A Glimmer of Truth
I didn’t want to leave Christian Science. I spent the first thirty years of my life believing that this religion represented the highest form of Truth. Christian Science taught me that God’s creation is spiritual and not material. It promised that as I understood this fact and its natural conclusion that sin, disease, and death are unreal, my experience would reflect this understanding. I would be able to heal my illnesses and conquer any problems that “seemed” to come my way. What a wonderful promise! It gave me an “overcoming” attitude that carried me through the many ups and downs of life.
Christian Science was “discovered” by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866. She claimed that this “scientific system of healing” was revealed to her directly from God and that it was based on the Bible. She described her revelation in Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures, which both she and her followers consider to be divinely inspired and infallible. Most of the time Christian Scientists study the Bible in conjunction with Science and Health, believing that Mrs. Eddy’s book reveals the true, spiritualized message of the Bible. A committee at The Mother Church in Boston sets up “correlative” readings between the Bible and Science and Health, based on a set of topics selected by Mrs. Eddy. Christian Scientists are instructed to study these readings every day, and then they hear them again on Sunday as the week’s sermon.
I grew up in a family of Christian Scientists. My mother’s parents converted when she was very young, and my father joined Christian Science while in his twenties. I joined The Mother Church (the central Christian Science church, of which all others are “branches”) as a teenager and later attended Principia College, a school for Christian Scientists. I then became very active in the student group at my graduate school. I married a “non-Scientist” who was willing to attend church with me. We attended a Christian Science church during the first several years of our marriage, although I never formally joined that local church.
I believed, with all my heart, that Christian Science was the Truth. Yet, there was one aspect of my religious life that troubled me. I did not consider myself to be a very successful healer. Healing is greatly emphasized in this religion, both because it is said to validate the religious doctrine and because it indicates the spiritual maturity of the believer. The system has supposedly been validated by thousands of healings, so a Christian Scientist’s failure to heal a problem is said to reflect his own lack of understanding rather than to reveal a problem with the system. I felt inadequate as a healer, even though I had experienced some healings and had heard of many others (real or imagined). I became very concerned about this “inadequacy” after the birth of my first child. Parents are responsible for healing their young children. I knew that, for the safety of my child, I needed to become a more consistent healer.
Frankly, I was getting a little bored with the study format set up by the Church. I decided to set Science and Health aside for a time and to confine my study to the Bible. I reasoned that since Mrs. Eddy’s writings were based on the Bible, focusing on it for a while should help me to better understand her writings and should ultimately make me a better healer. I had a deep need to understand the Truth and was open to anything that God’s Word had to offer. I prayed for the truth and began my journey.
I am convinced that many of God’s miracles involve the timing of events in our lives. God brought a Christian family into my life about the same time that I began my search. I felt a special love for these people and offered Christian Science to them as an answer to the wife’s long-standing health problems. This opened up a conversation during which we shared our beliefs. They talked about the themes central to Christianity, such as Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and our need to accept that sacrifice in a personal way in order to reap its benefits. I appreciated their love for Jesus and their devotion to God, but the things that they said about salvation, heaven, hell, and the like, seemed naïve and ridiculous to me. I had been taught that non-Christian Scientists had an incomplete understanding of Jesus’ true message. Our conversation seemed to confirm this belief. The analogy would be that most of Christianity had a “kindergarten level” understanding of the Bible, while Christian Science was the “graduate school” of Christianity.
I kept reading the Bible, starting with the Gospels. Several months later I asked my friends if we could have another discussion about what Christians believe. In my mind there were Christian Scientists and then “everybody else.” I had no concept of the vast differences between the many Christian denominations and simply wanted a better understanding of what “the rest of the Christian world” believed. This gave my friends a second opportunity to explain their beliefs to me. Again, what they said sounded terribly naïve. They just told me to keep reading.
I entered the book of Romans on July 6, 1985. I was using the King James Version of the Bible, and Paul’s writings became very confusing in “the King’s English.” I switched to a modern English version, and the text became a little easier to follow. When I reached the third chapter I encountered a passage that I had never seen before:
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,* through faith in his blood….” (Romans 3:23-25a, New International Version)
*Note to the Christian Scientist: In the original Greek text, words like redemption and atonement involve payment for sins and reconciliation with God. Atonement deals with restoring a broken relationship with God rather than referring to a preexisting “at-one-ment” with Him.
