I’m embarking on a series of posts that will look into what it’s like to grow up as a Christian Scientist. Look for future posts under the category “Growing Up Christian Scientist“.
I love it when inspiration and/or topics for blog posts are dropped into my lap, or in this case, my e-mail inbox. A reader recently e-mailed me with some nice compliments on a couple of posts, told me some of their story, and finished off by asking for my insights into growing up as a Christian Scientist, and some of the “sheltering” that our Christian Scientist parents did to us to keep us as protected as they could from the “big bad material world”. Since this is an insight that may be of interest to others, I will begin to answer my reader’s question here in this post.
Early on, I was told to write about what I know, so I’ll start with insights from my own childhood. Now, as my regular readers will know, my parents were not overly “radical reliers” on Christian Science when I was growing up, and if a need arose, and it wasn’t getting met through Christian Science, we’d have been off to the doctor. I lucked out on the gene pool and health side, and never visited the doctor as a child, although to be honest, as I look back now, there are a few times I probably should have, and my survival (relatively unscathed) perhaps a case of dumb luck. My younger brother did visit the doctor quite frequently, as he suffered from cerebral palsy and epilepsy. I’ve discovered through my growing acquaintances within the ex-Christian Scientist community that my somewhat non-radical upbringing was perhaps not quite the norm with Christian Scientists. My childhood was a patchwork of some sheltering and exemptions, and also regular participation in “health-related” activities.
My parents did, however, try to shield me from some aspects of the big bad material world. I was never vaccinated as a child as exemptions to school district required vaccinations were available. Other than recent tetanus vaccinations, I remain un-vaccinated as an adult in my mid-40s. Next appointment with my doctor, I plan to ask her about vaccinating at this point in my life (it slipped my mind last time). Ads for anything medical were often verbally dismissed, or muted; and colds, flu, and other routine illnesses were never treated medically, nor were symptoms alleviated by any material means. I ended up being a tough little bugger as a result.
On the other hand, I was never taken out of health classes, such as they existed when I was in school in the 1980s, and in elementary school I did have a few eye exams–which turned up a condition that in retrospect now, I wish had been corrected at the time (I have much stronger vision in one eye than the other). My parents chose prayer instead, and it did nothing. Consequently, I now have a condition known as “lazy eye“, and at a recent eye exam, my first in over 20 years, when full correction was tried for my weak eye, it was extremely uncomfortable. The optometrist informed me this is normal in adults for whom vision imbalances are not corrected during childhood, and that to fully correct now would be more detrimental than beneficial, as my brain is already wired to favour my stronger eye. Am I angry about this? To some degree, yes. But, I can’t change the past, I can see very well (other than now needing reading glasses–normal for someone my age) and otherwise my eyes are very healthy, so it’s not something I choose to dwell on much. Essentially, I should have started wearing glasses when I was in elementary school when the condition was less pronounced and could have been evened out.
We had sex ed and basic health and anatomy classes, and my parents always offered me the option to make my own decision as to whether or not to attend these classes. Due in large part to my own curiosity, and my teenage desire to fit in, I never chose to take the exemption, and my parents never discussed it further with me. I also remember a few times when as an older child and teenager I got seemingly seriously ill (I don’t know what the conditions were or might have been), that my parents offered me the option of seeing a doctor. I never took that option, largely out of a Christian Science-induced fear of doctors and modern medicine. I also saw my younger brother deal with a host of serious medical issues, and towards the end of his life, he was on several medications. At the time, I saw his condition as a failure of modern medicine, and a path I did not wish to follow.
I attended the Christian Science Sunday School (mostly) faithfully until I was 20, and also a Christian Science summer camp, from when I was 9 through to being a counsellor and staff. The last time I spent a summer at the camp was in my early 20s as a staff member. I enjoyed the company of other Christian Scientists. I didn’t feel alone or “different”. I didn’t feel like I had to explain anything because I didn’t go to the doctor. Fitting in is what most teens want to do, and that was very true of me. This led to my decision to ultimately attend Principia College.
Christian Science and its culture, for better or worse, were my comfort zone. I did depart briefly from it from the age of 18 – 20 (still attending Sunday School although not always faithfully) to scratch the partying itch, but a summer back working at the Christian Science summer camp when I was 20 brought me back into the fold, and solidified my attachment to Christian Science and its culture until my departure about 22 years later.
My “sheltering” within the cocoon of Christian Science I would say was induced by my parents, but not actively pursued by them. I often ended up sheltering myself as I sought whatever was my comfort zone as I navigated the angst-ridden waters of adolescence. Being of a radically different fringe religious sect didn’t help with that navigation, so I tried to jump into the Christian Science “boat” as much as I could. It was better than swimming the waters alone. My parents always encouraged me to make my own decisions, but conversely they never presented to me a really full picture of all of the options. From them, I only saw the Christian Science option, it seemed to be the most comfortable option, so that is the one I chose. There also always was that part of me that didn’t want to disappoint my parents if I chose a different path, although now, I realize it would not have hurt them. Yes, they were happy that I stayed in the faith (my departure from Christian Science came after their deaths), but I have no doubt that they would have accepted me with open arms had I chosen a different path.
So, to sum it up for me, I sheltered within the protective cocoon of Christian Science because it was comfortable. It was “safe”. Ironically, looking back now as a non-Christian Scientist, that cocoon is anything but safe, and definitely not nurturing in what I’d consider to be a healthy way. My “sheltering” was a combination of my parents’ influence, and my own desire to be comfortable and to fit in somewhere. Others have different stories, and I’ll offer insights on this subject that I’ve gained from others’ stories in future posts.