Christian Science Resistance: Still Standing Porter at the Door of Thought
Losing my religion.
I pray a lot — about everything. My daily goal is to make my life a living prayer, doing the best I can to love my neighbor as myself, thus bringing God’s healing presence wherever I am. Mary Baker Eddy, 19th-century trailblazer in exploring the mind-body-spirit connection (and the founder of the Christian Science movement) advises us in her groundbreaking book Science and Health to “[s]tand porter at the door of thought. Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously. When the condition is present which you say induces disease, whether it be air, exercise, heredity, contagion, or accident, then perform your office as porter and shut out these unhealthy thoughts and fears. Exclude from mortal mind the offending errors; then the body cannot suffer from them. The issues of pain or pleasure must come through mind, and like a watchman forsaking his post, we admit the intruding belief, forgetting that through divine help we can forbid this entrance” (p. 392–393). I’ve been doing what Eddy calls “molding and chiseling thought” (see p. 248) since 1991, when I was healed of carpal tunnel syndrome just from reading her book. And in that time I’ve witnessed countless healings, even in cases thought to be chronic or hopeless.
But ever since a certain person started running for — and became — president, even though I pushed with all my might, I mostly failed at keeping that door of thought closed. During the campaign — this was way before I learned how to pace myself — I would wake up in the middle of the night with that despicable man’s voice in my head, condemning everything that makes sense. Like most people, I was traumatized by the election. We expected to be celebrating the first American woman president. Instead, we’re careening toward dystopia. The president of the United States spends sleepless nights spewing arbitrary hatred and vitriol on Twitter. It isn’t just the bigoted rhetoric, the reckless ignorance, the compulsive lying, and the nefarious international business entanglements; more troubling is his disdain for our democracy. He lashes out daily against freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion.
My outrage at the normalization of this juvenile-delinquent-in-chief has been met with stunning silence by my Christian Science teacher and by others I respect — spiritual leaders I used to look up to for guidance. I expressed my indignation to my teacher, begging for direction on how best to pray about this, and received only platitudes about standing strong, armed with Love. Of course, I know this is a very powerful thing to do. But unpredictably, it didn’t feel like enough anymore. Attending church, reading inspirational articles about spiritual healings, and studying the Scriptures began to feel almost empty. The last straw came in February, from an unlikely place — well, in this upside-down world, it’s one of our more reliable sources: John Oliver. Reviewing the president’s disconnect from reality and contempt for the press, Oliver included a clip of Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, saying “Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” This is an appalling statement in and of itself. But it hit me hard, because Mr. Smith is ostensibly a Christian Scientist. He’s been interviewed multiple times over the years, usually about effective prayers regarding honesty and bipartisanship in government. It’s been over a decade since we’ve heard from him in the field, however, and now I know why: He’s clearly been drinking the Kool-Aid.* “Getting your news directly from the leader,” as Oliver correctly pointed out, “is basically the philosophy of North Korea. And the notion that our leaders should be able to pass on mistruths with impunity should be alarming to absolutely everybody, regardless of politics.”
Traditionally, Christian Scientists are to remain nonpartisan — at least in public. We’re supposed to keep our mouths shut when it comes to political issues, and just keep praying about it. On the one hand, I get that. I do. Eddy was wise back in the day when she advised that it was better not to take sides, but rather through loving prayer to uncover common ground for healing. This open-minded strategy, if practiced regularly and sincerely, is indeed effective. Under normal circumstances. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Eddy didn’t hold back when it came to condemning slavery, supporting the temperance movement, and speaking up for a woman’s right to vote. After all, Eddy wrote, right there in her book: “Speak the truth to every form of error” (p. 418). Do you really think, if Eddy had been around during the rise of Hitler, she’d have said nothing? Absolutely not. She would’ve been out there every day, speaking out against Nazism. And if she were alive today, you bet your ass she’d be all over the Internet, condemning the burgeoning authoritarianism of this degenerate, wannabe dictator, and reminding people to reread 1984 right alongside the Beatitudes.
Fortunately, I’m finally past the profound grief and disappointment. What got the ball rolling? As a matter of fact, it was Medium that saved me. That’s why I’m here. First, I stumbled upon N. Ziehl’s concise piece on the indicators of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, “Coping with Chaos in the White House.” Then came Umair Haque’s pithy primer, “How to Listen to Authoritarians (Without Losing Your Mind).” According to Haque, the crux of the matter is: Authoritarians “lie about the past, but tell the truth about the future.” After that sunk in, at long last, I could breathe for the first time in months. (Read here for more.)
Keeping the faith.
The uncomfortable fact is, there are always going to be hypocrites, charlatans, fundamentalists, and even terrorists in every single religion. So what can we do about it? When our religion lets us down — and inevitably it will — that doesn’t mean we cannot keep the faith. It doesn’t mean we should give up on God. Many people choose to be agnostics or atheists. But that’s not for me. Even on the darkest days, I know deep in my heart that God is right here, amidst the madness. We need only to turn to the reality of this Higher Power to experience transformation. I’ve witnessed too much answered prayer, even in seemingly impossible situations, to believe otherwise. So rather than being overwhelmed, I choose Love, I choose hope, I choose prayer.
For now, my door is reinforced again, with Truth holding steadfast against the battering rams of evil in its many forms. Ziehl ends his article on NPD with the directive, “We are all called to be leaders now, in the absence of leadership.” I’ve been mulling that one over for too long now, allowing self-doubt to keep me from my responsibility (my ability to respond). So enough procrastinating. Here I am Lord, ready to lead, just as I am. “In this revolutionary period,” Eddy declared in Science and Health, “like the shepherd-boy with his sling, woman goes forth to battle with Goliath.” (p. 268) That was 1875. And the battle ain’t over yet.
Janis Hunt Johnson is an interfaith advocate and spiritual activist who wants to show you how scientific prayer can heal you, and anyone your life touches. Learn more about her book, Five Smooth Stones, here. Her upcoming second book is tentatively titled Seven Words to Freedom, Eight Days a Week: How Living Prayer Will Heal Our World. #LivingPrayer
*Since this article was first published, Lamar Smith has announced he is retiring.