This is part of an occasional series of posts that will look into what it’s like to grow up as a Christian Scientist. Look for posts under the category “Growing Up Christian Scientist“.
Orange juice makes me happy!
This was the once-proud pronouncement of a child who grew up in a Christian Science household. She related this to a Christian Science practitioner, and was sternly rebuked. Yes, you heard me right–this happy child was rebuked for simply expressing how happy something as simple as orange juice made her feel! Can you believe that? I’ll bet most people can’t, but those of us who grew up swimming in the Krazy Sauce of Christian Science just give a knowing head-nod and eye-roll. We’ve all been there before in one way or another.
Departure from happiness…
This experience was a touchstone moment for the little girl, and she began to systematically remove all things that made her happy from her life, or adapt a more neutral emotional response to the things around her. The practitioner had said something to the effect of her happiness about orange juice “giving power to (so-called) ‘mortal mind'” or something like that. Happiness had become something ‘bad’, something to avoid–it was pleasure in something that was false. There are also elements of this aversion to happiness or pleasure in this world in other faiths as well.
The fundamentalist Christian or Muslim will often view happiness on this Earth as a sin that will prevent you from attaining eternal bliss in the afterlife, or just generally make you a ‘bad’ and/or immoral person. This is a broad generalization, I know, but this is my observation from my knowledge of other fundamentalist sects. I think it’s definitely an underlying theme, and I’m not here to talk about other faiths. I welcome any clarifying comments or criticisms.
Christian Scientists, like those of other faiths, come in many shades of fundamentalism. The practitioner in my story here comes from a more extreme end of Christian Science fundamentalism. So did my own Christian Science Teacher. I was always much more moderate. The truly fundamentalist Christian Scientist will reject any sort of relief or pleasure in the so-called ‘material senses’. To them, any pleasure derived that way is to hand over power to what they call ‘mortal mind’, which ironically is something they also consider to be nothing–yet they give it a lot of power. Also ironically, and this was especially true of my Teacher, they are often very proud of their material wealth and possessions. There are many contradictions with Christian Science and Christian Scientists, as any of my long-time readers will know. These create a lot of mental and emotional conflicts within people, and it was always something I struggled deeply with.
The little girl’s rejection of happiness led to long cycles of depression throughout her life, which of course in Christian Science were never properly addressed; they were simply denied. Christian Science is like a sickening kind of Rube-Goldberg machine. It complicates things unnaturally, and runs in convoluted circles. In the discussion forums in the ex-Christian Scientist on-line groups I’m in, I see the damage it does first-hand, and top of the list is depression. Right up there is low self-esteem. I’d say probably almost all former Christian Scientists will say that they’ve experienced one or both of these.
I personally suffer frequently from feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. I’ve also dealt with depression, or at least depressive episodes. I was recently offered a promotion at work, which I accepted. Almost immediately, the fear of failure set in. That ‘still small voice’ (to turn a favourite Christian Science phrase on its head) started saying, “you’re not good enough, you’re going to fuck this up!” I’ve had to constantly counter that by the affirmation that my employers are intelligent enough to recognize that I am capable of doing this job, and doing it well. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have given a second thought to passing me over and putting out a general posting for the job. The relentless pursuit, in Christian Science of absolute perfection, which is impossible to attain, causes deep self-doubt when inevitably you find yourself falling short. You’re never good enough, because you’re not perfect. Instead of finding joy, I found fear. I had to think and reason myself to the place of joy that most people would go to more immediately.
Seeing the light and finding happiness…
So too, the little girl, now an adult, had to find her happiness. After many decades of marinating in the Christian Science Krazy Sauce, and even becoming a Christian Science practitioner herself, she left Christian Science. It was then that she slowly began to find her joy, and she’s still working on it. There are many things that should bring her joy and pleasure that still don’t. But, like so many others who’ve left Christian Science, she’s begun to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like a beautiful sunset, the ability to bring joy to others through her artistic talents, a beautiful song, or…orange juice. She struggles to feel the same joy that others feel from the things she does for them, but like the rest of us who’ve left Christian Science, she makes progress one day at a time. We’ve all been deeply wounded by this fundamentalist cult, and the healing is slow and difficult. In many cases, it will take the rest of our lives.
Sometimes, our friends who’ve never been exposed to Christian Science will think it’s weird the stuff that makes us happy. They don’t think anything of taking pain killers or other medications that relieve discomfort. We ex-Christian Scientists marvel at being able to do these things. We marvel at taking pleasure in ‘worldly affections’ that others take for granted. In a way, we’re like little boys and girls discovering the world for the very first time. And yes, I do like orange juice!
