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”?

Chrystal:

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?

Chrystal:

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?

Chrystal:

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?

Chrystal:

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?

Chrystal:

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.

Chrystal’s Story: Finding The Way to the Quaker Path

Chrystal's Story header image

This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.


A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme. 


My second chance at life — time to move.

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And: Finding My Way to the Quaker Path (Part 1)

Early in the spring of 2014, it became clear that our house no longer worked for us, and that we needed to move. My dad’s Parkinson’s had advanced so much that he could no longer come into our small house. The house was laid out in such a way that there were too many stairs. And our main level bathroom was way too small and could only hold 1 person at a time, so no one could be in there, helping my dad, which he needed at that point. Also, the 2 flights of stairs were tearing up my husband’s knees and my knees. (We took care of my dad several weekends per year, to give his wife a break from the constant care. It was my idea, and I was glad she took us up on the offer.)

The front and back yards at this house were non-existent, and my kids had to play in the parking lot which had a surprisingly constant flow of cars. There were other issues too, but all of it added up to “we don’t belong here anymore.” So we started house shopping. We did finally move to the town where my parents lived. Now I was closer to my dad, and I could help take care of him 5 days a week at his house. Our new home was laid out in such a way that family members could carry my dad to the main level of the house, and then he wouldn’t have to do any more stairs, and the bathroom was nice and roomy. We had my dad over one time only. He died a few months after we moved here. We do still love our house. It’s perfect for us. I am glad we got to have him over the one time.

We moved here in late spring, 2014. At this point in my church search, I had visited a few churches between leaving the Christian Science branch church, and hadn’t found a sense of harmony at any of them. I still felt like a rebellious person bucking everyone around me. Other churches weren’t working for me yet. I attended 1 that my husband had expressed interest in, but then he didn’t want to go, and they ignored Christians, belittling their thoughts. I wasn’t yet ready to give up Christianity, so it felt painful to attend that church. I attended another church which I had been taught “that’s an off-shoot of Christian Science.” And there were lots of similarities. The biggest and most important difference, though, was that the members clearly went to doctors and didn’t begrudge anyone needing or seeking medical care. I had a misunderstanding at that church with a member over whether or not I could teach The Bible to children (even though it was a Christian church whose minister talked about Jesus and Bible stories every week to the congregation), and I left without looking back.

I had, the previous week, bought a little journal with a tree on it at the church gift shop. And I turned to this paper journal as my “new church.” Any insight I had, I would write in the journal. I loved that little journal, and I felt like I could exist in this “in between” state of not having a church. I could write whatever felt inspiring to me. Now, I have many journals. Some are day to day recordings. Some are “I need to get this anger out of my body, so I will write it here and it won’t hurt anyone.” Some are just thoughts and ideas, and some are book ideas or article ideas I want to write. But this journal was special. I only wrote my best, most spiritual ideas in this journal.

All of a sudden, one day in August, after we had moved to our new town, I woke up to a bright sunny morning and realized, out of nowhere, “there is a Quaker church in the town where we live now!” (I have since learned it’s called “Meeting House” instead of “Church.”) Oh, I was so excited. I found their service times on their website, and showed up on the following Sunday.

I walked in the door, sat down, and had a wonderful experience sitting in Silence with these people. Afterward, everyone at this particular Meeting stands up and says their name and shares a joy or a sorrow (mostly, they are joys being shared). This was specifically started to benefit the one person in the congregation who is blind, as she wants to know who all is there. It is such a loving gesture. One woman stood up and talked about her bee ministry. She was biking all over her neighborhood and having wonderful talks with her neighbors about not using neonicotinoids. These are common pesticides that are killing off the bees in our country in alarming rates. I immediately knew that this was my new church. I knew I was home. I have attended regularly ever since, and asked for a Clearness Committee to help me get clear on joining.

I went through the Clearness Committee process and joined the church about a year after I started attending.

One thing I have loved about the Quaker Meeting is sitting in Silence. I thought I had done that during Wednesday evening testimony meetings at the Christian Science church, but the Quaker experience of Silence is nothing like the Christian Science Wednesday evening testimony meeting “silence.” At the Christian Science church, there is a yearning from members to fill the silence with testimonies. The silence drags on so long at those meetings, or a member will stand up and ramble for 15-20 minutes, which feels like such a drag. Often, the testimonies are about praying about a cold that went away, or a set of lost keys or a lost book that got found. (I once gave a testimony that I had lost a particular Bible and I had yelled at God then found it within 45 seconds.) There are other testimonies too, where someone shares ideas they just gleaned from reading a Bible story or a passage in “Science and Health.” I remember someone once giving a “testimony” about being freed from the desire to buy bandaids. She referenced the quote: “accidents are unknown to god,” from Science and Health.

