Greenhouse to take audience on her journey out of Christian Science

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

Lucia Greenhouse grew up in a loving and affectionate family. Her parents made Christmas and birthdays special, and they doted on their children in times of wellness and unwellness. But they never took her to the doctor when she had chickenpox or sprained her ankle, because Christian Science taught them that illness did not exist.

But the Christian Science church does not demand that followers refuse medical care. The church provides the spiritual option of prayer, but it is not a church doctrine that it is God’s will to suffer or die, especially if the death is preventable, said Paul Hannesson, a spokesperson for the Christian Science Committee on Publication for New York State. Most Christian Scientists choose prayer over medical care because it has worked for them before, he said.

“The church is not dictatorial about that issue, and one should have the freedom and the interest in their well-being … to provide the best solution for them under the circumstances,” Hannesson said.

Growing up, Greenhouse constantly was reminded by friends and family that she was perfect. She learned in Sunday School that Jesus, the son of God, came to Earth to show mankind that they were made in God’s perfect image. Because of this perfection, they could not be injured or ill, and death actually was the spirit passing on “to a higher plane of existence,” words that her father used to explain to his young children the death of a kitten.

There actually were a lot of areas of theology that were the same for young Greenhouse and all other Christian kids in Sunday School classes — the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments — but other children could go to doctors when they broke their pinky finger. More than 20 years after Greenhouse broke her pinky and let it heal on its own, the finger is slightly bent and shorter than its left-hand counterpart.

These “healings” drive the faith behind Christian Science. But even to a child’s mind, it did not make sense that anyone would need healing if they were not ill to begin with, Greenhouse said in her memoir fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science.

Greenhouse will read from and discuss her book at 2:30 p.m. today in Smith Memorial Library and will read a short passage at the Writing Center’s open mic at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Literary Arts Center in Alumni Hall.

Greenhouse has been trying to bring her family to visit her parents-in-law, Don and Kathy Greenhouse, at Chautauqua for years. Ironically, plans kept falling through for medical reasons.

Now that she’s here, Don and Kathy, who are yearround Chautauquans, see a mutual benefit in her visit. Greenhouse can learn about and experience a community that welcomes open discussion and a variety of religions, and Chautauquans can learn more about Christian Science, Don said.

When Don and Kathy received an advanced copy of fathermothergod, they took it to Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education, to make sure it fit within the education and religion pillars of the Institution. After this meeting, Babcock worked with the Greenhouses to arrange presentations at Chautauqua.

Babcock said she sees more in the book than just religious conflict.

“I really see it as a coming-of-age story that just happens to be set in one religion, and in fact, I hope that it isn’t taken as a slam at a particular religion,” Babcock said. “I hope (the audience) will get an understanding of what it means to form one’s own path — and how liberating and how painful that can be.”

The strength and appeal of Christian Science is in its expression of love and faith, Hannesson said. Many people join the Christian Science church because they need a solution to a spiritual or physical challenge that doctors cannot find. Others are attracted to unselfish expression of love and healing through faith.

“The decision to use Christian Science treatment is not made lightly and certainly not out of blind faith or religious zeal,” Hannesson said. “(Christian Science) does not practice martyrdom, nor does it teach that God’s will is anything other than to bring health, wholeness and harmony to one’s life.”

Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, the first Christian Science church, in 1879 after she miraculously was healed of a severe injury by way of prayer and Scripture reading. Eddy then wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the Christian Science textbook that is read during each service.

When Greenhouse’s mother fell permanently ill, only a few years after Greenhouse had graduated from college, the Ewing children were thrown into what Greenhouse calls her “worst nightmare.”

“It basically meant that she shut herself off from the outside world. My sister, brother and I were caught in this middle place where we were considered outsiders because we weren’t Christian Science, but we couldn’t be shut out completely because she was our mother,” Greenhouse said. “There was little or nothing that we could do as long as our mother did not want to (go to a doctor).”

