Lucia Ewing learned a lot of things from the Christian Science religion in which she was raised: She learned that she was created in God's image, she learned to love Him, to feel His presence all around her, to learn of Him by studying the Bible, and to pattern her life after that of Jesus Christ. She also discovered that because God made her, she was perfect. Germs and disease were man-made problems that should be "cured" not with doctors or medicine, but with faith and prayer. It's this last issue that bugged her. Especially when it meant suffering excruciating pain after a nasty fall off her bike or battling her father over something as ordinary as a pair of eyeglasses. So glaring was the hypocrisy surrounding the issue that Lucia could no longer stand it - for that and other reasons, she left the church, even though it tore her parents' hearts out.
It's not until cancer invades her mother's body, though, that Lucia discovered what it really meant for a person to seek only spiritual healing in the face of a vicious, life-threatening disease. For her, it meant watching her mother waste away before her eyes and being powerless to stop it. It meant doing constant battle with her father - crying, pleading, begging him to open his eyes. It meant guilt, plaguing, overwhelming guilt as she wondered if it really was her unbelief that halted her mother's progress, even though she knew it couldn't possibly be her fault. For Lucia, honoring her mother's religious beliefs meant standing by, doing nothing, while she died. Slowly and painfully.
In fathermothergod, Lucia Ewing Greenhouse reflects on her mother's fight with cancer, the medical intervention on which 23-year-old Lucia insisted in spite of her father's adamant refusal, and the catastrophic clash of beliefs that made the whole ordeal even more diastrous. It's an honest, heart-wrenching memoir that asks critical questions: What say does/should an adult child have in her parents' decisions, if any? Is there any truth to the idea of "spiritual healing"? What role does faith play in fighting illness? Should the government intervene when religious fanaticism threatens a person's life? When - if ever - should a person's wishes be ignored in order to save their life? As Lucia discovers, these are all difficult questions with very complicated answers.
I know very little about Christian Science (until I read this book I thought it was the same as Scientology, which it isn't), but I do understand growing up in a conservative religion that preaches doctrine which sounds ludicrous to non-believers. However, I don't get the Scientists' refusal of medical intervention at all. I do believe faith plays a role in healing, I just don't think it's the only method that should be used. For instance, I know God can give me the strength to deal with my insulin-dependent diabetes, but I know He's not going to control my blood sugars for me. I have to do my part. Given my own beliefs, maybe it's weird that I sometimes found myself agreeing more with Lucia's parents than with her. I mean, if Joanne Ewing, being of sound mind, refused medical attention, shouldn't her wishes have been honored? If she were a child, subject to the whims of her parents, it would be a whole different ball of wax, but she was a mature adult - deluded though she may have been - when she got sick. That's the beauty of this memoir, though: it makes the reader consider every angle of the drama, empathize with each of the players, and draw her own conclusions.
I'm not naive enough to think I know everything about Christian Science from reading one book, especially when it's written by a bitter former church member, but I find the things I did learn completely baffling. Fascinating, just unfathomable. Lucia obviously feels the same. Still, fathermothergod explores those beliefs in a tell-it-like-it-is manner that is surprisingly sensitive. She honors the good she found in the religion while exposing the hypocriticism that defined her experience with Christian Science. What results is a compelling memoir that is as intriguing as it is uncomfortable, as convincing as it is thought-provoking. If you're interested in these types of issues, you don't want to miss this book.
An aside: I kept thinking that the refusal of medical attention for religious reasons would make an incredibly compelling novel, especially if it concerned a child. You listening, Jodi Picoult? I just found your next best-selling idea.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language (a handful of F-bombs plus moderate use of milder invectives) and one depiction of illegal drug use
To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of fathermothergod from the generous folks at Crown Publishing. Thank you!