The best way I’ve been able to describe my departure from Christian Science is as ‘death by a thousand cuts’. In a sense, it’s a process that evolved over my lifetime up until I made my final break. I was born into Christian Science and was third-generation on both sides of my family. Throughout my childhood, and into my adult years, I always had questions, always harboured doubts about Christian Science. I even briefly left in my late teens, but returned by the time I was 20. All the while, I desperately wanted to ‘make it work’, and it was that desire that kept me ‘in’ for so long.
I wrapped myself in the cocoon of Christian Science. In addition to Sunday School, I attended a Christian Science summer camp as a camper, counselor, and staff; I graduated from Principia College, and spent a number of years working at The Mother Church in Boston. Despite my persistent doubts, Christian Science was also my comfort zone. It was what I knew, it was what I was used to. Yes, I often thought about leaving, on a deep level, there was a part of me that knew it was bullsh*t, but I was afraid to cut the cord, I was afraid to really see that it was false. Two tragic events in the same year shattered that sense of security and gave me the final push I needed.
Around early December of 2008, I became aware that my mother was ‘not feeling well’. Christian Scientists notoriously avoid discussion of sickness, so details were vague, and I was living several thousand miles away from my parents. When it seemed that this ‘not feeling well’ was going on and on, I began to suspect something was up. My Dad finally fessed up that Mom really wasn’t well, and that he was concerned. However, she refused to see a medical doctor despite Dad’s willingness to take her to one. By February, Mom was in a Christian Science nursing facility with what was later described to me as a large tumour growing in her abdomen. She was barely able to eat, and was in constant pain. She was given no pain abatement of any sort. In mid-March, on the day I made reservations to fly out to see her, she died. Since she was 81, and died in a licensed care facility, no autopsy was required by law, and my Dad did not request one. So, I do not know what killed her. Her illness came on suddenly and unexpectedly, and I wasn’t there to be with her. However, I was there for every gory part of my Dad’s last days.
Later in 2009, after my mother’s death, my father’s health took a dramatic turn for the worse. For several years, he had been dealing with a ‘problem’. His mobility had slowed considerably, and he often seemed to be in a lot of pain and/or discomfort. Throughout this time, he diligently worked with a Christian Science practitioner (who was also his and my Christian Science teacher). For around seven years, he pursued the ever-elusive ‘healing’ that was always ‘just around the corner’, kind of like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I had been keeping in close contact with Dad after Mom died, and spent two weeks with him in the spring, when we attended our Association. As I look back now, I realize his mental state was declining badly, but at the time I didn’t see it. I was still looking at things through the lens of Christian Science, which filters out anything ‘bad’. I even dismissed the observations of my non-Christian Scientist cousins who visited Dad during the summer and recounted a terrifying ride in the car that they took with him. The real wake-up call however, came ironically from a fellow church member of Dad’s, in November. He informed me that Dad had fallen, and an ambulance had been called, however Dad refused to go to the hospital. This friend mentioned that Dad was increasingly unable to look after himself. I made immediate arrangements to fly out to be with Dad. I made sure that church friends were with Dad 24/7 until I could get there.
When I got there, the scene that greeted me was worse than I could have imagined. Dad was virtually bedridden, had some deep sores on his body, and was somewhat delusional. That night was tense. He often awoke fearful and delusional. The next day, I was able to get Dad to consent to going to the hospital. Once admitted, it was determined that he had congestive heart failure, and it appeared he had been suffering from this condition for at least 5 – 7 years. Shortly after he was admitted to the hospital, Dad suffered a massive stroke. A CT scan later showed evidence, not only of that stroke, but of two previous ones. I immediately figured out that the ‘fall’ he experienced a few weeks prior was likely a stroke, and that was the cause of the delusional behaviour I was observing. I also began to realize that an odd event that happened 12 years earlier, from which he largely recovered and that we had gloriously credited as a Christian Science ‘healing,’ was probably the other stroke.
Dad fell into a deep state of dementia, from which he never recovered. When I called the practitioner to inform him that I had admitted Dad to the hospital, he was incensed. He angrily accused me of “betraying my father” (his exact words). I was too shocked and emotionally distraught with everything I was dealing with to even react. This man was also my Christian Science teacher, and someone I deeply respected. I remember just crying uncontrollably after I got off the phone with him. I felt completely abandoned. To their credit, the members of Dad’s branch church were the complete opposite of that practitioner/teacher. At various times during Dad’s month in the hospital, almost every member visited him at least once; most multiple times. One Sunday, when I came to visit after church, more than half of the dozen or so members of that little church were crowded in his room. These people were what Christian Scientists should be: compassionate, understanding, and rational. They did not hit me over the head with denials; they acknowledged what was happening, and they supported Dad and I. However, I was also witnessing first-hand the dreadful failure of Christian Science to heal my father.
Dad spent about a month in the hospital before he died on Christmas Day, 2009. After his death, I took care of a few of his affairs, and returned to my job in Boston, which I left shortly afterwards. I returned to live where my parents retired, and drifted quickly and surprisingly (initially) to me, away from Christian Science. Despite what my teacher did to me, I initially did not plan to leave my Association, just to step away from involvement with church. I attended my last Association meeting in 2010, and never went back. When I later confronted my teacher, via e-mail, about how he had treated me, he was unapologetic, and even poured more salt into the wound by claiming that on a so-called ‘spiritual level’, he had perhaps a deeper insight into my Dad’s desires than I, his own son, did. I was incensed. I had never been closer to, or more trusting of anyone else than I was of my father. We talked about anything and everything, and hid nothing from each other. It was a relationship I deeply valued. In the course of less than a year, the two ‘rocks’ in my life were suddenly and unexpectedly taken from me. In the most harsh and vivid way possible, I came to see that Christian Science does not work. Its claims of an ability to heal are completely fallacious. Why it took me 41 years, and the deaths of my parents to realize this, I’ll never know. In retrospect, however, I suppose it was easier to deal with my parents’ deaths at the time by still being in Christian Science. Denial can be a weird sort of opiate against pain.
In 2011, I finally got around to withdrawing my membership from The Mother Church. I’ve found a wonderful fellowship of former Christian Scientists on-line, and they’ve become a lifeline to me, since my current friends, who know little or nothing of Christian Science, have no way of truly understanding what I’ve been through. When I tell them that I was 41 before I even had a regular physical, they look at me like I just grew two heads. My on-line ex-Christian Scientist friends just give me that knowing ‘nod’ that only someone else who’s swam in the same Krazy Sauce you have can give.
I still deal with a great deal of anger about what Christian Science did in my family, and how radical reliance on it committed my parents to miserable deaths. But, life goes on, and early on as I was ’emerging’ from Christian Science, I made the firm decision that my parents’ fate would not be mine. I have a regular doctor, I go for physicals, and I seek medical treatment when I’m sick or injured. It’s incredibly liberating for me to not have to suffer pain–I can take an ibuprofen. When I have a cold, decongestants make things a lot better, and antibiotics have saved me from a few nasty infections that could have been a lot worse. There is life after Christian Science, and it is wonderful! This material world is good, it’s bad, and it’s everything in-between. It’s so liberating to not have to deny any of it.