Launching www.ExChristianScience.com

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 (www.exchristianscience.com), 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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The Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy

The following is a review of The Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy: The Rise and Fall of Christian Science by Martin Gardner, as written by guest contributor Bacon.


UnknownTo be entirely honest, I’m incredibly glad that I read God’s Perfect Child (Fraser) before trying to wrap – nay – braid – my brain around, among, betwixt the texts within this scrambled maze of original sources (cool!) and snide criticism (oy). The Healing Revelations seems quite promising from the aspect of historical context, and it provides ample fodder from original sources that are almost as dated and contrived as Science and Health…. it’s good to have the context filled in a bit that Fraser referenced. HOWEVER, Fraser was able to keep her work ordered, objective, relatively unbiased and easily accessible by the layperson. Gardner throws you on a literary rollercoaster.

Perhaps Gardner’s work seems a more challenging read because it is so dated; constant references to celebrities (Shirley MacLaine gets 
plenty of coverage) and the assumption that readers were adults of the 70s or 80s (or aware of the gossip at the time) is a bit daunting. Apparently the book started as an article and it grew with frustration and the absurdity of the religion — that much definitely rings true.

Healing Revelations is a work plainly written out of frustration and would easily be dismissed by active Christian Scientists or their sympathizers because of the author’s obvious bias. The nature of the book, of course, spirals in and out of various issues within the religion and keeps self referencing in order to touch on relevant points as often as they surface, but detracts from the overall readability. It does flesh out some of Mary Baker Eddy’s life and legal adventures, along with her perceived competition and the offshoots of the religion which are not as thoroughly covered in other texts.

It’s not a short read, though you’d expect it to be. It’s certainly not an easy read. Much of the content focuses on the plagiarism claims of the Quimby era and how Christian Science influenced/was influenced by the New Thought movement. Overall, the book does give perspective as to how CS was able to gain such a rapid foothold when it did, which isn’t as clearly outlined in Fraser’s book, but it goes to such lengths that it bogs in the personal lives of MBE’s contemporaries and loses traction.

A worthwhile read for context, but definitely not suggested as a first, second, third, or fourth look at the shortcomings of Christian Science.

 

Bishop Berkeley & Ms. Eddy

This is one of several posts exploring the accusations of plagiarism leveled against Ms. Eddy, as well as what may have influenced the writing of Science & Health. This, and future posts dealing with this topic will be tagged MBEPlagiarism.

This post also contains some affiliate links, thank you for supporting Kindism.org


While going over my notes on Swendenborg, I came across Berkeley, another name that left with the feeling that I should know who Berkeley is. Berkeley is referred to by Dakin refers to in Mrs. Eddy. The biography of a virginal mind, Whitehead talks about him in The Illusions of Christian Science, Its Philosophy Rationally Examined, and Haushalter refers to him in Mrs. Eddy Purloins from Hegel (to name the first three sources that spring to mind). Clearly Berkeley is a someone that I should know about, and a someone that the educated middle class of the turn of the last century was aware of.

So who is this Berkeley fellow anyway?

Wikipedia tells us George Berkeley (1685 – 1753), aka Bishop Berkeley, was “an Anglo-Irish philosopher whose primary achievement was the advancement of a theory he called “immaterialism” (later referred to as “subjective idealism” by others). This theory denies the existence of material substance and instead contends that familiar objects like tables and chairs are only ideas in the minds of perceivers, and as a result cannot exist without being perceived.” (1)

Welcome to the the union of esoteric theology, philosophy and metaphysics at its finest in the form of Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (2, 3), or the condensed version:

Berkeleianism: George Berkeley’s philosophy of subjective idealism, which holds that material objects have no independent being but exist only as concepts in God’s mind and as perceptions of those concepts in other minds (4)

I must confess, I merely skimmed the 58 pages of Treatise and the accompanying wikipedia breakdown of it (3).

In my parallel skimmings, sections 25-26 stood out to me – with some emphasis added – as ideas that may have been acquired, embellished and expanded upon by Ms. Eddy as some of her ideas on matter, sensation and

25. All our ideas, sensations, notions, or the things which we perceive, by whatsoever names they may be distinguished, are visibly inactive- there is nothing of power or agency included in them. So that one idea or object of thought cannot produce or make any alteration in another. To be satisfied of the truth of this, there is nothing else requisite but a bare observation of our ideas. For, since they and every part of them exist only in the mind, it follows that there is nothing in them but what is perceived: but whoever shall attend to his ideas, whether of sense or reflexion, will not perceive in them any power or activity; there is, therefore, no such thing contained in them. A little attention will discover to us that the very being of an idea implies passiveness and inertness in it, insomuch that it is impossible for an idea to do anything, or, strictly speaking, to be the cause of anything: neither can it be the resemblance or pattern of any active being, as is evident from sect. 8. Whence it plainly follows that extension, figure, and motion cannot be the cause of our sensations. To say, therefore, that these are the effects of powers resulting from the configuration, number, motion, and size of corpuscles, must certainly be false.

