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.

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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…