“that’s not Christian Science” – yes, it is, this is how it is practiced

In case you missed it, Parade had an interview with Ellen — “Ellen DeGeneres Talks Feelings, Fun and Finding Dory” in which Ellen discussed her Christian Science upbringing, describing her childhood upbringing as:

… a very conservative home. My father was a first reader in the Christian Science Church, which is similar to being a preacher. There was no drinking, smoking or cursing. I didn’t see deep emotion from my parents. It was all very polite and very surface. I never knew how anybody was feeling. Because of that religion everything was fine all the time.

While her comments resonated with many in the ex-Chrsitain Science community, a member of the Committee on Publication, took it upon themselves to write a letter to the editor — not of, Parade, where the piece had been run, but to waxahachietx.com — simply titled On DeGeneres comments the author hauls out the tried-and-tried-again protest of “that’s not how Christian Science is practiced!” 

Maybe that’s not how you practice it, but shutting down Ellen and invalidating her experience does not help.

Reading Ellen’s experience reminded me of the book Filled Up Full, where children are filled up full with thoughts from God, so there is no room for mad or bad thoughts. I don’t know if Ellen ever read Filled Up Full — it was published in 1974, but it was quite prevalent in church childcare rooms, Sunday School, and children’s bookcases at home.

Is perhaps Filled Up Full an oversimplification of Christian Science? Yes, it is aimed at children, but it also hits on an attitude seen through out the religion, children should be happy and behave. Everything is fine because you won’t allow any other thoughts in, you’re standing Porter at the Door, only God thoughts are allowed.

Thank you Ellen for speaking up and sharing your story.


Previously published November 5, 2012, reprinted below as it felt relevant. 

The other evening Kid2 thoughtfully pulled all the books off the bookcase in the playroom. I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself they’re testing their limits, and then recruited both Kid1 and Kid2 to help neatly stack the books so we could put them back on the shelves. As we sorted through Dr. Seuss, Bill Pete and Richard Scarry I came across Filled up Full a children’s book which simplifies very basic Christian Science beliefs written in the 1970s.

I thought I had taken all the Christian Science propaganda out of the kid’s room, apparently I missed a book. 

I checked back through the shelves to make sure this was the only piece of offending propaganda, my MIL frequently sends us home with “books for the kids” and occasionally adds CS lit from my husband’s childhood. Travis Talks with God was no where to be found (I think it is in a box under the my bed). The pamphlet with the bicycles was also gone.

After the boys were in bed I decided to flip through the book that is in every Christian Science Reading Room, Sunday School and Childcare Room in the United States. It was published in 1974 and hasn’t changed since. Every Christian Scientist I’ve reminisced about childhood CS lit with (a fair number, I did go to Prin!) remembers this book (and Travis Talks with God). The copy we own was priced at $2.50 and was probably purchased in the early 1980s.

There isn’t much of a story, just some water color illustrations of animals and children with rather bland accompanying text:

See this kitten? She thinks only kitten thoughts. She doesn’t think of wading like a duck. She wouldn’t crawl like a turtle. Because she’s a kitten — filled up full with kitten thoughts!

It goes on in this way with different animals only doing one thing because they’re filled up full with their own thoughts, and then it gets to a little blond girl:

See me? I’ve filled up full with thoughts from God. So there’s no room for grouchy thoughts, or even little mean thoughts. God’s truth makes me strong. God’s love makes me kind. I’m filled up full with thoughts from God. 

Of course being full of thoughts from God also means you won’t be selfish, or lie. You’ll share and be honest. You won’t be sad or bad, you’ll be happy and good. Maybe I should send copies of this book to everyone in Congress who claims to be “Christian”… I digress.

In the very back of the book there is a “Dear Parent” letter. I agree with part of the premise:

Dear Parent, Most of us have seen what happens with a child repeatedly hears “You are very bad.” The child often accepts the image even proudly committing further disobediences while assuring everyone that “I’m very bad.” This book can help your child see that no one has to accept a “bad” image. No one has to accept dishonest, or mean, or selfish thoughts. Far from it. As this book shows, it’s natural to be good. But right from the start every one of us must learn to preserve his innate goodness by filing his day with thoughts from God, with thoughts of Truth and Love, and then acting as those Christly thoughts tell him to act. 

No child should hear “you are very bad” all day long, and children are inherently good (if somewhat trying at times) but I disagree about the God part of it. Exactly which God is this who is Truthful and Loving? Has Ms. Dueland read the Old Testament recently? That’s not a nice God. That’s an angry, vengeful, mean, spiteful, petty God. Or do you mean the New Testament God who kills his own son? No thanks.

So while the squirrel is busy being filled with squirrely thoughts, what should children be filled with? The German word for child is kind, which is fitting: children should be filled with kind thoughts.

There is no mention of the squirrel’s squirrely thoughts coming from God, so why would the child’s kind thoughts need a source? Is it because children don’t always have kind thoughts? Well where do those thoughts come from? If they’re not from God then who/what is sending them? Well, those are erroneous thoughts, they’re not real (at least not in Christian Science), but I’m having them anyway.

Yes, lets discount a whole range of children’s feeling as “erroneous” and “unreal.” That strikes me as a really healthy idea. Um, NO! If a child is feeling “bad” or “mad” or “sad” how about you talk to them, instead of just telling them to “be filled up full with thoughts from God!” It is important for children to be able to identify and express their emotions, not have them dismissed as un-God-like.

When I started this post I was about to pardon the book and return it to the kids bookcase but now I’m not so sure.



One thought on ““that’s not Christian Science” – yes, it is, this is how it is practiced

  1. Bill Sweet says:

    The Blog gave me a new thought. I know of this denial of feelings or emotions claim within a CS home. Our family had “beginners luck” when entering CS. Personally, I found Christian Scientists in the natural sciences; just what I was seeking to find. Additionally, in our family, there was never a moment of lack of emotion and feeling among us and most of our CS friends. Apparently, my family was fortunate enough to be around an apparently more balanced, as far as feelings go, group of Christian Scientists than described by Ellen which many readers agree here to be generally true.

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