Ex-Christian Scientist Book Survey

Compiled by the editors of The Ex-Christian Scientist.

We were curious as to the past and current reading habits of former Christian Scientists, so we did what any good group of curious website editors would do: we did a survey. This is by no means a scientific survey–that would require more thought and planning than we are able to do; but, it is interesting to look at how much we used to consume Christian Science literature, versus how much we consume writings that are critical of Christian Science.

The results are in…

We received 71 responses on this survey. The most popular answer to each question is indicated in red.

About you.

Respondents could choose multiple answers (69 responses).

a) Former Christian Scientist (66 respondents: 95.7%)
b) Attended Sunday School (64 respondents: 92.8%)
c) Participated in Christian Science youth activity other than Sunday School (50 respondents: 72.5%)
d) Former Mother Church or branch church member (48 respondents: 69.6%)
e) Class taught (18 respondents: 26.1%)
f) Attended Principia (30 respondents: 43.5%)
g) Attended another Christian Science-related school (5 respondents: 7.2%)
h) Worked for The Mother Church or other Christian Science-related institution or organization (14 respondents: 20.3%)
i) Journal-listed in some capacity (1 respondent: 1.4%)
j) Christian Science Organization member (25 respondents: 36.2%)

Overall, most respondents had some depth of involvement in Christian Science and its ‘culture’ above and beyond church or Sunday School attendance, whether it be participation in youth activities, being a member of a Christian Science Organization, or working for a Christian Science-related organization, there is a reasonable depth of involvement represented in our respondents.

How much of Science and Health have you read?

Respondents could choose more than one answer (71 responses).

a) Cover-to-cover – once (24 respondents: 33.8%)
b) Cover-to-cover – more than once (15 respondents: 21.1%)
c) What was required in Sunday School (50 respondents: 70.4%)
d) What was marked in the Lesson (50 respondents: 70.4%)
e) Skimmed it a few times (16 respondents: 22.5%)
f) Not much (5 respondents: 7.0%)

Not surprisingly, most of our respondents only read the parts of Science and Health that they had to, be it for Sunday School or reading the Weekly Bible Lesson. However, a large number (55%) indicated having read it cover-to-cover at least once. So, our respondents by and large were not merely casual consumers of Mary Baker Eddy’s book. They were regular readers, and many were serious readers–taking the plunge to read the whole thing.

How much of the Bible have you read?

Respondents could choose more than one answer (69 responses).

a) Cover-to-cover (20 respondents: 29.0%)
b) Started and failed to read it cover-to-cover (22 respondents: 31.9%)
c) Took Bible class in college or other academic setting (20 respondents: 29.0%)
d) Done Bible studies focused on specific sections (21 respondents: 30.4%)
e) Only what was required in Sunday School (25 respondents: 36.2%)
f) Only what was marked in the Lesson (34 respondents: 49.3%)
g) I’ve skimmed sections (22 respondents: 31.9%)
h) Not much (1 respondent: 1.4%)

Nobody can claim that our ex-Christian Scientist respondents aren’t (or weren’t) serious students of the Bible. It was surprising to find out how many (29%) had actually read the Bible cover-to-cover, and another 31.9% tried to. Over 60% indicated some deep study of the Bible in either academic or Bible-study group settings. It was a relatively small number who had only skimmed or not read much at all. It’s worth noting that we do not know whether or not respondents who’ve done in-depth Bible study have done it while they were in Christian Science, post-Christian Science, or both. Anecdotally, we have noted through on-line interactions over the years that there are a number of people who left Christian Science when they embarked on a more in-depth study of the Bible, which would support the hypothesis that a solid number of former Christian Scientists’ deeper interest in the Bible has developed ‘post-Christian Science’.

What is your preferred translation of the Bible?

