chasing the fantasies that filled our minds

Regular Sunday posting resumes today. Happy 2015!


In September/October of 2014 I went through an internal rebellion. I realized that I want to consciously, intentionally move away from blogging (almost) exclusively about Christian Science. Part of me feels like I need to move on because I’m not in Christian Science anymore, and part of me wants to make information about the dangers of Christian Science more easily accessible. I feel like this is a fine line.

I’m also going to have more guest posts so others can share their experiences and thoughts, and I plan to collaborate with fellow x-CS blogger, Emerging Gently to cover some of the larger topics.

Christian Science aside, there is other stuff I want to talk about too, and I have a massive stack of books on my desk that I’m hoping to read through this year. I have so many ideas I’m working on in my head about life, death, the universe, where I’m going, and I want to branch out. Time management is going to be important. 

I recently came across Mark Green‘s essay at AtheopaganismHow I Became a Godless Heathen” and I highly recommend reading it. I’m not ready to open embrace the “Godless Heathen” title, so I’ll claim I’m a secular Humanist (with possibilianism leanings — but consider yourself warned, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence). Although, as my husband points out “I don’t like humans,” I do like that

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

And it is an -ism (I have a soft spot for -isms).


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House of Horrors

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.


I frequently visit Victoria, British Columbia, a place that stirs a lot of memories for me, and I recently got back from a week there with family and friends. I partially grew up there, as I often spent my summers as a kid in the area with my cousins, and it was tradition at Christmas to go to my aunt and uncle’s place for a large family Christmas gathering, where I learned fast, as the youngest able-bodied cousin, to eat quickly if I wanted seconds on turkey and stuffing. I always remember the corner store where, when I was around nine or ten years old, my cousin and I spent our allowance one hot summer day on a box each of about a dozen Twinkies, on which we gorged ourselves while sitting on the store’s stoop. Before we were able to pedal all the way back home, we were throwing up in a ditch by the side of the road. The store isn’t there anymore, long ago swallowed up by condos and cookie-cutter yuppieish boutiques and coffee shops as urban development spread into the once semi-rural area where my cousins lived. Sometimes I drive by the house my cousins lived in, and try to find some of the other landmarks from my childhood summers as they occasionally emerge from the mists of my memory. Along with the fun memories of childhood, also come some darker ones. Victoria is also the place where my mother went to die in the worst pain I can imagine, in a Christian Science nursing facility. It is also where my father and I scattered her ashes at the seashore; and where, less than a year later, I scattered his. These memories burn brightly as if it were yesterday when it all happened.

Victoria is a beautiful city, and I always enjoy my visits with family and friends in the area. On the other side of the coin, it’s not always easy to be there. One ritual I always perform when I’m there is to visit the seaside park where my parents’ ashes were scattered. It’s the one place where I can physically go and “visit” them. It’s a spectacularly beautiful spot with a view over Juan de Fuca Strait towards Washington State in the USA. Dad and I chose that spot to scatter Mom’s ashes because of its beauty, and the fact that it combined, as best as possible, two places she loved: Vancouver Island (where Victoria is located), and in view of Washington State. After we scattered Mom’s ashes, Dad declared to me his desire to have his ashes scattered there as well, saying that when the time came, he “wanted to be with her”. Previously, for many years, he’d expressed a desire to have his ashes scattered in the Canadian Rockies.

Not far from where my parents’ ashes were scattered, is the place I consider to be a true House Of Horrors a.k.a. Wayside House. It’s the Christian Science nursing facility where many good Canadian (and maybe a few American and other) Christian Scientists go to suffer and often die–without even the most basic pain mitigation allowed to soften the blow. Wayside House is where my Mom died under Christian Science “care”. I’ve often driven past this place over the years, usually never stopping; trying not to give the place much more than a second thought, but this time, it was different. I drove around the block to circle back in front of the driveway into this despicable place. I pulled over to the side of the road and just sat there and looked on for a few minutes. It looked peaceful and serene at the House Of Horrors. In fact, it looked like nobody was there at all, but I knew otherwise. Beneath that serene exterior, I knew there were people in there in excruciating pain, dying of god only knows what awful diseases they chose not to have treated or even diagnosed.

