Hindsight is 20/20

This is Part 2 of a multi-part story of one woman’s journey leaving Christian Science. For all posts see ‘Spice‘.


File:Refraction through glasses 090306.jpg From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

I have been unable to see properly for at least half of my life.

While a lot of modern day Christian Scientists don’t go to doctors, many of them do go to eye doctors, because Mary Baker Eddy herself went to eye doctors. Eye doctors and dentists are exceptions to the rule of not seeking medical care — but that’s a whole ‘nother article. For now we’ll just leave it with the concept that Christian Scientists are allowed, under religious doctrine, to go to eye doctors and get and wear glasses.

Even though both of my Christian Scientist parents wore glasses, they didn’t know how to help me navigate what I feel is the labyrinth of optometry.

I first found out that I needed glasses at the DMV, testing for my driver’s license at age 16. Having been raised by Christian Scientists, I was exempt from vision screening in school. I was also exempt from health class, scoliosis screening, hearing screenings, and vaccinations.

I was at the DMV after a rough driver’s ed experience in school. I didn’t pass the course and needed additional hours with the instructor which took additional time, cost additional money, and further inconvenienced my parents who had to transport me. Within my family, I got a reputation as being a bad driver.

After the DMV, my mother took me to Wal-Mart for an eye exam and to buy a pair of glasses. I remember being scared and frustrated and crying during the exam, because he was asking me which lens I “liked” better, and I didn’t know. I didn’t know by what criteria I should like one lens over another, and I was very scared at my first experience at a doctor’s office. I remember when I first put them on and looked across the big store, I could now read the signs across the ceiling. The first time I wore them outside I reveled in the ability to see each individual leaf on a tree. Being able to see was amazing, and driving became much easier.

I don’t think I got another pair of glasses until I was away at college, a couple of years later. Why would a good Christian Scientist get their eyes checked every year? That would be acknowledging the idea of mortal decay and giving it power. Well, I accidentally left my glasses on a desk in a classroom and never found them. In a panic, I had to figure out how to get — and pay for — another pair of glasses. And why would a good Christian Scientist have a backup pair of glasses? That would be acknowledging that things can be lost, which is error.

From Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy, “Recapitulation,” p. 472:

 

Question. — What is error?
Answer. —

Error is a supposition that pleasure and pain, that intelligence,
substance, life, are existent in matter. Error is neither Mind nor one of Mind’s
faculties. Error is the contradiction of Truth. Error is a belief without
understanding. Error is unreal because untrue. It is that which seemeth to be and is not.If error were true, its truth would be error, and we should have a
self-evident absurdity — namely, erroneous truth.Thus we should continue to
lose the standard of Truth.

 

I found a coupon in the newspaper for a $25 exam, which sounded great to me, being on my own financially. I went to Wal-Mart to pick out a pair of frames and get an idea of the price. (After all, my mom had taken me to Wal-Mart for glasses. Isn’t that where everyone gets glasses?) Then I went to the optician designated on the coupon for my eye exam. Afterward they asked if I’d like to look at frames, and I said I could not afford the glasses that they sold there, and that I needed my prescription to take to Wal-Mart. They did not want to release my prescription, and I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or the law stating they were required to give it to me. So I bought from them glasses that were out of my budget even after discounting. (The coating wore off of those glasses before my year warranty was up, and those bastards charged me for “shipping” to replace/recoat the lenses.) I was at this shady place because I didn’t know about medical insurance, what I had access to via my parents or the university while in college, or that I could have had a proper exam from a non-swindling eye doctor. I didn’t know that non-swindling eye doctors existed until several years later, and I hated “the glasses racket” and treated it with proper disgust and distrust.

Later in college, I lost my glasses while out dancing. Of course I blamed myself horribly for losing them, because Christian Science teaches that “nothing is lost in God’s Kingdom.” This is probably based on the phrase, “thy kingdom come,” found in “The Daily Prayer” from The Manual of The Mother Church, Eddy:

Daily Prayer. Sect. 4. It shall be the duty
of every member of this Church to pray each
day: “Thy kingdom come;” let the reign of
divine Truth, Life, and Love be established in
me, and rule out of me all sin; and may Thy
Word enrich the affections of all mankind,
and govern them!

