Why would anyone join? My Father’s Story

A little while back I ran my piece on the five questions I’m commonly asked by people when they find out I was raised in Christian Science. I wanted to go back and elaborate on question four:  

Why would anyone join?

Christian Science promises amazing results. Committee on Publications bloggers regularly run articles about healthcare and quantum physics that make Christian Science appear to be a viable alternative to modern medicine and scientific.

The Committee on Publications did not always have bloggers, in previous years they’ve relied heavily on the Church’s publishing house to churn out vast quantities of literature, The Sentinel, The JournalThe HeraldThe Christian Science Monitor (formerly a well-respected daily newspaper), and other various pamphlets that was regularly distributed wherever free literature could be left, hairdressers, laundry mats, airports, waiting rooms, etc. Branch churches had “literature distribution committees” where little old ladies would dole out piles of lit to people to spread the word.

Most Christian Scientists are white, educated, middle-class  Americans. Christian Science appeals to a pseudo-intellectualism: Christian Scientists are smart enough to read and understand Ms. Eddy’s works. Christian Scientists understand the True nature of God and the Universe. The weekly Bible lessons contain topics such as Is the Universe and Man Evolved from Atomic Force?

There is also the added layer of mystical spiritualism and Biblical prophecy, which appeals to those seeking Higher Truths and Deeper Meaning. In his work, Christian Science, Mark Twain quotes one of Ms. Eddy’s students explaining this:

“We consciously declare that Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures, was foretold, as well as its author, Mary Baker Eddy, in Revelation x. She is the ‘mighty angel,’ or God’s highest thought to this age (verse 1), giving us the spiritual interpretation of the Bible in the ‘little book open’ (verse 2). Thus we prove that Christian Science is the second coming of Christ-Truth-Spirit.”—Lecture by Dr. George Tomkins, D.D. C.S.

These methods, appealing to higher intellect, promising higher truths, deeper meaning, secret knowledge, are marketing and mind control techniques (for more on that see Dr. Linda Kramer’ YouTube talk).

So why would anyone join?

I can not answer that, but I can relate the story of  my father’s conversion, as I have pieced it together from stories he told me from his childhood and adventurous past.

My father was born in the 1930s and grew up in the deep south. He had well off middle class parents, and although they were not Catholic, he and his younger brother were educated in private Catholic Schools. My father never really mentioned religion playing a role in his childhood, from what I’ve gathered they were generically protestant, if church played any role it was likely for social gatherings.

In college, my father joined the ROTC and, shortly there after, the Army in Officer Training. World War 2 was coming to an end and the Cold and Korean Wars were getting started. My father ended up on the front of the Cold War in Europe. There was quite a lot of stress and uncertainty, I think it was around this time heavy drinking and smoking became part of his regular routine.

After a stint in the army, my father moved back to the south, joined the Freemasons, seeking, in part fraternity, answers to the larger mysteries of the Universe, and self-betterment. He began a high stress and physically demanding career. After a few years, he moved into a management desk-job and the stress (and heavy drinking and smoking) continued.

It was around this time my father started having vague health issues, sleeping poorly, feeling generally unwell, hearing random telephones ringing in the middle of the road (in the days before cell phones everywhere), etc. As he told the story, he visited his doctor who found “nothing wrong” (it was the mid-1960s) and recommended he “talk to his priest” because clearly he was spiritually troubled. My father’s priest was no more helpful than his doctor.

With the priest and doctor both pointing the finger at the other and neither being able to assist with his ailments, my father decided there had to be another solution. I don’t know the exact time line, but I know my father attended some Dale Carnegie courses, read widely (he was quite inspired by Pierre Lecomte du NoüyRichard Bach, and various others) and actively sought ways to better himself and explain the questions of the universe. Somewhere along the way he came across Christian Science.

I don’t know how my father came across a copy of Science and Health, but apparently he was reading it on a trans-Atlantic flight (while having a stiff drink), and he put down his drink and “never had a drink again” — I know that’s not true, he did have the occasional something every now and then, but never to the excess of his pre-Christian Science days.

From that day in the late 1960s onward my father became a Christian Scientist. With his nasty (and expensive) habits of drinking and smoking behind him, his health improved. He went through Class Instruction in 1970. He was an active church member, teaching Sunday School, heading up the CS Org at the local university, bringing people into the fold, and providing mentoring and guidance.

