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God's Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church Paperback – August 1, 2000

3.7 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In God's Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church, Caroline Fraser delivers the most intelligent, humane, and even-handed history yet published of this important American religion. God's Perfect Child begins by telling the life story of Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science in 1879. Eddy built the church from a fringe sect into a mainstream religion whose wealth and power exceeded that of many Protestant denominations in the mid-20th century--and were considerably augmented by the church's once-popular newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor.

Fraser, a literary critic and poet who was raised a Christian Scientist, has a relentless analytic bent and an acute eye for physical detail, both of which are in evidence on every page of this book. Her stories of parents whose attempts at faith-healing resulted in their children's deaths are especially poignant. These stories also illuminate and analyze the fears and pains that have plagued many Christian Scientists who subscribe to Eddy's belief that individuals can control their physical destiny by force of faith. Ultimately, Fraser has little sympathy for the obdurate self-reliance advocated by Christian Scientist doctrine, which she sees as a forerunner to the extremist paranoia of contemporary cults. "The suggestibility, infatuation, and enthusiasm that sparked Christian Science ... lies behind our current anxious fixations on imaginary perils and medical conspiracies," Fraser writes. "Florid though they may seem, such fears can have far from imaginary consequences."

The goal of Fraser's book is to track down and annihilate irrational fears in the religion of her childhood; her reason for doing so, however, exudes an undeniably spiritual grace: "Should we continue to pursue [these fears], our providences will surely grow ever more remarkable." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Freelance writer Fraser spent her childhood practicing the teachings of Christian Science. She was told that she was "God's Perfect Child" and that any errors she made, including being carsick every Sunday as she and her family traveled to her grandparents' house, were due to her "Mortal Mind." Although she left the church before she entered college, Fraser acknowledges that Christian Science is "profoundly complex" and "worth understanding in its own right." She sets out in this scintillating religious history to show the good, but especially the harm, that Christian Science has done. She opens with a brief biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, whose Science and Health is studied reverentially by church members. She reveals Baker Eddy's fear of the material world and the ways in which she fashioned this fear into a religion that resists the advances of the scientific age. Fraser traces the development of Christian Science from a small sect to today's large political and religious organization that attracts numerous followers eager to embrace its messages of human perfectibility and self-reliance. In the course of her history, the author also briefly examines the lives of some famous Christian ScientistsADoris Day, Carol Channing and Mr. Ed's Alan YoungAand their contributions to the church. But, Fraser's history is also a rousing expos?. Not only does she reveal what she sees as Mary Baker Eddy's neuroses, but she also delves into what she calls the church's "pernicious" teachings that illness is not real (it's only the "Mortal Mind" obscuring the "Divine Mind") and that people can heal themselves without the benefit of medical help. Fraser combines episodes from her own experience with an evenhanded historical analysis in this first-rate social and religious history. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st Owl Books Ed edition (August 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805044310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805044317
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,064,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Caroline Fraser is the author of Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (Metropolitan, 2009) and God's Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church (Metropolitan, 1999), which was selected as a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Book Review Best Book. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Review of Books, and Outside magazine, among others. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I grew up in a Christian Science family and tried for years attempting to confirm in my own life that its principles of "healing demonstration" actually worked, before giving it up when I began to actually start thinking for myself partway through college. Based on my own childhood, it was obvious from the lengthy preface's emotionally nuanced, on-target portrayals of the characteristic inner life and other features of a Christian Science upbringing that this was going to be an insightful book.
Many have focused on the corruption, backstabbing, and stonewalling in the Mother Church as documented in Perfect Child, or have argued about the book's portrayal of Mary Baker Eddy. But for me its thematic core lies in its rich storehouse of insight and examples about how the psychology of denial inherent in the practice of C.S. gives rise to the "shadow" side of the movement, both in the individual lives of adherents as well as how this shadow has been collectively woven through-and-through the movement's history from the beginning. As anyone knows from Psychology 101, any time a part of the psyche is suppressed or regarded as unreal, it merely expresses itself in distorted and unconscious ways, and much of this book is about just this fascinating side of Christian Science.
This includes not just the toll taken in terms of wrongful deaths as discussed in the central sections about the "child cases." As tragic as they are, these cases and/or those of permanently disabling untreated illnesses or accidents probably only involve a modicum of Scientist families.
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Format: Paperback
I was raised as a Christian Scientist. I stopped attending church at age 20. I'm now 48. While the religion has some good points, it has some bad points too---and I feel both sides are honestly presented in this book. I doubt very many practicing Scientists would read this book, but as an ex-Scientist, I couldn't put it down. It was so helpful to me personally. I hadn't known such books on Christian Science existed, and when I found them on amazon.com, I bought all of them---they've all been helpful, but this book was the best, due to the depth of the research. I highly recommend this book to anyone who was raised in this religion and had to blindly follow along even though it didn't make sense.
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Format: Hardcover
Whatever your beliefs, and whether you are a former Christian Scientist or a continuing member of the Mother Church, you owe it to yourself to be willing find answers about Christian Science from a 3rd party, not your practitioner, your Teacher, your Sunday School Teacher, or your parents. Documented, footnoted, and deliberate, this book takes you beyond the sanitized biographies of MBE and the history of the church put out by the CSP in the Reading Room.

This book was, for me, not only eye-opening in terms of the origins of the church (and the continuing 'dissenting' movement I had no idea existed), but also affirming: Learning that there are others who suffered at the hands of well-meaning, compassionate people who otherwise were caring, giving parents, except when it came to acknowledging your pain, disease, or injury -- when they became emotionally unavailable, sometimes pretending they didn't understand when you asked to go to a doctor...or assuring you that healing would take place as soon as you acknowledged the "Divine Truth" of your relationship with God. When you became no longer an individual but a 'divine idea' that couldn't really be sick, injured, or in pain, because that wasn't part of God and couldn't be part of you either, as His creation.

More shocking still was the realization after reading this book that based on the exclusions for CS treatment still provided in many state laws, abused and neglected animals may have more protections afforded them than the children of praticing Christian Scientists.
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Format: Hardcover
Like Caroline Fraser, I too am a former Christian Scientist. I was raised in Christian Science, joined the Mother Church in my teens, graduated from Principia College (for Christian Scientists only), was president of a college "Org" while in grad school, and attended church services until I was in my early 30's. So I can testify to the spot-on accuracy and fairness of Fraser's portrayal of Christian Science in this book.
Hostile reviewers have claimed that Fraser's father, described in the prologue, is some sort of "oddball" Christian Scientist for habits such as not using the seatbelts in his car. In fact, if you truly believe that "accidents are impossible in God's kingdom," as Scientists are taught, then there is no logical reason to use your seatbelts. Christian Scientists who do use seatbelts, like previous reviewer Richard Biever, are tacitly acknowledging that at least some teachings of Christian Science are ridiculous.
After the brief personal account which opens the book, Fraser devotes about the first third of the book to a review of the life and career of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. Her primary source, contrary to hostile reviewers, is the church-approved biography by Robert Peel. Fraser does not set out to write a full biography; rather, her focus is on clearing away the mythology Scientists have constricted about their "beloved Leader." For example, Fraser demolishes one of the central Christian Science myths, that of Eddy's "fall on the ice" in 1866, which supposedly led to the epiphanic moment when she "discovered" Christian Science.
Fraser also describes the CS Church's efforts to suppress any unfavorable treatments of Eddy in print.
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