Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith

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Overview

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 in an existence framed by the strictest code of conduct. As an adult, she moved to the east coast, outside of her Mormon enclave for the first time in her life. When her son was born with Down syndrome, Martha and her husband left their graduate programs at Harvard to return to Utah, where they knew the supportive Mormon community ...
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Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith

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Overview

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 in an existence framed by the strictest code of conduct. As an adult, she moved to the east coast, outside of her Mormon enclave for the first time in her life. When her son was born with Down syndrome, Martha and her husband left their graduate programs at Harvard to return to Utah, where they knew the supportive Mormon community would embrace them.

But when she was hired to teach at Brigham Young University, Martha was troubled by the way the Church’s elders silenced dissidents and masked truths that contradicted its published beliefs. Most troubling of all, she was forced to face her history of sexual abuse by one of the Church’s most prominent authorities. The New York Times bestseller Leaving the Saints chronicles Martha’s decision to sever her relationship with the faith that had cradled her for so long and to confront and forgive the person who betrayed her so deeply.

Leaving the Saints offers a rare glimpse inside one of the world’s most secretive religions while telling a profoundly moving story of personal courage, survival, and the transformative power of spirituality.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“One of the bravest, most achingly honest books I’ve read in years. Leaving the Saints is a priceless gift.” —Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., author of The Dance of Anger

“Few have such fascinating tales—or the literary chops and emotional range with which to tell them—as Martha Beck. . . . That Beck can write so eloquently about [her break from the church] without bitterness is a gift worth its weight in gold plates.” —Ralph Frammolino, Los Angeles Times

“Trying to get your truth out against a wall of resistance? Looking for a spiritual bonus in the struggle? Your struggle is Beck’s, and Leaving the Saints tells it consolingly well.” —Detroit News and Free Press

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 and exquisitely written insights, but it also has a hard, angry edge. She asserts that after returning to Utah in the early 1990s, she began to recall horrific memories of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her father, well-known Mormon intellectual Hugh Nibley. Although all her immediate family members vehemently deny her claims (and one has already published the positive full-length biography Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life), some readers will find that Beck builds a compelling case. She questions the legitimacy of Nibley's prolific apologetic writing and attributes his abuse in part to the pressures he was under to defend the faith even at the expense of truthful scholarship. Although marred by shallow, formulaic anti-Mormon criticisms and an exaggerated description of the LDS Church that will sound foreign to Mormons outside the insular culture of Utah, 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. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Home from Harvard grad school after the birth of a Down syndrome son, Beck rebels against the authoritarian Mormon church and recalls past sexual abuse. With a six-city author tour; Beck writes for O Magazine. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Riveting account of a journey home, a family crisis, and a spiritual search. Memoirist Beck (Expecting Adam, 1998, etc.) 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). Indeed, they are welcomed with open arms, shiny smiles, and many casseroles, and both Becks find posts at Brigham Young University, that bastion of Latter-day Saint higher education. But it's a rough time to be at BYU, since the church hierarchies are weeding out intellectual Mormon dissidents. (Beck is instructed to teach "Sociology of Gender" without using the word "feminism.") Beck watches in horror as the church's crackdown culminates in the trials of the famous September Six, LDS scholars tried for heresy (five were excommunicated). Despite all the neighborly support, Beck is plagued with inexplicable pain, nightmares, and, ultimately, previously repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse by her father, a prominent Mormon apologist. Finally, deciding they can't stay in Utah, the family leaves both the state and the church. But Beck remains ardently spiritual, finding faith in a generous God who, she knows, loves her even more than she loves her own children. Her sarcastic self-scrutiny and laugh-out-loud prose elevate her story far above the run-of-the-mill dysfunctional family memoir. And though Beck is critical of the LDS Church-its attempts to cover-up sexual assaults in Mormon homes, its refusal to deal with historicaland archaeological finds that challenge orthodox doctrine-this is not a trashy expose 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. Set aside an evening when you won't be interrupted, lay in boxes of Kleenex, and give yourself to a gripping memoir. Author tour. Agent: Beth Vesel/Beth Vesel Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307335999
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/25/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 527,803
  • Product dimensions: 5.22 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha Beck is the author of the New York Times bestselling Expecting Adam, Finding Your Own North Star, and The Joy Diet. She lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more about her at marthabeck.com, and join the discussion at leavingthesaints.com.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Room at the Inn

So there he stands, not five feet away from me. He looks almost unchanged since the last time I saw him, ten years ago—fabulous, for a man now in his nineties. His features are still sharply cut, his sardonic smile and turquoise eyes as bright as ever. The only difference I notice is that both his hair and his wiry body have thinned a bit. His trousers (probably the same ones he was wearing a decade ago) are now so baggy he’s switched from a belt to suspenders.

