The following guest post was written by Neo. This is Part Two of a two-part post. Part One was posted last Sunday.
Questioning my religion…
An interesting facet of Christian Science practice that I discovered at the time I was in college was that the human ego could be brought to bear in its application. By this I mean, as you mentally apply or study the teachings, you can do so in a disinterested way, ‘logically’ as it were, or you can apply the force of your belief in willing your prayer or whatever it is to be … True? Applied? Fruiful? I witnessed the results of this kind of ‘prayer’ on my physical state a number of times, and it actually caused me some mental pain. I believed that Christian Science was a ‘pure’ religion and that its teachings could only be applied in one way. I was troubled to learn from my own practice that I could actually bend these teachings to my own will.
This last observation is quite predictable when you understand that Mary Baker Eddy was entirely a product of the nouveau spirituality of her time. Christian Science is partially a Christian response to the most popular movements of the time, and is thus partially constrained by them. Any religion can be misapplied or mispracticed, but I think that this is especially built in to Christian Science because of the heavy influences of the spiritual practices that surrounded it during its formation and because of its insistence on producing healings.
The reactionary nature of the writings of Christian Science in some places–Eddy’s defining what it is by stating what it is not–is inherently an egotistical exercise, and I think that that tone influences believers. So Christian Science, rather than being a monolith, can at times be reactionary, antiquated, and simply misapplied, even if applied as written. In the 1800s, anthropologically-speaking, humans had realized something about their condition and addressed the unknown in a predictable way–by spiritualizing it. Eddy both rejected and mimicked those spiritual teachings. When I escaped the bubble, and finally started actually looking at the things I had been taught, I found it deeply disappointing that the religion of my childhood was not monolithic, but the relics of 100-year-old spiritual thought.
One excellent example is the idea of animal magnetism. This is a specific pseudo-scientific idea from the 19th century which has been discredited and is now almost completely forgotten. However, Mary Baker Eddy was sure that the effects of animal magnetism were actually due to the evil influence of so-called mortal mind, and spent a significant number of words on the matter. It is even the subject of one of the 26 weekly lesson sermons. Thus, modern day Christian Scientists must identify either animal magnetism or some modern equivalent in the world around them in order to mull on the point, when the rest of the world has given it no thought for nearly 100 years.
This also illuminates another important point: Christian Science, to Christian Scientists, is different from other Christian religions; it is reality. But when viewed from the outside, especially in comparison to other Christian religions, it is extremely weird. This isn’t because it is ‘true’, it’s because it is infeasible. To be honest, I had never even reconsidered the idea of the necessity of a ‘spiritual interpretation’ of the Lord’s prayer until I read this blog, but in thinking about it…what an insult! And on top of that, the original is a pretty nice work (atheist here, myself). However, Eddy’s ‘spiritual interpretation’ is fairly obtuse.
Further, viewed with even a small understanding of the other spiritual ideas that were floating around at the time, the genesis of Eddy’s writings becomes more clear and the ideas themselves become unoriginal. So much for a pure religion that expresses the supposedly true nature of God.
Losing my religion…and life after Christian Science…
I spent a large part of my life in Christian Science, but never had or witnessed a healing, and because of this, it gradually became a less and less necessary force in my life. I still respected it and didn’t feel animosity to it for the death of my mother, but as I stopped ‘applying’ it to various facets of my life, I found that all those areas continued on just fine without my ‘mental work’.
My study of anthropology also taught me a number of valuable lessons about human development throughout history and prehistory, and it was through this lens that I really started to analyze the idea of organized religion in general, to step back and see it more logically and less unquestioningly. However, I still did not face the various specific beliefs of Christian Science head-on. There’s a certain part of Christian Science that Christian Scientists find comfort in: the mental application of ideas through prayer with a specific goal in mind. They tell you that you shouldn’t pray for a specific goal, but rather to deepen your understanding; that’s bullshit! Christian Scientists all pray harder when they feel sick. It’s this kind of unique, pseudo-logical, applied type of prayer that I think ensnares people even when they’re ready to leave. Even when they have moved beyond it logically, it still seems to make sense from some deeply-hidden vantage point. So I continued to drift away, without looking too hard at what I was moving away from.
It wasn’t until I graduated college and left the country that I really considered myself to have left Christian Science. The final turning point was coming into contact with other religions and their associated spiritual practices. I learned about Buddhism, and started a meditation practice without becoming a Buddhist. It was this purposeful movement toward something else spiritual that finally closed the door on Christian Science for me. Because I had been moving away for so many years, there was no sense of loss, and meditation-based spirituality has so many different forms that I was able to fill voids that had existed for so long–focusing more on physical health, for instance.
