The World Was Real All Along

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

I want to take a moment to talk about reality.

I was raised to believe that the world around me, the world that I perceive with my physical senses, is not real. I was told that I live my life swaddled in illusion, and that I should constantly struggle to break through that illusion. I was completely sold on this idea. I craved reality. As a teenager, I vowed to dedicate my life to breaking through the illusion. I didn’t expect to succeed in this lifetime, but hey, death was unreal, so there was no deadline. I planned to keep “adjusting my thought” until someday the illusion melted away and I could finally see the real world.

After I left Christian Science, I gradually came around to the idea that the world that I perceive with my senses IS the real world. It was shocking. It was unnerving. It was electrifying. All my life, I’d been struggling for access to reality, and suddenly I found that I had this access…  that I had always had this access.

By analogy, it was as if I’d been told all my life that I lived inside a shell, and that the “stars” were just dots painted on the inside of the shell — and then, one day, I discovered that there never was any shell, and the stars were actually gigantic distant balls of plasma, and I COULD SEE THEM JUST BY LOOKING AT THEM.

It blew my mind. It continues to blow my mind every day. All I have to do is stop and think to myself “I have direct access to reality!” and instantly I’m filled with joy. It’s like remembering that I have a superpower.

“The idea that you’re deceived by illusions is itself an illusion.”

By Michael, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor. Michael is a pseudonym, to ensure anonymity.

My parents thought I was perfect.

It wasn’t just me. My parents thought everyone was perfect. They were Christian Scientists, and they believed that all people are God’s perfect children, and that God’s perfect children are literally flawless in every way. They raised me to believe this. They also raised me to believe that people are continually deceived by dreamlike illusions, such as pain, suffering, and death. Eventually, this began to feel like a contradiction to me. One summer, when I was sixteen years old, I raised my hand in Sunday School and asked “If I’m perfect, how can I be deceived by illusions?”

The teacher said, with no trace of irony, “You’re not. The idea that you’re deceived by illusions is itself an illusion.”

For three months after that, I poked at this question as if I were prodding a sore tooth. It was disturbing. Instead of finding answers, I came up with more and more unanswerable questions. Why do Christian Scientists go to car mechanics, but not doctors? Is there really any difference between real pain and illusory pain if they both hurt the same? If Christian Scientists are sitting on a great scientific discovery, why do they just talk about it in church instead of getting it peer-reviewed and published?

After many hours of lying awake in bed, I eventually realized that Christian Science no longer made sense to me. I don’t remember how I told my parents that I wanted to stop going to church. I know that they were disappointed, but they agreed to let me stay home on Sundays and Wednesdays. I think maybe they thought this was just a phase I was going through.

It wasn’t a phase. I’m not a Christian Scientist any more. I haven’t set foot in a Christian Science church in almost fifteen years.

At first, I worried that my relationship with my parents would be damaged, but it turns out that I needn’t have worried. My parents still love me, and I still love them. The only thing that’s changed is that we no longer talk about religion with each other–and honestly, that’s a relief.

I blame a belief system that tells parents that doctors make things worse.

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

When I was born, I had two things. I had a condition called congenital talipes equinovarus, or ‘clubfoot’. I also had a pair of kind, loving parents who happened to be Christian Scientists. Christian Science is a fringe religion that rejects all doctors and medical care, and my parents were fervent believers.

I was born at a hospital, so I imagine that there must have been at least one doctor who saw my deformed feet and offered medical treatment. I don’t know what the doctor said, but I know that my parents refused treatment for me. Instead, they took me home and started praying. And praying. And praying. Prayer, as far as they knew, was the most effective treatment for the ‘illusion’ of deformity. My parents loved me, and they were determined to ‘know the truth’ about my feet until my feet reflected that truth.

I’m amazed that I learned to walk, given how radically deformed my feet were. My feet were turned sideways, toward each other, with the soles facing each other. When I started walking, the soles of my feet didn’t touch the ground at all. I was walking on what should have been the sides and tops of my feet. I fell down a lot.

For three years, my parents watched their little boy toddle around on his sideways feet. Their church told them that my feet would be healed, if only they were pray hard enough. I can only imagine how agonizing it must have been for them to pray and pray for a healing that never came. I wonder if maybe they blamed themselves for their failure to heal.

Eventually, around my fourth birthday, my parents decided to take me to a children’s hospital. The surgeons cut me open, severed and reattached my tendons, and moved some bones around. After the surgery, I spent a couple of months in a pair of full leg casts and a tiny wheelchair. The casts came off sometime around my fifth birthday. I graduated to leg braces and crutches, and eventually to normal everyday shoes.

As an ex-Christian Scientist looking back on my childhood, I always thought that, regarding my feet, I’d gotten off relatively lucky. Sure, my parents had delayed medical intervention for three years, but I did get help eventually. The surgeons did a great job, considering what they had to work with. I’ll never have a full range of motion in my feet, and I’ll certainly never be Fred Astaire, but I can walk and run like a normal person. Most people who see me don’t know that there’s anything wrong with me. What more could a guy with clubfoot ask for?

My rude awakening came one day when I was in my late twenties. I was spending the day walking around a museum with a friend of mine, and after a few hours, I asked my friend to stop for a minute so I could flex my sore feet. I explained that my feet get sore really easily, and I mentioned that I was born with clubfoot.

“Really?” she said. “I was born with clubfoot too!”

“Oh, cool!” I said. “I’ve never met anyone else like me! Do your feet get sore too?”

“No,” she said. “Right after I was born, I had braces, and the braces fixed my feet. I don’t have any lingering effects.”

It was a shock. As soon as I got home, I went to the internet, and learned that my friend’s experience was typical. I had thought that my feet were the best that modern medicine could give to a child with clubfoot. Now I realized that there had been a window of opportunity during which my feet could have been made normal with braces—completely, utterly normal—and that my parents had missed this opportunity.

I love my parents. They made a really bad decision, but I don’t blame them. I blame Christian Science. I blame a belief system that tells parents that suffering isn’t real, that doctors make things worse, and that the best way to help their child is to deny that he has any problems. I blame a belief system that leaves a young boy to teach himself to walk on sideways feet.