I remember a visit to the House Of Horrors early in childhood when my grandmother worked there as a Christian Science nurse. I distinctly remember hearing a woman moaning in pain or some sort of discomfort from a room down the hall as I accompanied my grandmother on her rounds. I don’t remember if I asked Gram about what I heard, but I do remember it. I wonder now what sort of pain that poor woman was in. The only comfort the “nurses” would’ve been able to offer would have been to shift pillows, offer water or juice, or read from the Bible and/or the writings of Mary Baker Eddy or other Christian Science literature. Not even an aspirin is permitted in these houses of horrors, and people often enter these facilities with advanced cancer or other serious diseases eating away at their bodies. Before Christian Scientists will acquiece even to care at a Christian Science nursing facility, they will often have suffered at home on their own with whatever ailment they’re dealing with for quite some time. Any admission of advancement of a disease is an admission of failure in your practice Christian Science, and many Christian Scientists are loathe to admit such.

Thankfully, the House Of Horrors is on its last few remaining financial legs, as far as I know. Each year it manages to remain in operation amazes me. Unlike Christian Science nursing facilities in the United States, this facility receives no government funding for patient care, although it is licensed as a “private hospital” under the laws of the province of British Columbia. Canadian Medicare, unlike Medicare/Medicaid in the United States, wisely does not fund care in non-medical facilities, and I don’t know of any private insurance here that does either. If you go to this place, you’re there on your own dime and for what you get, it’s not cheap. Some financial aid is apparently available. As I settled out my parents’ estate, I begrudgingly wrote a cheque for over $1,000.00 to settle up the last payment for Mom’s so-called “care”. For her hard-earned cash, Mom got a room, a nicely made bed each morning, and nicely prepared food, which the large tumour growing in her abdomen pretty much prohibited her from eating. Her pillows were probably fluffed and shifted as needed, and she had a phone for her use. Other than that, the nurses would have only read from “the books” (the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures), some other writings by Mary Baker Eddy, and maybe some Christian Science periodicals. Apparently, one nurse was a good piano player and sung hymns with her in the common room. They also filled Dad and I up with sunny reports of Mom’s “progress”, including one story of her “dancing” in the hallway (I’ve heard different versions of that anecdote from others, so I wonder if it’s part of some script that Christian Science nurses learn in their training). I later learned from my non-Christian Scientist cousin, who visited Mom frequently at the House of Horros, that the only progress Mom was making in her last weeks there was towards the grave, and that she appeared to be in excruciating pain most of the time. The sunshiny, rose-petaled denial that Christian Scientists retreat to in the face of serious illness is deeply maddening to me now.

The House Of Horrors survives largely on bequests, donations, and in the past by sales of its formerly extensive real estate holdings. It’s located in a high-value neighbourhood of Victoria, and once comprised several acres of open space. I’d estimate the property they sold off was probably worth a few million dollars over the years. I’m not certain how much of their endowment still exists, but several years back I remember overhearing a conversation my uncle-in-law was having (he was on their board of directors at the time), and it sounded like the money was getting thin. Like the Christian Science Church and other Christian Science affiliated organizations, the House Of Horrors is a dying corpse that survives by cannibalizing itself by selling off assets, and benefiting from the bequests of dead Christian Scientists. Fortunately, no Christian Science-related organization got any bequests from my parents’ estate–they left it all to me exclusively, and there’s no way in hell will I give one dime to a Christian Science-affiliated organization. However, if I had pre-deceased my parents, a branch church, The Mother Church, and Principia would have equally split the proceeds from their estate. It’s a good thing I’m a survivor, I guess. I’d hate to think of any of my parents’ estate helping to sustain anything connected with Christian Science, despite their own [misguided] dedication to it, especially as I think on the horrific ways their dedication to Christian Science ended up killing them. Each year, I make a gift to the Salvation Army during their Christmas Drive in quiet honour of my Dad who did the same during his lifetime.

