Christian Science Gaslighting

In the chapter on Christian Science Practice in Science and Health, Ms. Eddy presents an “allegory illustrative of the law of divine Mind and of the supposed laws of matter and hygiene, an allegory in which the plea of Christian Science heals the sick” which runs from p. 430 – 443 (the end of the chapter – 1). Ms. Eddy explains

  • A man is charged with having committed liver-complaint. The patient feels ill, ruminates, and the trial commences. Personal Sense is the plaintiff. Mortal Man is the defendant. False Belief is the attorney for Personal Sense. Mortal Minds, Materia Medica, Anatomy, Physiology, Hypnotism, Envy, Greed and Ingratitude, constitute the jury. The court-room is filled with interested spectators, and Judge Medicine is on the bench. (p. 430)

The trial quickly disintegrates into Ms. Eddy’s limited 19th century understanding of medicine: the witnesses, Coated Tongue, Sallow Skin, Nerve,  Mortality – Governor of the Province of Body, and Death are all called and eventually

  • Judge Medicine then proceeds to pronounce the solemn sentence of death upon the prisoner…. The prisoner is then remanded to his cell (sick-bed), and Scholastic Theology is sent for to prepare the frightened sense of Life, God, — which sense must be immortal, — for death. (p. 433).

Not all is lost!

  • Permission is obtained for a trial in the Court of Spirit, where Christian Science is allowed to appear as counsel for the unfortunate prisoner. Witnesses, judges, and jurors, who were at the previous Court of Error, are now summoned to appear before the bar of Justice and eternal Truth. (p. 434)

What happens next is esoteric Christian Science reasoning at it’s finest:

  • The plea of False Belief we deem unworthy of a hearing. Let what False Belief utters, now and forever, fall into oblivion, “unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.” According to our statute, Material Law is a liar who cannot bear witness against Mortal Man, neither can Fear arrest Mortal Man nor can Disease cast him into prison. Our law refuses to recognize Man as sick or dying, but holds him to be forever in the image and likeness of his Maker. …  The Supreme Bench decides in favor of intelligence, that no law outside of divine Mind can punish or reward Mortal Man. Your personal jurors in the Court of Error are myths. (p.441-2 emphasis mine)

I find it interesting Ms. Eddy uses both Man and Mortal Man on p. 441-2. On p. 468 Ms. Eddy is quite clear that

  • There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-all. Spirit is immortal Truth; matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and temporal. Spirit is God, and man is His image and likeness. Therefore man is not material; he is spiritual. (emphasis mine)

By putting MORTAL MAN on trial, she is violating her own laws of man as a spiritual idea of God. In Ms. Eddy’s view Mortal Man is no more real than his complaint about his liver. Ms. Eddy’s insistence that mortal man be spared through Christian Science is in direct contradiction to her own ideas about the true Spiritual nature of mankind.

I have no desire for mortal man to pass on before his time, however, as long as he is occupying his mortal (and material) body he should take steps to look after it. Ms. Eddy never claims that mortal man will have everlasting life — that is reserved for Man as a Spiritual Idea of God. Ms. Eddy may mean well as she grants Mortal Man a reprieve, but what about the next time Mortal Man has a complaint? Will Christian Science triumph again, or will Mortal Man succumb to some other complaint (2)?

There are plenty of documented cases where Christian Science failed to “save” Mortal Man – or mortal children (3), yet Christian Scientists are gaslighted by well-meaning fellow Christian Scientists into thinking these failures are their own fault: You’re not material, you’re spiritual! There is no sensation in matter. You must not have prayed enough. You’re bitter. Your faith was shaky. Instead of questioning the religion, they question themselves and thus begins a deadly spiral of ignoring the problem, and praying for a solution.

You feel crazy, defective, and like a bit of a wreck. You turn to Christian Science even more fully in an attempt to find answers.

Gaslighting
A common form of brainwashing in which an abuser tries to falsely convince the victim that the victim is defective, for any purpose whatsoever, such as making the victim more pliable and easily controlled, or making the victim more emotional and therefore more needy and dependent. (4)

Christian Science excels at gaslighting: I was on a phone call with a CSP who was telling me that my badly twisted ankle, which was swelling up and throbbing in pain, was “unreal” and just “mortal mind.” There was more than one night I spent trying to pray about fever-induced hallucinations knowing they were only aggressive mental suggestion trying to put me off my true spiritual path. The “unreal” mountains of kleenx that littered my dorm room as I suffered from the “unreality of the flu.” I couldn’t call in sick, I had to call in because I was “working on a demonstration.” Women’s menstrual cramps were not related an ovarian cyst, PCOS or nutrient deficiency, they were God’s way of punishing them for having impure thoughts. At the end of the day all our suffering was self-induced because our thought strayed from God.

Christian Science Gaslighting
a religious form of brainwashing in which a follower of Christian Science, tries to convince the victim/patient (usually a fellow Christian Scientist or “lapsed” Christian Scientist) that the victim/patient is God’s Perfect Child and is spiritual, not material, and therefore any problems the victim claims to have are simply mortal mind, erroneous thought, or aggressive mental suggestion. The end result of this is usually the victim/patient feels like a failure as a Christian Scientist and redoubles their efforts to heal themselves by spending even more time with the Authorized Literature often to the detriment of their physical health and mental well being.