Everything that my friends had said seemed to be wrapped up in that one passage. I suddenly realized that Jesus had not gone to the cross to prove the unreality of sin, disease, and death, but to PAY for my sins. “For ALL have sinned….” The things that my friends had said suddenly didn’t seem so naïve. I caught a glimmer of truth, and my life has never been the same.
I can’t believe the change that occurred in me. It wasn’t a bolt of lightning – it was a steady and very definite change within my values and beliefs. I had been raised with a solid set of Judeo-Christian values and was used to upholding high moral standards. I was intrigued, therefore, to find that my attitudes and values seemed to be “fine-tuned” over the next several weeks. I was frequently surprised to find myself thinking, “I didn’t know that I felt quite THAT way” about some issue regarding integrity, morality, and the like. These were not major shifts, but they were definitely changes that were happening without my conscious input or any influence from those around me. God was definitely working on me.
It was a spiritually rich and exciting time as the Bible came to life, teaching me things that I had never known even though I had read from it all of my life. I was tremendously excited. At the same time I faced a serious problem. Christian Science claimed to elucidate the Bible, but its teachings suddenly seemed to contradict it. I went through a six-week period of intense Bible study in order to settle this dilemma. One by one the basic doctrines of Christianity loomed before me – doctrines like the reality of heaven and hell, the identity of the Holy Spirit, the purpose for Jesus’ crucifixion, and Jesus’ true identity. I fought the issues one at a time, trying to make Christian Science fit with the Bible. Each time, I discovered that in spiritualizing a biblical term, Mrs. Eddy had actually redefined the term. I knew that Mrs. Eddy’s spiritualized meanings would clarify rather than disagree with the original biblical concepts if she had truly received them from God. Finally, I had to concede that Christian Science contradicts the Bible rather that elucidating it. I had no choice but to leave.
One would think that leaving Christian Science would be easy after discovering that its doctrine is flawed. Many people do leave the religion without looking back. In some cases they even forget what Christian Science taught them as God replaces it with His unadulterated truth from the Bible. But Christian Science is more than a set of doctrinal beliefs; it is a different view of reality. It teaches that the material world is unreal and makes its followers live in a state of almost constant denial as they reinterpret reality in order to heal their problems. This denial can result in terrible physical, emotional, and spiritual damage. I have observed this damage over and over in the lives of both current and former Christian Scientists.
I know former Christian Scientists who fall all along the spectrum I have just described. While some seem healthy, many others suffer fallout that requires prayer, spiritual growth, a lot of forgiveness, and sometimes counseling in order to be healed. Others carry emotional scars for a lifetime without understanding their connection to Christian Science. In my case, I fought a long battle to break free from the emotional hold that this religion had on me and to deal with the scars it had left in my life.
Hearing about my journey toward wholeness has sometimes been helpful to former Christian Scientists, as it has enabled them to finally put their undefined hurts and impressions into words. My story has also helped non-Christian Scientists to better understand the struggles and, sometimes, unusual behavior of Christian Science loved ones, who suffer needlessly with treatable physical and emotional problems and yet refuse to handle them medically.
I tell my story out of a deep love and concern for Christian Scientists.
The Journey to Freedom
As I said before, I did not want to leave Christian Science. All of my life I had been taught that this religion was the highest form of Truth. It felt humiliating to leave the “graduate school” of Christianity and to go back to what I had been taught was kindergarten. I knew that my friends and family were thinking, “That’s OK for her…she just couldn’t understand Christian Science.” I knew this because I had thought the same loving, but condescending things about others who had left “the faith.” That’s the standard line when someone leaves the religion or fails to have a healing. Somehow it is a failure and is lovingly blamed on the person. The system – Christian Science – is always right.
I felt a tremendous sense of loss as I left the only religion I had ever known. My identity was built around Christian Science. It had formed the basis for my worldview (matter is an illusion – all is spiritual). As a Navy family we had moved many times during my childhood, and the uniformity of Christian Science churches and their people had added an element of stability to the exciting but rather destabilizing lifestyle that the Navy had imposed upon me. When I entered Principia College I found friends from all over the country. I also found a whole group of people who held my rather unorthodox view of reality. I felt “at home” and spiritually normal, and immediately sank my roots deep into Principia.
