Kaleidoscope of Christian Science

Kaleidoscope – photo provided by author

By Blog Contributor Jodi 

I have noticed that with Ex Christian Scientists, we all have similarities and differences. And it all is due to the way our parents worshipped Christian Science (or not).

Some parents were super strict, like my step-mom. She was the daughter of a Christian Science Practitioner, who was also the daughter of a Christian Science Practitioner. My dad’s family, on the other hand, were much less strict in the way they worshipped.

When it was just my dad and me, he let me have honey when my throat hurt, just to soothe it. It helped me stop coughing. When he got married, that was forbidden, because it was a “material remedy.”

Other blog posts here have shared this strict attitude, too. “Elizabeth’s Story” shares when she had the measles at Principia Upper School in St. Louis, Missouri. She was miserable and couldn’t breathe. She figured out that a wet washcloth, draped over her mouth, helped her breathe. And yet, it was a material remedy, so it was snatched from her, and she was treated as if she was a criminal for even trying to have a washcloth to help her breathe when she had the freaking measles during an epidemic at her school!

My dad’s parents / my grandparents, on the other hand, took their kids to the doctor when things were rough. One of my uncles asked my grandpa a few times, “hey, dad, do you remember taking me to the doctor when I was little, for that ingrown toenail?” My grandpa remembered.

My grandpa later had surgeries for things as he got older. I am so glad he did, too, because he lived to be 100 years old, and my kids got to know him.

Whereas, my practitioner grandmother died much younger. She probably had a stroke or heart attack, though an autopsy was never performed. I am not sharing more of that story, because my family is still around, and they may read this blog some day and not be too happy if I share anything personal like that.

My dad, his dad and I all wear or wore glasses or contact lenses. Mary Baker Eddy wrote in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” that “Eyes [are] spiritual discernment.” Meaning, if you understand things spiritually, you won’t need eye glasses or contact lenses. My family saw eye glasses and contact lenses as “temporary means,” like someone might use crutches for a while, until they “demonstrate over” a problem like “the belief of a sprained ankle.” It’s temporary. Whereas something like surgery is not temporary, therefore it shouldn’t be done, because that’s a material remedy.

(But, wait, wouldn’t a wet washcloth to help with breathing, or honey to help a sore throat also be temporary? It’s so confusing.)

I heard a story by an Ex Christian Scientist, that a little boy had been run over by a truck of all things. And his head had been squashed. He had so many healings about it, and the last healing he needed was to have his eyesight healed. He wore eyeglasses. His family moved at some point, and wanted to attend the local Christian Science Church. They were shunned from the church because their son wore eyeglasses. So many wonderful healings this precious child had, and they were shunned because he wore eyeglasses. This is such a completely different experience from the one where I grew up in – with a family where more than 1/2 of us wear or wore eyeglasses or contact lenses.

So, I grew up with the different ways of worshipping Christian Science – the strict and the not-so-strict.

Leaving Christian Science, I was relieved to find out about the Ex Christian Science Facebook group. People from all over the world are in the group. We all share our stories. Some are horrific – club feet that weren’t treated by a doctor (easily) when a child was small. Problems that went on for so long that a limb had to be amputated, when it might have been something easy to do from the medical perspective these days, like take insulin for diabetes.

Christian Science has left many major scars on so many of us.

Other people, like the ones I went to Sunday School with, growing up, went to doctors. They got their shots, took cough syrup, used band-aids, and still went to Christian Science church and Sunday School on Sundays.

I know in my family, we were taught that the Sabbath was every day of the week. We were supposed to think about God 100% of the time. Any time we turned our thoughts away from God, we had the superstitious belief that we would get a problem like become sick with cancer, sprain our ankle, or maybe even die. But then my Sunday School friends didn’t think like that at all. And they never seemed to be punished for not thinking that way.

When I was very little, my bio mom left my life. Later, in my teen years, my dad told me, “she never really understood Christian Science.” That’s what so many people say. I am sure my family all tells each other this about me, now, too. The funny thing is, I went through Class Instruction (this is mentioned in so many of these blog posts) and for a while, I was also a Journal-listed Practitioner. I worshipped God all the time. I “prayed without ceasing,” as is mentioned in II Thessalonians. Believe me, I understood Christian Science.

I hear stories from the other Ex Christian Scientists where they remember their Christian Science Teacher (the one who teaches Class Instruction) say, “they never really understood Christian Science” when someone “leaves the fold” [leaves Christian Science].

So all of that prelude brings me to what I wanted to blog about today –

Many of us have had similar experiences. We may not all share 100% of the same experiences, but we all share some experiences with many people.