“Accidents are unknown to God, or immortal Mind, and we must leave the mortal basis of belief and unite with the one Mind, in order to change the notion of chance to the proper sense of God’s unerring direction and thus bring out harmony.”  – Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, page 424

One time, I gave a “testimony” about a concussion I had after a severe fall on ice in a parking lot, and how I had forgotten so much, I couldn’t even remember my own phone number to tell the practitioner how to call me back. The Reader that Wednesday cut me off and said, “how about if you get to the spiritual truths you prayed, and don’t tell any more symptoms.” She was pretty rude. I had been trying to lay the groundwork for the serious problem I had, and then share the prayer of the practitioner, since I was in no state to pray myself. But I closed the testimony with the same old, same old, “the practitioner prayed, and then I took a nap, and I woke up, and I was fine, and I want to thank The Desk for the Readings.” (If matter isn’t real, why do we thank an inanimate object for reading to us?) (Note to any Christian Scientists who are reading this: that Reader behind the desk did a lot of work to bring those readings to the congregation. Don’t thank a desk. Thank a human being for working hard and trying to do good!)

Sitting in the silence at Christian Science services feels like torture to me. I was always trying to figure out some dramatic testimony to give, to fill the silence. Sitting in Silence at the Quaker Meeting feels wonderful. One of the first things I spoke about “out of The Silence” was, “I was sort of begging God for a break in my life, things are too busy. I need a pause button! And I realized: this Meeting, right here, is my pause button.”

I always leave Quaker Meeting feeling like I have had a mental rest. This feeling lasts for several days for me, and is starting to permeate my life. I was feeling rather hectic a few days ago in the morning, so I quietly sat down on my bed, and just sat “in The Silence.” It’s sort of like meditating. Maybe some people meditate, and maybe others do not. I think it’s an individual’s choice how they spend the Silence at Quaker Meeting. The goal is not to fill the space. The goal is to sit and hold the light, and if you are called to speak, then speak only the right amount of words, using not too many, and not too few. Use just the right amount, then sit down. Then, it’s important for this thought to be given time for those who are there to absorb this message. So there should never be a “popcorn effect” of people jumping up and talking one right after another. It is good to have time for Messages to be placed into our consciousness before the next Message is given. I love the time in between messages, because it lets me really listen and think about it before the next one comes.

Historically, Quaker Meetings are Christian. However, nowadays, people can believe whatever they want to believe. Everyone is honored and appreciated on a whole level I never experienced at the Christian Science church. When I first walked in the door, the whole experience was so foreign to me. I wasn’t being judged or chastised for anything. It felt like a foreign language. It was an alien culture to me. I knew it must be a good thing, but I couldn’t understand it, so I stayed to see if I could figure it out over time. (I have been attending 2 years now, and every time I show up, the members are so supportive.

I am so used to being criticized, that this support often brings tears to my eyes. THIS is what love is supposed to feel like. Not the unceasing judgement I grew up with. The concept of judgement is completely foreign to the members of my Quaker Meeting, as far as I can tell. They don’t have the concept. They only have love in their hearts. It’s a phenomenal gift to be in this atmosphere.

Chrystal’s Story: My Second Lump (Part 2)

Chrystal's Story header image

This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.


A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme. 


My Second Lump (Part 2)

The following is a flashback to when I was nearing the end of my branch church membership, with a problem that had spanned more than a decade of my life:

The growing lipoma on my back was now causing so much pain to my neck, that I couldn’t straighten my head for a few days at times. And, of course, being in Christian Science, I couldn’t take Advil to even relieve the pain. I remember walking around with tears in my eyes over the amount of pain I was in, and hiding in my house. I was raised to hide in my house when I was in pain. How can a community reach out to help you, when you’re hiding in your house? I remember a Mormon woman who lived in my neighborhood, and for some reason socially, she stopped by my house and we had a little visit, and I couldn’t straighten my head up that day. She so lovingly said to me, “that looks really painful.” I assured her I was fine, that it had happened before, and I would be fine soon. I was NOT fine! I couldn’t straighten my head, I had tears in my eyes, and if I tried to move my head in any way, I would cry out in incredible pain! I remember the love in her eyes. She was genuinely concerned for my well-being, and she was only a neighbor; I know now that if I ever needed someone to help me, and I called her, I know she would be there for me, even though I wouldn’t consider us “friends.” She was my neighbor and she has genuine love in her heart for humanity.

