While preparing for tonight’s religious rant, I sorted through a lot of recent news like this article sent to me by reader David about a woman getting struck by lightning while praying — always sad/amusing. A few other people sent me things that I want to use a whole blog entry to tackle. Unfortunately, they’re getting bumped because there is now a measles outbreak right here in Boston, and we have the Christian Scientists to blame.
I was preparing to just link to the article and mock the Christian Scientists mercilessly for their belief that modern medicine (including vaccines, of course) is useless and that the only way to heal oneself is through God. That’s when it occurred to me that on Sunday evenings, the parishioners hold services right here at their world headquarters in Boston. I checked online to find that the show began at 7pm, leaving me not a lot of time to get there. First, though, a phone call to my mother.
ME: Mom, I was vaccinated for measles, right?
ME: Great, thanks!
MOM: Wait, why do you want to know?
ME: Oh, I’m going down to hang out with a cult, and I don’t want to catch anything.
MOM: O . . . kay . . . and . . . why?
ME: Don’t know, I might write about it.
MOM: What cult?
ME: Christian Scientists. They’re having their weekly services tonight.
MOM: Oh! Will Tom Cruise be there?
ME: No, that’s the Scientologists.
MOM: Oh. What’s the difference?
ME: Christian Scientists don’t believe in medicine.
MOM: And the Scientologists?
ME: They think we all came from aliens.
MOM: [pause] Are you serious?
ME: Sadly, yes. [rummaging under bed] What sort of shoes do you wear to a cult meeting?
ME: Good one.
Upon arrival at the Mother Church (yes, that’s what they call it), I was thrilled to find a big sign announcing their annual meeting, taking place RIGHT NOW! I parked my bike and walked inside. I had no idea if attendance would be restricted to Church members, so I decided to act as if I knew exactly where I was going. I greeted the woman at the door, only glancing at the table full of name badges. I walked past the group standing at the inside doors, giving a little wave to a nonexistant person on the other side of them as I breezed through. The place is immense and I had no idea what I was doing, but I was afraid that slowing down and looking around would make it obvious that I was a spy. I saw some stairs in the back, so I jogged up them.
At the top of the stairs, I started to get a little concerned. There was a sound room and a big ladder — it didn’t look like it was set up for greeting meeting attendees. I saw a curtain, and through a crack I thought I could see some pews. I walked through and found myself in a gigantic auditorium filled with pews. I was next to a big stage with an immense pipe organ and glass lecterns. There were some people sitting in the pews. Staring at me. I quietly slipped into a pew, only four back from the stage.
Within the next ten minutes, the place filled up a bit (though not to capacity — pretty light, considering it was their annual meeting). I started to panic from the weirdness of being such an utter imposter. I pulled out some lip gloss and after applying it, I realized it was medicated. Dear lord! Did anyone notice? I looked around; if anyone could tell, they weren’t showing it. Possibly to lure me into a false sense of security before they could grab me and brainwash me in the basement.
I grabbed my bag and was about to split, when I noticed the Mary Baker Eddy quote etched in stone over the altar: “When error confronts you, withold not the rebuke or explanation which destroys it. Never breathe an immoral atmosphere, unless in an attempt to purify it.” I took a deep breath.
The reverend was small and creepy and spoke like a demented robot. Kind of like HAL, only more effeminate. He kept making eye contact with me and giving me a big smile. I kept looking away.
All in all, I found the whole thing to be a bit of a letdown. I was hoping to see some on-stage healing, or at least some preaching about why they believe what they believe. Instead, it was mostly a lot of singing, along with readings straight from the Bible and their secondary Bible, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures written by homeopathic kook Mary Baker Eddy. The passages they chose from the Bible provided the foundation for their belief that the only way to cure disease is through God — things like Ecclesiastes 3:14, “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.”
Sure, that doesn’t say exactly, “Ignore the knowledge you discover through careful investigation, study, and trial and error in favor of crap that doesn’t work, like homeopathy,” but that’s why the Christian Scientists have Mary Baker Eddy’s text. It fills all that stuff in for them.
“According to Holy Writ, the sick are never really healed by drugs, hygiene, or any material method. These merely evade the question. They are soothing syrups to put children to sleep, satisfy mortal belief, and quiet fear.” (230:19-16)
At no time did anyone offer any sort of interpretation or explanation — these passages were simply read out loud and swallowed whole.
After one last hymn, everyone sat down and I heard people rustling around. I thought it rather rude that they should be gathering their things to leave while the reverend was still standing at the lectern — that’s when I realized that to my horror, they were about to take around the hats to get money. Crap. I thought that maybe I could just flash a bill and then palm it while pretending to drop it in the hat, but as the man got to me and held out his little cloth bucket, I realized I didn’t even have any cash on me. I gave him an apologetic look, hoping that this “spiritual” currency of emotion would be worth more than my dirty, materialist money. Judging from the look on his face, I was very wrong.
Shortly thereafter, the reverend and his two female assistants finally left the stage and walked up the aisles. A lot of the people around me just sat there staring at the person playing the organ, but I figured this was an okay time to split. I walked back, in the opposite direction from which I had come in. Walking through the doors at the back of the auditorium, I was surprised to find no stairwell back down — there were only two large elevators. What are they going to do if the place goes up in flames? I hope they have a good fire extinguisher handy, and for their sakes it had better be filled with more than hopeful ignorance and prayers.
One of the elevator opens, and I step inside. Behind me follow three people — the reverend and his second and third in command ladies. They have large, unearthly smiles as they shake my hand and introduce themselves. I say, “hi” and face forward, but it’s not enough to save me.
“What’s your name?” I give them a fake name because I’m paranoid and on edge. They ask if I live in town and I give a generic “yes.” They ask where I work, and I say, “Oh, just in a restaurant.”
“Just!” smiles one of the women. “Don’t say ‘just!’ Working in a restaurant is great! Why, I grew up around people working in restaurants!”
“Which restaurant,” they want to know. They stare at me. Big smiles. This is all happening during a 15-second elevator ride. I’m surprised they don’t have a single light bulb hanging from the top of the elevator.
I name a restaurant in my very Jewish neighborhood. In my panicked state, I wanted to name a place they probably wouldn’t go. I took a split-second guess and hoped they didn’t like Jews. Hey, a lot of crazy religious people hate the Jews. I think it worked — their smiles froze over and they nodded, with nothing more to say about the subject.
Finally, the elevator doors opened and I scrambled out. The reverend stopped me and handed me a business card. “I’d love it if you could come to our Wednesday night service. There will be people there who stand up and tell how they found Jesus!” I tell him that sounds great. “What’s your name again,” asks one of the women. Thank Jesus the reverend remembered, because I didn’t.
All of that small talk, and I didn’t even get around to asking them what they thought about the possibility of a measles outbreak thinning their herd. The good news is that I think I fooled them into believing I’m a mild-mannered waitress who might just be interested in drinking their special brand of homeopathic Kool-Ade. Maybe I will go to that Wednesday night show. I really should go back and make up for tonight’s lack of donation, especially seeing as how apparently Jesus magically transported Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures into my backpack at some point during the sermon. Maybe they’re right about this whole anti-materialism thing. I’ll read up on it.
Coming up at some point soon — a break down of the difference between Scientologists and Christian Scientists, for my mom and the dozens of others who have expressed their confusion to me recently.