My Aunt became a Christian Scientist, influenced by an artist friend who lived in Manchester. She passed her ideas on to my mother and after a while my mother became a wishy-washy version herself, never quite at the heart of the movement, but reading a lot, which was a necessity, because Mrs Mary Baker-Eddy based the whole concept on a philosophical dissertation. In short, the theory, as I understood it then, stated that as we, according to the bible, were made in the image and likeness of God, there could be no such thing as matter, and if that was accepted, then there could be no sickness as that was brought about by the degeneration of matter, which, of course, did not exist. The big fallacy to that theory, but I was too young at the time to see it, was the question of who had thought up matter in the first place? They would probably say the Devil, but then who and more importantly why had he been thought up? Deep stuff! Ultimately too much for yours truly. The one part of the whole scenario I found disturbing was my mother’s illness culminating in death. She had contracted cancer and because of her beliefs made no call upon the Health Service.
With my Aunt a mover and shaker in the local CS church and my mother a willing, if part-time, acolyte, it was pretty well ordained that I would have to attend, and as I had tried everything else I had no valid excuse for back-sliding. I was enrolled in the Sunday School. The parishioners, if one could call them that when they hailed from a number of electoral parishes, were drawn from the ‘haves’, rather than the ‘have-nots’. It was and still is very much a middle-class religion and certainly a degree in philosophy would help in understanding the finer points of its doctrine. In my case I was a have-not, tagging along as a ‘have’ on the coat tails of my Aunt, so I had to mind my P’s and Q’s – although my Aunt would never have seen it that way.
I think the only real experience I have brought with me from those years is the memory of the hours I spent contemplating the balcony in the church hall where we held the Sunday School before joining the adults in the main body of the church to hear the readings from the Bible ‘with key to the scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy’. ‘Why the balcony?’ you might ask, and it would be a fair question.
Our teacher was extolling the merits of mind over matter and the fact that everything was a figment of our imagination because we were one with God and so we were a figment of his imagination and therefore our thoughts were his thoughts, so everything was OK. (Are you with me so far?) I completely understood what she was getting at although my interpretation was a little different. To me she and the rest of the class did not exist, I had just conjured them up in a sort of dream. It therefore followed, according to her theory, which, of course had to be really mine, by definition, that if I chose to go up to the balcony and jump off I would land like a feather and be no worse. So I put it to her and she said that was true, providing – there is always a ‘providing’ – providing I had enough faith. From then on I kept trying to assess exactly how much faith it would take to achieve the impossible, but I never had quite enough to put it to the test. From then on I steadily edged toward agnosticism and then atheism and Sundays became a day of rest.