I grew up in a home filled with pictures—not of Jesus Christ—but of Mary Baker Eddy. Pictures of her on our walls: pictures of where she lived, her living room, her study, her rocking chair, and of her standing on her balcony at this house and that house.
I have a copy of the first edition of Science & Health, which is almost unreadable it is written so badly. Until Mary Baker Eddy had it rewritten, edited, and re-edited by someone else, it was obviously written by a person with some kind of thought disorder. And yet, this person was deified in my house. How much more cult-like could it be?
When I read about how Mrs. Eddy’s writings elevate her above Jesus and the Bible, I feel a split in my brain. Most of my brain finds it unbelievably delusional, and yet part of my brain accepts it as natural after hearing it throughout my first thirty-three years of life. I do think Christian Science has a brainwashing effect. It is very hard to get this junk out of your head.
I have read all the biographies of Mary Baker Eddy with histories of the Christian Science church, authorized and unauthorized, and I know from personal experience that it does not work and that it really is not Christian nor is it a science. Yet after a time, the old programming reasserts itself and I find myself thinking, “Oh well, Christian Science isn’t for me, but it’s fine for some people.” Then when I start reading again like I am now, I’m blown away by how cultish it is, and how damaging.
I think guilt is a big part of Christian Science’s mental hold on its followers. Guilt, because we are not good enough to get that healing. Guilt, because if our thinking was right we wouldn’t have had the problem in the first place. Guilt, about having to turn to medicine. Any bad luck, illness, injury or accident was a result of my own screwed up thinking. And I was taught to look at everyone else that way too. The result is difficulty in having any acknowledgment of or empathy towards anyone’s illness, including my own.
Having been raised in a ‘radical reliance’ household, I do believe that either there is something about Christian Science that appeals to unstable people (that is not saying every Christian Scientist is unstable, but many of us were raised by unstable Christian Scientist mothers or fathers) or that maybe the years of not being able to make Christian Science work makes one become unstable. I’m sure I don’t know the answers. I wish I did.
It’s weird how the mind can be trained to dismiss even the most clear evidence if it conflicts with the conditioning—to ignore what’s right in front of your eyes, to distrust and negate everything you sense and perceive. It’s amazing we’re all not in straitjackets, when you really think about that.
I think many ex-Christian Scientists have extreme fear of illness. We catastrophize mentally any time we have a symptom. Do you think this is because many of us don’t really understand symptoms and our bodies because we never took a health class or biology? I personally was exempted from all of that and I find that I have a terrible ignorance of illness and symptoms and where my different organs are.
I don’t tell if I am worried and I don’t tell if I feel sick, because I am sure I am terminally ill whenever I have some pain somewhere. I know that comes from having it shoved down my throat: “know the truth,” and “you are God’s perfect child”. We were never to acknowledge anything that we were scared or worried about because that would make it real. I think that I will die from whatever symptom I’m having, and then I think I will die because I thought it in the first place. It’s the circular logic mess we were taught. If you think it or fear it, it will happen. It’s ridiculous.
When I was a child, I was not just shut in a room if I was ill, I was totally ignored. Consequently, I find myself getting angry at anyone who is ill, including myself. It is a tough thing to get over the voices in your head as they instruct you to look the other way when someone is ill or injured. As to the refusal to allow grief, I also struggle with that. I can cry when someone I love dies, but then I expect myself to just get over it. Somehow, I seem to equate the expression of these emotions with weakness, or I guess the acknowledgement that something bad can actually happen.
These things hang on, and even though many of us can acknowledge the long-term psychological effects, acknowledging and changing are two different things.
I joined the first online discussion group of former Christian Scientists that I could find. So much resonates with me. It’s a way to kind of touch base with other former Christian Scientists. Knowing there are many other folks out there that have the same struggles as I do helps. I can share my experiences freely here; they sound crazy to other folks, because they are.
I have gone through therapy but I don’t know that it helped with my spiritual struggle. We do carry this baggage, but I believe that with self-awareness and some help from other folks here who have overcome the life of denial, we can do it.
I came out of Christian Science with a somewhat skeptical attitude toward religion in general. Because I had Christian Science shoved down my throat my whole life, and because I spent fruitless time trying to ‘heal’ myself—reading Science & Health trying to find that ‘magic bullet’ thought that would heal my illnesses—it gave me an attitude of ‘it’s all a bunch of lies.’
But I came to feel that maybe the skepticism or atheism, for me, is sort of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I have tried to figure it out for myself. I joined a mainline church after many years of being unchurched, and most recently I joined a Presbyterian church, although I am not currently attending. I attended a Bible study regularly there and I am sure the ladies grew tired of me talking about how screwed up I was from my past religious training and how hard it was for me to buy into some of the stuff they find so easy to believe. One of them asked me about what I was taught about being a sinner. I just looked at her and said, ‘well, I’m not… I’m perfect!’
Although I struggle to know what to believe, I do know that I want God in my life.