After a decade of praying with various practitioners (including my Teacher) about the lump, I remember feeling discouraged. I was so discouraged. I would rally myself and pray again. Because Christian Scientists are supposed to “yield not to discouragement.”

Individuals are consistent who, watching and praying, can “run, and not be weary; . . .walk, and not faint,” who gain good rapidly and hold their position, or attain slowly and yield not to discouragement. God requires perfection, but not until the battle between Spirit and flesh is fought and the victory won. – “Science and Health,” p. 254

Christian Scientists are taught that “discouragement makes the problem worse, and makes it harder to heal.” So I prayed. I payed practitioners to pray. I payed my Teacher to pray.  

I would see the 2 ladies at my second branch church who had the growths on them that were more pronounced, and I didn’t want to end up like that. Mine, at least, I could hide by wearing a patterned shirt. They couldn’t hide theirs any longer, no matter how they tried. I felt so sorry for them, to not be able to hide their problem any longer. And then I would chastise myself for thinking such things. I wanted to hug them and say, “I have a lump too, but I can hide mine,” but for someone to speak up & say, “I see your problem and I want to support you and share love with you” is verboten in the Christian Science culture. Speaking up about it makes it “more real.” Because by not speaking, it’s “not real.”

Our voice is given so much power in Christian Science. Apparently, just talking can do many things – it can make lumps grow, it can cause fevers, poison ivy, infectious diseases. It can ruin vacations, it can rain fire and brimstone on a bad church member. I am positive they believe words can kill, so they won’t speak unless it is cheerful, superficial, happy nonsense. I am wondering if I believe it is this sort of thing that drives people completely insane. (Denying our very existence, to our core. How can it keep us sane and normal if we deny 100% of our humanity?)

At some point, probably a year after my wonderful success with the “Church Alive” experience, I decided it was time to get this lump removed from my shoulder, by a medical doctor. It had gone on long enough. My arm would go to sleep for 45 minutes at a time, and I couldn’t wake it up. And that didn’t feel good to me. (It scares me a lot now that I am out of Christian Science and someone pointed out that this was pushing on a nerve, and it’s a good thing I didn’t have to lose my whole arm!) I voluntarily pulled my name out of “The Christian Science Journal.” (This means I was no longer a Journal Listed Christian Science Practitioner. I wasn’t kicked out or anything; I chose to do this for my own reasons. I left on good terms and was told I could come back within 6 months if I wanted, if it was longer than that, I would have to apply from scratch again.)

Then, began the guilt. Oh, the guilt. And I had no one to talk to about it. I had to suffer with my guilt at having “failed.” I had failed to heal it. I had failed to have enough faith. I had failed to pray enough. I had failed all the Practitioners that had prayed for me over the last 5+ years.

I know all the words to victim blame myself, and I made liberal use of all of them. Then, of course, I probably entered the depression that had probably started but been bulldozed over by “Knowing the Truth” and “Getting on with things I had to do anyway.” So I dealt with depression and guilt with the only way I knew how: by denying them. For months. I think it took me about 8 months to get over the guilt, and I finally started trying to find a doctor. (At this point, I was now a Sunday School teacher at the Unity Church.)

Now, someone who grew up going to doctors, might know where to start when looking for a doctor. But this was all brand new to me. I didn’t know how to find a doctor. (The doctor who removed my first lump, wasn’t covered by our new insurance.) I didn’t know what kind of doctor I wanted. It took me many months to find one. And of course, you can’t just walk in and say, “remove this please.” They had to send me to another doctor for a sonogram to look at it. Then results had to be done up. Then I had to have a consultation. Then I had to go to the operation. I was put under for the procedure (that was my choice – because the pain of the much smaller lump had been unbearable to me, and I couldn’t go through that again). I think this was in 2011. Then I had so many follow up appointments. The lump was far bigger than I had anticipated, and than he had anticipated. I have keloids in my back with basically means, “aggressive scar tissue,” and this scar on my back continues to grow and cause me pain years later. I consider this scar to be my “scar of leaving Christian Science.” Maybe someday I will wear it proudly. At this point, I still hide it under clothing. (I know of people getting tattoos to symbolize leaving the Christian Science church. I didn’t have to get a tattoo. I have my very real scar on my material body.)