Respondents could only pick one (71 responses).

a) King James Version (24 respondents: 33.8%)
b) English Standard (1 respondent: 1.4%)
c) American Standard (2 respondents: 2.8%)
d) New American Standard (1 respondent: 1.4%)
e) New International Version (7 respondents: 9.9%)
f) New Living Translation (1 respondent: 1.4%)
g) The Message (1 respondent: 1.4%)
h) Amplified Bible (4 respondents: 5.6%)
i) I use a non-English translation (0 respondents)
j) I don’t have a favorite (11 respondents: 15.5%)
k) My favorite is not listed (6 respondents: 8.5%)
l) I’m not a fan of the Bible (13 respondents: 18.3%)

Not surprisingly, given that the King James Version is the preferred among Christian Scientists, it would follow that its popularity or familiarity would carry forward among former Christian Scientists. Running a distant second, a number of respondents are not fans of the Bible–indicative of a number of respondents being non-Christian at this point.

Have you read or skimmed through any of Mary Baker Eddy’s writings other than Science and Health?

Respondents could choose multiple answers (71 responses).

a) When required in Sunday School (39 respondents: 54.9%)
b) When required for Class or Association (14 respondents: 19.7%)
c) When curiosity got the better of me (20 respondents: 28.2%)
d) When doing ex-Christian Science research or if someone had a question about Christian Science (15 respondents 21.1%)
e) Prose Works (45 respondents: 63.4%)
f) Christ and Christmas (38 respondents: 53.5%)
g) Collected shorter writings by Mary Baker Eddy (32 respondents: 45.1%)
h) The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany (39 respondents: 54.9%)
i) Manual of The Mother Church (50 respondents: 70.4%)
j) Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896 (45 respondents: 63.4%)
k) Poems by Mary Baker Eddy (36 respondents: 50.7%)
l) What Christmas Means to Me and Other Christmas Messages (30 respondents: 42.3%)
m) I didn’t read any! (4 respondents: 5.6%)

Our respondents were generally more interested in the Bible than Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. Most only read Eddy’s ‘other’ writings when it was required either in Sunday School or Class/Association. Otherwise, not so much, although several (20) indicated reading Eddy’s ‘other’ writings after leaving Christian Science. By a good margin, the most read work of Eddy (other than Science and Health) was the Manual of The Mother Church. It’s worth noting that other than Science and Health, the Manual is the only other work that Eddy claimed to be fully “divinely inspired”. There was a follow-up question that asked if we had missed any works of Eddy. A few of the answers were kind of entertaining: Liar Liar Pants on Fire and Blue Book, Red Book.

Have you read any Christian Science children’s/youth lit?

Respondents could choose multiple answers (71 responses).

a) Bats, Bullies, and Buddies (15 respondents: 21.1%)
b) Bible Stories for Children (15 respondents: 21.1%)
c) Big With Blessings (16 respondents: 22.5%)
d) A Child’s Life of Mary Baker Eddy (31 respondents: 43.7%)
e) Christian Science on the College Campus (5 respondents: 7.0%)
f) Elizabeth and Andy (29 respondents: 40.8%)
g) Filled Up Full (26 respondents: 36.6%)
h) God Answers Our Prayers (4 respondents: 5.6%)
i) God Is At Camp Too (8 respondents 11.3%)
j) God’s Flowers (1 respondent: 1.4%)
k) Happy Playmates (5 respondents: 7.0%)
l) The House With the Colored Windows (21 respondents: 29.6%)
m) I Love to Pray (12 respondents: 16.9%)
n) It’s About You (2 respondents: 2.8%)
o) Listening to God (9 respondents: 12.7%)
p) Pets, People and Prayer (9 respondents: 12.7%)
q) Picnics, Pine Needles & Peanut Butter (18 respondents: 25.4%)
r) Recorded & Read-along Bible Stories (Ruth, Jesus, Joseph, etc.) (13 respondents: 18.3%)
s) Step By Step: Learning to Trust God (3 respondents: 4.2%)
t) Straight Talk (5 respondents: 7.0%)
u) Travis Talks With God (38 respondents: 53.5%)
v) I haven’t read any! (12 respondents: 16.9%)
w) I read one(s) that is/isn’t on this list (9 respondents: 12.7%)