26. We perceive a continual succession of ideas, some are anew excited, others are changed or totally disappear. There is therefore some cause of these ideas, whereon they depend, and which produces and changes them. That this cause cannot be any quality or idea or combination of ideas, is clear from the preceding section. I must therefore be a substance; but it has been shewn that there is no corporeal or material substance: it remains therefore that the cause of ideas is an incorporeal active substance or Spirit.

I’m going to let the Basics of Philosophy sum up Berkeley’s view of reality (5)

There exists an infinite spirit (God) and a multitude of finite spirits (humans), and we are in communication with God via our experience. Thus, what we take to be our whole experience of the world is analogous to God’s language, God’s way of talking to us, and all the laws of science and Nature we see around us are analogous to the grammar of God’s language. There is, then, in this theory, no need to postulate the existence of matter at all, as all reality is effectively mental.

I suspect this is another case of Ms. Eddy took the idea and ran with it in her own direction, as can be seen when Ms. Eddy defines Man, in Science and Health, on p. 541.

Man: The infinite idea of Infinite Spirit; the spiritual image and likeness of God; the full representation of Mind the idea of Principle, not person; the compound idea of God, including all other ideas; the generic term for all that reflects God’s image and likeness; the conscious identity of being, as found in Science, where man is the reflection of God or Mind and therefore is eternal that which has no separate mind from God; that which has not a single quality underived from Deity that which possesses no life intelligence or creative power of his own, but reflects all that belongs to his Maker.

Further Reading

End notes

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Berkeley
  2. http://philosophy.eserver.org/berkeley.html
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Treatise_Concerning_the_Principles_of_Human_Knowledge
  4. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Berkeleianism
  5. http://www.philosophybasics.com/philosophers_berkeley.html

 

Phineas Parkhurst Quimby & Mary Baker Eddy

This is one of several posts exploring the accusations of plagiarism leveled against Ms. Eddy, as well as what may have influenced the writing of Science & Health. This, and future posts dealing with this topic will be tagged MBEPlagerism.

This post contains affiliate links, thank you for supporting Kindism.org


The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity has an extensive piece on Ms. Eddy’s relationship with P.P. Quimby.  I highly recommend reading it: http://christianscience.com/var/mediafile/departments/clerk/bol/pdf/commonquimbyquestionshandout.pdf

Update – these PDFs appear to have been removed from the website! 


I’ve mentioned Ms. Eddy’s relationship with P.P. Quimby (1) before, but have not yet done an in-depth piece on their relationship and P.P. Quimby as a source of “inspiration.

While Ms. Eddy was undoubtedly influenced by Quimby, the general consensus is that the conclusions she came to are entirely her own. I particularly like Dakin’s analysis of this relationship when he writes

Others of his pupils lost themselves in Quimby’s philosophy, but Mrs. Glover lost Quimby in herself” (Dakin, 92).

Eddy biographer, Gillian Gill devotes a number of pages to the issue of Ms. Eddy and P.P. Quimby, (2) taking a far more sympathetic stance on the subject than Dakin or Fraser. Gill systematically dissects any claims made by Quimby’s other students, mainly Julius and Horatio Dresser, poking holes in their claims, pointing out that they showed little interest in Quimby’s work after his passing until Ms. Eddy’s Christian Science started to gain popularity (Gill, 146).

One of the more interesting comparisons of P.P. Quimby’s work with Ms. Eddy’s is in the July 10, 1904 New York Times, in a piece entitled True Origin of Christian Science (3). Gill dismisses the piece as “bad faith or bad scholarship” (Gill, 231-232). “Bad scholarship” aside, it makes for interesting reading.

NYTimes July 10, 1904 Eddy/Quimby

NYTimes July 10, 1904 True Origins of Christian Science  (3)

Gill’s assertions of poor scholarship are not entirely incorrect, as her claims are extensively footnoted. The main point of contention being that The Quimby Manuscripts, were not published by Horatio Dresser until 1921, by which point P.P. Quimby had been dead for over 50 years, and Christian Science was well established and thriving. Furthermore, they had not been given directly to Dresser, but had instead passed through several others before arriving with him (Gill, 121). Gill’s further research shows Dresser omitted papers that were not favorable to Quimby  (Gill, 138) — the fact that the early Church attempted to suppress some of Ms. Eddy’s early work seems lost on her (Fraser
, 142).

Putting aside the scholarship and origin story issues — unless we get a time machine it is unlikely those will ever be sorted out, let us look at what comprised the core of Quimby’s teachings. There are several websites (see Further Reading below) that talk about Quimby’s work, one of them thoughtfully shared the following condensed list of Quimby’s ideas.


