I’m a curious person and admittedly a statistics nerd. Always have been, always will be. As a kid, I took apart my radio controlled car to see what made it work (much to my Dad’s frustration, because he got to put it all back together and make it work again). I’m also curious about people and what makes them do what they do, make the choices they make, and the paths they’ve walked–I look for patterns. Former Christian Scientists are no exception. So, I made myself a little unscientific survey, thanks to the good folks at SurveyMonkey (who keep wanting me to “upgrade”, for a fee of course, to get “more powerful surveys”, and some of my money into their bank account–I’m certain that being their main objective). In light of my desire to keep this blog from costing me anything but time (hence the reason I don’t have a URL), I went for the puny weak “free” version. It’s served me well enough. So, on to the results, and my brief and unprofessional analysis/commentary.
First off, I had 79 responses (I was hoping for 100). I’ll go through the raw numbers for each of the 10 questions I asked. All questions except one were mandatory, and percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number:
1. How recently did you leave Christian Science?
- More than 10 years ago: 59 respondents (67%)
- 4 – 6 years ago: 11 respondents (14%)
- 1 – 3 years: 9 respondents (11%)
- 7 – 9 years: 4 respondents (5%)
- 1 year or less: 2 respondents (2%)
2. What best describes your current religious belief/adherence or non-belief/non-adherence? I listed several choices alphabetically.
Here are the top five:
- Christian – Protestant: 24 respondents (30%)
- Atheist: 17 respondents (22%)
- Agnostic: 15 respondents (19%)
- Spiritual – Non-Religious: 8 respondents (10%)
- Christian – Other: 4 respondents (3%)
The following each had one response, representing 1% each: Buddhist, Christian – Orthodox, Native American Spirituality, New Thought, and Deism. Of the eight who selected “Other”, I was able to identify four as some form of Christianity, three who didn’t know what they were, and one as Deist.
3. Were you Class taught?
The vast majority at 59 respondents (75%) were not Class taught, while 20 respondents (25%) were Class taught.
53 respondents (67%) were female, 26 respondents (33%) were male.
5. What was your age when you became a Christian Scientist?
- Born into Christian Science: 70 respondents (89%)
- 1 – 9 years old: 5 respondents (6%)
- 20 – 29 years old: 2 respondents (3%)
- 30 – 39 years old: 2 respondents (3%)
6. What age range were you when you left Christian Science?
- 20 – 29 years old: 36 respondents (46%)
- Less than 20 years old: 12 respondents (15%)
- 30 – 39 years old: 17 respondents (22%)
- 50 – 59 years old: 7 respondents (9%)
- 40 – 49 years old: 5 respondents (6%)
- Over 60 years old: 2 respondents (3%)
7. Did you attend a Christian Science camp or youth activity?
- Adventure Unlimited (A/U): 24 respondents (30%)
- Did not attend any camp/youth activity: 15 respondents (19%)
- Cedars Camps: 15 respondents (19%)
- Other: 14 respondents (18%)*
- Christian Science Organization: 11 respondents (14%)
- Newfound/Owatonna: 10 respondents (13%)
- Crystal Lakes Camps: 5 respondents (6%)
- Discovery Bound: 5 respondents (6%)
- Leelanau/Kohahna: 3 respondents (4%)
- Camp Bow-Isle: 2 respondents (3%)
8. Did you attend Principia?
- No: 46 respondents (58%)
- College: 25 respondents (32%)
- Upper School: 13 respondents (16%)
- Middle School: 4 respondents (5%)
- Lower School: 2 respondents (3%)
9. Branch church/Mother Church membership:
- Mother Church Member: 58 respondents (73%)
- Branch Church Member: 34 respondents (43%)
- Neither: 16 respondents (20%)
Question 10 was an “essay” question that asked respondents to briefly tell why they left Christian Science. It was the only optional question. Some of the responses were, well, disheartening. I will gather and comment on those responses in a follow-up post. I just feel that it deserves its own post.
Here are some of the highlights as I see them: not surprisingly, the majority of respondents either converted to another form of Christianity, or went the atheist/agnostic route. If you combine all forms of Christianity, there were 29 people who converted to some form of Christianity, and if you combine Atheists and Agnostics, 36 chose one of those paths. Many others went to other forms of spirituality. Also not surprisingly, the majority of respondents were female, largely a representation of the gender demographics of Christian Scientists as a whole. The response breakdown on one question that didn’t surprise me at all, and had the greatest majority response in one particular direction, was what age people were when they came to Christian Science–the vast majority of respondents by a long shot were either born into it or came into it as young children (under 10 years old) (95%).
The thing that stood out to me as the most surprising result was that a majority of my respondents had not taken Class Instruction. I expected it to be 50/50. I was also surprised that most of my respondents didn’t attend Principia either. While I wasn’t surprised that most respondents left Christian Science in their 20s or younger, I was surprised at the number who left at older ages, especially in their 30s, and 50s, and even a couple who were over 60.
So, what do I take away as the big nuggets here? The vast majority of people who leave Christian Science do so in their 20s, and 95% of them were either born into it, or came to it as young children (under 10 years old). Most are also female, and around half attended Principia, or participated in camps or youth groups. Does any of this say anything about how or why people leave Christian Science? Not necessarily. All of my respondents had a fairly deep involvement in Christian Science and its culture in one way or another. People leave for many reasons, and the follow-up post to this post will go into what was shared with me on this survey.
Would I do anything in this survey differently now? Yes. One pattern, although not as strong a one as I thought it might be, that emerged as I studied the answers to question #10 was a connection between personal trauma and/or loss and post-Christian Science religious choices, according to how they answered the last question. I saw a tendency for blocks of respondents who indicated or insinuated some sort of trauma or personal loss in their lives to gravitate away from Christianity altogether, although many who suffered such did move to other forms of Christianity. However, a large block of respondents who went to another form of Christianity did not indicate in their answers that they suffered loss or trauma. I was limited to 10 questions on the survey, but I would have liked in retrospect to ask a simple yes/no question if the respondent suffered loss or trauma. As I said, I saw a connection and pattern emerge, but is it a definite one? I can’t say for sure. I’ll discuss this more in the follow-up post.
Lastly, I just want to thank everyone who participated!
*The other activities or camps that were mentioned were: Verdant Vales in California (2 respondents); the rest all had one respondent each: UK youth meetings, Prin Club, Sunday School, Camp Elector (Pennsylvania), Camp Vebynin (New Hampshire), Discovery Bound – National Leadership Council, Camp Sagamon, Camp Wa-Ta-Ga-Mie (Illinois), Young Life (this chapter had only Christian Scientists as members), and one respondent went to Family Camp (didn’t say which one) with her husband and kids.