By Tessa, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Tessa is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.
I stayed with Christian Science out of family loyalty and guilt for decades, eventually living a dual life—the one I lived in front of my parents and the one I lived when I was apart. I lived that double life out of fear and a superstitious belief that maybe Christian Scientists were right all along and if I stopped believing in it I would be cursed. But most of all, I maintained appearances in order to please my parents. There were a bunch of us kids, and I always felt that being a Christian Scientist was a requirement for being approved of and loved. I had a nagging feeling that I was loved less because I wasn’t a good Christian Scientist.
I “came out” in bits and pieces over the years, but the incident in which I truly showed them that I was not a part of their religion was at the ripe age of 42 when I invited them for Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house. I asked my boyfriend to bring wine and instead of either not drinking in front of my parents or sneaking drinks in the kitchen, I offered them ginger ale and then loudly asked my boyfriend to pour me a glass of red. It seems like an insignificant thing, and most people I know would never understand what it took for me to do it. It took a lot of courage. It felt fantastic enjoying wine with my meal without guilt. I felt like a weight was lifted off of me.
I once wrote an article for the local paper after a major brewery swooped in to buy our local cottage brewery. I wanted to show the difference between a local brew and one from a large corporate-run company and interviewed people in the community, including a brewer. I got everyone to take a taste test. My mother, always a fan of my writing, read the article and said, “oh, but you didn’t taste the beers of course!” She said it like it was fact, even though in the article I included my thoughts on the taste of both beers. Denial was ever present.
For all the problems I had with my parent’s beliefs, they were right there for me when I went into premature labour at 23 weeks gestation. They visited me in the hospital and did not bat an eye at the IV drip or the nurses or doctors. They were kind and accepting of my needs for the medical world. When my son was born a week later, 24 weeks and 520 grams, they came to visit him, donned gowns, scrubbed up, and sat by his incubator. Sure, they prayed in their CS way, but they also accepted my beliefs, including giving my son his inhaler treatments when they babysat him.
By Marie, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Marie is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.
I stepped away from Christian Science, as a test. I spent a week not worrying about animal magnetism, or daily prayers, or anything like that. I just thought whatever I wanted to think. I then left CS quite suddenly and found that to be extremely difficult. I still do sometimes, especially when things are tough and I don’t know what to turn to. Some people I know who left CS after always doubting didn’t feel like it was such a big deal. We all handle it in different ways.
Outsiders simplify the issues surrounding Christian Science, and that can feel dismissive. Like, ‘Hah! What a bunch of crazy, stupid kooks.’ I was one of those kooks, as are many intelligent people I love. Not to mention, in a way, it trivializes what I’ve gone through. The other day a friend asked why my roommate and I talked about our past so much. It was because it was important to us and shaped who we are. To him, it seemed something to remember and value or grieve but not to dwell on so much.
I still don’t feel ready to read God’s Perfect Child. I found it in a used book store and started reading it. I had to sit there for a few moments because I felt very overwhelmed. I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. My parents often talked about the book, shaking their heads, especially since my dad taught the author in Sunday School. So of course he blamed himself.
I left because I realized that Christian Science and numerous other attitudes I held were killing me. In my case at the time, more mentally than physically. It just wasn’t worth it. I was more important, living life was more important. As for whether Christian Science is correct, I decided that the more important question was whether Christian Science was correct for me.
I would describe myself as an atheist now, but I also realize that literally no one knows for sure how the world works and what’s out there. It’s been a long and very difficult journey. I keep discovering new ways in which I’ve imbibed Christian Science ideology, occasionally for the better, usually for worse. I feel as though I have to construct a whole new identity and learn how to trust myself. Not practitioners, not God. Me.
I just went on an Amazon bender. I originally went on to find a paperback version of Carolyn Fraser’s book, ‘God’s Perfect Child’ for my husband, and stumbled on several books, only one of which I had previously heard of. In the last 24 hours, since the books began arriving, I have voraciously consumed both ‘father mother god’ by Lucia Greenhouse and ‘Perfect Peril’ by Linda S. Kramer. There is one more to arrive, a memoir called ‘Blue Windows.’ Are there any that I am missing that you guys could recommend? I really find this therapeutic, but also surprisingly upsetting. I’m glad the other one hasn’t arrived yet. I think I need a break. But I am ready to do more ‘knowing the truth.’ LOL. No, the real truth!
