on March 3, 2013
When Martha Beck published this book in 2005 and "murmurings" the story of her childhood abuse spread across the intellectual and religious circles of Utah I decided to not read this book. I had already stopped believing in the church and was not interested in reading yet another bitter tirade against a religion that many find fulfilling and many others find destructive.
Eight years later and a second of my three sisters came out with suppressed memories of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a man inside of our family, at my grandparents. The second sister was able to remember the attacker, my grandfather, a priesthood holder and the family patriarch. I had hoped that my family would respond rationally, considering how well my sister could remember and describe the events, how well my grandfather fit the profile for a sexual predator and considering the inexplicable damage to her perineum that doctors felt was caused by sexual abuse, considering her personal psychological problems (consistent with those of victims of sexual abuse) and considering that even I was able to remember the semen stains on my sister's teddy bear as a kid, Also considering that all of my aunts and uncles were aware that my uncle molested my mother as a child (they were witnesses) and then allowed him to become a school bus driver for the local school district, I assumed this would be a moral no-brainer. Forgiving him once was stupid, ignoring the current situation with yet another victim and another predator in the family would require a level of corruption and self delusion a nominally sane person wouldn't be capable of. I thought that everyone would at least respect my sister's search for justice and recognition, even if they weren't willing to believe her.
Sadly, over the course of the following year I watched slowly as my family circled the wagon around the priesthood holder and attacked the victim. Cousins erased us from facebook, aunts and uncles forbid us from contacting the nieces and nephews we helped raise, my mother even went so far as to use her personal connection with the County Sheriff (they served missions together in Nashville Tennessee) in order to put a block on the investigation. Our Bishop (and uncle) refused to report the abuse (a violation of Utah law) and refused to speak to my father about what happened, (which is his ecclesiastical responsibility.) The stake presidents of both my father and my grandfather refused to get involved, and when my father called one of the twelve apostles (hoping that God would inspire him to aid us) he was simply ignored and told to take the matter to the bishop. In only a few months my sister went from being the family babysitter to the family villain an and in the end the family began to work with her to take away custody of her own son. Those of us who supported her have become pariahs.
While this was going on I struggled to comprehend the level of abuse and corruption I was seeing. A friend recommended I read this book and I am so glad I did. Not only did Dr. Beck's experience mirror that of my sister's it surpassed it due to her high status position in the churches unofficial list of important families. I had grown up in the shadow of BYU and have been well aware of its reputation for corruption, indeed two of the characters in the book were university professors of mine, and had educated me well on the personal struggles all BY?U academics must face, but I was not prepared for what I read in this book. It shocked me on one hand, and comforted me on the other by letting me know my sister was not alone.
I personally want to thank Dr. Beck for having the courage to write this book. It helped me get through what has been unquestionably the darkest few hours of my life, and it helped me to resign from the LDS church in a dignified manner. Although she takes humorous jabs at some of the church's less savory doctrine, dogma, and cultural practices, the book is uncharacteristically upbeat and positive for a narrative written about leaving the church, a genre which is filled with bitterness and anger at the hands of what I believe to be one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. Dr. Beck's book was light-hearted and even encouraged people to leave the church and simply move on with their lives if that's what was best for them. The book even went so far as to complement the saints on some of their more noble and admirable cultural practices and beliefs, something absolutely unusual for this genre of literature. Over all she was very kind to the Saints and perhaps overly kind to her father and family, who have sadly turned on her the way my family turned on my sister.