In reality, people lose or break glasses all the time. It’s so common that it is normal to have a “backup pair” of glasses so that this exact situation does not happen. My prescription was expired, so I had to do another “fire drill” to get replacement glasses in a hurry. You can bet I didn’t go back to those bastards for a $25 eye exam.

After graduating college, I had a reimbursable cash incentive from my employer for medical expenses. Because I was driving slowly when approaching signs, the coworkers I was on a business trip with suggested that it was time for new glasses, which was embarrassing. I found an independent eye doctor and got an exam. He suggested that I get my eyes checked every year. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

I got eye exams every year for the four years that I had that job because of this reimbursable cash account. The next time I went to this doctor for an eye exam, he said that my prescription had changed only slightly and started to write a new one. I begged him not to change my prescription if it was only slightly different, because new prescriptions gave me horrible headaches. I remember the look he gave me, like I had just asked him to commit a felony. I didn’t learn until 10 years later that headaches upon getting a new glasses prescription is not uncommon, but in the meantime this reinforced my disgust and distrust in what I perceived as being “the glasses racket”.

After that I went to graduate school, which is very reading-intensive. I knew the signs that my vision was going by now, so I went to an independent eye doctor for a prescription and went along just fine. After a couple of years the lenses became crazed, and I needed to replace these glasses. I was so frustrated and did not have the time, money, or patience to deal with it. Since I felt like I could see just fine and had a deep distrust in “the glasses racket”, I decided not to play their game this time. In the state where I lived then, a glasses prescription was good for 2 years, instead of 1 year, which had been the case where I lived previously. Well, if 2 was just as good as 1, then why not 3? I felt like it was all bullshit anyway, just designed to make eye doctors money. So I did a forensic copy job on my prescription and extended it for a year so that an unnamed optical provider would make me another pair of glasses. (Thankfully, the statute of limitations has expired on this. I did not know at the time that this is very, very illegal, but that is no excuse.)

After I graduated and started my next job, the first thing I did was to get Lasik. It had been about four years since I had had an eye exam and gotten new glasses, and the doctor thought that my prescription was stable. Lasik was a terrifying experience, but was well worth the emotional upheaval. I remember seeing every individual snowflake falling outside the window the next morning with my naked eyes. I proudly went to the DMV with my Lasik letter to get the corrective lens restriction removed from my license. I could see as soon as I woke up everyday! Life without glasses was SO FINE.

A little over a year later, I was in an accident that caused a vision problem called Purtcher’s Retinopathy. It took a while to diagnose and affects the retina — a different part of the eye than Lasik fixes and which glasses corrects (the cornea). While signing myself into the ER after the accident, I asked if the pen worked because I couldn’t see my signature on the admittance paperwork. The ceiling tiles were also fuzzy as I laid in the ER bed. But, we had much bigger fish to fry (injuries to treat), and the doctor said that the accident probably kicked up floaters, that my body was under stress, and that it would clear up.

Two days later I was following up with my primary care doctor, and they were asking me for all kinds of information for the insurance claim. I couldn’t read well enough to get insurance info from my email on my phone. I successfully advocated for myself at that appointment and begrudgingly got orders for a CT scan, which did not show any abnormalities. (By this point, I had been getting medical care for 10 years.) Purtcher’s Retinopathy takes two days to fully present. That night, I picked up a plate full of liquid that I couldn’t see, and splashed the liquid all over myself. After watching me do this, my husband took me to the ER at a hospital with a well-known eye center. My intake eye exam (which I cried through) revealed my vision was only 20/200. The ER resident was able to confirm that there was nothing wrong with my Lasik flap,and that my optic nerve looked fine, and agreed my problem must be caused by floaters. I pushed back and said that I felt like I was looking through snow on an analog TV and the interference stayed in the same place wherever I looked, which is not explained by floaters. I ended up seeing a total of six eye doctors over four months before getting definitive test results proving that I had a vision problem. Every time they gave me the same stupid exam, and every
time I bawled my eyes out because I couldn’t see.