The Christian Science concept called “mental malpractice” separated Greenhouse from her mother during this time. Malpractice was the idea that “the injurious action of one mortal mind controlling another…” could slow one’s healing process, Greenhouse wrote in her book. Disbelief in Christian Science and its abilities is one of the biggest examples of mental malpractice.

It was this same fear of mental malpractice that kept Greenhouse’s mother’s illness a secret from her side of the family, who disapproved of Christian Science, until she was admitted to the hospital. The Ewings converted to Christian Science when Greenhouse was very young, and the conversion caused years of underlying tension between Greenhouse’s mother and her side of the family.

But this tension was so subtle that Greenhouse did not even notice it as a child. Many of her mother’s relatives were doctors or surgeons. Her maternal grandmother was a devout Lutheran, and Greenhouse later found out that her grandma used to lace the kids’ applesauce with crushed aspirin when they were sick.

For eight months, Greenhouse’s mom stayed in a Christian Science Care Facility, where she waited to heal. After much persuasion by Greenhouse and her siblings, who all had decided to leave the Christian Science church years before, their sick mother was admitted to a hospital. Like her husband would some years later, Mrs. Ewing passed on in defiance of her Christian Science background.

Sickness, according to Christian Science, is nothing more than error, or the external manifestation of incorrect thinking, Greenhouse said. So in order to heal, one must believe that the sickness does not exist. Most often, this manifestation is corrected through prayer, which leads to healing.

But while sitting in the nurse’s station at school with fever and chills, Greenhouse found it difficult to believe that she could simply will away her ill. When learning of the suicide of her childhood sweetheart or the death of her grandfather, she found it difficult to believe that they had not really died, especially because she would never see them again.

“The biggest dilemma for me was trying to reconcile what I saw in the secular world with what I was taught in Sunday School, and I was taught that the material world is not real, that sickness is an illusion, much like a mirage in the desert is the illusion of water,” Greenhouse said. “So on the one hand, that kind of made sense to a child’s mind, but on the other hand … it was very hard for me to accept that as truth.”

After leaving Christian Science, Greenhouse had little faith left in religion and struggled through her beliefs for many years. The book, which took Greenhouse 24 years to complete, was a story Greenhouse just had to tell. Now, she receives letters and emails from people telling their own Christian Science stories, of children with permanent hearing loss from untreated ear infections or others who died from treatable illnesses like diabetes.

But there is one thing Greenhouse said she hopes readers take away from her memoir.

“Behind the façade of The Christian Science Monitor and the Christian Science reading rooms that you see on Main Street, USA, and very affluent communities … there is a really dark, scary church (and) a very controlling religion that is anachronistic,” Greenhouse said.

There are 4 comments

  1. Richard Pietro

    For those who know something about Christian Science, it’s difficult to open Ms. Greenhouse’s book to any page and not find misrepresentations or factual errors about this religion. And because the book seems to lack a truly in-depth understanding of Christian Science, I’m afraid it comes across as a sad attempt at exposé and retribution. I hope she finds peace of mind but I don’t think it will come through attacks on her parents’ chosen religion.

    The underlying theme and tone of the book seem to regard spiritual healing through prayer as myth. An example of this point of view comes out, in fact, in this article: “More than 20 years after Greenhouse broke her pinky and let it heal on its own, the finger is slightly bent and shorter than its left-hand counterpart … These ‘healings’ drive the faith behind Christian Science.” This is simply not correct! I don’t know of a single Christian Scientist who would claim that such an experience represents a true healing. It is not a healing. It is the opposite of spiritual healing in method and result. Christian Science does not rely on the material body to heal itself, neither do Christian Scientists try to “will away” an illness as Greenhouse describes the process. Rather it involves a spiritual shift of consciousness: Prayer, but a different kind of prayer than most people may be familiar with. Further, Christian Scientists work for complete and permanent healings and there are thousands of well documented cases of such healing, many involving cases where medical diagnoses have been made. I am personally aware of a case involving a complete healing within a few weeks after two separate diagnoses of terminal illness had been given by highly reputed medical institutions.

