God's perfect child : living and dying in the Christian Science Church /

"Millions of Americans - from Lady Astor to Carol Burnett, Ginger Rogers to H.R. Haldeman - have been touched by the teachings of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879, Christian Science is based on the idea that an intense contemplation of the perfection of God an...

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Main Author: Fraser, Caroline.
Format: Book
Published:New York : Metropolitan Books, 1999.
Edition:1st ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Freelance writer Fraser spent her childhood practicing the teachings of Christian Science. She was told that she was "God's Perfect Child" and that any errors she made, including being carsick every Sunday as she and her family traveled to her grandparents' house, were due to her "Mortal Mind." Although she left the church before she entered college, Fraser acknowledges that Christian Science is "profoundly complex" and "worth understanding in its own right." She sets out in this scintillating religious history to show the good, but especially the harm, that Christian Science has done. She opens with a brief biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, whose Science and Health is studied reverentially by church members. She reveals Baker Eddy's fear of the material world and the ways in which she fashioned this fear into a religion that resists the advances of the scientific age. Fraser traces the development of Christian Science from a small sect to today's large political and religious organization that attracts numerous followers eager to embrace its messages of human perfectibility and self-reliance. In the course of her history, the author also briefly examines the lives of some famous Christian ScientistsÄDoris Day, Carol Channing and Mr. Ed's Alan YoungÄand their contributions to the church. But, Fraser's history is also a rousing expos‚. Not only does she reveal what she sees as Mary Baker Eddy's neuroses, but she also delves into what she calls the church's "pernicious" teachings that illness is not real (it's only the "Mortal Mind" obscuring the "Divine Mind") and that people can heal themselves without the benefit of medical help. Fraser combines episodes from her own experience with an evenhanded historical analysis in this first-rate social and religious history. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A one-sided expos‚ of the dangers of Christian Science, articulate enough to be a cut above its muckraking peers. Fraser, a writer whose credits include an editorial stint at the New Yorker and a Ph.D. in literature from Harvard, grew up Christian Scientist, which unmistakably colors this otherwise well-written book. Her views are clear from the preface (``Christian Science has killed and maimed and materially damaged people''). One of its ``victims'' included a childhood acquaintance of hers in Seattle, a boy who complained of stomach pains, was prayed over by a Christian Science practitioner, then died of appendicitis. Not only are such openings incendiary, but also the subsequent historical sections fall flat in their total reliance on secondary sources, both critical and apologetic, to tease out the movement's history. (Her sections on Mary Baker Eddy, for example, pale in comparison with Gillian Gill's outstanding biography of the controversial figure, published last year.) The book's best sections occur in the second half, when Fraser eloquently rehashes Christian Science's protracted 20th-century legal battles and describes its extensive network of practitioners, sanatoriums, and reading rooms. She investigates some of the psychological effects of Science on children, who are told that their bodies are not real, that matter doesn't exist. She presents calculatedly heart-wrenching stories of children's deaths due to the lack of medical intervention. In one chilling instance a mother wrote joyously of how her four children had never been ill, thanks to the truth of Christian Science. In fact, Fraser reveals, that mother had five children, one of whom had died at age seven from cancer in her neck. The mother excised that daughter from the family's history, telling the other children to inform anyone who asked that their sister had gone to Africa. Personal demons abound in this trenchant chronicle, but its second half raises some worthwhile issues about religious freedom and children's rights.

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