I was inspired by the comments on the previous post to share a little more about my background. Everyone says they were “encouraged to explore and question,” my father (selectively) encouraged my exploring and questioning. I did a lot of exploring and questioning, which is of the lovely, and often problematic, things about Christian Science: on one hand people are “free to explore and question” on the other hand, people’s experiences can vary widely to the point I wonder if we were all practicing the same religion.
I was raised by people who converted to Christian Science. Sometimes I think converts are the most dangerous type of CS, because it is new and exciting and anything is possible.
Although my family was not Catholic (I think they tended towards Episcopalian – at least some of the extended family still does), my father attend private Catholic schools as a boy, and found/converted to Christian Science in the mid-to-late 1960s.
The story, as my father told it, goes a little like this: he was having vague, nondescript health problems (probably stress and other life-style induced issues) and went to the family doctor, the doctor told him nothing was wrong, and that he should consult with his priest – perhaps something was weighing on his mind. My father then went to the family priest, and after a conversation, the priest recommended he go to his doctor. At this point, my father decided to look outside both the medicine of the day, and the religion he was familiar with, and found Christian Science. The details of exactly how he came to CS are vague, but he credits CS with healing him of drinking and a several-pack-a-day smoking habit. My father went through class instruction in 1970.
My mother was raised in a relaxed northern-European protestant tradition (religious around Easter, Christmas, the appropriate King Cake parties/activities around Lent), and converted to Christian Science around the time she married my father, because it “was easier than attending two different churches.” My mother went through class instruction, probably in the late 70s, or early 80s.
As a child, I was permitted unlimited access to the family bookshelves which housed a variety of fiction and non-fiction/historical works. I was actively encouraged to read, as questions, and explore my relationship with God. My father and I used to go for walks after dinner, we would talk about religion (not just Christian Science), history, school, my plans for the future, my friends, travel, etc.
I regularly frequented bookstores and picked up books on a wide range of topics, the only one that were truly frowned upon was Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, as that was “dangerous” and “occult nonsense” yet they tolerated my dabbling with a Celtic Magic book as “just a phase.” Interestingly, they didn’t blink an eye when I brought home heavy reading about memory manipulation, a pseudo-scientific book about Atlantis, dystopian fiction, or my phase of obsessively reading novels with heavy medical undertones (The Best Little Girl in the World, and Coma which proceeded to give me nightmares and instill a deep terror of the medical community).
Most of my friends outside of Sunday School were of the Bible-thumping hellfire-and-brimstone “have you been saved?” variety of Christianity. At least one of them fell to their knees, pulling me with them, to “pray for” my “eternal salvation.” I compromised and we exchanged books to read. After she read a few passages of Science & Health, and was assured that I did “believe in Jesus” she let up a little bit.
I was also friends with a few Catholics, there was one in particular who regularly joined me sitting in the library as an opt-out from the school taught “sex-ed” program (mostly showing scary photos of “sexually transmitted diseases”). He also “gave up Catholicism for Lent” and we often commiserated about our religious baggage.
Most of the time I got into trouble for questioning things was in Sunday School. I questioned why God punished the Egyptians, I questioned what made the Tribes of Israel so special, I questioned if Jesus really had to die. I questioned the stories, I questioned the interpretation, I questioned “the appearance of evil” even if nothing “evil” was happening – someone might think something was happening, I questioned the entire Jesus story, I questioned why healing didn’t always work, I questioned the authority of the Sunday School teacher, and later I questioned why I should be there at all.
In retrospect, I am amazed I came out of my childhood as unscathed as I did. I didn’t break any bones, or sustain many long-lasting injuries. I had the chickenpox, I wretched an ankle or two, I fell off my bike/scooter/roller skates a few times, but over all I escaped with only a few lasting scars, and a crippling fear of dentistry.
At an early age I had an accident in which I broke some teeth. This required extensive reconstructive work, and many, many hours in a dental chair. My mother had, initially, emphasized that “we are Christian Scientists” and we “don’t need” local anesthetic, antibiotics, or post-work pain relief. She later changed her stance to “we use local anesthetic to make the dentist more comfortable.” She never changed her mind on antibiotics, or post-work pain relief (1).
I tried very hard from a very young age to overcome my fear of dentistry. The fluoride made me gag and puke, the dentist never seemed to believe that I was REALLY FEELING PAIN when they were drilling (even with local anesthetic it has since been determined by a more responsible dentist and better x-rays, that yes, some of my teeth have more roots/nerves), and somehow, no matter how hard I “worked to know the truth” my teeth never managed to heal themselves.
Of course, nothing was ever wrong with them to begin with, which didn’t help things any either.
My mother dragged us to the dentist twice a year. When I asked her why, she explained it was “routine maintenance” and that “teeth are important.” When I then asked why we didn’t visit doctors, she explained “doctors only want to use you as a pincushion and poison you.” As opposed to the sadistic dentists I was seeing every six months who only wanted to drill out my molars.
My fellow CS didn’t ever say much about dental work, probably because they were doing it too, or because it wasn’t noticeable. What was noticeable was when one of my friends grandfather’s died suddenly because his appendix burst, and when another older gentleman at the church had a mild stroke. The older gentleman had previously been a bastion of the church community, a sort of church elder, looked up to, and was aspiring to be a full-time CSP. He went from a pillar of church life, to semi-ostracized as he lurched around the building, mumbling, no one was quite sure what to make of it. He didn’t die, he wasn’t getting better, he was in a state of CS-purgatory. This purgatory lasted for about six months, after which point he passed away. His wife then left the church and hasn’t set foot inside since.