Martha Beck's story is in every way consistent with what we know about pedophile's who commit incest. I am sorry to the many people in the church who are hurt to discover the Dr. Nibley was capable of this kind of behavior, I was equally disappointed to find that out about my own uncle, grandfather, and a highschool role model (an american-history teacher who later raped someone at another school, and yes he was an active Mormon) were capable of these kinds of misdeeds. Before this my grandfather was one of my personal saints, someone I looked up to as a moral authority. It hurts to have someone like that removed from a pedestal but that is no excuse for the kinds of attacks I have seen against Dr. Beck and her book. I have not read a single refutation of this story that has any basis in psychological fact, or legitimate criticism. I have seen a lot of people blowing out a lot of anger in order to protect their family's image, their faith in the church, their faith in Dr. Nibley, as well as the church's public image. I have not read a single well written criticism of this book that even borders on convincing. I have however seen a lot of the bullying that one grows accustomed to when one lives in Utah and rubs against the saints and the church in the wrong way. I have personally had to watch this bullying, so typical of Mormons in Utah who dislike someone else's opinion or story, while I was growing up in Utah Valley. All critics of the church are anti-mormons (a term used to end mental engagement between the saints and the church's critics) against liberals, against anyone who doesn't fit the mold and does so vocally, or as Dr. Beck call's it committing the sin of "publicity" combined with disagreeing with the church or Mormon cultural practices in anyway. Now I am watching my family engage in the same kind of bullying against two sisters who claim that a priesthood holder sexually abused them in a ritualistic manner. A type of crime which has been well documented by social scientists studying the fringes of Utah History. To contextualize the criticism of Dr. Beck with a personal experience, one sister only remembers the place not the attacker and she has been left alone by my family and is still welcome in all of the family circles, the other sister who remembers the attacker has suffered a level of harassment I would have never thought possible from my family. She committed the crime of publicity, rocked the boat, and instead of being consoled, or even argued with, she has simply been ex-communicated form the family and now suffers under a kind of abuse and harassment that is novel worthy. I for one, have no tolerance for it and therefor no tolerance for the attacks on Dr. Beck and her book.
Thank you Mrs. Beck for writing this excellent book. You have no idea how much it has helped my sisters and I through their personal journey of sexual abuse, repressed memories, and the protection of sexual predators in the culture of Utah Mormons. Reading your book in conjunction with the church's corrupt and incompetent way of handling my sisters' cases helped me decide to formerly resign from the church, and to do so as kindly and respectfully as I possibly could. Thank you for having the courage to write about this. As someone from Utah I know how difficult it must have been for you to come forward with your story and then write about it. I wish you and this book the best possible future.
To anyone interested in this story or sexual abuse in the LDS church or Utah's mainstream culture. Please give this book a read, it is unquestionably the best book in the genre that I have come across.
on March 3, 2005
By the top of page 4, I knew who Martha is and who her father was. I was raised in the church and served a mission to Japan in the late 1970s with one of Martha's brothers.
Martha's book is the most honest and even-handed account of the church and its doctrinal dilemmas I have ever come across. Most accounts are either for or against the church and seek only to destroy other viewpoints. I didn't get that feeling from Martha's account at all. It's clear that most of those condemning this book haven't read it. Ignore them and read it yourself.
I grew up reading every LDS Church book I could get my hands on. I pored over them, practically memorized some of them, and read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures daily and prayed with all my heart. I was the kid who always loved to go to church; no one had to drag me there. After a great deal of soul-searching over many years, I left the LDS church about 20 years ago, at the age of 27. I didn't experience the kind of sexual abuse Martha went through, and my heart goes out to all who have suffered so, but I could relate 100% to her descriptions of the Church, the doctrines, the good people who try so hard to be perfect, the yearning for God, the incredible mental efforts to try to make sense out of the nonsense, the secrecy and obsession with control of the leadership. I'll never forget how disappointed I felt when I first put on the temple garments and went through the endowment ceremony at the Oakland Temple.
I first became aware of certain issues about unsavory behavior by some of the leadership while on my mission, and it left a terrible taste in my mouth. I know we are all human and have weaknesses, but the problem is when religious institutions try to set up some people as infallible and not to be questioned (the Pope, the mullahs and ayatollahs, and the General Authorities all come to mind). I tried to make it all make sense, and I tried to forget that polygamy was the fate that awaits good Mormon women. I tried to forget the many little insults and debasements of Mormon women. Ultimately I could not ignore the evidence of my senses, my reasoning and my conscience. The greatest lessons that I learned from my years in the Church are ultimately what led me away: to listen to the still, small voice inside, to do what I knew was right no matter what others around me might say, and to open my heart and mind to unsuspected sources of joy and understanding. I can't say I've found as much certainty as Martha seems to have found, but I am certain that one of the smartest things I ever did was to leave the Church; I only wish I'd done it sooner. Much, much sooner. Martha's book has helped me to free myself from the last vestiges of regret. I miss the sense of community, yes, but I know that the Church is not the only place that can be found.
I've read some of the hate mail Martha has received on her site, [...] and it doesn't reflect well on those people's personal religion. That is, spewing that kind of hate and intolerance is hardly a sign you are close to the divine. I know that most Mormons are very good, sincere people who try very hard to do what is right. I grew up among them, I was one of them, and many family members and extended family members are still very devout and no doubt think I'm beyond the pale because I left. I say, if it works for them, more power to them, but I could not continue in such a patriarchal, controlling, domineering environment where the truth must be whitewashed and carefully controlled. Thanks, Martha, for writing so eloquently and compassionately about your journey.
on April 29, 2006
I'm going to make this review annonymous, because I am a Mormon who is strongly considering leaving the church and I do not want any retalitation. I'm not ready for it yet.
