the new Missionaries & Santa

The other evening as I was preparing dinner, three young women knocked on our door. They introduced themselves as the “new missionaries” in town and wanted to “share a message” with us. I politely declined, wished them a good evening and closed the door. They looked mildly surprised, but took my rejection well.

Kid2, who was with me when I opened the door, had questions: what message, why did they want to share it, why did I say no thanks.

How does one explain missionaries to a child?

As it is nearing Christmas, I used an analogy that they might relate to. Kid2 does not believe in Santa, and we’ve had numerous conversations about that, so I decided to start from there.

So the first question was why were they going door to door to share a message?

“It would be like if you believed in Santa so much you wanted to tell everyone so you went door to door to share that. You feel everyone should believe in Santa so they can get lots of presents, because if they don’t believe in Santa they won’t get anything.”

Kid2’s brow wrinkled in confusion. Clearly this was not about Santa.

So what message are they sharing?

They’re most likely talking about the story of Jesus. You know, the baby from the Nativity play, and the man who was on the cross in the Mission we visited last summer.

Yes. Looks confused. Why do they want to share that?

Some people believe very strongly, that stories that in the Bible actually happened, and they have based their entire world view off of them. They feel they have to go tell everyone about this, so other people can make people change to their way of thinking.

Why didn’t you want to talk to them?

I have a different world view than they do. I know about Jesus, and I’ve read the Bible, and I don’t agree with their world view, and that’s okay. We can politely disagree with people, and we don’t have to talk to people who randomly knock on our door about religion, it is also time to get started on dinner.

*****

Kid2 took it at that and I’m sure we’ll have more opportunities for these conversations as time goes on, particularly around the holidays, as Kid2 has proudly informed their class that “Santa does not visit our house because we do not have a chimney!” and Kid1 has proclaimed “I don’t believe in Santa, I believe in Mommy!”

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Mommy, what is church?

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

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

Kid1 continued “Grandma goes to church.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This seemed to satisfy them.

“No church,” Kid2 said.

Kid1 agreed.


Related Reading

Books
Related posts

Five Questions

In the last month or two I’ve started being more open with some of post-Christian Science friends about my Christian Science upbringing. Often, the people I’ve shared with have been people who never knew me while I was still “in Science” — or people who were not quite aware of my background and upbringing. Everyone has been supportive, but they’ve also been baffled as to why anyone would believe in Christian Science in the first place.

This post is being done in collaboration with my fellow ex-Christian Scientist blogger at Emerging Gently. We have also posed these same questions to other ex-Christian Scientists. Their answers appear in a series of posts on The Ex-Christian Scientist*.


There have been five questions that have popped up again and again
  1. How did you get into Christian Science?
  2. Why did you stay in for so long?
  3. What made you decide to leave?
  4. Why would anyone join?
  5. Did you really believe?

I can only answer these questions for myself, but I welcome others to chime in on their experiences in the comments, or as a contributing post over at The Ex-Christian Scientist*.


How did you get into Christian Science?

Like many Christian Scientists (and members of most religions) I was born into it. My father discovered and converted to Christian Science in the mid-1960s (he was in his mid-to-late 30s), and convinced my mother (who was in her mid-to-late 20s) to convert (in the late 1970s early 1980s) as well. They were strongly in the faith when I arrived on the scene in the early 1980s.

My mother has argued I was “not raised quote in Science” and to some extent I agree, I was allowed to take biology classes in school, and got to sit through some very basic “our changing bodies” videos in elementary school. That did not prevent me from remaining relatively ignorant of human physiology and biology (the library and internet were helpful there), a very warped perspective of pain and illness, and a lasting discomfort surrounding all things medical.

Why did you stay in for so long?

When you are raised with these ideas from birth and are repeatedly told them by people that you love, trust and respect it is hard to break free from them.

Like many others, I was raised being told that Christian Science was the One True Religion, Ms. Eddy’s “time for thinkers has come” quote was great, and as long as my thought came back to CS as the OTR things were fine. After I moved out, the ingrained CS habits — not going to a doctor, “praying” about (or flat-out ignoring) problems, general ignorance of the human body/basic biology, etc. remained. Acknowledging health issues or other problems (aka “error”) gave them power and made them “real” and therefore even more difficult to “handle” in Science. My negative childhood experiences with dentists, and my mother’s very vocal anti-doctor/anti-medicine stance only reinforced my decision.