It’s so sad when childhood is interrupted by this kind of misdirection. You see the harm such early indoctrination caused the girl during her life. But it’s all comes down to who the girl spoke with at that particular time in her life. I have a feeling, that if, instead, she had had a visit and spoken to, say, Alan Young, she might have had a completely different experience. Alan Young represented, I always thought, the gentler, more thoughtful side of Christian Science. If, at that age, she had told him of her love for orange juice, he might just simply have said “Oh, sure, I love orange juice too!” You know…just a nice moment.
And not laid some heavy “spiritual” implications on a child that age for simply enjoying orange juice…
I’ve thought for some time that there really are several sides to Christian Science. The people who practice it who practice a form of absolutism, such as the practitioner the girl spoke with, and the other, more easy-going people, who take it one day at a time, who try to do the best they can.
The problem is, when you’re studying Christian Science year in and year out, the more easy-going way of approaching things begins to feel like a compromise, to some extent, sort of like a cop-out. Maybe you went somewhere had “too much fun”, maybe you went to a really nice restaurant and enjoyed the cuisine a little “too much”, you know, a little too much enjoyment of “sensation in matter.” The indoctrination is always just around the corner.
It’s nice to get away from such unnatural, fearful, and neurotic thinking. It’s nice to let go and enjoy the senses. Why must we be in a war with them? I’ve always love, for example, scented candles. They look nice when they’re burning, and the scent can be very nice. I love jasmine. It has a nice, fragrant, and yes, erotic quality. Whether it’s candles, of the aroma of food, that makes your mouth water, all these things are here in out lives to make it more enjoyable.
The idea that all of it is something that we have to be in some kind of “war” with is very hurtful, to say nothing of counterintuitive. I really feel like celebrating life here on earth! That’s one of the reasons we’re here. I’ve made progress from the hurtful home life I grew up in. And I’m glad the woman in your story is making progress, as well.
Dear anonymous, Thank you for your comment. When this story was shared with many Ex Christian Scientists, most of them related to it. Too many of us have had to deal with the consequences of growing up being stifled for our basic humanity. And too many of us are dealing with depression and anxiety now that we are out of Christian Science. Perhaps you are a more “modern” Christian Scientist with your thinking. Or perhaps you are more of a “New Thought” thinker instead of a traditional Christian Science thinker. I wish you the best in your journey. I, myself, am very glad to be out of Christian Science. It feels good to be finding my happiness.
Thank you, belatedly, for your reply, and your best wishes. No, I am not a “modern” Christian Scientist, or a “New Thought” thinker. I did pursue, initially, and briefly, some “New Thought” areas, such as “Unity”, when I was trying to think for myself and put some distance between myself and what felt like the complete mental domination of Christian Science. Of course, I felt guilty (and the C.S. programming which was telling me I was copping out), and those new areas of exploration just seemed to resemble Christian Science Lite.
Actually, looking at it now, with some time and distance, some of the “Unity”, and “New Thought” information now just seems to me to be practical, down to earth, applicable. Without the heavy Christian Science baggage, you know…fear of Catholics, fear of medicine/physicians, being “at war with the senses”, etc., etc.
I’ve been working with someone now who is really big time into what would be called one of the “New Thought” religions, and started to get into my past with Christian Science with him, comparing the two (he could talk about his church and his beliefs for hours on end), but I really didn’t want to get into a protracted discussion on C.S., and just simply begged off. I’ve done my best to mentally separate myself from C.S., not delve back into it.
One of the things that was really helpful to me, when I was in the latter days of my struggle with C. S., was hearing, late at night, and intriguing and brilliant man giving talks on spiritual information from an Eastern perspective. His name was Alan Watts, and he helped introduce, through warmth, clarity, and a wonderful sense of humor, ideas and concepts which were largely alien to American audiences, especially in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He de-mystified much of it, and made it accessible. It was such a comfort to me, when I was struggling with C.S., to hear such warmth and humor, which was so often lacking in C.S.
He was very well studied. He was a former ordained minister, but found Eastern concepts far more applicable. Interestingly, for me, what was so interesting to me, was that, while he was very tolerant of most religions, he had a particular difficulty with one in particular…Christian Science (!). You hear his references to it here and there in his lectures. When I heard that, I was really hoping that I could discuss some things about it with him, but then I found out that he had passed away a few years before.
But I love to listen to his lectures. And it helped me, in a gentle way, to move away from Christian Science, into areas which were much more enjoyable. Sort of a long answer to your response. I hope you get to read it! All the best.
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