Leaving Christian Science meant disappointing my parents, losing the spiritual link to much of my family and closest friends, and losing the college roots that I held so dear. Despite the wonderful things happening in my life, there was a part of me that felt terribly alone.
On top of that, I was sick. As a wife, mother, and Ph.D. chemist with a career, I was already operating at peak physical capacity when I found Christ. Then I started my Bible study. The only time to do this work was after my family went to bed. I studied for hours at a time, sleeping very little for several weeks. I lacked the physical reserves to operate this way and began to pay a physical toll. I had experienced some near-fainting spells even before finding Christ (which I now know were related to my eating habits, coupled with my happy but stressful lifestyle), so decided to see a doctor. I thought that, because of the fainting issue, I might have diabetes. I was given a series of incorrect diagnoses and treatments that only exacerbated the problem, partly because of the doctors and also because of my ignorance about medicine and about how to interpret physical symptoms. The stress in my life also made the problem much worse. It’s a long and complex story, but I have told enough to let the Christian Scientist know that my physical problems were not the result of opening myself up to “aggressive mental suggestion,” as I had been taught would happen if I left Christian Science. I had a mild blood sugar problem, some pinched nerves in my neck, a lot of stress, and some very inappropriate medicine that caused bizarre side effects – but we did not understand the interplay of these issues at the time. My symptoms became so complex that a doctor finally suggested that I talk to a psychiatrist to determine whether the symptoms were physical or emotional in origin.
To a former Christian Scientist, going to a “shrink” was the ultimate humiliation. Christian Science teaches that our condition is the direct result of our thinking. Emotional problems represent serious spiritual inadequacy. I did not feel any anger toward anybody and felt rather emotionally normal, so I went to the consultation with a somewhat defiant attitude. I was really surprised (insulted?) when the psychiatrist suggested that I begin regular treatment.
I had no idea how to evaluate the competency of a counselor (as with medical issues, Christian Scientists are usually woefully ignorant on such matters). My psychiatrist meant well, but he used a completely inappropriate counseling technique for my type of issues (this was later confirmed by other counselors). His style of therapy took a person apart like someone takes a car engine apart and lays the pieces out on the garage floor. With an engine, each piece is cleaned and finally reassembled. This takes a long time but produces an improved engine. The problem with the style of therapy used on me was that, instead of building a better person, it reduces a person to animal instincts and manipulation. It was clear that my therapist had little use for spiritual things, because every time I talked of God working in my life he attempted to explain it away. The bad part of the therapy was that it was torturous and created some problems that took years to correct. The good part is that it broke through the denial in which I had lived all my life.
Christian Scientists are taught that their experience reflects their thinking. This belief requires that they deny the pain, illnesses, and other problems that they see in themselves and in others. Acknowledging a person’s illness makes it seem more real and therefore harder to heal, so both the sick person and the friend tend to ignore or downplay a problem. Because of this, Christian Scientists tend to go through their trials with little or no real emotional support. This is especially damaging to children, whose instinctive feelings and needs are usually not acknowledged when they are frightened or sick. They go through many problems alone as they and/or their parents attempt to heal them. This can produce symptoms similar to emotional and physical neglect, even in loving families like mine.
As I talked with my psychiatrist, thirty years of improperly processed emotions came pouring out. Some of the problems were minor, while others were major traumas that would have been much less damaging had they been dealt with during my childhood. The experience was a nightmare that I left after eleven months of seeing my psychiatrist four times per week. During this time I had become suicidal, even forgetting what it meant to want to live (this lasted about a year). I went through three years of terrible anxiety and emotional pain as I dealt with my issues, first with the psychiatrist and then with a Christian counselor. Things finally stabilized, and I had several years of relative peace as I resolved some of my issues, quit my job to concentrate on my expanding family, and got a new focus on life.