– Katie J.
Years after leaving the movement and residing in limbo about that, I read a fascinating biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the one by Gillian Gill. It’s not ‘authorized’ Christian Science literature and Gill is not a Christian Scientist. The author’s interests and motives seem to be placing MBE’s life events in context—her family story as well as historically/socially—and also analyzing her decisions, convictions, and actions within that same context.
Its primary effect was removing any remaining spell that Mary Baker Eddy herself still held on me; for example, now when I read a renowned passage of hers, I can hear that it’s an overwrought tangle of words that distract from the fact that she’s not saying anything of substance half the time. Additionally, I better understand the politics of the creation of the church. She was trying to stick a flag in these ideas flying around in that time period, and claim them for her own; to attempt to coalesce those thoughts into a solid creed that society would allow to compete with traditional Christianity.
In the five or so years since I read it, my life has been almost consistently tumultuous. As though some larger truth is trying insistently to make itself heard and seen. I spent a little time letting myself ponder a godless world, and now I feel myself moving back toward agnosticism, building my concepts of god and faith with very small pieces, one at a time. What a curious journey we’re all on.
I keep taking deep breaths like I have been crying when I have not. I think it is because my interior world keeps experiencing little explosions of anger, sadness, indignation, disbelief as I read.
This book is a compilation of a series of articles that appeared in McClure’s magazine between January, 1907 through June, 1908 with Georgine Milmine listed as the sole author. It is now known that author Willa Cather had extensive involvement in the writing and editing of these articles.
The authors traveled New England interviewing people who had actually known Mary Baker Eddy from childhood through her adult life and the growth of her movement. McClure’s [magazine], where the articles originally appeared, was one of the foremost journals of investigative journalism of its day, and the series was damaging to the aura of Eddy and the respectable image of Christian Science that The Mother Church had tried to cultivate. I remember from my class at Principia College on the History of the CS Movement that the book was ‘nothing more than baseless yellow journalism.’ But after reading it, it’s clearly credible journalism that must be taken seriously.
Mary Baker Eddy was her own worst enemy, as much of the damning material from this book is in her own words. Highly recommended.
I had been relieved of my Christian Science beliefs for about seven years when I read this book. I knew by then that the system simply didn’t work, and that many who tried to follow it had suffered greatly, but I had not been aware of the truly misanthropic nature of its founder. Of course the work was condemned as lies by followers of Mary Baker Eddy. Denial of facts is at the heart of Christian Science.
From Mark Twain’s book Christian Science, 1907 edition, pp. 208-209
[Mary Baker Eddy is] grasping, sordid, penurious, famishing for everything she sees—money, power, glory—vain, untruthful, jealous, despotic, arrogant, insolent, pitiless where thinkers and hypnotists are concerned, illiterate, shallow, incapable of reasoning outside of commercial lines, immeasurably selfish—
[But] to her followers she is this: patient, gentle, loving, compassionate, noble hearted, unselfish, sinless, widely cultured, splendidly equipped mentally, a profound thinker, an able writer, a divine personage, an inspired messenger whose acts are dictated from the Throne, and whose every utterance is the Voice of God.
I was an enthusiastic believer until age 20, when I picked up Mark Twain’s book Christian Science in a book store. I read two pages, and it felt like a glass dome around me shattered. I bought the book but hated it for what it had done to my perfect illusion. The transformation I experienced while reading it felt involuntary, like someone had tapped me rudely on the shoulder and disturbed my reverie.
The criticism of this book is that it pulls punches, and, some readers find it dry. Personally, however, I found this biography to be riveting and of an extremely high quality. Its gentler approach allowed me to form my own suspicions instead of reacting against criticism of Mary Baker Eddy that I wasn’t ready for. It matched my comfort level at the time because it is approved by The Mother Church, but it still led me down the rabbit hole, and my ensuing curiosity led me to the ex-CS community as well, which has been invaluable.
