Elitism and Religious Superiority in Christian Science

Often, long after leaving Christian Science, the aura of elitism or superiority lingers…

“The time for thinkers has come.” In its Genesis-like proclamation, Mary Baker Eddy reveals her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, intended to initiate a new system of higher thinking to overcome all challenges.

“Contentment with the past and the cold conventionality of materialism are crumbling away. Ignorance of God is no longer the stepping-stone to faith (Science and Health vii).”

With this edict, she sets the stage for a brand-new religion that bucks historical Christianity. 

Eddy reveals the keys to undiscovered forces, a special knowledge she claims she was “divinely authorized” to share. With a recipe for successful religious elitism and superiority, Eddy begins with a base of Gnosticism, adds in a heaping amount of mind control, tosses in confusing metaphysical theories, sprinkles in some mesmerism, and finishes with a splash of good ‘ole superstition.

Mind Control: Indoctrination from an Early Age

From the time most of us began attending Sunday school, we were spoon-fed that Christian Science is special and unique. My mother repeatedly told me that “the best gift she could ever give me was Christian Science.” Instead of being told I was special because I was unique, loved, and treasured, I heard the message that I was special because I had been given the gift of Christian Science. From an early age, I was skeptical. In looking around, it didn’t feel like I was all that special to go to an unusual church, not have access to medical treatment, and experience shame around unresolved physical problems when my friends asked why I was at school when clearly, I was sick. 

Every effective cult (or destructive religious group that deviates from religious norms) employs mind control techniques.

In his book, Combating Cult Mind Control, Steve Hassan states, “Information control is the second component of mind control. Information provides the tools with which we think and understand reality. Without accurate, up-to-date information, we can easily be manipulated and controlled. Deny a person the information they require to make sound judgments and they will become incapable of doing so.”  Hassan goes on to argue that “deception is the biggest tool of information control, because it robs people of the ability to make informed decisions.” 

Further, distorting information becomes an essential strategy to hold members in place. Since all Christian Science children are taught that they are a “perfect child of God” and that they have access to a “special system of healing,” it is inevitable for a sense of superiority to creep in. After all, we were indoctrinated to believe that we had special knowledge that was far superior to all our non-Christian Science friends.

Narcissism: Leader, Individual, and Group

Many people, after leaving Christian Science, have noticed or read about Eddy’s narcissistic tendencies. In support groups, we’ve also noticed the thread of narcissism as we talk about our parents and relatives still practicing Christian Science.

The American Psychiatric Association defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as having the following traits: “Grandiosity, or feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others; attention-seeking. These impairments must be relatively stable and evident over long stretches of time for a person to be recognized and diagnosed.”

Most of us heard the metaphor that regular Christians had the “kindergarten” version of Christianity; we Christian Scientists had the “graduate school” version. I’ve heard this many times over the years as a means to explain away the vastly different theology that didn’t match up with anything recognizable within mainstream Christianity. This statement is a destructive, false statement that breeds intense individual religious superiority in mass quantities. And, it couldn’t be further from the truth. 

It’s almost as if Eddy injected Christian Science with a recipe for producing a whole group of narcissistic people. We worship her, her theology, her books, and ultimately ourselves in that our grasp of Christian Science and resulting healings from physical problems offer the proof that the whole system works. Whether or not we had actual healings or perceived healings, we stood up at Wednesday night testimony meetings and gave a glorified account of:

  1. How we applied the flawless principles of Christian Science to affect our ‘seemingly’ physical situation,
  2. How we overcame the ‘false evidence’ that told us we had a problem that needed healing,
  3. How we would subsequently gush effusively giving honor and glory to Mary Baker Eddy, our leader, for discovering Christian Science. By having declared that we had a healing, we subsequently elevated ourselves to the same level as the false teacher. We too achieved success, acclaim, and grandiosity. 

For those who didn’t experience “demonstrations,” guilt, depression, and angst often resulted because at its core, Christian Science teaches that its system is flawless; if it didn’t work, it was because your understanding was limited. This is a hallmark of high control groups: the system isn’t flawed, the individual practicing the system is flawed.

“Since the doctrine is perfect and the leader is perfect, any problem that crops up is assumed to be the fault of the individual member. They learn to blame themselves and simply work harder,” Hassan adds in a section on thought control in Combatting Cult Mind Control.

There is an additional kind of narcissism reflected in Christian Science: collective, or group, narcissism. “Collective narcissism is characterized by the members of a group holding an inflated view of their ingroup.” Discovered and documented by Sigmond Freud, called “Freud’s Theory of Collective Narcissism,” he noticed that some groups developed “in-group bias” where they preferred and elevated their group’s thinking and biases above others. For example, fighter pilots’ larger-than-life attitude, sorority, and fraternity members’ superiority complex, and even extreme homeschool families who feel this is the only way to properly educate children. 

Gnosticism: Special Lost Knowledge Revealed

Elitism and religious superiority are the natural results of being taught that we, as Christian Scientists, had a special, unique knowledge available only to us. In the early years of Christianity, the Gnostics rejected widely accepted theology that Jesus Christ was both God and man. These Gnostics had trouble with the Incarnation, or theological premise that Jesus was both fully God and fully man (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians all agree on this point). Gnostics believed Jesus could only be fully human or fully divine–not both. They decided that he was fully divine and with this decision came the split between physical reality and spiritual reality. They rejected everything material, proclaiming that only the spiritual realm was real. This “gnosis,” Latin for knowledge, became special esoteric knowledge. A special club, a group that had unique teachings only a select few could understand.

