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.”
One 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.”
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.)