My father’s drinking was replaced by a different habit: every year he (and my mother) would fly to the East Coast for his C.S. Association. Regardless of how tight money was, or how busy their children’s lives were, everything would stop and they would go for the weekend. My sister and I used to go with them, but as we got older (and “school started earlier”) we were foisted off on friends for the weekend, until we were finally old enough to be trusted to be home alone. More than one trip to association was a “demonstration of supply” as airline miles, credit card points, and great hotel deals unfolded.

On the more practical front, he’d needed glasses since his high school days (possibly sooner), so he continued with his regular eye appointments. Routine dental work was also something he continued with — he had several bothersome teeth, but visiting doctors ceased to be something he did.

Perhaps the memories of 1930s medicine kept him away, or the doctors inability to figure out what was wrong with him, but doctors were no longer part of his life, to my father’s credit he never ranted about or disparaged them the way my mother did. When he was checked into the hospital after his first stroke and congestive heart failure (in his early 70s), he made it quite clear he’d been “in Christian Science longer than [they] had been alive!” — 30+ years, and as long as you have good health (or are totally ignorant of underlying problems), Christian Science works great.

There are many reasons people join religious movements. Why did my father join Christian Science? I don’t know for sure, perhaps it was the intellectual self-betterment angle, the promise of deeper knowledge, or the failures of his priest and doctor to tell him to stop drinking and smoking and get his life together.

I did tell my father I had left Christian Science, we were sitting in the car one evening, and I explained I was not going to raise the children in Christian Science. Partially paralyzed by stokes, my father teared up, squeezed my hand and told me “you got to do what you got to do, goddamn it.” My father wanted to better his life, he saw Christian Science as a way to do that. I see my path away from Christian Science as a way of doing that as well. I think he understood.

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3 thoughts on “Why would anyone join? My Father’s Story

  1. Bill Sweet says:

    That is a great story about your father. Without doubt, how the appeal of Christian Science comes to an individual is subjective and matches with the complexities that someone experiences within their day to day existences.

    “God’s Law of Adjustment” should also have a correlation with the changes going on in the culture. Therein seems to be where Christian Science has found its brick wall. There are a handful of exceptions, but the fast changes that take us all for a loop have negatively affected Christian Science and it looks like most all of the religions. It seems at first glance that what was established truth yesterday is not true today.

    How does religion adjust to constant changes? Not well. It’s not easy for anyone even a secular person to adjust to changes in society. Who would have believed that marriage would be redefined by a country and a court? Only a very few, but now it’s a majority almost overnight. Medicine has advanced so much that the healings by prayer by Jesus Christ don’t sound special anymore. We can’t even imagine what weird, and I mean weird changes are going to happen to us human beings in the future (if there are any humans left after the machines take us over).

    Somehow Christian Science and all religions seem to have no function or relevance in the changes coming in the years ahead. No more religious anchors to attach to us.

    By design or by the logic of events, Christian Science was supposed to be a healthy linchpin between Christianity and the sciences. For the most part, that connection has not turned out to be the case.

  2. Wendy Rigby says:

    Thanks for this, Kat. When I attended Sunday School at Second Church my teachers invariably told me that Christian Science was for thinkers. I got the impression early that we, as Christian Scientists, were part of an elite group who really did have the right and only answer. If someone questioned us, they were automatically wrong and we should just stop conversing with them and “know the Truth”

  3. leftCS says:

    I appreciate you sharing this story about your father. It is very moving! My own father came into CS when he met my mom in the late 1940’s, after returning from the war and starting his career as an accountant. His own parents weren’t very religious and his father was an alcoholic so I think he saw CS as a way to start a family with religion as his guide. Probably the pseudo-intellectualism appealed to him. CS was different than the other fundamentalist religions that appeared on every corner in our community. He ended up being a more dedicated CS than my mom who had grown up in the church. Although I had doubts from a young age that CS made any sense, I stayed in it to please my father because I respected and loved him so much. He cherished the religion so I attempted to as well. In the end, it failed him. He died in his early 60’s after suffering a couple of nervous breakdowns. He had financial stress and my mother’s narcissism didn’t help. He loved his children and grandchildren but in the end, he couldn’t handle all pressure and demonstrate what he desired. He died in a CS nursing home. It was probably ten minutes after getting the call that my beloved dad died that I left CS. I knew it was to blame somehow but it took about eight more years to completely de-program. I wish he would have never joined the church and that we could have pushed for him to get the medical help he needed. When I think of him, 95% of the time I think of all the great things he gave me. CS is not in that list!

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