I went to the Doctor – Guest Post Project

I know there are many of you, both Christian Scientist and former-Christian Scientist alike, who have sought medical help.

In an effort to remove the stigma and alleviate the fear that is often associated with visiting healthcare professionals, I’m asking you to write in with your experiences, both good and bad, so that others can work to overcome their fears.

I just started this project so I’m sure it will evolve a bit over time. Stories will be archived in some form at:



how do i leave christian science behind?

This post was inspired by a conversation (or two) with the writer of Emerging Gently, who also has an excellent post about How to Leave Christian Science.

This is a question that was posted in a “Time 4 Thinkers” forum, the cool, hip face of the Mother Church aimed at teens and young adults.

how do i leave christian science behind? i can’t seem to find comfort in christian science anymore. it is so shallow and so ignorant. has anyone ever been there, and where did you go: leave christian science or somehow get back to it?

Nearly everyone who replied had at one time or another “had doubts” about Christian Science, but they’d prayed hard and come to the conclusion it was right. Most of the commenters could be easily summed up by the following:

When I’ve had big questions with Christian Science, when I really dig in and seek answers, I find them. That doesn’t mean it’s easy though. There have been things I’ve wondered about, thought about, even agonized over, you could say, trying to come to an understanding. But inevitably, I’ve been led to the exact answer I needed to hear to find comfort, peace, understanding, whatever it happened to be that I was looking for at the time. Sometimes answers come quickly, while others I’ve gone over and over for months at a time before reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Not just giving up is the key though.

The original questioner mentioned several serious family health problems that Christian Science was failing to heal and is then pointed to Ms. Eddy’s quote about the “right use of temporary means.”

The “I left but I came back” answers resonated with me, I’d done the left-but-came-back thing once or twice, only it wasn’t so much “left” as it was “had serious doubts/questions/crises of faith.” I plowed through them: mild eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, death of a friend, health issues and all.

At the end of the day I keep coming back to the fact I can NOT raise my children with Christian Science, not the way I understand it, not the way it is practiced, not the way we have come so far since Ms. Eddy founded it. God or no God, Christian Science is not good for me, or my family, or my long term physical and mental well being. There are so many solutions out there that don’t involve “praying to know the truth” and “praying to see all things as harmonious” when things are CLEARLY NOT RIGHT.

You can still believe in an all-loving God and NOT be a Christian Scientist. You can still pray for guidance and NOT be a Christian Scientist. You can even attend a Christian Science church and NOT be a Christian Scientist.

Leaving Christian Science means you are leaving a harmful system of thought which perpetuates the false idea that radical reliance on prayer above all else solves all problems. Leaving Christian Science means you can seek practical treatment for problems – you do not have to pray to know the truth, or deny the reality of the situation at hand. It is okay to acknowledge that you need more help than prayer alone can provide, this is NOT something to be ashamed of.

Leaving Christian Science isn’t easy, navigating the world of healthcare can be daunting, but please know you are NOT ALONE.

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Final Generation 2

I was inspired by the comments on the previous post to share a little more about my background. Everyone says they were “encouraged to explore and question,” my father (selectively) encouraged my exploring and questioning. I did a lot of exploring and questioning, which is of the lovely, and often problematic, things about Christian Science: on one hand people are “free to explore and question” on the other hand, people’s experiences can vary widely to the point I wonder if we were all practicing the same religion.

I was raised by people who converted to Christian Science. Sometimes I think converts are the most dangerous type of CS, because it is new and exciting and anything is possible.

Although my family was not Catholic (I think they tended towards Episcopalian – at least some of the extended family still does), my father attend private Catholic schools as a boy, and found/converted to Christian Science in the mid-to-late 1960s.

The story, as my father told it, goes a little like this: he was having vague, nondescript health problems (probably stress and other life-style induced issues) and went to the family doctor, the doctor told him nothing was wrong, and that he should consult with his priest – perhaps something was weighing on his mind. My father then went to the family priest, and after a conversation, the priest recommended he go to his doctor. At this point, my father decided to look outside both the medicine of the day, and the religion he was familiar with, and found Christian Science. The details of exactly how he came to CS are vague, but he credits CS with healing him of drinking and a several-pack-a-day smoking habit. My father went through class instruction in 1970.

My mother was raised in a relaxed northern-European protestant tradition (religious around Easter, Christmas, the appropriate King Cake parties/activities around Lent), and converted to Christian Science around the time she married my father, because it “was easier than attending two different churches.” My mother went through class instruction, probably in the late 70s, or early 80s.

As a child, I was permitted unlimited access to the family bookshelves which housed a variety of fiction and non-fiction/historical works. I was actively encouraged to read, as questions, and explore my relationship with God. My father and I used to go for walks after dinner, we would talk about religion (not just Christian Science), history, school, my plans for the future, my friends, travel, etc.

I regularly frequented bookstores and picked up books on a wide range of topics, the only one that were truly frowned upon was Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice, as that was “dangerous” and “occult nonsense” yet they tolerated my dabbling with a Celtic Magic book as “just a phase.” Interestingly, they didn’t blink an eye when I brought home heavy reading about memory manipulation, a pseudo-scientific book about Atlantis, dystopian fiction, or my phase of obsessively reading novels with heavy medical undertones (The Best Little Girl in the World, and Coma which proceeded to give me nightmares and instill a deep terror of the medical community).

