Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith. Crown Publishers, 2005; 320 pages; $24.95.
FROM THE DUST JACKET: In a thoughtful examination of faith, Martha Beck chronicles her decision to leave the Mormon church and her struggle to overcome a dark secret buried in her childhood.
While growing up as "Mormon royalty" within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Martha Beck was raised in a home frequented by the church's high elders -- known as the Apostles -- and her existence was framed by their strict code of conduct. When her son was born with Down syndrome, she and her husband left their graduate programs at Harvard to return to Provo, Utah, and the supportive Mormon community of Martha's youth. But after Martha began teaching at Brigham Young University, she saw firsthand the church's ruthlessness as it silenced dissidents and masked truths that contradicted its beliefs. Most troubling of all, Martha was jolted into recovering memories of sexual abuse at the hands of one of the church's most respected leaders. Life coach Beck writes a monthly column, "Beck on Call," for O, The Oprah Magazine, and appears regularly on The Oprah Winfrey Show She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
The New York Times: The daughter of one of Mormonism's most prominent religious scholars has accused her father of sexually abusing her as a child in a forthcoming memoir that is shining an unwelcome spotlight on the practices and beliefs of the much-scrutinized but protectively private Mormon religious community. Beck, a sociologist and therapist, recovered memories in 1990 of her ritual sexual abuse more than 20 years earlier by her father, Dr. Hugh Nibley, professor emeritus of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and arguably the leading living authority on Mormon teaching. Mormons around the country have participated in an e-mail campaign against the book, sending more than 3500 messages to Oprah Winfrey, who has featured Leaving the Saints on her Internet site and in the March issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Publishers Weekly: Beck follows her bestselling spiritual memoir Expecting Adam with this shocking accusation of sexual abuse and betrayal. The book is full of Beck's laugh-out-loud hyperbolic wit..., but it also has a hard, angry edge.... The book also describes how institutionalized religion can do terrible wrong to some adherents while still being a force of good for others. It will devastate faithful Mormons, satisfy disenchanted ex-Mormons, and offer hope to those who believe they have suffered from ecclesiastical abuse.
Kirkus Reviews: A riveting account of a journey home, a family crisis, and a spiritual search. Memoirist Beck returns to Mormon-land with her husband and two small children. Her younger child was born with Down syndrome, and the Becks decided that their hometown in Utah would offer a better environment for raising young Adam than the cutthroat world of Harvard Square (where everyone had pressed the Becks to abort as soon as the amnio results were in)... Though Beck is critical of the LDS Church -- its attempts to cover up sexual assaults in Mormon homes, its refusal to deal with historical and archaeological finds that challenge orthodox doctrine -- this is not a trashy exposé but a loving, sad account of coming home again, however sure it is to spark controversy in the corridors of power in Salt Lake City.
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR: Ms. Beck and I spoke early one weekday morning, she from her home in Arizona and I from home in California.
I opened, saying, "You write about those terrible things that happened to you and then you crack jokes."
Ms. Beck, laughing, said, "Well, what are you going to do? If you can't laugh, you might as well just get off the bus."
Ms. Beck, one of eight children, grew up in the ultraconservative college town of Provo. Ms. Beck left Provo for Harvard and Cambridge, the latter surely one of America's liberal strongholds. I asked, "What was it like for you to go from Utah to Harvard?"
"A huge culture shock. I couldn't have picked two more extreme places in the United States. They both had strange cultures. Harvard is so rationalized and so liberal and so nontraditional. In an interesting way, people at Harvard were just as doctrinaire; there was a lot of mental rigidity, a lot of dogmatism, a clever atheism. If you broke that faith, if you spoke against the faith, you knew you'd be attacked with withering scorn and ostracism.
"Fundamentalism is fundamentalism. Wherever it exists. So I think any extreme environment has that dogmatism in common. It was just a complete reversal. And it puts you in a position, I think I say in the book, 'a man with one watch knows what time it is, a man with two watches is never sure.' So that's kind of what it did to me."
Why did Ms. Beck think that religions were tending more and more to a fundamentalism?
"I think it's in response to the encroachments of science on traditional ways of explaining the world. As a sociologist, I'm full of theories, none of which are provable. But there was a flurry of religious activity in the colonies, beginning in the 1720s and reaching its peak in the 1740s."
"Right. The Great Awakening."
"Exactly. Then in the 19th Century, Darwin publishes and there is a response among the religious to the rise of rationalist science. The Origin of Species was published in 1859. People were freaking out, particularly people on the American continent because here was an entire unknown world, that the Judeo-Christian tradition didn't even address. The world started out in the Middle East, and the Europeans managed to pull themselves into it, but what do you do with the United States? What do you do with the Americans? So that's one thing Joseph Smith's theories did -- they made everybody feel like, 'Oh, these people are just immigrants from the Holy Land and Jesus came to them and it's all okay.' So, ironically, people of some learning and intelligence tended to gravitate toward the new religions, and they become as locked in with their bizarre explanations. But now that those explanations are testable, people's worldview is being rocked. I've seen people burst into tears when they heard that the earth was more than 6000 years old."