Seven Element List compiled by Horatio W. Dresser to explain Quimby’s ideas (4)

  1. The omnipresent Wisdom, the warm, loving Father of us all, Creator of all the universe, whose works are good, whose substance is an invisible reality.
  2. The real man, whose life is eternal in the invisible kingdom of God, whose senses are spiritual and function independently of matter.
  3. The visible world, which Dr. Quimby once characterized as “the shadow of Wisdom’s amusements”; that is, nature is only the outward projection or manifestation of an inward activity far more real and enduring.
  4. Spiritual matter, or fine interpenetrating substance, directly responsive to thought and subconsciously embodying in the flesh the fears, beliefs, hopes, errors, and joys of the mind.
  5. Disease is due to false reasoning in regard to sensations, which man unwittingly develops by impressing wrong thoughts and mental pictures upon the subconscious spiritual matter.
  6. As disease is due to false reasoning, so health is due to knowledge of the truth. To remove disease permanently, it is necessary to know the cause, the error which led to it. “The explanation is the cure.”
  7. To know the truth about life is therefore the sovereign remedy for all ills. This truth Jesus came to declare. Jesus knew how he cured and Dr. Quimby, without taking any credit to himself as a discoverer, believed that he understood and practiced the same great truth or science.

While there are undeniable parallels between the seven elements and Ms. Eddy’s teachings, neither the students of Quimby or Ms. Eddy wish them to be associated with one another. The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity’s piece Ms. Eddy’s relationship with P.P. Quimby has a wonderful quote from Gottschalk’s Rolling Away the Stone (5). On page 72 he writes

George Quimby, a strong champion of his father’s originality, wrote, “Don’t confuse his method of healing with Mrs. Eddy’s Christian Science, so far as her religious teachings go… The religion which she teaches certainly is hers, for which I cannot be too thankful; for I should loath to go down into my grave feeling that my father was in any way connected with “Christian Science.”

Ms. Eddy biographer Gillian Gill, while not a Christian Scientist, takes several opportunities to poke holes in the Quimby/Eddy inspiration story (5). Short of discovering time travel and witnessing these events for ourselves, it seems unlikely this mess will ever be unraveled, and P.P. Quimby and Ms. Eddy forever be remembered together.


  1. https://kindism.org/tag/quimby/
  2. Mary Baker Eddy, by Gillian Gill http://books.google.com/books?id=eiEMHjyvTGEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Mary+Baker+Eddy,+Gill&hl=en&sa=X&ei=FS3GUfKOMcmZiQKY34GgDQ&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Quimby&f=false
  3. New York Times, July 10, 1904 True Origin of Christian Science http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9E01EFDC1138E430A75753C1A9619C946597D6CF
  4. http://phineasquimby.wwwhubs.com/
  5. http://christianscience.com/var/mediafile/departments/clerk/bol/pdf/commonquimbyquestionshandout.pdf

Further Reading

Parts 1 & 2: Mere Historical Incidents & Building an Empire

This is part of a series of posts on God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline Fraser. For all posts on this topic, see the tag God’s Perfect Child.

This post contains some affiliate links. Thank you for your support of kindism.org


Part 1: Mere Historical Incidents

Divided into fifteen sections, Part 1 begins with an overview of the time period Ms. Eddy came of age in, then progresses through a brief biographical sketch covering her childhood, first marriage, child, second marriage, introduction to and falling out with P.P. Quimby, the fall on the ice in Lynn, early years and formation of Christian Science through the death of her third husband, Asa Gilbert Eddy in 1882 of mesmeric poison.

In my two pages of notes on pages 23-79 that comprised Part 1 a few things stood out to me more than others, it is those I will focus on and share. While much of what was covered in Part 1 was not new (I’d read much of it in Dakin’s biography), Fraser’s perspective (and hindsight) allowed her to condense and highlight the main ideas from Ms. Eddy’s early years.

In Part 1, section 2, Fraser reminds readers of Ms. Eddy’s self-proclaimed right to manipulate the facts as she saw fit, and the Christian Science Church has followed her lead, revising and expunging, reshaping and elaborating the mythology she wove around her self, preferring that the world see Eddy as a religious genius and leader, divinely inspired. (GPC, 26) With this in mind, Fraser goes on to finely balance the Eddy apologists with the Eddy critics. It is no easy task, but Fraser does it admirably, carefully calling out and comparing the differences in what the Church-approved biographers say and what contemporaries/critics have written. To the chagrin of the apologists, there is often more evidence on the side of the critics. There are several of these examples through out Part 1 (this is by no means an exhaustive list, just my favorites)

  • Ms. Eddy’s “attacks,” the fits of poor health that continued through her life, balancing the critics with the apologists perspectives, and carefully noting that even Robert Peel — one of the most apologetic of the group — tends to agree that Ms. Eddy’s symptoms may have been caused by “the romantic melancholy she shared as a literary fashion of the age.” (GPC, 35)
  • The Fall in Lynn — when Ms. Eddy is said to have “discovered” Christian Science — is a lovely story, but Fraser reminds us that whatever the exact circumstances of the fall, given Mary’s predilection for “spells” and collapses, it is difficult to accept at face value her assertion that her accident was life-threatening. (GPC, 53) The homeopathic doctor attending Ms. Eddy agrees.
  • The year of 1866 when Ms. Eddy moved “at least eight times” — church biographers paint the picture of a woman just beginning to formulate her healing method and to discover its wondrous powers, while non-church sources paint a very different picture, claiming she had not paid rent, or healed them. (GPC, 54)