Most of my friends outside of Sunday School were of the Bible-thumping hellfire-and-brimstone “have you been saved?” variety of Christianity. At least one of them fell to their knees, pulling me with them, to “pray for” my “eternal salvation.” I compromised and we exchanged books to read. After she read a few passages of Science & Health, and was assured that I did “believe in Jesus” she let up a little bit.

I was also friends with a few Catholics, there was one in particular who regularly joined me sitting in the library as an opt-out from the school taught “sex-ed” program (mostly showing scary photos of “sexually transmitted diseases”). He also “gave up Catholicism for Lent” and we often commiserated about our religious baggage.

Most of the time I got into trouble for questioning things was in Sunday School. I questioned why God punished the Egyptians, I questioned what made the Tribes of Israel so special, I questioned if Jesus really had to die. I questioned the stories, I questioned the interpretation, I questioned “the appearance of evil” even if nothing “evil” was happening – someone might think something was happening, I questioned the entire Jesus story, I questioned why healing didn’t always work, I questioned the authority of the Sunday School teacher, and later I questioned why I should be there at all.

In retrospect, I am amazed I came out of my childhood as unscathed as I did. I didn’t break any bones, or sustain many long-lasting injuries. I had the chickenpox, I wretched an ankle or two, I fell off my bike/scooter/roller skates a few times, but over all I escaped with only a few lasting scars, and a crippling fear of dentistry.

At an early age I had an accident in which I broke some teeth. This required extensive reconstructive work, and many, many hours in a dental chair. My mother had, initially, emphasized that “we are Christian Scientists” and we “don’t need” local anesthetic, antibiotics, or post-work pain relief. She later changed her stance to “we use local anesthetic to make the dentist more comfortable.” She never changed her mind on antibiotics, or post-work pain relief (1).

I tried very hard from a very young age to overcome my fear of dentistry. The fluoride made me gag and puke, the dentist never seemed to believe that I was REALLY FEELING PAIN when they were drilling (even with local anesthetic it has since been determined by a more responsible dentist and better x-rays, that yes, some of my teeth have more roots/nerves), and somehow, no matter how hard I “worked to know the truth” my teeth never managed to heal themselves.

Of course, nothing was ever wrong with them to begin with, which didn’t help things any either.

My mother dragged us to the dentist twice a year. When I asked her why, she explained it was “routine maintenance” and that “teeth are important.” When I then asked why we didn’t visit doctors, she explained “doctors only want to use you as a pincushion and poison you.” As opposed to the sadistic dentists I was seeing every six months who only wanted to drill out my molars.

My fellow CS didn’t ever say much about dental work, probably because they were doing it too, or because it wasn’t noticeable. What was noticeable was when one of my friends grandfather’s died suddenly because his appendix burst, and when another older gentleman at the church had a mild stroke. The older gentleman had previously been a bastion of the church community, a sort of church elder, looked up to, and was aspiring to be a full-time CSP. He went from a pillar of church life, to semi-ostracized as he lurched around the building, mumbling, no one was quite sure what to make of it. He didn’t die, he wasn’t getting better, he was in a state of CS-purgatory. This purgatory lasted for about six months, after which point he passed away. His wife then left the church and hasn’t set foot inside since.

What was also noticeable is how they treated the children with disabilities, they were not labeled autistic (although I suspect that’s what the problem was) they were simply termed “out of control.” Clearly the mother was at fault for not raising the child properly. This may have also been a generational/regional bias, I don’t know what happened to the child, or his parents.

There was also the young man (and very close friend of mine) who, having sustained a severe head/brain injury as a child, had infrequent, severe seizures. He passed away while I was at Principia, and upon my return to church, I was “informed” by a former Sunday School teacher that my friend was “no longer with us” followed by flushing very red, and giggling in a rather embarrassed manner. My friends passing was never really talked about ever again, not in Sunday School, not at church, not at home, not ever. Christian Scientists don’t deal well with death. His mother still attends the church, but his younger siblings no longer participate in CS. Among the CS community, it is as if he never existed, our mutual-non-CS friends and I exchange remembrances usually around his birthday.

In Christian Science, we may all “read the same textbooks” and we may all agree that “2+2=4” and “God is Love” but the outcome for healing varies so wildly that I don’t feel that the term “science” can be applied. To hand the average person off the street (or even a multi-generation CS) a copy of Science and Health and then expect them to read, understand and work miracles is unrealistic and to promote such ideas is dangerous.

I took a lab science class while at Principia and we were required to keep a record of our experiments using the scientific method, our hypothesis, testing, results, etc. were all neatly block printed so we could go over our results. Every now and again my team’s results varied wildly from the class and we were able to go back and find where we deviated from the norm. In Christian Science there is no record of what was done, there is no way to double check work, there is no one to check your work, there are not others working on the same experiment with you, the results are not peer-reviewed before they are published. It is conveniently individualized so that if (or rather when) the person fails to heal themselves using Christian Science the blame rests entirely upon them and their lack of understanding.

Many people have said the way they practice CS does not exclude visiting doctors, and that not all CS they have interacted with have been radical. Many people have claimed to have amazing, occasionally doctor-documented, healing experiences, I’m happy for them. That was not my experience.