I sat there in my car looking on at the House Of Horrors, and raised my middle finger in a quiet salute to this awful place. Through my open window, I said “fuck you!” It felt good as I drove away. Nobody, except maybe the neighbour in whose driveway I’d stopped, would have heard me, but it still felt good. I said my peace to that place. I told them what I thought of them and what they do there. It was also my “fuck you” to Christian Science. Sometimes, you just need to do things like this.

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

Praying away the Cavities

I understand dental work can be a difficult issue for some people, which is why the majority of this post is behind the page break. 


Adventures in Christian Science Dental Work

I recently met with an oral surgeon to discuss taking out my remaining wisdom tooth, part of the consult involved a questionnaire about my medical history which has only gotten more complex and interesting the longer I am out of Christian Science. I was quite upfront about my anxiety surrounding dental procedures and mentioned that very early on I had several cavities filled without the benefit of local anesthetic. The oral surgeon looked at my x-rays in horror, nearly all of my teeth have had some sort of work done to them, including three root canals, some rather deep fillings, and two previous wisdom tooth extractions.

I found myself facing that moment you find your self reassuring the oral surgeon that don’t worry, you “haven’t gone without local anesthetic since the late 1980s/early 1990s” and that “it was only two, maybe three that were filled without it and they were baby teeth” — this does NOT make it any better, but it does put in perspective how long it has been since I attempted to “pray away” the cavities. The oral surgeon recommended rescheduling w/general anesthetic instead of just local.

Continue reading

the backfiring of denial

The following is a guest post by regular reader and sometimes contributor, the Amazing Bacon. For more about Bacon, please visit the Guest Posts & Contributors tab at the top of the page.


Having been raised in CS, denial of material self is touted as one of the greatest virtues: denial of pain, injury, hunger, any material sensation, simply denying it is often enough for a healing, but affirming God’s truth is also in there somewhere, too.

I’d be more eloquent, but I have been trying to block it out for years.

As a researcher in the desert southwest, my challenges have been many. The odd balance of relying on God and Common Sense (CS, get it?!) may work for some, but I prefer the Boy Scout motto of being prepared (even if I hate their politics). But having been out of CS for a few
years, I found myself in a very odd situation.

While hiking down a steep slope that was covered in loose rocks, I lost my footing. Not wanting to damage any of the gear I was packing, I leaned towards the slope and knelt down to prevent falling the remaining 6′ into the drainage. There’s no such thing as a cushy option in field work, so it was either embrace cacti or embrace rocks. Or both, plus some gravity to help.

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Less than a kilometer from the incident. Photo credit: Bacon

My attempt to not pitch headfirst into the drainage was a success. I slid maybe four feet and only my left side made contact: shin, hip, elbow. Elbow, a little dusty. Hip, unscathed. Shin? On fire.

Obviously I was not going to “declare the Truth” because that’s ridiculous, and I was pretty sure I had just cleaved about six to eight inches of shin flesh, based on the pain shooting up my leg.
Nothing was broken, but I didn’t want to look at the flesh wound that was clearly beneath my pant leg. I am queasy like that. (I do blame CS for my phobic aversion to papercuts and any other form of injury that is visible – because obviously, if you LOOK at something you are
acknowledging not only its existence, but also giving it power by doing so.)

After a quick assessment that no other damage had been done, and not seeing blood through the pants, I headed to my last two sites for the morning. Steep vertical slopes on the way up with easy meandering slopes on the way back to the road. About 1.5 kilometers of mixed grassland with stabby plants everywhere. Most steps were ok, but pushing through grass or shrubby plants caused agony: I could envision the skinned portion of my left shin rubbing against my pants, causing the searing burn. But I did not want to look and pass out.

