As I was writing and editing my recent post Love, I began to see issues I touched on there that I wanted to expand on, but it just didn’t seem to work within that post. The biggest one for me is something that has become very apparent to me as I’ve left Christian Science: the coldness and impersonal nature of many Christian Scientists–especially parents.
Now, I’ve heard many a non-Christian Scientist over the years refer to how nice and pleasant Christian Scientists are. So many times, I used to hear about how “nice, happy, and pleasant they are.” Yes, that is the way it appears on the surface. Dig a little bit deeper, and the reality is sometimes quite different.
In my own experience growing up, I was fortunate to have parents that weren’t overly radical in their practice of Christian Science. They were human, and somewhat willing to accept that, and they realized that I too was human, that I would get sick sometimes, and make mistakes. I was never berated simply for being sick. I was cared for, although without medical care or even cold medicine, but above all I was treated with love and affection. My parents were also quite willing to take my brother and I to a doctor if the need seemed to arise, although it never did for me in their perception. My brother was a different story–he spent most of his life under intensive medical care due to cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy. It’s possible that my parents’ greater willingness to seek medical care for us was due to legal requirements–in Canada, the provision of necessary medical care for children is a legal requirement, and there are no exemptions, but I think it was just a more pragmatic outlook that they had.
That is not the case for many unfortunate children of Christian Scientist parents. What some people experienced as children, while it may not be physical abuse (unless you’re talking about denial of medical care), it was definitely mental/psychological abuse of the highest order. Imagine you’re a child, let’s say six or seven years old, and you get a cold (something I’m sure every child gets). You come home, you’re feeling physically miserable, you’re coughing, and what you need most (other than cough medicine) is loving comfort from your mom or dad. Instead, you get an angry response; you’re immediately sent to your room, and angrily told to repeat “God is Love!” and to deny that you’re sick. One more cough engenders another angry tirade. If you have a more serious illness that doesn’t yield to Christian Science ‘treatment’, heaps of anger and accusations of “not doing your ‘work'” properly–in other words, your illness is your fault. This is the reality for many children raised in Christian Science homes.
A story that was related in an on-line discussion thread told of a reader in a Christian Science branch church who collapsed in a grand mal seizure in the middle of the last hymn during the Sunday church service. Most humans would immediately rush to the person’s aid, and call 911. Not a church full of Christian Scientists. No, they continued with the hymn and felt proud of the fact that this little bit of ‘mental malpractice‘ didn’t interfere with the all important church service! I’m sure if someone dropped dead in a Christian Science church, people would just step over the dead body, completely ignoring it until the stench of death got to be too overpowering.
About eight years ago, David Reed, CSB had been elected president of The Mother Church, a largely honourific post. On the day of Annual Meeting when as the newly elected president, he was to officiate at the meeting, he collapsed from a heart attack in a nearby Church-owned apartment. While his death was acknowledged by the Church (of course, the cause was never mentioned), the reactions of many Christian Scientists strike me as odd now as I look back. A typical Christian Science-y remark that floated around with many was that his death was an “attack on the Church”. It was a fricken’ heart attack, you idiots! By the way, it took those who found him 20 minutes before they finally had the wisdom to call 911. Of course, the failure of paramedics to revive him was deemed a “failure of medical care”, never mind that despite 20 minutes of what must have been some very intense Christian Science prayer by more than a few CSBs, he didn’t revive anyway. If paramedics had been called earlier, there’s a possibility his life could have been saved. It is a well-known fact that with things like heart attacks and strokes the earlier medical treatment is given, the better the chances of often full recovery. You’ll probably never hear a Christian Scientist acknowledge that though. No, their prayers/Christian Science ‘treatments’ didn’t fail, it was the paramedics and medical science that failed.
Another story that was related to me a few years ago was of a woman whose husband had recently died (Christian Scientists like to say ‘passed on’–in fact, I am told that this now common term originates with Christian Scientists). This woman was seen just a few days later, out at the mall, brightly dressed, and acting as if nothing had happened. I understand that they had been married for several decades.
So, what makes many a Christian Scientist so lacking in basic human love, affection, and care? What could make someone dispassionately ignore a person who faints or has a seizure right in front of them? What could make a parent angrily send their child to their room and punish them simply for being sick? What could make someone whose spouse of many years just died act as if nothing tragic had happened? Plain and simple, I think it is the complete disconnection from reality that radical practice of Christian Science induces. I’ll admit that in the cases of some parents who go off the deep end, there are other underlying mental health issues, Christian Science is a major catalyst in inducing the abnormal behaviour they express towards their children, and it is an amplifier of any latent mental health issues.
To the truly radical and fully indoctrinated Christian Scientist, illness is not real, and when presented with it, they vehemently deny it, expressing that denial in anger at times. Also, it cannot be underestimated how important Christian Science and church are to the truly radical Christian Scientist. It is their first love, and anything that attacks it or makes it look bad is evil and must be destroyed–even if it’s your own child, or the First Reader who just collapsed, and could be dying right in front of you.