There ought to be a course in the training of psychiatrists about Christian Science

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about seeking therapy after leaving Christian Science.

These comments are an education. There ought to be a course in the training of psychiatrists about Christian Science and the processes involved when former adherents leave it.

– Marion


I find most people I talk to sort of slide out of Christian Science slowly and not violently. I also had a very long and painful exodus from Christian Science. Every year that goes by it gets easier, though. I never thought I’d make it to the point where I could even have a sense of humor about it, but here I am! Ultimately, I sought out one of Los Angeles’ only ‘exit counselors’ for therapy—someone skilled in helping people break away from cults. She hadn’t actually worked with a Christian Scientist before, but was well acquainted with the religion. It was great to talk to someone who understood about the mind control, fear of being struck by a bolt of lightning once you left, etc. The unspoken damage is the personality disorders, depression and anxiety that being in this kind of cult leaves behind. Rarely do people even make the connection.

– Hilary



One of the corner stones of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is teaching people to abandon fixed thinking (the tyranny of the ‘shoulds’). This is especially important for ex-Christian Scientists, because all our training growing up told us to ignore what we can see and feel and concentrate instead on what we should be seeing and feeling until it happens.

– Anonymous


My psychotherapist has helped me with PSTD, trauma issues, and survivor’s guilt issues related to my upbringing in Christian Science. We are indeed survivors.

– Nancy

Christian Science is a culture deeply tied to shame, denial, and secrets.

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Scientist collective about the impact Christian Science has had on relationships.


Not quite twenty years ago, my marriage ended. He and I were both devout Christian Scientists. We were very involved in the Principia community, and our kids were at Prin College and Upper School. My then-husband had a very bad temper, and eventually I summoned all my courage and went to the local woman’s shelter for guidance and help. I felt like such a scofflaw for relying on outside help, but I was losing my mind. God bless that shelter and all its angels. I learned so much, and it was such a blessing, and that was the first crack in the Christian Science armor, when I learned that it’s okay to be a human being.

One day, a woman friend called to ask why I hadn’t been in church. She’d been a good friend, and her husband was well-loved at Prin. It seemed right to lay my soul bare, so I told her the truth: I told her that my husband was abusive. My friend went silent. I thought she’d hung up on me. After a moment, she said, “My husband is just like yours.” Two more times, I confided in women friends with Prin-employed husbands, and both times, they hung their heads and said, “My husband is also abusive.”

– Anne


Christian Science’s teachings can create the perfect breeding ground for abuse of all kinds, because the Christian Science way of thinking, if there is someone abusive in the home, is that the abuser’s behavior is the victim’s responsibility to ‘un-see’. This is a completely wrong and unproductive guilt created by Christian Science dogma on top of the abuse by the spouse or parent.

Abuse and dysfunction in the home is definitely not unique to Christian Science; it can happen in any family, group or culture. But Christian Science is a culture deeply tied to shame, denial, and secrets. This applies to health, sexuality, mental health, emotions— everything. We are strong for having survived, for moving forward, and for breaking the cycle.

– Abigail


A dedicated Christian Scientist doesn’t need an outside influence in order to feel guilty about not having a healing quickly or about resorting to ‘materia medica.’ We are programmed to feel that way from the time we enter Sunday School, if not before. Christian Science is never to blame, it is always the individual’s lack of understanding.

– Stacey

My mother did not tell me about menstruation.

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Scientist collective about menstruation.

My mother did not tell me about menstruation. She seemed incredibly embarrassed by the whole thing, which could have just been generational. The thing was, they did teach the girls about menstruation in public school. They taught them all about the body, but they taught it in health class AND I WAS NOT ALLOWED TO ATTEND.

One day, I was playing with a girlfriend from school when she started talking about periods. I couldn’t believe that what she was telling me was true; it was too shocking to be believable and I said she was lying. I suddenly found myself being dragged by the arm into my parents’ bathroom, where she opened the cupboard under the sink and pulled out a big blue box of Kotex pads. In those days, there was nothing on the box to illustrate the connection between the thick white pad and its use, but I had to agree that it might be possible. Soon other girls’ stories at school caught my ear, and after somehow finding and reading a health pamphlet, I had to admit it was true.

There was no way I could ask my mother about it. Some girls told horror stories, things like waking up at a sleepover drenched in blood. By this point, I was terrified and started to pray to know the Truth that I was God’s perfect child and no harm could come to me. I decided that a period was Error and I could beat it through prayerful work, so I prayed desperately night and day for me to escape this fate. Big thanks to Mum and Mary Baker Eddy for causing me years of teenage fear and distress on this one.