What made you decide to leave?

In retrospect I’d been drifting away for years, what really made me examine my beliefs, and their implications, was having children.

Why would anyone join?

Christian Science promises amazing results. Committee on Publications bloggers regularly run articles about healthcare and quantum physics that make Christian Science appear to be a viable alternative to modern medicine and scientific. Spoiler alert: it is not. The Church has over 100 years of “testimonies” of healing attributed to Christian Science, as many Christian Scientists do not visit doctors, and are generally ignorant of human physiology, they regularly are healed of “what appeared to be” the worst-case-scenario from Dr. Google or a concerned friend.

Did you really believe

That’s a complicated one, I’d say I believed at least some of it.

Which part? That there is an omnipotent, omnipresent, omni-everything Loving God? That I was a perfect spiritual reflection of that God? That my wellbeing, health, grades, etc. were all a reflection of how spiritually attuned I was to God? That if I listened to God I would be guided in my decision making? That the belief in sin was punished only so long as the belief lasts? That all of this is an illusion? That there was some secret higher knowledge? That if I studied “the books” hard enough…

Did I really believe that prayer could heal? On some level, yes. Recent Christian Science propaganda has latched on to the “thought impacts health” and to some extent it does, but not to the extent Christian Science would like you to believe. If you want to pick it apart from a Christian perspective, Jesus did not teach that thought impacts health, and Christian Science has set about to restore the lost art of healing the way Jesus did.

Did I really believe in the unreality of matter? I’m less sure of that one, I think that’s been one of the nagging questions that has lingered from when I first started forming questions. No one has ever given me a satisfactory answer to this question.


So where am I now?

I’m aspiring to be a humanist and generally reasonable human being. Some days I am better at this than others.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that the author of this blog is also an editor/developer of The Ex-Christian Scientist website.

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…

Wanna be a Sheep

The other day the Awkward Moments Children’s Bible Facebook page shared a collection of horrifying “Christian Music” videos gathered from YouTube. I followed some of the links to their logical conclusions, and came across I Just Want To (Be A Sheep)

The sheep theme reminded me of the guest post by the (obviously a pseudonym) Vicomte de Chagny, — if you haven’t read his awesome post “Why Religion Makes me Uncomfortable” I highly recommend it. The dear Vicomte tells us that:

One of the most famous texts of the Bible starts out “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Similarly, one of the most oft-sung hymns in the Christian Science Hymnal begins “Shepherd, show me how to go.” Mary Baker Eddy, who wrote that hymn, also defined “sheep” partially as “innocence…those who follow their leader.” With a shepherding God to direct them, sheep (that is, all of us) by definition do not need to think for themselves. But earlier in the same book containing that definition, on the first page in fact, Eddy writes without hesitation or apology, “The time for thinkers has come.” Can these two seemingly contradictory statements coexist? Is it really time for the unthinking sheep to start thinking? Christian Science seems to think so. I’m not so sure.

The Vicomte then goes on to explain how Christian Science does not really want you to think about it too deeply, if you do, the whole thing unravels into a mess (I’m paraphrasing — you really should go read the piece).

As the Vicomte points out, the very first page of Science and Health, in the second paragraph starts with the heavily quoted “The time for thinkers has come.” The phrase is so popular that the cool-hip young-adult outreach website for the church is called “time4thinkers” (you can google it, I refuse to give it link traffic). I have taken a screen-shot of the passages in question, from the Preface of Science and Health:

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 10.25.41 AM

It is interesting to note that before Ms. Eddy starts of on the importance of thinking, she starts in with dependence, “to those leaning on the sustaining infinite” and then with the sheep metaphors. There is a “wakeful shepherd.” You are not really supposed to think for yourself, you should be leaning on the sustaining infinite, the God-Shepherd.

As for the hymn the Vicomte is referring to, it is entitled “Feed thy Sheep” and is a poem written by Ms. Eddy. It is set to music in several different ways, although most congregations are only good at singing one of the versions.

“Feed thy Sheep”

Shepherd, show me how to go
         O’er the hillside steep,
How to gather, how to sow, —
         How to feed Thy sheep;
I will listen for Thy voice,
         Lest my footsteps stray;
I will follow and rejoice
         All the rugged way.

