Often, long after leaving Christian Science, the aura of elitism or superiority lingers…
“The time for thinkers has come.” In its Genesis-like proclamation, Mary Baker Eddy reveals her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, intended to initiate a new system of higher thinking to overcome all challenges.
“Contentment with the past and the cold conventionality of materialism are crumbling away. Ignorance of God is no longer the stepping-stone to faith (Science and Health vii).”
With this edict, she sets the stage for a brand-new religion that bucks historical Christianity.
Eddy reveals the keys to undiscovered forces, a special knowledge she claims she was “divinely authorized” to share. With a recipe for successful religious elitism and superiority, Eddy begins with a base of Gnosticism, adds in a heaping amount of mind control, tosses in confusing metaphysical theories, sprinkles in some mesmerism, and finishes with a splash of good ‘ole superstition.
Mind Control: Indoctrination from an Early Age
From the time most of us began attending Sunday school, we were spoon-fed that Christian Science is special and unique. My mother repeatedly told me that “the best gift she could ever give me was Christian Science.” Instead of being told I was special because I was unique, loved, and treasured, I heard the message that I was special because I had been given the gift of Christian Science. From an early age, I was skeptical. In looking around, it didn’t feel like I was all that special to go to an unusual church, not have access to medical treatment, and experience shame around unresolved physical problems when my friends asked why I was at school when clearly, I was sick.
Every effective cult (or destructive religious group that deviates from religious norms) employs mind control techniques.
In his book, Combating Cult Mind Control, Steve Hassan states, “Information control is the second component of mind control. Information provides the tools with which we think and understand reality. Without accurate, up-to-date information, we can easily be manipulated and controlled. Deny a person the information they require to make sound judgments and they will become incapable of doing so.” Hassan goes on to argue that “deception is the biggest tool of information control, because it robs people of the ability to make informed decisions.”
Further, distorting information becomes an essential strategy to hold members in place. Since all Christian Science children are taught that they are a “perfect child of God” and that they have access to a “special system of healing,” it is inevitable for a sense of superiority to creep in. After all, we were indoctrinated to believe that we had special knowledge that was far superior to all our non-Christian Science friends.
Narcissism: Leader, Individual, and Group
Many people, after leaving Christian Science, have noticed or read about Eddy’s narcissistic tendencies. In support groups, we’ve also noticed the thread of narcissism as we talk about our parents and relatives still practicing Christian Science.
The American Psychiatric Association defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder as having the following traits: “Grandiosity, or feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescending toward others; attention-seeking. These impairments must be relatively stable and evident over long stretches of time for a person to be recognized and diagnosed.”
Most of us heard the metaphor that regular Christians had the “kindergarten” version of Christianity; we Christian Scientists had the “graduate school” version. I’ve heard this many times over the years as a means to explain away the vastly different theology that didn’t match up with anything recognizable within mainstream Christianity. This statement is a destructive, false statement that breeds intense individual religious superiority in mass quantities. And, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s almost as if Eddy injected Christian Science with a recipe for producing a whole group of narcissistic people. We worship her, her theology, her books, and ultimately ourselves in that our grasp of Christian Science and resulting healings from physical problems offer the proof that the whole system works. Whether or not we had actual healings or perceived healings, we stood up at Wednesday night testimony meetings and gave a glorified account of:
- How we applied the flawless principles of Christian Science to affect our ‘seemingly’ physical situation,
- How we overcame the ‘false evidence’ that told us we had a problem that needed healing,
- How we would subsequently gush effusively giving honor and glory to Mary Baker Eddy, our leader, for discovering Christian Science. By having declared that we had a healing, we subsequently elevated ourselves to the same level as the false teacher. We too achieved success, acclaim, and grandiosity.
For those who didn’t experience “demonstrations,” guilt, depression, and angst often resulted because at its core, Christian Science teaches that its system is flawless; if it didn’t work, it was because your understanding was limited. This is a hallmark of high control groups: the system isn’t flawed, the individual practicing the system is flawed.
“Since the doctrine is perfect and the leader is perfect, any problem that crops up is assumed to be the fault of the individual member. They learn to blame themselves and simply work harder,” Hassan adds in a section on thought control in Combatting Cult Mind Control.
There is an additional kind of narcissism reflected in Christian Science: collective, or group, narcissism. “Collective narcissism is characterized by the members of a group holding an inflated view of their ingroup.” Discovered and documented by Sigmond Freud, called “Freud’s Theory of Collective Narcissism,” he noticed that some groups developed “in-group bias” where they preferred and elevated their group’s thinking and biases above others. For example, fighter pilots’ larger-than-life attitude, sorority, and fraternity members’ superiority complex, and even extreme homeschool families who feel this is the only way to properly educate children.
Gnosticism: Special Lost Knowledge Revealed
Elitism and religious superiority are the natural results of being taught that we, as Christian Scientists, had a special, unique knowledge available only to us. In the early years of Christianity, the Gnostics rejected widely accepted theology that Jesus Christ was both God and man. These Gnostics had trouble with the Incarnation, or theological premise that Jesus was both fully God and fully man (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians all agree on this point). Gnostics believed Jesus could only be fully human or fully divine–not both. They decided that he was fully divine and with this decision came the split between physical reality and spiritual reality. They rejected everything material, proclaiming that only the spiritual realm was real. This “gnosis,” Latin for knowledge, became special esoteric knowledge. A special club, a group that had unique teachings only a select few could understand.
King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:19, “…there is nothing new under the sun.” His statement continues to stand the test of time. Eddy did not prophesy something new, she repackaged something as old as the story of Jesus Christ himself and presented it as her own creation. In the late 1800s, most likely only pastors and seminary teachers would have known much about the ancient heresies. Medical treatment was very experimental and the average life expectancy between 1860-1880 was approximately 35 to 39 years old. People were desperate for relief from common physical maladies, and a Gnostic repackaging placed on top of a magnanimous narcissistic leader created the perfect storm for a new cult to flourish.
Christian Science Culture: Lofty and Exclusive
The aura of mystique and air of superiority was evident in Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. Even the big words she carefully chose to use in her writings reeked of lofty education and privilege. She commanded trust, demanded respect, and required utter devotion to her cause.
Elitism in Christian Science is ‘baked in.’ The very basis of Christian Science hinges on elitist, preferential theology that only the most enlightened understand and select for themselves. Many of us have voiced concerns in the past about not understanding specifics of Christian Science theology. It might be hard to recognize the traits of destructive mind control, but the more you delve in, deconstruct from the harmful and confusing worldview, and understand the specific components of cult mind control, the easier it will be to unpack the ‘coding’ of religious superiority implanted in us.
When we acknowledge the weaknesses created by the baseless teachings of Christian Science and the narcissism it breeds, we can deconstruct from the views we were raised with and embrace an attitude of humility. Anchoring yourself in the fact that you are human, with an imperfect human mind and body, you can adopt a humble attitude and gradually break the patterns of arrogance and elitism. Through dedication and perseverance to recovery from religious trauma, it is possible to understand, break habits, and effect change.
For further information on what constitutes a cult, watch the Freedom of Mind (Steve Hassan) BITE Model Video:
Lauren Hunter writes about this journey of life we are all on together. Married to her high school sweetheart, Lauren lives in Northern California with her husband and their four children. Her latest book is Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ.