Lori's Reviews > fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science

fathermothergod by Lucia Greenhouse
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's review
Feb 19, 2012

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bookshelves: memoir, scary-religion
Read from February 08 to 18, 2012

Since I have become a parent it has occurred to me that my husband and I possess a great power at the moment: the power to construct 'reality' for our young daughter. For a little while, before the world of peers takes precedence, the child lives almost entirely in the universe of the family to which he is randomly born. All of the quirks and dogmas and prejudices that are part of that family leave an indelible mark on the child and are generalised as being 'normal'. Successful and functional adulthood is, to a large part, the degree to which we have balanced the 'reality' to which we were born with the greater reality around us...the degree to which we have preserved the best of what we were gifted in our families and the release of the negatives those same families have bestowed upon our personalities. It is a journey we must all take to varying degrees, some having much more 'baggage' than others.

Lucia Greenhouse's childhood reality stood apart from the 'norm' in two main ways. First, she was born into a family of prominence and financial means. The adults around her did not appear to struggle with bills. Most of them either did not appear to work at all...were semi retired in mid life with comfortable incomes or pursued careers out of personal interest more than out of a need to support the family. Secondly, (and more central to this memoir), Lucia was raised by parents who were devout Christian Scientists. The annual rite of "the check up" did not take place. There was nothing in the bathroom medicine cabinet that was medicinal. When Lucia or one of her siblings became sick they were taught to not speak of symptoms or to discuss the way they were feeling. To do so was a sign of weakness...a giving in to 'error' and a denial of the fact that they were created 'perfect in the image of God' and, therefore, should never really be ill. Sickness was a personal failing and a source of shame and subterfuge.

Fortunately, for Lucia and her siblings, childhood was negotiated with few serious health events...at least those of a physical nature. Emotionally, however, the relationship between parents and children became more strained as the kids grew older and began to view their parent's beliefs through the prism of the wider world.

This memoir is told through the lens of Lucia's perception. She appears to be the rebellious child and begins to question her parent's attitudes when they uproot the family without warning from their Minnesota home and move to London in order to be more involved in the Christian Scientist community there. (Allow me to point out, that none of you would be reading this review at present if my own parents had announced back in 1973 that they were, in fact, moving me out of Knuckledrag, Ohio to a new home in Hampstead Heath across the road from the John Keats house and this momentous decision was due to Christian Science. WHY? You may ask. Because I would have seen that as the great miracle of my life and embraced Christian Science as the bringer of this miracle which removed me from Raccoon County and propelled me into the London milieu. Which means that I would be dead by now. Either the pneumonia I had 10 years ago would have killed me...or my daughter's breach birth...or perhaps even the bronchial beat down I experienced this winter. But my odds of being on the wrong side of the grass by now would be rather higher than an egotistical 45 year old can take.)

But I digress.

Lucia was appalled at being yanked away from extended family and friends only to be sent to a Christian Scientist boarding school in a foreign country. Although she made the adjustment, there were further questions raised during the family's British sojourn. The well liked husband of the house mother at Lucia's school grows ill and dies while she is a student. The lack of information given to the students by the adults in charge adds to the sorrow and the confusion. And Lucia begins to wonder if this death was, in fact, inevitable.

Eventually their family moves back to the States and Lucia begins in a new school. Soon after, she learns that she needs glasses. The headaches and fuzzy vision are affecting her performance at school and her state of well being. In most families this would mean a simple visit to the optometrist. In the Ewing family, however, near sightedness provokes a full scale crisis. Lucia's father, a Christian Science "Practicioner" who uses prayer and spiritual guidance with his 'clients' who are facing an "illness that dare not speak its name", is livid when presented with the request for glasses. He screams at Lucia and refuses to pay for the glasses. (Lucia's mother quietly takes her to purchase them at a later time and Lucia does not wear the glasses in the presence of her father.) Lucia is clearly presented with a 'reality' in which her well being (the condition of her eyes/vision) is secondary to the religious beliefs of her parents.

This is an early sign of the lengths to which her father will go to defend his beliefs and to eschew medical intervention (and also to push this belief system upon his family.) It is a foreshadowing of a more tragic crisis and the key component of this memoir. Eventually Lucia's mother...still a young women in her late 40s...becomes noticeably ill. And nothing is said about it. There is no treatment presented outside of prayer and the 'reading of the lesson' each week. By now Lucia is a new college graduate, her older sister is a young married woman and her younger brother is in college. Although they are viable adults themselves (and no longer involved in Christian Science) they are still very tied to their parents and far too young to see their vivacious mother wither into a skeletal wraith of pain in front of their eyes. The fact that their parents resist communication and insist that Mrs. Ewing is 'making good progress" every time a question is raised about her health makes this even more frightening. Here is a 'reality' in which knawing disease can be denied and a mother's life is put into jeopardy in deference to the dictates of Christian Science.

The bulk of this tragic family story involve's Lucia's relationship with her mother and father and her justifiably mixed feelings about the way they lead their lives and raised their children. It provokes many questions about freedom of religious expression versus the well being of individuals who may or may not want these religions to inform their daily lives (and perhaps their ability to preserve their life). It is a story about choices. What compels a person to embrace extreme dogma? How simple is it to merely make the choice to love someone -- regardless of how differently they may decide to lead their life? Can these choices change from day to day? And how does one move on from the choices that were imposed in early life but do not connect with 'reality' at a later point in time?

I would recommend fathermothergod to readers who enjoy memoirs, to recovering Christian Scientists, and to anyone who may be interested in peering into a closed off world that few outside the "Mother Church" would ever access.
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