ExChristianScience.com is dedicated to helping those who left, but we often find that friends and family reach out to us with concerns and questions about Christian Science (CS), hopefully this is a starting point.
As former Christian Scientists whose mission is to help those who have left/are leaving Christian Science, we will do our best to broach this topic without too much bias and personal prejudice, but we’re not going to make any promises. We do not speak for every CS, or former-CS, but we can highlight some common themes and trends we have seen over the years, in our Facebook support groups, and from emails to our website. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and we strongly encourage everyone to check out the additional links and resources.
This FAQ addresses the following:
What is Christian Science?
What do Christian Scientists believe?
Why do people join Christian Science?
Why might someone join Christian Science today?
Why might someone have joined Christian Science in the late 1800s/early 1900s?
Why do people stay in Christian Science?
Why do people leave Christian Science?
Can you actually ever truly leave Christian Science?
Is Christian Science a Cult?
Is Christian Science the same as Scientology?
Is Christian Science a Bible-based Christian religion?
What is the Christian Science stance on medical care and vaccinations?
I have a friend or loved one that I care about who is deeply into Christian Science and I don’t know what to do and could use some support!
I am a former Christian Scientist and I could use some support!
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:
How we applied the flawless principles of Christian Science to affect our ‘seemingly’ physical situation,
How we overcame the ‘false evidence’ that told us we had a problem that needed healing,
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.
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:
Originally published on kindism.org, reprinted with permission. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support of kindism.org and ExChristianScience.com
Christian Science is a cult, not occult1, a cult. Some of you will probably stop reading now, or will immediately start composing comments that Christian Science is NOT A CULT. Cool.
If you’re not ready to call Christian Science a cult, that’s okay too, I find “cult” really shuts down the conversation. When I first started questioning and leaving, the posts screaming that Christian Science was a cult (usually for Biblical reasons) were a huge turn off. If you’d like to explore the Biblical reasons2 that Christian Science is wrong, I’ll link some resources at the bottom of the post, that’s not my area of interest.
So if you’re not willing to read about Christian Science being a cult, perhaps you’ll read about Christian Science as form of mind control. Or you might stop reading now, I don’t know.
Lifton wrote Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China. I tried to read it a while back, but it is a dense book, and focused on brainwashing of political prisoners. I didn’t really connect with it, as most Christian Scientists are born into it3, so it isn’t so much brainwashing as it is our reality from day one. I got about a third of the way into it, bogged down, and I think it ended up at the local library book sale (this was pre-COVID19).
So what are Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform? As listed in, and heavily paraphrased from, Perfect Peril p. 55-57, they are as follows:
Milieu Control – information management – you should only read authorized material, and goodness knows what untruths Eddy’s contemporaries might have written about her!
Dispensing of Existence – elitist attitude often results in shunning of members who chose to leave. This is fairly self explanatory.
I found Kramer’s book much more relatable and far easier to read. It is a slim volume, under two hundred pages, with the last forty or so devoted to Kramer’s personal journey out of Christian Science, and Biblical arguments. Kramer works through Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform one at a time, pointing out how Christian Science fits each one, and uses authorized Christian Science sources. I now await comments about how the Devil can quote scripture for his own uses.
For those of us who were (or are) entrenched in Christian Science, stepping back and critically examine Christian Science in relation to these eight points is not always easy. Devil quoting scripture or not, Kramer lays out very solid, often relatable examples of each of the eight criteria. As a former Christian Scientist herself, she also acknowledges that these don’t necessarily feel like a problem when we are actively involved in Christian Science. It feels normal.
I was initially hesitant to read Perfect Peril as I knew Kramer had taken a different spiritual path away from Christian Science than I had, and I did not want to be given yet another list of Biblical arguments against it. I was pleasantly surprised that Lifton’s Eight Criteria were the main focus. I did read the Biblical critiques, but they did not resonate with me the same way Lifton’s criteria did.
If you’ve read this far, you’ll probably find Perfect Peril at least interesting, possibly enlightening, and maybe life changing. I found it validating as Kramer identifies, labels, and provides clear examples for each of the eight criteria. Kramer also gives background on Christian Science and Eddy from Church-Approved Sources, and sources from Eddy’s time.
Perfect Peril is quite an impactful book, I found it more easily approachable than God’s Perfect Child (which is excellent for a fuller picture of the Christian Science movement as a whole, but not an easy or quick read), and far less gut-wrenching than fathermothergod (which you will need to read with a box of kleenx near by). While all three belong on the bookshelf (or in the e-reader) of an former Christian Scientist, I think Perfect Peril will be my new go-to to loan out to the never-CS in my life who have questions about it.
There are some Christian Scientists who dabble in Tarot, Astrology, Numerology, esoteric mysticism and hold some really weird views about the (coming any day now) Apocalypse, I’m not going to link to them. I’d like to think they’re a fringe group of extreme-CS, but there is more than one of them and those are just the ones sharing their views on the internet.
The Fellowship of Former CS has Biblical Resources about why Christian Science is wrong — if you have issues with these, take them up with someone else, in case it wasn’t already very obvious, I have not taken a “Christian” path away from CS.
This is a wonderful book that has helped many people understand their way out of Christian Science. Originally printed with the publisher-imposed title The Religion that Kills, it is now an eBook with this more temperate title. The first two-thirds deconstructs the control mechanisms that operate under the surface in Christian Science. Linda shows how Christian Science employs influence factors and thought reform techniques that psychologists have identified as typical tools of cults. This explains how Christian Science is able to keep a hold on people, many of whom are intelligent, educated, good folks, and who later are astonished at their deep involvement with Christian Science. In the last third of the book, Linda tells her personal story of finding a new religious path based on an understanding of Jesus Christ as illuminated in the Bible.
Linda Kramer’s book gave me a lot of compassion for those who are still practicing Christian Science. The author clearly explains how Christian Science is consistent with the characteristics of a cult, and why it can be considered a form of mind control. Linda discusses specifically why leaving and recovering from Christian Science is such a difficult and complex lifelong process. All former Christian Scientists that I know have Mary Baker Eddy quotes still bouncing around in their heads, often cringe at the doctors office, etc… why? Linda’s book gives some pretty great insight. This has been helpful to me in my own healing process. I better understand my family and am encouraged to speak more boldly.
– Katie B.
I attended CHILD meetings with the author, Linda Kramer, for probably five years. I watched and participated as she was in the throes of working through what had every evidence of being a process of deprogramming. It can be frightening and there is no way that the reactions can be feigned.
In this book Linda brings her well-trained scientific mind to the monumental task of reliving and reinterpreting half a lifetime’s experiences and beliefs. Giving full expression to the emotional content while analyzing it with clarity, she has made a powerful case for relegating Christian Science to the category of cults.
Linda S. Kramer talks about her upbringing in Christian Science, her decision to leave, her book, Perfect Peril: Christian Science & Mind Control, and her ministry to others leaving that faith, speaking at the conference for the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists, Grace & Peace Fellowship, St. Louis, MO, August 2014.