Many of us weren’t allowed to use band-aids, or we were chastised about it. I once heard a Wednesday evening testimony about a woman who went to the drug store and saw band-aids for sale. She reached for them, as if she wanted to buy them. But then she had a change of heart. She realized that “Science and Health” says that “accidents are unknown to God.” So, if she bought the band-aids, she would be superstitious that she would have an accident that week and then need a band-aid. So she didn’t buy them. And this was a healing! She never needed a band-aid. On a kaleidoscope, let’s pretend this is pink.

Another group of us may have had some physical trauma to our leg or our foot or ankle. And have had no care for it. No wrap, no ice, no pain relief, so cast, no medicine, no crutch to support us. We probably lay in bed, maybe even feeling guilty for elevating our feet or legs to relieve some of the painful pressure. Let’s call this blue on the kaleidoscope.

Another group of us probably had heart problems, but didn’t know it until we left Christian Science and started going to doctors. I have heart problems. For me, this has shown up as being short of breath when running track in high school. I was short of breath when walking up a flight of stairs. I remember some guys moving a bed in to my house, up a flight of stairs to our bedroom. They made fun of me for being short of breath at the top of the stairs. I was mortified. I couldn’t understand why that was true for me – I was a weight lifter, I could rock climb, I took walks, I loved to canoe, ski, I was very active. But walking up a flight of stairs left me winded. Low and behold, about 10 years later, I found out I have heart problems. Back in high school, I wondered if it was asthma, so I prayed a LOT about asthma. I don’t have asthma. I have heart problems. Thank goodness for things like heart surgery and heart medicine. If I hadn’t left Christian Science, and hadn’t gone to a good cardiologist, I am positive I would have been dead by now. Let’s call heart problems red on the kaleidoscope.

Some kids, like me, weren’t allowed to have cough syrup. I had it one time when I was staying at my bio mom’s house. She had gotten me a babysitter, and the babysitter offered it to me when I wouldn’t stop coughing. (It turns out, I learned this at the age of 50!) that I have seasonal allergies. They are so bad, that every year throughout my life, I have coughed quite severely for weeks on end. And the coughing turns into either bronchitis or pneumonia. Every year of my life since I was an infant. This year, I finally started taking a swig every morning of children’s grape flavored Zyrtec during allergy seasons. And, low and behold, I didn’t cough. I didn’t get bronchitis, and I didn’t get pneumonia. Something so easy to do – a morning allergy medicine. A children’s dose at that. And I have experienced so much relief. Let’s call allergies green on the kaleidoscope. And let’s call coughing turquoise on the kaleidoscope. Bronchitis can be orange, and pneumonia can be a deep red-orange color.

There are so many kinds of trauma in life in general, like mental abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, hitting, punching, kicking. While too many Christian Scientists also subjected their kids and each other to these kinds of abuse, these aren’t specifically Christian Science related. They are real, and they are terrible. But they aren’t just a type of abuse limited to Christian Scientists. Let’s call these kinds of abuse black on the kaleidoscope. I have definitely heard of every kind of this abuse in the Ex Christian Science circles. But they didn’t happen to everyone. But they happened to a lot of people. I was particularly horrified to hear about this kind of abuse at Christian Science facilities including schools and camps. The staff at those places put on haughty “holier than thou” attitudes, then turn around and commit some of the worst atrocities I have heard of.

Here’s an interesting thing in Christian Science. Somewhere in “Science and Health” or in her Prose Works, Eddy talks about not partaking in coffee or caffeine. Many people don’t know, but she actually brewed coffee at her home so that people who did the work around her house would have some if they wanted it. My step-mom and her family took this to the extreme – they drank no coffee of course. They also never ate coffee flavored yogurt or coffee flavored ice cream. My grandfather grew up in New England, and while I forget which state it is, perhaps it’s Rhode Island, but it could just as easily be Massachusetts or Delaware too, they have coffee flavored things just as readily as they might have vanilla or chocolate flavored things. Things like milk shakes at McDonald’s. My grandfather’s favorite flavor of ice cream was coffee flavored ice cream. He offered it to my step-mom often. She consistently turned him down. Whereas when I was a little child, I ate it eagerly, knowing that it was a little bit forbidden. It made me feel like a rebel to partake in the coffee flavored yogurt. It tastes so good!

Here’s a funny thing about caffeine – I could never understand why, if chocolate also has caffeine, why it wasn’t forbidden, but coffee was. Also, I had a friend in Sunday School whose dad, as far as I know, is just as strict as my step-mom. When we became adults with fiancé’s, he made fun of my (never a Christian Scientist) boyfriend for drinking coffee, when he, himself, my Christian Science friend, drank a Mt. Dew (a soda that has more caffeine in it than Coca-Cola, as far as I understand it). Let’s call a resistance to drinking caffeine and coffee brown on the kaleidoscope.