Reflective of the inherited nature of Christian Science (ie. most people in Christian Science grew up in it), the majority of our respondents had read some child/youth literature. While we did not ask the age of our respondents, it’s reasonable to assume that the age distribution for this survey is similar to that for our Ex-Christian Scientist survey, in that most respondents are probably under the age of 50. We note this because the more popular items that have been read are ones that have been put out by the Christian Science Publishing Society since 1970. The older ones have far fewer respondents indicating a familiarity with them. Why Travis Talks With God is the breakaway winner in this category is anyone’s guess. It seemed to be a universally popular book since the 1970s when it first appeared, as any of us who came of age as Christian Scientists in the 1970s and later, all have memories of this particular book.

Have you read any ‘authorized’ (by The Mother Church) biographies of Mary Baker Eddy?

Respondents could choose multiple answers (71 responses).

a) A World More Bright: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (3 respondents: 4.2%)
b) Christian Science and Its Discoverer (Ramsay) (7 respondents: 9.9%)
c) The Destiny of the Mother Church (Knapp) (15 respondents: 21.1%)
d) Historical Sketches From the Life of Mary Baker Eddy, and The History of Christian Science (Smith) (9 respondents: 12.7%)
e) Mary Baker Eddy (Gill) (24 respondents: 33.8%)
f) Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Healer (Von Fettweis) (12 respondents: 16.9%)
g) Mary Baker Eddy and Her Books (Orcutt) (7 respondents: 9.9%)
h) Mary Baker Eddy: Her Mission and Triumph (Johnston) (6 respondents: 8.5%)
i) Mary Baker Eddy: A Life Size Portrait (Powell) (10 respondents: 14.1%)
j) Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Discovery (Peel) (30 respondents: 42.3%)
k) Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Trial (Peel) (25 respondents: 35.2%)
l) Mary Baker Eddy: The Years of Authority (Peel) (23 respondents: 32.4%)
m) Painting a Poem: Mary Baker Eddy and James F. Gilman Illustrate Christ and Christmas (5 respondents: 7.0%)
n) Persistent Pilgrim: The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (Nennemen) (5 respondents: 7.0%)
o) The Life of Mary Baker Eddy (Wilbur) (17 respondents: 23.9%)
p) Tributes From the Press: Editorial Comments on the Life and Work of Mary Baker Eddy (3 respondents: 4.2%)
q) We Knew Mary Baker Eddy (multi-volume series) (24 respondents: 33.8%)
r) I haven’t read any ‘authorized’ biographies of Mary Baker Eddy (27 respondents: 38.0%)

It appears that a slight majority of our respondents weren’t overly interested in the life of the ‘discoverer’ of Christian Science. Again, it might be safe to assume that this might be owing to the possibility that a large number of our respondents left Christian Science at a relatively young age, before one would generally become interested in reading biographies. Notably, second place is a tie between one of the Robert Peel biographies (The Years of Trial) and the biography by Gillian Gill. Both of these biographies, while ‘authorized’ and therefore distributed in Christian Science Reading Rooms, were not 100% flattering in their portrayal of Eddy–they also portrayed her flaws to some degree, which most of the other biographies do not. The other two Peel biographies (The Years of Discovery and The Years of Authority), which garnered a number of responses, also are not entirely flattering in their portrayal of their subject–although all of the Peel biographies are more biased in favor of Eddy than is the Gill biography, which tends to be more balanced. All of these particular biographies caused some controversy within the Christian Science community when they were first published and/or distributed by the Church.

Have you read/skimmed any other literature or material published/distributed, or formerly published/distributed by the Christian Science Publishing Society?