God’s Perfect Child also touches on a few new issues that I would like to explore further:

  • In section 10 (pages 63-65), Fraser touches on the idea that Ms. Eddy was influenced by Emmerson’s Transcendentalism. While I was aware of Emmerson and Transcendentalism, I had not come across the Christian Science connection and hope to explore it further.
  • On p. 75, Fraser makes it quite clear that Ms. Eddy is not a feminist. While some of my Sunday school teachers may have felt differently, I tend to agree with Fraser’s analysis of this. She may have been a woman who founded a church, but she also steadfastly refused to put women in positions of power on her Board, and undermined women who gained power in branch churches.

Part 1 comes to conclusion with the death of Ms. Eddy’s husband, Gilbert, and Ms. Eddy’s accusations that malicious mesmerism caused him to be mentally murdered. Fraser points out that Gilbert had been diagnosed with a “diseased heart” but such details did not matter to Ms. Eddy, obviously the death was caused by a former student, and “malpractioner” who used “mesmeric poison.”(GPC 78)

Ms. Eddy’s reaction to Gilbert’s passing set up the Christian Science worldview that death is not a natural event. Death is the failure to assimilate the “truths” of Christian Science, and Christian Science deaths are regularly accompanied by the reactions of anger, defensiveness, and disassociation from the human emotions of grief and sorrow. (GPC, 79) Fraser calls the Christian Science response to death one of Ms. Eddy’s “most painful legacies” and I find I could not agree more.


Part 2: Building Her Empire

Part 2, is entitled “You Will Have to Learn to Love Me More”: Mrs. Eddy Builds Her Empire and spans nearly 100 pages (from p. 83-167) and 18 sections (and a postscript). The chapter starts in 1882 with the hiring of Calvin Frye as her secretary, concludes in 1910 with her death, and has a postscript which sums up Ms. Eddy’s Place in history, and the Christian Science movement. As it encompasses over 80 pages of concise ideas, I’ve chosen to cover the issues that continue to plague/exist in the church today (or at least they were issues of relevance five-plus years ago when I was still going to church).

Ms. Eddy’s competition the Mind Quacks!

Ms. Eddy denounces any perceived competition from her fellow disciples of Quimby, as well as any/all Christian Science apostates as “Mind-Quacks” and “frauds.” The not insubstantial list included Julius Dresser, one of Quimby’s fellow students who had known Ms. Eddy as Ms. Patterson; Myrtle Fillmore, a convert to Christian Science, who went on to found The Unity School of Christian Science; Emma Curtis Hopkins, another former student of Ms. Eddys, and founder of Divine Science. Hopkins went on to set up the Christian Science Theological Seminary, which went on to influence many New Thought leaders/writers. (GPC. 88-89)

While it greatly irks The Mother Church in Boston to be lumped in with others in the New Thought movement — “Christian Science is so much more!” they implore. Ms. Eddy was undeniably influenced by one of the Fathers of New Thought (Quimby) and many of her students went on to be active leaders of the movement. It is also worth noting that of all of these new-thought, divine science movements, Christian Science stands alone in its “insistence on a complete repudiation of medical care.” (GPC 89)

The  Committee on Publication

The Committee on Publication is mentioned a few times through our this chapter. Founded in 1900, to “Correct in a Christian Manner impositions on the public in regard to Christian Science the injustices done Mrs. Eddy or members of this Church by the daily press, by periodicals or circulated literature of any sort” the COP serves as the Church’s strongman making sure the “correct” views on Christian Science are shared. (GCP 120-121)

The scope of the COP is quite broad, in Ms. Eddy’s world the word, “imposition,” means both burden and deception, so her first COP manager, Alfred Farlow, began to treat all forms of critical comment on Christian Science –indeed, anything that did not agree with the Christian Science view as “lies” that placed an intolerable burden on the movement. (GCP 121-122) This includes everything from unfavorable newspaper articles to legislation that might limit the scope of Christian Science in some way. The COP may have been responsible for the Christian Science definitions in the Merriam-Webester dictionary, and was known to actively encourage libraries to group approved works relating to Christian Science away from unapproved sources. (GCP 122)

Ms. Eddy Goes to the Dentist & Seriously F*cks over Generations of CS for Life

I struggled with Chapter 2, section 12 Radical Reliance and Mrs. Eddy’s Teeth (128-132). This section left me seething with such rage I had to put the book down and walk around the block to clear my head. It deals with “Radical Reliance” which has become the bane of many a Christian Scientists existence. Ms. Eddy writes in Science and Health, “Only through radical reliance on Truth can scientific healing power be realized.” (S&H p. 167) In short, follow Ms. Eddy’s teachings, reject everything else.