I watched my father struggle for years with increasingly debilitating strokes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and one functioning kidney. I watched my mother alternate between radical reliance on God, pseudo science from the internet, a radical lifestyle and diet makeover and the doctor-advised/prescribed “western medicine” in an attempt to prolong my father’s life. My father held on ten years longer than any one really expected, with my mother cursing the doctors who were “trying to poison him!” in an attempt from keeping his blood pressure from skyrocketing out of control.

Would he have fared better on a strictly western-medicine regimen? I can’t shake the feeling that my parent’s toxic attitude towards the medical community was more harmful than helpful when it came to dealing with my father’s situation. It did not matter that my father had been a Christian Scientist longer than many of the doctors had been alive, they’d been to medical school, and my parents had gone to them (albeit begrudgingly, and at least once with the threat of social services being called,) seeking help.

After Kid1 was born, my mother had the audacity to passively blame the cause of my pregnancy complications on my diet, and choice of going to the hospital (2). My husband unloaded on her, when the head of high-risk obstetrics and one of the best doctors in the county looks at the charts and lab results and can’t tell you what the problem was, much less what caused it, glibly saying “you needed to eat more vegetables” (when you were lucky to eat anything at all for 12 weeks) is asinine.

As a parent, I can not, in good conscience raise my children in Christian Science. I will not deny them regular health checkups, and I will call their pediatricians office if I have any concerns. When they get older, I will not be vague about my own medical history, or health problems that may arise, sheltering a small child from a problem is one thing, withholding information that a parent’s passing is imminent from a grown child in their twenties or early thirties is another matter all together. I will not send them to school congested and feverish (even if they insist on going), and I will make sure they are vaccinated, because whooping cough is miserable. I will not read them Travis talks with God, which tells children they’re not really hurt, God loves them, I will take practical steps: an ice pack, a Popsicle, a call to the pediatrician’s office, or a trip to the ER.

Mary Baker Eddy encourages us to think and question. I’ve read the Mother Church Authorized literature, I’ve read my share of “obnoxious” literature, and I’m pretty sure the Mother Church would call this blog “obnoxious” as well. I’ve worked with CSPs, and there are several that I respect deeply. I have successfully used CS techniques to overcome problems, and out of habit (sometimes to my detriment) I turn to CS ideas to work through situations.

Christian Science does not have to be deadly, but all too often I’ve seen even the most moderate of CS, when faced with health, or other challenges, take a turn for the radical and deny they have any issue what so ever. I do not ever want to go down that path.

  1. You don’t need anything after your wisdom tooth comes out! That’s what ice packs are for. The second time I had a wisdom tooth removed, I was no longer living at home, and I did take something for the pain. I had a horrifying allergic reaction and very vivid hallucinations all night. It would’ve been nice to have some idea about such allergies before they crept up on me in the middle of the night.
  2. My mother also taught me that you also only go to a hospital to die. Between that, the pregnancy issues and reading Coma while a naive middle school student, my first-ever hospital experience was even more anxiety-laden than it needed to be. My mother had several friends who had died of cancer (conveniently while in a hospital). She blamed the doctors (and later the individuals poor dietary choices), apparently if you eat healthy and avoid doctors you’ll never get cancer. That said, I strongly recommend reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

millions of unprejudiced minds

In Science and Health, p. 570 Ms. Eddy refers to

Millions of unprejudiced minds — simple seekers for Truth, weary wanderers, athirst in the desert — are waiting and watching for rest and drink. Give them a cup of cold water in Christ’s name, and never fear the consequences.

The Church Alive Weekly Questions are showing that the minds are skipping out on Church entirely, that true reform is unlikely to happen at any level, and that to a “Spiritual Expert,” whatever that is, “prayer” is always the answer.

The following are a selection of Church Alive Weekly Questions which seemed to go along a similar theme: Wednesdays are dull, children are not attending, we can’t get new people. The problems are related.

  • Week 8: “I love my church and the fellow members, but we spend a lot of Wednesdays sitting mostly in silence during the testimony period. How can I pray about this?”

I love the Spiritual Expert’s explanation:

Silence at a church meeting, in some instances, may be born of honesty or wisdom. We can actively pray during quiet times and realize that healing and renewal may occur at any moment of the meeting. Sometimes a quiet moment at our church has opened the way for a visitor or infrequent testifier to speak.

That is all well and good, but sometimes the reason everyone is sitting in silence is because there are five people there – the usher, the organist, the reader, and two (maybe three) people in the congregation. The organist is often not a CS and does not feel compelled to speak. The reader has nothing to say – they picked all the readings for the evening, and even if all of the two-three people spoke up for 2-3 minutes, they are unlikely to fill the twenty minutes set aside for testimonies.

  • Week 50 also addresses Wednesday testimony services: “Why don’t more children come to Wednesday testimony services?”

This time it is one of the commenters that nails it:

I like what MW says “there are hundreds of kids & teens who have gone to weekly testimony meetings at summer camps for christian scientists.Why stop when camps close?”
I think one of the main reason for this is that they are really good fluid meetings and well attended, this does encourage young people to go.however the same cannot be always be said for local meetings at branch churches,          (emphasis mine)

The simple answer is because they are boring. I hated going to Wednesday evening testimony meetings as a child and they have not gotten any better as an adult. I also loathed the CSO-sponsored Tuesday morning testimony meetings at Prin – while they were far better attended, it was a lot of “look how Spiritual I am!” They also served as a reminder about what a failure I was at CS, although some of the testimonies given also gave me pause to wonder if I was practicing the same religion as much of the rest of the congregation.

