Warning: I’m ranting…some profanity ahead…
I was driving home from work the other day, and as is often the case, I seem to do my best thinking in the car. Finally putting the story of my parents’ deaths to paper, so to speak, has caused me to think a lot about that event; something I haven’t done for a while. I began to think, “who or what is responsible for the way they died?” Now, straight up, I’ll admit they didn’t die young as many Christian Scientists do. Mom was 81; Dad was 79. They both died in the same year. However, they died in great pain, agony, and suffering–especially Mom, who died with no pain abatement available to her at all in a Christian Science nursing facility with a large tumour in her abdomen. At least I got Dad to the hospital where he was made comfortable, and his physical situation was stabilized as much as it could be, although he did suffer a lot for many years from the effects of heart failure until it finally caught up with him.
Now, if I were to express the thought that Christian Science or the failure of Christian Science killed my parents to a hard-core Christian Scientist, I can almost predict the answer: their understanding wasn’t right, their thought wasn’t elevated enough or some other bullshit answer like that. A typical ‘blame the victim’ tactic that Christian Science apologists make. It’s not Christian Science that failed, no that could not possibly be–Christian Science never fails. Yeah right! That attitude pisses me off to no end. I can’t stand for one minute any effort to blame the victim. It makes me want to scream!
I honestly don’t blame Christian Science per se for their deaths–my thoughts on this are more nuanced. What I do feel is that their radical reliance on a system of healing that DOES NOT WORK is what caused their needless suffering and ultimate deaths. Untreated heart failure actually killed Dad, and some sort of tumour actually killed Mom. I blame the advancement of those physical conditions and the fact that they went untreated on the fact that Mom and Dad foolishly thought that radical reliance on the teachings of Christian Science would miraculously heal them. They both believed it to their dying breaths. At worst, I would fault my parents for making very foolish decisions regarding their health care in their last days. Do I blame them for their own deaths? Hell no! I blame their brainwashing-induced reliance on Christian Science!
Now, if you’ve read my posts about their deaths, as well as mentions about my childhood, you may recall that I’ve said several times that my parents were not “radical reliers” on Christian Science when I was growing up, and that their radical reliance in their latter years seemed (to me) quite out of character–especially for my Mom. How did they get this way?
A few years after their deaths (it’s been around four years now since this all happened, so this is actually fairly recent), I was having a chat with my cousin about what happened to my parents. She had a ringside seat for Mom’s death, having visited her in the Christian Science nursing facility where she died, and she also observed odd character changes in my Dad, especially the summer before he died. She mentioned to me that both of my parents, and especially Dad had become noticeably more vocal about their adherence to Christian Science, with Dad even proclaiming his faith to anyone who would listen. I was shocked and surprised when she said this, and she had been shocked when she saw this as well. She had always seen my parents as very practical, down-to-earth, and reasonable in their practice of Christian Science. Definitely not radical or in any way evangelical about it.
I began to wonder myself about it all, and putting my own recollections of the past several years together with what my cousin was telling me, I began to see that the radicalization had really begun not long before my parents retired, just over 10 years before they died. This also coincided with when Dad (and shortly afterward, me) took Class Instruction from the same teacher. Mom, whose Teacher had died many years ago, then began to attend our Association regularly.
When you’re in the forest, you often don’t see it for the trees, and I was in the Christian Science “forest of denial” as deep as anyone, so I didn’t see what was happening at the time. It’s only with the 20/20 vision of “out of Christian Science hindsight” now that I see it. Even the changes in my parents’ behaviour really didn’t blip on my radar much at the time–I saw it as dedication to the faith. But, as my cousin and I were talking, I thought back on my Teacher’s reaction when I took Dad to the hospital, and how he blatantly accused me of “betraying my father”. As long as I live, I will never forget that. I loved and respected my Dad more than anyone else in my life, and if it would have saved his life I would have given mine. For this man to dare to say that was the epitome of hubris, and the height of arrogant disrespect, and showed a complete lack of even the slightest shred of empathy for what I and my Dad were dealing with, not to mention smashing through every professional boundary I can think of. All he cared about was that I had turned away from Christian Science treatment for my Dad, because it was plainly obvious that it WAS NOT WORKING–IT WAS DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! He didn’t give a rat’s ass about my Dad or his physical condition or the trauma I was going through. He cared only about Christian Science–after all, that stuff that was killing Dad was just an unreal “mortal illusion” in Christian Science land. That is what is so wrong about how Christian Science is practiced. Christian Scientists, when sufficiently radicalized, end up loving and caring more about Christian Science and their damn fucking church than they do about almost anything else, and Dad’s downward spiral, and my decision to put him into the hospital were making Christian Science look very very bad. That is what happened to my Dad, especially. He developed an almost fanatical dedication to church in the last 15 or so years of his life, especially after he took Class. While church had always been important to him, it became more and more the centre and circumference of his universe in a way it had not been in the past.
