A realization came to me yesterday evening as I sat in an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. I was at the meeting to support a friend of mine who was celebrating the third anniversary of their sobriety. While I am not an AA member myself (I’m what folks in AA call a ‘normie’–I am able to enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink with no ill effects). I have gained a lot of emotional healing from what I’ve learned in 12-step programs. It is applicable not only to those recovering from addictions and alcoholism, but also those of us seeking general emotional and mental healing from various traumas we’ve suffered. Which brings me (somewhat) to my topic today: memories and thoughts about one of my previous Christian Science entanglements.
Old ways, long past…
As I sat there in that meeting, I realized that if I was still deep in the dark depths Christian Science, I would have at that moment been sitting in the business meeting for my Christian Science Students’ Association, and tomorrow (now today), I would be spending the entire day in my Association meeting. For those readers unaware, Association is an annual meeting that people who’ve received Primary Class Instruction (called ‘Class’ or ‘Class Instruction’ by Christian Scientists) in Christian Science attend. It consists usually of a day long lecture on a particular topic by the Christian Science Teacher of the students in that Association.
I actually used to love going to Association meetings, and at last count, I attended 11. I never missed a year until I began to depart from Christian Science. My departure from Christian Science began just over 10 years after I took Class, and when I attended my last Association meeting, I was already started on my journey out of Christian Science. The following year, I took what I initially thought would just be a one year break and didn’t attend, but before the following year’s Association meeting, I made the break permanent and have never returned. As I was dealing with my Dad’s care in his last days, my Teacher, who was the practitioner on Dad’s case, seriously violated personal and professional boundaries with me (read this post for more on that subject). While I hope, for my own emotional health, I will someday find a way to forgive him, I will never forget what he did. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I’ve often said that even if I ever did return to Christian Science (not gonna happen), I could never again accept instruction or guidance from that man. Ethics and trust are very important to me, and he violated my trust and demonstrated a glaring lack of proper ethical conduct and judgement.
My Association was, and still is in many ways, a sumptuous display of upper middle to upper class material excess–contrary to what one might expect from a religion that teaches the ‘nothingness’ of matter. It is held in a large ballroom in one of the nicest hotels in the city, and the buffet lunch that is served exclusively to the attendees is a culinary delight. Association dues and additional donations paid for it all, along with what was a usually generous honourarium paid to the Teacher. The dues were not cheap, but weren’t in my opinion too excessive either–in line with or perhaps a bit lower than what you’d pay for other day-long seminars in similar settings. The last year I attended, they were $120.00 US, and some members gave additional donations. I am aware, however, that our dues were high compared to other Associations, many of which are held in Christian Science church edifices or more modest locations, and do not include sumptuous meals.
While lunch was always a highlight of the day, I still soaked up what my Teacher was teaching. I swallowed it all (pun intended) hook, line, and sinker. I thought my Teacher possessed an amazing insight not only into Christian Science and the Bible, but in many ways life itself. My Dad, who also took Class from this same teacher, went even further–ultimately allowing his opinions to be framed largely by our Teacher’s philosophy in the last years of his life–something that was wildly out of character for him as I had known him growing up. Me, not as much. This dedication proved painfully fatal to my parents (read all about it in these posts). Association was also a time I got spend with my parents (Mom visited our Association each year), and since I lived over 4,800 kilometers away from them, it was time I valued deeply.
Radical teachings…distasteful teachings…
My Teacher was and is a very radical Christian Scientist and was always extremely critical of any kind of medical care or anything that departed from his orthodox view of Christian Science practice. Paradoxically, that is what attracted me to him as a Teacher, but also caused me to be very discerning over how much I allowed his thoughts and opinions to frame my own. Some of the teachings he put forward in Association meetings as I think on it now are truly abhorrent.
He regularly spoke strongly against other religions, especially Islam and Catholicism, and how, to put it as best as I can remember it, they exuded the greatly feared (by Christian Scientists) mental force known as ‘malicious animal magnetism‘ or MAM. He was also very critical of Eastern philosophies and martial arts. From him, I learned that apparently Catholics regularly prayed against Christian Science, and even that one of the beads on the rosary represented a prayer against Christian Science (not true). I would often wince at those, as they often felt like attacks against those who held those beliefs. Now, I am no fan of religion, but I still respect the right of people to the freedom of their beliefs. I now feel that those teachings are bigoted in their essence.
One teaching he began to put forward strongly and frequently at Association maybe beginning about five years after I took Class, was that any kind of homosexual relationship was unnatural and immoral. I instantly felt conflicted over that. It clashed with a very deeply held conviction I have always had against discrimination of any sort. It also didn’t help that I felt that this was an attack on some people, including my own family members, who were very close to me, and who were in happy fulfilling long-term same-sex relationships. I felt morally conflicted over that teaching for many years. Not anymore. He’s just straight up plain wrong; and in my opinion, quite bigoted on that one. I never discussed this issue with my Dad for some reason, choosing to work it out myself, so I’m not sure how he felt about this teaching. I know in the past Dad was generally accepting of same-sex couples, although he did feel it was unnatural. I remember him saying once that “what happens in someone else’s bedroom is none of my business.” Dad usually took a live and let live attitude towards life and as long as someone’s actions didn’t harm himself or others, he didn’t care. Mom largely felt the same way.
