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.

I decided it was a totally toxic, dangerous mindset

By Jenny, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.


I was born into a Christian Science home, but I began to have serious doubts after my mother died of untreated cancer when I was in my teens. I went to Principia College after that, and was further disturbed by the lack of empathy and negligence of the Principia administration in handling injury and illness on campus. By my senior year, I knew I hated Christian Science.

I spent a few years trying to be open-minded, and telling myself, “Maybe it is true, but I just don’t care. I don’t want the stress. I am cool with being mortal.” Then, after I had a big struggle convincing my Christian Science husband to get medical care for a serious illness, I decided it was a totally toxic, dangerous mindset. That was about ten years ago, but I’m still trying to get rid of the weird Christian Science stuff from my brain and work through how I feel about my parents’ well-meaning neglect. I think that is going to take a while.

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.

I can just sit here and think it all better

By Heidi, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I just spent eleven days alone in the remotest parts of Big Bend National Park on a research project, and in my down time, I was reading ‘Fingerprints of God’ because while I am agnostic, I think there’s an awful lot of coincidence out there. It has been an interesting read.

I am really struggling at the moment. Prayer used to be a quiet, normal thing, a few conversations a day in my head, where I neatly tucked my fears and doubts and then went on to face the world with confidence. I really can’t quite talk to my husband about Christian Science. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to be raised in Christian Science; he was raised Baptist. So while he has ditched religion entirely, and he can pick apart a sermon with the best of them, it’s MY religion that he doesn’t know, but is picking at.

On top of a 200 foot mesa, with little more than a day pack, water, park radio (incoming stuff heard, outgoing calls apparently not going through) and a little GPS spot unit to save my ass in case of emergency, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh, cry, pray, curse, be comforted, or just say f*ck it and let park staff come find me. I am in over my head, I am surviving and learning, but I no longer have the convenient Christian Science ‘logic’ to compartmentalize my otherwise rational fears. ‘Chemicalization of thought,’ my ass.

Right now, I have a massive sinus infection which is going untreated other than cough syrup and a decongestant. I hope to change that tomorrow. I live in a place with zero cell service, so calling from home is out. I need to drive three miles to get a signal to call to make appointments. Bottom line, no wonder Christian Science is appealing: I don’t have to lift a finger, a phone, call a doctor or pharmacist. I can just sit here and think it all better. And if you trick yourself successfully, you’ll do it again next time. Odd epiphany, that.

A friend of mine pointed out that in lieu of prayer, I procrastinate. And then he pointed out that it is essentially the same thing: waiting for something, anything—’the right thing’—to happen. I was very upset by the conversation.

I don’t want to keep praying about something when a simple trip to the doctor will give things context. I don’t want to dismiss my own life’s experiences as unreal because this is the only life that I have. I am not willing to suffer years of discomfort because I was simply too afraid to go ask a professional whose life’s goal is to understand the human body. I’m done with fear. I’m OK with calculated risk. I will not endorse guilt due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control. We should each live our own lives according to our consciences and leave everyone else the hell out of it. Thus, I am never stepping foot into a Christian Science church ever again. It is a soulless, cold religion. A few gems of insight are not worth the whole package.

A Reflection of Perfection

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I was raised in Christian Science in Canada. We were a rare species! I was a fourth generation Christian Scientist. I recalled this morning, after 38 years, a Sunday school lesson when I was about four years old. In the lesson, the very old teacher explained to me that I was like the reflection from a diamond ring— a reflection of perfection, but not actually there. I feel like I understand the source of a lot of grief over the years now. What a thing to say to a preschooler.

The root cause of many of my problems is the brainwashing I received as a child, and that’s something that I have to remind myself of constantly. I was lucky that I never had to face any serious illnesses as a child. Consequently, I don’t think I really understood radical reliance, although I guess that is what it was. As an adult, it just increasingly became clear to me that I couldn’t measure up to the impossible standards set by the religion. Then I did get sick, and that was the end of it for me. But I think the legacy of constant failure in Christian Science was the thing that hurt me the most as a child. It continues to haunt me as an adult because I often feel that I’m not trying hard enough, not working hard enough–just not enough.

As I was thinking about leaving the religion, I had been living with undiagnosed adult onset asthma for about a year. I was blue for that entire year—I couldn’t make it up a flight of stairs. Yet, I kept praying–waiting for my ‘thought to clear.’ My first puff of a rescue inhaler convinced me to leave Christian Science. The little blue inhaler that allowed me to function was a revelation, as was the fact that the doctor I saw was so matter-of-fact about it. It was the first time in my life that someone had acknowledged an ailment, and did not expect me to feel like I had brought it on myself for some unknown infraction.

