Lucy’s Story

PLEASE NOTE: The following post contains content that may make some readers uncomfortable. 

By Lucy, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor. ‘Lucy’ is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.


My husband and I both grew up in Christian Science families. We first met at Principia Upper School and then attended Prin college together. He has always been more spiritual and I’ve always been more practical, so when both of his parents died early from treatable diseases he really dug into Christian Science as a way to try and find healing from his grief, which he didn’t think he was supposed to feel. But at some point, probably a few years ago, I began to realize that as much as I really wanted it to be true and work it made NO sense to me. I began to get into science… you know, actual science!

Continue reading “Lucy’s Story”

Rachel’s Story

PLEASE NOTE: The following post contains content that may make some readers uncomfortable. 

By Rachel, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor. ‘Rachel’ is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.


I was a fifth generation Christian Scientist. Having grown up in a family involved with Christian Science for multiple generations, I can see patterns now, passed down through family stories; patterns from the very first family members to join Christian Science. The things that happened to me in my childhood were probably going to happen to me regardless. But the incidents would not have been handled in the manner that they were if not for the fact that our family were Christian Scientists.

I was sick so much as a kid with diseases I was not vaccinated against. I had every kind of measles that you can have, and the mumps. The ear infections were horrible and one of my most prominent memories of childhood. I don’t think my mom knew what an ear infection was. My dad did insist that I have the polio vaccine—I’m so grateful for that. And no one ever made me feel guilty for being sick, or berated me. Christian Science taught me how to do that all by myself. Continue reading “Rachel’s Story”

Born Perfect

By Elizabeth, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

“What would you do if you broke your leg?” The question every Christian Scientist kid has had to answer numerous times. My Sunday School teachers and my family gave me the script for it: “Well, I’ve never had that happen, but if we ever had a problem we couldn’t address with prayer, then we would go to the hospital.” The Christian Science brand of denial is enormously powerful; I was still giving this speech when I was eighteen years old and had never had a menstrual period or completed puberty, and had never been taken to a doctor for a diagnosis.

I was told that, “whatever is going on, we know” that I was “born perfect.” Every year at my birthday, there would be some Christian Scientist relative mumbling about “oh, well, dear, you know your mother didn’t get it ’til she was fourteen,” and then the next year, “the neighbor’s granddaughter didn’t get it ’til she was fifteen,” and then, “well, my friend knew someone who didn’t get it ’til she was sixteen.” I was sent to Principia Upper School when I was fifteen, which was a neat way to end the debate, as medical intervention was not allowed there. Then there were just the school breaks to negotiate; I never knew when a shame bomb would be dropped. At a holiday, chatting in groups in the living room after a family dinner, a relative would question me about my period and give some Christianly Scientific advice.

The theology I was held to account to was grindingly inconsistent, although having been raised in it I was rarely able to detect this fact, only able to feel the emotional upset and frustration caused by it. One grandmother made frequent oblique departures from Christian Science doctrine to hypothesize about how perhaps I’d never gotten my period because I was overweight. Once in a while my dad would ask if I wanted him to “do some work” for me, which always led me to uncontrollably wonder how long it had been since the last time he’d offered, and at what point that previous round of “work” had just dropped from his consciousness, the state of denial resumed. My internal state was that of private torment and prayer.

I was very occasionally told that, “It’s your choice if you want to go to a doctor,” regarding my ‘problem’—mostly after I was eighteen and I was expected to take care of myself—but it didn’t feel as though that was an option, really. It took me years away from the Christian Science church before I found going to a doctor comprehensible, and still, then, it was terrifying. I finally went to a doctor on my own when I was 25 and found out that I was born without ovaries. An “infantile uterus” seen on the ultrasound, the fallopian tubes just trailing off, two different lengths.

This is not a Christian Science tragedy. No one lost their child or their limb or the last thirty years of their life. But it’s ridiculous, is what it is. This is what’s ridiculous about Christian Science: for thirteen years, from about age twelve to twenty-five, I waited and prayed for my period to start. I waited and prayed for puberty to finish. I wondered if I was going to be able to have children. And I was sometimes made to feel that I was not doing enough, was not deserving enough, was not diligent enough in my studies or something, for my body to ovulate, when in fact there were no ovaries in my body.

