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
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Part 3: Nothing has Gone Right
Part 3, is entitled “Nothing has Gone Right Since 1910”: Christian Science After Death. Starting on page 170 and continuing through page 257, this section has eleven sub-sections and a ream of photographs.
Having grown up in Christian Science, I had heard about some of the incidents discussed, they all happened well before my time (this chapter discusses just after Ms. Eddy’s death up until the mid-1970s). As I heard them, they were more apocryphal tales than historical events bolstered by research and footnotes. Even with this background knowledge, there were still some sections that made me wonder if I was reading an article from The Onion. This section also covers a number of topics that I knew very little about, several of which I will touch on.
The Telephone in the Tomb
Augusta Stetson suggested to the press that the Board of Directors had posted a guard to make sure Ms. Eddy didn’t rise from the dead. Others thought the guard was there to welcome their Dear Leader back. Eventually a church spokesperson was forced to make a statement that Christian Scientists “do not look for her return to this world” (GPC 172).
Nothing Succeeds Like Supply
This is something I’ve never been quite able to wrap my head around, for all that matter is unreal, the accumulation of material wealth is a “demonstration” — God is supplying! “The expectation of perfect wealth, along with perfect health, follows from Eddy’s teachings about a perfect world” (GPC 191). Wealth and material accumulation is “an expression of spiritual riches” (GPC 193).
Masochism & Radical Reliance in Hollywood
The most notable example is of Carol Channing — preforming with a broken arm, high fever, in a wheel chair, in a neck brace, and while suffering from allergic reactions to her hair dye, all the while glorifying and romanticizing the image of Christian Scientists “never missing a day of work” (GPC 213-4). Fraser says Channing’s endurance “verges on masochism.” I agree, there is a strong masochistic streak that runs through the Christian Science community, Ms. Eddy reminds us that we are suffering because we want to be, because we have not yet aligned our thought properly with God, it is our failing to do so that is causing our suffering. We must put up a good fight and emerge from our battle with error victorious.
Drama, Suppression & the Church
- The Board actively attempted to suppress Edwin Franden Dakin’s book on Ms. Eddy — their attempts backfired. As one reviewer wrote “The total effect of his work is sympathetic; it is the facts that alienate us….” (GPC 219). Christian Scientists put out a “threefold attempt” to stop the book — attempting to stop the publication, when that failed, visiting libraries and bookstores, and letters to every newspaper or magazine that reviewed it. They threatened boycotts, and it is clear that the campaign was organized by the top levels of The Mother Church (GPC. 222-3).
- “The Paul Revere” pamphlets – really esoteric stuff that only Christian Scientists cared about that caused more schisms in the church. Bickering and finger pointing about the power structure and how much individuality branch churches should be allowed. A number of people are excommunicated and some form unauthorized groups to carry on what they feel Ms. Eddy’s “discovery” actually entails. One such example is the Kappeler Institute
- The unauthorized works of Arthur Corey. Corey published Christian Science Class Instruction and Behind the Scenes with the Metaphysicians, with the intention of making Christian Science more accessible. Corey was one of the few Christian Scientists to acknowledge the dangers posed to children, and was “particularly scathing about those who pressed on with Christian Science treatment even when it became painfully absurd and absurdly painful” (GPC 237). Corey also spoke out about Ms. Eddy’s own use of medicine and eyeglasses, and pointed out the illogic of accepting dental care, but not medical care.
- The Kerry Letters – A series of letters written by Reginald Kerry charging the church with corruption. The letters get quite heated, charges of immoral behavior of the Board. The letters are not currently available online. The Kerry Letters were the impetus for the Church to run several editorials in the Christian Science Monitor and religious periodicals, that homosexuality was immoral and could be healed through Christian Science, soon after, periodicals began to run testimonies by those claiming to be “healed” of impure desires (GPC 255).