I wish that was the end of my story of leaving Christian Science. That would wrap it all up, neat and tidy. But, of course, a 44 year story and it doesn’t just end there. And it’s now 2016 as I type this.

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6 Weeks to a Quaker (the first go-round)

I grew up as a church goer, and when I don’t attend, it feels like I have a “void” in my life. So I tried a local Quaker church. It was about 10 miles away, but traffic made it take about 40 minutes to get there on a Sunday morning. I took my oldest son with me to the Meetings, and I enjoyed them immensely. Here were people who cared about the environment. One person was a beekeeper and I loved that! Several were gardeners, and some were activists or worked as volunteers either in Peace Corps or in Africa, setting up a school to teach children. I loved everything about this church. I made my homemade applesauce for potluck, and I was instantly accepted as one of these people.

After about 4 weeks of attending, I called up my family and told them, “I am a Quaker now!” I think my own family thinks I am changeable and whack-a-doo, so they took it in stride. I also called a gal from my Association who completely and lovingly supported me (she left our Association the following year & converted to Judaism), and I called our Teacher who asked me, “what’s appealing about the Quaker church?” I told her I liked sitting in the Silence, and how that brought me peace and calm for several days after in my life. After that, she told our Association (an Association is an annual meeting of the students taught by the Teacher, and guests the Teacher welcomes too) to try to meditate for 20 minutes every day.

My 6th Sunday in a row attending at The Quaker Meeting was potluck Sunday. I asked the lady next to me what it took to join the church. She told me, “well, you’re assigned some people to make sure you are spiritually growing.” I hadn’t yet felt like I was leaving Christian Science; I was just leaving the branch church, and I still wanted my own Bible and my copy of Science and Health. Her comment made me so uncomfortable, I couldn’t return to the church. I blamed the traffic. It was so far away, even though it really wasn’t; traffic just made it feel so much more far away. I started visiting other kinds of churches.

Chrystal’s Story – Becoming a Christian Science Practitioner

Chrystal's Story header image

This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.


A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme. 


I found a Christian Science Teacher up in Canada and almost went through Class Instruction with him. He called me suddenly out of the blue. I had a mouth full of peanut butter, but I felt I should take the call, since it was my soon-to-be Teacher. We laughed together that I had a mouth full of peanut butter. He said he was being led not to teach Class any more, so I couldn’t go through Class with him that summer as I had planned. Time to continue searching for a Teacher…

Mary Baker Eddy wrote something about a net we must get through. I felt as if the net had been thrown, for sure, and I was supposed to ‘get through it’; rather than listen to the Universe shouting at me,“get out of that religion! Save yourself while you still can!” So, I marched on, trying to find another Teacher.

“Students who are ready for this step should beware the net that is craftily laid and cunningly concealed to prevent their advancement in this direction.” 
The First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 241.

 

I went to our annual trek to a Christian Science camp that summer; we had gone for two decades or more throughout my life; and I met a Teacher there. I went through Class with her the next year. On the first day of Class Instruction, my Teacher said to all of us in what was probably the second sentence out of her mouth on day one: “I have never had a class full of so many people having such animal magnetism to get through in order to be here.” I knew that I had jumped through hoops and all sorts of things in order to be there. But, it turned out that everyone else had too. Of course, all those road blocks and things I had to hurdle to get there, was probably The Universe telling me, “don’t do it!” And in Christian Science, I was taught, “kiss those crosses! Then you’ll get the crown!” I was just getting started with too many crosses to come.

The last day of Class Instruction (a two-week course taught so that people are able to become Christian Science Practitioners and they feel they can ‘heal any ailment’), my Teacher sat me down alone and told me I needed to “heal this emotionalism.” She told me I was too emotional. In Christian Science, we are allowed to feel joy, happiness, and gratitude. Nothing else, as far as I can tell, is acceptable. I grew up without words for my own emotions. I stifled my emotions to the best of my ability, and my emotions only grew stronger and stronger as a result, because they were squashed instead of identified and moved through. It is exhausting to constantly squash your own emotions and not have words to express how you’re feeling. The more you deny a human part of yourself like emotions, the more pronounced they become, and they are harder to stifle. I would have outbursts, cry for reasons I couldn’t identify, I felt like a failure and I beat myself up constantly for not “thinking only good thoughts from God.”

