Saturday, October 16, 2010

Churchopedia #8 (Church #30): The Science of Christianity

I never liked science very much. I find scientific progress fascinating, but I don’t care to understand it. We evolved from apes. That makes sense. I don’t need the details.

And then chemistry just seemed silly. Balancing equations was fun enough, but experiments were neither cool nor were they eye opening. I was rarely the kid who complained that school didn’t apply to me…except in science. I don’t like the outside, I don’t really like animals, and I have no intention of going into medicine, technology or anything else scientific, so why do I have to take two years of this? And three, if I wanted to go to state school.

Scene change to the humanities side of things. The concept of reading fiction, writing newspaper columns and criticizing history held my interest for hours. That was how I understood people—by studying experiences and ideas. There is an element of anticipation that you get from turning a page in a book that you just don’t feel when you light a Bunsen burner for the fifth time and watch chemicals change colors.

In college I became more interested in theology, also a field full of ideas, ritual and imagination. In Kansas, the church and science are in a constant battle (the two do not mix well). Science seeks to understand, inspect molecular details and provide a conclusion. Faith is just the opposite. Faith depends on not knowing and just believing. Theology requires comfort with the supernatural and unknown. There are things we just cannot prove, and that is okay.

When I visited Overland Park’s Christian Scientist church, I had no idea what to expect. I knew the basics—no doctors, no medicine, just prayer. The service itself was extremely boring. They read a script from The Christian Science Textbook along with the bible. A man would read a verse and a woman would respond with the related passage from the textbook. Sometimes the congregation read a response and we sung a couple of (really slow) hymns, which the leader-lady felt the need to read out loud before we sung them. But most of the time, we just sat and listened to scripture. I started to fall asleep about 20 minutes into the service.

The service left me with nothing, so I explored into the religion. Websites are impressively revealing and blunt. Often, there is a page entitled, “What We Believe,” which probably scares off at least half of their potential membership. If they want to convert people, they should really think about being subtler.

The Christian Scientists view Christianity as a science. It’s quite simple, really. Instead of faith, it is fact. Every other denomination I visited had some element of the unknown, but these Christians have a textbook. Not a fantastical Book of Mormon, nor a self-help inspiration written by a mega-church icon; a science textbook of Christianity. Imagine if high school AP Physics became AP Christianity. Now that’s a class I might take.

This past Monday, I turned my focus to possibly the only faith I have anymore, that of human rights. I made a rainbow flag out of thread for National Coming Out Day and celebrated my happy, LGBT friends and their perseverance through the struggle. It was a somber Coming Out, though, due to the recent suicides of LGBT teens, which, if the media paid any attention, is not a new phenomenon. Theology and science don’t mesh together on this issue. If anything, science turns into a creative, humanitarian subject whereas theology holds to some self-righteous, ridiculous fact. Is it possible that in these controversial cases, science and theology kind of switch places? I think the Christian Scientists would appreciate that.

Science has evolved in the study of LGBT people. First, an illness, then a mental disorder, and finally a truth. They don’t fully understand, but at least they are trying, and progressing. I have greater respect for scientists for this reason—though their experiments are conclusive and concrete, they are not afraid to constantly challenge themselves. A hypothesis is written, proven and then tested again. Scientists aren’t afraid to ask themselves, “What if I’m wrong?”

But Theology, which is supposed to be a gathering of ideas, rituals, beliefs and faith, stays put. It took 500 years for the Catholic Church to admit that Galileo was right. Seriously? So can we expect an apology to all the LGBT teens in the year 2500? “We’re sorry that we treated our faith as science rather than art. We’re sorry that we forgot that people and ideas change over time. We’re sorry that we ruthlessly murdered your children with hatred and lies and bigotry.”

I haven’t written this before, I’ve been hesitant: I am no longer a Christian. I always thought I was on the inside, fighting may way through toward change and progress. But I don’t want to be a part of this anymore. I don’t want to be a part of a stagnant, stubborn faith that is barely grasping the present, much less the future. Like so many of my LGBT friends, I am dechurched. I will fight the battle from the progressive world. I’m finished waiting patiently for my religion to catch-up to my beliefs.

With only two more churches to go on 10 Churches: Churchopedia, I feel emotional and radical. I’m not sure I can walk this journey much longer.

3 comments:

  1. Dear Megan,

    Your exploration of religion does sound so frustrating. Let me thank you for your effort. The reason I’m responding is that my experience has been just the opposite and yet dealt with the same ingredients. I grew up in Kansas and went to college in Emporia. In Emporia, I started visiting each and every church to find a religion. I visited the Christian Science Church and have never left. I credit my Masters and Doctorate degrees as a result of my study of Christian Science. I have taught at all levels of education (intermediate, high school, and college --this includes Harvard and USC). In 1992 I was named as Superintendent of the Year for America and I absolutely attribute all my success to the study of Christian Science.

    I’m very grateful for the individuals along the way that helped me grow in my understanding of religion as well as how to help the students I was trusted to teach. I would like to offer some corrections to your understanding or assumptions about Christian Science. Each Christian Scientist makes his own decision about the use of medicine, doctors, or anything else. Christian Scientists do rely on prayer, and as you can tell from my experience, this prayer can be a guide to everything one does.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, Don. I looked you up and you sure are successful. I can see how religion, especially religion you found yourself, can be responsible for all of that (and your hard work, of course). Also, thanks for clearing up the medication/doctor issue. I grew up with a very Christian Scientist babysitter whose brother actually died in a car accident because they didn't believe in taking him to the hospital. She was (and I'm sure still is) a truly amazing woman, and she talked to me about her beliefs a lot. Some of the churches I have visited have an "all or nothing" policy...like a forced belief system. I appreciate denominations that allow individuals to think for themselves.

    Also, if I may ask, how did you come across my blog? I'm always interested in how people come to read, and even more interested in how they come to read AND comment. Please, keep reading and commenting. It's how I can keep challenging my own beliefs and faith!

    Thanks again,
    Megan

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  3. Hi again Megan,
    I watch for comments about Christian Science and when I see them I try to be helpful if I think the person is sincere. You sounded very sincere and many of your comments about the order of the service and its lack of appeal were valid. However, much of what is seen is in the eye of the beholder. I had a high school math teacher who saw something in me that other teachers did not and he became my mentor. He cared about me and my future and I was not going to let him down. The same was true for the members of the Christian Science Church. They appreciated me and I could feel it. There are reasons why the church services are as they are and I think you will probably take the time to find out and if you do pursue these deeper meanings you will become a true leader of thought. Mary Baker Eddy, Discoverer and Founder of the Christian Science Church demonstrated that the healings Jesus performed were just as available to us today as they were then. Her textbook, Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures provides the insights as to how Jesus was able to heal physical, emotional, or moral situations. As I stood in the oval office receiving an award from the President, I knew clearly that it was my understanding of God through my study of Christian Science that was the unsung hero.

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