Now, I am a believer (actually, as the science proves it, my beliefs are irrelevant) in the physiological benefits of meditation and other practices, while having firmly become an atheist. I think that the belief in some kind of god or another, a creator, some consciousness that exists on a level higher than humans and controls or directs them is misguided. Technology is always expanding our knowledge of the various connections that exist within and perhaps between humans, so the origins of and need for religion can perhaps be understood in this way.
That said, I can’t say that I respect organized religion at all. I married into a family that participates in a fairly innocuous (non-western) religion, but although it piqued my interest academically at first, the scholarly, or perhaps cynical, side of me has had enough. The similarities between this religion and other nearby religions that came about at the same time as, or as a result of, this one show all of them to be a farce. If the argument was that they were all correct but differ only in how they elucidate the proper way to praise god, then I probably wouldn’t have so much of a problem with it. But there are religions that were hatched from this one, that are 98% similar, but claim to be completely different.
While explaining to a Christian Scientist how illogical it seemed to me that a person should be convinced of the ‘rightness’ of his religion, when it is only one of thousands on the earth, and despite its similarities to other religions, they replied, “Well, that’s the wrong perspective to take completely! What’s true is that all you think you see, and all those people arguing about religion are just a waking dream, and don’t actually exist at all.” If Buddhism and meditation were the lid on the coffin of Christian Science, that statement was the final nail. What a lonely way to live! Many stories about death in this blog tell about Christian Scientists’ pathological ways of dealing with it: ignoring its reality and stifling grieving or even gratitude for the deceased. What if I were to look at my child and be convinced that they don’t actually exist? Wow.
My mother-in-law, a member of the religion I just mentioned (not Christian Science), found a lump in her breast and told no one. Months later, she formally requested something of me. I didn’t know what to expect. Would she ask me to get a ‘regular’ job? To never touch alcohol again? To change my name to her family name? No, she asked me to receive indoctrination into her religion. That was her dying wish, and this is when she had decided privately not to get treatment for her cancer. She has since started to get treatment for her cancer and I firmly declined her request. People do all sorts of ridiculous, and even suicidal or murderous things in the name of religion, and I’m not just talking about suicide bombers or the Crusades.
The reason I found this blog in the first place was that I was looking for anyone talking about a theory that had suddenly occured to me. The theory is that ex-Christian Scientist adults are less successful than people who have stayed in Christian Science. Why did this occur to me? There is no shortage of Christian Scientists who are smart, rich, raise good families, and run marathons on the side. These people stand out; indeed, they are placed on a pedestal of sorts–partly to put a good face on the church, and partly because their contributions maintain the church. In many ways, they have a good head start: Avoiding alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and (presumably) maintaining a regular daily schedule with lesson reading probably go a long way in preventing lifestyle diseases.
At the same time, I know plenty of ex-Christian Scientists who seem to suffer from a lack of direction or motivation. Cause, correlation, or just confirmation bias? Who knows? I suffered from a certain fatigue as I entered my working years. A lifetime of ‘failure’ to heal my own maladies left me tired of chasing success–the carrot was always just out of reach, but in the end it was just a hologram–and at some point I gave myself permission to relax a little. That relaxing turned into directionlessness, and now I’m at a certain age when people usually have years of valuable experience under their belts that they can apply to profitable career changes. Perhaps the grass is just much greener elsewhere.
Some concluding thoughts…
That is perhaps all there is for me to say about the religion of Christian Science. However, there is at least one social justice issue that I think needs to be brought up. Christian Science is fundamentally ableist, with all sorts of judgement and disregard for people who don’t seem perfect on the outside.
Until recently, I personally would never have even considered the term ableist to be acceptable English except perhaps in the world of architecture, but on reflecting back on the world of Christian Science, I realize how ingrained it is. When all maladies are the work of ‘Mortal Error’ (which is not actually real, just untwist that in your brain for a minute), and you aren’t actually allowed to say the name of a disease (which would give it power–well, OK, if it’s a common malady you can talk about the belief of a cold or headache, but you may never utter the words cancer or multiple sclerosis), what you get is a culture that is in denial of anything that requires medical attention. If you ever wondered why Christian Scientists always look so healthy, consider that anyone with a disease that requires regular treatment knows that they could not join, on pain of death! Christian Scientists aren’t the glowy-eyed people who have discovered the secret to life, they’re just the ones who don’t have diseases…yet.
Neo is a Principia Upper School and College alum. He lives abroad and is a dedicated atheist who prefers not to think about Christian Science. He hopes to raise his children to be clear-thinking, confident, and skeptical.
- Guest Post: Neo’s Story (Part One): the first part of this two-part post here on Emerging Gently.