Ex-Christian Scientist Survey (Part Three)

By Jeremy, an Ex-Christian Scientist group editor/writer. This is the third of three posts. For all other posts related to this, please see the tag Ex-CS Survey 2016.

You’ve probably read the first two installments about our survey, and wondered, what more is there to say? Well, there’s a bit. In 2014, the author of the blog Emerging Gently ran a similar survey, albeit with a smaller number of respondents. We were wondering what similarities and what differences were there between the two, and what (if anything) did that say to us. With the permission of the author of Emerging Gently, here’s a comparison of their survey and ours.

The survey we conducted this year was largely based on the Emerging Gently survey, the main difference being that we asked more ‘essay’ questions this time around.

So, here are some of the numbers from the Emerging Gently survey, which was conducted in 2014, versus our survey that was conducted last month:

In 2014, Emerging Gently had 79 respondents, our survey this year had 135. The Emerging Gently results are indicated with ‘2014’. Rankings in both surveys are indicated in parentheses.

How long ago did you leave Christian Science?

2016 2014
10 or more years ago 73% (1) 67% (1)
7-9 years ago 5% (4) 7% (4)
4-6 years ago 10% (2) 14% (2)
1-3 years ago 4% (5) 11% (3)
1 or less years ago 6% (3) 2% (5)

The biggest differences between the two was that more people this year indicated a departure point of 4-6 years ago compared vs. more people who departed 1-3 years ago in 2014. Some of that may be due simply to the passage of time–myself, for instance, when I took the Emerging Gently survey, answered 1-3 years ago then, now it’s 4-6 years ago. Also, a higher percentage of people indicated a one or less years ago departure in 2016.

What was your age when you left Christian Science?

2016 2014
Under 20 27% (2) 15% (3)
20 – 29 41% (1) 46% (1)
30 – 39 16% (3) 22% (2)
40 – 49 9% (4) 6% (5)
50 – 59 5% (5) 9% (4)
Over 60 3% (6) 3% (6)

While the top two rankings and the last ranking did not change, all others swapped. It’s worth noting however, that in both surveys, the vast majority of respondents (over 60%) left Christian Science before the age of 30, with the highest percentage in both surveys departing between 20 – 29 years of age. Approximately 92% of this year’s respondents departed before age 50, for 2014, that percentage was about 88%.

How old were you when you came into Christian Science?

2016 2014
Born into Christian Science 90% (1) 89% (1)
1 – 9 years-old 4% (2) 6% (2)
20 – 29 years-old 1% (3) 3% (3)
30 – 39 years-old 0% (5) 3% (3)
40 – 49 years-old 0% (5) 0% (4)
50 or over 1% (4) 0% (4)

Both surveys supported the common observation that Christian Science is largely an inherited religion, given that in both surveys, it was 94 – 95% of respondents who were either born into it, or came into it at an early age when their parents converted. In both surveys, most who came into Christian Science themselves did so before age 40–in fact in both surveys, almost 100% did so.

What are your current beliefs/non-beliefs?

2016 2014
Christian – Protestant 22% (3) 30% (1)
Atheist 27% (1) 22% (2)
Agnostic 18% (4) 19% (3)
Spiritual – Non-Religious 25% (2) 10% (4)
Christian – Other 7% (6) 3% (6)
Other Belief 15% (5) 6% (5)

Trends were similar between both surveys here, with the vast majority of respondents becoming either Protestant Christians, Atheists, or Agnostics. Some switches between numbers also regarding spiritual – non-religious, and those who pursued other beliefs (such as Buddhism, Deism, Native American spirituality). The most noticeable difference in the survey results was that in 2014 a larger percentage of respondents indicated a conversion to Protestant Christianity than did in 2016.

Did you go through class instruction in Christian Science?

2016 2014
Yes 77% (1) 75% (1)
No 23% (2) 25% (2)

No real difference between the two surveys here. In both cases, around three-quarters of respondents went through class instruction.

Did you attend any Christian Science camps, or participate in any Christian Science-related youth activities?