One might ask, “Where was God in all of this? Why would He allow a new, growing, dedicated Christian to go through such difficulty?” To that question I respond, “Why did He allow Joseph to go through such trauma and unfair treatment? Why did Paul have an infirmity that God refused to heal? Why was Stephen martyred?” I do not put myself, or my experience, on a level with these great Bible characters, but I can use their trials to help me accept that God allows Christians to go through very difficult times. God always has a purpose in allowing things to happen, such as to strengthen a believer, to teach a lesson, or to accomplish some great purpose.
Whatever His purposes were in my case, one of the results was that I became more human. That sounds strange until one really studies Christian Science doctrine. This doctrine labels the physical world, including our bodies, as an illusion. It bases a person’s spiritual maturity on his ability to live in denial as he “overcomes” the false belief that matter is real. (The religion’s Scientific Statement of Being, read every week from the pulpit, begins with “There is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter…”). Christian Science also teaches that man is perfect, spiritual, and has no sin nature. I needed to “undo” my Christian Science thinking patterns and to look at my life as I had really experienced it, instead of how I had interpreted it through my Christian Science filters. In doing so, I discovered that I was furious and resentful about a lot of things. As these skeletons emerged I saw a side of myself that I had never recognized inside this “nice” person that I thought I knew. I found a depth of bitterness that really surprised me. As I came to know this dark side of myself I began to comprehend the ugliness of sin and the gift of salvation that Jesus gave me as He paid for my sins on the cross. I’ve never learned a sweeter lesson.
I also learned what it means to feel true, raw, human emotion and what it means to truly forgive. This took years of work even after the therapy was over, but the realization of my need came in the depth of my counseling experience.
God was with me throughout those years, through His Word and through the people He put in my life. The Christian couple I mentioned earlier answered my questions, listened to my pain (much of my emotional “processing” occurred with them and not in the therapy sessions), and cared for me even though I put them through more than many friendships could tolerate. God gave me a gifted pastor who taught me much about the Bible and who also served as a stabilizing influence. The Lord also provided a supportive church. And I learned that having given my life to my Lord, it was not mine to destroy. I look back on those difficult years as a time of valuable, faith-building growth in spite of the trauma.
Then God gave me a special gift. My husband accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior, too.
I experienced several years of relative peace as I became immersed in my expanded role of motherhood. My issues became buried under mothering, involvement in my neighborhood, church, and all of the normal activities of life. It was clear, though, that I was still troubled by my religious past. First, I had a real need to get to know some other people who had really believed in Christian Science and then had found the Jesus of the Bible. I ached for this fellowship and yet could not seem to progress beyond a few long-distance phone conversations. I wrote to twenty-five churches in my general area asking if they knew of any former Christian Scientists who now know the Lord. Those letters led nowhere, and I felt doubly alone. My worst problem was that teaching people about Christian Science, or hearing negative things about it or its leader, would periodically trigger emotional crises.
Ten years after leaving Christian Science I entered a crisis that produced months of ever-increasing anxiety. During this time, I read a book which made me suspect that I was suffering from cult damage and not from simply missing my old religion. I became desperate to talk with someone who understood cults. A remarkable series of events led me to a residential facility for cult victims.
The Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center is a located in southeastern Ohio. Nestled in the foothills of Appalachia, its privacy and nurturing atmosphere provided a wonderful setting for looking into my issues. At Wellspring, the clients live in a small alpine-style lodge that is decorated as a home. A staff member stays at the Lodge to cook the meals, oversee the Lodge, and “be there” for the clients between counseling sessions. The Lodge is only designed to handle a few clients at a time, so the atmosphere is gentle, private, and provides a safe and homelike environment in which the clients become friends and share their experiences. I had many deep, informative, and, at times, heart-wrenching conversations with the other clients who had come from a variety of cults. Through my conversations with them, I learned that much of what I was experiencing was normal for people who had lived through traumatic and abnormal circumstances.
The counselors at Wellspring are Christians, but they deal with their clients on a religious level only if the clients so desire. My issues were very much tied to my religious beliefs, so we had many deep and meaningful conversations about God in the context of my therapy. I saw Christianity in action at Wellspring, both in my life and in the way that the counselors and staff gave of themselves in helping the other clients. It was clear that God was working there.