– Tessa



I suffered through hundreds of hours of menstrual cramps throughout my life. I can’t count the days of school and work that I missed due to extreme pain. When I was teaching at a school where all the staff were Christian Scientists, I went to the Assistant Headmistress to tell her I needed to go home since I was in pain. She told me that the best way to get rid of cramps was to have a baby. Lordy, Lordy, Lordy! I was stunned when I made the eventual discovery that taking medication gave me immediate relief.

When the subject of her children no longer following Christian Science comes up, my mother tells the story of my wonderful healing of cramps after calling the practitioner. Of course, the ‘healing’ came hours later, and only lasted for a few weeks before returning….

– Stacey

Buddhists Believe in Prayer

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective who have turned to Buddhism.


Christian Science is so cerebral, with its focus on reading and research named ‘prayer.’ It’s been hard for me to let go of that in terms of believing in a power greater than my own. After twenty years away from Christian Science, I think I’m more connected to feeling than analyzing. The Buddhist practice of non-attachment has been helpful in that.

– Abigail


I am a Buddhist, and I don’t believe in god. I believe in the universe and the potential that each of us has to be in tune with the mystic law of cause and effect, and I believe that our actions have consequences. Buddhists believe in prayer, and we believe in healing through prayer. We just don’t believe in a bearded man in the sky who decides our fate.

– Katie J.


Christian Science borrows a lot from eastern philosophy to try and justify why a loving and omnipotent god allows suffering, so there are some analogues with Buddhism, in the same way there are some with traditional Christianity. That’s about where the similarities end though. Most religions point to surrender of the self. Christian Science is the polar opposite, the victory of the self over everything.

– Anonymous

Conversations can be very strained when we get together.

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Scientist collective about the impact Christian Science has had on relationships.

 

I definitely relate to the many families who have been torn apart by Christian Science. My sister and I lost our mother to this thing. She is slowly dying of an undiagnosed illness, but won’t get help, because of course an actual physical healing isn’t the real goal, right? It’s about achieving some kind of spiritual I-don’t-know-what! My older sister got the brunt of the care-taking, unfortunately. The selfishness is frustrating and so unfair. Everything has to stop to revolve around our mother’s incomprehensible devotion to this cult, which has destroyed our family and countless others. But my sister and I were recently able to speak to each other openly for the first time in our lives about how Christian Science affected our family and our feelings about it, and it was very—for lack of a better term—healing.

– Hilary


Three of my five siblings are still very deep into Christian Science, with the annual Association trips, being ‘class taught’, and all taking their turns as branch church Readers very seriously. Conversations can be very strained when we get together. I walk a thin line of not wanting to upset them and wanting to roll my eyes at their Christian Science-talk, and sometimes I have to get up and leave before I just blow up. I love them and want to shake them at the same time. I just cannot stand watching the lengths of their denial of reality.

– Anonymous



Within my family, just my parents and I were Christian Scientists. The aunts, uncles and cousins all thought we were nuts. I was in hard-core, including Class Instruction, until age 21. Then began the double life for eight or nine years during which time I was married and divorced. I took the opportunity of re-marriage and moving away to sever ties with Christian Science. That was twenty years ago. If it weren’t for my aging Christian Scientist parents, I wouldn’t even think about Christian Science anymore. But going through their health issues with them as their only child has brought all the anger and resentment to the surface. I’m glad to have this group who gets it.

– Abigail


I was spared a lot of Christian Science crazy growing up because my mother was quick to take us to the pediatrician if there was a problem, and I’m very grateful for that. However, my siblings did not respond in kind. When my mom died many years ago, I was the one that found her near death. She’d had a massive stroke, and I called 911—I didn’t know where to begin to deal with the horror. Later, at the hospital, she officially passed on, and my Christian Scientist brother told me, “Our mother might still be alive if you hadn’t called 911.” That’s the kind of BS I had to put up with to stay part of the family. When I started calling them on this insanity, that’s when I was officially and permanently shunned.

– Anne


My father got desperate with his asthma once, and tried Christian Science—mostly to save his marriage. A practitioner arrived and I could feel the tension: would Christian Science work? Not at all, despite repeated practitioner visits. And the practitioner was a really weird person who caused more division within the family. Horrid times.

I can also remember arriving at a testimony meeting with my mother, and as I sat down, I was surprised to see my father at the service. Both experiences made me feel like I was on the Christian Science side and he was trying to join ‘our world’. I felt awful that I could not be with him in his world. Years later, church members told my mother that my father had visited his local reading room, as though it was a good thing. In actuality, he ‘visited’ in order to return all the Christian Science books he had ever owned!