This chapter was quite an eye-opener and a very firm reminder that the Christian Science Church, for all it’s “divine inspiration” is run by humans, with their own agendas, bickering and infighting. It was like picking up a log and seeing all the little creepy crawlies underneath scurrying away from the light, and there are many creepy crawlies that the Church would prefer to remain hidden. Fraser notes the Church set itself up for failure as it forbids Christian Scientists to write, debate, or discuss the Church and its teachings. There are no ways to air grievances, or seek guidance. The disgruntled have no official channels so they make their own.
Part 4: “God’s Law”
Part 4, is entitled “God’s Law”: Christian Science Goes to Court. Starting on page 261 and continuing through page 339, this section has only seven sub-sections.
This was a particularly challenging section for me to read, more than once, I found I had to put the book down and come back later, the atrocities committed while practicing Christian Science are numerous, and many of the stories echoed experiences I’ve heard from friends and fellow former-CS.
While all of God’s Perfect Child makes people face uncomfortable truths about Christian Science, Part Four made me particularly uncomfortable as it dealt with the (lack of) treatment of children, and the “treatment” meted out in Christian Science Sanatoriums — where Christian Science Nurses provide care.
Christian Science vs. the American Medical Association
The American Medical Association and Christian Science both got their start in the mid-1800s. The AMA focused on public health policy, rooting out quacks, and promoting medicine based on scientific criteria (allopathic medicine). Early on, several Christian Science Practitioners were tried for manslaughter (or murder) following the death of their patients. The CSPs cases were often dismissed because there was no ability to conclusively prove that medical science could’ve saved the patient’s life, and that CSPs had not committed any criminal act because they were preforming a religious, not medical service (GPC 262).
Consistent Legislative Action
Starting in the late 1800s, Christian Scientists rallied and pressured legislatures to pass statutes exempting Christian Scientists from medical licensing requirements. This went smoothly until modern medicine began to out-heal Christian Science in key areas: namely serious illness and contagious disease. Deaths in the general population began to decline, and Christian Scientists continued to die (GPC 270). Christian Scientists argued that “children died under medical care as often, if not more often than, children under Christian Science care” and in 1902 this came across as a reasonable defense (GPC 271).
Christian Scientists have successfully lobbied for exemption from criminal and civil child abuse laws in Arizona, for fees of CSPs and CS Nurses to be deducted as medical expenses, and religious exemptions from immunizations (GPC 274). The Church has gone as far as to publish booklets for each state with lists of exemptions.
Christian Scientists also lobbied insurance companies, gaining much needed “recognition” — now it is not just a religion to be protected by the first amendment, it is now a “proven” and “effective” healthcare system — proven by the Church’s own claims as published in the Church’s own periodicals (GPC 275-6).
This was a particularly difficult section for me to read as it discusses children and Christian Science, starting with a focus on Rita Swan and the formation of C.H.I.L.D. it is a gut wrenching read.
This section also touches on measles outbreaks at Principia College, as well as polio outbreaks at the Daycroft School, in Greenwich Ct, a diphtheria outbreak at a Christian Science camp in Colorado (GPC 303), as well as several other heart wrenching stories of children suffered greatly as their parents chose to rely on Christian Science for healing.
The Fruitage & C.S. Nursing
The rest of Part IV reads like an anti-Fruitage (the Fruitage is the last chapter of Science and Health recounting the amazing healings people had), it is a very difficult read and it touches on topics ranging from gas lighting (why CS Parents opt not to seek medical care), to Christian Science Nursing. Fraser interviews people and recounts experiences from a wide range of people who were all directly and negatively impacted by Christian Science “treatment.”
I was going to try and talk further about Chapter Four, but I can’t bring myself to go back through it right now. It really speaks for itself — and speaks volumes about Christian Science as an alternative health care method.
- The Kappeler Institute http://www.kappelerinstitute.org/
- Arthur Corey http://www.gnosticliberationfront.com/arthur_corey_christian_science_class_instruction.htm
- The Kerry Letters http://books.google.com/books?id=tAQPQAfoGsgC&lpg=PA45&ots=cWW6fG2AgF&dq=the%20Kerry%20Letters%2C%20Christian%20Science&pg=PA29#v=onepage&q=the%20Kerry%20Letters,%20Christian%20Science&f=false