Ms. Eddy, of course, didn’t rely on just Christian Science: in 1900 a Boston newspaper revealed that Ms. Eddy had  been to a dentist and had teeth extracted. Fraser shares Ms. Eddy’s response to the kerfuffle:

If I employ a dental surgeon, and he believes that the extraction of a tooth is made easier by some application or means which he employs, and I object to the employment of this means, he thinks I must suffer because his method is interfered with. Therefore his mental force weighs against a painless operation, whereas it should be put in the same scale as mine, thus producing a painless operation as a logical result. (GPC 128-129)

Putting the larger question of why was Ms. Eddy visiting a dentist anyway? aside (Ms. Eddy’s occasional concessions to “physical reality” clearly include toothaches), this “compromise” on dentistry has “come to haunt subsequent generations of Christian Scientists” (I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement) — the reasoning as to why deny medical treatment when dental treatment is allowed can be a tough one to wrap one’s head around.

Fraser goes on to list a few more (occasional) concessions — child birth, the adjustment of broken bones, the “temporary means” (mechanical aids — crutches, eye glasses, hearing aids — things outside the body), and “hypodermic injection” (perhaps acknowledging her own pain and need for morphine injections).  (GPC 130-131). Of course a diagnosis should be avoided, and one should never talk of disease — that gives it power, and while surgery is listed with setting of bones, very few Christian Scientists avail themselves of surgical procedures (oral surgery not withstanding, because that’s dental work, which is different somehow).

While some of Ms. Eddy’s “concessions” may appear to contradict her stance on “radical reliance” Ms. Eddy dismisses that notion (and any idea that there might be anything contradictory in Science & Health) stating “in this volume of mine there are no contradictory statements, – at least none which are apparent to those who understand its propositions well enough to pass judgement upon them.” (GPC 128)

Science & Health The Final Edition (1910)

This was a section with so many little stars in the margins I could not possibly begin to cover everything. This section, and the Radical Reliance portion of this chapter are really must-reads for those interested in, or transitioning out of Christian Science. Fraser manages to explain both Science and Health and provide a basic summary of Christian Science theology/ideology in an approachable manner. I will touch on a few of the key points — some of these may be all too familiar to former Christian Scientists, and entirely foreign concepts to outsiders.

  •  Prayer – a vehicle for “knowing the Truth” (note the capital “T” as Truth is a synonym for God). Christian Scientists prayers are more effective than others because instead of rote reciting, they are “conceived as revisions of their own thinking, bringing their thoughts in line with God’s.” If your prayers fail, clearly you didn’t align your thought well enough. After all, “[prayer is] an attempt to bring subjective attitudes into accord with what Science proclaims to be objective reality. It is largely silent affirmation, the application of logic to certain given premises.” (GPC, 155)
  • Wholesale denial of reality & Circular Logic – aka questions I tried to ask my Sunday School teacher – If God created all, and all is perfect, where does the illusion of error come from? Error never existed, and does not exist now, the illusion of it does not exist; therefore the illusion has no source or origin. (GPC, 160)
  • Jesus! – It was really nice to have a solidly clarified and explained view on Ms. Eddy’s teachings of Jesus that I could point to when others question Christian Science’s stance on the issue. Fraser clarifies the role of Jesus, Christian Science as the “Comforter” promised by St. John, hell, salvation, and at-one-ment. (GPC 162-163)

I am fairly certain that had Ms. Eddy lived longer there would’ve been more editions of Science and Health. In fact, there are more editions (21st Century Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures by Cheryl Petersen, and A Woman’s Book of Healing: An Adaptation of Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy by Carolyn Gage), but none are authorized by The Mother Church.

Even at over 1400 words, I have touched on less than 1/3 of the content of Chapter 2, parts of it – particularly the section on Radical Reliance – were difficult to read, while others left me nodding in agreement. My list of topics to explore further has grown, as has my desire to share God’s Perfect Child (or at least sections of it) with anyone who has questions about Christian Science.

1989 Measles at Principia Upper School – a first hand account

The following guest post is a a first hand account of the 1989 measles outbreak at the Principia Upper School.


What were your experiences with CS nursing while at Prin during the measles outbreak? How did they diagnose it since they’re trained to see disease as unreal & contagion as just as unreal?


This measles epidemic hit at the beginning of my first year at Principia Upper School, in fall of 1989.  I was fifteen and it was the first time I had attended a boarding school or been away from my family. The student population was almost entirely unvaccinated due to Christian Science beliefs. The first quarter, I was paired with another sophomore named A___. She was a most unusual combination of kind, unconcerned with appearances, and popular. And she was totally into CS, or appeared to be on the outside. A tranquil understanding of the philosophy, is how I would describe it, although it sounds strange to say it that way now as ex-CS but that is how I remember perceiving her. A___ tells me “I’m not going to get sick, you’re not going to get sick”, and I was like huh? cause it really seems like we’re all getting sick but you seem so sure about it. So that kind of worked and I remember thinking, ok, of course we’re not going to get sick.

