As if growing up wasn’t already hard enough, Lucia Greenhouse, author of fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science (Crown Press), grew up encased in a family that didn’t believe in illness. Think about that for a second. The family of Lucia Greenhouse, like many Christian Scientist families, did not believe in illness; rather, they believed that man, made in the perfect image of God, is without error, and that sickness is an illusion—the illusory manifestation of incorrect thinking. Having not known anything about Christian Science before reading Greenhouse’s book—aside from the presence of their reading rooms in just about every city I’ve ever been in—this aspect of the religion came as a complete surprise. To my dismay, I found that what was just shocking for me, was tragic for Lucia Greenhouse.
Fathermothergod tells Greenhouse’s story of her experience with Christian Science and the devastating loss of her mother to a potentially treatable illness, one that remained a mystery until only weeks before her mother’s death. While it may seem relatively simple from the outside, fathermothergod tells a uniquely complex tale of a family torn apart, disastrously so, by a startlingly dangerous faith. Loosely told in the style of a journal, the book dips in and out to specific and important occurrences leading up to the secret sickness the author’s mother bears. Greenhouse (like her siblings, and much of her extended family) is torn between seeking medical help for her mother, and respecting her faith.
Greenhouse is very open about her stance on Christian Science. In an interview on The Leonard Lopate Show she tells Elliot Forest about getting chicken pox when she was a child, an event she details in the book. To her parents, this sickness was a falsehood—something that needed to be prayed for, and corrected in young Lucia’s mind. Eventually, the rash went away, and to her mind, she had done a good thing. However, the virus spread to other children, leading Greenhouse to reconsider what being a Christian Scientist means. Greenhouse and her two siblings all left the Christian Science faith; however, both of her parents remained steadfast to their very sick, and painful, ends.
Greenhouse is very forthright about the fact that fathermothergod tells her account of the family’s history, and hers alone, but even with those balances, the world that Lucia relates to readers is nearly unbelievable. This is through no fault of the storyteller, but rather because in this modern world it seems imprudent to deny someone medical attention for things so clearly curable. Combined with Greenhouse’s website, and various interviews she has done, fathermothergod jumps right past cathartic retelling and into the realm of ideological cause. Lucia Greenhouse appears to be using her book, readings, and publicity to actively speak out, argue, and warn against Christian Science. Given the cacophonous emotions brimming in the book—the shame, arguments, blame, sadness, tragedy, and paralyzing guilt—who could blame her? Surprisingly, a lot of website commenters.
Putting the pieces together, Greenhouse makes a strong case against Christian Science, even tempering her argument with concessions like, “Growing up as a Christian Scientist there is a very positive aspect to the faith. Which is man is the perfect reflection of God, and so therefore cannot be ill, cannot have any imperfections. In some ways made for a childhood where we felt like there was nothing we couldn’t achieve,” and, “I think that in any religion there is a spectrum of faith. And in Christian Science there are some people who follow it to the letter and others who will combine it with medicine,” both of which she brought up of her own volition in her discussion with Elliot Forest—but that’s about as far as she’ll bend in making nice with the faith.
Far more than just a brave “coming out” of her past experiences—the book took her around twenty years to write, which indicates, at least to me, a residue of shame and guilt that might still be plaguing her—Greenhouse’s book is a startling exposé of a widely-heard of, but scarcely understood faith. A captivating, heartbreaking work that will leave readers wondering what else they don’t know about the hidden pockets of the faithful world.
Greenwood answered my questions via e-mail.