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The unreal prickly pear thorn. Photo credit: Bacon

I made it back to the meeting point with my coworker and our vehicle. I handed her the keys and told her she might have to drive, I just needed to check out a flesh wound (first aid kit still in my field pack). So I rolled up my leg and discovered a two-inch prickly pear thorn sticking out of my shin. And then I pulled it out. And then the burn faded to a mild sting and was over within a few moments.

Meanwhile, I had suffered for over an hour and trudged 1.5k in intermittently searing pain, because I did not want to be overwhelmed by the appearance of material harm. A holdover from CS, I suppose. But in hindsight, how perfect an example of the obvious and sometimes
easily treatable issues that cripple so many in CS.

A Parable

I came across this in a collection of essays entitled The Truth about Jesus : Is He a Myth? compiled by M. M. Mangasarian, I found it again, online at www.bibliotecapleyades.net.

 I am reminded of the opening of Lord of the Rings (the movie): much that once was is now lost, for none now live who remember it. No one left alive today met Apollo, or Jesus, or Mary Baker Eddy. What will we remember of Ms. Eddy in 2500 years, or even another 20?


I am today twenty-five hundred years old. I have been dead for nearly as many years. My place of birth was Athens; my grave was not far from those of Xenophon and Plato, within view of the white glory of Athens and the shimmering waters of the Aegean sea.

After sleeping in my grave for many centuries I awoke suddenly – I cannot tell how nor why – and was transported by a force beyond my control to this new day and this new city. I arrived here at daybreak, when the sky was still dull and drowsy. As I approached the city I heard bells ringing, and a little later I found the streets astir with throngs of well dressed people in family groups wending their way hither and thither. Evidently they were not going to work, for they were accompanied by their children in their best clothes, and a pleasant expression was upon their faces.

“This must be a day of festival and worship, devoted to one of their Gods,” I murmured to myself Looking about me I saw a gentleman in a neat black dress, smiling, and his hand extended to me with great cordiality. He must have realized I was a stranger and wished to tender his hospitality to me. I accepted it gratefully. I clasped his hand. He pressed  mine. We gazed for a moment into each other’s eyes.

He understood my bewilderment amid my novel surroundings, and offered to enlighten me. He explained to me the ringing of the bells and meaning of the holiday crowds moving in the streets. Continue reading

reclaiming Reality from Ms. Eddy’s Matrix

 

Mary Baker Eddy talks a lot about “reality” and Man’s True Spiritual Identity as a Child of God. Reality is even the title of one of the bi-yearly Weekly Bible Lesson topics. (1) Sunday School teachers were always trying to come up with analogies to explain the ever-present idea of the Adam Dream, the unreality of matter, and our True Spiritual Identity, and most of them failed fantastically. Then one day, the  movie The Matrix came out, mind you, it is now over a decade ago (fifteen years ago to be exact), but in the years that followed, The Matrix analogy was the best one they could muster – although, to be fair, after that we may have only had less media-and-teen savvy teachers. In The Matrix, a computer hacker (Neo) learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers. (2)

Our Sunday School teachers likened us to Neo, being awakened into our True Spiritual Identity — if only we could recognize it we too could move mountains (I’m fairly sure they meant this figuratively because to the best of my knowledge none of them ever managed such a feat, and mountains aren’t real because none of this existence is real, but I digress). I agree, in many ways, Christian Science is like The Matrix: this is all the Adam Dream and any day now we’ll wake up and rediscover our True Spiritual Selves. Come to think of it, Christian Science is exactly like the Matrix, but not in the way Christian Scientists would like you to think.

In The Matrix, “reality” as projected by  the Machines is used to subjugate the humans (the science and logic involved in this is vague and sketchy at best). When Neo “wakes up” he realizes there is the Real World, outside the Matrix, beyond the control of the Machines. The machines remain an ever-present threat, sort of like Ms. Eddy’s baddies-of-choice Error, Mortal Mind and Malicious Animal Magnetism.