Then one Sunday after church A___ laid down and didn’t get back up, just laid there with her eyes closed, skin blotching up, listening to CS tapes. I was scared. Still nobody said anything, but frequently housemoms, the women employed by Principia to live in the dorms with us, one per wing, and act as our guardians, would walk by and look in the door at A___ without comment to either of us. Eventually a housemom came and took A___ away. The dorm got really quiet. Lots of kids came down with it the same weekend that A___ did. I’m happy to presume I felt this way for my own reasons, but I definitely felt that I was expected not to get it, in the same way I would be expected not to sneak off campus or expected not to skip my homework.

The housemoms never said “measles”, only the kids spoke of it– “some kids have measles”, “this one has it now”, “so and so’s roommate was gone when she came back from practice.” But no one in the administration talked about it. They would just tell you reassuringly that they were “taking good care of” your roommate (anyone who got spots disappeared shortly thereafter). The housemoms did not say anything about your symptoms, they would just appear at your bedside after you’d been down for the count for a few hours to a day, and they’d say ‘Come with me, honey. Is there anything you want to bring?’ There was no communication from administration otherwise.

As the epidemic started up, they put students who showed measles symptoms in Campus House, which was a separate residence on campus for students sick enough to need care from a CS nurse. That filled up quickly, with a combination of students who had measles symptoms as well as kids in there for other reasons. They were not segregated. Next, they started putting sick kids in the middle school quarters of each dorm. There were no middle school boarders at the time and those attached quarters had been locked and empty. Soon they were full.

At that point, they expanded the quarantined area to include, in each dorm, the entire wing leading to the middle school quarters. This is a couple dozen rooms per dorm we’re talking, on top of all the rest. They relocated the remaining non-afflicted students living in those wings to other, now empty, beds belonging to students who had been moved into quarantine. It was just like, ‘take your clothes and shoes and go live in this other kid’s room, we’re putting a measles-ridden student in your bed/room now.’ They had a big sheet NAILED OVER THE DOORWAY to the “quarantined” wing of the dorm. And in the girls dorm anyway, that was the wing straight in front of you when you entered– the view from the windowed housemom station, the communication hub of the dorm. It was very strange to see things in this state of affairs after growing up in a first-world country.

The campus was quarantined; no day students were allowed on campus and no boarders allowed off, but this was not enacted until the school was instructed to by authorities. There was a “quarantined” tape across the school’s front driveway/entrance and it was on the local news. We sat and watched the news until the housemoms caught us.

A day or two after A___ fell ill, they came for me. I really was shocked to have gotten sick. Nobody said anything or said I had measles, they just brought me to a room in the middle school quarters. It felt unreal. Everybody else there was sicker than me so I just made my deductions about what was coming by looking at them. Okay, looks like I’m gonna have a heavy cold, be covered in rough red bumps and lumps that itch, and have glassy eyes and stare at the wall and drink milkshakes.

God, how those women resented making us those milkshakes. You know who is the absolute Worst group of people in the entire world to have care for a bunch of sick children? Christian Scientists. They were feeding us milkshakes with raw eggs snuck into in them because they thought it was a good source of extra calories, I guess. But isn’t that a terrible idea? To feed uncooked, possibly salmonella-carrying eggs to children whose immune systems are fighting off the measles with no medical help? That seems like a terrible idea to me, I don’t know.

There was so much inexplicable conflict and tension over feeding us. For the most part, we couldn’t eat real food because the insides of our throats were coated with measles pustules and we couldn’t swallow. So like, aren’t you actually getting off the hook here because you don’t have to cook us anything? But I guess if we could’ve eaten real food they could’ve utilized the cafeteria menu and wouldn’t have had to do ANYTHING except sit around judging us for being sick. In any case, I don’t care WHAT you give me to suck on because I am half dead. If a milkshake is such a pain in the ass then just pour me a glass of milk or whatever, who cares. I don’t even want your milkshake that’s served with resentment. You’re the nut jobs who are panicking about getting enough calories into us while simultaneously pretending we’re not almost dying of measles.

It was like being cared for by twelve resentful stepparents or something. It was all local CS nurses and practitioners and local CS mothers/wives. They did almost nothing for us. We didn’t get bathed because we couldn’t stand and they never suggested that we do so with help. I think I went about eight days without bathing. They didn’t even wash our hair, mine was oily from the roots out about four inches.

