Media watch: Is “but” a loaded word?

It certainly can be.  Let me illustrate.  The Daily Mail has published an interesting historical article on American women who married into landed but often cash-strapped British Society at the beginning of last century. It is entitled “Cash for titles: The Billion Dollar Ladies“, and is ably authored by television producer and writer Daisy Goodwin. It starts with the poignant opening line, “But money didn’t always buy them happiness.”

Nancy AstorOne American who arguably did find a measure of happiness was Nancy Langhorne Shaw who married William Waldorf Astor, “a member of the Anglicised branch of the Astor family.”  It’s not that money or marriage brought her happiness in and of themselves. Having spent much time in bed sick, though, Nancy Astor – as she had then become through her marriage to Lord Astor – was introduced to Christian Science, and had a remarkable turnaround in her health.  According to a very brief first-person account which was later published by the Christian Science periodicals she went from being constantly exhausted to being virtually tireless.  And the historical record also shows that she lived a long active life that way.

And it is a very public historical record.  As the article points out, she was “perhaps the most successful American woman of all” of those who married into the British aristocracy at that time. It continues that she “went on to become the political hostess of her generation and the first woman MP to take up her seat in the House of Commons.”

Most people, especially women who have crashed through some glass ceiling of their own along the way, would probably agree that would have been no mean feat. She must have had some inner strength, some true grit to draw on. So how did she do it? The article continues, “Nancy Astor was teetotal and a Christian Scientist, but she changed the face of British politics by showing that women could perform as well as men in parliament.”

But.  But?!

I am sure that is intended as an innocent enough “but”…but it would seem to cast a long shadow, in the wrong direction.   It seems to suggest that Nancy Astor managed to rise to the challenge of being the first woman in one of the most masculine of all bastions of male privilege despite the fact that she was a Christian Scientist, rather than because of it.  And that in spite of the fact that the religion which inspired her was founded by a woman who herself had to walk through multiple glass ceilings just to be able to share publicly her hard-won, hard-proven, heartfelt conviction of the vital importance of the healing at the heart of the ministry of Jesus.

The founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, not only could have taught Nancy Astor a thing or two about making it in a man’s world against the odds, but she undoubtedly did teach her many a valuable spiritual lesson through her writings, which Nancy Astor referred to daily, alongside the Bible.  Mary Baker Eddy’s Bible-based idea of the male and female equality in the nature of God – as Father-Mother – and, consequently, in the lives of women and men still seems ahead of its time compared to the more laboured progress of other theological viewpoints. (Here is an example, from her key text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.)  Although not outwardly a suffragette before women achieved the vote, Nancy Astor went on to use her Parliamentary position to push for women’s equality in many fields.

I never personally knew Nancy Astor, who passed on in 1964, before I became a Christian Scientist.  However, from what I have read about her and heard of her it is probably fair to say that she was a colourful individual who brought her own strong personality to bear on what she did and how she did it.  Christian Science can’t take the credit for all she accomplished, nor the blame for all that she might have done which was not so admired.  But it was very much a part and parcel of her outlook for decades, and has its due place in her life story, even if that life story is just a one paragraph summary!

And its “due place” is not a “but” and possibly not a “because of” either.  Can we settle for the following?

“Nancy Astor was teetotal and a Christian Scientist and with the support that gave her she changed the face of British politics by showing that women could perform as well as men in parliament.”

N.B. A brief letter of mine was published in the Independent about Nancy Astor’s unusually strident approach to sharing Christian Science, under the title Love thy neighbour“. (It’s about two thirds of the way down the page of letters.)

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Categories: Women's spiritual leadership

Author:Tony Lobl

I write on spirituality and health for a diversity of online media outlets, from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I have been published by the Independent, the Washington Post, the Guardian, E-Hospice, MindBodyGreen and The Christian Science Monitor and I post regularly on the Huffington Post UK and BuzzFeed. In addition to writing and broadcast appearances I enjoy engaging with journalists, academics, health professionals and government officials about the possibilities for improving health outcomes through a greater emphasis on spirituality in healthcare and social care. I've also greatly valued the many opportunities I have had to travel globally for my church and to meet people around the world. My wife Jenny and I spent 10 years in Boston, USA, before returning to London in 2002, to take on a role as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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3 Comments on “Media watch: Is “but” a loaded word?”

  1. Jim Fisher
    August 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Tony,

    Thanks for this article about Lady Astor, a fascinating, yet polarizing, character. Sometimes we think Christian Scientists should only act in certain ways, yet we have no idea the mental stresses they may be under.

    Christian Science certainly is a character-changer especially for those who are converts. Its power transforms us into better beings than we ever thought we could be.

    Enjoy!

    Jim

  2. Philip Wylie
    August 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    Many years ago, I worked in a temporary capacity for a woman not unlike Lady Astor. She also had not been raised in Christian Science and at the time I was introduced to her, had just divorced her husband for being unfaithful and was left with the responsibility of raising four sons and with no major income. She had started a fledgling business which eventually, along with another activity, kept things in check. In her day-to-day life, Christian Science was her backbone and her shining lights were honesty, the ‘Matthew code’, love (not always of the ‘heart on the sleeve’ type) and a heart of gold (sometimes hidden), and a degree of tirelessness which would leave strong men behind. In short, her reliance on Christian Science shone through her character – she lived it, but was not always popular and never afraid to speak her mind if she thought it was the right thing to do.

    Sometimes, Christian Scientists are mentally held as a ‘type’, maybe soft in nature and ineffectual, but some of them have great things to do (and have done them!) and how they accomplish these things can’t always be measured by simple human observation.

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