke-filled skies, poisoned lakes, and immoral lives and neighborhoods. But the radical truth is that man is spiritual, Godlike. God’s presence and power fill the universe — a presence which includes only divine qualities such as love, goodness, integrity, purity, harmony, abundance, everywhere present.
Without understanding this spiritual standard, right and wrong cannot be properly evaluated, nor today’s problems solved. Right living and acting are the result of each of us accepting in every way what God and man really are, and reasoning out from this premise.
Idealistic? Not at all — very practical. We can take our cue from the lives recorded in the Bible. From Abraham to Moses all the way to Jesus and John, spiritually minded thinkers caught glorious views of perfection right where the physical senses reported evil to be going on. They were able to penetrate through the evil to the underlying presence of spiritual good all around. For example, the Psalmist, surrounded by trouble, spoke of lying down in green pastures, beside the still waters (Ps. 23:2). Jesus told of the kingdom of heaven, a glorious state of consciousness which he said is here, and now. In the book of Revelation, John wrote, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Rev. 21:1).
The inspired religious leaders were experiencing a very different set of life-conditions from those around them — peace, and joy, and goodness, right where an uninspired human consciousness was finding only trouble and violence. Why? Because they knew Godlike conditions are the true spiritual conditions everywhere, are always present, and concretely evident to the spiritual consciousness that knows God. Whatever else suggests a single element of evil is a mirage, a misconception, a lie.
Stages of consciousness
Mrs. Eddy explains this in her textbook “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “. . . the heavens and earth to one human consciousness, that consciousness which God bestows, are spiritual, while to another, the unillumined human mind, the vision is material. This shows unmistakably that what the human mind terms matter and spirit indicates states and stages of consciousness.” And she adds: “… we can become conscious, here and now, of a cessation of death, sorrow, and pain. . . . When you read this, remember Jesus’ words, ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ This spiritual consciousness is therefore a present possibility” (p. 573).
Mrs. Eddy adopted the Biblical term “Soul” for God, Soul meaning spiritual consciousness and expressing itself in spiritual sense, the sense we’ve just touched upon and that David experienced when he said of God, “He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23:3). Soul, God, is the infinite divine consciousness which provides His expression, man, with the awareness of all that’s spiritual, beautiful, harmonious, pure, loving, tender. This is the kingdom of God, where God’s nature is revealed as the only presence, without a single evil or sinful element. Ungodlike qualities which seem present around us are apparent only to physical sense, and are the illusion. Man as Soul’s expression knows only what Soul knows — never sordidness, violence, animality. What Soul knows is his only real surrounding, environment, and desire!
This is the truth about man as God created him. It’s the true, wonderful Godlike consciousness and identity of every single individual, here, everywhere. We don’t have to make it true — it IS true right this moment. To believe otherwise is to sin, because such thinking denies God and His goodness as everywhere present. Soul and Soul’s universe alone is here, now. God’s man — you and I as we really are — is spiritual, Godlike, conscious only of Spirit. We live in this atmosphere of Soul and are totally satisfied. Man as the embodiment of Soul’s qualities is sinless, secure, Love-motivated. As we hold to these facts, and accept no other view of ourselves or anyone else, we get tuned in. The new heaven and earth appear. Our human experience bears evidence to these wonders.
A healing of dishonesty
Let me illustrate. A young couple had a little baby born with club feet. The father was employed as a loan officer for a bank, and in order to pay for the baby’s surgical operations, he arranged loans to himself under a fictitious name. The loans piled up until finally he was arrested and indicted. What should he do?
Just before his trial, he recalled how as a child he’d visited a Christian Science Sunday School. He remembered hearing something about finding spiritual solutions to problems. He came to me as a Christian Science practitioner seeking such an answer to his problem.
I began to pray scientifically about the situation. I declared understandingly that only spiritual sense could report the true facts about the situation: perfect God and perfect man in His likeness; that because this spiritual man is Godlike, upright, he is subject only to God’s divine law, which is always just. I knew that in Soul’s spiritual universe of ideas, there was no such thing as a weak mortal, but only the man of integrity, courage, goodness. I knew that these spiritual facts, when recognized, always appear in human experience in the form of right and just solutions. The young father, willing to do his part, turned to the Christian Science textbook to learn more about God, and himself as God’s sinless son. He recognized his mistaken thinking and action, that he’d been motivated by misguided love, not by dishonesty. And in weakness he had turned to evil for an answer. He had sinned by denying God’s power and ever-presence.
He was repentant, and ready to pay his debt. Well, the trial turned out very differently from what even the defense attorney had dared hope. Instead of the minimum of five years in prison which such a crime draws, he was given a one-year suspended sentence. Wasn’t this a sure sign of God’s grace, and that this man’s moral sense had been restored, and reformation had taken place? What was this young father’s greatest need? Money? No, it was to know God, Soul; that Soul had in store for him and his family the spiritual and moral answer to every human need, including perfect healing.
