Mommy, what is church?

We were driving somewhere and Kid1 spoke up from the backseat: “Mommy, what is church?”

While I’ve done a lot of reading (see relevant book list below) on how to talk to the children about religious issues, I still felt caught off guard by the question. They like to ask these questions in the car when I can’t escape or easily change the topic — last time it was “how many gods do we have?

Kid1 continued “Grandma goes to church.”

Yes, I acknowledged, both grandmas, and other extended family, go to church. I left out that they go to Christian Science churches, “church” can be generic for now.

“Why do people go to church?” Kid1 was not going to let this drop. “We don’t go to church.”

“No-oh-o,” Kid2 agreed. “We no go to church. No.”

The questions hung in the car. The children were silent, waiting for answers.

A church is a group of people who gather together, usually on Sunday mornings, to hear a lecture about their perspectives on god. I started.

“Do you believe in god?” asked Kid1. “Why do people go to church?”

“No god!” piped up Kid2 from the backseat.

No, I continued. I do not believe in a god… People go to church for a number of reasons, often is is because the are seeking community with people who share the same views as themselves. 

“Why don’t we go to church?” asked Kid1.

We enjoy doing other things on Sunday morning, I replied,  and we find our sense of community elsewhere. 

This seemed to satisfy them.

“No church,” Kid2 said.

Kid1 agreed.

Related Reading

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I’d like to share with you an exciting new resource for those who are doubting, questioning, leaving or have left Christian Science.

unnamed-2A group of former members of the Christian Science Church have launched a new website designed as a resource for people who have left or are considering leaving the Christian Science faith. Christian Science (not to be confused with Scientology) was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in the late 19th century and is perhaps best known as a sect that rejects medical treatment, advocating prayer exclusively for healing.

The website, called The Ex-Christian Scientist (, is maintained by an informal group of about fifty former Christian Scientists “who strive to assist those questioning their commitment to Christian Science as well as those who have already left it.” Individual members of the group left Christian Science for varying reasons. Some are still religious, some are not. All, however, are united in their desire to help those who are questioning Christian Science to decide if there is a more appropriate path for themselves, and to provide an inclusive and understanding community for those who leave the faith.

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God’s Perfect Child – a few thoughts from Bacon

The following is a review of “God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church” by infrequent guest contributor Bacon. My own thoughts (and a section-by-section break down) of GPC will follow in good time. 

“God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church” one reaction to Caroline Fraser’s work of subversive brilliance.

Due to the constraints of composing this review on a phone, it will merely be some gut reactions and oversimplifications. I trust any readers who are interested in further reviews will find them online.
My motive for reading the book was simple: I was out of CS and others who were also out had strongly suggested it. I ordered my copy and let it sit for at least a week before I even remotely wanted to pick it up. My upbringing in Christian Science was not particularly traumatic and I am squeamish but aware of the atrocities that have occurred in the name CS “treatment,” so I was not particularly looking to indulge a morbid fascination so much as find reassurance that I was not alone in a surreal and misguided upbringing – and that leaving the religion was justified. I’m not sure why I felt the need to seek external validation in book form, but I knew so little of the religion itself – merely what passed as precedent – that I felt more context was needed to honestly face the religion that so oddly shaped me.
God’s Perfect Child is organized in a way that makes beautiful sense to me. I had very little context regarding Mary Baker Eddy’s life beyond a vague notion that she lived in the 1800s and fell on ice in Massachusetts and was healed by reading the Bible. Certainly, I knew it was oversimplification, but I lacked further desire to read into a person who clearly wanted attention by saying that she did not want attention….. I was too caught up in “Love is reflected in Love” and trying to pull logic out of confusing words in Science & Health to worry about a human who wrote a book, “divinely” inspired or not.
Parts I and II look objectively at MBE’s baffling history of family and relationships and dissects a bewildering array of housing and allegiances and dependence. Her thoughts on her own religion prove quite similar to those who she sought for help – plagiarism, even – and in context, the whole world she built around herself was a bit maddening. Power, wealth, fame, paranoia, MBE and her rise to prominence are beautifully researched and depressingly all-too-human. Not just human, but what feels like a case study in some form of mental illness.
If nothing else, GPC starts with a history of MBE and the church that are eye-opening and actually less critical than I expected, at least. The rest of the book delves into the unresolved issues of the church and its board and members: Parts I and II stand alone, together, as required reading in their own right.
Part III and onward… It’s hard to explain how comprehensive GPC is in dealing with the aftermath of MBE’s death and the social respectability (fame/notoriety) of CS in the early 1900s. The turmoil of the board remains evident throughout the remainder of the book. The control of “approved” literature and attacking all opposition is a trademark that is highly alarming when considered in hindsight. The flurry of communication alternately praising and condemning the board is a bit confusing if you have no horse in the proverbial race, and this pattern repeated a few times throughout the book… At least the currents of prestige that were associated with The Christian Science Monitor were plainly set forth with some enlightening commentary on how and why the CS media risks took turns undermining itself. Appalling, as well, was the inner denial and Nixon connection: the political reach of CS was much more pervasive than I had certainly anticipated.
The legal cases that are discussed in GPC are heart wrenching and I feel compelled to promote CHILD (Childrens Healthcare Is a Legal Duty) here. I had absolutely no idea how involved ‘outsiders’ were in many of these cases – rather than parents, a child, and possibly a practitioner… several cases involved multi-generational Christian Scientists who wouldn’t have known HOW to go to a doctor and between several practitioners and far, far too much procrastinating (er, praying?) there were cases of excruciatingly prolonged illness and death among minors.
Overall, every single page of the book is an absolute must-read for those questioning Christian Science and/or out of it. Even better, those in CS and not questioning it – if I could plead for an objective read of an objective book, this is it. My words have certainly not done the work justice, but perhaps that’s why it exists: exhaustive notes accompany the work and I suspect it was the perfect first step in my literary exploration of non-CS works.
This book. You should read it.

