The following guest post was written by Chris. This is Part One of a two-part post. Part Two will be published next Sunday.
I grew up in the crazy and bizarre end of the already crazy spectrum of Christian Science. But I can claim some novelty in this story, however. My mother used Christian Science as cover to confuse and do harm to me.
As a child, I had buck teeth. Around first grade, I noticed that certain other children in the class had braces. I asked my mother about getting braces, so I could be like be like them. “You don’t need braces,” was her response. Then she would close her eyes, turn her head away from me (turning away from the ‘material senses’…?), and say, in a strange voice, “Work it out in Christian Science.” Of course, the teeth never healed, but I went through childhood and adolescence hearing at different times, comments made about resembling ‘Bucky Beaver’, being told my buck teeth were my ‘trademark’, etc.
In second grade, I was at the YMCA in our town. I hadn’t yet learned to swim, and after seeing their Olympic-sized swimming pool, I felt very intimidated by it. I was particularly afraid of the deep end. My mother offered to get swimming lessons for me, but because of my fear of the water, I resisted. The offer was tabled, but what did not end was her mockery and condescension regarding my fear of the water. She preached Christian Science, but never used it to comfort me. Whenever people came to the house, she always informed them, with a smile on her face, that I couldn’t swim. Even total strangers, who were over on whatever business they would have had, were informed by her that I couldn’t swim, and always with me standing right in front of them, putting me on the spot, making me feel embarrassed, making me feel ashamed. And I could always hear their response, because it was always the same: “Yooouuu can’t swim?” Alright….now….are you ready for the clincher? She never learned to swim herself! Believe me, the woman had no humility.
My mother was heavily addicted to nicotine, filling up the house with cigarette smoke, which I found very difficult to breathe. When I complained to her about how bad it made me feel to breathe it, pointing out that she was violating the rules of Christian Science by smoking, she would toss out a C.C. anecdote: “You’ll start smoking.” You know, ‘what thou see-ist, thou beist’. If you see/judge the wrong in someone else, you’re bringing it on yourself. Well, Mrs. Eddy, her so-called ‘Science’, and my mother were wrong. I’ve never smoked a cigarette yet.
In the third grade, I was enrolled in a private (non-Christian Scientist) school. Every day, my mother sent secret notes to me in my brown bag lunch, to “guard my thinking” against the “error” I was receiving in Bible study class. You know, the usual discussion about how “Jesus saves. We’re all born miserable sinners,” etc. So I had two strains of thought coming at me each school day. The more traditional, fundamentalist Christian teachings, and the ‘corrective’ Christian Science ‘rescue’ from my mother.
It’s worth noting that, several years earlier, my mother had attempted to enroll me at Berkeley Hall, a private school for Christian Scientist children in southern California. After her interview at the school concluded, on her way out, a matchbox dropped out of her purse. She was asked if that represented smoking in the home. She had to admit that it did, thus ending any possibility of my enrollment at Berkeley Hall.
So, fast forward to fifth grade at the private fundamentalist school. I’m excused fro health class, because of my exemption papers. It’s my own private time, my own private recess, to walk around by myself. But I didn’t do like Barbara Wilson did in her book Blue Windows. I didn’t go to the school library and read up on Greek mythology. Instead I just walked around, all by myself, feeling awkward, strange, different; lonely. An outsider.
The summer after fifth grade, my mother hit on an idea for a summer reading assignment. Tom Sawyer, you might think? Oh, no; it was Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. That’s right. As an 11-year-old, I was told to read the Christian Science textbook, as my summer reading assignment. You really have to wonder about the kind of mentality that would give that book to an 11-year-old to read. For what it’s worth, I did not enjoy the reading. And to be perfectly honest with you, I felt terror while reading it. Not the jumping-out-of-your-skin variety of terror–it was a low-grade level of terror. But terror nonetheless.