Sound familiar? 

King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:19, “…there is nothing new under the sun.” His statement continues to stand the test of time. Eddy did not prophesy something new, she repackaged something as old as the story of Jesus Christ himself and presented it as her own creation. In the late 1800s, most likely only pastors and seminary teachers would have known much about the ancient heresies. Medical treatment was very experimental and the average life expectancy between 1860-1880 was approximately 35 to 39 years old. People were desperate for relief from common physical maladies, and a Gnostic repackaging placed on top of a magnanimous narcissistic leader created the perfect storm for a new cult to flourish. 

Christian Science Culture: Lofty and Exclusive

The aura of mystique and air of superiority was evident in Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. Even the big words she carefully chose to use in her writings reeked of lofty education and privilege. She commanded trust, demanded respect, and required utter devotion to her cause. 

Elitism in Christian Science is ‘baked in.’ The very basis of Christian Science hinges on elitist, preferential theology that only the most enlightened understand and select for themselves. Many of us have voiced concerns in the past about not understanding specifics of Christian Science theology. It might be hard to recognize the traits of destructive mind control, but the more you delve in, deconstruct from the harmful and confusing worldview, and understand the specific components of cult mind control, the easier it will be to unpack the ‘coding’ of religious superiority implanted in us. 

When we acknowledge the weaknesses created by the baseless teachings of Christian Science and the narcissism it breeds, we can deconstruct from the views we were raised with and embrace an attitude of humility. Anchoring yourself in the fact that you are human, with an imperfect human mind and body, you can adopt a humble attitude and gradually break the patterns of arrogance and elitism.  Through dedication and perseverance to recovery from religious trauma, it is possible to understand, break habits, and effect change.

For further information on what constitutes a cult, watch the Freedom of Mind (Steve Hassan) BITE Model Video: 

He told me to try a Bible-believing church just once

The following piece was submitted anonymously via email. It is part of our on-going series about people who have left Christian Science for a new spiritual path. Find other related posts under the tag ‘other spiritual paths’.

If you are seeking Christian Scientists who have found a Christian path, we recommend the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists.


Like so many Christian Scientists, I was born into the religion. Both my mother and my grandmother were adherents. In fact, my grandmother had a woman named Mrs. Eddy (not the famous one) tell her about it when her family lived in a small factory town in the Midwest. But, my father was not a Christian Scientist. I am told by my uncle that before my father met my mother, he was considering becoming a preacher; but, preachers don’t marry non-Christians. So, I guess he discarded that idea somewhere along the line.

My brother Frank and I were expected to attend Sunday School at the local Christian Science church while we were in grade school age. After that, we were allowed to select which parent we wanted to accompany to church on Sundays. My brother choose my dad and the Methodist church and I choose my mom and the Christian Science church.

My mother and I were very close for pretty much my whole life. One way that I could really please her was to be active in the church. I was definitely the youngest member when I joined our branch church at age 12. It thrilled my mother that I was on the publication committee, the nursery committee, and the usher committee. What a role model for other kids in my church! I saw how all of this activity brought us closer. So, I moved ahead and got more immersed in the culture. I took Christian Science Class Instruction at 20 years-old; I worked at the Mother Church the summer I turned 21; and finally, I went to Principia College for my final year of college.

Another reason Christian Science was attractive to me was the sense of community that I had while in groups of Christian Scientists, which I didn’t experience anywhere else; and especially at Principia, I was among people who understood my beliefs and thought they were valid. Having Christian Science in common certainly seemed to enable me to make friendships quickly.

But, despite all of these good feelings, I did leave Science. It happened soon after my mother remarried following the death of my father when I was 19.  I felt betrayed since I was no longer her special confidante. Around that same time, I saw a girl from my Sunday School die. She died choking to death on her parents’ living room floor. The diagnosis was tonsillitis. That really made me think a lot about healing, Mary Baker Eddy, and all the rest.  

I never heard any amazing testimonies of healing on Wednesday nights at church. Even when I took Class Instruction, I could not seem to make Christian Science ‘work’. Throughout the two weeks, I was very sick with a bad cold, laryngitis, and high temperatures. I was not able to heal what most people would say was a very mild illness. Why didn’t it work if I had done all the right things, thought all the right things, and tried to change my thinking all the time when ‘error’ tried to fill my thoughts?

Finally, I ended up taking off to California to find another way of life. There, I occasionally tried orthodox churches and then did without church for quite a while. I always steered clear of the Christian Science ones. A gay friend in my new college started to witness to me about Christ. Talk about ironic, but he was sincere. He kept on about it, and he told me to try a Bible-believing church just once.

On a lonely Sunday morning, I sat outside Hollywood Presbyterian Church and watched the people who entered the church. The next Sunday, I did the same. The third Sunday, I went in and listened to the sermon. Within three more weeks, I was hooked. Reading the book of John in the Bible explained so much to me. I didn’t need Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures to interpret things of God anymore. I had found the truth!  

To summarize, I don’t know if I ever ‘believed’ in Christian Science. I think God was preparing me all along to be dissatisfied, uncomfortable, and skeptical until I finally read the Bible and saw what He really said. God wanted to present the truth to me about who He really was and how I could join His real kingdom forever.