If my parents had taken me to a gynecologist around the age of thirteen, or maybe fifteen, which is about the latest I think a non-Christian Scientist family would have waited under the circumstances, we would have been given the diagnosis: ovarian agenesis with accompanying primary amenorrhea; infertility. We would have been told that I had not been “born perfect.” I would have appreciated having that information very much. Because ages 12-25 were no goddamn picnic for me, I have to tell you.

Everything about my sexuality was frozen in early adolescence. Puberty seemed to have begun around age ten, and then ground to a strange halt. The more time passed, the more the dynamic became that of my adult woman’s body not belonging to me, for it stubbornly refused to develop. Instead it belonged to God, or Christian Science, perhaps. My developed body and adult sexuality would be released into my possession only if I was pure enough. It could be obtained by studying those two leather-bound books marked with blue chalk each week. I genuinely do not think my parents realized how messed up it is to put a teenager in this position.

As a decade passed, and I grew up without growing up hormonally, or entirely physically, this sense of my sexuality being on hold and not belonging to me became conflated with my perceptions of dating and relationships and the fact of my lesbianism. I find it very hard to put into words what it was like to be a gay Christian Scientist. There weren’t any words, for as long as I was a Christian Scientist. No one told me that I had to be this way instead of that way, or defined morality as exclusive to heterosexuality. I understand that must sound like a positive, but it might have possibly been more helpful than the complete silence, because I would at least have had a definition; something to react against is at least something.

Until I was able to break through the denial system of Christian Science and go in search of my diagnosis, I felt that nothing of the world of adult sexuality was meant for me—not dating, not intimacy, not being straight, not being gay, and of course not being a woman with boobs and a period. I remained almost completely divorced from my own sexuality and very out of touch with my own body until I began my relationship with my wife-to-be, within a few months of that first doctor’s appointment. We have been together for sixteen years now, and our union has led both of us steadily away from dysfunction in our relationships and in our lives, and me away from Christian Science.

My mother did not tell me about menstruation.

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Scientist collective about menstruation.

My mother did not tell me about menstruation. She seemed incredibly embarrassed by the whole thing, which could have just been generational. The thing was, they did teach the girls about menstruation in public school. They taught them all about the body, but they taught it in health class AND I WAS NOT ALLOWED TO ATTEND.

One day, I was playing with a girlfriend from school when she started talking about periods. I couldn’t believe that what she was telling me was true; it was too shocking to be believable and I said she was lying. I suddenly found myself being dragged by the arm into my parents’ bathroom, where she opened the cupboard under the sink and pulled out a big blue box of Kotex pads. In those days, there was nothing on the box to illustrate the connection between the thick white pad and its use, but I had to agree that it might be possible. Soon other girls’ stories at school caught my ear, and after somehow finding and reading a health pamphlet, I had to admit it was true.

There was no way I could ask my mother about it. Some girls told horror stories, things like waking up at a sleepover drenched in blood. By this point, I was terrified and started to pray to know the Truth that I was God’s perfect child and no harm could come to me. I decided that a period was Error and I could beat it through prayerful work, so I prayed desperately night and day for me to escape this fate. Big thanks to Mum and Mary Baker Eddy for causing me years of teenage fear and distress on this one.

– Tessa



I suffered through hundreds of hours of menstrual cramps throughout my life. I can’t count the days of school and work that I missed due to extreme pain. When I was teaching at a school where all the staff were Christian Scientists, I went to the Assistant Headmistress to tell her I needed to go home since I was in pain. She told me that the best way to get rid of cramps was to have a baby. Lordy, Lordy, Lordy! I was stunned when I made the eventual discovery that taking medication gave me immediate relief.

When the subject of her children no longer following Christian Science comes up, my mother tells the story of my wonderful healing of cramps after calling the practitioner. Of course, the ‘healing’ came hours later, and only lasted for a few weeks before returning….

