Today is the Annual Meeting at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston--The Mother Church. Three years ago I attended a protest of this event held by the Boston Atheists.
It was organized by Seth Asser, a pediatrician devoted to protecting children from religion-based medical neglect. He and Rita Swan produced a startling study of child deaths under legal prayer that would likely have had good outcomes under medical treatment. (See http://childrenshealthcare.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Pediatricsarticle.pdf ).
I hadn't seen the dome of The Mother Church in twenty years. But I attended Sunday school there countless times when I was a kid, visiting my grandmother or on a field trip with my own Christian Science Sunday school class. My grandmother lived across the street from the center and worked as a bookkeeper for the Christian Science Publishing Society. As a kid I'd walked with my mother past the reflecting pools, the expanse of plaza and the imposing buildings that made up the Church Center.
This was before the bone disease that destroyed my left knee (and arguably chunk of my sanity) when I was thirteen. It was treated, of course, only with Christian Science. Sometimes I think of it as my time as an exchange student in hell.
At the protest I joined others who introduced themselves and distributed signs--as though I needed one.
I wore a T-shirt that said THIS WAS MY CHRISTIAN SCIENCE "HEALING". And shorts.
Immediately a security guard appeared. "You have to stay on the sidewalk. You can't sit on the benches or go on the lawn. That's church property."
When I'd requested to have my name removed from the membership a dozen years before (eight years before my above-knee amputation) I'd received such a loving letter: Of course, you're always welcome as Christian Science Reading Rooms, church services and lectures. You have our continuing love, and we wish you all the best.
That day: not so much.
We broke for lunch during the meeting, but we were waiting when the members left the church.
The light had taken on a hard slant. The thin stream of people split into two groups, some walking towards the parking garage, the rest towards us and public transportation. I stood at the line we were not allowed to cross. Where plaza met sidewalk. Where Christian Science met reality.
The people coming from the church wore fixed smiles and stared past me. I waited for someone--anyone, just one individual--to look me in the eye.
They just smiled into a horizon only they could see.
"Don't worry!" Seth yelled. "We're not really here! We're a mortal illusion. Just deny us." The way I'd desperately tried to deny the infection that ate at my leg when I was a kid. Denial, the approach still protected by law in dozens of states .
One distinguished older man couldn't stop from snarling, "Go to hell!" but even then he averted his eyes from mine. Mostly, their faces were frozen, half-grimace, half-smile. Dissociation can almost pass for polite. I still do it myself: zone out when reality is unacceptable.
It's how humans cope. Even if they call themselves Christian Scientists.
Photo credits: Al Grover