Interview with the Author of “Cult Survivor”
Cult Survivor by Chrystal Cole is the latest exCS memoir now available from Amazon. The ExCS site sat down with Chrystal to talk about her new book and why she is speaking up. ExChristianScience.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, this post contains affiliate links.
Chrystal was born a fourth generation Christian Scientist. She believed in the belief system for 42 years, even as all of her friends left it. She and had a lifelong dream of one day being a Christian Science practitioner, which she achieved. In ‘the practice’, all she found was ‘Crosses’ and no ‘Crowns’. This eBook shares her journey from childhood to parenthood and leaving the dangerous cult. Chrystal finally found a sense of peace when she turned her back on Christian Science and walked away. Her extended family is still in the religion, and she uses a pseudonym to protect their anonymity.
ExCS: What inspired you to write “Cult Survivor”?
I think it was a series of things. When I first joined the Ex Christian Science Facebook group, people kept asking me: “Wow, you were a practitioner and now you’re an Ex Christian Scientist? How did you do that? What’s your story?”
I was getting the same question at my Quaker Meeting – “What was your spiritual journey that you were so devoted to Christian Science but now you’ve decided it’s not for you? How did you decide to become Quaker?”
And other people just kept asking me, in general, “what does it mean to be a Quaker?”
So I started thinking about my journey. I have this idea that I want to turn everything into a simple “Elevator Speech.” Meaning, turn it into a story that lasts about 40 seconds and covers the basics, so that it can be completely told during an elevator ride.
Well, I kept thinking how my story really cannot be told in an elevator speech. It needed to be told with all the complexity. I mean, it’s a 40+ year journey. It’s not simple like, “I grew up in Christian Science, discovered the Quaker Path and then switched because I liked it better. Oh, and PS: I was caught in 2 measles outbreaks.” It’s so much more than that.
Leaving Christian Science, for me, brought on a whole host of other changes. My dad’s death helped me clearly realize that Christian Science is NOT a science. Science says “gravity works because like attracts like. Gravity works because of centripetal force.” And things like that. Gravity doesn’t suddenly stop working because someone didn’t believe it correctly enough.
My dad was a good man, worthy of having a good, productive and healthy life. He prayed and believed in God all the time! He believed that he would have a Christian Science healing, right until he closed his eyes into the coma from which he never awoke. If anyone was worthy of a healing, it was my dad. Everyone loved him. This whole process showed me with absolute clarity that Christian Science does NOT work. It’s NOT a real science.
Christian Science does NOT work. It’s NOT a real science.
In order for me to process this new way of looking at the world, I needed to write my thoughts down. Writing helped me process all this information intellectually and emotionally. I needed to do this for my own journey towards mental health.
It took me months to write this story, and the whole time I was still striving to make it “Quaker Simple.”
ExCS: Has having family still “in” Christian Science impacted your decision to share your story?
Absolutely. I worry every day that they will find the Ex-Christian Science blog and read any of the posts and realize it’s me, telling my story, and they will identify so much with enough of it (we all knew my dad, for instance), and then call me up and yell at me, and then turn their back on me.
I worry every day that they will find my book now, on Amazon, and that the Christian Science Committee on Publication will send out a letter to Reading Rooms and state Committees on Publication (these are individuals inside the church organization who do everything in their power to shut down publications that come out and say “Christian Science is bad.”
I worry that the letters will say, “let’s get on a mission to destroy this book, and its author” or something like that.
I am not sure that there will be any time where my family will like hearing that I wrote this book. If they come across it while they are still in Christian Science, I hope they will do what I did when I was a Christian Scientist, serving in my local Reading Room and in the mail came the book, “fathermothergod” by Lucia Greenhouse. I just ignored it and called my Practitioner to tell him how proud I was for not reading “an obnoxious book.”
Obnoxious Books. Sect. 12. A member of this Church shall not patronize a publishing house or bookstore that has for sale obnoxious books.
— The Manual of The Mother Church, Article VIII, Mary Baker Eddy
I wish I had read “fathermothergod” all those years ago when I saw it come to my Reading Room. I sure wanted to. With a title like that, I knew with absolute certainty that the author came from inside the Christian Science church. Someone from outside the church wouldn’t have come up with a great title like that.
So, to answer your question again, yes. I am afraid to share my story because my family is decidedly IN the religion. They talk to me about some aspect of Christian Science regularly. One even said to me, “it hurts me when you talk negatively about Christian Science, the religion I love so much.”
You know, the last thing I would ever want to do is hurt anyone. I love my family. I work so hard to make people feel safe around me. But I am also passionate about safety. I have seen too many die this year alone, thanks to being lifelong believers in Christian Science.
If something is a safety issue: I speak up. I have to. Something inside me tells me: Speak Up!
Being in Christian Science to the absolute exclusion of mental and physical health care is dangerous! I have seen so many people die and heard of so many people who die these horrible, tragic, unnecessary deaths! I feel like my own version of Rosa Parks – I’m tired of hearing about these deaths. Or the cripplings. The scars people have from their “love of Christian Science.” It’s a dangerous belief system and needs to be brought down.
ExCS: One of the most common critiques we (the ExCS site) get is a variation of “that is not Christian Science,” “that is not my experience with CS,” and “they are not practicing CS correctly and/or are taking things to an extreme.” Have you had push back from CS-sympathisers? What would you say to those who say you were doing CS all wrong?
You know what? If ANYONE knew Christian Science, it was me. Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “follow me only so far as I follow Jesus.” So I took that to mean that I should hold Jesus up as my highest example of Christian Science. Jesus turned to The Bible, such as it was, when he was preaching. So I turned to The Bible for everything.
I mean, I loved Christian Science. I was active with my Association. I knew all the stories to tell people and I knew they were having healings. I loved playing “the opposites game.” I do believe I actually understood all the contradictions. It made sense to me.
