Released: Walking from Blame and Shame into Wholeness

New Memoir, Exposes Childhood Medical Neglect and Finding One’s Agency After Leaving Christian Science

New memoirs of former Christian Scientists are seldom published. There are a few, Blue Windows and Fathermothergod, and now we can add to the list Peggy Cook’s excellent new memoir, Released: Walking from Blame and Shame into Wholeness. This exceptional memoir clearly articulates many of the challenges of growing up in Christian Science. 

Peggy Cook was diagnosed with clubfeet upon her birth. This condition requires many surgeries and procedures during the formative years of a child for the condition to be fully corrected. Born into a strict Christian Science family, Peggy’s father was employed at the Mother Church in Boston and clung closely to orthodox Christian Science views—that prayer and medicine cannot be mixed. After undergoing several castings as a very young girl, Peggy’s parents decided not to continue medical treatment and to fully rely on prayer.  

Childhood Trauma and Medical Neglect 

In the introduction of Released, Peggy writes, as she looked for her baby book and found only empty pages: “I needed proof that I was celebrated despite my clubfeet. Proof of being a cherished infant, not just a burden and someone to constantly pray about. My birth, a joyful event.” (2021, Cook, p. 2)

Peggy then begins her story with her earliest of memories: being terrified as her parents took her to get her legs casted, a very traumatic event for a toddler to say the least. She recalls singing hymns with her parents, although even at an early age she did not find comfort in them at times of intense difficulty. Written in present tense, we are right there with Peggy as she endures the castings, the fear, and the interactions with her parents, who mean well, but do not grasp the trauma inflicted on their young daughter. She articulates how much later as an adult she began to understand why she struggled so much of her childhood—from these early traumatic childhood experiences. 

Different View of Reality in Christian Science

In Released, Peggy gracefully weaves the Christian Science worldview into dialogue as she shares her childhood memories. Christian Scientists believe that the material world is not real, it’s just an illusion. Matter, like our bodies and the world around us, is artificial and not the true reality. Scientists spend copious amounts of time studying the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the religion’s founder, and denying the existence of the material world around them. They deny the five senses and cling to a theology that only good exists and that everything is God; anything not good is not of God and therefore isn’t real. In Peggy’s case, her reality as a very young girl afraid of having her legs painfully cast and walking incorrectly was met with spiritual gaslighting by her parents. 

“I say, ‘I’m scared.’ My father says, ‘That’s error telling you that you’re scared. That’s not you talking.’ (2021, Cook, p. 13).

In her child’s mind, the only state of mind that made sense, Peggy internalized fear and pain that impacted her entire childhood and into adulthood. The way that she is able to articulate this disparity in her childhood sense of reality as an adult looking in on herself not only gives weight to the traumatic childhood experience she alone faced, it gives voice to many others who have never written about their pain. This is the power of memoir.

Embarrassed by the Failure of Christian Science Prayer

A byproduct of any high control religious group is extreme guilt, embarrassment, and shame. The group makes the rules, often rules including extreme requirements such as no medical treatment, ignoring a situation that needs professional help (either medical, psychological, or emotional), and requiring the follower to adhere to rules that should, if followed correctly, bring about a solution. When the solution (or healing, in Peggy’s case) doesn’t happen, the individual follower is to blame, not the belief system itself. What develops is a deep sense of failure that produces shame and embarrassment. 

To outsiders, who can barely fathom making a child feel responsible for their disability or illness, this seems implausible, even absurd. To insiders working hard to mentally deny the reality of the situation, the suffering goes on and on. Their reality is living each day surrounded by their shame (for Peggy, this was through her daily struggle to walk and endure the constant pain of uncorrected clubfeet). She needlessly endured horrific amounts of suffering—taking responsibility for her own condition (not her fault) and taking accountability for her lack of healing (also not her fault; Christian Science rarely works for most followers). 

“It terrified me thinking about children dying from trusting God. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep, hoping it never happened to my brother of me.” (2021, Cook, p. 18)

A Mother’s Suffering of Cancer Gone Untreated

Part of Peggy’s journey out of Christian Science includes losing her mother to undiagnosed and untreated skin cancer. This experience became the catalyst that propelled her from Christian Science. She endured through the end, similar to other’s stories of watching a loved one endure untreated cancer in a Christian Science nursing facility. It’s unfathomable that this still goes on today, and we know that it does. My grandfather. Your cousin. My friend’s mom. The first reader at church. The list of sufferers goes on and on. 