Fun fact: there are no criteria for a doctor clearing you to drive after you have vision problems. I asked about the fact that it took me 10 seconds sometimes to make out a letter and the several times that, as a passenger, I did not see a scooter, small, neutral-colored car, or pedestrian. They said to just “use my judgement.” My husband drove me to all of my appointments and to work for six weeks. Then he needed to go on a business trip, so I started driving again. I got a new GPS and used voice prompts and drove slowly. By the 4-month point, I was testing at 20/35, which was close enough to 20/30, the legal requirement for driving. This should scare the hell out of you. It scared the hell out of me.

A year after the accident, I passed a DMV vision test and my retinologist said that my retinas looked just as good as any adult’s off the street.

Life went on for a couple more years. I started treatment for migraines that included medication. I didn’t feel like I could see very well and blamed it on the meds, like a good semi-pseudo-sorta-former Christian Scientist. In fact, after a few days on one medication, I almost missed a school crossing guard, and immediately quit taking that medication. It got so bad that I avoided driving at night as much as possible and drove very slowly on exits and when taking turns. I thought to myself: ”I am too young to be having these kinds of vision problems and limitations.” I read about blurred vision in my medication side effects. (Spoiler alert: they ALL say this.) I discussed this with my doctor, and we slowly reduced the medication until I no longer took it. My vision improved slightly, but was still so bad that I couldn’t read signs across the room. My husband told me to try on his glasses. Goddamnit, it was time for new glasses. AGAIN.

At this point, it had been 4 years since I got Lasik, and my eyes kept deteriorating. I’m sure that some of my Christian Science family members blame my having gotten Lasik for needing to wear glasses again. I didn’t solve my vision the “right” way, through prayer. Yeah, ok.

So it turns out that I will not achieve my goal of cutting the glasses industry out of my life. But now (I think) I know how to deal with it like a rational adult. I now have not only one pair of backup glasses, but also a fashion pair, plus prescription sunglasses. This feels like pure luxury.

Because I was raised as a Christian Scientist, I got the reputation for being a bad driver during my formative years and felt guilty for needing glasses and for not being “God’s perfect child.” I did not get eye exams every year or even every two years while in high school and college — the prime age range for getting into a car accident for non-vision-related reasons. My lack of knowledge about eye doctors and the glasses industry made correcting my eyesight a very painful and expensive process — not to mention incredibly dangerous, because without a backup pair of glasses, I was out on the open road unable to see properly. All of this stress occurred during the most important years of my education. As an adult, I unwittingly committed a felony by changing the date on my prescription, because I was sure I knew better than these swindling, glasses-hawking eye doctors. Finally I blamed my vision problems on meds and did
not have the self-awareness — or body-awareness — to recognize that I had needed new
glasses for over 8 months.

“​My lack of knowledge about eye doctors and the glasses industry made correcting my eyesight a very painful and expensive process — not to mention incredibly dangerous…”

I have major emotional baggage when it comes to glasses and vision. What I went through was completely unnecessary thanks to 14th century technology (glasses) and middle-class means (the ability buy a backup pair) during modern times when vision screening is mandatory during elementary school (unless you have a religious exemption). I have been terrified of driving, made to feel like it was my own fault that I couldn’t see, felt swindled, despaired that I would never be able to see again, and I committed a felony. My troubles didn’t occur in 1900 — this was Anno Domini 2000+. Except that for Christian Scientists, it may as well have been 1900s — medically speaking.


image via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Refraction_through_glasses_090306.jpg

The Spice of Life –  Part 1: Before leaving Christian Science

This is Part 1 of a multi-part story of one woman’s journey leaving Christian Science. For all posts seeSpice‘.


I was raised in a Radically Reliant Christian Science Household. I would like to tell you what that was like now that I have completely left the religion, and how easy it would have been for me to have had both a better childhood and adulthood.

I got what I now know is bronchitis almost every year in my memory. Once, I was out of school for a week because of it. I thought it was normal to get sick for two months every spring. I thought it was normal to have snot running down your face and sneeze constantly while talking to a professor. I thought it was just a belief in allergies that caused me to cough so hard and for so long that my back was sore for weeks. Every year. Again and again.