An excellent example of “Christian Science Gaslighting” comes from a CS Nurse’s response to the question of “how do i leave christian science” (5) when she states:

Screen Shot 2013-12-14 at 7.38.41 PMI have no problem with encouraging someone to see the more positive side of the issue, but the attitude that when someone can be “held back by their lack of healing” that it is okay to ONLY “continue to see them the way God really made them” is harmful on every level. Serious maladies which could/should have been remedied have been overlooked because people were taught to believe that mortal life is unreal: they believe that understanding the spiritual universe created by God results in physical healing (6).

Ms. Eddy has a fair bit to say about working out your own salvation (7), and while not standing in agreement with mortal mind may help a CSN or CSP sleep better at night, it does little for the person suffering.


End notes

  1. http://christianscience.com/read-online/science-and-health/%28chapter%29/chapter-xii-christian-science-practice#anchor.1.12
  2. It is worth noting Ms. Eddy eventually died, and her body was buried http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Baker_Eddy#Death
  3. http://lizheywoodwriter.blogspot.com/, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20915F7345911738DDDAC0994D0405B8985F0D3, https://emergegently.wordpress.com/tag/deaths-in-christian-science/, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA081EFC355E12738DDDA10A94DF405B848DF1D3, https://cs.uwaterloo.ca/~shallit/Talks/cs.html, http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/flashbks/xsci/xscilett.htm – you can do a quick google search and turn up even more
  4. jebrown.us/Relationshop/Definitions/gaslighting.html
  5. http://time4thinkers.com/forums/topic/how-do-i-leave-christian-science-behind/
  6. http://secular.org/heywoodtestimony
  7. https://kindism.org/2013/06/02/suffering-is-oft-the-divine-agent-in-this-elevation/, see also https://kindism.org/?s=salvation&submit=Search

More reading on Gaslighting

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8 thoughts on “Christian Science Gaslighting

  1. jasonjshaw says:

    That seems like a bit of an extreme practice! Positive thinking can be beneficial as some physical ailments are a result at least partly of negative thought manifestation, but to assume all ailments are is quite irresponsible!

  2. realscience says:

    I saw the play “Gas Light” several years ago, so I understand how “gaslighting” became a term for the tool of psychological abuse depicted in that drama. And yes, I can see how it is a common form of abuse in Christian Science (there is a tragic example of CS gaslighting in Barbara Wilson’s memoir “Blue Windows” as her mother descends into madness). In the play, the husband is a malevolent abuser who intends to drive his wife mad. In CS, however, a Christian Science nurse or practitioner is not intentionally malevolent–they believe the lie too. The abuser is Christian Science itself.

    • kat @ kindism says:

      Since leaving CS I’ve heard a lot of “it isn’t the person, it is the religion” I agree, to an extent. At what point does the person realize how harmful the religion is and what do they do about it? How awful do things have to get before someone is willing to admit (to themselves or otherwise) that it is a mistake? I’ve met life-long CS who openly admit to “having xyz condition” but are adamantly unwilling to go to a doctor to get it treated, and have repeatedly stated they “would rather die” than accept medical treatment. It is NOT “just the religion” that is the problem, it is the people who are attracted to it, who stay with it, and who perpetuate it, often selectively and willingly “ignorant” of the damage they are causing.

      • realscience says:

        You ask a very good question, Kat: “At what point does the person realize how harmful the religion is and what do they do about it?” It is astonishing that many people stay with Christian Science even after they have doubts or have had a bad experience. But many educated, intelligent people do so (and I did for many years), so it is not simply a matter of logic. The answer, I believe, may be found in understanding the psychology of charismatic groups. I have done some reading on this topic, and it is amazing how otherwise rational people will defend a group’s belief system in the face of appalling evidence that it is harmful to themselves and others. Powerful psychological forces keep people tied to abusive groups and relationships, and I believe such forces are at work in Christian Science.

        • kat @ kindism says:

          it is amazing how otherwise rational people will defend a group’s belief system in the face of appalling evidence that it is harmful to themselves and others

          Yes, but they’re just not practicing it properly. if it was practiced properly it would totally work.

          Powerful psychological forces keep people tied to abusive groups and relationships, and I believe such forces are at work in Christian Science.

          I agree. 100%

  3. Bill Sweet says:

    Yes, I have run into Christian Science friends that are gas lighted up. In fact the very first Christian Scientist I ever met has a physical problem that has gone on for a few years. I have told him to get medical help as at this point the prayers aren’t showing progress. Of course he won’t do anything else. Physically, he is an extremely strong and tough human being, and that is my guess why he has been going along in a normal way without any problems. In any case, it’s a broken record speaking with him.

    Another thing though, and it goes in a different direction than the readers of this blog. When introduced to Christian Science while in high school, I was hanging around liberally minded Christian Scientists. They weren’t gas lighted or brain washed. It was a true pleasure and got me on a proper common sense track about Christian Science. I wish that some of the members of this group had had a similar exposure to that liberal type of Christian Scientist instead of the fundamentalists.

    • kat @ kindism says:

      Bill — I’ve met “common sense” Christian Scientists, but I’ve found them to be far and few between. There may be more of them, but the pressure to adhere to the party line of no-drs., no-medication, and alienation from the group can be pretty powerful, particularly when no one else is openly embracing anything other than the “power of prayer.”

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