When I first got to the Ex Christian Science Facebook group, people kept writing that Christian Science is so full of contradictions. I didn’t see it. I was so bewildered by this comment. And it came up frequently! I finally threw up my hands and asked the group for examples
That’s when I think I finally started seeing through the illusion that Christian Science is a worthy practice for spirituality. I realized there ARE contradictions. There are so many contradictions!
No matter the topic of conversation, I could draw on a Bible story to share that would help elevate people’s thoughts. I had a story of when I was short on oil and was trying to bake a cake for my son’s birthday party. I upended two bottles of vegetable oil as they went “drip… drip … drip… drip…” in to the measuring cup. And I looked up and prayed. It sounded so much like that story, for me, of the woman who needed oil and said the words, “bring me yet another vessel.” My oil came out to be the perfect amount I needed. I thought about this story – the woman who had all that she needed, right there with her and didn’t need to go looking for more.
I dove in with all my heart deeply and sincerely into Christian Science. Christian Science consumed my every thought. I understood all the contradictions and gave away copies of “Science and Health” like they were ice cream on a hot summer day.
I believed that I had healings 500 times per day, because I had been taught, “every time we change a thought from a bad thought to a good thought, that’s a healing!” I believed it hook, line and sinker. I had a few friends who would wait with baited breath on my every word as I explained how a Bible story was still relevant today. I went to Association every year, without fail.
I had been taught, “every time we change a thought
from a bad thought to a good thought, that’s a healing!”
My ex Christian Science Teacher had me doing things for Association in a prominent way. One time, we did a skit and I was given the task of being “The Voice of God” over the microphone. I couldn’t make this stuff up. I felt so honored to have been asked to be “The Voice of God.” Another time, I was reading the part of the apostle Andrew. My Teacher told me, “so many people started crying, you were so good at that role.”
Believe me, I fervently believed Christian Science and loved every moment of it. I loved being different from everyone else. I loved feeling like “I have the toolbox and can heal the entire world!”
I used to also have that “holier than thou” expression on my face when someone left Christian Science, like my own bio mom, for instance, who dropped out of the Christian Science nursing program before I was born. “She just never understood it,” I’d been taught. Well, I wasn’t going to be a loser like that. I was going to be Journal Listed as a Practitioner and really UNDERSTAND IT. And: I did. I understood it. I didn’t see any contradictions in Christian Science when I was in it. I was thoroughly brainwashed at that point in my life.
I didn’t see any contradictions in Christian Science. I was thoroughly brainwashed.
It took a LOT to propel me out of the belief system. Once I was out, I started learning other very painful, hard to read stories of other people who had gotten out much sooner than I had. And, those stories helped me uncover how much junk was in my head. Other folks’ life experiences showed me how brainwashed I had been.
I was so unhappy in Christian Science as time wore on. I was deeply unhappy. If Heaven is a place we can have here on Earth, as Christian Science had taught us, why did I feel like I was living in hell and being tortured? Something wasn’t adding up for me. I wanted to be happy. My life was so off balance. After I left, and went through real psychiatric treatment, I can now say my life is truly at a good place and I am happy.
If Heaven is a place we can have here on Earth, as Christian Science had taught us, why did I feel like I was living in hell and being tortured?
The more I get Christian Science out of my system, the more happy I feel. I say: “get it out!”
Do current, practicing Christian Scientists want to hear what I have to say?
No. They really don’t. I tried to push my experience on them, but it turned them off. My family turned their back on me in a very painful way when I was pushing hard about leaving Christian Science. I have found a balance now, and they are back in my life. I stay mostly silent, and I have also had to stand up and let them know, “stop bringing up Christian Science, if I can’t talk with you about why I am out, I don’t want to hear about it constantly every time we get together, either.”
There’s so much more to life than just a belief in Christian Science! My experience has shown me that people who choose to be absolutely devoted to Christian Science let it consume them completely. I don’t see balance in their lives. It’s hard to just sit there and let them give me an onslaught of their Christian Science chatter.
ExCS: Do you have any previous writing experience?
I was an English major at Principia College. I have wanted to be a published author for a very long time. My high school Creative Writing teacher told me my stories were excellent and she looked forward to me publishing at some point. This was the first book I have ever published, which has helped me understand the publishing world just a bit more. My future books, under my own name, will be coming very soon. I’m so excited to finally be a published author!
I am currently working on a 2nd Edition of the book, which will have much more graphic content about my healings. By the way, I consider Christian Science healings to actually be “untreated traumas.” My next steps with Cult Survivor are to get it into paperback form, and then in an audible form. Those will be coming.
I consider Christian Science healings to actually be “untreated traumas.”
ExCS: Is there anything else you would like to share about your book?
Yes – actually. First off, you can read the book on your computer monitor if you like. You don’t need to have a Kindle device to read it! It’s portable and is easy to read on your phone or electronic tablet or computer. I will be turning it into a paperback as soon as I am able, maybe by early next year.
I do want my story to get “out there” to help propel people out of the Christian Science belief system. I need more people to get out and I hope that will help propel my family to get out too. They sure don’t want to listen to me telling them to get out! My passion to get them out comes across as anger. No one wants to be yelled at, so I’m still working on that.
Thank you, Ex Christian Science blog, for giving me space here over the years to share my journey. Having this forum has helped me process the crazy thinking! I couldn’t have left so completely and so quickly if I hadn’t written about my experience and also gotten feedback from readers of the blog.
Thank you, readers of this blog, for reading and commenting. It helps those who post know that they are not alone.
I am so grateful for the Ex Christian Science community! We all get the unique kind of crazy and how it is dangerous.
ExChristianScience.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, this post contains affiliate links.