What’s the word for…?

Self-cannibalism is the practice of eating oneself, also called autocannibalism, or autosarcophagy.
(Wikipedia)

I recently heard about a Christian Science branch church that received a large bequest from a recently deceased member. Back in the day, when I was on the Board of Directors at my own branch church, we also received a bequest from a deceased member. The tiny Christian Science Society in the community where I live now is mainly sustained by a large amount of money they have in savings that’s been built up over the years by, you guessed it, bequests. Do you see a pattern?

This is the case with many Christian Science branch churches, societies, and affiliated organizations; and on a more macro scale, by The Mother Church itself. When I was working at The Mother Church in Boston, a close friend of mine worked in the real estate division. The main function of her department was the liquidation of the property of closed branch churches throughout the United States. It is often the case that when branch churches close (which happens frequently), that they turn over their real estate and other holdings to The Mother Church, which liquidates those assets and keeps most or all of the proceeds. This activity brings in a lot of revenue for The Mother Church. The other huge sources of revenue for The Mother Church are bequests from dead Christian Scientists (no surprise there), and rental income from properties they own in Boston (click here to learn about changes at the Christian Science Plaza).

I’ve touched on this idea in several other posts, where I see the Christian Science Church as a largely dying corpse that is feeding on itself to stay alive. Overall, even though they do admit new members every year (nobody outside the Church employees who oversee this activity and the Board of Directors know how many), from all evidence I’ve seen new members do not off-set the hemhorraging of members who either die or leave. The vast majority of people who grow up in Christian Science also end up leaving it at some point in their adult lives. At its peak, the Church likely never counted more than 1 million members worldwide, and that’s a generous estimate. Although hard evidence is not available, I do not believe that the Christian Science Church is bringing in enough new members each year to off-set yearly losses. Anecdotal evidence is available that supports the observations of a rapid decline in the Christian Science Church.

Some evidence…

While nobody (outside of a small circle) knows how many members there are in The Mother Church, the decline in the overall Christian Science Church can be tracked through information that is easily available in the Directory of Christian Science in the Christian Science Journal. The decline in the number of branch churches has yet to abate, and the number of Christian Science practitioners continues to decline.

One yearly measure is a required (by US Postal Service regulation) statement of circulation for Christian Science periodicals. In the years from 1996 – 2009 (a 13 year period), circulation for the Christian Science Sentinel (a weekly publication) dropped from 52,599 to 24,130. It’s worth noting that around 2009, they did start moving to digital subscriptions, but even if you stop say at 2004, you see the drop going to 37,778. That’s a drop of 14,821 or about 28% of the 1996 level in just eight years.

There’s another measure that requires a bit more effort to reveal, but a dissident Christian Science publication, The Banner, packages the information up quite well. It is a summary of branch church closures. They track this information using the church listings found in The Christian Science Journal. Since they started keeping track of this information in 1987, 987 churches have closed and 81 have opened in the United States alone. This represents a net loss of 906 churches between 1987 and 2016–that’s just in the United States.

So, the Christian Science Church, by all appearances, is a dying organism that is feeding upon itself to sustain its continuing existence. It’s not sustainable, and eventually, there will be nothing left. The value of their property holdings in Boston will sustain them for many years, and there are many more dying branch churches yet to be sold off, so I’d say that the ultimate demise of the Christian Science Church, as an entity, is probably many decades away. But, it’s not going to last forever. Unless there’s growth, it will ultimately autocannibalize itself to death. What growth there is, does not even come close to balancing, let alone cancelling, the rapid decline.

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5 thoughts on “What’s the word for…?

  1. Encouraging in one sense, sad, perhaps, in another. Encouraging in the sense that fewer and fewer adults are going to be frightened/inhibited from seeking needed medical treatment, and fewer suffering children, as well.

    Sad, in the sense, that many of us, in an earlier time, thought we had found “the pearl of great price” through Christian Science, only to find, if not from problems related to not receiving needed medical treatment, to the strange psychological feelings and fallout from having studied this religion for years. Wanting to be free from it, yet feeling trapped into continuing on with it. Maybe looking back, and realizing we should have gotten out of it long before we did.

    And then…once having done so…having it still float around in our minds and lives. It can take a long time, but if you are like I am, over time, it really does begin to lessen.

    In your previous posting, “Princesstia”, you mentioned the incestuous aspects of going all the way through Principia…Christian Science primary school, and on through college. Incestuous, in the sense that the person remains largely hidden out in Christian Science study, largely associating only with other C,S.’s. The studies, and the other people, are largely self-referential. And you go on like this for years. Essentially hidden from the world. The world of reality. Yet you believe you’re “way ahead of the world.”

    On the one hand, if you have spent time in Christian Science churches, Sunday Schools, gotten to be friends with other Scientists, many of them seem quite down-to-earth. Not trying to be super Scientists, just regular folks, I suppose you could say. In the book “God’s Perfect Child”, I don’t remember exactly how she puts it, Caroline Fraser says something about the impossibility of someone trying to live every word of Science and Health. Taken in it’s entirety, the whole book is simply so overwhelming, that people just do the best they can. The people are simply down-to-earth, because intensely reading S&H, her other writings, the literature the Church puts out, is anything but a simple exercise…

    In my time in the religion, I met numerous people who seemed to be from very nice households, seemed to be well-adjusted. And I’ve been thinking, over the last several years, that a reasonably thoughtful C.S. home can actually act as a buffer against some of the more bizarre aspects, and people, of the religion. Warm, thoughtful C.S. parents seem to have awareness of some of the more hurtful aspects of the religion, and guide their children away from it. I have met parents who were like that.

    Unfortunately, that was anything but the case for me, in my upbringing, and I have gone through my own hell because of it. I have written about it elsewhere here, so I won’t go into it now.

    There was a time when many of us thought that we were privileged, going to churches where there were practitioners who could offer help. It seemed to be a nice community, with branch churches, and an international daily newspaper. But as you’ve pointed out, it seems to be collapsing in on itself. Branch churches closing, or relocating to smaller venues. Thinking of it consuming itself, well, it seems depressing, when one thinks of how much so many of us once championed it…

    But we eventually found we had to get out of the religion, some of us as quickly as possible. And we found relief, and clear-mindedness, as time went on.

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