But rather than destroy Peggy, despite the layered trauma of watching a loved one suffer and die in front of her, she finds the courage to pivot. She meets her new nephew shortly after his birth and notices the signs of clubfeet. She says, “I had been praying unsuccessfully for the healing of my clubfeet for 36 years.” (2021, Cook, p. 81)

At 37, Peggy decides to seek out a surgeon who can fix her clubfeet. The process is nothing short of a medical miracle through a devoted surgeon, the hard work of physical therapy, and a new outlook of self-care, humanity, and hope. The memoir is gripping as she dedicates the better part of a year to recovering and finding the use of her new feet, heels, and legs to carry her forward into her future. 

The Human Condition Embraced

As Peggy’s story unfolds, she opens up in a way that is so refreshing and honest. She articulates the language of the Christian Science family in fresh ways that have not been written before. You will likely hear your own mother in her story; you might find your own father there too. 

Peggy’s story doesn’t stop here, it ends with recovery, transformation, hope, relationship, and learning to become human in ways that each of us must learn once leaving Christian Science. While her childhood was marked by avoidance of the human condition, her adulthood, once she decided to leave Christian Science and seek out medical correction for her clubfeet, was marked by transformation. 

Special Role of Christian Science Memoir

There is a special role that memoir holds for those of us who share the experience of growing up in Christian Scientist. Few understand our plight; not many parents could fathom withholding medical care, love, affection, and attention when a child is hurting. What the Christian Science belief system does to most children is incomprehensible, yet memoir opens the gates and allows others in to see what it was like. 

For those of us who have similar childhood experiences, memoir is strangely comforting because there are others who understand, relate, and experience many of the same things we did. Being able to articulate the ways that parents applied Christian Science treatment is both disturbing and moving. Memoir shows us just how similar many of our childhoods were in how our parents often ignored our little boy and girl needs, allowed us to suffer needlessly, and withheld affection and love because they were “holding to the Truth.”

We grieve one another’s trauma as we were not alone, we were one of many children all over the world, for four or five generations, over multiple continents—Peggy’s suffering is our own suffering. Peggy’s suffering was real, and so was ours. 

Our difficulties are not unique, and Peggy’s memoir reminds us that we are not alone. There is hope for recovery, there is growth and trust to be built and experienced again, outside the blue chalk lines. 

Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ, Interview with Lauren Hunter

Lauren Hunter grew up in a fourth generation Christian Science home but struggled to understand and implement successful physical healing. Like many who have left Christian Science, she sought out others who had also left to gain clarity. After being out of CS for nearly 20 years, she hoped to help others cross the chasm of leaving this religious cult by sharing her story, as well as the stories of nine others she interviewed. Her book, Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ, was released in 2020. 

Hunter’s book examines stories from 10 different people who left Christian Science and started walking a Christian path, following Christ Jesus as their guide. 

In the following post, Contributor Jodi interviews Lauren Hunter about her experience writing the book:


Jodi: What compelled you to write a book about various people’s stories of how they left Christian Science? 

Lauren: I’ve always loved the power of story and felt that the impact of pulling away from the Christian Science faith would be stronger as told not only through my own story, but also through the stories of others who left. 

When I first left Christian Science in 2001, I knew no one who was a “former Christian Scientist.” I became a member of the Fellowship of Former Christian Science (FFCS) group in 2015. Through that group, I met so many new friends with incredible stories. Each person’s tale blew me away and encouraged me. I thought, if I can compile a whole book of stories of people who left, there’s a lot of power–all in one book.

Jodi: What kind of power are you talking about here? 

Lauren: It’s easy to shirk off one story of someone who left CS. Followers will often say, “they just couldn’t understand it” of someone who left. They look down on people who leave because there’s this sense of baked in narcissism–that CS is a special knowledge that only they have. I felt there was power in sharing 10 stories of people who all left. There’s no book available with this many exit stories in one place.

Jodi: How did you come up with the list of people to interview? Did you know all of the people before you approached them to write the book? Were people referred to you? 

Lauren: I worked with Katherine Beim-Esche of the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists to help me locate people who had various stories to fit the theme of each chapter. I had an idea of what themes to include, but these changed as I did my interviews.  I did preliminary research, short email interviews, then long Zoom recorded interviews for each person’s chapter. It was tricky to pull out distinct themes for each story, but it all came together as I had hoped, which was great. 