A Shakespearean phrase pops into my mind: “. . . a world too wide / For his shrunk shank.” From As You Like It, I think. That’s something I seem to have inherited from this little old man in his shabby pants: a tendency to produce random literary quotations, from memory, to fit almost any situation. I don’t do this on purpose; it just happens to me. The same way it happens to him. Despite the fact that we’ve rarely had a significant conversation, I know that my father understands the way I think, probably better than anyone on earth.

“Well, well, well,” he says heartily, opening his arms. Hmm. This is new. Back when I knew him, my father wasn’t the open-arms type. But, then, neither was I. I go forward and hug him. It does feel odd, but I’ve been practicing hugging the people I love for years now, and I get through it.

“Hello,” I say, and stop there, at a loss for words. I can’t bring myself to say “Hello, Daddy,” but I don’t know what else to call him. “Daddy” is the only title by which I and my seven siblings ever addressed him. “Dad” would sound disrespectfully casual, “Father” too formal, his given name completely bizarre. I settle for repeating “Hello,” then gesture toward the easy chair by the door. “Please, sit down.”

He sits, and I’m startled by another eerie jolt of familiarity: This man moves just like I do. Nervous as I am, scared to death as I am, there is something unspeakably poignant about the fact that my posture and carriage are echoes of his. It’s been a long time since I encountered so many of my own chromosomes in anyone besides my own children.

“I thought this day would never arrive,” my father says, still wearing his most cheerful smile. “I thought you’d never come to your senses.”

He assumes I’ve come to recant. He’s wrong. I’m here for two reasons: to sew up the loose threads I left hanging when I fled my past and to make sure, as far as I can, that my father isn’t afraid to die. If his model of the universe is correct, there must be serious retribution awaiting him in the afterlife, and in case this belief worries him I want to tell him I don’t share it. The God to whom I pray is all parts unconditional love, no part vengeance or retribution. I once read that forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past, and I reached that point a long time ago. But forgiving is not the same as obliterating memory. As Santayana wrote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is something I do not want to happen. Not to my father, and certainly not to me.

“Oh, I stand by everything I’ve said,” I tell my father as I sit down on the sofa a few feet away from him. “That hasn’t changed at all.”

His expression turns from cheer to scorn in a heartbeat. “Ridiculous,” he says. “Utterly ridiculous.”

Those sky blue eyes flash toward the door and I feel my throat tense with the fear that he’s noticed it’s slightly ajar, that someone is listening. He’s used to people observing everything he says and does—so perhaps his spider senses are tingling. The hotel room where we’re meeting is decorated in tasteful, neutral earth tones, ridiculously bland for a battlefield. But that’s what it is, and we both know it. We also know it isn’t level; my father practically owns the turf and has the advantages of age, gender bias, family expectation, psychological dominance, and religious legitimacy. Which is why I’m making sure there are witnesses to every word we say. Everything. Add secrecy to his other advantages, and my father will win walking away.

“I know you say it’s ridiculous,” I tell him gently. “We’ve established that. But there’s a lot of evidence that squares with what I remember. Something happened.”

“Nothing happened to you,” he says firmly. “Nothing like that. Never.”

“Well, then, nothing left an awful lot of scars.” He already knows this. I told him about the scars a decade ago, when I met with him and my mother in my therapist’s office. “It’s not the kind of scar tissue a kid gets playing on the jungle gym. Someone put it there.”

“Oh,” says my father with a shrug, “that was the Evil One.”

I can feel myself blink, the way you do when the eye doctor sends that little puff of air into your eyes to check for glaucoma. The Evil One? I’ve heard a rumor that my family of origin thinks I was consorting with the devil at the age of five, but I never believed they’d actually say such a thing. Even my family can’t be that crazy, right?

I sit and stare for a moment as my mind frantically tries on several different interpretations of my father’s statement. Does he actually think I spent my childhood hanging out with Lucifer? Is the Evil One the name he has for an aspect of himself? If he’s suffering from a split personality or psychotic fugue states, is he aware of this intellectually or only at some dark subconscious level? Is my father a calculated liar, or is he certifiably insane, or could he actually be empirically correct? I have no idea. My mind feels like a tar pit. We’ve been talking for less than a minute, and already I feel the same blend of bewilderment, fear, and self-doubt that flavored my early years. Wow. You really can go home again.