  • Week 22 also deals with young people: “I think many young people don’t transition from Sunday School to church because young people are not used to sitting and listening to someone read to them for 30 to 40 minutes. Is there any reason why the ‘Present Order of Services in The Mother Church and Branch Churches’ listed for the Sunday service (see Church Manual, pp. 120-121) isn’t being looked at for possible updating?”

As a young person who “didn’t transition from Sunday School to church” (unless under duress while living rent-free at home), the problem is not sitting for 30-40 minutes being read to, the problem is that we’ve (theoretically) read the lesson all week long on our own, and that the readers are usually as exciting as watching paint dry.

I have sat through longer sermons at other churches with far more engaging pastors/ministers, I have also sat through lecture courses where the information was new and interesting, but the format of the CS service – read it all week and then have it read to you again is tedious at best.

In this case the “Spiritual Expert” totally misses the mark

For me this question of transition from Sunday School to church is really more about preparation rather than needing to change the order of services.

Oh really?

For the young person, moving on to church should be something to look forward to—a completely normal, natural next step forward in their Christian Science journey. And Sunday School teachers can help them in taking this wonderful step. Sunday School students can learn right in Sunday School that it’s the sacredness of sitting prayerfully in church and feeling God speaking directly to them through the pastor—Science and Health and the Bible—that will continue to inspire progress in their lives.

Going from sixteen years (assuming you start Sunday School at around four and continue through the age of 20) of discussion about the Bible and S&H and being able to question and learn from a teacher and your peers to reading the lesson on your own and sitting being lectured once a week is supposed to be something you look forward to? To abruptly go from a setting where conversation and questioning are (somewhat) encouraged to the “sacredness of sitting prayerfully in church” is going to inspire progress? This sounds like it should be a condescending Wonka meme not advice from a “Spiritual expert.”

The other “expert” fares no better:

Besides the Lesson being the “sermon” for Sunday services, we have these Bible verses and their key to study all week. So when we attend church on Sunday we have the double advantage of familiarity with the topic as well as our own expectation of what it means. We then listen, not to a person, but the Word of God given in the Lesson-Sermon and have the opportunity for further enlightenment and application.

Or I could simply read the lesson again from the comfort of my own bed (or the beach, or a hot tub, or a hammock, or not at all because I’ve READ IT ALL WEEK) and not bother to get to church in the morning.

Since a major part of the church service is listening to the pastor for 30 minutes, what makes listeners receptive and look forward to hearing the pastor? What was it that drew multitudes to listen to Christ Jesus sometimes for many days at a time?

Jesus provided snacks, he didn’t want money, and wasn’t lobbying the government for special funding. He also told really cool stories. Christian Science Sunday Services fall short of Jesus’ high standard.

The “expert” continues:

It’s not about the reading. It’s about receptivity to the message. If we approach each service expecting to hear the Word of God—the same kind of message Jesus delivered—how could our young people want to be anywhere else on Sunday morning?

That’s all well and good, but the weekly lessons are falling short of the sort of messages Jesus delivered and young people are picking up on that.

  • Week 12: “In the Church Manual (p. 120) the heading for the order of Sunday services and Wednesday meetings reads: “Present Order of Services in The Mother Church and Branch Churches.” Does the use of the word ‘present’ imply that this order could or should be changed?

The “experts” again fail to address the question, the Order of Services is pretty much set in stone, the Church Manual can’t be modified with out Ms. Eddy’s permission, and so it will remain the same forever. The Expert’s

own observation, after attending services in some 40 countries, is that branch churches yearn to have services that heal. One way is by making those services appropriate for their time and culture, especially musically. I’ve attended services in the Argentine Andes in Salta, where the hymns were accompanied by guitar; in Kampala, Uganda, where the solo was a series of beautiful unrehearsed, a cappella vocal riffs based loosely on a text from Psalms; and in Alhaurín el Grande, Spain, where the congregation sang texts of Christian Science hymns to well-known local melodies. In each of these instances, the branches weren’t seeing the “Order of Services” as limiting, but were allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through the “Order of Service” in a language and spirit that touched the heart of participants— like on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-12).

completely misses the mark, so people changed up the music, big deal. They still had the 30-40 minute BLOCK OF LESSON READING (see above as to why that’s driving people away). The comments in this particular section are rather insightful (all emphasis mine)

  • Some people may find no problem at all with this format. It may well give them another opportunity to listen to the “Lesson” again in the quiet and peaceful sanctuary of the church. But for the newcomer I can only imagine that they have a very difficult time staying alert during approximately 35 minutes of non-stop “reading”, no matter how good that reading is. Reading to someone is simply not the most effective way of getting the message across. Recently, I listened to the Sunday service from the Mother Church. The reading was very good, but I found that I simply could not stay with the reading without interruption, so every two sections or so, I put the broadcast on pause for a few minutes. What I did find very enjoyable was the special music provided by a brass quintet (it was the Sunday before Christmas).
  • My sense of that use of “present” concerning order of service means she intended it to be open for future adjustment. There are two reasons to think that: first, because she did not use “present” concerning order of Sunday School services (so that’s clearly locked in) and the other place she used “present” in the Manual was for directors’ salaries, implying that they would be—and no doubt have been—subject to substantial change. So if one use of “present” has been accepted as the ability to change salaries it would also seem order of service would fit in the same category.
  • It is interesting that in the latter half of 2009 a variety of new explorations of worship and fellowship, by dedicated Christian Scientists who love The Mother Church and its Church Manual, began in the midwest and on the west coast. If readers of this thread are interested in first hand accounts of these developments the following are the websites of these groups:
    St. Louis: http://www.ngcsf.com
    Chicago: http://whatishappeningchicago.wordpress.com
    Los Angeles: http://www.livinglovecs.org/LivingLove_CSInAction/Intro.html
  • What may seem very normal, even comforting, to those who have long familiarity with the traditional Christian Science church service, is not necessarily what will speak to any (or at least many) of the “millions of unprejudiced minds” MBE says are yearning for the help Science can offer and to whose yearning we are supposed to respond.