This book was very interesting and I know that there is a lot of debate as to whether or not Martha is telling the truth about her father. I don't think anybody has any right to say whether she is telling the truth or not because no one was there except Martha and her father. Therefore the only two who truly know the truth are Martha and her father, and of course God. I can tell you that here where I live there was a big discussion one night after fireside about this book, and all the people at my church who are devout Mormons strongly accuse Martha Beck of being a liar. I asked them just casually if they had read her book. They all claimed they would never touch it. That's what made me (secretly of course) obtain a copy of her book and read it.
I'm glad that John Beck has not suffered any loss of friends or relationships because he left the church. But I can tell you that if indeed that is true, that John Beck has a had a very rare experience. The vast majority of Mormons who leave the church suffer a lot of judgement and loss of relationships. When you leave the church you are an apostate and according to Mormon doctrince, have no chance to get into heaven. It's only outer darkness for the apostate unless the ex-Mormon rejoins the church and gets re-baptized.
I am very confused because I know the evidence that Joseph Smith was a very deceitful con man is black and white. There is no arguing it. There is so much black and white evidence that very clearly shows the Mormon church as a false religion, and like all my friends and family, I used to turn a blind eye to all the evidence that scared me into realizing "maybe" the Mormon church really isn't true. Over time I have been able to look at the evidence more without being prejudice. It's just going to be hell on earth when I finally do reveal to my family and friends that I'm leaving the church. Everyone I know already believes that anyone who leaves the church has committed some horrible sin. But I haven't at all. I've never even broken the word of wisdom or the laws of chastity. I'm just not so stupid anymore as to believe in a religion that is so obviously false.
I hope I'm as brave as people like Martha Beck, John Beck, and Deboroh Laake. Until then, I'm remaining annonymous.
on January 21, 2011
Reading this book elicited a lot of strong emotions in me: compassion (for the author's plights), anger (at her family and at Mormon officials), amazement (at some of the things I learned about Mormonism), happiness (at the author's ability to find peace).
Mormonism is unique among religions in that many of its claims are disprovable, and I've often wondered how an intelligent person could tolerate the cognitive dissonance that must arise when trying to live authentically yet still practice Mormonism. Ms. Beck is clearly highly intelligent and she basically concludes that she CAN'T handle this dissonance any longer. It's fascinating to read about her discoveries and her processes.
As for the sexual-abuse claims: They ring true to me. Even if one tends to doubt recovered memories, I can't think of any reason why the author would invent the corroborating evidence, i.e., her scarring and the related memories that she had always had (such as bleeding between her thighs as a child). Why would she voluntarily subject herself to so much scorn from her family and the Mormon community, unless she really did need to release herself from the burden of her secret?
The book feels authentic to me and is exceptionally well-written. Despite the many troubling issues addressed, it is ultimately inspirational, because the author finds peace within herself and, along the way, helps to convey to us readers how we, too, can find peace.
I highly recommend this book.
on January 21, 2013
I read Martha Beck's previous book, Expecting Adam, first and it remains one of my favorite memoirs. When this was suggested to me I did not hesitate to read it. Boy, did I become immersed in this one. I could not put it down. It is beautifully written, with a classic "frame" consisting of a conversation with her father in a hotel room, interspersed with flashback scenes that are riveting. She tells a story I simply did not expect but that hangs together beautifully. I subsequently read "The Mormon Murders," another excellent book, and the latter reinforced the veracity of the former. I know many Mormons have written reviews to discredit Martha Beck's book, but truly, it is hard to disbelieve her story. Highly recommend.
