‘Fathermothergod’ a fabulous, painful memoir of faith

I’ve read many books about people finding themselves through religion or breaking free from their religious upbringing. In “Secret Ceremonies,” Deborah Laake tries to makes sense of herself and her Mormon faith. Anne Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies” and “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith” explore Christianity. Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” tells the story of a Baptist preacher and his family spreading the word in the Congo jungle. In Geraldine Brooks’ “People of the Book,” we are taken on a journey in search of a rare book of Judaism.

I had not, however, read anything — fiction or non — involving Christian Science, until “fathermothergod,” Lucia Greenhouse’s very painful and very personal account of growing up within this lesser-known faith. Like many, I had heard that Christian Scientists do not believe in medicine; they do not visit doctors or take any prescriptions, even over-the-counter pain relievers. But I never knew why. Greenhouse explains to us and tries to understand herself, first through a child’s eyes, and then as a young woman, why her own parents — both educated and intelligent — not only condoned the tenets of the religion, but dedicated their lives, and the lives of their three children, to its practice.

To onlookers, the Greenhouse family is “normal”: The children attend school, birthday parties, sleepovers, summer camp. The family is well-dressed, well-fed, well-mannered. Yet internally, Lucia struggles to accept her parents’ belief system, confronted time and again with information contrary to the teachings. Finally, faced with their own mother’s “error in thinking” (the Christian Science explanation for illness), Lucia and her siblings rebel against their parents in an attempt, though futile, to save their mother’s life, and in the process, lose their father’s acceptance.

Though “fathermothergod” is Greenhouse’s story, it resonates with anyone wanting to understand another’s beliefs, or trying to understand his or her own.

Jami Carpenter is a freelance editor for Stephens Press, former host of Vegas PBS Book Club talk show and co-author of “Education in the Neon Shadow.”