There were no thermometers anywhere on campus although the sick all had raging fevers. There were no medications or medicated products of any kind offered. I would be staggering up and down the hall to the bathroom clearly in need of assistance, in full view of the kitchen where they all congregated, and they pretended not to see. The CS nurses and other helpers didn’t go down to the rooms much actually, where the sicker kids were. They hung out in the living room with the less sick and read CS literature out loud, etc. (We were not allowed to watch anything on television that was deemed a distraction from our healing process.) Observing this healthier crowd in the living room was what had given me my initial, and as it turned out, extremely optimistic perception of what having measles was going to be like. If someone started coughing uncontrollably in one of the rooms the women would look at each other knowingly and sort of roll their eyes and sigh like “what an incompetent, I guess one of has to go sit with them and read to them.” Teachers would come by and visit sometimes, which was a bright spot, and regularly I would notice a CS nurse or one of the other congregated CSers peeping in my door. But this didn’t offer much other than a sense that someone would probably notice within a few minutes if I got to where I couldn’t breathe at all or I fell or something.

The school administration “strongly encouraged” our families to use (and pay) local practitioners instead of our family practitioners, which even back then in my almost eternal naivete, I knew was a bad idea motivated by a desire to fund the local practitioners who were going to be asked to help out locally with the milkshakes and the ignoring and such. So I didn’t even have communication with my practitioner-since-birth. (Not that I really felt that attached to her, as you can imagine.) Instead I was assigned this cold local practitioner who tired of my through-the-night phone calls when I got a horrible ear infection near the end of my measles. She was like “isn’t there someone THERE who can help you?” and I was like (some shy fifteen year old’s version of) “NO of course there is no one here I can find to help me, why else do you think I would call you four times between 2 and 4 AM in panicked agony when you clearly don’t even LIKE me?”

I wish I had a photo of myself. Eyes hopelessly glued shut with pus at all times, red measles so dense and scaly they only died out around the eyes, where the skin turned deathly white. I remember thinking I looked like one of the performers in makeup for the Broadway show CATS, which was popular at the time. Like a leopard, and then the crazy-looking dirty hair sticking out in all directions around my face. But the fever-induced hallucinations were the worst. They came any time I had to do anything for myself or try to reason at all. The strongest impression I retained from the whole experience was once when I was trying to alternately walk and crawl down the hall to the bathroom and the hallway was growing in length like that scene from the end of the movie ‘Poltergeist’. I remember it as having taken about five minutes for me to progress down the hall to the bathroom. Several years later when we had middle school boarders at the school again (that started back up in fall 1991 when I was a senior) I walked down to the now-unlocked wing and was startled to realize that the room I had stayed in was only three doors down from the bathroom.

I also remember standing in the dark little dorm room and staring at myself in the mirror (though I had been instructed not to look at “the material picture”) seeing myself swaying slightly, and thinking, how can I be this sick, all of us this sick, and everyone is acting normal? They’re not even being NICE to us! And I was shocked that my parents didn’t fly out. Most other kids had at least one parent or another visit at some point. Or maybe not most, I don’t know. They did discourage parents from coming, no surprise there. My parents took the ‘out’.

So, I’ve been quarantined with the rest of the sickos for a while now, and my symptoms have greatly worsened. I haven’t breathed through my nose in days and it’s now gotten to where I can’t breathe through my mouth either because I’m literally drowning in mucus. It also happens that I have extremely chapped and cracked lips which are covered in dried blood, but I’m unaware of that because I’m delirious with fever and also because the state of my lips is very low on my priority list. To the appearance-obsessed CS crowd taking care of us, perhaps my bloody lips were the most offensive symptom I was presenting.

Anyway, in the absence of any sort of real caregiving, I determine that a great way to stay alive would be to CRAWL to the bathroom, wet a washcloth with hot water, and hold it to my mouth and breathe through it so that it would melt the mucus enough that I could cough some up and swallow some down and be able to breathe for maybe ten minutes. So I do this repeatedly, and no one seems to notice, until this one lady who I will refer to as megabitch to protect her identity and also because she was a megabitch, decides to “help”. She finds me laying under the sinks in the bathroom, takes my life-giving washcloth away, says, “honey that’s not going to help your lips” and guides me back to my room.

Well, I have no idea what has just happened. It makes no sense to me, but I am very sick and confused and I kind of realize that. There’s nothing else to do but crawl back to the bathroom again once the choking starts back up. I settle back in bed with my temporarily hot washcloth and she appears again, wordlessly snatches it away and leaves without a glance, or she would have seen me desperately trying to explain how much I needed the washcloth and what I had to go through to get it since no help was forthcoming. All this lady can see is chapped lips, she is actually pretending I am not dying of pneumonia in front of her.

The next time she flounces into my room to snatch away my washcloth (where did this vigilant oversight come from all of a sudden?) I gather my wits and make a desperate attempt to communicate with her to please not take away my washcloth and to explain to her why I need it, but the wrong words come out. My fever-addled brain is picking nonsense words. I hear them and I know they are not the words I meant to say but I can’t fix it. I start to cry. I’m so thirsty. I can’t get enough air, I haven’t for hours now. She leans down over me looking straight into my eyes with the sanctimonious perfume of CS-ery just wafting off of her, and says “You DON’T need to rely on material objects for comfort! How about some Vaseline?”