They continue to go back and forth similar to a church committee only on a much larger scale. The Church must serve both the long-time membership AND the new comers which the churches so desperately need.

As with all the problems, TMC’s Spiritual Expert appears to think the problem is not with the Order of Services, the lesson format, dwindling congregations, or dreadfully dull content (I’m going to disagree on all counts), but the flock’s inability to allow the Holy Spirit to speak through it and their lack of Divine Inspiration. Ms. Eddy and TMC policy remains infallible, the flock remains flawed, and they wonder why people are leaving.

Maybe they’re doing it wrong.

there is no church protocol

I did not initially have a post planned for today, but a friend recently shared an article about Liz Heywood and her stand against religious abuse (you can read more about her story on her blog). I mostly skimmed the article, Ms. Heywood tends to make a regular appearance when I google for former-CS as the Heywood Testimony to the Obama Administration, February 26, 2010 is widely shared.

I would like to think Ms. Heywood’s story is uncommon, as the testimony is not an easy, or pleasant read. While the end result – a partially amputated leg – may be rare, I have seen the events that led up to it play out in various scenarios both in my life, and the lives of my fellow Christian Scientists. It starts with how the problem is perceived and what action is, or is not taken:

… my swollen, stiff knee as a mortal illusion to be corrected through prayer. ….. My mother called a Christian Science practical nurse to help care for me*a nurse trained by the church in strictly non-medical methods, forbidden to diagnose disease or dispense medicine.

Most of us are second or third generation Christian Scientists, raised exclusively in Christian Science with little or no exposure to doctors/medicine. Most of us, at one time or another, could probably write the next sentence ourselves:

… I believed only prayer could help me: I never expected or even wanted medical treatment.

A little further down we are reminded what the Mother Church/the CS movement has lobbied so hard for: legal exemption for parents who choose to withhold medical treatment for their children.

I remember clearly the agony and anguish I felt as a child. I remember that no adult stepped forward to end it. The law authorized my parents’ decision to leave me untreated, and the sanction of the law discouraged others from doing what is right.

I feel very fortunate to have made it through my childhood without any serious illness or injury. Beyond a bought of chicken pox, some superficially nasty scrapes when I fell off of bicycles and scooters I was fairly lucky that most of my problems could truly be solved by ice cream and band-aids.

It was in my early twenties at Principia when I first truly encountered a “serious physical challenge” of the variety that should probably have required an urgent-care clinic. It was finals week and I bumped my chin on my bunk bed. I didn’t think much of it, until my jaw began to swell quite painfully.

I immediately contacted my RC, and a CS nurse came over to take me to Cox Cottage (the CS-nurse headquarters at Principia). She led me to one of the back rooms, told me I could get into bed and listen to the Bible Lesson or other authorized CS-material. I attempted to explain I had an abscessed tooth which needed to drain.* The CS nurse looked at me like I had two heads, she informed me they were “not equipped” to handle such situations, and I was then left alone.

I called my professors to let them know I was on the “in list” at Cox, it was during finals, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t really believe me. You can be “in” at Cox for a variety of reasons, it mostly just counts as an “excused” absence, and (in theory) you have to check in with your RC and be put on the “official” list.**

After about an hour I decided I could be just as miserable in my own bed. I got up to leave, but was convinced to stay by the CSN who made me lunch – grilled cheese and a milkshake. I managed to leave after that, reminding her that I had finals to take and had to finish packing and flying home shortly there after. I made it to most of my finals (although some had to be “made up” at a slightly later time than they’d been scheduled). I’m sure my professors and fellow students noticed my badly swollen jaw, but they said nothing.  I then spent the night in surreal hallucinations.

I was fortunate, at some point in the night the abscess began to drain, the pressure was relived and the swelling began to subside. I “borrowed” some antibacterial mouthwash from one of the women in my dorm, and had my mother schedule a dental appointment for the first day after I got home.

My dentist was HORRIFIED at what had happened. I was lectured that such infections could cause enough swelling to crush my windpipe or cause blood poisoning, either of which, could have killed me. They managed to “save” what was left of the tooth with a root canal.

At the time I was dating a guy who was not a Christian Scientist. He too was horrified at what had happened. Why had no one at Prin said anything or offered to help? Simple, my swollen jaw was a mortal illusion to be corrected through prayer. The CS Nurse, while very sweet, is trained by the church in strictly non-medical methods, forbidden to diagnose disease or dispense medicine, and was completely useless. I also didn’t quite realize how dangerous the situation was, I knew I was uncomfortable, I knew I should get to a dentist ASAP, but really, what’s another day or two?