– Anonymous

Do Not Grieve, There is Nothing to Grieve About

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

 

I have found Christian Science’s ‘do not grieve, there’s nothing to grieve about’ instruction to be particularly damaging. It leads those who have lost loved ones to feel ashamed—the deeper the love, the greater the shame. And it leads others to ignore grief in the guise of pretending that it doesn’t exist. We’re providing prayerful support to the grieving person so we don’t have to, you know, acknowledge the loss or do anything practical to help.

– Anonymous



I think I remember one memorial service from when I was young that may or may not have been for a Christian Scientist. But, generally people just didn’t show up at church anymore and nobody ever asked. Why would you mourn someone? What does it matter that they’re dead? Christian Science tears apart the human psyche. It devalues and denies the empathy and compassion that makes us human.

– Heidi


A woman I knew from the local Christian Science branch church, who was about three years older than I was, suddenly vanished. I asked my Christian Scientist mother about her and got double-talk. Later I was alone with my non-Christian Scientist father and he told me she had appendicitis and was under the care of a practitioner, and her appendix burst and she died. When I asked my mother about it she told me, “people are dying in hospitals all the time!”

– Anonymous

 

Please Bring Your Testimony to its Healing Conclusion

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science collective about Church and Sunday School. 



Do you remember at Wednesday evening testimony meetings when people would ramble on, how the first reader would lean into the microphone and say, ‘please bring your testimony to its healing conclusion.’

– Hilary


 

Doctors Showed Me Compassion

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science group about experiences seeking medical care and interacting with medical professionals.

I have health insurance now, but I still am hesitant to even get check-ups. I gave birth to my son a year ago and the whole medical aspect was really a nightmare for me. It’s still almost impossible to not think of health care professionals as the enemy. I also had a horrifying incident about a month ago where a ‘vascular mole’ on my baby’s face popped and wouldn’t stop bleeding. It was the middle of the night and I was there trying to staunch it with tissues and towels and sheets for hours until I finally shook myself, looked at the blood-soaked mess and said, “are you effing crazy? He’s going to bleed to death, call 911!” I’m sad to report, had that been me my mother probably would have let me bleed to death. The baby’s just fine after being stitched up in the ER, thankfully.

– Hilary


This might resonate with some of you…I developed a small lesion on my forehead a few weeks ago which didn’t heal up. I tried ignoring it for a while, and that didn’t work. Then I tried putting antiseptic on it, and that didn’t work. Then I took to the internet and by week 3 was completely convinced I had, probably inoperable, skin cancer. I made an appointment to see a dermatologist, basically expecting to find out how long I had left, and woke up on the morning of the appointment to find said lesion diminished in size.

“It’s a wart, nothing to worry about. You can make an appointment to have it frozen off,” she said. Following day, it had mostly disappeared. Imagine what this is doing to my post-Christian Science neuroses!

– Anonymous


I’ve learned my lesson about healthcare. When an exam by an optometrist revealed I had cataracts, I had double cataract surgery. I’d worn glasses since I was in my twenties, but I don’t need them now. I can even read small print on my iPhone! And, when the girl who cuts my hair noticed something funny on my ear, she recommended I have it looked at. Rather than saying it was ‘perfect’ I went to a dermatologist. She said it was skin cancer, and I had it removed surgically. It took me a while, but I finally caught on.

– Anonymous



I went to the doctor for the first time when I was 23 years old. I got an x-ray done of my tail bone, which was revealed to have been broken when I was ten. My folks didn’t take it seriously enough to have it treated, so it healed in an ‘L’ shape. I also asked for advice and a treatment plan to preserve my destroyed right knee, which I had injured seven years previously and which had never healed.

– Heidi


I went travelling for a year with my wife. A small lump developed on my back which I worried about endlessly. I tried to self diagnose on the net and came to the rational conclusion it was probably benign, but nonetheless my conviction that it was a tumour grew. I decided it would spoil our holiday if I had it looked at and rationalised that the best thing to do was completely ignore it. Eventually, I could contain my anxiety no longer and told her about it. A few hours later I was sitting in front of a Thai doctor in Bangkok, “Yeah. It’s a cyst,” he said. “We’ll just remove it under local anaesthetic, will take ten minutes.” Since then, I try to catch things earlier.

– Anonymous

The Church of the Pancake & other paths away from Christian Science

The following is a collection of contributions from members of the Ex-Christian Science Group about religious choices after Christian Science.