Respondents could choose multiple answers (65 responses).

a) Anthology of Classic Articles (Volumes I, II, and III) (9 respondents: 13,8%)
b) The Building of The Mother Church (Armstrong) (13 respondents: 20%)
c) A Century of Christian Science Healing (36 respondents: 55.4%)
d) God’s Law of Adjustment (Dickey) (35 respondents: 53.8%)
e) Healing Spiritually (9 respondents: 13.8%)
f) The Reforming Power of the Scriptures (Trammell/Dawley) (1 respondent: 1.5%)
g) Spiritual Healing in a Scientific Age (Peel) (24 respondents: 36.9%)
h) Any of the many pamphlets that have been published (37 respondents: 56.9%)
i) I’ve read one(s) that are not on this list (11 respondents: 16.9%)
j) I haven’t read any! (11 respondents: 16.9%)

Most people are quick readers, and chose pamphlets. God’s Law of Adjustment, a familiar classic, was popular, along with two books that were anthologies of accounts of Christian Science healing–likely indicative of a desire to ‘see it work’ or see how it works.

Have you ever ordered any literature from The Bookmark?

Of the 25 responses to this question, here’s how it broke down:

  • No (17 respondents)
  • Yes (6 respondents)
  • Unfamiliar with The Bookmark (2 respondents)

The Bookmark is considered ‘subversive’, or otherwise undesirable by many Christian Scientists because it distributes Christian Science literature that is not authorized by The Mother Church. While some of the material is critical of the Church, it is all supportive of Christian Science. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that the vast majority of our respondents did not order from The Bookmark, as most Christian Scientists try to be as loyal to The Mother Church as they can.

Have you read any of these unauthorized biographies and ‘obnoxious’ literature?

Respondents could choose as many answers as they wanted (71 responses).

a) Christian Science (Twain) (36 respondents: 50.7%)
b) God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church (Fraser) (51 respondents: 71.8%)
c) The Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy: The Rise and Fall of Christian Science (Gardner) (13 respondents: 18.3%)
d) The Life of Mary Baker Eddy and the History of Christian Science (Cather/Milmine) (31 respondents: 43.7%)
e) Mrs. Eddy: The Biography of a Virginal Mind (Dakin) (20 respondents: 28.2%)
f) Perfect Peril: Christian Science and Mind Control (Kramer) (19 respondents: 26.8%)
g) I haven’t read any of these! (13 respondents: 18.3%)
h) I’ve read one that’s not on the list (2 respondents: 2.8%)

Since God’s Perfect Child is a more modern history of Christian Science, delving into more recent events within the movement, and due to the diligent research behind this book, it is considered by many former Christian Scientists to be the ‘gold standard’ of literature that is critical of Christian Science. On the other side of the coin, it is one of the most despised books within the Christian Science community. In any category in this survey, no single answer has had the popularity that God’s Perfect Child has. Many former Christian Scientists who’ve offered their opinions of it usually cite the thorough and well-annotated research that backs-up the claims made in the book. Interestingly, the next two most popular books are ones that were written by authors who lived close to (Cather/Milmine) or during (in Twain’s case), and wrote from first-hand knowledge–either their own or that of those who knew Eddy. The common thread we see among the most popular biographies are factors that make them unassailable in their claims. Proof is everything to our respondents, and the popular books back up their claims with proof. Two respondents listed books or items they’d read that weren’t listed: encyclopedias of cults, and According to the Flesh by Fleta Campbell Springer.

Have you read any of these memoirs of former Christian Scientists?

Respondents could choose multiple answers (71 responses).

a) Blue Windows: A Christian Science Childhood (Wilson) (33 respondents: 46.5%)
b) A Collision of Truths (Ellis) (8 respondents: 11.3%)
c) fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science (Greenhouse) (48 respondents: 67.6%)
d) The Last Strawberry (Swan) (18 respondents: 25.4%)
e) Learning to Drive (Hays) (11 respondents: 15.5%)
f) Pretend You Don’t See the Elephant: The Family Secrets and Silence of Christian Science (Medina) (9 respondents: 12.7%)
g) The Unseen Shore: Memories of a Christian Science Childhood (Simmons) (19 respondents: 26.8%)
h) I haven’t read any of these! (17 respondents: 23.9%)

fathermothergod is the break-away winner in this category. While all are first-hand accounts of life and in most cases also childhoods in Christian Science, fathermothergod seems to stand alone in its popularity. It’s possible because its central theme is a caregiver’s (who grew up in Christian Science but left it) struggle in dealing with ailing Christian Scientist parents–a struggle many former Christian Scientists can relate to as they deal with ailing/aging parents/relatives. One autobiography/memoir that a respondent added to our list was Healer In Harm’s Way by Cynthia Tucker.