– Stacey

I was the beneficiary of dumb luck.

By Jeremy, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

None of us who grew up in loving homes with parents who cared deeply about us ever wants to admit that perhaps our parents didn’t do everything right, and perhaps, just perhaps, they neglected their duty to properly care for us in some very terrible ways, even if they had no malicious intent, and genuinely thought they were doing the best for us. Such is the case with me as I recall some of my early brushes with childhood illness.

I remember two instances when I was in first, and then second grades, where I suffered at length from a painful, hacking cough, and I was home sick from school for around a week or two each time. Since my parents were Christian Scientists, I was not taken to the doctor, so I was never diagnosed, although I now suspect it was either bronchitis, pneumonia, or most likely pertussis. No relief other than prayer, hot lemonade, and the singing of Christian Science hymns was offered. Fortunately, I recovered. In later years, my dad confided to me that he and Mom had been concerned enough about my condition to seriously consider taking me to a doctor. In retrospect, I wish they had. I may not have suffered as I did, as simple antibiotics may have cleared things up quickly.

I also recall several bouts with excruciatingly painful earaches between the ages of approximately six until around ten years of age. I was never taken to a doctor, where the pain could have been quickly abated and the infection properly treated with antibiotics. No, I was made to listen to a Christian Science practitioner, who tried to assure me that as ‘God’s perfect child’, the earache was an unreal ‘illusion’, or some such esoteric Christian Science crap.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have survived my childhood with, as far as I can tell, few if any lasting physical effects directly attributable to lack of proper medical care. While the devout Christian Scientist would say I was ‘protected’, I think I was just the beneficiary of dumb luck.

About a year ago, I related these childhood experiences to a friend of mine who is a retired trauma counselor. She is a survivor of childhood abuse, and is also a cancer survivor. When I told her that I had never seen a doctor as a child, even for these conditions, she was shocked. She bluntly told me, “You were neglected.” I had to let that sink in for a while. While I realized my parents had no malicious intent, and my friend emphasized that, the glaring fact was that they neglected to give me the physical care I needed at the time. Most of us who grew up in Christian Science were neglected in exactly the same way. We’re all survivors, and in some cases, damn lucky to still be alive.

We went to the park

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

I was chatting with a woman in line at the bakery this morning. She got her grandson a sticky roll and hot chocolate and was expecting him to behave in church. I got my children something similar, and we went to a nearby park.

I sat and watched the kids play, occasionally coming back to check in with me, and to eat a few more bites of their pastries. When they tired of climbing, swinging and sliding, we went for a walk along the trails through the protected nature area adjacent the play area.

As we walked, I thought back to the little boy and his grandmother who were heading off to church. I remembered all the Sundays growing up, where I had wanted to sleep in, but instead we were hurried off to church, a twenty minute drive, and we often had to get there early so my parents could usher, or my mother could mind the childcare room.

Almost every Sunday from birth until I turned 20 (the magical age we were ‘allowed’ to attend with the main congregation), I was at church, either in the childcare room (until I turned three or four), and then in Sunday School. I did slack off a bit on Sunday School attendance when I was at Principia, but in my defense, being at Prin was like always being at Sunday School.

Christian Science was all around us, selected readings at house meetings, inspirational post-its on the bathroom mirrors, roommates who read the lesson, friends who attended the Christian Science Org. meetings on Tuesday mornings, and professors, practitioners, and lecturers who gave talks in the evenings about how Christian Science inspired them. Attendance, while optional, was recommended, and your absence was often commented upon.

Some days I liked Sunday School. It was one of the few places I could be ‘normal’. No one looked at me because I was weird for not visiting a doctor, or because I decided not to drink, experiment with drugs, or have premarital sex. I was free to talk about my understanding of God and Ms. Eddy’s seven synonyms and how they could apply to my life without being looked at like I was a freak.

Some days this felt more sincere than others, some days I felt I believed it, and some days I felt like I was parroting the party line, memorizing and regurgitating information. I had a lot of questions for my Sunday School teachers, I was eager to learn more, I wanted to know how Christian Science worked, I wanted answers.