The Slut Shaming, Sex-Negative Message in the Virgin Birth—It’s Worth a Family Conversation

I had Sunday School teachers who insisted that Christian Science takes the “inspired” word of the Bible, and that the stories were “allegorical.” The virgin birth story (inspired allegory or not) always made me a bit uncomfortable. See also, on how Jesus’ birth became more virginal and miraculous.


Christmas - AnnunciationThe birth story of baby Jesus celebrates the promise of new life, but for girls it also sends a harmful message. How can we acknowledge this without spoiling the rest?

Most Americans, even many who are not very religious, look forward to Christmas as a time to celebrate warmth, friendship, generosity and good cheer. Familiar festivities weave together stories and traditions from many cultures, which makes it easy to find something for everyone. But maybe it’s time to look a little closer at the Christmas story itself.

The birth story of the baby Jesus is heartwarming and iconic—the promise of new life and new hope in a time of darkness. It has inspired centuries of maternal art and is the best loved of all Bible stories. It also has a darker subtext, especially for someone like me—the mother of two daughters.

In the story, an angel appears to a virgin…

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What I’ve been reading: Faith Healing & Court Scrutiny

Back To the Batcave, Chickenhawks!

The following is a guest post by long-time reader and fellow former-Christian Scientist Dr. Spock. For more , please visit the Guest Posts & Contributors tab at the top of the page.

Some readers may be aware that the Committee on Publication (COP) folks–they’re the public relations army of the Christian Science Church–have been working to get themselves “out there” in the media. They write numerous op-eds, some are/were contributors to features like the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post, some blog on Huffington Post, and on-line editions of local newspapers, and most of them also keep their own blogs. Most of them write in what I like to call “stealth mode”–not making many, if any, direct references to Christian Science or Mary Baker Eddy. Most of these puff pieces deal with “lifestyle” issues, interwoven with a spirituality element. On a certain level, I think it’s a deviously ingenious strategy, but it’s very deceptive. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. You think you’re reading a nice fluffy piece about spirituality, feel-good stuff, but underlying it is a theology that has maimed and killed many, and caused many more to suffer from terrible traumas and mental illness. Most of us who’ve grown up in Christian Science are survivors of at least child neglect (due to lack of medical care), and in some cases outright abuse. I and a few others who’ve been through the mental meat-grinder of Christian Science and managed to survive sometimes take it as a bit of a personal mission to expose this strategy, and offer opposing views on what the COP would like to put out there as the public face of Christian Science.

Such was my attempt to do this by commenting on this blog post by Keith Wommack, COP for Texas, in the on-line edition of the Houston Chronicle. It’s a nice puff piece, quite representative of what the COP crew is putting out these days, although he does actually mention Christian Science by name–once only. Gone are the obligatory quotes from Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and biographical sketch (usually a re-telling of the infamous “fall on the ice in Lynn, Massachusetts” in 1866) that used to be guaranteed hallmarks of any media release from the COP.