Jodi: How did you come up with the questions you asked them, in order for them to tell you their story? 

Lauren: I really love interviewing people. Initially, I made a list of questions asking about the person’s upbringing, history in the Christian Science church, etc., and sent this in advance. When we sat down for the interview, I made sure to ask many of the same questions, but each person had such a unique story that some questions emerged as we were doing the interview. It was a wonderful process and I feel very honored that these individuals would entrust their stories to me. 

Jodi: Are there thread(s) that you see each story sharing? 

Lauren: Great question. I spoke about all these different threads in the recent FFCS presentation I did entitled: “My story, your story, and God’s story.” (YouTube Link Here) Some common threads are:

  • Struggling with the dual reality of having to deny the physical world while living in it. 
  • Guilt and shame over “trying” medicine when healings didn’t happen
  • Shame over imperfections in health as well as imperfections in beauty
  • Dissociation from physical needs including noticing pain, anxiety, or fear
  • Trouble recognizing boundaries, limits, and identifying needs

Jodi: Tell me about the ‘dear one” sections of the book, where you write a comforting letter to the readers of the book. Did that come naturally for you? Was it easy to hear their stories and come up with a comforting letter?

Lauren:  In the “dear one” letters at the end of each chapter, I tried to invoke the kind of gentle and loving mother many of us wished we had growing up in CS. I am a mom, and I can’t imagine watching my kids suffer as many did in their childhoods. It’s really heartbreaking. I had more trouble processing several of the stories because they dealt with issues that hit close to home for me. I really loved writing these ‘dear one’ sections and hope that my concern and care for the reader came through. 

Jodi: How long did it take for you to compile the stories? To write this book? 

Lauren: It took me about two and a half years from idea to publishing. This was my first full-length nonfiction book and I was squeezing it in around running a full-time business (and raising my family). I learned so much during the process and treated it like a learning experience. My second book, due out this winter, is a step-by-step guide to help people write their own stories. 

Jodi: Did any particular story stand out to you as either typical of all the stories, or different in some major way from all of the other stories? Which one? What made it different or the same? 

Lauren: John Andrews’ story about struggling to let go of Mary Baker Eddy as Leader with a capital “L” was something that many people struggled with. In Christian Science, we were taught to put Eddy on a platform above God and Jesus Christ. This is something a lot of people struggled with. 

This is where mind control comes in. The only way followers will do what an organization says is if they buy into the (often narcissistic) leader who proclaims they are a prophet — most of us “drank the Kool-aid,” and believed that Eddy’s words were holier than the Bible. 

Dixie Baker’s story of surviving the measles epidemic at Principia College was so difficult for me to stomach. It was a completely different topic and included physical, emotional, and medical neglect–her account rocked me and was very unique that someone from within was brave enough to detail what happened while under CS nurse care.

Jodi: Is there something you would like to share with people who read our blog, who are looking for a path to leave Christian Science and are scared to do it? 

Lauren: Interestingly, you use the word “scared” in your question. When I was growing up in Christian Science, I felt scared all the time because I never knew what was wrong. So much of the Christian Science belief system deals with allaying fear. Well, we wouldn’t have all been so afraid if we’d gone to the doctor to find out what was wrong! I now feel huge freedom not practicing CS. If I have a medical issue, I email my doctor, get a test done, and figure out a plan. I no longer have massive amounts of fear to deal with surrounding my body. I have to ask questions, look things up, and learn as I go–and I’ve been out of CS for 20 years! I’m just grateful that I left before having my four kids. I can’t fathom dealing with all the childhood illnesses without medical care. 

So I guess my advice is to ditch the fear, allow yourself a care team that includes a good trauma-informed therapist, a former Christian Scientist who has adjusted well, and a good doctor who will listen to you and take you seriously. 

Jodi: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers? 

Lauren: I’m working on a new book called Write Your Journey that will help people write their stories about their family, faith, or career. The idea came to me when people read my book and wanted to share their stories with me. Info on this book will be available at https://laurenhunter.net


Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ by Lauren Hunter (Veritable Books, 2020) is available on Amazon

If you have left Christian Science and are seeking others who have taken a Christ-centered path, we highly recommend the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists.