The author was raised in Christian Science, but shed his religious skin in college.
He learned to challenge conventional wisdom, to distrust what the senses reported — a sort of Jedi master training. ‘Believe not what you see, or taste, or smell. Things of the sensual world be not real they’re not.’
That’s the gist of Christian Science.
I’m grateful I was taught to reject the face value of things. It made me disenchanted with materialism and consider what truly mattered at an early age. The practice developed my critical thinking and propensity to question authority. I appreciate this.
As a kid though, the eccentric customs create a wall, a bubble, alienation. They nurture a culture of not fitting in with society, the public, others. You’re the spotted elephant from the Island of Misfit Toys which is okay when you’re an older teen and rebelling, but as a youngster, you want to fit in. You don’t want to stand out.
If you move around a lot, the last thing you want is to draw more attention to yourself. I’ve lived at 29 residences in 48 years, excluding summer camps, boarding school, and locations less than 1 year.
The most detrimental aspect of C.S. though is the perpetuated ignorance of practical living, including the mistreatment of suffering. That. In my book, that is unforgivable.
In a nutshell, a Christian Scientist is taught to be guided to deal with practical human matters, through prayer alone. Therefore, Scientists are vastly unprepared when it comes time to making tough decisions. For instance, how should we prepare for the end of life? The C.S. answer seems to be to ignore it, like maybe it won’t happen and you’ll ascend.
Sure, it’s an uncomfortable subject, but why not prepare for the inevitable? We’re not going to live forever, so stop pretending like we are.
So what the fuck is C.S. anyway?
For the layman, some may be surprised to learn: It’s not a cult. It’s not a religion that pressures conformity like other Christian sects. It has nothing to do with Scientology and barely much to do with science even.
For the faithful Scientists, you KNOW what the fuck Christian Science is, but what the hell could it be doing to evolve into a religion of the 21st century?
I present ideas. I pose questions. I welcome dialog.
Imagine health care 150 years ago.
Snake oil and hypnotists were trending in the late 19th century, kind of like kale and herbal fitness shakes today.
“During the nineteenth century there was a swell of health problems in America. Women were coming down with a disease that they called ‘hysteria’ and men similarly developed a syndrome termed ‘nervous exhaustion.’ Medicine throughout this time period mostly did more harm than it did good. Doctors raced to find cures for these sicknesses but found themselves unsuccessful a majority of the time.” -Theopedia
In essence, medical solutions were in great demand. The climate was ripe for science. A healing-based religion, not hypothetical hyperbole, it would need to be founded on facts and proof-based demonstration.
Along comes Mary Baker Eddy, a woman who would skate and fall on the ice, bang her head, pray for her life, and be healed because of the truths she held about Jesus’ experience and its relation to her. She was enlightened (or concussed) to believe that Jesus’ healing methods were scientific. If one were to merely follow in his scientific footsteps, then you too could heal like he did. Raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out sin and evil. Imagine that.
Subsequent to her grand discovery MBE moved to Lynn, Massachusetts and opened her own mental healing clinic. Then in 1875 at the age of 45, she published her first edition of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”. She claimed it was the final revelation of God to mankind and asserted that her work was inspired of God.
The word “Key” in the title of her book is in reference to her being the woman of Revelation 12. She claims her work is the key to unlocking the Bible, which she called a “dark book.” Eddy claimed the Bible had many mistakes and that her writings provided the “Key” spoken of in Rev. 3:7. -Theopedia
1 + 1 = 2.
While the math is universally understood to be true, let’s suspend belief and call the principle behind the equation merely a suggestion? What if we said with authority that 1 plus 1 just might equal 2. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t.
To the layman Science can prompt a response that says, What the hell are you talking about? Science is supposed to be a field of hypothesis, proof, and demonstration.
How can anyone purport that spirituality can have any factual basis in a material world.
This is where Mary Baker Eddy differs from the average bear. (Everyone in Science calls her by all three names. It’s never Mary or Mary Eddy. It’s more like Beyonce, except only the exact opposite. So anyway MBE, has this way of distortion. Perhaps it’s the same sort of mind bending if 1 + 1 does not equal 2. If we created the principle to make order of things, why can’t we warp our own created laws.
Metaphysical vs. physical
Misses Eddy would say that the physical realm, the world of matter and human flesh, is not real. Everything you experience through your five senses is not real. It’s a lie. And the labels we put on all the sensual things are mental distortions.
If you cut your finger with a kitchen knife, not only is the pain you feel not real, but neither is the blood gushing from your extremity nor the blade that made the sever. The pain may feel real. The blood may appear to be really flowing. The knife may appear to be sharp and still feel sharp upon a second gliding of your hand against it.
