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fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science Hardcover – August 9, 2011
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As co-author of the best-selling In an Instant, Lee Woodruff garnered critical acclaim for the compelling chronicle of her family’s journey to recovery following her husband Bob’s roadside bomb injury in Iraq. She recently published her second book, Perfectly Imperfect: A Life in Progress. Her first novel will be published in summer 2012. At present, Woodruff lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband and four children.
Some of the most compelling memoirs make their marks because they allow us access to what we know is the ugly, dysfunctional side of being in a family, no matter how brightly scrubbed and polished its exterior might be.
So when someone you know writes a memoir, there is an extra dimension of interest (full disclosure, Greenhouse is a friend). Not only do you become privy to information they might not share in a prison cell, but it’s a personal invitation to look inside someone’s psyche and under the beds where all the dirty laundry and family secrets are whispering.
Ten pages into Lucia Greenhouse’s fathermothergod, I knew that this book would deliver. It was much more than a person’s disillusionment with her religion; it was a soul-searching, sometimes jaw-dropping read about how dogmatic religion can splinter a family. And it is a beautifully written account of how one woman set out to heal after walking away from the wreckage of her childhood.
I knew very little about Christian Science, and in fact, more of the religion’s history that I wanted came later in the book. Other than the famous news items and a few horror stories I’d heard in childhood about people refusing to go to the hospital, in the sixties the Christian Scientist religion seemed to me to lurk semi-shamefully in the background, its interior rituals shrouded like today’s Scientology.
A lot of what Greenhouse has to say will, I’m sure, anger the church. And she never presents the tale as anything other than her version of events. But she writes searingly about coming of age at a time when father knew best. Raised by a dominant Christian Scientist “healer” father and a compliant mother, Greenhouse writes absorbingly about her family’s inability to take aspirin or even get eyeglasses, due to their beliefs. The reader wants to scoop her up and hug her, scold the parents for their inattention and blind devotion to doctrine at the expense of bloodlines and relationships.
Greenhouse aptly sets the stage for her life--the many moves, the well-heeled trust-fund background that presumably supports them, the private schools and lifestyle (although I found myself wanting to know more about this)--so that when her mother becomes ill and is isolated by Lucia’s father, you want to rail and weep at such unnecessary waste, the careless squandering of filial love.
What haunted me about fathermothergod long after I’d flown through the pages was the thought-provoking conundrum in which religion had bound the children. What if you didn’t speak up? What if your age, those precarious years between the teens and adulthood, made you second-guess your loyalties? What if a lifetime of parental obedience was in direct conflict with the horrors that unspooled before your eyes? Greenhouse chronicles all of this in engrossing detail and the book reverberates with honesty, regret, pain, love, and then the resilience of a person determined, in the aftermath of tragedy, to write her own life’s next chapter. I heartily recommend this read.
“fathermothergod is a heart-wrenching coming of age memoir about the implosion of a family when Christian Science dogma encounters a mother's grave illness. It's impossible to read this and not put yourself in the author's shoes—this will take your breath away.”
—Lee Woodruff, author of Perfectly Imperfect and In an Instant
A riveting and heart-rending memoir, fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science exposes the monstrous feats of neglect fostered by this strange American manifestation of religious fanaticism. Tracing her mother’s decline and its lacerating consequences, Lucia Greenhouse knows the truth about Christian Science, and she tells it with passionate, righteous indignation.
—Caroline Fraser, author of God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church
"Lucia Greenhouse's book is a heart-breaking reminder of how nefarious religious zealotry can be. Her story drew me in and blew me away. This is an important addition to the genre of memoirs by children who escaped religious hucksterism and are now bravely exposing it."
—Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land
“[A] powerfully affecting memoir . . . Greenhouse’s skill in rendering family relationships under the intersecting stresses of illness and conflicting beliefs make the book worthwhile . . . reading. Wrenchingly courageous.”
“Through this memoir, readers will see how even those closest to us can remain a mystery.”
“A touching book that puts a human face on Christian Science.”
“Rather than a journey out of a faith, this is the story of one woman’s questioning and anguish over her parents’ choices…. Teens wondering about their own faith, their parents’ expectations, and how to marry the two will find that this book resonates with them. It will also appeal to anyone wanting to know what it’s like to grow up in Christian Science…Suggest that readers have tissues close at hand.”
—School Library Journal
Top Customer Reviews
I have a small amount of experience with Christian Science, as several of my older relatives were devotees of this religious philosophy. I remember early conversations between my own parents about this. I recall being told that one of my mother's cousins had suffered unduly as a teenager because a small facial blemish, which could have been easily corrected, was ignored for years. This eventually resulted in an inferiority complex that prevented her from dating, and she remained single all her life, though my mother believed she would have been exceptionally suited to be a wife and mother.
This, as Greenhouse so powerfully discusses, is the true cruelty of the coercive nature of Christian Science. I am not prepared to deny the reality of healing by faith or miraculous divine intervention. I AM a skeptic where it comes to assertions that these healings can be "produced" by the willful determination of humans, or that prayer should be substituted for common-sense procedures such as minor surgery, vaccination, treatment of infections, and so on. I understand that modern medicine can be equally doctrinaire and coercive at times, and that doctors often exhibit a refusal to admit their fallibility. The appropriate balance, I believe, would let medicine do what it can, and rely on prayer to support its efforts.
The greatest tragedy in the Ewing family, as described by this painfully honest memoire, was the total dishonesty and secrecy that was perpetrated by the parents in the name of their faith. Whether earlier medical intervention would have saved Jo Ewing's life or not, openness and truthfulness concerning the reality of the situation and willingness to consider medical options would most certainly have prevented untold anguish on the part of the entire extended family. I could not help returning over and over again to the thought, "Where is LOVE, which is supposed to be the primary criterion of anything that goes by the name `Christian'?"
I think the one thing that would have helped me the most as a reader to keep the focus of the narrative would have been an abbreviated "family tree", since the large number of aunts, uncles and cousins in this family featured so significantly in the story. Other than that, I believe the journalistic style of the presentation was exceptionally meaningful. The story maintained objectivity wherever possible, while none-the-less exhibiting deep emotional relevance.
It got worse when people died. As the author points out, death is swept under the rug. No one talks about the deceased person any more. It's almost as if they weren't ever alive. I rememeber another girl in Sunday School dying suddenly when she choked to death on her parents' living room floor. She had swollen tonsils and couldn't breath. Immediately after this happened, a practitioner from church called other local church members and told them not to visit the grief-stricken parents because it would give "too much reality" to the situation. I watched my mother and grandmother take off their coats and cancel their visit to the girl's family. Talk about cold and cruel. Can you imagine them sitting in their house all alone with not one of their church "friends" coming over to show their love?
Lucia also points out the hypocrisy of a practitioner wearing glasses and a healer not even being able to heal a kitten; these contradictions are all too common to ex-Christian Scientists. Reading this book validated a lot of my feelings as I grew up and made me realize at least one other person had struggled just like I had.