Christian Scientists sometimes have some of the most bizarre reactions to death of any group of people you will likely ever encounter. The reactions range from Stepfordesque emotionless stupor; to abnormal and inappropriate joy, happiness, and acting as if nothing at all out of the ordinary has even happened. Some things I have seen or that have been related to me are (or should be) to most people, truly bizarre.
As an illustration of how cold and lacking in empathy Christian Scientists can sometimes be, in one on-line forum, I read an account of a person who lost a parent to an undiagnosed disease (this is common with Christian Scientists). A few church people came to the memorial service, but they avoided this person completely, and left as quickly as possible. Despite the fact this person was completely on their own at that point, never once did any of those church members, some of whom had been close to the family, keep in touch, or offer any sort of support. I guess they figured that Christian Science would give him all the comfort and support he needed.
I’ve also read other stories of Christian Scientists attending funerals and memorial services dressed in brightly coloured outfits, smiling and laughing like it was some sort of party or celebration. How odd and extremely inappropriate that must seem to any normal human being! Still others have related how they’ve run into people, who on almost the same day that their spouse has passed away, are cheerfully going about their daily activities as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened. It’s almost as if the deceased person never even existed!
I have heard countless other stories, of glassy, emotionless reactions to death, the complete absence of any sort of grief, or even acknowledgement that anything significant has happened, and the hushed silence if the name of a deceased person is mentioned. The deceased person basically becomes an “un-person” never to be spoken of again, and the surviving family members must move on quickly, and act as if nothing has happened. It’s almost like the way Stalin was scrubbed from Soviet history when Khruschev took over.
Shockingly, I have heard many stories of how surviving spouses have re-married, sometimes less than a year after the death of their previous spouse. In many such cases, these couples had been together for many decades and had raised families together. I even saw it in my own family, where an uncle of mine re-married less than two years after my aunt died. He and my aunt had been married for around 40 years and raised four children together. In some families, when a child has died, that child’s name is never mentioned again. I am grateful to say that was not the case in my family, and I am the sole survivor of three children my parents had.
To the non Christian Scientist, these extreme and unconventional reactions to death can seem at the very least weird, definitely inappropriate, and in most cases they can induce deep anger and frustration, especially when they want and need to grieve over the loss of someone close, or wonder why they suddenly don’t hear from someone. Often, details about the death of a Christian Scientist are shrouded in secrecy. In many cases not even an obituary is published. One ex-Christian Scientist I know only found out about the death of a Christian Scientist acquaintance of his when he inquired with the person’s spouse after he hadn’t heard from the person for several months. This frustration is even deeper when it involves close family members of the deceased who are not Christian Scientists.
As a former Christian Scientist, I see it all from both angles. Yes now, as a non-Christian Scientist, I think it is weird, insensitive, and highly inappropriate. However, I do know as only someone who’s been in this odd faith would know, that there is a reason for this bizarre behaviour: denial. Christian Scientists quite frankly deny the reality of death. To them it never happens. Just like sickness–it simply isn’t real. So, in the view of the truly rabidly radical Christian Scientist, there is nothing to be sad or grieve about, and there is no reason that life can’t continue on as it always has.
Now, most faiths and spiritual practices teach that those who have died do continue on and are still with us in some way, but in most of these other practices, including my current spiritual path (First Nations/Native American spirituality), there is a deep acknowledgement of the death, and there is grief. After all, even if the deceased does continue on, they are still no longer with us in the way they once were, and never will be again. I will never hug or talk to my deceased parents or brother again in the way I once did, but I do not believe they have ceased to exist altogether. In Christian Science, however, death and the emotions surrounding it are something to be completely denied. It simply never happens. Neither, for that matter, does birth. It ties back to a bedrock tenet of Christian Science theology: matter and material human life (everything we experience in this human existence) are an illusion. This material existence that is so real to most of us is completely illusive and false to the radical Christian Scientist.
“Man in Science is neither young nor old. He has neither birth nor death.”
(Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 244)
Yes indeed, Christian Scientists do have an odd and uncomfortable relationship with death. On the one hand, it is undeniably real. You’re never going to see the person you loved again, however the theology that you cling to so tightly is almost nonchalantly saying there is nothing to worry about, just go on as you were before–at least that is how this theology is put into practice by many Christian Scientists. Don’t acknowledge that anything has happened, because it never did happen. So, they go on. Who knows what is really going on inside their minds? If my experience is any indicator, it is what I’d best describe as a mass of suppressed emotional contradictions and turmoil. When my younger brother died many years ago, just after I finished high school, I never really grieved and processed it. I worked through all the Christian Science denial, and put on the brave face I thought I needed to, but deeply mourning his passing in private. Eventually, the distance of time blunted the turmoil, but I came to realize years later, after my parents’ deaths, that I had never properly processed it, and I still needed to. This statement from Mary Baker Eddy I think sums up why Christian Scientists act the way they do when someone dies. It is one of the most blatantly false statements she makes, and one of the most damaging:
“Death is but another phase of the dream that existence can be material. Nothing can interfere with the harmony of being nor end the existence of man in Science. Man is the same after a bone is broken or the body guillotined. If man is never to overcome death, why do the Scriptures say, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death?”
(Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 427)
Not all Christian Scientists are as extreme in their reactions to death as the examples I’ve mentioned. Mary Baker Eddy herself was known to have sent sympathy cards to the relatives of those who died, and dedicated as they were to their practice of Christian Science, my own parents eschewed many of the annoying aspects of Christian Science culture, including the awkward denial surrounding death. They saw the deaths of two of their three children, and not once did they ever bury the memory of those children, and they did grieve, they did cry, albeit very privately. It comes down, somewhat, to how Christian Science is practised by some. Some people take these statements from Science and Health to the utmost extreme, others are less radical.
I do see death as a transition. I innately believe that those who have died continue on in some way, and in some form. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, research into the nature of consciousness is pointing, albeit controversially, to the possibility that what we call consciousness is some sort of organized energy that exists on a quantum level–stored in microtubules in the brain, and that when the body dies, this energy returns to its more raw form.1 But, none of this takes away the fact that death does happen. People die and you’re not going to see them again in this lifetime. That’s the cold hard fact. Life in this body is finite, and grief is a natural part of life. We should grieve, we need to grieve–it’s an important part of processing death emotionally, and never forget those who have died.
1 “Discovery of Quantum Vibrations in ‘Microtubules’ Inside Brain Neurons Supports Controversial Theory of Consciousness.” Science Daily – Science News. Science Daily, LLC. 16 January 2014. Web. 20 January 2014. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116085105.htm>