It’s hard as a Refugee From An Obscure Religion, as I call myself and other ex-Christian Scientists, to find someone I can talk to about what I’ve been through who will understand it all. As any of us who’ve spent time in Christian Science will tell you, it’s an extra-special kind of Krazy Sauce that most people just don’t understand. I would hazard to guess that in the entire metro area I live in, which has a population of around 190,000, I am probably one of less than 10 (if even that many) who are ex-Christian Scientists, and I’m probably being generous in that estimation.
So, my usual resort is to the ex-Christian Scientist Facebook groups* I’m a member of, or the Christian Way forums. Since I’m not a Christian, the Facebook groups I’m active in are secular, and I’m grateful for the fact that the Christian Way forums are open to, and accepting of all. But, these on-line options have their limits. With only three exceptions, I’ve never known any of the members or participants in these groups personally, and likely won’t ever meet many more of them, so it’s missing the face-to-face interaction that I crave sometimes: you know, that chance to just sit across the table from someone and just see that knowing nod, or other non-verbal acknowledgement. It’s different than on-line chat threads. But, sometimes you come across someone who, while they haven’t marinated in the same Christian Science Krazy Sauce you have, or even have heard of it, has an understanding of what you’ve been through. Such was the case recently for me.
I recently had a long chat with an Elder friend of mine. She is of Aboriginal ancestry, and I’ve known her for a couple of years through various ceremonies we attend, but this was the first time we really ever sat down and had any sort of deep conversation. She is a survivor of the Canadian Indian Residential School system, and endured a lot of physical, mental, and emotional abuse during that experience. She’s retired now, but latterly had a career as a trauma counselor, working specifically with other residential school survivors. She was interested in “my story”, so I shared with her my background as a Christian Scientist, and the circumstances of my parents’ deaths. While she believes strongly in the power of prayer and will attest personally to it, she was shocked that anyone would not seek medical attention for a physical ailment (she is a cancer survivor). I told her about how I’d often suffered as a child through ailments like bronchitis or pneumonia, and ear infections without any sort of medical treatment. She flat out said that was neglect, and probably abuse. She also pointed out to me that there was nothing wrong with being angry about it, or being angry with my parents for the choices they made, even if they did not have any malicious intent. Most importantly, there is nothing wrong with being angry at and about Christian Science, and what it did to me, and what it made my parents do.
Abuse is abuse, neglect is neglect, and trauma is trauma, no matter how it comes about. My friend made me realize that I should not minimize what has happened to me or feel guilty for feeling angry about it. It has had an effect on me and I need to recognize it and voice my truth. It doesn’t mean I hate my parents; I’m just very angry and hurt by some of the choices they made: choices that caused me pain, caused me to suffer needlessly, and possibly caused some irreparable physical damage. It doesn’t matter that they had the best intentions at heart, they acted under the influence of the pernicious indoctrination of Christian Science and did not make the right choices for me. Christian Science, acting through many other parents has done far greater damage to other children than it did to me. It was Christian Science that, acting through my parents, caused me harm. Just visit this page to see the stories of children who’ve suffered and died as a result of religiously-based neglect (not all are Christian Scientists). Some survive their childhood traumas with some very horrible scars, like my friend Liz Heywood, whose Christian Scientist parents sought prayer instead of antibiotics to treat a bone infection in her leg when she was a teenager. Ultimately, she had to have the leg amputated to relieve chronic pain and to improve her mobility. I got away lucky, and relatively unscathed.
I have other on-line acquaintances who suffer mental and emotional illnesses as a result of their strict Christian Science upbringing. In some cases, when they were children, their parents would get angry with them merely because they got sick–like they weren’t praying hard enough. It’s the classic Christian Science “blame the victim” strategy, and others had to endure the unimaginable pain of having teeth filled without local anesthesia because their parents would not permit any use of drugs. So many times, I’ve heard it said when someone has died from some sort of “belief” of some illness that their “understanding [of Christian Science or relationship to God] wasn’t ‘clear’ enough,” or some other claptrap like that. It could never be the fact that Christian Science does not heal. No, never that!
Oh, if I had a dime for every time I saw some older person in church who had some hideous growth protruding from their face or head, or gawd-awful looking melanomas on their face or neck, I’d be rich. I think also of so many people, even people my age who limped into church in obvious pain. How easily could some of these things have been treated in a doctors office. I think of one person I know who lost one of their parents to a form of skin cancer that is very easily and routinely treated in a visit or two to a doctor’s office, with an almost 100% success rate. They instead chose to rely on prayer in Christian Science, and suffered for several years with a large tumour growing out of their body until they ultimately died. I think of my own parents who died in great suffering and pain as they prayed for the ever-elusive Christian Science “healing”.
The things Christian Science makes people do is not pretty, folks. It’s ugly, gruesome, and scary. I feel lucky to have gotten off as lightly as I did. The lung infections I suffered from as a child didn’t kill me, neither did the ear infections, although they have left some permanent damage–I suffer from tinnitus and I wouldn’t be surprised if the asthma I suffer from isn’t connected to the untreated lung infections, although that might not be provable. I passed my last physical with flying colours, and consider myself incredibly lucky to be as healthy as I am. It could be a lot worse. Those of us who have gotten out alive are survivors. We are survivors of neglect, trauma, and abuse. We bear those scars. Some of the physical ones will heal, some will always be there. The mental ones–those are the ones that don’t heal so easily. Finding others you can talk through them with, who will understand, is like finding gold. I hate Christian Science and what it’s done to me and countless others. It’s a cancer that I wish could be irradiated away from this world.
*There are two Facebook groups of former Christian Scientists that have a secular (non-religious) focus, although all are welcome. One is a secret (invisible to non-members) group; the other is a closed group (you can see that the group is there, but need to be invited to join). If you’re interested in joining either group, please e-mail me and I will put you in touch with the group admins. There are also Christian-oriented ex-Christian Scientist Facebook groups that are open, and easy to find by searching. One that seems to be fairly active is “Christian Science Exit”. For other on-line resources, please see my “Resources & Links” page.