One other thing that was common in Christian Science households growing up was emotional abuse. Telling kids they can’t feel sad, or angry, or disappointed, or frustrated. Anything that isn’t grateful, joyful or happy is not to be felt. If someone died, you have to feel happy and grateful. No grief allowed. No sadness, no tears. Let’s call this yellow on the kaleidoscope. it’s emotional abuse. It’s emotional invalidation. I once said, “I hate .” I don’t even remember what it was that I said I hated. But my dad immediately said to me, “you don’t hate anything.” My step-mom, of all people, told him that was invalidating. She got very angry at him for saying that. “Maybe she DOES hate . Don’t tell her she doesn’t!” That was quite a confusing moment for me. They disagreed about a Christian Science doctrine, as far as I could tell. She had always been the more strict person regarding Christian Science doctrine, so it was shocking when my dad said something that would be in line with strict Christian Science doctrine, and she stated the exact opposite. Usually, my step-mom would be the one to put the yellow in my kaleidoscope, but this time it was my dad and not my step-mom.

One thing I observed as I got older, while I was still enmeshed with Christian Science church and doctrine was that older Christian Scientists got fat. In the Christian Science “nursing” homes (sanatoriums), nurses love to feed their patients ice cream and milk shakes. I have started reading a book about Florence Nightingale, and feeding milk shakes to patients can be the only way to get calories into their bodies when they aren’t able to eat or consume things easily. I figured out that since we aren’t allowed to deal with our emotions in a healthy way, and we aren’t allowed to have drugs, cough syrup, shots for the flu (I got the flu every single year, growing up. It’s awful.), or any kind of thing to help us feel better, the only remedy we were allowed was food. So we all ate our emotions, our sadness, our traumas, our pain. We ate, ate, ate. It was the only drug available to us. It’s legal, and no one at the store cards you for buying food, no one judges you for having food in your house. It’s considered “normal” and “okay.” I have also noticed that a lot of us who left Christian Science have eating disorders now. That’s no fun, and it’s common. Let’s call this purple on the kaleidoscope.

Some people experienced a broken bone in Christian Science, that wasn’t set properly by a doctor, in a cast. This is awful. Leaving Christian Science, years later, the bone has set and probably isn’t properly set and causes other problems. Problems I can’t even imagine, that cause pain and suffering for the rest of the person’s life. Let’s call that white on the kaleidoscope.

There are many other things that folks have experienced in Christian Science that I haven’t personally experienced. I was able to share things here that I have experienced, that I also noticed that others who have left Christian Science have had experiences that I haven’t had, but they can share those experiences with other people. As I am typing this, I am blanking out on what those experiences are. Maybe one has popped into your head as you read this. You can assign it a color, or perhaps you’re okay if I assign it the color of green on the kaleidoscope.

So, if you take all of these colors and put them into a kaleidoscope and turn it, and look through it, you might recognize the colors in there that are familiar to you, problems you experienced in Christian Science. Perhaps you recognize the purple eating disorder, the black trauma, and the pink band-aids, but you don’t recognize the brown coffee / caffeine issue or the blue feet or leg issues, or the red heart issues. Other people might have the red heart issues, the green color of a problem I haven’t experienced, the turquoise of the allergies and the red-orange of the pneumonia, and the white of a broken bone never set properly.

Some people have lost their parent or a cherished relative or friend, at too young of an age, thanks to radical belief in Christian Science. It’s horrible to lose someone so young. I know of parents who have lost their child due to radical reliance on Christian Science and a Christian Science Practitioner saying, “you can’t go to a doctor, or the child will die, because doctors study matter, but we study Life. Studying matter brings only death. You don’t want death do you?” It’s horrifying, but this is absolutely what has happened to too many people, too many children. Dying of something that would have very likely been easily treatable by a doctor, if they had been taken sooner, rather than relying solely on Christian Science “treatment” or prayer. I don’t even know what color to assign this one. Maybe indigo. Some folks have indigo in their kaleidoscope. I have a touch of indigo from an extended family member who died in middle school.

I notice on this blog that we often get comments that say, “that’s not true, I never experienced that.” The commenter is basically saying, “you’re lying, no one in Christian Science believed that way.” It’s gas-lighting to speak this way to a survivor of trauma. Maybe they experienced trauma you didn’t experience. It doesn’t mean “no one experienced it.” It means that they experienced it, and you didn’t.

We all have at least a few of these colors on our kaleidoscope. And some of us share many of the colors, but also have other colors in our own kaleidoscope that others don’t have, and vice versa.

I hope this helps folks picture the traumas and the overlap and also the disconnect that we all can have, as survivors of Christian Science.

Please be compassionate when you comment on this blog. You may identify with many of the posts here, and other posts may seem outlandish. But, I assure you, these stories are true from the survivor’s perspective. They are every bit as true as the stories that are printed in the Christian Science periodicals like The Christian Science Sentinels, Journals and Heralds.

Thank you for reading. I wish you peace and a kaleidoscope of colors that have happy meanings instead of the meanings of trauma.