Have you ever had a song or an annoying slogan from a commercial stuck in your head? I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. Some days, for me, it’s an annoying Justin Bieber song that comes on the radio on the way to work and won’t leave my head (sorry USA, but you can keep Justin, we don’t want him back); on awesome days, it’s a kick-ass Metallica song.
Something similar happens to ex-Christian Scientists, such as myself. Annoying little habits, mental traits, or odd ways of viewing things ingrained within us from years of marinating in the Christian Science Krazy Sauce stick with us. For me, I know that anytime I hear or think of the Lord’s Prayer, I’ll never think of it or hear it without “hearing” in my head Mary Baker Eddy’s ‘spiritual interpretation’ (see Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 16 – 17).
One major sticky effect of a life spent in Christian Science is a different take on some words. Certain common words are given new and somewhat esoteric meanings in Christian Science; and religious terms, stories, and prayers are given their own twist in Christian Science (such as in the above mentioned spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer). My personal favourite in the word category is the word error. Most of us think of the word error as something akin to a mistake or something going wrong, like your computer giving you an error message. In Christian Science, error becomes something like an actual entity that causes bad things. Then, there are the seven ‘synonyms’ (as defined by Mary Baker Eddy) of God: Life, Truth, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, and Principle. All of these words have common meanings to everyone, but in Christian Science they are equated to God (in what I call Christian Science ‘grammar’, these words are capitalized when used in reference to their supposedly synonymous relationship to God). Mind is probably the most perverted one for me, as the word brain is a dirty word to Christian Scientists, so they’ll use the word mind instead. Often, I’ll hear common words or terms and be drawn back to the Christian Science take on them. I don’t think that will ever go away. Oh how I wish it would!
Some other words or phrases I’ve been reminded of that, for those of us who’ve been in Christian Science, have been forever perverted by it:
- practitioner & nurse: as in Christian Science practitioner or Christian Science nurse–so many times when I see these words, I initially think of them in the Christian Science context.
- belief: as in Jane Doe has a belief of cancer.
- seem: as in John Doe seems to have a cold, or a good one that was shared on a forum recently, apparently a payphone in the lobby of the admin building at The Mother Church headquarters wasn’t working–it had a sign on it indicating that it “seemed to be out of order.”
- demonstration: this word is used to describe a healing, as in “I’d like to share with you a demonstration I had regarding a belief of a cold…”
Some other words that don’t have perverted meanings in Christian Science, but are just annoying to hear sometimes because of associations I and other ex-Christian Scientists have with their frequent use in connection to Christian Science are:
- gratitude & grateful: if I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a Christian Scientist express sickeningly effusive gratitude for Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science I’d be a millionaire. Not as much gratitude for Jesus though.
- experience: I think 99.9% of Wednesday evening testimonies start out with some variation of “I’d like to share an experience I had recently…”
- illusion: that sore throat is just an illusion of ‘mortal mind’, and once you realize that, it’ll just vanish into its “native nothingness”.
Some of us who’ve been Christian Scientists also struggle sometimes with the whole idea of grief. In Christian Science, you see, death is an illusion that must be denied. Therefore, if death is an illusion, and it didn’t happen, what is there to grieve about? We sometimes feel guilty about grieving; we feel awkward. It’s like we’re doing something wrong, we’re not being what we’re ‘supposed’ to be. The same thing when we feel sick and actually acknowledge it or talk about it, or even [gasp] go to the doctor to get treated. We feel like we’re failing or giving voice and recognition to ‘error’. So ingrained becomes the horribly twisted philosophy of denialism in Christian Science, it’s hard to shake it off completely. I have heard those who’ve been out of Christian Science for decades still recount how little things still creep in for them, especially feelings surrounding death, grief, and sickness. I still feel odd when I stay home sick from work and don’t ‘hit the [Christian Science] books’ as I used to think I should, and instead rest, watch TV, and drink liquids (as I now know I should do).
Former Christian Scientists, and I’m definitely guilty of this, also tend to downplay or try to ignore physical symptoms when they arise. For instance, I recently dealt with an abscess in one of my teeth. I didn’t have alarming symptoms, but something didn’t feel quite right either. I figured I’d just mention it at an upcoming scheduled exam. I’m glad that exam wasn’t too far away and fortunately, it hadn’t gotten very advanced. A course of antibiotics and a root canal later, problem fixed, but an untreated dental abscess can have very serious consequences. We deny physical symptoms, we’re sometimes afraid to look at or face them, and we sort of almost ‘wish’ them away. At its least, it’s an annoying holdover from our time as Christian Scientists. At it’s worst, it can be seriously harmful or fatal. Often, it’s nothing more than a sting from a prickly pear cactus (I’ve endured many while hiking where I live), such as my friend Kindism’s guest writer ‘Bacon’ discusses in this post. But caution, and tending to the problem can spare you a lot of discomfort (as in Bacon’s case), or it can spare you the serious effects of an untreated abscess.
Another big thing I and many other ex-Christian Scientists deal with is an almost obsessive sense perfectionism and what I’ll call ‘self-blame’. For example, with this blog, I will often go back to old posts and edit them, correcting minor grammatical or punctuation mistakes. Really, it doesn’t matter, and I should just let it go, but I can’t. It gnaws at me. It has to be perfect. In my job, I fret about the smallest details, worried that someone will notice and cut me down for it, when really my employers are happy if I do an honest effort, and do my best–they expect it to be good not always perfect. They’d rather I worry about the bigger things that do need to be done right. Many of my ex-Christian Scientist peers recount stories from their childhoods of parents who would scold them simply for having the imperfection of sickness. Imperfection, in Christian Science culture, is not tolerated. God sees no imperfection, of course, so it isn’t real and if it does become apparent, it is something to be scolded.
As I become more distant from my experience as a Christian Scientist time-wise, I am slowly developing a more normalized view of life and the world around me, and fretting less about the little things. More quickly than many of my ex-Christian Scientist peers, I have lost my fear of doctors, thanks to my good fortune at being connected with some wonderful and understanding medical practitioners. Thanks to quick treatments of infections and effective treatment of a chronic condition of asthma, I’ve lost my fear of medical treatment. When my asthma flares up, and I take a puff off my rescue inhaler, the relief is immediate. I’m sure I have a slightly deeper, or at least different kind of gratitude for the relief I feel especially when I think of how in the past I’d suffer with the shortness of breath as I tried to pray it away in Christian Science. However, some things linger, and they anger me. I see the things that linger with my ex-Christian Scientist peers, and that angers me. I wonder if this anger will go away. I hope it does.