In my case, while I felt prayer could help mitigate some of the fear, it was also a dental issue, I have struggled for years with dental issues and had never been able to pray about them with any level of success. I needed and expected medical treatment, but at Principia getting access to medical care is nearly impossible and anything other than radically relying on Christian Science is frowned upon from the highest levels.

I also wouldn’t have know where to start. I didn’t have a car, I didn’t trust my RC, my friends and I had finals, I didn’t have any sort of health insurance (much less dental coverage), and the idea of finding a dentist in rural Illinois, getting there, paying for it all, and making it home at the end of the term felt like insurmountable obstacles.

In Ms. Heywood’s case it was the law that authorized her parents’ decision to leave her untreated, and the sanction of the law discouraged others from doing what was right. In mine, I was in my very early twenties, legally an adult, but the culture at Principia treated us like wayward children, and essentially forbid anyone from stepping up and offering assistance beyond “would you like some soup?” or “I’ll pray for you.” The culture at Prin also kept me from reaching out for much-needed physical aid, who could I trust with my dark secret: I needed to get to a dentist, this was a problem I could not simply pray away. Even acknowledging that I would be unable to heal the problem while on the Prin campus felt wrong.

Of course the Church has answers for these perplexing issues. The Ithica Journal quotes the representative for the Christian Science Committee on Publication for New York State:

Christian Scientists make their own decision regarding their health care,” said Paul Hannesson, the Christian Science Committee on Publication for New York State. “There is no church protocol that requires them to use a spiritual solution.

“Many Christian Scientists do rely on prayer and their spiritual understanding of what that means in terms of their health because it works for them,” Hannesson said. “However, the church doesn’t take a position that they must use that solution in all cases to be a member of the church.”    (emphasis mine)

Yes, Christian Scientists do make their own decisions regarding their health care. How convenient that they point this out, and of course the church has no requirement to use a spiritual solution. No one is saying you can not take medication, or seek medical care in a time of need (you’ll just be required to withdraw from Principia for a term/however long you need to be relying on medication), and you’ll just be ostracized from the community.

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 2.35.27 PMThe Mother Church may take the warm-fuzzy “no church protocol” stance, but the reality is that people who are raised in Christian Science are taught to EXPECT HEALING. Amazing, miraculous, PHYSICAL HEALINGS. There is an ENTIRE CHAPTER in Science & Health devoted to HEALINGS and every Journal, Sentinal, CS Lecture and pamphlet at some level come back to the HEALING POWER of Christian Science.

This is WHAT CHRISTIAN SCIENCE IS ABOUT, rediscovering the “long lost power of HEALING” just like Jesus did. Official “church protocol” may say otherwise, but Ms. Eddy is quite clear through out Science and Health and other works that CS is all about healing, and one can not “mix” the material and spiritual. The church has gone so far as to TRADEMARK “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” around a cross and crown – this is what is EXPECTED of Christian Scientists, and everyone is made very aware of it from their first day in Sunday School forward.

If a person chooses to rely on spiritual methods and the healing never occurs than it is hardly the fault of the Church, they never told the person they had no other options. They just provided the resources and framework for the belief structure, decades of literature to support the idea of spiritual healing, a self-enforcing culture of radial-reliance and compliance.

Christian Science claims to encourage people to think, Ms. Eddy opens S&H with a quote about “the time for thinkers has come” – and you are promised as long as you are thinking good, true, and “spiritually right” thoughts you will experience amazing healings – and the amazing ability to heal others. If you’re not “knowing the truth” or getting distracted by the material then you’re opening yourself up to error, mortal mind, and the various problems associated with it – you’re bringing the problems on yourself. It isn’t the Church’s fault you’re not at an appropriate spiritual level to recognize the Truth and heal yourself, after all, they have decades of testimonies of people who managed just that, there must be something wrong with you.

The Church not having any “official protocol” is nothing but a cop-out to avoid being sued out of existence. Sure a Christian Scientist may visit a doctor, they’re allowed to, but they don’t want to, they WANT to experience the “amazing power of prayer” and they know if they only know the truth a little better, and read the books a little more, and pray a little harder it will happen.

Except when it doesn’t, and then it (sometimes) makes the news.


* I am a fairly competent person when it comes to dental issues, I’ve had more than my share of dental work done over the years as dental work is one of those areas that is a rather “grey zone” in CS. The tooth in question had given me problems on at least one other occasion, and had a deep filling which had been knocked free.

** There are so many issues with this system, I don’t even know where to start.

striking a balance

I wrote this some time ago and there never seemed to be an appropriate time to share. I found there is/was an unhealthy focus and emphasis on “natural” childbirth within the CS movement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with “natural” but “natural” is not inherently safer, nor should people be judged by the choices they make about childbirth.

Several months after Kid2’s scheduled c-section a friend of the family had her second child as well, she’d had a c-section the first time, but, my MIL gushed, the friend had managed an “amazing demonstration” and had a “wonderful, natural childbirth experience” the second time. I’m tried to be happy for her, but the underlying message I walked away with was “if she managed it, why couldn’t you?” My SIL’s off hand remark “why did you schedule a c-section?!” and my mother’s total freak-out at my sister (I certainly wasn’t going to tell her!) when she heard the news summed it up. 

***** ***** *****

When I was pregnant with Kid1 I read numerous CS articles about pregnancy and birth from a CS perspective. They dealt with how to deal with fear that arose from dealing with the medical community, and knowing the baby would be perfect as God had created it as God’s perfect idea. They were warm and fuzzy articles which all ended with a “smooth” birth, “perfect” child, and “wonderful spiritual experience.” In short, their experiences were the complete opposite of mine.

