By Katie J., an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.
To say that I was literally born into Christian Science would not be an exaggeration. I was born on a cold January morning in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at my grandparents’ house. My parents were in the middle of going through a divorce, which, according to Oklahoma law, could not be final until I was born. Because all of this was happening amidst a legal proceeding, my father had been required to provide my mother with medical care during her pregnancy, which she completely ignored. There was a doctor set to deliver me at a local hospital, and a plan to avoid said doctor and local hospital. I would be born, then the doctor would be called to be informed that he had missed the whole thing—it had all just happened so fast. My grandmother’s name appears on my birth certificate, but that was only done to protect the identity of the real attendant, a Christian Science nurse.
As luck would have it, the Christian Science nurse had been a legitimate obstetrics nurse before converting to the religion. This was lucky for my mom because there was some complication with the separation of the placenta—and this nurse knew how to deal with that—something that the average Christian Science nurse wouldn’t know anything about. And so I came into the world, the placenta was dealt with, and my mom and I were both healthy and came through the ordeal with no medical intervention whatsoever. I never had medical care and I wouldn’t be seen by anyone from the medical field until I was sixteen and snuck off to get birth control pills at the local Planned Parenthood clinic.
My early childhood was spent in Tulsa. I never went to daycare. My main social experiences were going to the Christian Science church nursery on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings and playing with the non-Christian Science kids in the neighborhood. They talked about mysterious things I had never heard of. They all had strange marks on their upper arms from something they called ‘shots’. Shots hurt, but you had to let the doctor give you one anyway. Doctors were people who didn’t understand that we were already God’s perfect children and could never be sick or hurt. The kids were covered in pink paste during the summer, something they did to stop the itch from poison ivy and mosquito bites. The pink reminded me of strawberry milk and I secretly wanted to lick their legs to see if it tasted as good as it looked.
I was deathly afraid of doctors, and the idea of going to one was completely out of the realm of reason for me. I occasionally would see one on television, and that might cause me to have a nightmare about being forced to let one look at me. In fact, it seems like most bad dreams I had when I was a kid were medically related, even if the general theme or look of the dream was not. Monsters were there to take me to the doctor, etc. The recurring nightmare I had about aliens abducting my aunt always centered on them making her have an operation on the flying saucer, and my responsibility as a five year old was to save her from this.
At one point, I made the huge leap in my mind to consider that doctors might think they were doing something good, that they weren’t evil. I asked my mom about it, but in Christian Science terms. I think it came out something like this:
Me: Doctors aren’t Error, are they?
Mom: No, they are just people who believe Error.
Me: Doctors are God’s perfect child, just like me?
Mom: Yes, but they do not understand that they are perfect. They listen to Error and they believe Error.
‘Error’ is the Christian Science term for bad stuff. If it’s not the Christian Science ideal, it is Error. The idea of the devil? That’s Error. There was no actual devil to be afraid of, just the idea of allowing Error to gain entry into our minds. And by minds, I don’t mean physical brains. The physical body didn’t exist. In Christian Science there is one Mind. When the dog bit me and it seemed like it hurt, that was not real. The dog and I were both created by God and God didn’t make anything bad or painful. I needed to know the truth about this and then I would realize there was no pain.
The neighborhood kids all went to something called public school. I already knew I would never be going to one of those. My mother, who had taught at a public school, told me they were horrible places and she would never send me to one. I would go to a very special school, she hoped. She was knowing the truth so that we would have a wonderful unfoldment and I would be able to start school with all the other lucky Christian Science children at a place called The Principia. My mom had already been to The Principia for college. When she was there she promised herself that any child of hers would go to The Principia as soon as they were school aged.
Soon enough, the beautiful demonstration of Christian Science metaphysical work gave us that unfoldment we knew we would get. My mom was hired as a ‘house mother’ for the middle school girls dormitory on The Principia campus in St. Louis, Missouri. I would be able to attend the The Principia preschool beginning that fall. We left Tulsa and all its red dirt and moved to the Christian Science oasis that is The Principia. We’d arrived before the school year began and it was strange to be the only child around; but the dirt was not red, there were tons of trees and hills, and I didn’t see any tumbleweeds. The Principia campus was like a huge, magical place to explore endlessly.
As my mom and I toured the campus with me in the basket on the back of my mom’s Raleigh three-speed, we would come upon other people and sometimes my mom would know them already. Even if she didn’t know them already it was like she did. I could tell she was much more comfortable around these people than she had been when we lived in our house in Tulsa.
We lived in something called a dormitory. There were lots of empty bedrooms with basic furniture, no decoration. There was room for hundreds of students, but in the smaller middle school quarters where my mother was assigned and where we lived in the apartment provided for the middle school house mother, there were about eight dorm rooms. Soon, I was told, there would be lots of teenagers living there with us. The time we lived in the outside world, where I had played with non-Christian Science kids, was soon forgotten.
My family lived in the middle school girls’ dorm until I was in the fourth grade. During that time I got the normal illnesses that were passed around when a large group of people live in a tightly knit group—viruses, mostly, but measles as well—and so did many of the girls who lived there with us.
We weren’t encouraged to understand our physical bodies because they didn’t exist. This meant that we could be coming down with something and not know it. We were trained to ignore physical symptoms because they were not real. In fact, I would find physical symptoms completely puzzling and confusing. Feeling just sort of “off’ and depressed carried the same weight with me as a headache or suddenly vomiting. First, I would be confused. Then I would deny it to myself. I knew I was meant to suppress any feelings of illness, and I had no means to express those feelings unless I hurt enough to cry or vomit was pouring out of my mouth. Even when I did tell my mother or anyone else around me that I felt pain or illness I would be told that it was just an illusion and I needed to correct my thought and know the Truth.