“What I am is for God to declare in His infinite mercy.”
~Mary Baker Eddy (from “Pulpit and Press”, p. 74)
My Teacher also embraced the belief, as did many of my fellow students (including myself at the time), that Mary Baker Eddy and her discovery of Christian Science were actually prophesied in the Bible, especially in Revelation 12,1 and the apocalyptic chapters of the book of Daniel.2 A lot of time in our Association meetings, as well as the two weeks of Class was dedicated to the idea of Biblical prophecy of Christian Science. Some students wrote extensive and highly annotated papers on the subject as well. This is something Christian Scientists do not like to talk about much, they consider that the world is not ready to receive this ‘revelation’, therefore it must not be shared with anyone outside the Association, not even other Christian Scientists. This point was driven home to me time and time again in Class, Association, and conversations with my Teacher and fellow students. This is one part of the pervasive secrecy surrounding Class and Association. Another contributor to the secrecy is the fanatical fear Christian Scientists have of MAM, and how others’ thoughts could have an adverse effect on the Association–hence the reason that one’s participation in the meeting was to be kept confidential. Before I started working at The Mother Church, when I attended Class, I just said I was going on vacation and made something up. Fortunately, Association was on a Saturday and in the same city in which I lived at the time, so I didn’t have to make any stories up for that. Working at The Mother Church, I didn’t bother keeping secret that I was going to Association, but offered no other details, and my dutiful Christian Scientist colleagues never pressed for any either.
New ways…better ways…
So, I think now on the different course my life has taken, and the very different ways I’ll be spending this weekend, which started with the AA meeting where I was able to support my friend as she celebrated her milestone. This morning, I helped to prepare and serve breakfast to the folks who live on the streets in my community–a sumptuous meal with a very different purpose. If the weather improves, I’ll probably get my kayak wet for the first time this year. If not, it’ll probably be a mundane weekend of housecleaning and various errands, punctuated with a visit to a friend in the hospital. I may also work in some time at the sweat lodge I attend and split some firewood. Is this better than attending Association? For me personally, it is way better and a million times more fulfilling. Many of my former classmates still get their fulfillment from Association and that’s fine–for them. That’s no longer the case for me. At least with the breakfast, I feel like for a few moments, I’m helping to make one small corner of the world a better place. I do not feel that mine or any other Christian Science Students’ Association does that. Speaking of my Association, the only cause it serves outside of itself is the cause of Christian Science. Never was there a collection taken for the food bank or any other such charity. Never mind the many other churches that took collections to help people out after the effects of hurricane Katrina, or the victims of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean. But, there was always a collection box out for The Mother Church. To many a Christian Scientist, Christian Science and The Mother Church are the most noble causes of all and there is little need to support any other. Forget about feeding the hungry or helping victims of disaster. The poor just haven’t ‘demonstrated supply’ yet, and the disaster victims will be helped by reading Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. In fact, many Christian Scientists will respond to disasters by handing out copies of Science and Health. Yeah right…that’s really going to help someone who’s just lost their home.
1 In Revelation 12:1, the author speaks of a vision of a “…woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (New International Version) He further goes on to talk about this woman being pregnant and a “great red dragon” which stood before the woman to devour the child (Revelation 12:2 – 4). A strongly held and very controversial belief among many, but not all, Christian Scientists is that this is a prophecy of Mary Baker Eddy (represented by the Woman), and Christian Science (the Child). The red dragon is said to be “mortal mind/belief”. The publication in 1991 by The Christian Science Publishing Society of the book, The Destiny of The Mother Church by Bliss Knapp (an early Teacher of Christian Science and pupil of Mary Baker Eddy herself), pulled this controversy into sharp and divisive focus within the Christian Science Church, and also brought this controversy into public view.3 It is also worth noting that a prominently located stained glass window in the Original Mother Church edifice in Boston depicts this “woman of the Apocalypse”. Denials aside, the Christian Science movement as a whole remains noticeably ambiguous regarding Eddy’s place in Biblical prophecy.
2 A less prominent belief in Biblical prophecy of Christian Science among some Christian Scientists is what is sometimes referred to as ‘Daniel’s Dates’. In the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, chapters 7 – 12 are apocalyptic writings, along similar lines to the apocalyptic writings in Revelation. In fact, there are many parallels between the two. These writings contain descriptions of periods of time. Some scholarship has pointed to these intervals of time as pointing to certain years in the mid 19th and early 20th centuries, up to the 1940s. Some Christian Scientists have taken these calculations, one of which points to the year 1866, as Biblical prophecy of Christian Science. Mary Baker Eddy had her infamous ‘fall on the ice’ in Lynn, Massachusetts (which led to her ‘discovery’ of Christian Science) in the winter of 1866. Apocalyptic writings also appear in other books in the Old Testament, including Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the other books of the prophets.
3 Fraser, Caroline. “The Dissidents and The Destiny of The Mother Church.” God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church. New York, New York: Metropolitan Books. 1999. 366 – 377. Print.