I know of a similar situation to the one just mentioned — Christian Science friends — whose baby, too, was born with club feet. One leg was also an inch or so shorter than the other. This couple knew their greatest need. They turned immediately to God, to spiritual sense, to learn what was true about God and man. They searched for a deeper understanding of the universe of Soul, and Soul’s man forever expressing every spiritual quality: symmetry, usefulness, activity, beauty — never a malformed bundle of flesh and bones. It was a wonderful experience to see these qualities gradually appear — the re-forming of those tiny feet and a lengthening of the shortened limb — without any material aid whatsoever! In due time the child was able to walk entirely normally.
When Mary Baker Eddy discovered the spiritually scientific method of dealing with sin she was in a very serious condition as a result of an accident. Confined to her bed, expected to die, she naturally turned to her Bible and opened to the account of Jesus’ healing of the palsied man. You’ll remember Jesus said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. . . . Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house” (Matt. 9:2,6,7).
Now she’d read this dramatic healing many times before. But this time she suddenly glimpsed the wonderful truth that had triggered the healing — the recognition that man’s real God-created nature could never be sinful, but is forever the image of God: spiritual, pure, perfect, and entirely good! It was the palsied man’s acceptance of himself as a paralyzed physical mortal — in other words sinful thinking — that had held him incapacitated! He’d accepted a status diametrically opposite to man made in God’s image and likeness. And Jesus’ recognition of the error of this thinking, and his conviction of the man’s real spiritual identity, healed him. The man’s true, unrestricted nature immediately surfaced — he got up and walked! When Mrs. Eddy read this account, she realized, these spiritual facts were equally true of her — she, too, as the image of perfect God, Spirit, was spiritual and sinless. And she got up and walked! Her complete healing came in a relatively short time.
But her spiritual research didn’t stop here. For several years she devoted her full time to enlarging her understanding of the Soul-consciousness which is God. Through living with the Scriptures her inspired thought perceived that man is the reflected consciousness of God, and he therefore knows only what God knows. Through her writings she shows you and me how sinful suggestions of a man and universe burdened with trouble disappear in the light of spiritual understanding.
Unless religion is relevant and demonstrable, all we have is a beautiful philosophy, but no remedy. So how does spiritual understanding deal with the awful conditions our media report today — crime, pollution, dishonesty? How does spiritual understanding tackle the pervasive materially centered immoral standard that says anything goes? What can we do?
Qualities of Soul
We can do much. First, we must examine our own thinking. How do we identify ourselves, materially, or spiritually? Are we part of this immoral problem, or part of its solution? Are we looking to Soul for all our needs? To have our desires spiritualized, our natures transformed? Then, Soul’s qualities of joy and satisfaction, beauty and happiness, will appear.
Secondly, out of our rich overflow we can lift others to clearer views of their own heritage as the image and likeness of God, Soul. The combined scientific prayer of those in this room alone can work wonders! But we must first make our own spiritual heaven and earth secure. And out of our lives will come the power to lift up the world.
Jesus had made this clear about himself — that the Christ is his divine and only nature, Christ meaning the pure expression of God, totally spiritual and incorruptible. And it was the Soul-power inherent in this Christ identity that made his prayers effective, for himself and others. It’s our sinless Christ identity which guides and motivates us. This Christ identity can’t be touched by anything evil, anything material. It knows and experiences nothing but perfection.
Going back for a moment to Jesus’ healing of the palsied man, Jesus didn’t just say, “Thy sins be forgiven thee” but also “Arise, take up thy bed.” He healed him! In order to heal any evil, physical or moral, sin must be destroyed. How then do we destroy evil and sin? As Jesus did — by separating so-called evil from individuals, by seeing the evil as an impersonal lie and the individual as the perfect expression of perfect God. This is spiritual seeing — Soul-seeing! This destroys the evil on the basis of its nothingness. Jesus said of evil, “he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). Think of it — a liar and the father of it! A superb description for sin — a misconception, zero, a nothing. Jesus was simply being obedient to the first commandment to have one God only, one power, and that one wholly spiritual and good. He destroyed any belief in a second so-called power named evil by recognizing it to be a bluff, a lie, zero. To think otherwise is sinful thinking.
No room left for evil
Certainly if we acknowledge God as all good, and man as reflected goodness, where’s any room left for another power, an opposing power called evil, to exist? That is, to exist except as a suggestion! Here’s where our part comes in. Do we accept the evil as real and powerful, or do we reject it as totally unfounded, untrue? Jesus condemned and rejected it! When we do this too, we have only one power left — good!