I spent a fair bit of time ‘chatting’ with the Sunday School Superintendent (that sounds much more official than it was) about how I was ‘interfering’ with others’ spiritual growth and my questions were ‘not appropriate’. Sunday School teachers tried to put me off, by telling me I’d have to wait and take Class Instruction and all would be revealed, but I never made it that far as I was never ‘led to the right teacher’.

The best part were the Thanksgiving Day services. We all got to sit in the main auditorium; everyone, even the little kids (little kids being about six and up, the childcare was usually quite full those days). We would read the President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation which always included something about pilgrims, and then the most random people would stand up and talk at length until the reader had to say “THANK YOU” in a super firm tone and an usher had to come take away the microphone. It was like the Oscars of Christian Science testimonies.

When I made the non-optional transition to church at the age of 20, I hated it. There was no time for discussion, or questioning. You sit and are read the same lesson you have (theoretically) been reading all week. Christian Science church services are not fun, they fail at being interesting, they don’t engage the audience, and they’re tedious.

To the consternation of my mother, my children are not going to experience any of these things. As an adult, I do plenty of things I dislike that I have to do. Church attendance is not one of them, and forcing my children to attend Sunday School isn’t either.

She was considered barely manageable because she occasionally asked questions

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

There was only one other occasional Christian Scientist kid who came to my church, a girl called Sean. Sean was unpopular amongst the old ladies who taught Sunday School as she was considered barely manageable. This was because she occasionally asked questions and preferred to talk about what she had seen on TV and which pop stars she liked instead of listening to them.

One day, one of the old ladies in the main service had a heart attack, and Sean and I were whisked outside so quickly our feet barely touched the ground, where we were made to sit on a wall by the entrance to the church. Our parents and the Sunday school leaders were abjectly horrified that we would see the ambulance that they had called, or the ambulance men ‘doing things’, and wanted us out of the way.

We saw the paramedics arrive and take one of those heart electrocution things inside with a stretcher. Sean didn’t know what it was, but I was proud of myself that I could tell her as I had seen it on TV. She seemed very interested that such a thing existed. I concurred that it was extremely cool all the things that medicine on TV dramas could do, especially as Christian Science didn’t appear to be able to do anything, evidenced by the fact that one of their number appeared to have actually died during a service and none of their colleagues could think of doing anything other than calling the emergency services.

We were then rushed back inside and quarantined back in the Sunday School room. This is because the medics were going to carry Mrs. X out and we were to be saved the traumatic sight of human beings giving another human being basic care. Mrs. X’s fate was never alluded to, or her identity. Other than by trying to work out who it had been like a game of geriatric ‘Guess Who,’ the following week we were never to know. Was she in a better place? I suspected in my heart of hearts that if she never had to go back to that awful stultifying church again, she probably was.

But it was obvious it had scared all the adults badly, and none of them appeared to be getting any comfort from their beliefs.

“Are Sin Disease and Death Real?” taught us the obvious answer: no.

 

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about Church and Sunday School. 

 

 

When I was about ten, and a student of the Christian Science Sunday School since I was two, I was so indoctrinated that I thought the last sentence of the Scientific Statement of Being was “Sunday School is dismissed!”

A friend’s father died, and since we had been taught so much about the unreality of death, I decided I should handle it that way. I did not tell my parents, and was expecting to see the departed one walking around any minute. My parents found out about the death from someone else and asked me why I didn’t tell them. I explained all I learned in Sunday School about death! My non-Christian Scientist dad then gave me a talk on reality— real reality.

I was miffed! I talked to a practitioner about this later and she advised me “You don’t walk on the water.” How much should we be expected to handle—or not handle—at the age of ten? Doing some thinking, we had a lesson called ‘Are Sin Disease and Death Real?’ which taught us the obvious answer: no. It made for a very confusing childhood!

– Anonymous


I really liked Sunday School and always enjoyed talking about philosophy and religion. Most of my Sunday School teachers were nice and interesting people. Of course, I always had a nagging feeling that even though I talked the talk, I would someday disappoint everyone in terms of Christian Science.