A few years after Class Instruction, I became a bona-fide Journal-isted Christian Science Practitioner. Then, I set my sights on becoming a Christian Science Teacher. The way things work in Christian Science, everything is completely secret. The only people who knew I had gone to Class Instruction were my step mom, my dad, and my husband. I didn’t even tell my kids. (Though they were very young anyway, one was out of diapers by then and the other was still in diapers.) Then, when I was working towards becoming a Journal-listed Practitioner, I didn’t tell anyone. I applied, and it took them 18 months to accept me. It was the weirdest thing. I think they lost my application, because when I hadn’t heard from them in 12 months and finally called them up to say, “how is my application proceeding?” They said, “oh, for getting re-listed in the Journal?” I said, “no, I was never listed yet.” That surprised them, then they proceeded on my application. It took another few months after that for my listing to appear. Another hoop for me to jump through? Another cross to kiss? Another message from ‘The Universe’ saying: “don’t do it!”?  Who knows.

When I went through the approval process, I was interviewed by someone; another Christian Science Teacher. At one point, she told me, “if a child case goes on for more than three days, be sure to give them the opportunity to go to a doctor if they want to. We don’t want any more deaths. Parents need to take care of their children.” I tried to prepare myself to tell people “go see a doctor” if need be. That was a hard thing to be prepared to do. (Going to a doctor is so completely opposite from what we learn in Christian Science, though more modern Christian Scientists may say the opposite to your face, but behind your back, they would nod in agreement with what I said.)

I had that come up a few times in my head–preparing myself to tell people to go to a doctor. I never did point anyone toward a doctor, but I came close a few times. (A Christian Science nurse at a local sanatorium suggested that my dad go to a doctor, and it made my step-mom angry–for years–that she would dare suggest such a thing.) Historically, there is a very strong vibe in the Christian Science legacy “we don’t go to doctors!” And it is such a strong viewpoint! Christian Scientists generally don’t immunize their kids. They may or may not go get a broken bone set They don’t take vitamins. They don’t even believe in germs! They call it ‘germ theory’. (Do YOU call it ‘germ theory’? Who outside of people from the 18th century calls it ‘germ theory’?) We are taught to definitely wash and stay clean. (Mary Baker Eddy even mentions that we should not even use flannel to heal. Flannel of all things. Christian Scientists interpret this to mean: ‘no material remedies’.) But that’s about it. No sanitizing if you fall down and get a cut. Even band-aids are frowned upon, as if even those are acknowledging that we have blood in our bodies. A snide comment is often made like, “this is just to cover it up so I won’t see it and believe that this cut is real.” One time, I actually heard a testimony at Wednesday evening service about a woman who overcame the suggestion to buy band-aids at the grocery store because that might suggest that she might get cut in the future, and she didn’t believe in getting cut accidentally. (Christian Scientists don’t believe in accidents, either: “Accidents are unknown to God.” Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 424.)

Meanwhile, I was seriously committed to my branch church. A Journal-listed Christian Science Practitioner can have no other job, no other source of income, and I had worked hard not to have any other employment (I had quit a few home-based businesses that did bring in reliable income). I never made any money as a Practitioner. In fact, I lost money. I bought a computer so I could have Concord (a computer program that is a concordance to The Bible, and other books by Mary Baker Eddy, and the Christian Science Hymnal) installed on it. Concord is expensive. Computers are expensive. I paid money to fly every year for my Association, hotels, meals, and extra days in the hotel because unlike most Teachers who have Association in one day and students can fly in and out on the same day, my Teacher had it span three whole days. It starts Friday night and ends Sunday afternoon. I bought at least two new sets of very expensive Lesson Books (one was the new vivella set that I really loved), and I subscribed to ALL of the periodicals, and the full text Quarterly, and I had subscriptions to CSMonitor.com, eBibleLesson.com, and myBibleLesson.com. Things add up. I believe that the membership’s wallets are one of the reasons the church stays in business. Did you know that each Board of Directors Member makes $200,000/year now? They come up with endless things for members to spend money on, and as a Practitioner, I felt obligated to buy everything. My husband’s salary paid for everything. I sure as hell didn’t make any money from people who would call me at all hours and never pay the bill. I had three or four patients who did reliably pay their bills to me. Other than that, it was like pulling teeth, and I was supposed to be gracious about their non-payment.

I had so many people badger me about why they shouldn’t need to pay someone for prayer. And I didn’t feel at liberty to enlighten them and say, “I’m not allowed to have any other job, don’t you want me to be able to give food to my family and have a roof over my head? Don’t you value the work I do for you?” I did witness what I thought were healings at the time. I don’t feel like I had any serious cases come to me. I had a bronchitis case, and a first degree burn case, and I had some other dog cases.