What we’ve been leading up to here is vital — how spiritual understanding heals sin through what we call scientific prayer. This prayer is gaining that spiritual sense of which David spoke when he said, “He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23:3). Prayer does restore our spiritual sense — the awareness of spiritual reality.
Actually, prayer is putting into action these two points I stressed earlier. First, the denial of the sin by recognizing it as a lie, an illusion, a dream, no part of man; and second, the affirmation and realization of the spiritual facts of Soul’s universe and Soul’s man.
Prayer is becoming so attuned to what spiritual sense reveals as true, and so unimpressed by what the physical senses propose, that we’re left with only spiritual reality in consciousness — seeing and knowing what Soul sees and knows. When this realization comes, the error disappears just as darkness goes before the light; and the change that appears in our lives is healing.
Why is this called scientific prayer? Because it’s based on spiritual sense, the consciousness that perceives the underlying facts of being. We glimpse absolute Truth. Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Soul and Soul’s universe of goodness is Truth. Sin is believing the material misconception of things, a lie.
The effect of scientific prayer is brought out in a significant statement of Mrs. Eddy’s regarding the healing of sin. “Is There Any Such Thing As Sin? Frequently when I touch this subject my meaning is ignorantly or maliciously misconstrued. Christian Science Mind-healing lifts with a steady arm, and cleaves sin with a broad battle-axe. It gives the lie to sin, in the spirit of Truth; but other theories make sin true.” Then she goes on to say, “Jesus declared that the devil was ‘a liar, and the father of it.’ A lie is negation, — alias nothing, or the opposite of something. Good is great and real. Hence its opposite, named evil, must be small and unreal. When this sense is attained, we shall no longer be the servants of sin, and shall cease to love it” (“No and Yes,” p.32).
What is so comforting about scientific prayer is that anyone can pray this way — even for extreme sin. Let me tell you of such a case.
A discovery in prison
A 14-year-old girl had no one to look after her or to teach her right from wrong. She had reached out for some kind of affection and had become pregnant. Later she married, but after some years, her husband abandoned her. By this time she had five children, and they were all left without means of support. Before long she drifted into gambling. Finally she started to peddle drugs, was arrested, convicted, and sent to prison for a five-year term.
It was in prison that she attended Christian Science services. A Christian Science institutional worker began to help her. Gradually her spiritual sense was awakened and she glimpsed a new and wonderful world different from anything she’d ever known before. And something of her own pure spiritual selfhood.
After three years she was paroled, and returned to her former ghetto area. She ran into staggering problems — for example, three of her children had become drug addicts. Also she ran into racial bias, crime, violence. But she was determined not to sin either by acknowledging the degradation so evident to the material senses or by committing any of the immoral acts of the past. She was determined to hold to what spiritual sense revealed of Soul’s universe and Soul’s man — a divine world of beauty and equality and love.
She succeeded! She healed her children of the addiction to drugs. She became an active church worker. Today she’s a very admired example of love, morality, and spiritual thinking. She and her new husband, also a church member, have two respectable and profitable businesses. She found the new heaven and new earth right where evil and sin seemed to be governing every facet of her life. She knew her greatest need and had claimed it.
How wonderful to realize that no matter what evils surround one’s life, whether dishonesty, or degradation or illness, right there Soul’s conditions are the only true conditions, and are supreme. Man’s identity is never less than spiritual. Man lives in the atmosphere of Spirit, is supplied and satisfied by divine Love, is governed by divine law. He knows only spiritual being, beauty, purity, and goodness. Any material evidence to the contrary is a lie, and to believe the material evidence is sin. Like this woman, each one of us in our own way is being called upon to claim the allness of God, good, and live it!
Early in our discussion I raised the question as to whether there are any criteria for determining what’s right or wrong. Christian Science puts right and wrong squarely on a metaphysical basis — that any thought or action based on God and Godlike qualities is good and right, and that whatever includes a single ungodlike or evil element is sinful, wrong. Therefore to evaluate any thought or action, the motive underlying it needs to be examined — whether it comes from God, or from the one liar which suggests evil as true.
Basis for healing
Is our motive one of selfishness, or selflessness? Falsifying, or expressing integrity? Downgrading another, or seeing his identity as spiritual? In truth God or good is the only real motivation, because that’s the only power that’s really present or acting. Each of us as individual spiritual man is Soul’s representative; is under divine law, and expresses every divine quality in every way, under every condition and circumstance.
Man is always selfless and loves divinely, expresses assurance and integrity, is ever fearless and untemptable, radiates purity and completeness, never animality or degradation. The thrilling part is that when these truths are insisted upon, really accepted and lived, healing takes place. The evidence changes. Our human life is uplifted; our world improves.