BUT in MBE’s world of absolutes, the only truth is that You are the child of God and you are not subject to physical laws. Huh? Ya. You are not flesh and bones and blood and brain and cells and oxygen and other elements. You are not the body that comes out of your mother’s womb at sunrise or goes into the ground at sunset. You are a being. An untouchable essence.
Mrs. Eddy contends that spirituality has nothing to do with materiality. How can it? She says with her shoulders shrugged. It’s like having light and darkness filling the same space.
My mother hung onto that C.S. life ring with those words around her chest until the day she died at age 38. She refused to see a physician for her easily treatable liver disease or believe any suggestions outside of what her religion professed. She left behind 3 children ages 5 to 10.
My father held to the same stubborn belief until the day he died at 78 of lung cancer without any medical treatment. He only took the slow but persistent pain relief medication that allowed him to pass away comfortably.
Can’t we just accept the fact that there is nothing scientific about this religion, except that its membership count is fading at an exponential rate? We’ll look at congregation numbers later.
If this religion, C.S., and its practice were tested by Myth Busters, the conclusion would be BUSTED. There is no proof. The religion’s publishing arm puts out a weekly glossy pamphlet that contains half a dozen healing demonstrations from around the world. These are supposed to prove and uplift the readers. People are healed of ailments, but how do you trace its source? One might call the C.S. truth a mind warp, the reality bend.
Perception, Point of View
Who is perceiving the ego? If I’m not the being that was birthed by my mother, then who or what is doing the perceiving? Is my mind me? My thinking? If so, and if I’m knocked in the head a few times on the football field or in a boxing ring, how is my thinking about who I am, affected?
Define child of god. Define god.
If god is all good ideas and we are his children, then we are each one individual good idea, together a conglomerate of good ideas. How can you harm a good idea? By snuffing it out with bad ideas? By talking over it. By not seeing or not listening to it. Again, something, some entity, needs to be doing the not seeing, not listening, the perceiving. Right?
When I was around 7 or 8, I stood up in church, took the mic and testified. I told about all that I was grateful for, right down to the cranberry sauce and gravy on the holiday turkey. Chuckles reverberated throughout the dome. It happened to be a Thanksgiving service and it happened to be at the Mother Church in Boston – the mother of all Christian Science churches. Domes and stained glass and capacity of 4,000 god-fearing folk.
The Original Mother Church, designed by Franklin I. Welch, was completed in December 1894, eight years after the first Christian Science church, First Church of Christ, Scientist (Oconto, Wisconsin), was built by local women who felt they had been helped by the religion. -Wiki
The Mother Church
It’s a funny thing to personify an architectural structure. In modern conversation, mother as an adjective is usually followed by fucker. The Mother Church also sounds like a hub for aliens, like the mother spaceship, which is a pretty apt analogy, actually.
Christian Science broke from convention in the 1800s and challenged a lot of prominent beliefs at the time of establishment. ‘What do you mean you don’t see a doctor or take medication if you’re hurt? You pray to god instead? That doesn’t make sense. You don’t smoke tobacco, drink caffeine, or consume any stimulants?’ Where does the religion stand on wearing straight-jackets? Cause to me that’s all it appears to be. Never mind.
In public school, my parents signed papers, to the dismay of many school administrators, so that I didn’t need to get vaccinations. Other kids wanted to know how come I didn’t have to get pricked with the needle. I was special.
When I got the German measles at summer camp I was quarantined. When I got the mumps and broke my nose in high school, I was virtually ignored by the school nurse. In the latter circumstance, the coach adjusted the bone and sent me back out on the field. When I fell out of a tree and broke my arm, I only got a sling.
That all seemed normal in Christian Science environments. My father didn’t go to the dentist for the longest time, and when he finally did, he refused to take novacaine. MBE wouldn’t approve of the numbing, giving power to this material casing we call the body.
You know what else is weird? When I was about 6 or 7, I was in bed with a fever and felt I could scream the sickness out. Devil be gone. I sang hymns at the top of my lungs emphasizing words that I thought would really drive the point home.
Aye, darkling sense, arise, go hence!
Our God is good.
Satisfied, -Mary Baker Eddy
I was certain my passion and conviction would rid this false belief that portrayed me as ill. Eventually, the sickness subsided, but not immediately and not with any traceable connection to my prayer yelling.