One of the issues which troubled me, and which I needed to settle, was whether Christian Science can legitimately be called a cult in the psychological sense of the word. Up to this point it had not been widely recognized as such because of the subtlety of its methods. It is difficult to imagine the mental gymnastics and suffering which go on in this group unless you have lived through them, and few of its former members really understand the degree of denial that they lived under while in the group. The counselors at Wellspring are reluctant to label a group as cultic unless it meets very clear criteria, so we analyzed Christian Science very carefully in terms of current secular cult theory before reaching any conclusions. We finally decided that Christian Science is indeed cultic but that it functions without many of the obvious controls (physical isolation, diet, etc.) used by other groups. The controls required for Christian Science are mostly mental and are inherent in its application.
Wellspring has a two-week program during which they not only provide counseling, but also run workshops to educate the clients about how cults function, use mind control, and trap people. Part of the education describes the dynamics of emotions and personal interactions. This information proved invaluable in helping me to understand and deal with my issues.
The two-week stay at Wellspring opened up a whole new world to me and provided the nurturing, education, and counseling that I needed. But it was just the beginning of my healing process. After I left Wellspring I wrote a paper describing Christian Science, its controls, and the emotional damage that it can cause. I thought that writing the paper would provide some closure to my experience. Instead of making me feel better, it triggered a ferocious internal battle.
The root cause of my difficulties turned out to be an integration problem between the adult I am now and the child part of me that grew up within the emotional constraints of Christian Science. Deprived of the gut-level nurturing I needed, a little childlike part of me became separated from the rest of my personality. That part remained frozen in time and aching to be nurtured. As a Christian Scientist I never learned to meet my own deeply human needs, so that childlike part of me did not know where to turn for comfort. I unconsciously hated that part of myself for all the pain it had caused me over the years. To complicate the matter, that part of me was still emotionally attached to Christian Science and loyal to Mrs. Eddy. It was a little part of my identity that had been formed within the group’s culture and beliefs, and giving up the Christian Science ideology felt to “her” like a threat to my existence. All of this explains the crises that I kept experiencing. Telling people about Christian Science would trigger a grieving process even though I was glad to be out of this group. Speaking against the group would trigger deep insecurities and an inner struggle that felt like one part of me trying to silence the other. These crises were an expression of grief, fear, and a desperate need for the gut-level nurturing which I had not received as a child.
I returned to Wellspring five weeks after writing the paper, and we spent several days discovering the severity of the conflicts inside me. My task then became to end the conflicts by finding a way to comfort and integrate the confused, childlike part of me into the rest of my personality. I was still in a crisis, so my Wellspring counselor insisted that I find help near my home. He was able to suggest a Christian counselor who had grown up in a cult, and she and I continued the endeavor together.
Reaching the child inside was not easy. First, I had to learn to love her. My children were young like the “child” inside of me, so I began watching them and their friends very closely. I wanted to find out what their most basic, gut-level needs were and how they expected these needs to be satisfied. To my utter amazement, I found that these children acted and felt just like the child inside of me. To understand these feelings, actions, and their importance to a child, one needs only to watch a group of young children at play. When children hurt themselves they go to their parents in order to have the pain acknowledged. Often a child simply shows the bump to her mother, receives a kiss and some loving words, and then happily returns to her game. The love and kiss cannot heal the bump, but they are so important to the child that she will often cry and act hurt until she receives them. This need for the pain to be acknowledged is almost universal among children (and adults). A Christian Scientist denies herself the fulfillment of this basic human need because she cannot admit that the pain is real.
When I made the connection between the children around me and the one inside of me, I realized that the kid inside of me was not an obnoxious little monster. She was simply a normal little girl who, all her life, had been crying out for her most basic human needs to be met. I developed the same compassion for this little girl that I have for any hurting child, and my resentment turned to nurturing love.
Learning to love the childlike part of me was one thing, but actually “connecting” with her proved to be much more difficult. I learned a lot about her when I attended a meeting for former Christian Scientists in 1996 (my first face – to – face contact with a group of this sort). As we shared our stories and emotional scars I realized that I was not alone. My conclusions regarding the damaging nature of this religion were not only correct, but even too conservative in many cases. I found a wonderful, refreshing fellowship with these people. Strangely, though, I could not quite feel a part of them. I felt like an animal with my foot caught in a trap. I pulled against the chain, but could not quite reach the group. In pondering this I realized that the childlike part of me was still fiercely loyal to Mrs. Eddy.