Gillian Gill is unaffiliated with Christian Science, but strives to make Mary Baker Eddy’s voice heard. It is an extremely informative and detailed biography and it is interesting to read about the problems the author encountered with The Mother Church leadership in accessing historical documents.
I just finished reading the Dakin book, which I highly recommend. I learned that one of the big things in the early Christian Science movement was the ability to ‘demonstrate supply.’ The New York church had a special borrowing room so that people who had not yet ‘demonstrated supply’ could borrow things and appear to have done so. I came away with the impression Mary Baker Eddy didn’t want to hurt anyone, she just wanted to be Someone Important.
Dakin’s biography of Mary Baker Eddy is based on contemporaneous sources, and is absolutely jaw-dropping! Does a great job of showing how Christian Science was a money making operation for Eddy, and how dishonest and manipulative she was. I now understand why The Mother Church launched a campaign of intimidation against publishers and booksellers to suppress it.
Dakin’s biography is well-sourced, and refreshingly insightful especially into Mary Baker Eddy’s early life, experiences, and mental-health issues, many of which, as I look at it all in its totality, largely frame her so-called ‘discovery’ of Christian Science, and how and why it developed as it did. Historical figures in the movement who previously were portrayed as villains in the ‘authorized’ history I used to read as a Christian Scientist, are presented here in a different, more balanced light. Eddy was a capricious woman who quickly wore out friendships and welcomes throughout her life, and those who no longer suited her were summarily vilified, as was anyone who dared to stand up to her.
Reviews from other ex-Christian Scientists on the internet
In this light-hearted book, you will learn things that you never knew about the history of the Christian Science church (such as the memorial pyramid that used to mark MBE’s birthplace). Gardner summarizes the various plagiarism charges and devotes a chapter each to Dickey and Twain, etc. At the end, Gardner explains how CS fits into the context of other New Thought movements.
This book is worth picking up if for no other reason than to read the jaw-dropping chapter detailing the memoirs of Adam Dickey, who served as Mary Baker Eddy’s private secretary from 1908 until her death in 1910.
– Linda P.
Reviews from other ex-Christian Scientists on the internet
I gave a copy of The Unseen Shore to the senior pastor of our Presbyterian Church sometime in the early 90s. In our monthly newsletter this very erudite man stated his opinion that it was the best theological text of that year.
This memoir was a bit too cerebral for me, but I’ve talked to others who liked it. Weaving poetry and philosophy throughout this pilgrimage, Simmons offers an intelligent, literate account of his personal ‘dark night of the soul.’ Ultimately, he acknowledges life and the material as real—despite imperfections—rather than as the illusory, spiritual manifestations of his Christian Science youth.
This book was one of the first I read around the time of my mother’s death. I related to his childhood pain and was touched at his descriptions of relating to his child after leaving Christian Science. I identified with that; my children have been my reality, also. This is a very honest book. He writes about a journey which is not for the faint-hearted. One formerly CS friend of mine couldn’t finish it, as it raised many painful memories.
Powerful and revealing. How could people who love their children not get them medical care? This books shows how.
Short, well-written, very touching, but at the same time it was difficult to read because of its subject matter which hit a bit too close to home. It stirred memories of my own time in Christian Science, and dealing with Christian Science practitioners, a class of ‘professionals’, if you want to call them that, who often and routinely cross personal and professional boundaries, at least in my own experience, and the experience of the author of this memoir.
I’m disgusted by the behavior of the practitioners before and after Matthew’s death and by their petty rivalries. Hardly an ounce of charity in the lot. I’m also disgusted by the church’s fraudulent claim that it had healed another case of meningitis, when in fact the other child had the more benign form of the disease and had been treated in a hospital.
An utterly heartbreaking but beautiful tribute to Rita’s son Matthew, who died while under Christian Science ‘care.’ This little book packs a powerful punch and clearly illustrates the utter coldness, denial, and futility of Christian Science.