At age seven I got measles at CedarS Camps during the 1989 outbreak. When I started using modern healthcare as an adult, I was shocked and dismayed to learn how much danger I was in as a child over diseases that were completely preventable. Furthermore, rejecting these modern, scientifically derived and proven solutions takes a lot of work on the part of the Radically Reliant anymore, what with religious exemption forms that must be notarized and filed with different schools. When Christian Scientists including me successfully avoid measles vaccinations through these legal means–thinking smugly that it is our First Amendment right to do so–it in fact allows us to become carriers for the disease and transmit it to others, including vulnerable populations who may not be vaccinated. I was horrified to learn that I was at the forefront of the biggest measles outbreak in modern America

When I was 15, four teenagers including myself, were in a car accident. After the accident, I was in and out of consciousness and no one could contact my family. A kind friend’s mother finally got a hold of my mother to let her know I had been in a car accident. When my mom arrived at the Emergency Room, I remember being on the x-ray table and they stopped diagnostic tests because my mom was signing me out of the ER. I realize of course, that was just how she was raised–to Radically Rely on Christian Science. I had badly chipped teeth and probably a pretty bad concussion based the fact that I was fading in and out of consciousness. I don’t remember much, but I definitely remember feeling confused and hurt on behalf of the friend’s mother who was brusquely told “no thanks” when she offered to add me to her church’s prayer list. I remember thinking that it couldn’t hurt, and that this person was so kind to have helped track down my mother.

While I’m very grateful for a roof over my head, a full stomach, and intelligent and loving parents, I moved out of a Radically Reliant Christian Science household feeling very confused about a lot of things. This impacted my jobs, school, friendships, and romantic relationships in ways I am only starting to realize and move past fifteen years later. I will expand upon this in Part 2.

Are Christian Scientists free to choose medical care or not?

By Bruce, an Ex-Christian Scientist group writer.

A number of child death cases in the 1980s and 90s involving Christian Scientists, exposed The Mother Church, Christian Science practitioners, and Christian Science nurses to the potential of criminal and/or civil liability for the deaths of children under their care and/or treatment. The Church subsequently published a policy to make it clear that it is an individual member’s decision whether to use medical treatment:

It’s up to each person who practices Christian Science to choose the form of health care he or she wants.1

This policy is frequently repeated by the Church’s Committees on Publication (media relations contacts) in columns, blogs, and editorials. Indeed, The New York Times reported in 2010 that, “Christian Science leaders have recently found a new tolerance for medical care. For more than a year, leaders say, they have been encouraging members to see a physician if they feel it is necessary.”2

Free to choose, or forced to ‘radically rely’?

This represents a dramatic change from the ‘radical-reliance’* culture I and many others were raised in–a culture that strongly discouraged any mixing of medicine with Christian Science. But unfortunately, this new policy is not always honored in practice. Most Christian Science institutions—including schools, summer camps, and nursing facilities—discourage, limit, or prohibit medical treatment.

For example, nowhere does Principia College (a school for Christian Scientists) have a policy acknowledging an individual’s right to choose the form of health care they want. In fact, Principia is explicit that:

Members of the faculty, staff, and student body will be expected to rely on Christian Science for healing” (Policy 4).3

However, they make a ‘compassionate’ exception for short-term use of medicine:

In certain circumstances, temporary use of doctor-prescribed medicine is compassionately regarded (see Science and Health, p. 444: 7-10). Under such circumstances, the college will try to find a way to help a student complete as much of the current term’s academic work as possible . . .4

Principia’s compassion has its limits, however:

Students who rely on medicine beyond one semester will be asked to temporarily withdraw until such usage is discontinued. A withdrawal is not a suspension and does not negatively affect the student’s record.5

So, Principia will show a student the door if they employ medical treatment beyond one semester. They are quick to add however, that such action is not a ‘suspension’ (i.e., not disciplinary), although it probably feels like it for the student who is forced to leave.

And how about faculty and staff? Let’s say a middle-aged professor chooses to seek medical care for a health issue they have struggled with unsuccessfully using Christian Science. If they require medication long-term, is their situation ‘compassionately regarded’? Or, will they lose their job?