on April 29, 2014
I read several of the 1-star reviews before writing this one, and I have to say the Morman church is very, very good in keeping secrets, secret, and propaganda alive and well. As a non-Morman living in a small Morman town, I am often appalled at the willful ignorance of the populace. The bishop says something from the pulpuit - and not always about spiritual matters - and suddenly I hear it from everyone's lips as absolute truth, no matter how outrageous (like it was the Forest Service - that is, the hated Feds - who burned down our forest). I am not an especially educated person, but I like to know the truth and don't believe everything that is told me. I bring this up because many of the 1-star reviews said "come on, they're not all the sheep she portrayed". Well, yes they are. The thinking ones left or were banned years ago. And many who refuted Ms. Beck's veracity used the very tools she accused the church authorities of using. Flawed internal logic and circular thinking. Or simple incredulity. One says, that can't be true, that the salon wanted her husband's permission to cut her hair. Well, I'm a woman who wears her hair short because my water heater is only 6 gallons, but I was turned away by more than one Mormon-run shop because they didn't want to cut my hair that way. This wasn't 40 years ago, this was last Fall. As for doubting her accusations of molestation. Incest in many forms is extremely common here in Mormanville but nothing gets done because guess what? The ones who could help are related to the perpetrators, and "we don't want to step on any toes." I found Ms. Beck's account of her journey credible, courageous and very informative in trying to understand the people I share real estate with.
I didn't purchase this book to learn about the issue of child sexual abuse or about the author's coming to terms with incest at the hands of her father, the late Hugh Winder Nibley, an intellectual giant among contemporary Mormon theologians and one of that religion's most revered apologists. Rather, I was following up on an interest in certain of the more esoteric elements of Mormon eschatology. To make a long story short, it was not at all the book that I expected or wanted it to be, but it is surely one of the most powerfully moving works of spirituality that I have read in a very long while.
I doubt there will be many readers who will be able to complete this work without shedding a tear: for the barely imaginable pain that the author was put through as a child, for those countless, voiceless innocents similarly violated, for her tortured father and family (the former a likely victim of parental sexual abuse himself) and at Martha Beck's healing: miraculous, heart-warming, funny and determinedly compassionate to all involved in the events. There are no villains in "Leaving the Saints" save for one: the all-enveloping miasma of censorship, fear, physical and spiritual abuse, dissimulation and duplicity that are the hallmarks of a patriarchal, authoritarian, pathologicaly controlling creed convinced of its own sanctity, and willing to stop at nothing (even the lives and minds of its own children) to protect near-medieval privileges in its central Utah fiefdom.
When as a Harvard doctoral candidate Martha Beck's son Adam was born with Down's syndrome, she and her husband left Massachusetts for the support afforded her in Utah, her family's home, and the warm, accepting embrace of the Mormon community. Determined to assimilate back into her childhood faith after years of atheism, Martha's disenchantment resurfaced when censorship from church authorities heavily influenced the exercise of academic freedom at Brigham Young University where she taught part-time. More disturbing was her recovery of long-suppressed childhood memories that her father, a (perhaps it would be more correct to say, "the") intellectual center of gravity in the Mormon Church, had sexually molested her as a child.
"Leaving the Saints" describes in great detail how institutionalized religion can do horrific injury to some adherents while still being a force of good for others. It will undoubtedly anger faithful Mormons, satisfy disaffected former Mormons and offer hope for healing to those who believe they have suffered from ecclesiastically-tolerated (or in some cases ecclesiastically-sponsored) abuse. It is one of the most balanced books on Mormonism I have read, avoiding the formulaic condemnations of those injured by the faith and the blind, almost decerebrate, acceptance of Church teaching that is the hallmark of official LDS publications.
For all its grim, sometimes tragic, subject matter, this is not a book that leaves one sad. Rather, it is uplifting and filled with the sense of joy recovered and innocence restored that true healing brings. Martha Beck also brings to her writing a scintillating sense of humor which can have the reader both laughing and crying at the same time.
The LDS hierarchy has condemned Dr. Beck's book, as one would have expected of them, and have all but forbidden Church members to read it (along with nearly all other 'dissident' literature). It's painfully clear that most of those condemning this book haven't read it.
This is a work I unreservedly recommend to anyone with an interest in the realms of Mormon society and culture as well as in the realm of child abuse and its healing.
on July 25, 2005
I adore Martha Beck. I pre-ordered Finding Your North Star, the Joy Diet, and this book. I've been to one of her personal seminars (one, incidentally, that John sat in on for some time). I have a notebook filled with copies of most of the magazine articles she's ever written. If you asked me who I'd most like to have over for dinner, for the last few years she'd be on my top three. I've given away copies of Finding Your North Star and Expecting Adam. Of course I've read them multiple times.
I got to this book. And the tone just..was off. I mean, it was brutal. And there was the whole part about her dad sexually abusing her, and her forgiving him and this wasn't even the story. And that wasn't the brutal part! So you have this lovely (if dubious-I don't know, I have no idea if it happened or not) story of forgiveness and this tearing to shreds of Mormonism.