I don’t think Ms. Eddy ever set out to subjugate humanity, but I do feel her misguided teachings have done more harm than the Matrix’s less-than-benevolent overlords. In the Matrix, the humans are totally unaware of the fact they are being subjugated, manipulated and deceived. The Matrix is a dull, but mostly safe, place to be as long as you don’t question authority. In both the Matrix, and in Christian Science, the people are aware of something else, something bigger, something more.

Neo is one of those who is seeking the “something more” and while his story is interesting, I am more interested in the Christian Scientists and their paths. Some Christian Scientists take the need to find “something more” as a sign they should immerse themselves in “the books” and spend hours analyzing Ms. Eddy’s works, others leave Christian Science to “find Jesus” or take another path entirely.

I’m not going to critique those who have “found Jesus” – they seem happy on their path. I’m one of those who has taken another path entirely. In some ways, I feel a bit like Neo (but not badly dressed, pale and badly acted part), I’m waking up to the Real World — not the fantasy world of the Christian Science Matrix.

Christian Scientists are encouraged to “live in the Absolute” but until you have ascended into Heaven and are as the Angels you’d better take care of the material body, regardless of how “unreal” you find it to be. Ignoring physical ailments will not magically make them go away — except when it does, and that’s not the “power of prayer” that’s the resilience of the human body and we are very resilient.

The Matrix  — and Ms. Eddy — may try to convince us there is no spoon, but the spoon, and ice-cream I’m eating with it, are very real. In Christian Science, Ms. Eddy’s “reality” is a “perfect day of understanding, [when] we shall neither eat to live nor live to eat” (3) and this stands in stark contrast with the commonly accepted idea that

Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible. (4)

Ms. Eddy’s “reality” calls for dissociation, varying from mild detachment from immediate surroundings (a TV commercial for pharmaceuticals) to more severe detachment from physical (everything from strokes and heart attacks, to something milder like headaches and hangnails) and emotional experience (the death of a loved one). Fellow former-CS-blogger MKHuggins has two excellent pieces on this: Christian Science and Dissociation in which she argues, quite convincingly, that Christian Science is a dissociative disorder, and a follow up piece entitled Christian Science is a Dissociative Disorder Part 2.

I remember young women at Principia who struggled month after month with horrible menstrual cramps, curled up in their beds with a heating pad for comfort (if they were lucky). Why allow a heating pad but not ibuprofen, or hormonal remedies? Why force otherwise healthy, capable young women to miss day after day of classes because they had been rendered nearly non-functional from pain? In Ms. Eddy’s Christian Science Matrix, the women were suffering from a false belief, in The Real World these women likely had ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, or other untreated issues. Could these young women seek treatment? No. That would be acknowledging and empowering Mortal Mind, Error, Mortality and Death.

I know from personal experience is only so much one can disassociate from before reality peeks in. Christian Science damages the ability to have empathy for the sick or injured — they should be working on their demonstration, not laying in bed hallucinating from a fever! The ailment is not real, it is attention seeking behavior!

Breaking free of Ms. Eddy’s Christian Science Matrix means learning about emotions — it is OKAY to be upset, to be angry, to be afraid, to be nervous. It is OKAY to acknowledge (and treat) physical ailments.  I don’t have to be constantly filled up full with thoughts from God, and that’s OKAY.

The Christian Science Matrix talks a lot about the nature of reality, how we are all spiritual ideals, lofty thoughts for sure, but I’m not seeking perfection or an otherworldly lack of need for food — I don’t need to ascend into some exalted unreal spiritual state, I’m seeking okay-ness, I’m seeking to be a better mother, wife, friend, person. I don’t need the layers of “reality” that are layered on by the Christian Science Matrix, I can fend for myself in the Real World just fine.

Further Reading

End Notes

  1. http://christianscience.com/bible-lessons/related-information/about-the-bible-lessons/bible-lesson-subjects, http://biblelessons.rolf-witzsche.com/Christian-Science-Bible-Lessons/0097.html
  2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/ emphasis mine, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY9UhIxitYM
  3. Science & Health p. 388
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reality
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociation_%28psychology%29