Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays

Christian Science: This Time It’s Personal

I always go to church incognito.

Before braving my first Christian Science service, I called my dad for moral support. I wanted to pick his brain a bit and get the perspective of a long-lapsed member of the church. He had a lot to share and it was almost all obnoxiously positive. Apparently you can take the boy out of the cult, but you can’t take the cult out of the boy. Because if Christian Science is indeed a cult (and I would argue that it’s anything but), it’s a cult of positivity.


This theory started with my grandmother, who had more positivity in her left eyebrow than most people have in their entire bodies. She was physically incapable of thinking an unkind thought. I remember when my older brother got caught smoking in junior high school and his punishment was that instead of joining us on our family trip to Hawaii, he had to stay with Grandma that week. When she caught him climbing the roofs of her condominium complex (and doing who knows what up there), she just laughed it off as Dan being Dan. “His energy is just delightful!” Our other grandmother would have handcuffed him to a chair just so she’d know where to find him.

Grandpa Bruce, Grandma Ardie and Dan being Dan, at my dad's graduation from CalTech in 1974.


She radiated so much pure, unadulterated goodness that it was hard not to think of her as a real-life angel. I always thought it was just her until I worked for a Christian Scientist and met a handful of her clients who were also in the church.

They were ALL like that.

Well, I take that back. The WOMEN were like that. The men were always Crotchety McGrumpensteins, which I found adorable. So my dad’s first point was the obvious one: he grew up in an extremely positive environment, surrounded by genuinely happy, enthusiastic people and as a result, he became one himself.

Dad’s second point was that by growing up in an outlying religious sect, he had no choice but to be different from the other kids. So as an adult, he’s always summoned the bravery to embrace his own particular brand of different. Dad has never been a conformist and that way of thinking has served him well in his professional life, as illustrated by the half dozen hard drive patents hanging on his office wall.


Of course, the church isn’t all good. Dad tried to politely explain to me what he calls the “faith healing paradox,” wherein Christian Scientists think that because they apply their beliefs and practices and good things happen that the beliefs and practices must be causal – they must be TRUE – which is like saying that wearing a hat causes baldness. It simply defies logic, which is pretty sad for a religion that calls itself science.

The truth is that by rejecting science, Christian Scientists DIE.


I’ve lost colleagues and family members to things like uterine cancer, skin cancer and breast cancer, diseases that could have been caught and potentially cured by routine preventative medical examinations that women like me have on an annual basis. I find that hard to swallow.


I probably should’ve started this post with a caveat: I spent almost the entire service bawling like a baby. Or, more accurately, like a grown, 34-year old woman who desperately misses her grandmother in spite of the fact that she’s been dead for 16 years.

Me and Ardie. If you don't have a photo of yourself as a baby on that exact same couch with that exact same wooden paneling behind you, you weren't born in the 70's.


We’re talking the UGLY CRY, people. Poor Joel kept reaching his arm around the pew to rub my shoulder. My reaction took us both by surprise.

It also made it pretty difficult for me to pay attention. I just kept looking up at the ceiling, which was perhaps the most magnificent one we’ve seen yet, and wishing I’d gotten to know Grandma Ardie better. I can remember her powdery hair and the way she smelled and how enthusiastically she’d plunk at her upright piano and sing along with her sweet, stringy voice and how she was the only human being I ever let call me “Mandy.” I even remember her Bible; the tissue paper pages had gold-leafed edges and chapters that were finger-nail-indented like a dictionary. I honestly can’t remember what the cover looked like because the damn thing was always open.


Designed after the Mother Ship in Boston, MA. Fracking beautiful.

So this week’s review is going to be written in two parts. As you’ve no doubt noticed, this first post is personal. I can’t help it. Apparently I have more Christian Science baggage than I ever expected. But I plan to attend another service tonight, the one where members share their healing stories and I promise that write-up will be more clinical and hopefully answer more questions about the religion and how it’s practiced. All I can say about Sunday was that it affected me in a totally unexpected way. More so than any church service we’ve attended thus far.


It made me sad. WEEPY sad.

First, the church itself – Sixth Church – is an artifact. I would call it an Art Deco museum, but given its emptiness, not to mention the age of its average attendee, it’s really more accurately a mausoleum.

Dryness of the service aside, there wasn't a speck of dust in the whole place.

All that magnificence and beauty seemed a waste for the twelve heads I counted in the audience (and I’m generously including Joel, myself and even Genoa).  How could I NOT think about my grandmother’s death when I was sitting in a dying church with a group of people who can only be seen as remains. Christian Science could never be a cult because correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t cults actually recruit new members or at least try their damnedest to keep the ones they already have? These Scientists are way too nice for that.


