Chrystal’s Story: The Year I Left Christian Science

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


A Wedding at Principia During my Reunion Weekend

A few years ago, I went to my brother’s wedding weekend at Principia College’s Chapel (it’s a beautiful campus, with buildings designed by nationally renowned architect, Bernard Maybeck. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICioQ12vTo0 ). We were there for several days. It happened to also be my class reunion that weekend. The way Principia does their reunions, they do two classes at the same time, and then every 5 years above that, two more classes go for their reunion too, all the way to the 1920s or so. Potentially, it could be 100s and 100s of people showing up, of all ages. (Like: 2000, 2001, 1995, 1996, 1985, 1986, 1975, 1976…) I showed up for my reunion, and it was also for the students who were a class ahead of me. I would not have attended the reunion, except that it was my brother’s wedding that weekend too, so I figured, “why not, I’ll go 1 day early and catch some of my reunion.” No one, and I mean that literally, no one else from my class or the class ahead of me showed up for our reunion. Zero. I was the only one. And even I wouldn’t have been there (despite it being my 20th reunion), if my brother hadn’t been getting married in the Chapel that weekend, and I really love my brother. (Can you imagine it’s your 20th college reunion and NO ONE shows up except you?  #Awkward )

On Sunday morning, after the wedding, we all agreed we would attend the Chapel service. It was super hard to sit through. I remember the days when I was a Practitioner and I would love to hear “The inspired word of The Bible” and “correlative passages from Science and Health,” but this day at the Principia Chapel just felt tedious (no matter how much I love that Chapel as a building  and I love looking at the architecture). The organ felt too loud and blasty, the Readings were tremendously long, the solos always grate at my ears. I realized I no longer fit in this sort of church experience at all. I was so glad it was only an hour and I was so glad when it was over!

I have now been in the Quaker Meeting as a member for almost 2 years, and my beliefs continue to mold and change, and I love that I have complete freedom and support from my Quaker Friends to be Me. They love me for who I am, and they support me 100% as my beliefs change. I feel completely accepted and loved and cherished. I finally have friends, and I don’t feel like “I am better than anyone.” I feel at peace and equal with everyone. I have a Friend who was incarcerated for a minor offense. And it is good for me to learn his challenges, so I can be educated.

Quaker Women

I have many Friends who are women, and we go out to lunch. We laugh, we cry, we share everything. I can share absolutely anything, and they empathize with me. They support me. They bring me food if I need help, and I take them food when they need help. We mail each other cards that say, “I love you and I am thinking of you.”

I got a card from one of my new good Friends, a year after my dad died. I opened it, read the compassionate note, and just cried and cried. It was so loving of her to remember my dad’s death and send me a compassionate card a full year after his death. I never received cards from Christian Scientists upon my dad’s death, but the Quaker Friends sent me multiple cards. I had barely walked in the door at the Quaker Meeting, and a few short months later, my dad got really sick and died. The doctor had given him a clean bill of health (other than the Parkinson’s) just a month before. 

 

He had predicted my dad could easily live another 10 years. Then, he was gone within a month. My new Quaker Friends mailed me cards and attended our Memorial service in my dad’s Christian Science church (the one I mentioned that never used to allow memorial services or weddings). That church has had a couple of memorial services now, which I think is wonderful and appropriate. Both members died way too young. (What kind of church doesn’t love its members enough to honor important moments in their members’ lives?)

At my dad’s memorial service, the church was so filled – there were so many people standing at the back, and the foyer doors were opened, and the whole entry way area was completely filled, and people even had to stand on the stairs going down down to the Sunday School. That’s the last time I set foot in a Christian Science church. I don’t know if it will be my last, but it was amusing (or sad?) to see it filled to the absolute brim. I think there was only a handful of Christian Science church members there at that service. All the rest of the people attending were friends, family, neighbors, and my Quaker Friends who had never even met my dad.

Feeling Real Grief

After my dad died, I was grief-stricken. He was the only parent I had who had been with me and cared for me my whole life. Everyone else in my life had come and gone, or come in later. My dad meant the world to me. Christian Science teaches us we can’t grieve, because death isn’t real. 

My emotions were so squashed for so many years, though, that I couldn’t help but grieve. Two friends who had left Christian Science suggested that I go to therapy for grief. This was a radical concept to me. I was afraid, and it is against Christian Science. I can’t explain what I was afraid of, but it was definitely not an idea that I was comfortable with.  