Have you visited any of these blogs/websites by and/or for former Christian Scientists?

Respondents could choose multiple answers (70 responses).

a) Ananias: Pilgrims to the Cross of Christ from Christian Science (9 respondents: 12.9%)
b) Christian Science Inquiry (5 respondents: 7.1%)
c) Christian Way (39 respondents: 55.7%)
d) Emerging Gently (54 respondents: 77.1%)
e) The Ex-Christian Scientist (web resource for former Christian Scientists) (58 respondents: 82.9%)
f) Ex-Christian Scientist (discussion forum) (41 respondents: 58.6%)
g) Ex CS UK (16 respondents: 22.9%)
h) Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists (7 respondents: 10.0%)
i) Incredibly True Stories of Christian Science Healing (9 respondents: 12.9%)
j) Kindism (52 respondents: 74.3%)
k) MT Space (11 respondents: 15.7%)
l) One Leg Liz (36 respondents: 51.4%)
m) The Pseudoscience of Christian Science (8 respondents: 11.4%)
n) Timothy J. Hammons (3 respondents: 4.3%)
o) Understanding Mortal Mind (11 respondents: 15.7%)
p) I haven’t visited any of these! (4 respondents: 5.7%)

Well, *blush* we’re happy to report that yours truly (this website) is the winner in this category. Likely this is owing to regular updates, and the fact that it aims to be a one-stop shopping place for resources of interest to former Christian Scientists, whether they be currently religious (in any form) or not. Other popular blogs are also ones that are updated frequently and have been operating for a long time–in the case of Kindism and Emerging Gently, both blogs have been in operation for more than three years. It’s likely that many of the other blogs listed here, which are fairly new on the scene (most a year or less), will garner more viewers as time goes on. Some of the other blogs that have fewer viewers are ones that don’t appear to be currently updated regularly. The two keys to popularity of blogs are: longevity, and frequency of updates. Other than Yahoo groups, no respondents indicated additional blogs/websites that weren’t listed.

Have you read any these other books that are heavily critical of and/or discuss Christian Science, but not are not exclusively Christian Science-focused?

Respondents could choose multiple answers (71 responses).

a) Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine (Offit) (16 respondents: 22.5%)
b) Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment (Heimlich) (6 respondents: 8.5%)
c) Each Mind a Kingdom (Satter) (3 respondents: 4.2%)
d) I haven’t read any of these! (53 respondents: 74.6%)
e) I’ve read one that isn’t on this list (1 respondent: 1.4%)

In this case, the ‘no-s’ have it. By far, most respondents haven’t read critical literature of a more general nature, even if it does criticize Christian Science. It’s hard to say why; the most likely reason might be that former Christian Scientists are more interested in material that is directly related to their experience, rather than reading other material that isn’t directly Christian Science-related.

Are there any other books you think members of the Ex-Christian Scientist community would enjoy or benefit from reading? They don’t have to be Christian Science-related.

Here is a sampling of responses:

    • For a whole NEW take on the bible, try Genesis Revisited by Zecharia Sitchin (the original ancient alien scholar who makes a great case!)
    • The God Virus by Darrell Ray. It explains the mindset of the religious fanatic, and demonstrates how (and why) the refusal to acknowledge facts or listen to reason is present among members of many faiths, regardless of specific doctrine. Ray only mentions Christian Science once, but many Christian Scientists, along with fundamentalists from other churches, share the mindset he describes.
    • When God Becomes a Drug by Leo Booth
    • The Child Cases: How America’s Religious Exemption Laws Harm Children by Alan Rogers
    • The Saint by V.S. Pritchett
    • Christian Science In Germany by Frances Thurber Seal
    • Kingdom of the Cults by Walter Martin
    • Fallen: Out Of The Sex Industry and Into the Arms of the Savior by Annie Lobert
    • The Ethical Slut by Easton & Hardy