“The Evil One,” I repeat, squinting at my father, as if that will make things clearer. “Well, I’m not questioning that.”

He taps the arm of his chair with his fingers. His hands are strong and squarish, with prominent tendons. Like my hands. Like my children’s hands. I feel a rush of tenderness and suddenly realize that he probably thinks I’m recording our conversation in order to turn him over to the authorities—either legal or (worse) religious. I want to reassure him I have no such intentions. I have witnesses in place only because that’s what I was trained to do in controversial situations, where every perception is clouded by conflicting interests. Later, when my father claims this conversation didn’t happen the way I will remember it, I’ll be able to check several sources.

My desperate thirst for data in any area related to my father is a tribute to his job skills. He’s ostensibly a retired college professor, but his real life’s work, the area in which he’s built his reputation, is as an apologist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as Mormonism. The Mormon Church, whose headquarters is in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the few major world religions that traces its roots to recorded history, leaving the claims of its leaders open to factual testing—and the Latter-day Saint leaders, especially the religion’s founder, Joseph Smith, have always been fond of making claims.

For instance, Smith taught that the American Indians are the descendants of a small group of emigrants from Jerusalem, who arrived on the continent in approximately 600 BC, and wrote their history onto a book of golden plates. Smith said he was led to these plates, which were buried in New York State, by an angel named Moroni (rhymes with “the phone eye”) in 1823. Using a magical pair of spectacles buried along with the plates, Smith said, he translated the plates, and later published them as the Book of Mormon (Mormon was one of the original owners and authors of the golden plates). The problem, from a Latter-day Saint perspective, is that when scholars set out to test Smith’s version of reality, they tend to bump into a lot of contradictory evidence (such as the fact that DNA analysis traces Native American ancestry to Asia rather than to the Middle East). This is the time for apologists to rush in, like white blood cells attacking a virus, to defend Joseph Smith and the subsequent Mormon leaders. Nobody does this better than my father.

In 2002, the year the Winter Olympics were held in Utah, the New Yorker published an article on the state’s most prominent religion. The reporter who penned the story, a writer named Lawrence Wright, referred to my father as “the most venerable scholar in Mormonism, though he is little known outside of it.” Wright interviewed the venerable scholar about some problematic aspects of Mormon scripture. Why is it, he asked, that after decades of archaeological work bent on verifying the Book of Mormon, “not a single person or place named in it has been shown to exist”?

My father’s official published response, quoted in the New Yorker, was: “People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear.” Wright also recorded what my father told him during their interview—comments tinged, according to Wright, “with some asperity.” I know exactly the tone Wright meant: a stern, disdainful note my father adopts whenever his assertions are under attack.

“Well, if it was all pure fiction, who on earth had ever done anything like that?” my father said. “This is the history of a civilization, with all its ramifications having to do with plagues and wars. The military passages are flawless. Could you please tell me any other book like that?”

When I read the New Yorker article, several responses leapt to mind (for one thing, the “flawless” military passages in the Book of Mormon record battles waged between enormous populations who herded sheep and goats, operated mines, smelted metals, and rode wheeled chariots drawn by horses, none of which existed in North America prior to their introduction from Europe several centuries after the people described in the Book of Mormon allegedly arrived). But of course I knew that my father wasn’t actually requesting input from Lawrence Wright. His response was rhetorical, a question that really meant the guy should stop asking so damn many questions.

This is the kind of thinking with which I grew up, the style of debate I took with me when I ventured out of Utah, the conservative-value capital of America, and off to a non-Mormon university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where liberal attitudes are practically manufactured for export to other population centers. I still remember the immense relief I felt the first time one of my Harvard professors ripped into a paper I’d written, pointing out that my logic was circular, my language duplicitous, and my evidence shadowy. Part of me felt that my skin was being flayed off by sheer embarrassment, but a much larger part of me was practically screaming with relief that someone was dealing with reality more or less the way I naturally did, instead of reinforcing the way I’d been taught to think. “Thank God!” I remember thinking, though at the time I was an atheist. “Thank God, thank God, thank God!”

Thus began my love affair with evidence, which has ultimately brought me here, to a hotel room I have carefully arranged as a kind of psychological laboratory. Even after ensuring that I’ll have multiple eyewitness accounts of our conversation, talking with my father still makes me feel as though my brain is twirling slowly in my head. I’m very grateful that my cousin Diane is parked next door, and Miranda is curled up in the closet across the room. I needed this kind of backup to gather enough courage to meet with my father at all, and though I feel weak and childish, there is huge comfort in knowing that people who would never hurt either of us are hearing this strange debate.