The question arises whether there are penalties for sin and immorality, and rewards for uprightness. Yes, there are penalties and rewards, but not in any generally accepted or fearful sense. Penalties and rewards come only in a spiritually scientific way. If a child in school bases his reasoning on 2 + 2 = 4 there certainly is a reward — right answers! But if he believes 2 + 2 = 3 he makes mistakes, and finds no solutions, only penalties.
In a far deeper sense there’s a tremendous reward for thinking from a spiritual basis. We’ve tapped into Truth’s divine law, and our conclusions and our actions will be spiritual and moral. They will have divine law — rightness, and power, and healing — behind them. On the other hand, if our thinking and actions are based on the error that man is physical, sometimes evil, always limited, then what we think or do will be without law or power. And trouble will be the inevitable outcome.
Great compassion is needed for our brothers and sisters who haven’t yet claimed this heavenly inheritance. How many of the sinful deeds in the world are the result of an individual with real needs turning to matter instead of to God to find the answer — like the bank teller I mentioned, turning to dishonesty, or the 14-year-old girl turning to sensuality, or someone with an unhappy marriage who looks elsewhere for comfort.
Answer to every need
How wonderful to know that because man dwells in Soul right now, the spiritual and moral answer to every human need is already present. Suppose there’s immorality in our lives, degrading appetites, a pull to do things that are wrong? Our solution lies in learning more about God, and then thinking out consistently from what God is, and who we really are. God’s man can’t be kicked around by false suggestions, hypnotized to look for good in that which is totally evil. God’s man expresses only perfection as the beloved child of God.
Of course, it’s not enough to clean up our own lives, and ignore the mess our brothers are in. The spiritual facts we claim for ourselves are equally true of everyone else. To believe otherwise of a single one of God’s ideas is sin. The demand is always to elevate our own thinking about ourselves and others and see what’s spiritually true.
I started off today by identifying a few headlines that raise the question whether the world is going through a moral decay. Mrs. Eddy explains what’s happening. She calls it moral chemicalization, much like when an acid is poured into an alkali, and a bubbling, foaming upheaval takes place. The truths of spiritual scientific prayer pouring into human consciousness are causing the churning, and forcing hidden evil thinking into the open. We don’t have to accept these exaggerated forms of evil as being anything other than what they are — a healthy sign that evil is being forced out of hiding and is ready for destruction. In further describing such moral chemicalization, Mrs. Eddy says: “In Isaiah we read: ‘I make peace, and create evil. I the Lord do all these things;’ but the prophet referred to divine law as stirring up the belief in evil to its utmost, when bringing it to the surface and reducing it to its common denominator, nothingness. The muddy river-bed must be stirred in order to purify the stream” (Science and Health, p. 540).
Of course, none of us masters evil in a moment. But when we realize that God is Soul, the only power and presence, and that man dwells only in Soul’s environment of perfect harmony, then we’re able to turn the lie on evil and sin of every sort, and eliminate them from our lives. We no longer find ourselves open to temptation or discouragement; no longer think of ourselves as mortals struggling against a powerful enemy and hopeless odds. And we don’t believe our civilization is doomed. Our need is to grow consistently in our realization of Soul, and insist upon its conditions.
Any concept of life which is ungodlike includes evil or sin and conflicts with the truth of being. Such a material concept must be replaced with the Soul qualities of joy, happiness, health, fulfillment, satisfaction and beauty. They appear in our experience to the degree we become spiritually aware of them as omnipresent, and irreversible, as part of God and man in His image. The more we grow in our understanding of Soul and Soul’s wonderful universe, the more alive these ideals become, and the more our human environment changes to accord with what’s spiritually true. The demand on us is simply to be what God has created us to be.
Spiritual reality dawning
In truth only good is taking place. And we are seeing its appearing on the human scene. Discrimination against race, sex and age is lessening. Efforts are under way for more moral treatment of prison inmates. Injustice in backward countries is fading. The universal brotherhood of man is emerging. And all these signs are but the dawning in human consciousness of the spiritual reality — Soul’s universe, in which God’s man lives now and forever.
Each one of us has a big part to play in bringing about the final destruction of all evil through spiritually scientific means. And where do we start? With ourselves! And see that the vastness of our new heaven and earth includes everyone, everywhere. Mrs. Eddy stirs us to action where she says: “Beloved children, the world has need of you, — and more as children than as men and women: it needs your innocence, unselfishness, faithful affection, uncontaminated lives. You need also to watch, and pray that you preserve these virtues unstained, and lose them not through contact with the world. What grander ambition is there than to maintain in yourselves what Jesus loved, and to know that your example, more than words, makes morals for mankind!” (“Miscellaneous Writings,” p. 110).
Our new heaven and earth is here. The demand is to live in it. This is our greatest need.
[Delivered Feb. 22, 1976, at The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, and published in The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 23, 1976.]