Although my faith in Christian Science had been badly shaken I worked with a CSP during my second pregnancy, while I am a “former” CS, I still feel CS holds some helpful truths (at the time of Kid2’s gestation I was still mostly on the fence about CS). I told her about the birth experience with Kid1. I was upfront about how I planned to “schedule” Kid2’s c-section. I did not feel the need to “demonstrate” over my fear and attempt a “natural” birth. I’d already worked hard to overcome my fear of a second pregnancy and the very real fear about the possible return of life-threatening third trimester complications.

How did I “work” to over come my fears? I talked extensively to the obgyn and the midwife she worked with who had worked with me in the hospital following the arrival of Kid1. I talked to Kid1’s pediatrician. I read peer-reviewed medical papers (most of which were beyond my comprehension), and a few books. I systematically addressed each fear, with logic, facts, and the occasional CS platitude.

I found that CS articles from people who had been stationed in Iraq were far more helpful than the fuzzy birth stories I’d encountered with my previous pregnancy. They dealt with pain, fear and flash backs – all things I was dealing with.

The flash backs were not part of the reality I was currently experiencing. The more I worked with my obgyn the more my fear subsided: we had a plan and a team in place to help deal with whatever came up. I felt more prepared. I had been through hell, and I wasn’t going back.

The days leading up to the arrival of Kid2 were rather surreal. We went out to dinner the night before and the waitress asked us when I was due to have the baby. Tomorrow around 9 am. The drive to the hospital and waiting in the pre-op room was no less surreal. I am willingly undergoing major abdominal surgery, in an hour or so I’ll have a baby.

Although the what-ifs bounced around in my mind I knew this time would be different. My obgyn had run every test she could think of, my blood pressure had remained steady, I had a team in place to help after Kid2’s arrival. It was going to be different.

I held it together until I had to walk into the operating room and lay on the table. One of the NICU nurses who had cared for Kid1 came in and introduced herself. Hi I’m L-, I’ll be taking care of your baby. I lost it and burst into tears. I knew exactly who she was, Kid1 spent two weeks with her. I can’t handle going through that again. The thought was too much for me to handle. Thankfully, my midwife was there and after a hug, she changed the subject and we chatted about how we’d gone out to dinner the night before.

The surgery went smoothly, Kid2 was fine, my recovery was quick, I had ample assistance and thanks to carefully regulated medication the pain was minimal.

The biggest difference for me was not that I was attempting to radically rely on Christian Science and shun western medicine as I had with Kid1 and the idealized home birth. Instead, I worked to find a balance between western medicine and my then level of Christian Science* understanding.

***** ***** *****

*While I have since totally “left” CS (and generally rejected the Judeo-Christian construct of God) I still find myself occasionally reminding myself that a situation is “unreal” or “not part of me.” I also continue to be good friends with the CSP who worked with me during the pregnancy. While I have somewhat gotten over my previously crippling fear of Doctors, I still have to have a hugely irresolvable problem before I willingly visit one. Interestingly, I have no problem hauling the kids in for their well-baby/child exams and getting them vaccinated.

“just” go to a Doctor

People who are not raised “in Science” often do not understand why Christian Scientists don’t seek medical assistance. This is an issue that has puzzled me as well, many CS wear glasses, visit the dentist, put braces on their children’s teeth, and yet they do nothing when a child injures themselves or falls ill. I don’t really have a good answer except that many “devout” CS feel they can radically rely on prayer for healing*.

So what do CS do when “a situation” arises? First they pray, if they don’t feel they’re “at that place” where they can see the healing through themselves, they call a CS Practitioner who will prayerfully support them as well. If things are really getting bad, they might call a CS Nurse for assistance, or check into a CS Care Facility.

Is easy to say for an “outsider” to say: they should have gone to the doctor, however, in seeking medical assistance the person effectively alienates themselves from any avenue of Christian Science care for the duration of the problem (and often the duration of the recovery as well).

Many CSPs will not work with people who have also turned to medical means for healing/relief. CS Nurses are not trained in physical therapy, or medical treatment, and do not administer drugs. CS Rest Facilities, which are staffed by CS and CS Nurses, will not admit people who have turned to medical treatment, or who are currently using medicine (no exceptions). To partake in the CS larger community (including children’s summer camps, and the Principia lower/upper schools and College**) you must be 100% radically reliant on God for healing.

As Ms. Eddy succinctly sates in S&H:

We cannot serve two masters nor perceive divine Science with the material senses. S&H 167:12

The spiritual and material don’t mix, either you are a perfect child of God, or you’re material.

“No big deal” says the uninformed outsider. Actually it is. Most Christian Scientists are born into the religion, their parents were often born into it as well, and their grandparents were too. It becomes a sick game of 6-degrees of Kevin Bacon, only it’s 6-degrees of Mary Baker Eddy. There is also some discussion about which of MBE’s students made for better teachers and mini-factions have sprung up around who was taught by whom (and who taught them, etc).

To be ostracized from the church (or kicked out of the college) that you (and your parents, and grandparents) were raised in/attended is shocking. Christian Scientists can be very judgmental about their family (and fellow church/community) members turning from the church and seeking medical care, or worse yet, leaving the church entirely (although leaving the church seems almost preferable than darkening the door with the shame of their failure).