But kids make things up. Mister Rogers, for instance, had a neighborhood trolley that took you to such a land. So when I was 8 or 9, I imagined that I was the next messiah. I was put on this earth to heal others. What a fantasy and uphill battle. An uphill battle because I needed more than faith and desire to heal. It would take me another 10 years to realize I didn’t have the miraculous touch. I was just another false prophet, conjured up by my own self-delusion.
I really should have been a messiah and advocate for the religion. I was perfectly primed, not in an immaculate conception kind of way, but the signs were there. My parents met while working at the Christian Science Monitor. She was the straight-laced education reporter, former child stage actor, and he was the sociable mail delivery boy, former high school history teacher. One day he slipped a note in her mail batch, asking her to lunch.
Five years later, after two sisters preceded me, I was born. At home. Beacon Hill in Boston. My mother didn’t smoke, drink or take any medication for anything, including the childbirth delivery. Here was a pure creation that inhaled his first breath of Boston air in the hometown where his religion also first declared its global presence.
More of The Mother Church
The name sounds comforting and welcoming. All are invited to the Mother Church for song and praise, followed by milk and cookies at the Reflecting Pool.
The Reflecting Pool’s a pretty cool feature of the Boston church plaza, plus it has that double meaning in the name. You can view the scenic cityscape in the water while meditating on one’s lot in life. Or if you’re a loopy excited kid at a high school reunion, you can splash around in the knee-high city water in your clothes at night until security chases you off the grounds.
But the coolest feature of the C.S. complex, for both child and adult, has to be the maparium. You enter this room on a plankway engrossed by sharp colorful lighting. The glass walls of the world map are curved and put you at the center of it all.
One person can whisper at one end of the walkway while another at the exit can hear your voice perfectly clear as if one were talking into your ear. Physics, I guess. You could say science is demonstrated at least to some small degree at the religion’s headquarters.
The most accurate and succinct summary of Christian Science online reads,
“Christian Science, officially called the Church of Christ, Scientist, is a religion that emphasizes physical healing through prayer and a recognition of the nonexistence of matter and illness. It was founded in the late 19th century by Mary Baker Eddy.
Christian Science is perhaps best known for its news organization The Christian Science Monitor, which was founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, and its Christian Science Reading Rooms.
Christian Science should not be confused with Scientology. Despite a somewhat similar name, the two groups are completely different and have almost nothing in common.” –Religion Facts
Scientology is another relatively young religion, created in 1954 by a science fiction author, which is frequently mistaken in casual conversation for Christian Science or vice versa.
The official name of the Christian Science religion is– Church of Christ, Scientist – a name that rolls right off the tongue, right? Whirrrrr… like a garbage disposal.
Most members were born into the religion. So how can so many intelligent people get wrapped up in such a bonkers faith? One answer is that religion serves a purpose of feeding solutions when you really need them. People often find or found C.S. after facing an immense challenge or reaching an ultimate low.
For instance, maybe one is paralyzed from a car accident, or broke and addicted to meth, or divorced and abandoned by all friends and society. It’s usually at this desperation point that one will grasp onto anyone offering a helping hand.
Sometimes the helping hand is in the form of an open door in a popular public place. Meet the Reading Room. They seem to be everywhere.
At least they were everywhere, but vanishing rapidly. Sometimes I will be traveling in remote parts of the world and voila a Christian Science Reading Room will appear. They house all the literature that is published on a regular basis, from monthly journals that contain healing testimonies and some high level articles of contemporary interest, to the weekly newspaper and archives of all C.S. literature.
Lights Are On
Thing about C.S. is they don’t preach. They don’t get in your face and ask you to conform. They don’t knock on doors and disturb your home life. They don’t climb a step ladder and yell on the corner with a megaphone. They believe their way is the only way to righteous living, but whether or not you choose to take that path is up to you. You’re not going to hell if you don’t choose their way either.
I suppose it’s a matter of suffering. They’ll offer to help a person in need, but they don’t do missionary work or judge you an idiot if you don’t agree with them. Christian Scientists are a very tolerant people…for the most part.
For the most part, Christian Science steers away from public stances on social issues. But sometimes, they can’t avoid it. In 1991, I was living in San Francisco. I sporadically attended the First Church on Franklin and California streets. Coincidentally, this is the branch that Danielle Steel would drop off her 7 rugrats at the Sunday School and slip into the church back row after the service started.
At this time, HIV-positive and AIDS-diagnosed cases had reached epidemic proportions. Rock Hudson announced his deadly infection in 1985 and the number of AIDS-related deaths wouldn’t peak until 1995.