– Marie


There was a little girl in my Sunday School class; I was shy and awkward and she was pretty and popular. She picked on me very overtly, I mean loudly made fun of me and other things that were downright mean. When I finally got the courage to ask my dad to tell the Superintendent about it, the Superintendent chose to respond by sending me a letter to my home address. She said I was letting personal sense get in the way of enjoying Sunday School, and that I must remember that “we can’t always arrange things exactly the way we would want them to be.”

– Ashley

I just believed what they told me. Because I was a kid!

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

The Christian Scientists I grew up around all pretty much disappeared the moment my mother drowned in her own bed of a mysterious lung condition after a long period of radical reliance. I can’t say I ever really missed them, though a ‘sorry’ would have been nice.

Some of the people from her church came to the funeral. They avoided me for as much of it as they could, and left as soon as it finished. I never saw or heard from any of them ever again, despite the fact I had known all of them for years, I was a teenager, and they all knew I was then left on my own.

I had tried to stage a sort of adolescent intervention in my mother’s Christian Science treatment. Her best friend was also a Christian Science practitioner, and a fairly big lifelong contributor towards my mother’s reliance on ‘Science’. My mother looked on her as a sort of contemporary Mary Baker Eddy. Of some indeterminate late age, she was a bustling dynamo of a woman who arrived in the middle of a situation, then strode around setting everyone straight and bullying them into ‘Divine Mind’ for their own good. The idea of criticising this woman was almost tantamount to blasphemy, so I was surprised that I would be granted an audience about the issue with my mother present. I stupidly thought it was because we were actually going to talk about my mother’s failing health and devise a plan for managing it.

This meeting with them—where I wanted it to be agreed that she needed to see a doctor—dawned, and I went down from my bedroom with suddenly sweating palms and hammering heart, and this woman just ran rings around me and made me feel about two inches tall. She turned all my carefully planned arguments back at me and by the end of it I wasn’t even sure if the sky was blue and grass green. To cap it off, it was implied that the lack of a healing might be due to my negative thinking. Actually to really cap it off, she finished up with explaining that our family’s poverty was down to my laziness in not applying Christian Science better and that I was now ‘in charge of the finances’ and that she expected to see results from me because it was unfair that my mother had to deal with a physical healing and a situational one while I did nothing. I left meekly agreeing that I would and feeling terrible at my own selfishness. For every day after that until my mother’s death, I felt our poverty and her ill health was my fault. I was thirteen.

I sometimes wonder what I would say to her, or them, now. I would like to give them a piece of my mind, to be honest. I had an absolutely horrible time growing up in Christian Science, and none of it was my fault. I just believed what they told me. Because I was a kid!

There was another group of friends that that my mother had made comparatively very recently through an evening class, who all turned out to the funeral and the wake and all showered me with offers of help if I needed. It was actually the first time I began to understand that people who weren’t in Christian Science were generally a lot nicer and more human than people who were.

She was a true believer and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way

By Paul, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

My mother died a long, drawn out death from skin cancer that was also very unnecessary because a routine visit to the dermatologist could have prevented the whole thing. It’s so senseless. After she passed I had a rather cloying conversation with her practitioner (she called me), and the practitioner went out of her way to assure me that at no point did my mother suffer any pain whatsoever. Of course I don’t believe her, and I didn’t then; but the only thing that has been of any help at all, and not much, is that my mother was able to make her exit on her own terms and in accordance with her faith. She was a true believer and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, even if it would have spared her life and she would still be here.

Every now and again after my mother’s horrendous demise, my dad would ask if I wanted to go to church with him, just sort of tossing it out there as if that’s really what I’d been waiting for all along to get right with the world. He finally gave up on that and would lob some Christian Science-isms at me from time to time like he would like to see me “make a better demonstration of supply.” It really annoyed me, not that I guess I rated as a pauper, but that he knew good and well that no one in their right mind goes around talking in code like that, so it seemed a means to try to keep manipulating things back around to Christian Science. My general response, usually after suppressing a chortle, would be simply to tell him that I didn’t know anything about that and I hadn’t for a long time now.