How does a reasoning person utter that sentence and not hear how completely insane it is?

When she went for my washcloth this time, I clung to it and kicked her right in the shins. That’s why you shouldn’t deny fever-reducing drugs to fifteen year olds (or anyone.) I was so delirious. I felt I was fighting for my life. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I actually was fighting for my life. But I was an obedient and easily intimidated kid, and I had never behaved like that with an authority figure.

The absolute nadir of my measles adventure came a few days later. I had been staying in the same room in the middle school quarters from the time I was originally removed from my normal assigned dorm room. I got sick near the height of the epidemic; the last to get sick were in the makeshift dorm wings. As the first to get sick (mostly at Campus House and a few in the middle school quarter) began to recover, Prin was hot hot hot to get those makeshift sick wings returned to normal dormitory use (the ones with the sheets hanging in the archways) because there’s absolutely no way that was kosher in terms of meeting the conditions of the quarantine. With that in mind, they divided us up into either Very Sick or Almost Dying so that they could move the Almost Dying kids over to Campus House where they’d be in a separate building that was actually intended for caring for sick students, and they could then consolidate the Very Sick kids all back into the Middle School quarters of each dorm, where there was an actual door they could lock and put the quarantine sign on. So it’s not that this was a bad idea.

They tell me to get my stuff together and they are going to drive me over to Campus House. Folks, I do not know why this was my breaking point but it was. I mean this fever I had was FANTASTIC, unquestionably it was in the 103-106* range because I was hallucinating and convulsing, and it had gone on for days with no medication or hydration. Anyway, I lost my damn mind. I cried hysterically. I refused to go to Campus House. “I’m getting better! I’m fine! I feel great!” I had absolutely no voice, of course, okay? Not even a whisper. Nothing. Just the horrible, wet, racking cough punctuating everything.

I break away from my caregivers’ grasp, lock myself in the nurse’s station and begin desperately calling each of my parents in turn, collect, because I think that I can tell my parents to tell Prin not to move me to Campus House. Number one, the operator cannot hear me. It takes several attempts before I successfully communicate with one. But even when the operator puts a call goes through, my parents can’t hear me either and hang up. Start over. Try other parent. Same problem. Through all this there is a crowd of CS nurses & housemoms knocking on the door trying to reason with me. High drama. Finally I luck out with a compassionate (and especially acute-of-hearing) phone operator who attempts to slightly explain the phone call, and Mom figures it out. “Elizabeth?? Is that you??” and she lets me freak out for a while, and then convinces me to go to Campus House. So I did.

The first exchange I had upon arriving at Campus House was with a certain CS Teacher (CSB’s) wife who was helping out during the epidemic. She asked me if I “should really be eating that Popsicle, dear?” I was overweight, and so shocked at her remark that I did not have the presence of mind to point out that 1. none of you are tracking or communicating to each other what any of us are eating, so really? Really, lady? and 2. I have measles IN MY THROAT. That’s how much measles I have. ALL I’ve eaten for the last ten days is popsicles and milkshakes! And nothing. Mostly nothing. Also, surely you’re not suggesting that these material popsicles can influence my weight? Because if you ARE suggesting that, then this entire measles epidemic is a complete hypocrisy! I mean, you’d basically be torturing children under a bullsh*t premise! Hahahahah!!! Crazy!

In closing, and although it is also a compliment I actually say this to emphasize how horribly the measles thing was handled, I loved Prin. I had a great time, I have lots of fond memories, and other than this instance and a few other WTF conversational exchanges with administration, I have no complaints, so this is not a “Prin sucked” thing. This is someone who had a largely positive Prin experience saying that the measles epidemic was a fiasco, and that CSers actually have no business caring for the very ill (and particularly the underaged) unless they are there only for spiritual support and are working in conjunction with actual nurses who know what the hell they are doing and how to treat the sick with a modicum of compassion. Prin mismanaged it, and the CS nursing staff & local support team mistreated and neglected us. Really badly.

My roommate A___ made it through the measles epidemic but died shortly after graduation. She came down with a respiratory illness while she was studying in Europe, and she didn’t go to the doctor. Her flatmates found her unresponsive and brought her in, and she died in the hospital. I’ve pondered this over the years because many of us had lasting effects from the measles. I have somewhat chronic strep throat due to scarring in my throat from the measles. Several of my friends reported that they had chronic chest coughs well into their college years (4-6 years on).


Elizabeth was a 4th generation Christian Scientist and attended Principia Upper School for three years. She boarded on the Upper School campus during the 1989 outbreak.

To contact Elizabeth, please e-mail excsmemoir (at) gmail (dot) com, subject: “Elizabeth’s measles story”

Edited 2/3/2015 to protect privacy and fix a few typos.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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This book. You should read it. http://godsperfectchild.com