The guilt that Christian Science requires children to live with is soul-destroying. Even without the physical effects, this guilt and fear becomes so often the defining feature of the person raised in Christian Science. And how to fight these things remains elusive to me. After a pretty trying week at work a couple of weeks ago, I told several people that I’d ‘given myself a migraine.’ I couldn’t just accept that it had been a particularly horrible week and that I was tired and stressed. Somehow, it had to be my own fault.

I’ve had many therapists over the years—my least favorite was the therapist who told me to wear an elastic band and just snap myself with it every time I felt bad about myself. I asked her if I could stop when the bone started to show. But the one I have now—wow. She just gets it. Christian Science is so weird that I think she has been intrigued and considers me a special challenge. She was the first person to make it clear to me that Christian Science and I weren’t the same thing. Also, she thinks Mary Baker Eddy was psychotic, and that consequently Christian Science attempts to replicate psychotic boundary-less thinking. But it has taken me a while to find someone like this.

I would encourage anyone who is comfortable with the process to talk to a therapist about Christian Science–and to keep looking until you find one who is willing and able to do the work to help you. A dispassionate listener who can see the damage, and help you to see it too, is unbelievably important; as is the understanding that the psychological mind games of Christian Science are, for many people, a form of religious abuse.

I’m a recovering Christian Scientist: Lilly’s Thoughts

By Lilly, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Lilly is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.

I’m a recovering Christian Scientist. There are many layers to shed, and I am thankful it is finally taking place, but sometimes it is so easy to slip back to my C.S. way of thinking, which includes lots of guilt, fear, denial and shame.

Christian Science taught me to keep every problem, every negative thought or feeling or sickness, quiet and hidden. This has resulted in years of hidden shame, guilt and a bad case of perfectionism mixed with high anxiety. So I’m ready to move on and finally enter reality.

Having kids has definitely been a huge wake-up call for me. I want them to feel safe and listened to when they have fears or pain. I never, ever want them to feel ashamed for feeling a certain way. I’m so glad that they have a chance at deciding early on what they want to believe.

Reshaping My Distorted Image of Doctors

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor.

 

I went to the doctor for the first time when I was fourteen years old. Months of caring for my mother as she succumbed to untreated breast cancer forged the courage my sister and I needed to break away from our parents’ radical reliance on Christian Science for healing and venture into the world of modern medicine. This was a huge step for us. We had never been to a doctor’s office for any childhood illness or injury.

My mother meticulously sheltered us from learning anything about medicine or even the basics of how our bodies functioned, in an attempt to protect us from sickness. This left a void of information that was replaced with fear of the unknown. I had no basis for evaluating whether a symptom I was experiencing was a life threatening problem or nothing to be concerned about.

The stories that had been told by my family and Sunday School teachers about Christian Scientists that had gone to the doctor were dismissive at best. Those Christian Scientists had been too fearful to address their problems with prayer. Going to the doctor was equitable to irrational behavior. There was always the old story that was paraded out about some family member who had gone to the doctor and taken medicine that had made them even more ill.

I imagine my sister and I looked out of place in the cheery, well lit waiting room of the doctor’s office on that first visit. Two wide-eyed, terrified children, sitting alone, clinging to our parental permission slips like we were headed to an execution. My mother had recently died and I was frightened that the doctor would find that I too had some terminal illness.

Beyond the fear, though, I felt profoundly determined. We had overcome so many barriers just for this wellness exam. The choice to go to a doctor was not only challenging due to the lack exposure to medicine, but also the generational lack of information on how to navigate health insurance and medical offices. We started from square one with learning the basics: that there are different types of doctors and only some doctors are in your insurance network. As children going to the doctor alone, we needed permission slips to receive any type of medical help. My sister and I drafted the permission slips the night before our appointment, and we felt fortunate that our father was willing to sign them.

The friendly receptionist gave us several long forms to fill out about our medical history. Most of it I had to leave blank. I had no medical history and neither did most of my family members. The doctor we saw was wonderful. She had a warm personality and seemed to recognize we were frightened. She did not make a fuss over the lack of medical history. Instead, she empathetically acknowledged that it must be very scary for us to visit the doctors for the first time. We received our vaccines and a clean bill of health.

This experience was the beginning of reshaping my distorted image of doctors. I found more guidance and comfort in that one visit than in every phone call I had ever made to a Christian Science practitioner. Over the years I have found, to my surprise, that the vast majority of my primary care doctors have not made me feel awkward about my non-traditional past. The biggest issue I still struggle with is remembering to reach out to my doctors for guidance on health problems. My childhood conditioned me to trivialize my injuries and illnesses and to cope without medical help. It’s hard to remember that I no longer need to suffer in silence.