It was during this summer when I was reading Science and Health that the wife of my Sunday School teacher stopped by for a visit. The idea came up that I would visit their home, and spend the night at their home with their two younger sons. That night, I ventured out into the deep end of their pool, while holding on to the side of the pool. I somehow slipped off my grip of the side of the pool, and found myself flopping about, terrified, in deep water. I managed to float to the top of the water, and wildly flailed my arm, indicating that I was in trouble. After what seemed like a long time, I felt a strong arm, pulling me up by the arm, putting me on his back, and swimming over to the shallow end, and to safety.
Once out of the water, he began reminding me of the things I’d been taught in Sunday School, about how God was everywhere, about how God fills all space. You know, things from the gentler side of Christian Science, that all Sunday School children are taught. He made me promise him not to be afraid of the water. Then, when I went to bed in his son’s room, he brought in a little night light for me. He was just a wonderful man. I really loved him.
Had I been born in my Sunday School teacher’s home, my buck teeth would have had braces at an earlier age. My fear of the water would have been dealt with, and I would have been fine with swimming.
Oh, to be sure, my mother told me about how “God was everywhere”, and how “God fills all space”, in the lunch notes she gave me to “protect my thinking.” But when it came time to put it into actual practice, my fear of the water was mocked by her.
So, for the period of about half of an afternoon, an entire evening, and part of the next morning, I actually experienced a home where the more clear-minded, and thoughtful, side of Christian Science was practiced. It was almost a different world.
Unfortunately, I had to go back to the nuthouse afterward.
- Guest Post: Chris’s Story (Part Two): the first part of this two-part post here on Emerging Gently.
I just wonder as I read this, what happened to your mother, that CS would appeal to her so strongly? Why would she let herself be so brainwashed?
Thank you for your response. I apologize for the delay.
My mother came into CS when I was two and a half, and from what my father (a non-CS), told me, she “took to it like a fish to water.” She began reading Science and Health every day, reading the CS periodicals, and going to practitioners regularly. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of accompanying her on visits to practitioners. What I believe is the opening statement in Science and Health “To those leaning on the sustaining infinite, today is big with blessings”, she cited as being what really drew her into Christian Science. It clearly met some need she had. She said she was raised in the Four Square church, but I don’t think she had been active in it, or any other religion, for many years.
A friend of my father’s, who I believe was not a Christian Scientist (in fact, I believe he was Jewish), gave my mother a copy of Science and Health, and she was just off and running with it.
My very early childhood at home, with her, was very happy. Things were going wonderfully well when I was four. But after that, after about 5-6, I began to come under regular criticism from her, which gradually increased in severity over time. She would tell me how much she loved me, and then tell me how bad I was (when I actually hadn’t done anything at all), making condescending comments. For what it is worth, I have discussed this sudden change with her, in my childhood, at length, with more than one expert. She appears to have had some kind of break with reality around this time. Still functioning, but a changed person. I had no idea at the time, of course, and I couldn’t figure out why she was so critical of me, when she had been so kind and gentle previously.
As to why she let herself be so brainwashed, I believe she clearly didn’t realize it. As some people get deeper and deeper into Christian Science…and of course the religion insinuates, that if you go outside of it, you can be letting yourself in for dire circumstances…so you just keep on studying S&H, reading the periodicals, etc., afraid of thinking critically outside of it, and it ends up binding you, and you don’t even realize it.
Indeed, one of the things I found most difficult, was trying to free myself from the programming of Christian Science, once I wanted to leave it.
I have more I am going to say about my home experience, and it will be available in Part Two of my posting. I appreciate your response. I hope this was helpful. Writing this, and getting it out there, has been a wonderful experience.
Thank you for your answer. I think sometimes women who are overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood take strongly to the advice of MBE, but her biography reveals she would not be a good source of maternal advice. I should say “took” because her influence has declined so much.
Thank you. That’s really true. There is an aspect in MBE’s writings, in what Caroline Fraser, in her book “God’s Perfect Child”, refers to as “maternal benevolence.” But just a look at her own personal life, the way she, on the one hand, doted on a neighbor, or friend’s child, spending time with them, buying gifts for them…and then when she had her own child…she didn’t know what to do with it. She gave it to her sister to raise. Her relationship with her own child, both in childhood, and in it’s adult years, was very distant.
Her own personal example is so far from what she advocates…