Thou wilt bind the stubborn will,
         Wound the callous breast,
Make self-righteousness be still,
         Break earth’s stupid rest.
Strangers on a barren shore,
         Lab’ring long and lone,
We would enter by the door,
         And Thou know’st Thine own;

So, when day grows dark and cold,
         Tear or triumph harms,
Lead Thy lambkins to the fold,
         Take them in Thine arms;
Feed the hungry, heal the heart,
         Till the morning’s beam;
White as wool, ere they depart,
         Shepherd, wash them clean.

(Poems by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 14)

There is no space for independent thought in Ms. Eddy’s shepherd-sheep relationship, the sheep (ostensibly her followers) should listen for Thy voice — the voice of Omniscient Mother-Father God, so that their footsteps don’t stray. The sheep are also in for quite a walk as Ms. Eddy tells us the way is rugged, but we should follow and rejoice, because OMFG knows what is best. This is not the time for questioning the Divine Shepherd.

Ms. Eddy’s lyrics are not as crude as pop-culture creepy-puppet Christian children’s music videos, instead of repeating over and over “I wanna be a sheep,” Ms. Eddy appeals to the pseudo-intellectual inner struggle, to borrow an analogy from my high school English lit, the inner Jekyll and Hyde: Thou wilt bind the stubborn will, a  line or two down from that she continues, make self-righteousness be still — keep Mr. Hyde in his place.

Ms. Eddy’s shepherd also offers food, healing and purification — they are white as wool er they depart, I don’t think Ms. Eddy ever dealt with much wool, in a natural unprocessed state it is beige (or brown depending on the color of the sheep) with little bits of twig. I digress.

I find the people-as-sheep with OMFG-Shepherd analogy to be disconcerting. The wikipedia article on sheep tells us that sheep are not known for straying far, they prefer to stay in a group this flocking behavior makes them easier for experienced shepherds to control, if anything, they get upset when they are separated from their flock. Sheep need a leader and often the “leader” is whichever sheep makes the first move. Wikipedia also tries to reassure us that sheep are not stupid — they are as smart as cows and pigs, and can recognize faces and be trained.

People can recognize faces, be trained, and when properly conditioned (through religion and other methods) they too will follow group flocking behavior. If you’re busy following the leader, this does not bode well for thinking.

Christian Science teaches us to Think, but not too critically. Question, but not too much. As long as the answers you come to are ones that are sanctioned by our Beloved Leader Ms. Eddy and her Authorized Christian Science Literature, or The Mother Church, you’re welcome to come to those conclusions, but if you stray too far from the Authorized Message, you quickly get abandoned by OMFG’s Flock.

If you do have the time to think, your thought may turn to  why follow the Shepherd along the rugged way, why not take your own path? Obviously it is because The Shepherd (OMFG) knows best. If you educate the sheep (OMFG’s followers) they won’t have use for the Shepherd and the flock falls apart — at this point the problem is more for the Shepherd than the sheep because OMFG is without a flock, and what is the point of being OMFG (or Ms. Eddy) if you have no followers/people to control?

Can a God-figure exist if no one believes in it? Are we God’s creation, or is God ours, and why would we create such a jerk?


the formation of mortals

This is an incredibly long post which may be a little hard to follow. I mostly wrote it for myself, but thought I would share it here as well. It is a semi-metacognative conversation on selections from the chapter on Marriage in Science and Health. I was mostly left with a great desire to build a time machine and question a selection of Teachers and Christian Science-scholars at length over Ms. Eddy’s thoughts and careful word selection – if any happen to read my blog your insights are most welcome! Alternatively, I would love to put together a Wednesday evening service based on some of the passages.

After I finished this post I was left with an incredible sense of relief that I no longer practice CS, or ascribe to Ms. Eddy’s unique world views. My brain also hurt. I strongly recommend anyone who has questions look up the passages I’ve screen-captured in a book (or on the official Church website) so they can see them in the larger context.


The other morning over my husband asked why I had not yet touched on the topic of sex, the answer is simple, Ms. Eddy does NOT TALK ABOUT SEX,* she talks about the formation of mortals, which is not sexy, just weird.

My husband argued she has “that whole chapter on Marriage” which is true (I’ve read it several dozen times over the years). Yes, but in Ms. Eddy’s world marriage is something that that must be tolerated until the Apocalypse:

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 10.45.13 AM

Continue reading

some questions answered

I’ve been noticing a trend in questions recently and thought I should address them all in one post. If I missed any questions you may have had, leave a comment or e-mail me.


