I was reminded during a recent exchange in a Facebook group about something I’ve really noticed since I left Christian Science: it’s much easier for me to explain it to those who know little or nothing of it, and I’m also much more open about sharing the fact that I was a Christian Scientist.
When I was a Christian Scientist, I kept it very, very secret–especially when I was in my teens and younger. You see, Christian Science (as you can tell if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time) is a very strange and esoteric theology. I’ve taken to calling it “Christian Science Krazy Sauce”; and I marinated in it for 40 years. It requires you right off the bat to completely deny the very real reality of everything you see, hear, smell, touch, and feel. It’s all an illusion of “mortal mind”. There, I’ve explained it in about one sentence. Mary Baker Eddy takes about 500 pages in her highly revised (400+ revisions) book known as Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures–the “textbook” of Christian Science. I remember back when I was working at The Mother Church, the department I worked in employed a number of non-Christian Scientists. One day, I was working with one of these co-workers to set up some equipment and he was thumbing through a copy of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and commented that he couldn’t understand how we all believed this stuff (well, I remember him using the word “shit” instead of “stuff”). Now, I know how he felt.
Why did I keep so quiet about Christian Science back when I was marinating in the Krazy Sauce? Simple, I was afraid of having to explain and defend it, because I really didn’t understand it. I tried, I felt like I had glimpses of understanding at times, but deep down, I was very insecure about it. When I was a teenager, it made me very different, and that’s not what you want to be when you’re a teenager.
Now, I don’t have to defend the indefensible. I start out from basically the same point of view as my audience–Christian Science is pure bat-shit crazy bullshit. Still, I do get the weird looks. My explanation of Christian Science starts off with some version of this: “Imagine the chair you’re sitting in, this room you’re in and everything in it including your body is a complete illusion–it doesn’t exist; just like that big lake in the desert.” It gets the essence out there quickly, easily, and with the appropriate emphasis on the truly crazy. After that, I usually find folks looking at me like I just grew two heads. But eventually it starts to sink in, and they begin to understand in a small way, where I’ve been, and what I’m still processing in my own life even though it’s been a few years now since I left Christian Science.
I honestly have a certain odd admiration for those who do publicly try to explain and defend Christian Science. I feel like it must be like dancing on the head of a pin, and some do manage to pull it off somewhat with finesse. However, I am of the opinion that they do not truly succeed most of the time. They do convince some people to explore Christian Science further (I knew a few people who converted as adults), but in most cases, I don’t believe they do. Christian Science is largely an inherited religion throughout the world, except in Africa (the only part of the world where it seems to be growing, although even there the growth appears to be slowing from what I’ve been told). Most people who are Christian Scientists were born into it, or their parents converted when they were young. Anecdotal evidence I’ve observed indicates to me that the retention rate among people my age (I’m 40-something) and younger is low. Of the friends I have contact with from my time as a student at Principia College (a college that only admits Christian Scientists), roughly 50% are still “in the faith”. The rest definitely are not, or give indications that they’re not. That’s not a really good retention rate if that is indicative of the actual figure (which would be difficult to impossible to truly discern).
Yes, it is easier now for me to talk about Christian Science to non-Christian Scientists, but I still feel that little twinge of embarrassment that I fell for it. I realized this just recently when I was driving across town with a co-worker and we were discussing why I had lived in Boston, despite growing up near where I live now (almost 5,000 kilometers from Boston). As I explained I went to work at a church, I felt the need to try and defend this decision I’d made so many years ago even though my co-worker made no indication that she thought I was weird at all. So accustomed to thinking I was crazy to have been in that Krazy Sauce I have become. Old habits die hard.