Listening to the readings on the “science of man’s eternal harmony” didn’t help much, either. It was so boring and disconnected I finally understood why my father couldn’t WAIT to leave the church. And I was actively TRYING to listen, to force myself to understand what Mary Baker Eddy spent 700 pages explaining in Science and Health – that by achieving an enlightened spiritual state with your mind, your body will be healed by proxy.

It’s actually not a bad theory if you think about it: mind over matter.

So this is my question for tonight’s service – what IS the power of positive thought? The Christian Scientists call it God, but what if it’s something ACTUALLY scientific, like brain chemistry? Maybe Mary Baker Eddy was on to something.

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posted June 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm

My mom was a Christian Scientist, and I’ve always thought of her as the most serene person I’ve ever known. I went with her (as my dad always did) until I was about 16.
To make a somewhat overly simple comparison, the idea of not admitting error to one’s thinking as a way of preventing sickness is a bit like typing along and saying to yourself, “ah, I haven’t make a single mistake” and voila, the typewriter keys lock up, or you’re backspacing. We all know people who seem to will themselves sick, in the opposite way.
As for doctors, I’ve known members who do know when it’s time to consult modern medicine, albeit when they have to admit that their faith has not been completely successful. Think about it though: when you know you’ve got a doctor’s appointment coming up, you start to think of things that are “wrong” with you, to discuss with the doctor, and he/she encourages that mindset by having you come back in six months or weeks.
Even though I haven’t gone back since I was 16, 40 years ago, I think that mindset has served me well in a healthy and happy life.

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posted March 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Hey Amanda!
I think it’s very cool that you have such great memories of your grandmother… reading this made me sad for you that you don’t still have her around. You almost made me cry and I wasn’t even there!!!

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posted March 25, 2011 at 9:35 am

You know-I do believe in the power of positive thought. I also believe in the power of prayer-not necessarily because I think God answers all prayers-but more in that your body will fight a disease better if you have hope because you will be open to doing the things necessary to get well. if you resign yourself to death-your mind and body shut off and you don’t fight. I don’t think there is any hard proof of the power of positive thinking and disease (anecdotal maybe), but I do believe there’s something to it.

I’m looking forward to the post regarding the healing stories.

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John Clague

posted March 24, 2011 at 11:13 am

I am a Christian Scientist in Eugene. I decided to become one 37 years ago while in college and have found that it works for me in all aspects. I enjoyed reading your take on CS from personal experience at 6th church and feedback from relatives. I’ve been in Oregon all my adult life, and I know all the CS churches in the Portland area. If you are willing to take the time, I think you would find your CS church experience quite different at either Beaverton or Portland 10th church. Because the branch churches are independent to a large degree, each can have a very different feel from the others, and the make up of the membership can be quite diverse between the branches, including the size of the membership. I would also love to chat with you more about our theology and healthcare, that is, if you are open to it.

I also need to tell you that I am currently the media and legislative liaison for the CS churches in Oregon. Just wanted to make sure there was full disclosure.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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posted March 24, 2011 at 9:56 am

Have you heard of Candace Pert, who wrote Molecules of Emotion? You could also look up EFT, and even the book Who Turned Off My Brian, by Caroline Leafe. These all deal with the physical, biological aspect of emotions. Fascinating topic. :)

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Katie N

posted March 24, 2011 at 4:40 am

My MIL is a Christian Scientist. She is the nicest woman I have ever met. I’m not down with her religion for my personal beliefs, but I’m sure happy that she is in my life.

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posted March 23, 2011 at 8:15 pm

In the 1970s, most states wouldn’t issue a birth certificate unless you brought in a Polaroid with the baby, at least one grandparent, the wood paneling, and that couch. In Oklahoma, it had to be the grandmother and she had to be holding a lit cigarette or smoking a pipe. Sigh. We had style then.

Anyhoo, I don’t think Mary Baker Eddy was on to much of anything, but to her credit, she was a pioneer among women who abuse the word ‘science.’ Barbara Ehrenreich has done some good work throwing a wrench in the idea that ‘positive thinking’ is some kind of magic tonic.

Apologies, but I just don’t truck with this particular church. They can cram it, pull it out, rotate it, and cram it again.

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posted March 23, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I loved this post Amanda. I was born in the 70’s and I do have a photo with my Grandmother on a couch just like that (but mustard yellow flowers). I am a baby looking up at her and her face shows pure love, much like your Grandma’s expression. It is one of my most treasured photographs. Thanks for sharing yours.

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