fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science
by Lucia Greenhouse
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
fathermothergod / 9780307720924
fathermothergod is a story that is well told, and well-written. It is an episodic guide through the life of a little girl (and, later, a young woman) who experiences tremendous emotional and spiritual abuse at the hands of her parents and church community. It is a story that is easy to read (I finished the book in a single day) and hard to consume. I'm glad I read the book, even though the contents left me broken and crying.
Make no mistake: this is a literary picture of abuse. Lucia (and her siblings) are raised in an atmosphere of terrifying emotional and spiritual abuse. Their parents pressure them emotionally and psychologically to make the "choice" to join their religion. Because her parents believe that "bad thoughts" can ruin their plans, secrets and lies are used to abuse the children. The parents announce major physical moves and life-changing decisions at the last minute, giving the children no time to say goodbye to their family and friends. The parents force the children to lie and deceive and dissemble, causing little Lucia to break down in tears when she has to lie to her friends and not tell them that she'll never see them again.
The most severe abuse in this book comes in the form of her parents' complete denial that illness and death exists. When close friends or family are ill, her parents keep the information from Lucia and the others; when death occurs, it warrants only a brief "oh, by the way, so-and-so died" announcement. Grieving isn't allowed, and illness is treated as a weakness. When Lucia needs eye-glasses, her father screams and shouts at her, bringing tremendous psychological and emotional pressure on her before telling her that she'll have to pay for glasses (and the exam) with her allowance money. For having an astigmatism, this little girl was treated as sinful, as rebellious, as unloving of her parents, and as unworthy of love herself. Really, this book will break your heart.
What makes fathermothergod somewhat unique as a tale of Christian Science is that it's not the "usual" story of a young child being denied medical treatment and dying from something preventable. (And how tragic that we live in a world where I can apply the word "usual" to that situation.) Instead, the deathly disease grappled with in fathermothergod is a disease that afflicts Lucia's mother -- an adult woman who possibly had the power to ask for medical intervention from her relatives and yet apparently chose not to. (There is an underlying question mark under all this based on something her mother repeatedly says later about the father, and it's one that Lucia does explore, but there are no answers given at the end.)
Lucia is forced by her parents to watch silently as her mother wastes away, and to lie and dissemble to her relatives in order to keep their "bad thoughts" at bay. Repeatedly, it is made clear to Lucia that if she doesn't tow the line and do everything her parents command, they will cut her off entirely and she'll never see her dying mother again. In the meantime, Lucia's father and the staff at the Christian Science 'hospital' (where the nurses do nothing but read to the patients) repeatedly lie to Lucia and her siblings about her mother's condition, even while her mother is dying of starvation and bedsores.
If you can stomach a biography of religious abuse, and if you're interested in the extremist branch of Christian Science, I can highly recommend fathermothergod as a gripping and heartbreaking tale. I also especially liked that Lucia included, in the end, a long conversation with her siblings and relatives, even pointing out that *her* story is not the same story as that of her sister and brother. Her older sister points out that Lucia's rosy memories of childhood don't reflect her own experience, and Lucia reassures her sister -- and us -- that by telling her story, she isn't trying to rob anyone else of their voice. I thought that was a nice touch and I appreciated that.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine as well as a paid-for version acquired in the Amazon Kindle store.
~ Ana Mardoll