So there was discrimination at least on the local level and supported by the main church. Gay men at the First Church in San Francisco, were stripped of their membership and ostracized. At least that was the rumor circulating in the congregation to newcomers. Where are they now? Who accepted them?
I was living in the Bay Area and had been married less than a year, when I started getting strange phone calls from my C.S. high school English teacher. In fact, it was Christmas day. He didn’t even say Merry Christmas, the teacher just announced he had AIDS and needed a friend’s phone number.
He was losing his shit, literally and figuratively.
Bruce was a tornado and it seemed less than a good idea to invite a disturbed man into our 1 BR Oakland apartment. Bruce says he got robbed and beat up and was living on the street. He couldn’t cash his disability check because he didn’t have any i.d. He couldn’t obtain health services because he didn’t have i.d. He waited in a long line of other HIV-positive patients only to argue and insult the service people and was eventually removed by security officers.
I did what I could. At the first phone call, before Bruce acted psychotic, I gave him a wealthy mutual acquaintance’s phone number. But when Bruce asked for the number repeated times, I started to deny having the phone number because he clearly forgot. I stuck to that story through Bruce’s persistent pleas and sobbing.
I brainstormed and offered what ideas and resources I could find. “I have a high school contact directory. I’ll help you write a letter asking for help.” The letter started out with a hard truth that everyone knew 20 years earlier about Bruce — “I’m gay. And I need your help.”
Bruce, everyone knew you were gay in high school, you and your well-groomed bichon frise lapdog. Your fawning of other boys alone in your apartment late at night, who would later discover their own homosexuality, elucidated the presumption.
People called you faggot when you irritated them, but you didn’t take it to heart because you were blind to your own identity. The bullies knew it was true. You just thought they were being disrespectful.
At one point, Bruce was determined to see the 1960s actress Tippy Hedron. Yes, the hallucinations and delusions were kicking in at full strength. He heard she had a bird preserve in southern California and maybe he could work for her. I imagined the birds would just peck his ass to death like in the Hitchcock movie. The beaky beasts are persnickety too and have little tolerance for pissy attitudes.
After conversations with a high school colleague of Bruce’s, the fellow teacher offered to set up a fund to help feed and keep Bruce off the streets. One sympathetic former student living in L.A. actually tried to take care of Bruce for a week, but Bruce easily blew up that whole situation. Police and EMTs were called. Bruce spent some time in the clink. Nobody knew what else to do with him. So even though the funding kicked in, the distribution was near impossible.
The whole situation was a downward spiral clusterfuck.
One of the last pieces of recognizable advice I gave Bruce was to seek help from a non-profit helping patients with HIV or AIDS. I provided addresses and phone numbers of local resources. Bruce pled to move to San Francisco and stay with us. I discouraged that at every turn. The resources will be just as good in L.A. and there might be less competition/fewer lines. Bruce hated waiting in lines.
Bruce died of AIDS on the street or possibly in a cell within 6 months of first reaching out.
Celebrity Scientists seem to distinguish themselves as either: 1. Members or 2. Non-practicing. The latter is a nice way of saying you were a former student but stopped that nonsense and ordered a beer immediately upon realization.
Bonafide disciples: Val Kilmer. Jean Staplelton. Sergei Prokofiev. Stan Turner (CIA), John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, Henry Paulson (U.S. Treasury). Joan Crawford. Peter Horton. Michael Nesmith. Lilia Skala. Shanon Miller (gymnast). Alfre Woodard. Alan Shepard. Ginger Rogers.
Dabblers: Robert Duvall. Bruce Hornsby. Danielle Steel. Ernest Hemingway. Jim Henson. Marilyn Monroe. Robin Williams. Spalding Gray. Kelsey Grammer. Henry Fonda.
This high school transfer student from the midwest commented how nice the kids were at her New England school. It was a phrase that could be heard echoed around the school’s town. “C.S. kids are so nice.” At the time it seemed like a compliment.
Over the years though I realized what came with nice. Nice meant you took shit. You could be the butt of the joke because you weren’t going to retaliate, at least not with a vengeance. Nice meant you got along with people, a little too well. The tough kids or the cool kids didn’t look fondly on nice. Maybe you were the teacher’s pet. Or maybe you were more girl than boy.
But the most devastating part about nice was the disingenuous aspect. Smiles were read as fake, or worse as pluses. You know. Check-plus. A-plus. Nobody can be that happy all the time. There were no frowns in this religion. No negative emotions. Negativity was spray painted over with a smiley face.
What part of nice is devastating?