2016 2014
Adventure Unlimited (Colorado, USA) 29% (1) 30% (1)
Cedars Camps (Missouri, USA) 25% (2) 19% (2)
Crystal Lakes Camps (Pennsylvania, USA) 4% (7) 6% (6)
Camp Bow-Isle (British Columbia, Canada) 2% (8) 3% (8)
Leelanau/Kohahana (Michigan, USA) 4% (7) 4% (7)
Newfound/Owatonna (Maine, USA) 11% (5) 13% (5)
Other camps 16% (4) 18% (3)
Christian Science Organization* 22% (3) 14% (4)
Discovery Bound 5% (6) 6%  (6)
None 25% (2) 19% (2)

*This is the only youth activity that is actually specifically sanctioned by Mary Baker Eddy in the ‘Manual of The Mother Church’.

Again, not much difference between the two surveys here. Adventure Unlimited and Cedars Camps continue to be the most popular camps, and roughly a quarter of respondents did not attend any camps or youth activities.

Did you attend Principia?

2016 2014
College 27% (2) 32% (2)
Upper School 23% (3) 16% (3)
Middle School 8% (5) 5% (4)
Lower School 9% (4) 3% (5)
Did not attend Principia 54% (1) 58% (1)

Not much difference, again a slight majority of respondents in both surveys did not attend Principia. The rankings for Lower and Middle School attendance swapped.

Were you a Mother Church and/or branch church member?

2016 2014
Mother Church member 59% (1) 73% (1)
Branch church member 39% (2) 43% (2)
Neither 34% (3) 20% (3)

While the rankings did not change, it’s interesting to note that the percentage of respondents who indicated Mother Church membership was much higher in 2014 than in 2016. The high percentages in both surveys of people who were Mother Church members or ‘neither’ is suggestive of the fact that a large number of respondents also left Christian Science before age 30, as branch church membership is generally something most Christian Scientists do not enter into until they’re at least in their late 20s, with most not joining a branch church until well into their 30s or later. Mother Church membership is more common among younger Christian Scientists than is branch church membership, as the minimum age to join The Mother Church is 12, and many parents and other Christian Science ‘mentors’ strongly encourage youth to join when they turn 12.

The ‘essay’ questions…

The 2016 survey asked several open-ended questions, while the 2014 Emerging Gently survey only asked one, which was also asked on the 2016 survey: “Why did you leave Christian Science?”

In both surveys, the two main reasons people left Christian Science were (1) the found that it did not work or it was false; and/or (2) they experienced deep physical or emotional trauma themselves, or were traumatized by watching people close to them suffer and/or die needlessly. The survey methodology employed in 2014 allowed for a correlation between answers to this question and where people went belief-wise after leaving Christian Science, while a similar analysis is not possible with the 2016 survey. In the 2014 survey, it was noted that a very slight majority of those who left Christianity altogether had also experience deep personal trauma of some sort, while those who went to a different form of Christianity tended to have left Christian Science because they found it to be false or that it didn’t work.

In a nutshell, what do the surveys tell us?

The big takeaways from both surveys are that the vast majority of people were either born into Christian Science, or brought into it by their parents. Relatively few chose it on their own, and then departed. It is largely an inherited religion, and many who are born into it or grow up in it ultimately leave. Departure from Christian Science usually was the result of some sort of traumatic experience related to Christian Science, or a discovery that it doesn’t work–often, it was a combination of both. A smaller, but significant number of people simply just drifted away.

Taking class instruction in Christian Science seems not seem to do much, at least in the case of the former Christian Scientists who took these surveys, to keep people in Christian Science. A large majority in both surveys had taken class instruction. Some anecdotal evidence I’ve observed in conversation with other former Christian Scientists, as well as my own experience, suggests that the conduct of some Christian Science teachers can be a contributing factor in a person’s departure from the faith.

Attendance at camps or youth activities seems to make little difference in whether or not people stay in or leave Christian Science. In some of the essay answers in the 2016 survey, many respondents recalled those as their most positive experiences in Christian Science, myself included. In many cases camps reinforced adherence to Christian Science at the time. Attendance at Principia, on the other hand, did tend to give many a push out, as indicated in many answers on the 2016 survey.

Again, all of us here at The Ex-Christian Scientist thank everyone who participated in our survey this year, and also those who participated in Emerging Gently’s survey in 2014. While neither of these surveys are scientific in nature, they do suggest some interesting trends.