Are you still a Christian Scientist?

  • No. I have not relied exclusively on CS for healing for a number of years, and have not considered myself to be an “active CS” for even longer. After 10+ years of membership, I finally got around to “voluntarily withdrawing” from the Mother Church. I self-identify as agnostic/atheist.

Why are you doing this? What do you hope to achieve?

  • From Questions:I started this page because I needed a place to think about my experiences in Christian Science and related CS-institutions, the process of leaving, and musings on the topic now that I have left. I’m not an expert on Ms. Eddy, or parenting, or religion, or navigating the healthcare field. I’m not trying to write a book, or start a revolution. I’m just someone trying to figure out what I just spent the last 20+ years of my life believing and make sense of things.

    … after so many years of being told what and how to believe I have a lot of thoughts to clarify. I would like to use Kindism to share my experience leaving Christian Science (and later my rejection of generic Christianity as well), and to chronicle my journey as I seek whatever it is I’m looking for (I’m still not sure).

  • I’m still not totally sure what my end-goal is, I’m not actually sure if I have one. I know I felt very alone when I first left CS, no one else could quite relate to what I had been through, and as I’ve blogged more, I’ve learned I’m not as alone as I thought I was. There are other people out there struggling with the same issues I am – I’m just writing about it. I hope this blog has made a positive difference in someone’s life, and inspired them to think more deeply about the religion they are participating in &/or have been part of.

Have you read [insert title of book about CS problems/Ms. Eddy’s biography/some other CS-related work]?

  • Probably not. I bought most of my contentious CS lit while I was still a CS, and some of it during my time at Principia. I have a few, choice works, including (but not limited to), God’s Perfect Child by Fraser, and the very unauthorized Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy by Cather. Unless I already have the book, or can easily get it through our local library, GoogleBooks or some other (ideally free) source online, I am unlikely to have read it. I do link to a few books under “Resources” and I try to update it periodically. There are many, many books about Christian Science, both for and against, and I don’t have an infinite amount of time, a life beyond my blog, and a growing stack of projects and reading as it is. Searches for CS Lit also frequently turn up the New Thought Movement – which is entirely new territory for me (except for the Quimby, and what I retained of reading about early CS History is vague at best, although I suspect if I was to delve into it, I would have enough material for a novel or two).

You link to CS-positive literature/websites.

  • Yeah, so? I think some of the CS-positive bloggers/websites have something to offer. Most websites that link to full-text copies of Ms. Eddy’s works are also generally CS-positive — not everyone is blessed with boxes full of Authorized CS literature that they can peruse at their leisure. I think Ms. Eddy and CS can offer interesting insight and inspiration (although they should NEVER be relied on as the sole source of healing), as can a  number of other religious and cultural traditions.

If I e-mail you, will you share my name &/or e-mail address and “no longer CS status” with the internet?

  • No. I blog anonymously, many of my family and friends are unaware of my “out-of-CS” status and some are unaware that I was associated with CS in any way at all. I have family and friends who are still entrenched in the religion, and I have friends who are out with family who still hold fast to their CS beliefs. “Coming out” about one’s “no longer CS” status is a deeply personal decision and I firmly believe that everyone should make that decision on their own, when they are ready. I will NOT share names/e-mail address/other contact information.

I have a situation &/or problem and I need advice about it.

  • I’m flattered, but honestly I’m not an expert. I’m still trying to figure out what “leaving CS means to me” and how it all works now too. The best I can do is share my experiences and whatever insights I may have gained along my journey – a fair number of which are chronicled in this blog.

I want to help &/or contribute in some way, what can I do?

  1. Leave comments or e-mail me. It is nice to know that there is someone out there who reads this other than my BFF.
  2. Submit a guest post – have a Sunday School, camp, or Prin anecdote, tale of woe, work for a CS-related institution or want to share some other part of your CS story? Have some thoughts to share about a CS-related blog post? I’m open to ideas as long as it relates to CS in some way. You can leave a comment or e-mail me kat.at.kindism (at) gmail.com (yes, that is a complicated e-mail address, it cuts down on the spambots).
  3. Spread the word. When I started this blog I felt like I was the only one out there, now I know I’m not.

 

If I missed any questions you may have had, leave a comment or e-mail me.