I've read everything I could get my hands on that Martha's written since Breaking Point at least three times. And I just couldn't get into this book a second time. There was bitterness in Expecting Adam, but there was redemption, too. I suppose I liked Martha's writing so much because I could sum it up in one word: love. That's what she was about. Or so I thought. But this book...take out the story of her dad, and it's about anger at best, hatred at worst.
I read John's review months ago. The part about him getting or seeing any of Martha's notes bothered me. That was the most disturbing part (to me) about his review. The other day, I found out why. In North Star, she tells the story of how much better she felt after she had her husband handle the hate mail. He says that he never saw any of it.
I believe him.
on December 29, 2011
I came away from this book with more questions than answers. I was born, raised & I currently live in Utah County, about 10 minutes from where Martha grew up. I was also raised in the LDS Faith & I too am considered an apostate. I have no interest in bashing the LDS church, nor is that why I read "Leaving The Saints". But I did find a lot of what Martha shared about sexual abuse within the church & how it's handled to be fairly accurate, atleast during the years that I was an active member (1970's-90's). I don't think the LDS church is unique in this regard. I believe every religion, faith, community, etc. has "sick" individuals & those who will try to protect them. My abuser was a close relative, a very active member of the LDS church & the Bishop of his local ward. When it finally "came out" it was carefully swept under the rug. I was told not to speak of it & to move on. This seems to be all too common in this community & I only hope that just as the Church's doctrine changes with the times, so too will the treatment of sexual abuse. As for Martha's claims, I don't believe or disbelieve. I'm familiar with Hugh Nibley's work & his obsession with the Joseph Smith Papyrus, not to mention that NOTHING surprises me anymore, but only Martha & her father really know the truth.
I liked a lot about this book, the humor was great for one. I could obviously relate to a lot of the funny local culture. But I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the obvious embellishments; the "Light", for example, I could have gladly gone without. I'm a spiritual person myself, but come on Martha! Some things felt exaggerated; days without sleep, debilitating medical, physical, emotional issues, depression, etc. while raising 3 children, one with a disability requiring extra time & care, teaching at BYU (grading, preparing, etc.), writing a DISSERTATION, maintaining the nearly perfect marriage they seemed to have, so on & so on. I could have lived with all of that! But after finishing the book I read John Becks review & became intrigued. Martha left a lot out! Clearly she couldn't put it ALL in, but there seems to be some important considerations that were deliberately left out. I have the same questions many other's have asked, no need to mention them ALL again (same sex partner-whatever floats your boat, but perhaps relevant in leaving the church?, the family's denials, that the book was first written as fiction,etc.).
I wouldn't tell anyone NOT to read this book, I would just advise that you take it with a grain of salt!
on March 3, 2005
I have been a fan of Martha Beck's books for years. As a fortyish Unitarian mom, I felt she spoke straight to my heart and my funnybone. I recommended "Expecting Adam" to everyone I knew when it came out. "Finding Your Own North Star" was (and is) both useful and wonderfully readable.
If not for her trademark wicked humor (which I still love), this book and her website [...] might have been written by a different person. It's certainly possible that she was indeed molested by her father. Her readers are not in a position to know all the facts. The unkindness of waiting until her parents were in their nineties to air this situation so publicly and venomously, though, doesn't seem anything like the Martha I thought I knew from her previous writings.
The book, and especially the website, also reveal that many important facts were left out of both "Expecting Adam" and "Saints". These include Beck's husband's lifelong struggle to face his homosexuality and its effect on their marriage, their divorce during the events in "Saints", her personal journey ending in long-term happiness with another woman, and her new partner's professional interest in sexual abuse.
Of course, she has the right to have kept these facts private until now. However, it would only seem natural for them to have had at least some bearing on her state of mind when (a) the memories of abuse resurfaced and (b) she and her husband left a religion that sees homosexuality as pathological. (Paradoxically, while still married and members of the church, they wrote a book together on overcoming "compulsive" behavior, including homosexuality, through faith.) That all this was completely left out seems odd when so much other intimate detail is presented. It makes me wonder what else may have been left out of her books. Part of their appeal was that the reader felt that Martha truly opened up her life, doubts, faults, and all as she told of her experiences.
In my personal opinion, the Mormon church has a great deal to answer for its attitude toward both women and victims of sexual/domestic abuse. However, this book may end up unjustly weakening the case for others in such circumstances.
Martha Beck has built up an impressive life-coaching business with her books and appearances on Oprah. Writing this book now seems almost self-destructive.