What was also noticeable is how they treated the children with disabilities, they were not labeled autistic (although I suspect that’s what the problem was) they were simply termed “out of control.” Clearly the mother was at fault for not raising the child properly. This may have also been a generational/regional bias, I don’t know what happened to the child, or his parents.
There was also the young man (and very close friend of mine) who, having sustained a severe head/brain injury as a child, had infrequent, severe seizures. He passed away while I was at Principia, and upon my return to church, I was “informed” by a former Sunday School teacher that my friend was “no longer with us” followed by flushing very red, and giggling in a rather embarrassed manner. My friends passing was never really talked about ever again, not in Sunday School, not at church, not at home, not ever. Christian Scientists don’t deal well with death. His mother still attends the church, but his younger siblings no longer participate in CS. Among the CS community, it is as if he never existed, our mutual-non-CS friends and I exchange remembrances usually around his birthday.
In Christian Science, we may all “read the same textbooks” and we may all agree that “2+2=4” and “God is Love” but the outcome for healing varies so wildly that I don’t feel that the term “science” can be applied. To hand the average person off the street (or even a multi-generation CS) a copy of Science and Health and then expect them to read, understand and work miracles is unrealistic and to promote such ideas is dangerous.
I took a lab science class while at Principia and we were required to keep a record of our experiments using the scientific method, our hypothesis, testing, results, etc. were all neatly block printed so we could go over our results. Every now and again my team’s results varied wildly from the class and we were able to go back and find where we deviated from the norm. In Christian Science there is no record of what was done, there is no way to double check work, there is no one to check your work, there are not others working on the same experiment with you, the results are not peer-reviewed before they are published. It is conveniently individualized so that if (or rather when) the person fails to heal themselves using Christian Science the blame rests entirely upon them and their lack of understanding.
Many people have said the way they practice CS does not exclude visiting doctors, and that not all CS they have interacted with have been radical. Many people have claimed to have amazing, occasionally doctor-documented, healing experiences, I’m happy for them. That was not my experience.
I watched my father struggle for years with increasingly debilitating strokes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and one functioning kidney. I watched my mother alternate between radical reliance on God, pseudo science from the internet, a radical lifestyle and diet makeover and the doctor-advised/prescribed “western medicine” in an attempt to prolong my father’s life. My father held on ten years longer than any one really expected, with my mother cursing the doctors who were “trying to poison him!” in an attempt from keeping his blood pressure from skyrocketing out of control.
Would he have fared better on a strictly western-medicine regimen? I can’t shake the feeling that my parent’s toxic attitude towards the medical community was more harmful than helpful when it came to dealing with my father’s situation. It did not matter that my father had been a Christian Scientist longer than many of the doctors had been alive, they’d been to medical school, and my parents had gone to them (albeit begrudgingly, and at least once with the threat of social services being called,) seeking help.
After Kid1 was born, my mother had the audacity to passively blame the cause of my pregnancy complications on my diet, and choice of going to the hospital (2). My husband unloaded on her, when the head of high-risk obstetrics and one of the best doctors in the county looks at the charts and lab results and can’t tell you what the problem was, much less what caused it, glibly saying “you needed to eat more vegetables” (when you were lucky to eat anything at all for 12 weeks) is asinine.
As a parent, I can not, in good conscience raise my children in Christian Science. I will not deny them regular health checkups, and I will call their pediatricians office if I have any concerns. When they get older, I will not be vague about my own medical history, or health problems that may arise, sheltering a small child from a problem is one thing, withholding information that a parent’s passing is imminent from a grown child in their twenties or early thirties is another matter all together. I will not send them to school congested and feverish (even if they insist on going), and I will make sure they are vaccinated, because whooping cough is miserable. I will not read them Travis talks with God, which tells children they’re not really hurt, God loves them, I will take practical steps: an ice pack, a Popsicle, a call to the pediatrician’s office, or a trip to the ER.
Mary Baker Eddy encourages us to think and question. I’ve read the Mother Church Authorized literature, I’ve read my share of “obnoxious” literature, and I’m pretty sure the Mother Church would call this blog “obnoxious” as well. I’ve worked with CSPs, and there are several that I respect deeply. I have successfully used CS techniques to overcome problems, and out of habit (sometimes to my detriment) I turn to CS ideas to work through situations.
Christian Science does not have to be deadly, but all too often I’ve seen even the most moderate of CS, when faced with health, or other challenges, take a turn for the radical and deny they have any issue what so ever. I do not ever want to go down that path.
- You don’t need anything after your wisdom tooth comes out! That’s what ice packs are for. The second time I had a wisdom tooth removed, I was no longer living at home, and I did take something for the pain. I had a horrifying allergic reaction and very vivid hallucinations all night. It would’ve been nice to have some idea about such allergies before they crept up on me in the middle of the night.
- My mother also taught me that you also only go to a hospital to die. Between that, the pregnancy issues and reading Coma while a naive middle school student, my first-ever hospital experience was even more anxiety-laden than it needed to be. My mother had several friends who had died of cancer (conveniently while in a hospital). She blamed the doctors (and later the individuals poor dietary choices), apparently if you eat healthy and avoid doctors you’ll never get cancer. That said, I strongly recommend reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.