I had the pleasure of attending an atheist church on Sunday. I was dying of curiosity, so I went. It turned out to be really fun, interesting, and full of normal people, not cult-y weirdos as I’d feared. It’s called ‘Sunday Assembly’. Here was the highlight for me. I think it will resonate with this ex-Christian Scientist group. One of the speakers was a former Mormon, and he told this story: having recently left the LDS church, one morning he couldn’t start his truck. Immediately his well-trained brain starts its usual convoluted path: “Why is this happening? What did I do to make this happen? What is God trying to show me with this? What lesson am I meant to learn from this?” etc etc etc. And then he realized all he really had to do was call a mechanic!

-Hilary


It has taken me a long time to get where I am, and that is someone who prays twice a day but also went to the Mayo Clinic for surgery a few years ago, with the support of my formerly Christian Scientist family. My cousin is the son of a dead Christian Science practitioner and is now in the Episcopal Clergy. He believes in both.

– Katie J.


Churches are great. I love the history, community, music, preaching. I love the work that they can get done serving the poor and creating community. So I have loads of respect for that. But I haven’t joined any. They all come with uncomfortable baggage I don’t feel like dealing with at the end of the day.

I want more than anything to be reunited with loved ones after death, and for there to be some kind of greater justice for all of the suffering in the world. My volunteer work with asylum seekers makes me wish this so deeply sometimes. But to me, God seems unlikely. The fact that I can’t comprehend the size of the universe is more likely an expression of my limited perspective than proof of a deity.

– Jenny


When I began to go to the Episcopal church I was amazed at the tolerance within the congregation. I asked the priest if the church would have problems with a former Christian Scientist within its ranks, because most people there regard Christian Science as a cult. He said he didn’t think so, that my views would just add a richness to the discussion. Later I realized that eighty percent of the churchgoers were from other Christian religions—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. No one looks down on anyone. They all just support each other and don’t judge whether one is ‘good Episcopalian’ or not. They expect people not to be perfect, hence they cut them some slack.

The priest told me that the general attitude of the religion is that followers probably should do the elements of the faith like confession and communion and that that many will do them but that no body must do anything. It seemed to me more of a cafeteria than an all-or-nothing approach, and at present that suits me better. Do I understand all the theology? Nope. Do I worry about it? Nope. I enjoy the community, the general caring of the people toward each other, and the tremendous outreach they have in the community. There seems to be something for everybody at the church. So I guess I’m feeling my way. Attending has been an eye opener.

– Anonymous

I just went on an Amazon bender.


I just went on an Amazon bender. I originally went on to find a paperback version of Carolyn Fraser’s book, ‘God’s Perfect Child’ for my husband, and stumbled on several books, only one of which I had previously heard of. In the last 24 hours, since the books began arriving, I have voraciously consumed both ‘father mother god’ by Lucia Greenhouse and ‘Perfect Peril’ by Linda S. Kramer. There is one more to arrive, a memoir called ‘Blue Windows.’ Are there any that I am missing that you guys could recommend? I really find this therapeutic, but also surprisingly upsetting. I’m glad the other one hasn’t arrived yet. I think I need a break. But I am ready to do more ‘knowing the truth.’ LOL. No, the real truth!

– Katie J.



Years after leaving the movement and residing in limbo about that, I read a fascinating biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the one by Gillian Gill. It’s not ‘authorized’ Christian Science literature and Gill is not a Christian Scientist. The author’s interests and motives seem to be placing MBE’s life events in context—her family story as well as historically/socially—and also analyzing her decisions, convictions, and actions within that same context.

Its primary effect was removing any remaining spell that Mary Baker Eddy herself still held on me; for example, now when I read a renowned passage of hers, I can hear that it’s an overwrought tangle of words that distract from the fact that she’s not saying anything of substance half the time. Additionally, I better understand the politics of the creation of the church. She was trying to stick a flag in these ideas flying around in that time period, and claim them for her own; to attempt to coalesce those thoughts into a solid creed that society would allow to compete with traditional Christianity.

In the five or so years since I read it, my life has been almost consistently tumultuous. As though some larger truth is trying insistently to make itself heard and seen. I spent a little time letting myself ponder a godless world, and now I feel myself moving back toward agnosticism, building my concepts of god and faith with very small pieces, one at a time. What a curious journey we’re all on.

– Elizabeth


I keep taking deep breaths like I have been crying when I have not. I think it is because my interior world keeps experiencing little explosions of anger, sadness, indignation, disbelief as I read.

– Tessa