    In cases that involve people who are not healed, who die, and especially in those cases where children are involved and when it would appear that the condition should be healed, whether under the care of traditional medical care or Christian Science, those are failures, tragic failures, and it would be fruitless to try to justify or rationalize them except to say that Christian Science does not view suffering or death as God’s will. And, as has been stated on many occasions, the Christian Science church does not try to control people or prevent them from seeking traditional medicine, or punish them for doing so. In her public reading at the Chautauqua library, Ms. Greenhouse chose to read from her book about the interview she and her brother had with her mother’s Christian Science practitioner. She implied the practitioner was to blame for her mother’s decision to stick with Christian Science at that difficult time. But she was reminded by one in the audience that this was her mother’s decision and the practitioner was only conveying that decision to her children.

    Regarding Ms. Greenhouse’s attempts to depict Christian Science as unreasonable or unbelievable, it is to me a curious fact that a sizable majority of Americans believe in some form of “life after death,” in the belief that there exists beyond the material body and physical universe another realm of existence, real and permanent and independent of matter. And yet this belief, even for most Christians, would seem to include the assumption (in spite of the many Biblical propositions to the contrary) that our access to this spiritual reality is obtainable only through death.

    The Christian Science viewpoint to my understanding is quite different. It is that this “kingdom of God” (as Jesus described it) is within us … that it is a transcendent, spiritual reality and is accessible in the here and now through a deeper understanding of God’s nature and of our nature as His image and likeness. It is accessible through prayer, through a shift in consciousness that develops the latent ability to perceive spiritual reality. It is the reasoned approach that if our existence as God’s image and likeness is not dependent on matter in the hereafter, it is not dependent on matter now, and never was, and that what we experience in the material realm is controllable to an extent far beyond what the world assumes to be the case. And, in proportion as this spiritual perception is successful, the goodness, happiness, health and abundance of God’s kingdom are brought into our present experience.

    One of the critical shortcomings of Ms. Greenhouse’s book is to adequately distinguish between the absolute and the relative … between what Christian Science teaches about the nature of this transcendent spiritual reality on the one hand, and what we experience in the human condition on the other, so that some of the statements attributed to her parents come across sounding cold and pedantic. But in her defense, it’s a very understandable shortcoming. That the material world is not the rock-solid reality it seems to be is, obviously, one of the most jarring and provocative ideas we will ever contemplate. To Christian Scientists, however, it is at the core of its theology and of Jesus’ teachings. Over one-hundred years after her discovery of that concept, the modern worlds of quantum physics, molecular biology, genetics, even medical science are finding hints of this very idea, including the powerful effect our own thought has on our outward experiences.

    Many years ago the Christian Science Reading Room in Princeton, New Jersey had a visitor who came regularly to read Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. Christian Scientists are familiar with this true story. It was Albert Einstein. He would leave after each visit, after reading for an hour or two, often shaking his head and asking, “Do you people realize what you have here?” He was astounded that this work was written in the middle of the 19th century! And by a woman!

    And yet, even as this concept regarding the unreality of matter … and the allness of Spirit … is contemplated by heavy lifting intellectuals, “The vital part,” as Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “the heart and soul of Christian Science, is Love. Without this, the letter is but the dead body of Science, — pulseless, cold, inanimate.” And it pains me to think that Ms. Greenhouse felt unloved and left out during her mother’s illness. I can never know the exact circumstances, of course, but I did wonder how this unfortunate circumstance could have been mitigated.

    But Christian Science is, after all, not an alternative health-care system. It is a religion, an all-encompassing belief system and lens through which one sees and lives a life. And it was her parents’ chosen religion.