I knew that in Christian Science, I had always been taught that to counteract grief and depression, it’s necessary to sit down and write “gratefuls.” I challenged myself to write 100 things I was grateful for, and I figured it would heal my grief over my dad. I sat down and without stopping for any breaks, I easily wrote 112 things I was grateful for. I decided that was enough things, and I put my pen down. My mood hadn’t changed. I was still as depressed and grief-stricken as ever. I decided it was time to get real counseling. I didn’t want to futz around, so I did a search for a high rated female counselor, covered by my insurance. I went in, told her I was grieving over my dad, and we began weekly counseling sessions. She was a phenomenal person. She sat by me and helped me figure out my next path. It turned out that she helped me realize Christian Science was no longer a path that worked for me. She helped me gain courage to tell my family, to tell The Mother Church, and to leave my Christian Science Teacher.

Becoming an Ex Christian Scientist

Meanwhile, the two friends who had suggested that I go to counseling and I were talking more and more about our experiences growing up in Christian Science. We had many parallels, and it was incredibly validating to realize we had so many of the same traumas and experiences. It was almost eery. One of my friends did a search for “Ex Christian Science” and came across this blog and the Facebook group. We all joined very quickly, and found a whole new set of friends. This set of friends have been the most validating group of people I have ever known.

I have learned wonderful words – a whole vocabulary that was denied me in my Christian Science upbringing. I had learned big words like “equipoise,” “extemporaneous,” “perspicacity,” “necromancy,” “self-immolation,” but didn’t know practical words like “boundary,” and “narcissist,” “anxiety,” “immunizations.”  

I have healed and changed so much in the last two years since my dad died. It’s quite remarkable. I am finally finding happiness for real, and I’m able to express an appropriate amount of anger or sadness instead of constantly being on the verge of stifled tears that won’t stay stifled any more. I am a much more emotionally balanced and healthy human being. I no longer struggle thinking “that’s not a part of me, I better heal it, or someone will judge me, and I will be yelled at.” I feel centered and calm. I am a much better mom, spouse, friend, co-worker. My life is so much better than it was when I was a Journal-listed Practitioner – the goal I had wanted to have my whole life.

Chrystal’s Story: Finding My Way to the Quaker Path (Part 2)

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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. 


Finding My Way to the Quaker Path (Part 2)

At my particular Quaker Meeting, there are two of us who were raised in Christian Science. (The other one is the dad of that boy, J.V., from my 8th grade private school class!) Several people are medical doctors, and a few are atheist or something like it, though they don’t use that word. There are many of us who aren’t sure how to put our beliefs about a god-type-entity into words. I do know I no longer believe in the God that Christian Science taught me about – the one who inflicts pain and suffering when you are “far away from Him/Her,” and won’t heal you until “you change your thought.” I watched this version of God inflict 25 or so years of Parkinson’s on my amazing, kind, smart, creative, funny dad, and I watched my step-mom victim blame him. “If you only prayed more, if you only read Christian Science literature, you would be healed.” (In the end, my dad died a sudden death-by-starvation, due to not wanting a feeding tube. At that point, though, all he could do was curl up in a fetal position on the bed, and I know he wouldn’t have wanted to live longer with a feeding tube too. It breaks my heart that my amazing dad had to die that way. My dad fully expected to be healed, even as he started to enter the coma he never woke up from.)

My dad dying, as far as I can figure, was my final straw towards leaving my Mother Church membership. I had joined The Mother Church in Boston – “The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts” when I turned 12. About 2 months after my dad died, I withdrew my membership. As I type this, I realize this was me rejecting Mary Baker Eddy as “my leader.”

Alertness to Duty: “It shall be the duty of every member of this Church to defend himself daily against aggressive mental suggestion, and not be made to forget nor to neglect his duty to God, to his Leader, and to mankind.” – “The Manual of The Mother Church,” by Mary Baker Eddy, Article VIII, Section 6.

In 2015, I wrote to The Mother Church through their website and never got a confirmation that I am no longer a member. I don’t get mail from them any more at least, including no more requests for the annual money from members. So that’s good! The Quaker Faith was fine with me being a member of the Christian Science Church and still attending the Quaker Meeting. I have learned that probably most Christian churches are fine if you are members at two or more, or are a member at one and attend another. The Christian Science church makes you choose only their version of “church.”

Christian Science, as far as I have witnessed it, teaches people to victim blame and chastise and judge each other. Any time someone wants to go to a doctor, they have to lie about it – lying by omission. They don’t tell their church family, they are so scared of going to a doctor, and they go because they need care, and don’t have anyone to support them. If they come home and need meals or care at all, they have nowhere to turn. If they admitted, “I went to a doctor,” they might likely be kicked out of the church, or at least ostracized. “If you only prayed more, you would have your healing,” they are told over and over again by people who truly think they are being loving when they are really judging and victim-blaming.

