book reviews, religion

A review of Cult Survivor: My 42 Years in Christian Science: From the Christian Science Belief System to the Quaker Faith

In January of 2019, I got hooked on a TV series about cults that aired on the A&E network. As is my habit, once the show ended, I decided to do some follow up reading, which led to the purchase of several books. One of the books I read was Lucia Greenhouse’s 2011 book entitled fathermothergod: My journey out of Christian Science. I reviewed that book on my old blog.

I also purchased Chrystal Cole’s self-published book, Cult Survivor: My 42 Years in Christian Science: From the Christian Science Belief System to the Quaker Faith. I don’t mind buying self-published books. Sometimes, I find a gem for not much money. Cole’s book was priced at $2.99. Unfortunately, this time, I’m not sure I got my money’s worth. Oh well. You win some; you lose some.

Chrystal Cole was in the fourth generation of her family born into Christian Science, a belief system in which followers rely on prayer for healing. Christian Scientists don’t seek medical care. Or, if they do seek it, they don’t admit to seeking it. Christian Scientists believe there is no such thing as “sickness” and that a person who has a “disease” is suffering from an illusion from which prayer is the best and only real cure.

Cole, who uses a pseudonym to protect her family’s identity, was really into Christian Science, having practiced it for the first 42 years of her life. She was raised by her father, a man she repeatedly describes as very kind and gentle, and her stepmother, a woman for whom she evidently had much less regard. Cole’s mother left when she was very young, and I got the sense she was never close to her. Cole’s stepmother was not a fill in for her mother, as Cole repeatedly refers to her as her “father’s wife”, and she makes several statements that imply that her stepmother took Christian Science too far.

This seems like the start of an interesting story, doesn’t it? Well, I think it could have been, had Cole not simply cobbled together a bunch of blog posts and called them a book. I seem to remember reading at the beginning of the book that Cole had enlisted the help of friends to edit her book. They didn’t do a good job. Parts of Cult Survivor are decently written and interesting, while other parts are riddled with typos and redundancies. Hiring a professional editor would have been an excellent investment for the creation of this book.

Cult Survivor doesn’t flow at all, which can make reading it a frustrating exercise. It’s a shame, too, since I often find these types of books fascinating. My life has been touched by people who have been involved in “fringe” belief systems, so I enjoy reading about what leads people to join different religions and what causes them to, sometimes, ultimately leave them. However, while I love a good story, it does need to be written in a clear, coherent, and concise way. Cole’s book doesn’t deliver that. In fact, I was especially frustrated at the end of the book, which never seemed to have a real ending. It was just a bunch of blog posts, none of which had much staying power or connection to each other. With a little time and effort, Cole could have used the raw material from her blog and turned it into a real book.

Look… I obviously have nothing at all against bloggers. I am one myself. However, there is a big difference between writing a blog– which is kind of like a diary of sorts– and writing a book– which requires some organization and ability to make a story flow. I will give Cole credit, though, for suggesting other books about Christian Science that helped her as she was transitioning from Christian Science to Quakerism. One of the books she read was the vastly superior fathermothergod: My journey out of Christian Science, which I referenced at the beginning of this post. Lucia Greenhouse’s book is an actual book with a story and a point. It’s not a choppy mass of random blog posts tossed together.

Now that I’ve gotten my negative comments out of the way, I can admit that parts of Cole’s story are interesting. As she was raised in Christian Science, she was never vaccinated. Vaccinations are kind of a hot topic right now, especially given the outbreaks of measles that have been sweeping certain areas. Cole writes that the common childhood diseases most responsible people vaccinate their children against, were problematic in the Christian Science community. Cole also writes that when she was growing up, she wasn’t allowed to take so much as a Tylenol to kill aches or pains, nor was she allowed to use sunblock. As an adult, she now sees medical professionals and she does include one section about how she’s having to address issues that were neglected when she was younger. Included among her problems are multiple lipomas and keloids which, if you watched Dr. Pimple Popper, are also kind of hot topics these days. Apparently, Cole’s problems with lipomas and keloids have caused her significant suffering. Now she can get them taken care of without having to lie to church authorities or sneak around.

I really wish I could write more about this book. I wish there had been more of a “story” that stuck with me, rather than random thoughts that are repetitively stated and not necessarily linked. I do think Cole could write a compelling story if she tried. But she’d need to start over… use the blog simply as a reference and write her book from scratch, starting at the beginning. She’d need to set up her situation and explain what happened in a linear fashion that people can easily follow. A bunch of blog posts cobbled together does not a good book make. I was pretty disappointed with Cult Survivor and wouldn’t recommend it.

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2 thoughts on “A review of Cult Survivor: My 42 Years in Christian Science: From the Christian Science Belief System to the Quaker Faith

  1. It never amazes me how quickly people can set aside rational thoughts in favor of faith that needs constant testing…

    • Well, in fairness, she was born into the faith… and was fourth generation at that. At least she figured it out before she died. The other book– fathermothergod– was especially sad because the author’s parents truly went through hell. Mother had cancer and just slowly wasted away while people prayed over her.

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