It is my strong belief that my Christian Science Teacher had a strong influence over my parents, especially Dad. I remember Dad turning to this man frequently for advice, often soliciting his opinion on things theological or otherwise, and then allowing those opinions to frame his own even when Dad’s initial thoughts on a subject were different. In the past, Dad would never have done that. He was always a staunchly independent and critical thinker, and raised me to be the same. I think it is my (and Dad’s) Christian Science Teacher who radicalized my parents, especially Dad. Mom, I think, mostly just went along for the ride, with tragic results. I don’t believe he necessarily had malicious intent, but then again many throughout history who have perpetrated some of the greatest evils genuinely thought they were “doing the right thing”, but he is extremely radical in his reliance on Christian Science and has an absolute disdain for any other religious belief or spiritual practice, and a particular disdain for the medical profession. However, like many Christian Scientists, he does wear eyeglasses.
Like I have said–at the time, I didn’t really see it. It is as I look back on the last 14 or so years with the unfogged, non-Christian Science lens that I have now, that I see it. Memories of little incidents and conversations take on a new appearance to me now, and the puzzle pieces begin to fit together. As far as the radicalization goes, my teacher had much less influence on me. I have always been an independent thinker, and some stuff I always took with a grain of salt, but my Dad, in his senior years, became more easily influenced. I also believe he suffered a minor stroke right about when he took class instruction, and that did change his personality somewhat, and that possibly made him more easily influenced.
A final blow for me with my Teacher came in a series of e-mails I exchanged with him as we were ‘breaking up’. My leaving Association happened gradually. I went to Association one time after Dad’s death (the first one afterwards). I felt like I was just going through the motions that year. The paper I wrote for that last Association, I remember thinking, “do I really believe this stuff I’m writing?” During the following summer, my drift away from Christian Science became fast and furious. I decided to take a break from Association the following year, with the initial thought that I might return, but deep down I knew differently. I just wasn’t ready to admit it to myself. I hadn’t yet made my full and final break with Christian Science. I finally came clean to my Teacher after the second year of my non-attendance that I was not going to come back, ever. My ‘breaks’ were going to be permanent. I had left Christian Science, and realize now that I had started to leave it when Mom died, and finally left it when Dad died. I was just now willing to admit it, not only to myself, but to others–even if that truth was going to hurt them.
I laid out for my Teacher quite plainly why I did not believe in Christian Science anymore, and that I could not attend Association. As nice as I could, I straight up said that I had witnessed the catastrophic failure of Christian Science in my parents’ cases, and I made a veiled reference to the stance he took towards me when I took Dad to the hospital and how it made me feel. His response was to imply that he had insights into my Dad’s “spiritual place” [my words–I no longer have the e-mail, so this is the gist of what he said as I remember it] that I didn’t have, and that in some ways, he felt that he knew my Dad better than I did. In one fell swoop, I felt as if he had tried to usurp me, and invalidate the relationship I had with my Dad. There are few people I have been closer to than I was to my Dad. His response angered and incensed me intensely, to say the least, and poured more salt into an already deep wound. I started a response to that e-mail, but chose not to complete and send it. It would not have been kind at all, and if words were weapons, I was ready to lob nuclear warheads at him. That is not my way, and it wasn’t going to change his mind anyway.
I realized there would never be any way I could get through to this man, and his arrogance and hubris was beyond anything I could comprehend. Oddly enough, I don’t think he meant to come off that way. Christian Science so completely clouds a person’s rational judgement that they can almost end up saying and justifying anything, I think, and they have no realization of how it affects others. It just fucks with your mind in a way that nothing else can. Any faith that can end up replacing normal human empathy with an unwavering love and dedication to the faith itself and the related institutions, such as church, is completely fucked up as far as I’m concerned, and it probably is a cult, as many claim it is.
CULT: . . .
4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
Even if I were to ever return to Christian Science, and I’d say that there is a better chance that I’ll win the Lotto Max this Friday AND get struck by lightning on a clear sunny day than for me to return to Christian Science, I could never go back to my Association. I believe strongly in personal and professional boundaries, and my Teacher violated mine in the worst possible way, and he violated my family. Radical reliance on Christian Science condemned my parents to agonizing and painful deaths–that is a fact that can’t be denied. That will not be my fate.
The CS Teacher/student relationship is an interesting one. I remember how crushed my father was when his CS Teacher passed away. My mother, who was also a member of the Association, was a little upset, but my father was absolutely devastated. My father credited CS for turning his life around (my mother had initially “converted out of convenience” and then it grew on her), and he’d turned to his Teacher for years for guidance. I never went through Class Instruction, so I can’t speak to the student/teacher relationship beyond what I’ve seen, which is (to a great extent) the Cult of Personality at it’s fullest. I would like to think my father’s relationship with his teacher was more than Cult of Personality — he did seem like a genuinely nice man and he did seem to make a real difference in my father’s life (my cousin commented on these positive changes later), but at the same time, I’ve seen acquaintances go “off to association” and come back “so spiritually recharged” it makes me wonder.
Yes, it is an interesting relationship. I did not foster as close a relationship with our Teacher as my Dad did. Dad, for whatever reason, seemed to have a greater need than I did. Perhaps my reasons for taking class instruction were different–I can say it was much more motivated by a simple desire to grow and progress in a direction I thought I wanted to go in, and also honestly, intellectual curiosity. I’ve always been that type of person who will pass by a side road that goes off into the wilderness and wonder what’s down that road, and if I can, I’ll check it out. On that basis, I have no regrets about taking class instruction.
Dad’s devotion to Church and Association became fanatical in a way in the last 10 or so years of his life. I remember debating with him sometimes, especially when he’d never question a decision made by the CSBD (Christian Science Board of Directors), saying that they needed the support of all TMC members, and I said to him once, “well, if they all jumped off a cliff, would you follow?” Well, in a sense, he did jump off that cliff. For the most part, I really didn’t worry about it, as I was somewhat in the same crazy forest as he was. If this had all happened with me not being in CS, my alarm bells would have been ringing loud. What I could have effectively done about it, probably not much. Just read Lucia Greenhouse’s book for a vivid outline of what it’s like for non-CS relatives to deal with a fanatical CS person who’s dying and refuses to get help.
I feel with you. You have made some clear and powerful points.
That practitioner was arrogant beyond any allowable professional boundaries. He may as well have sneered; it would have been more honest. He was manipulating your father and tried to stand between the two of you. In any other helping profession, that would be a HUGE breach of ethics.
One of the problems of practitioners is that they will not study anything else but CS, and fail to see how they unknowingly use mental manipulation to induce the BEHAVIORS they want. They do not seen to care about the outcome, as much as they care about the rules of engagement. “So what if he dies, he was practicing true Christian Science and that is what counts, not the outcome”.
In the work I do now, I have learned a lot about boundaries, both personal and professional. It’s all too easy sometimes, when you’re in a ‘helping profession’ to cross boundaries, or allow your own to be crossed. When I think now on what my teacher did, he not only crossed and violated my boundaries, he destroyed them, and he violated my trust. He could have just left it with, “I cannot treat your father in Christian Science anymore,” and I would have quite readily accepted that, but he had to claim that I was betraying my father. The only thing I betrayed was Christian Science. I was trying to save my father. If he was in a regulated profession, he would have been brought up on ethics violations. Unfortunately, the practice of Christian Science is not regulated.
My mother liked one CS lecturer so much that she decided to take class instruction from him. She wrote to him and was accepted. The teacher passed on 7 years later (about a month before the class meeting). My mom cried when she heard the news as others had received class instruction for many years and she only had 7 years of class instruction with the teacher. She felt like she had been cheated in some way and never really got over that as others she knew had their teacher(s) for many decades. For the remainder of her taking class, there was a guest speaker (if a teacher passes, they don’t replace the teacher but have a guest speaker).
When my mom went to the association, I would go with her when I was an adult. It was a couple of hours from our home and it was in a large city. I would drop her off and then go to the mall or whatever, then meet up for lunch (sometimes we would go with some of her friends from the association) and then I would read a book in the hotel lobby These outings for both of us was enjoyable. My mom would usually be like the energizer bunny .after the meeting. She didn’t of course tell me what was said except to say that the guest speaker was wonderful. I can only think of one meeting that she attended that she didn’t like the guest speaker. .
Sadly, my mom has been deceased for many years and the class dissolved about 10 years ago.
I’m basically CS light (I haven’t left the church), so I never would be accepted to take class instruction. It would have been interesting to have attended such a class once.
A fellow ex-Christian Scientist friend has described (when I told about my parents’ passing) the relationship between Teacher and student to be a very odd one, and I agree. While Teachers aren’t supposed to wield influence over their students, they do, and do so considerably. I don’t think that influence is necessarily wielded intentionally, I think it’s more a side-effect of the magnitude of the learnings (for the student). While I was impressed by my Class Instruction, I never allowed my opinions to be framed much by my Teacher, and only went to him for advice on occasion. That’s largely a personality trait of mine. I don’t allow myself to be overly influenced by the opinions of others, and my “circle of trust” is very small and carefully selected. My Dad was one of the few I’d go to for advice in tough situations, because he was the one person I trusted implicitly. My Teacher never got into that “circle of trust”.