I no longer believe in a merciless god like that. I don’t know if I believe in a god or not. I have stripped myself to my core, and have laid everything I have in front of myself, and am examining my inner most beliefs to determine what I believe. At this point, I know I believe in Mother Earth and Father Sky. I see so much beauty in Nature, and so much beauty in the Sky. I love that my Quaker brothers and sisters recycle and compost their food, they push each other to be more kind, to be kind to the earth, to be kind to animals. I love the peaceful protests. I have heard a woman give talks about all the times she was arrested as a peaceful protester – she loved being arrested with her dad growing up. It was something they did. They would peacefully protest war or whatever was wrong, and get arrested and thrown in jail for it. Now she loves protesting with her daughter.

I have a new Quaker Friend who is a District Attorney, who works for all the cases of people who are thrown in jail protesting outrageous things. There were riots due to racism in a city not too far from us, and she gathered everything she needed to head into the rioting city, to prepare the legal documents and cases to help get the people inevitably get out of jail the next day. She gathered granola bars, lanterns and batteries (in case of power outage), snacks, her suit for court, paperwork and specific books. I love that the Quakers fight for the freedoms of people. She talked about how it felt, being a white person driving into a city that had protests and police locking down black people. She saw her privilege right then and there – laid before her. She drove easily through police checkpoints in the middle of the riot to reach her District Attorney’s Office so she could stay up all night, preparing to get the protesters out of jail the next day.

I thought “Quakers are peaceful, and they are conscientious objectors,” and that was initially what drew me to the Quaker Faith. But there is so much more to it. The Quaker Testimonies are nothing at all like Christian Science Testimonies. The Quaker Testimonies mean “Quaker Values.” The acronym for the Quaker Testimonies is “SPICES.” It stands for: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. (See: http://www.friendsjournal.org/s-p-i-c-e-s-quaker-testimonies/)

(By the way, The Quakers also have a “Journal.” It’s a monthly publication. The first time my dad’s wife saw my copy of the Quaker Journal sitting on my kitchen counter, she said, “That’s cute.” As in: “oh, they must have copied the Christian Science Journal by doing that.” Ahem. Quakers have been in this country for over 350 years. It predates Christian Science by at least 250 years – IN THIS COUNTRY.)

Quakers were an integral part of the Underground Railroad. We sing black gospel hymns like, “Follow the drinking gourd” in our Meeting. I have found out these hymns have hidden messages meant to help the slaves navigate the Underground Railroad. I feel like I am part of something really big. I am on a committee dedicated to helping work out the horrendous Mass Incarceration problem in our country. A Friend I know is working hard to create transitional housing for people who are being released from jail and don’t have an ID and can’t get a driver’s license or a job. Transitioning from jail to freedom is not easy at all. And there is no ½ way house for most of them. Feel free to look up the Friends Committee on National Legislation. They do very cool things. I am just starting to get active with this organization, and it’s very exciting.

I don’t know that I necessarily think that Quakers are peaceful in the same way of what I thought it meant when I first walked in the door; Now I know they do fight – they absolutely fight – on the side of Justice. They are actively out in the community, fighting for people’s rights and freedoms, and they know that it takes time to change laws, but they work toward it (sometimes for decades, among huge resistance) and they don’t give up. Laws cannot be changed overnight, some can take years or decades, but the Quakers fight diligently and make progress on issues of injustice.

I am finally learning how to be an activist. I am finally learning how to help my community. Quakers have also always accepted folks from the LGBTA+ community. So many kinds of churches turn away LGBTQ+ folks. I know a transgender woman, and she is fully accepted as a woman in the Quaker community – she attends our Annual Quaker Women’s Retreat. It is hard for us to rent a facility that meets our needs and also accepts LGBTQ+ folks. We have gay women who are married to each other who attend our retreat, and they are not welcome everywhere. But we work hard to find facilities that will rent to our retreat so these women will be accepted and able to attend. Friends of mine marched in the 2016 Washington, DC LGBTQ+ parade with banners held high from the different area Quaker Meeting Houses. And they manned a Quaker booth the next day at the LGBTQ+ festival.