Wommack positions Christian Science as “alternative health care”, which is what the Church has trying very hard to brand Christian Science as for several years now. I took it upon myself to offer an opposing point of view. I think I was respectful, and not too hardball–not as hardball as I could have been. I’ll let you be the judge. Here’s the comment I submitted:

“I don’t disagree with Mr. Wommack that thoughts and powerful emotions such as love can have an effect on the body, and certainly one’s mental health. But, can they cure cancer, diabetes, or parkinson’s disease? No, I highly doubt it. However, Wommack implies that it can indeed cure serious diseases, as does his religion, Christian Science, which espouses radical reliance solely on prayer for healing of physical ailments. Walking down this faith path is potentially dangerous, and many have done so with tragic consequences not only for themselves but also others, particularly children, entrusted to their care. I also dispute the assertion here of the woman’s condition of Parkinson’s disease: it takes more in-depth testing than what Wommack describes here to come up with a firm diagnosis. I’d like to see more proof before I accept his assertion. To quote Carl Sagan, ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.'”

My comment wasn’t posted. Neither was a comment by an acquaintance of mine who’s also a former Christian Scientist. This has happened to other acquaintances when they’ve attempted to post opposing comments to other “columns” by Wommack in the on-line edition of the Chronicle. This was my first time commenting on one of his “columns” (Wommack characterizes himself as a “syndicated columnist”, a claim I believe to be a stretch on credibility, if not an outright lie). I would not be deterred. I wrote an e-mail to the features editor, asking for an explanation, and pasting the text of my comment. No response. My acquaintance did the same thing. No response either (as far as I know). Three weeks later, I sent a follow-up e-mail asking again for a response and clarification on the comments policy. This time, I got a reply. Here it is:

“I sent your email on to the writer of this blog. This is a reader blog that we do not edit. Therefore, the writer of the blog will need to respond and/or activate your comment.”

It was signed by the Executive Producer/Director, Digital Content. I replied back stating that I was under the impression that this was a “column” rather than a blog, and that it should be clarified for readers that this is a blog that the Chronicle doesn’t have editorial control, and also that readers should know that comments are moderated by the writer. This is all very misleading. I can’t help but feel like this plays directly into the hands of what the COP wants. Get out there, make Christian Science look acceptable, like “alternative” health care, which is something that is very popular nowadays, fly in there under the radar. However, if people really knew the truth about Christian Science, they’d run away fast. It is a killer.

If the Christian Scientists want to be out there in the public forum, they need to grow thicker skins and be willing to entertain opposing views and entertain tough questions. They usually do not. Former Chair of the Christian Science Board of Directors, Virginia Harris, appeared on Larry King Live several years ago. Now, almost all guests on that show fielded call-in questions from viewers. Harris did not. Christian Scientists have a pattern of either avoiding tough questions, and/or answering their critics by attacking the critics personally. I’ve seen this time and time again. For example, I’ve heard Rita Swan, a former Christian Scientist who’s an activist for child welfare characterized as a shrill woman who transfers her anger at herself and her failings as a Christian Scientist vis a vis the death of her own child under Christian Science care to the Church and to Christian Science. To the true blue Christian Scientist, Christian Science is infallible. When Christian Science fails, as it inevitably does, the victim gets the blame. Their “understanding” wasn’t right, or they let “animal magnetism” control their thought, or some other BS explanation like that. I guess when you’re trying to defend the indefensible, you will try to avoid the tough questions as much as you can.

My message to the Christian Scientists is simple: answer the tough questions; entertain the opposing views and be willing to intelligently and respectfully counter them (without personal attacks on the critic–that’s just a chickensh*t cop-out), or shut the hell up and crawl back to Boston. Be up-front with who you are and what you’re representing–quit with the stealth mode. Quit sugar-coating it and stealthily going around like lifestyle/spirituality writers. Fly your Christian Science flag proudly! But, be ready for the response. Don’t be a chickenhawk.

About Mr. Spock
Mr. Spock is a highly logical man frustratingly lost in a sea of illogical humanity. He is a former Christian Scientist who saw the light and realized there is not one shred of logic to be found in Christian Science. He is a graduate of Principia College. When not toiling away for the “man” at his day job, he can be found paddling in his kayak on a lake, crashing through the woods on his mountain bike, or hurtling down snow-covered mounain slopes in the winter (on skis). He also enjoys a quality beer on a hot day, and intelligent conversation. He revels in the reality of matter, the wonders of REAL science and evidence-based medicine, and is slowly learning to embrace the wide spectrum of human emotions that Christian Science once denied him. Sometimes, he finds himself crying for no apparent reason…