I had one person call me a lot who clearly had mental issues, but she wasn’t calling me as a Practitioner. She called me to help her because I was a church member who was home all the time and we lived near each other. She wanted me to drive her to a Christian Science nursing home that takes care of mental patients, several states away. I would have done it, too, and done her laundry and cleaned her house and taken care of her pets, but she was so nasty and refused to pay me anything, so even though I would stand in her bedroom, I was paying as little mental attention to her as possible. She did have another Practitioner working for her also, and would jerk me around telling me to pray for her, stop praying for her, no pray again, STOP praying…it was exhausting so I just didn’t pray for her any more anyway, and just wanted to help her pack her clothes so we could take her to the mental wing at a Christian Science Sanatorium. She got quite upset at me when I stopped letting her jerk me around anymore, and she finally dismissed me. I didn’t need to be abused by church members who weren’t even paying me.

I had another patient who called me every 20 minutes around the clock, with a four hour window in the middle of the night when she wouldn’t call. She would never tell me her last name or where she lived. I had a baby boy who also didn’t sleep through the night, and this woman was abusing me and refusing to let me even bill her. I finally dismissed her and blocked her calls. It took me a long time to stop feeling guilty for blocking her calls, but it was abuse, and I couldn’t take it and be a good mom. So, I chose to be a good mom.

One of my cases was maybe a sprained ankle, and I had cases for a cold or other small things. I never got cases where someone was “on the verge of dying and needed a radical healing right now!” I did have one elderly man come to me for prayer, and I think he has a strong fighting spirit now too. It’s been a number of years since I was a praying Journal listed practitioner, but he is now bed-ridden. I don’t think he ever had a healing while I worked for him. But his wife paid me dutifully, and she and I had worked together with their insurance company to get her reimbursed for paying me. That was interesting. The insurance policy covered it, but no one knew how to mark it in a code. Christian Science Practitioners don’t have billing codes. It took maybe 18 months of back and forth with the insurance company to get her reimbursed for a bill that was less than $200.

The emotional pain can not be described.

By Ann, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

In most Christian traditions, death can be seen as a mercy, where people find comfort in knowing that their loved one is relieved of pain and restored to wholeness when they pass. I hate it that Mary Baker Eddy took that away, claiming that even after death, we still had to outgrow whatever ailments had afflicted us in life.

My mom adored her mother and they were very close. When my mom was in her late twenties, her mother suffered two leg amputations due to diabetes. She died a short time later and my mother was devastated.

My elder brother became a big deal Christian Science practitioner. Mom asked him—the font of all spiritual wisdom—if her Mama’s legs had been restored when she ‘made the transition’ to heaven. My brother told her, “no, because it’s still something that she has to work out.”

We talk here about the physical pain this religion inflicts, but the emotional pain that simple statement cost my mother can not be described in mere words. My mother asked me for reassurance about it a dozen times, and each time, I’d take her hand, look into her eyes and tell her, “Mom, I’ve read at least three dozen books on near-death experiences, and I promise you that your mama has her legs now, and that the moment she passed the pain was gone, and she was restored to wholeness and peace.”

The ‘Comforter’? Like hell.

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”

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.

If people were doing something different I internally judged them

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

I felt God’s hand was in everything that unfolded for me. I couldn’t take a step without praying about it, and all right decisions, activity, or relationships would have the appearance that fit perfectly with the moral, spiritual, and generally white-bread codes dictated by Christian Science.

If people were doing something different I internally judged them as heading in the wrong direction or being wrong. ’Reality’ in the human material world had to fall within the Christian Science parameters or it wasn’t real or wouldn’t contribute to spiritual progress in the Scientific plane of existence. When you are born into a cult like this it is not your fault. But it is hard to think differently. Christian Science programs thought at such a primal level.

I was hardcore for about forty-five to fifty years. My greatest sadness now, is that I brought my children up in Christian Science. My kids wised up before I did. My husband is not a Christian Scientist and has been very patient for over thirty years. But I had such a strong family influence growing up—third generation on both sides. And I didn’t really feel free to decide for myself until after my mother’s death. Now, I feel like I was let out of my cage. But daily, I have to give myself permission to think whatever I like.

So many Christian Scientists mimic each other. It really is a cult, as dangerous as the Jim Jones thing. I believe there is mind control going on. I never realized it before but that has to be how practitioners work. They kind of mentally rearrange your furniture upstairs.