For the first thirty years of my life, Mrs. Eddy had been presented to me as a spiritual leader chosen by God to give His final revelation to the world. She was my leader – quoted far more often by the average Christian Scientist than either Jesus or the Bible. Several biographies have been written which present a dark and bizarre picture of her, but the Christian Scientists have developed their own “official” image of Mrs. Eddy that is quite worthy of respect. In college I had taken a course that told us which biographies are “correct” and that carefully explained away any unsupportive writings. Furthermore, the Church had suppressed even the pro-Eddy writings that did not fit its official view of her. In short, I was stuck with a deep loyalty to this woman and no good way to evaluate her. I was sure that her writings were nonsense and was angry at what she has done to me and to thousands of others, but the child inside of me remained steadfastly loyal to her.
Then a friend from the meeting sent me the memoirs of Adam Dickey, Mrs. Eddy’s personal secretary and one of her most loyal followers. The Church had suppressed these writings, but they are a gem because they show complete honesty and loyalty on Dickey’s part. He describes Mrs. Eddy’s strengths and also talks about some rather strange quirks. As her loyal and trusting follower, he justifies everything in terms of her status as God’s messenger of Truth. As I read the memoirs and watched Dickey justify her authoritarian style, quirks, and behavior in light of her teachings, a cult leader emerged from my childhood’s sanitized view of her. I felt the “child” inside say “I don’t want her as my leader,” and the loyalty vanished. It was a tremendous sense of freedom that opened the way for further healing.
I reached another milestone when I began taking the time to really feel and listen to the childlike needs inside of me, instead of assuming that I knew what they were. This began a wonderful time of self-nurturing, and the integration process seemed to progress nicely. Then all progress stopped. It became very clear to me that I needed to return to Wellspring one more time.
As I waited several weeks for the trip, a key issue began to clarify in the form of nightmares and tremendous anxiety. It turns out that the child in me was afraid to heal. She had let go of the cult leader, but her identity was still linked to the cult. For some strange reason she thought that she would cease to exist if she let go of her Christian Science view of reality. The healing process was actually becoming a threat to her life. In other words, after everything that I had learned and been through in breaking free from Christian Science, the child inside of me still needed “exit counseling.” I had to cross this barrier before any more integration could occur. The task seemed overwhelming because of a creeping internal terror and because of the anxiety that was beginning to consume me. I couldn’t even attempt the task in the complexity of my life at home, but needed Wellspring’s privacy and support system to get me through what I knew would be a physical and emotional ordeal.
I returned to Wellspring in February of 1997. My goal was to somehow connect with the child inside and to reach her with the truth. I accomplished this over a period of three very intense days. And, eleven years after leaving Christian Science, the child let go of her old beliefs and declared her independence.
Since that time, I have been free from the hidden loyalties that bound me to Mrs. Eddy and her false concept of Christianity. I am no longer a house divided. The childlike part of me still needs special nurturing when I become involved in issues related to Christian Science, but I have learned ways to help her instead of fighting the needs and resenting her for them. Best of all, I am free to be completely human. This is not intended to glorify man in the humanistic sense. In my frail, physical, truly human state I can yield myself to God, let Him heal my emotions, and allow Him to use me for His purposes. I can truly enjoy life with all of its ups and downs, instead of having to reinterpret its stark reality through my Christian Science filters. My healing process continues as God leads me, one step at a time.
Where was God in this journey? He was everywhere. I have left a lot of details out of this story but, looking back at the total experience, I see a progression of events that are too numerous and well timed to be coincidental. The events, their timing, and the people involved weave into a tapestry which could have been designed only by God. I am convinced that He wove this tapestry to help me understand the reasons why so many people are deeply scarred by Christian Science. I tell my story in order to share what I have learned. As I have told it, I have seen the light dawn in people’s faces and tears come to their eyes as they finally understand why they, too, have been struggling. Helping others to understand their pain opens avenues of healing to them while it adds meaning to my own experience. Best of all, it gives me a chance to glorify God. After all, He is the one who guided me to freedom.
Linda Kramer, written 1998