Christian Science nursing facilities are even less flexible than Principia. The Commission for Accreditation of Christian Science Nursing Organizations/Facilities is adamant that medical treatment of any kind is not to be allowed:

Patients in Christian Science nursing facilities have chosen to rely on prayer for healing while receiving practical, physical care from Christian Science nurses, without the use of medicine, medical techniques, therapy, or procedures.6

Their policy requires a patient to have made the choice to rely exclusively on prayer when being admitted to a facility. But what if a patient changes her choice sometime after being admitted? Is it okay to take pain medication if pain becomes unbearable? Their answer is “no”, and consequently, many elderly Christian Scientists die in great pain in Christian Science nursing facilities—notwithstanding the fact that Mary Baker Eddy made provision for medical relief from extreme pain in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (p. 464).

When my mother was in pain at a Christian Science nursing facility, we were put into the bizarre position of having to smuggle pills to her. Some days later, she called me in tears–imploring me to transfer her to a medical hospice. I was able to arrange the move, where she later died under compassionate palliative care.

My mother made a choice to change the form of health care she wanted. But, she was in full possession of her mental faculties. What about patients who suffer from dementia, don’t realize they can choose to leave, or are dissuaded by an assertive Christian Science practitioner; or are children and cannot choose for themselves?

In 1993, the Church severed its official ties with Christian Science nursing facilities, which are now organizationally independent, and independently accredited. Principia has also always asserted that it is ‘unaffiliated’ with The First Church of Christ, Scientist. However, there is little doubt that the Christian Science Board of Directors could ask these institutions to fully implement its policy on this issue and they would comply.

To come into compliance, Principia would need to change its policy to make it clear that a student is free to choose the form of health care they want, and if it is medical care they will be allowed to complete their studies and graduate. Christian Science nursing facilities can comply by informing incoming patients in writing of their right to choose to move to a medical facility at any time, with no questions asked and no explanation needed.

Until such changes are made at these various Christian Science-affiliated institutions, the Church cannot honestly claim that Christian Scientists are completely free to choose the form of health care they want. The cultural and peer pressure to rely only on Christian Science for health care is extremely strong. The freedom exists on paper, but not so much in practice.


Notes:

* This term arises from this statement from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Only through radical reliance on Truth can scientific healing power be realized.” (p. 167).

Footnotes:

1What is Christian Science? [Relationship with Western Medicine].” Christian Science. The Christian Science Board of Directors. n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

2 Vitello, Paul. “Christian Science Church Seeks Truce With Modern Medicine.” New York Times. 23 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

3Purpose and Policies.” The Principia. The Principia. 22 Oct. 1944 (Modified: 30 Nov. 1962, and 26 Oct. 1983). Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

4Spiritual Reliance.” Principia College (2015 – 2016 Catalog). The Principia. n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

5 Ibid.

6Christian Science Nursing is spiritually based healthcare.” The Commission. The Commission for Accreditation of Christian Science Nursing Organizations/Facilities, Inc. n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2016.

Guilt, because we are not good enough to get that healing.

This is Part 3 of a series of posts by Sharon, an Ex-Christian Scientist Group contributor.
Sharon's Story Header

I grew up in a home filled with pictures—not of Jesus Christ—but of Mary Baker Eddy. Pictures of her on our walls: pictures of where she lived, her living room, her study, her rocking chair, and of her standing on her balcony at this house and that house.

I have a copy of the first edition of Science & Health, which is almost unreadable it is written so badly. Until Mary Baker Eddy had it rewritten, edited, and re-edited by someone else, it was obviously written by a person with some kind of thought disorder. And yet, this person was deified in my house. How much more cult-like could it be?

When I read about how Mrs. Eddy’s writings elevate her above Jesus and the Bible, I feel a split in my brain. Most of my brain finds it unbelievably delusional, and yet part of my brain accepts it as natural after hearing it throughout my first thirty-three years of life. I do think Christian Science has a brainwashing effect. It is very hard to get this junk out of your head.

I have read all the biographies of Mary Baker Eddy with histories of the Christian Science church, authorized and unauthorized, and I know from personal experience that it does not work and that it really is not Christian nor is it a science. Yet after a time, the old programming reasserts itself and I find myself thinking, “Oh well, Christian Science isn’t for me, but it’s fine for some people.” Then when I start reading again like I am now, I’m blown away by how cultish it is, and how damaging. Continue reading “Guilt, because we are not good enough to get that healing.”