My biggest current gripe with C.S. has to do with the absence of facing reality. Yes, the religion has tried to redefine reality, but without acknowledging limitations or practicalities. The C.S. Board of Governors might retort, “There’s no such thing as limitation in reality.” You son of a bitch. You’re not recognizing what’s right in front of you. You can think one thing, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true.
I think I can fly. I think I can walk on water. I think I can sit on a blazing fire. AS much as you believe the laws of the physical universe don’t pertain to you, you may still have to deal with gravity when falling off a cliff or sinking in a lake. You may have to address the burning sensation of all-consuming heat and flames scorching your body.
What I learned in Sunday School was a bipolar universe. Ya, you walked around in what was perceived as a human shell, but the truth of who you were was something much more pure and eternal. And how firmly you held that concept of yourself, your true self, then that could result in healing and harmony.
Mind Over Matter?
Was the foundation a mere belief in mind over matter? To a degree yes. The Board may disagree. They might mind-trick you by arguing that if matter is nothing, then there’s nothing to overcome. It’s just a matter of understanding the truth, they’d say.
Know the truth. You hear that a lot in C.S..
“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
I’m not sure if Jesus said that or Martin Luther King, but the inscription is found above the pulpit in many C.S. churches across this land.
If someone is sick -> know the truth. If someone gets in a car accident -> know the truth. If someone is on their deathbed and their immediate prognosis is dim -> then know the truth. The truth might produce a healing. Your positive thoughts could influence the outcome of another person’s health and well-being. That is a common C.S. belief.
Practitioners are educated in metaphysical doctoring. They’re all about influencing mental states and “correcting” false beliefs when the patient cannot see the truth for themselves.
Then there’s daily prayer which routinizes a mental foundation and view of others all over the world. That’s nice. Unselfish prayer. That actually is a very Christian thing, rarely seen in the world today. The prayer goes, “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.”
Back to Devastation
So what’s so harmful about not recognizing the commonly accepted world we live in? Well, you don’t have to take medicine. That’s your prerogative. We don’t care about that. Everyone should be able to believe what they want, as long as it doesn’t destroy the common good. Ignorance is harmful. Ignorance…
Dealing with Death
C.S. elders don’t care to talk about death. Even though one of their Bible lesson subjects is Probation after Death…
Whenever a friend of my dad died, Jeff would only notify me this way, “By the way, so and so passed away.” Then I would get into it and try to acknowledge all the virtues and good deeds of the person, to acknowledge who they were.
“Bill Foster was a great man. A creative innovative mind. A compassionate, colorful, energized and energizing man. He loved ideas more than anything maybe. Bill was a painter, a hobby painter. He couldn’t command much in the marketplace for his paintings but he traveled to Lake Como, Italy and southern France and lived in Santa Barbara, and worked in New York City at one time. He was a real Mad Man of Mad Men. A nicer, kinder, gentler Don Draper. He lived in Greenwich and commuted to Manhattan in the 60s…”
But my dad would not let this conversation take foot. He would nip it in the bud after the first acknowledgment and switch the subject to which he had nothing to talk about.
That was perhaps the biggest obstacle in our relationship. We couldn’t talk about anything deep. I suspect it gave more credence to the human experience which he eschewed. Yet he didn’t draw any connection. He loved fatty foods and traveling and photography and music. He loved the human experience. He loved meeting people and talking with them after church. He was ALWAS the last person to leave the building on Sundays.
So he loved life but ignored death. I’ve lived a good life, he said in the years leading up to his demise. He knew he had lung cancer but wouldn’t let others know it. Why didn’t I ask, “Why do you say that dad?” Instead, I’d concur, “Yep, you’ve had a good life.” The father was evaluating his life in retrospect and I was simply agreeing with the current observation.
Christian Scientists make their religion more complicated than it has to be. If they simplified their tenets into contemporary normal human language, then it would be easy to argue against its nonsense.
The Hard Questions
• If man is not matter, then how do you explain who or what is discerning?
• If man is spiritual, then what am I?
• If what is deemed real is not perceptible to the 5 senses, then how do we have the capacity for experiencing both the real and unreal?
• If medicine cures my ailment, then is that a lie?
• What is the relation between my physical body and my mental being?
• Why do you refuse to assign any attachment between the body and being?
• Are you a heretic if you take medicine or seek medical advice when you’re sick or dying?
• What are you healing?
• If you’re healing a belief about a physical state, then why do you care? If the material’s not real, then why not just ignore it?
• Is something wrong with your mind if you can’t heal something?
• Is this body a representation of who you are? Is it merely a concept of your own design?
• Who were you before your first memory? Who will you be after your body turns over?