 

I Had Prostate Cancer

By an anonymous Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.

 

I was ailing. My son noticed and insisted I have a physical. A PSA blood test indicated I had prostate cancer. I was out of Christian Science at this time, but not running to doctors. My son insisted they call him with the results.

We went for a conference, and radiation was recommended. At the time of the conference, my hands were shaking and I was falling often. I went to radiation for nine weeks, five days a week, and that cleared it up beautifully. I had a Christian Scientist friend with similar symptoms at the same time. He had a practitioner working and went to a Christian Science nursing facility, sat around reading, and died shortly after.

As we often heard on Wednesday, “I am extremely grateful for….” But in this case, I am so grateful that my son got me to the doctor!

I maintained appearances in order to please my parents

By Tessa, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Tessa is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.

 

I stayed with Christian Science out of family loyalty and guilt for decades, eventually living a dual life—the one I lived in front of my parents and the one I lived when I was apart. I lived that double life out of fear and a superstitious belief that maybe Christian Scientists were right all along and if I stopped believing in it I would be cursed. But most of all, I maintained appearances in order to please my parents. There were a bunch of us kids, and I always felt that being a Christian Scientist was a requirement for being approved of and loved. I had a nagging feeling that I was loved less because I wasn’t a good Christian Scientist.

I “came out” in bits and pieces over the years, but the incident in which I truly showed them that I was not a part of their religion was at the ripe age of 42 when I invited them for Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house. I asked my boyfriend to bring wine and instead of either not drinking in front of my parents or sneaking drinks in the kitchen, I offered them ginger ale and then loudly asked my boyfriend to pour me a glass of red. It seems like an insignificant thing, and most people I know would never understand what it took for me to do it. It took a lot of courage. It felt fantastic enjoying wine with my meal without guilt. I felt like a weight was lifted off of me.

I once wrote an article for the local paper after a major brewery swooped in to buy our local cottage brewery. I wanted to show the difference between a local brew and one from a large corporate-run company and interviewed people in the community, including a brewer. I got everyone to take a taste test. My mother, always a fan of my writing, read the article and said, “oh, but you didn’t taste the beers of course!” She said it like it was fact, even though in the article I included my thoughts on the taste of both beers. Denial was ever present.

For all the problems I had with my parent’s beliefs, they were right there for me when I went into premature labour at 23 weeks gestation. They visited me in the hospital and did not bat an eye at the IV drip or the nurses or doctors. They were kind and accepting of my needs for the medical world. When my son was born a week later, 24 weeks and 520 grams, they came to visit him, donned gowns, scrubbed up, and sat by his incubator. Sure, they prayed in their CS way, but they also accepted my beliefs, including giving my son his inhaler treatments when they babysat him.

I stepped away from Christian Science, as a test.

By Marie, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group Contributor. Marie is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.

 

I stepped away from Christian Science, as a test. I spent a week not worrying about animal magnetism, or daily prayers, or anything like that. I just thought whatever I wanted to think. I then left CS quite suddenly and found that to be extremely difficult. I still do sometimes, especially when things are tough and I don’t know what to turn to. Some people I know who left CS after always doubting didn’t feel like it was such a big deal. We all handle it in different ways.

Outsiders simplify the issues surrounding Christian Science, and that can feel dismissive. Like, ‘Hah! What a bunch of crazy, stupid kooks.’ I was one of those kooks, as are many intelligent people I love. Not to mention, in a way, it trivializes what I’ve gone through. The other day a friend asked why my roommate and I talked about our past so much. It was because it was important to us and shaped who we are. To him, it seemed something to remember and value or grieve but not to dwell on so much.

I still don’t feel ready to read God’s Perfect Child. I found it in a used book store and started reading it. I had to sit there for a few moments because I felt very overwhelmed. I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. My parents often talked about the book, shaking their heads, especially since my dad taught the author in Sunday School. So of course he blamed himself.

I left because I realized that Christian Science and numerous other attitudes I held were killing me. In my case at the time, more mentally than physically. It just wasn’t worth it. I was more important, living life was more important. As for whether Christian Science is correct, I decided that the more important question was whether Christian Science was correct for me.

I would describe myself as an atheist now, but I also realize that literally no one knows for sure how the world works and what’s out there. It’s been a long and very difficult journey. I keep discovering new ways in which I’ve imbibed Christian Science ideology, occasionally for the better, usually for worse. I feel as though I have to construct a whole new identity and learn how to trust myself. Not practitioners, not God. Me.