    The article in the Chautauquan Daily quotes Sherra Babcock, Chautauqua’s director of the Department of Education, as saying she hopes Greenhouse’s book “… isn’t taken as a slam at a particular religion,” and yet, in the final two paragraphs we read, “ … there is one thing Greenhouse said she hopes readers take away from her memoir, ‘Behind the façade of The Christian Science Monitor and the Christian Science reading rooms … there is a really dark, scary church (and) a very controlling religion’ …” As someone who chose Christian Science for myself, who never perceived any pressure or attempts at control whatsoever, as one who has studied and practiced it for over thirty years, as one whose family has experienced many healings and improved quality of life, I found that quote particularly unrepresentative of anything I’ve ever experienced.

    R. Pietro
    Shaker Heights, Ohio
    (These are my personal views and I do not claim to represent Christian Science in any official capacity.)

  2. Cathryn

    I have not read the book and can only comment on what I’ve read here. I was not raised in Christian Science. I was raised in a traditional Christain household where basically our Doctors and medicines were our Gods. I was frequently in and out of hospitals, constantly on medications, and suffered from chronic illnesses through out my childhood into my early thirties. One time at the age of 9 I was rushed to my Doctor because I choked on an egg shell. So I guess what I’m trying to point out here is that I grew up exactly the opposite of what I read in the article.

    I came into Christian Science by chance. I knew absolutely nothing about it and discovered the text book Science and Health on line. After reading the first chapter I couldn’t get over how what Mary Baker Eddy had written over 100 years ago was exactly what I had thought since…I could remember in some cases.

    I’ve been studying Christian Science for nearly 4 years now. The Quality of life I now live and enjoy is remarkable, especially if you were to look at my “material” history. Within 3 months I was healed of alcoholism, drug use, & smoking all of which I’d partook in for well over 15 years. Shortly after I was free of severe allergies (all seasons & food), migrain headaches, chronic heartburn, bronchitis, bladder infections etc. Prior to gaining a deeper understanding of God and my relationship to our Father Mother through this wonderful Science, I was always sick with something, taking something for it and trying to drown out my unhappiness with whatever I could find to bring any sense of joy.

    I truly feel for the author and her need to find retribution from what seems to be a misinterpretation of Mary Baker Eddy’s teachings. It’s been done with Jesus’s teachings for centuries as well and in all cases of misinterpreting religions it’s always unfortunate. This is her journey and I wish her nothing but well.

    I have never been pressured, coerced or manipulated into relying on Christian Science treatment for healing. My study and understanding of Christian Science has facilitated wonderful healings far beyond what the medical Sciences were ever capable of doing for me. I feel so very blessed because of this but I would NEVER judge or condemn anyone for choosing another option that worked for them. Nor would I judge or condem myself for my choices. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned thus far on my journey is to love. Love with out judgement(which I have to work on every minute of the day:)) and to allow each individual the freedom to find their way. It’s not easy, but it gets easier every day.

    I am a Christian Science nurse. I devote my life to the practice of Christian Science. I see quality of life restored, healings both physical and emotional on a daily basis. I see( both given and received) love, kindness and fellowship with our neighbors that reaches way beyond the walls of our churches.

    This my experience with Christian Science:)

  3. Liz Heywood

    “These are the ‘healings’ that drive Christian Science”–Greenhouse’s damaged finger: Absolutely.

    The bone disease I survived when I was thirteen (and fourteen and fifteen) that was treated only by the prayers of a Christian Science practitioner and the non-medical, soap-and-water care of a Christian Science “nurse” left my left leg fused, bent and scarred to the bone from mid-thigh to mid-shin. After several years I could limp on it. That was my “healing”.

    My practitioner used my case as an example of a child successfully shielded from intervention while healing occurred in an adress he gave to a class-association meeting. Today he still teaches practitioners. Christian Science’s “record of healing” is a matter of selective vision and the denial of reality.

    Liz Heywood

  4. Karen

    I was raised as a Christian Scientist. In my 54 years of life I have never once seen anything resembling a healing. Aside from anecdotal evidence, there is nothing. Perhaps someone can point me to all the research and studies that I have overlooked.

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