During my Christian Science branch church membership, I was always discouraged from going out into the community to find out what the people need and help them as a face of the Christian Science church. We wanted to do our annual lecture, to an audience of mostly other Christian Scientists, and the members felt like, “this is us fulfilling our duty.” They thought I was ridiculous to suggest that we actually DO something for the community. What should we do? I didn’t know. I had no guidance and didn’t know the issues. Everything I suggested was shot down again and again. In the Quaker Meeting, I hear about so many different things they are working on and being activists to help people in need. We even have the kids learning to be activists – they make 240 sandwiches and 120 lunches, once a month for the local homeless shelter. The kids love the activity, and it’s teaching them to do GOOD for the community. I love that all of the kids in the Meeting House are learning to serve the Community. It’s wonderful.

It was our fault that my father died because we let him out of our ‘experience.’

By Sharon, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

Christian Scientists have a lack of humanity, sympathy, empathy—whatever you want to call it—in the face of death. It’s downright weird. My mother’s explanation to me about my Grandpa’s death when I was just a little girl was, “Oh, he could be down the street, or he could be upstairs.” I could never figure it out, whether he had become invisible to me or what.

I had a grandmother who was of a sort of Mennonite religion. She had lost a little boy when he was six. She would tell me how he died, and how he went to heaven, and how she wasn’t worried because she knew she would join him some day, and she would rejoice when she did. I very much preferred Grandma’s story because I couldn’t figure out why my Grandpa would just be ‘down the street’ and wouldn’t come see me.

Later on my aunt died and I went to her funeral. My mother actually went with me, which was unusual. They had a sermon which included statements about how we should be glad because she would be seeing her husband and other loved ones. My mother left the funeral and said, “that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. She will NEVER see her husband again because she let him die.”

My mother also once told me that it was our fault that my father died because we let him out of our ‘experience.’ My passive father had waited for my mother’s permission to seek treatment for his throat cancer, but by then it was too late. She said that my father had just gone on and he didn’t know he had died and he still had all of us, but we had let him go.

When my mother’s mother died, I was eight years old. I was never told that she died. I was told that a package was to be delivered and I was just to sign for it and put it on the kitchen table. It was my grandmother’s ashes. My mother acted as if nothing had happened.

My mother was a class-taught Christian Scientist by a teacher who was taught by a student of Mary Baker Eddy’s. My mother spent countless hours with that teacher between her Association meetings. She wrote many, many letters to the teacher, received many back. She non-stop studied, talked, researched all Mrs. Eddy’s writings. Certainly during all these visits and during her class or Association meetings, the subject of death—or non-death, I should say—came up. She was taught this malarkey somewhere.

They were trained to deny their affection

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about how death is ‘handled’ in Christian Science.


When people do start to get desperate and want to turn outside of Christian Science, they generally have no idea of what help is available to them so they never ask for it, or they pretend they are just feeling a bit under the weather when they are actually on their death bed.

– Anonymous


The Christian Scientists I grew up around strongly believed and promoted the idea of it being possible for Christian Science prayer to raise the dead, and that it would become possible in proportion to our understanding of Christian Science and our spiritual perfection.

– Anonymous


My grandmother died when I was fourteen. I remember my mother telling me it ‘never happened.’ She was equally glassy when her sister died of cancer a few years ago.

– Hilary


The mental discipline that Christian Scientists use to deny this world also denies, as Eddy referred to it, ‘mere human affection.’ Trained to deny their affection, and that discipline is so powerful, that I have known those who appeared to be perfectly fine with the deaths of their spouses.

I attended a Christian Science funeral held at a crematorium, where I sat behind a couple of ladies who were observing the widow, seated in the front row. One whispered to her companion, in a disapproving tone, “Oh, look at [the widow]. She’s crying!” That was another lesson in Christian Science for me, another one that battled my instincts.

– Anonymous


My Christian Science upbringing made me unable to talk about death in any way. When my grandmother died, I was told to look at a vase of flowers and remember the ‘good and true’ thoughts about her. It’s taken me nearly fifty years to even find out where she was buried.

– Anonymous


We had a ‘celebration of life’ for my mother after she died. Most of the members of my parents’ small branch church were there; in fact, most of the people there were Christian Scientists. Only one person cried. She was the non-Christian Scientist pianist who played at the church services, and had become very close with my mother over the years. I wanted to cry too, but years of conditioning not to acknowledge the supposed ‘reality’ of death kept me from  crying. Later the same year, when my father died, I was admonished by a Christian Scientist friend of the family not to “see his death as a failure of Christian Science.” It was almost as if he could see the wheels of reason beginning to turn in my head that would ultimately lead to my departure from Christian Science.

– Anonymous

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.

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.