Ironically, it is often CS who are the ones saying “they should go to a doctor.” This is usually done in the case of a broken bone or tooth extraction: you go, have the doctor set it, and then pray. But don’t take an of the pain medication, they pain isn’t real.

I had this experience when I had a wisdom tooth removed, they numbed me up for the extraction (my mother said it was “for their peace of mind”) and then she politely declined any antibiotics or pain medication for me, “we’re Christian Scientists.” I was given the number of the family CSP and told to “Call Ms.-” if I had any problems. Thankfully it was a straight forward extraction, and I was “allowed” an icepack for the swelling.***

Dealing with broken bones and wisdom teeth are straight forward problems, you can see those on x-rays (if it comes to that). Things like viral or bacterial infections are a bit vaguer. Rest is a good idea when one is suffering from flu symptoms, and prayer isn’t likely to make things worse. Taking practical steps like drinking fluids help.

If there is a fever – how would a CS know if there was a fever? Most don’t have thermometers in their homes to take temperatures, no one would check if they “felt a bit warm” – that would be acknowledging the material situation. When one has a cough, some will drink hot tea (often with honey), while some fringe elements might take a non-medicated herbal throat lozenge. Some women and most athletes will use a hot or cold pack to assist with menstrual cramps or sports-related injury (particularly if they’re on a sports team).

Then there are the cases where you should go the doctor – and these are the ones that tend to get people killed. Prolonged high fevers, hallucinations, convulsions, rapid weight loss, sudden loss of movement of a limb or entire side of the body (dislocated bone, or stroke), passing out/being unconscious, obvious tumors, the list goes on. Some people claim “CS” stands for “common sense” and you’d think any number of those issues would be enough to get someone to a doctor promptly.

Sadly, such situations often fail to inspire action. For a life-long CS it is not as easy as “just” going to a doctor. It breaks years of precedent, and one has to face a ream of mostly irrational fears. In addition to failing to be healed, they have brought shame upon themselves and the movement. They let the church and church community down, they let Christian Science down. Failing to get a healing and seeking medical care is a failure beyond words. Sadly, in many cases, what would’ve been a “quick fix” has snowballed into the need for a massive medical intervention, or death.

It is part of a larger pattern that is played out time and time again: in retrospect it is easy to say they should have gone to a doctor, but at the time the tone is similarly judgmental: they’re going to a doctor with the underlying message we can’t allow them to recover/associate with other CS who have relied only on prayer! Clearly they’ve failed at Christian Science.

I remember a CS-themed talk I attended at college which stressed the importance of demonstrating healings over all else. It is imperative that healings come quickly as we must demonstrate the healing power of Christian Science. We must also lobby our state legislatures to ensure we continue to get religious exemptions from vaccinations, health classes in school, and even routine vision/hearing tests***** (often preformed by the school nurse). The furor with which they spoke about the necessity of demonstrating healings scared me, it approached a level of religious fanaticism mixed with a real fear that CS was in such a precarious place we had to constantly be vigilant or it would all come crashing down. I felt very uncomfortable with the ideas of healing at all cost.

I agree, Christian Science is “supposed” to be a demonstrable science, when “properly” applied healings are supposed to come quickly and easily, but the reality is healings don’t always come quickly or easily. I will not speculate on why healings do not come quickly (or at all). CS have answers for this, usually blaming the person for “not praying properly,” or they speculate over their spiritual sate, clearly something isn’t right if they’re not getting swiftly healed.  If they are the person who has fallen short, they shrug and citing that “God works in mysterious ways” or “God always answers prayers, sometimes God says no.”

These situations remind me of the story where “God will save me.”

When in Heaven, the man stood before God and asked, “I put all of my faith in You. Why didn’t You come and save me?”
And God said, “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

God has endowed mankind with the ability to use the resources at their disposal to help better their situations and ease their suffering in this existence. Pain and suffering disguised as “radical reliance” on prayer is unconscionable.*****


Further reading:

The Atlantic Monthly; April 1995; Suffering Children and the Christian Science Church; Volume 264, No. 4; pages 105-120. *please be forewarned, the article is graphic and hostile towards CS, Ms. Fraser is a former CS with what has been dismissed by many Amazon 1-star-reviewers as “not typical.


*I know that doesn’t explain the glasses/braces thing. The “best” explanation I’ve heard so far is that those are just “aids” to “assist” us until we reach a higher level of understanding & are better able to heal ourselves. Why not medical assistance (or Tylenol)? No good answer for that.
**Yes, you read that right. The Principia College catalog (page 9: Spiritual Reliance) sates:
Students who rely on medicine beyond one term will be asked to temporarily withdraw until such usage is discontinued. A withdrawal is not a suspension and does not negatively affect the student’s record. In reality it is frowned upon by the community to use it for even one term and once students withdraw they are often unlikely to return.
***For a subsequent tooth extraction (after I moved out) I took the prescribed codeine and ended up experiencing terrifying hallucinations all night – which is not what supposed to happen. This knowledge came in handy later when the Drs. were figuring out pain medication post-c-section.
****Often this is the only time a CS child is seen by a person with any medical training. Had it not been for a vigilant school nurse my vision problems would’ve continued to go unnoticed and unaddressed.
*****Pain and suffering in the guise of “medical treatment” is equally unconscionable. Doctors and patients should have open lines of communication about the situation, treatment options and likely results.