“I want to thank you for writing this book and for your courage to share your story…
I too have had a very similar experience, being raised by a Christian Scientist. Your story has really validated me by helping me know that I am not alone and that I am not crazy!… I struggle with the frequent guilt, shame and self-condemnation that intellectually I know is not part of who I am. It is based on the conditioning that I was raised with.”
I have received many letters, emails and Facebook messages from former Christian Scientists—and even practicing Christian Scientists– thanking me for publishing fathermothergod; for telling the story of what happened to my family when illness struck in 1986. I’m not sure I understand exactly why these correspondences came, initially, as such a surprise to me, but I think it has something to do with an underlying, lingering, irrational belief that my mother’s experience was somehow an anomaly in Christian Science; that there might, in fact, be sufficient evidence to suggest that praying away illness and injury works. If you hear something enough—like every single day of your childhood— whether or not there is truth in it, you have a hard time not believing it.
Phone conversations and written testimonies of others’ journeys out of Christian Science all point to what is obvious to anyone (who is not a Christian Scientist): Christian Science is not a science; it is nothing Jesus would have advocated, and it is not an effective alternative to medical care. With heart-wrenching honesty, people are coming forward with accounts of the damage inflicted by this dangerous theology of denial, and the residual scars they are still struggling with.
I spoke with an elderly husband and wife who lost their twelve-year-old daughter decades ago to appendicitis. It has taken them more than thirty years to begin to talk about it. I was sent a manuscript from a woman who has spent fifty years trying to come to terms with the deaths of two of her babies, one from pneumonia, another from what was probably malnutrition stemming from difficulty nursing.
I spoke to a woman whose sister died last year under circumstances strikingly similar to my own mother’s: shrouded in secrecy and denial of horrific symptoms and suffering. Another woman wrote to me about how she broke her leg as a young girl. Her mother and a practitioner prayed about it for four excruciating days before her father (divorced, without custody) finally intervened and took her to a hospital, where her leg was re-broken and set. One woman described the needless pain and idiocy of untreated strep throat. Another woman described how, when she was eight years old, her mother died a long, painful death from untreated breast cancer.
In every one of these Christian Science cases, when illness struck, the patient’s family was burdened by imposed secrecy and isolation, and the shame of being told—and being told to believe—that the problem was mentally conceived by the patient and his/her family; that the illness or injury was essentially the patient’s fault (and/or the family’s fault); that it was the outward manifestation of incorrect thinking.
Not surprisingly, Christian Scientists have also written to me. They point out (as if it needs pointing out) that many more people die in hospitals than in Christian Science care facilities. But this is what I want Christian Scientists to know: At a family’s darkest hour, whereas the Christian Science modus operandi is to deny the existence of any problem at all, the compassionate response of other religious and non-religious communities, is to help a family draw together and deal with the problem(s). Sometimes this means helping to navigate the labyrinth of a hospital. Other times, when the family is facing end-of-life issues, the compassionate response is to help them figure out how to say good-bye. This is not done in Christian Science because illness is denied right up until it is time to start denying the existence of death. As one woman wrote to me:
“One of the saddest and, to me, most damaging aspects of CS is that the mandate of silence and denial separates us and denies us the close community that is the only thing that may help make the unbearable bearable.”
To all of you who are sharing your stories with me, thank you. I am hoping that someone in the media will realize that the survivors of a “religion” that has destroyed hundreds of families, and caused immeasurable harm to countless individuals over the last hundred and thirty-five years, deserve to have some questions asked on their behalf: why are there still laws on the books in many states protecting parents’ rights to practice their religion at the expense of their children’s lives? And why does Medicare pay for stays at Christian Science care facilities, which are unlicensed, unregulated and responsible for what can justly be characterized as torture by neglect?
Thank you to everyone who has read fathermothergod and decided to share it with friends. It is a dream come true to have my story read by a broad audience. I now know it means a great deal to others who have also traveled down this path, so please keep spreading the news. Word of mouth and book clubs are the best marketing tools for unknown, first time authors. (That, and an appearance on Ellen. FYI, she was raised as a Christian Scientist. Anyone know her personally?? Pipe dream, I know, but getting a book contract was a pipe dream too, so why stop there?)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you have a wonderful day with your family and friends.