One of my goals for this year is to read my way through a stack of books that have been sitting on my desk for months now. They are about atheism, religion, philosophy, science, social issues, parenting, and a few works of fiction. We’ll see how far I get.
If you are only going to read one book about Christian Science, I highly recommend God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline Fraser. I was initially going to read through God’s Perfect Child in a few weeks and just make it one post, but I found it to be a very challenging read for me (I’ve had to put it down several times and walk away for a few days), and so densely packed with information that it deserved more coverage.
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I first came across God’s Perfect Child in the very early 2000s, as a high school senior, or possibly freshman at Principia. I acquired my copy from local used bookstore where it was tucked away in the corner with all the other religion-related volumes, next to several trade editions of Science and Health (the ugly red/green one) – they always had at least two or three copies and my mother often picked up a stack for $3 each to leave by the front door to hand out to people along with their housewife-based-pyramid-scheme samples.
I read it with skepticism, at that time I was still heavily involved in Christian Science, attending Sunday School regularly, and was either in the process of applying to or already at Principia College. I undoubtedly left the book laying out around the house, but if my parents noticed it, they never said anything to me about it.
I dismissed most of the book as part of the no true Christian Scientist fallacy (similar to the no true Scotsman) and reasoned that it couldn’t be Christian Science that was at fault — it was divinely authorized! There were documented healings! It worked! It had to be the people practicing it wrong, besides, no true Christian Scientist would do whatever irrational thing that was happening. I’ve since learned that Christian Science adherents come in a range from Die Hard Committed to Incredibly Pragmatic, thankfully my parents — who were converts — were more pragmatic than some and less committed than others.
It has been several years since I read God’s Perfect Child, in those years I’ve graduated Principia, moved out, married a fellow Christian Scientist (now fellow atheist), struggled with my faith, realized it is not the right path for me, started this blog, and now I think it is time to go back to God’s Perfect Child with a different perspective.
It is worth noting, Fraser’s organizational style mirrors Dakin biography: there are parts I – VI. divided into subsections for easier reference, as well as an extensive glossary, and end notes that run for pages. Fraser also includes an extensive selected and annotated bibliography for those who seek to research the topics further. While Dakin focuses specifically on Ms. Eddy, Fraser’s book goes well beyond the Beloved Leader’s history and talks more about the Church, and consequences of following Ms. Eddy’s teachings.
The preface of God’s Perfect Child starts with a scene that was immediately relateable to me, and Sunday School students across the country. She begins by describing how in Sunday school, where we were taught
There is No Spot Where God Is Not. God was Everywhere and Everything, Omnipotent Supreme, Father-Mother, All-in-All, and we were His image and likeness. God was All. Matter was nothing. …. The table and chairs and the carpet and the knees looked real, but they weren’t. They weren’t even there. They were matter, and matter was Error, and Error did not exist. (GPC p.5)
Only in Sunday School we used is, God is Everywhere… we are His image and likeness. Matter is nothing. Emerging Gently calls it “mental gymnastics” and by the age of five I’d mastered it and could recite it all back like a pro. Even with a 20+ year age gap, Fraser’s Sunday School experience mirrored mine so closely it was eerie — I never had the car sickness issues, but I did have regular rounds of common cold which would leave trails of keenx unreal behind me.
We also had a young man who attended my Sunday School die, not quite as dramatically — no one showed up at his parents house in protest, but it still sent ripples of discontent through the Sunday School and several of his friends and family (myself included) have since left Christian Science.
Fraser goes on to discuss, albeit briefly, Ms. Eddy background and those she influenced, touching on the New Thought and New Age movements, moving on to cover the rise of Christian Science, and a quick summary of services and church activities – most notably the lack there of, and the lack of diversity as well.
Fraser hits rather close to home as she describes something I’ve seen played out again and again, both at the church I attended growing up, and over and over again at Principia.
Christian Scientists are otherworldly, in the sense of being intensely emotionally invested in an unseen world of perfection, and emotionally disassociated from the realities of this world. [Christian] Scientists are smilers, happy-talkers, positive thinkers, and they simply refuse to allow the realities of the world, its tragedies and disasters, to penetrate. …. nothing can touch the Scientist who clears his mind of fear. Thus, for Scientists, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. (GPC, p. 19)
The fourth section of the Preface is entitled I Tip My Hat, acknowledges Ms. Eddy has inspired “intense reactions” and goes on to remind readers that the Church has done an excellent job of keeping apologist literature at the forefront and successfully lobbied to maintain protective legislation. Fraser rightly argues that the information the Church has left out should be made available, and more should be done to show how they have seriously eroded the rights of children to equal protection under the law.
Fraser makes it quite clear that while Christian Scientists are welcome to believe what ever they’d like, but they need to have their actions taken to task. I agree, Christian Science has a lot to answer for and it should not be allowed to hide behind its polite middle class respectability any longer.
Knowing what I know now, and having read Dakin’s biography, I look forward to re-reading God’s Perfect Child with a fresh perspective.