Cultic Studies Review, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2003.
The Religion that Kills: Christian Science, abuse, neglect, and mind control.
Lafayette LA: Huntington House. 269 page paperback.
Kramer, L. S. (2000).
Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Self
This book describes “the hidden world of Christian Science” from the author’s experience from childhood through 30 years, as a member until she realized it “operates from a flawed premise and falls short of its utopian premise” (11). There are 12 brief chapters arranged in two parts. Part One consists of four chapters on “foundational issues.” The remaining chapters are in Part Two on “Christian Science and mind control.” There is no bibliography. Three appendices consist of: A (Christian Science and the Bible), a 35-page discourse that could have been a chapter; B (My story, a journey to freedom), the author’s religious autobiography that could have been the first chapter, and C (Resources), a 3-page list of 18 books and sources that could have been the customary references section. The preface contains material important to the book’s purpose and should have begun Chapter 1. It is information about the founding of Christian Science and how it differs from mainstream Christianity. The introduction describes the author’s experience as a Christian Scientist and its similarities to religious cults.
Chapter 1 begins an explanation of the disillusionment of many who left Christian Science despite “many good memories” and its “solid moral values” (17). She views Christian Science as a cult that uses mind control, labels she uses reluctantly: “They bother me, too” and she writes “not to hurt anyone” but “to help explain what happened to me” (19). Chapter 2 explains church doctrine, rooted in Genesis “that since God is spiritual and made everything good” so everything created “must also be spiritual and good” (22). We are spiritual, not mortal or material, and Christian Science is “a scientific method of healing based on spiritual laws” (24). Sin and sickness are “illusions” at a lower material level and we are “saved as we gradually leave material beliefs behind” (25). Chapter 3 refers to books the author found helpful with her commentaries of them. At 47 pages, chapter 4 is the longest in the book and focuses on Mary Baker Eddy, her sickly childhood, home life, and adult years. Her “semi-invalidism” (41) disappeared when Dr. Phineas Quimby, a mesmerist, treated her with reassuring talk and light physical therapy. It helped shape her understanding of the effect of spiritual belief on illness, though she had lifelong apprehension that mesmeric forces were used against her. Later, she fell on ice and “was expected to die” but by reading the Bible she arose “healed and free” on the third day (42). Her behavior is described, positive and negative, as a charismatic founder, leader, prophet, and healer.
The chapters that make up Part Two examine Christian Science in the light of the literature on mind control. Church practices and its Manual of the Mother Church are critiqued with references from mind control sources such as Cialdini, Hassan, Lifton, Martin, and Singer. Lifton’s eight criteria are applied in detail with examples from the author’s experience, case histories, and accepted church practices. Christian Science “differs from the more obvious mind control groups” because “it does not need to break its members wills” (150). Instead, “irresistible carrots – absolute truth, healings, a foolproof way to overcome life’s problems, guaranteed salvation” (150). Individuality is subjugated to doctrine: “The things that make us human are dangerous to Christian Science” (162). Everything experienced “must be spiritualized into something else” (198). The book ends with a typical ex-Christian Scientist’s comment: “It’s nice to be real.”
This book is one of many written by former church, temple, or cult members describing their experiences before, during, and after their involvement. This one is specific to Christian Science and provides details of how it differs from traditional Christian belief and practice. It reflects more disillusionment than anger or resentment and is valuable in its insightful comparisons of church practices and their similarity to mind control techniques of other groups. It is clearly and concisely written, well referenced, and fulfils its goal to evaluate Christian Science “from a secular psychological viewpoint” for readers who want to understand its “stark realities” and to reassure “those trying to recover from them” (p. 15).