“Well, see, Dad,” I say carefully, “I find your reaction to the scar thing kind of strange.” I notice his eyes widening a little, perhaps because I’m openly disagreeing with him, perhaps because I called him Dad. This suddenly feels right. It feels like rebellion. It’s the harshest, most disrespectful word I’ve ever deliberately said to him.

“If one of my daughters turned up with a lot of weird scars,” I go on, enjoying the giddy, reckless feeling of saying what I actually think, “I wouldn’t just blame the Evil One and drop the subject. I would want to find out what had happened to her.”

“Nothing happened.” My father’s voice carries the ring of absolute assurance, absolute finality, that has made him a safe haven for so many Mormons whose faith is getting a little wobbly. The debate is resolved, the balcony is closed, the fat lady has sung, the last dog is hung, that’s all she wrote.

This dead-certain tone is characteristic of many deeply religious folk, but Mormons are trained to use it about as thoroughly as any group of people I’ve ever known. As soon as they can talk, Mormon toddlers are held up to microphones in church meetings, lisping to hundreds of onlookers the words their parents whisper in their ears: “I know the Church is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know our president is God’s prophet on the earth. I know these things beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Mormons tend to know a whopping lot of stuff beyond a shadow of a doubt. I envy them. My whole life is shadowed by doubt. The only conviction I embrace absolutely is this: whatever I believe, I may be wrong.

For a moment, looking at the stern pioneer conviction on my father’s handsome face, I’m so disoriented that I feel my brain twirling even faster—not in agreement but in familiar hopelessness, in the sickening conviction that no one will ever take my word over his. Everything seems to slither right off the hard drive in my head. He’s right: People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear. At the moment, I can’t even remember the chain of events that took me out of Mormonism, that have made me “a hiss and a byword” not only to my father, not only to my family, but to an entire religion.

Then I remember Miranda and Diane, just a few feet away, and my vision seems to clear. The whole thing comes back to me, the journey that has taken me out of religion and into faith. I recall its horror and beauty, the enormity of the things I have lost and the incalculable preciousness of the things I’ve gained. I wouldn’t give up the journey, not a moment of it. On the other hand, I have no desire to live it again. If Santayana is right, this means I must be willing to remember the whole story. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and force myself to go back to the beginning.

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

Chapter 1: Room at the Inn

So there he stands, not five feet away from me. He looks almost unchanged since the last time I saw him, ten years ago—fabulous, for a man now in his nineties. His features are still sharply cut, his sardonic smile and turquoise eyes as bright as ever. The only difference I notice is that both his hair and his wiry body have thinned a bit. His trousers (probably the same ones he was wearing a decade ago) are now so baggy he's switched from a belt to suspenders.

A Shakespearean phrase pops into my mind: ". . . a world too wide / For his shrunk shank." From As You Like It, I think. That's something I seem to have inherited from this little old man in his shabby pants: a tendency to produce random literary quotations, from memory, to fit almost any situation. I don't do this on purpose; it just happens to me. The same way it happens to him. Despite the fact that we've rarely had a significant conversation, I know that my father understands the way I think, probably better than anyone on earth.

"Well, well, well," he says heartily, opening his arms. Hmm. This is new. Back when I knew him, my father wasn't the open-arms type. But, then, neither was I. I go forward and hug him. It does feel odd, but I've been practicing hugging the people I love for years now, and I get through it.

"Hello," I say, and stop there, at a loss for words. I can't bring myself to say "Hello, Daddy," but I don't know what else to call him. "Daddy" is the only title by which I and my seven siblings ever addressed him. "Dad" would sound disrespectfully casual, "Father" too formal, his given name completely bizarre. I settle for repeating"Hello," then gesture toward the easy chair by the door. "Please, sit down."

He sits, and I'm startled by another eerie jolt of familiarity: This man moves just like I do. Nervous as I am, scared to death as I am, there is something unspeakably poignant about the fact that my posture and carriage are echoes of his. It's been a long time since I encountered so many of my own chromosomes in anyone besides my own children.

"I thought this day would never arrive," my father says, still wearing his most cheerful smile. "I thought you'd never come to your senses."

He assumes I've come to recant. He's wrong. I'm here for two reasons: to sew up the loose threads I left hanging when I fled my past and to make sure, as far as I can, that my father isn't afraid to die. If his model of the universe is correct, there must be serious retribution awaiting him in the afterlife, and in case this belief worries him I want to tell him I don't share it. The God to whom I pray is all parts unconditional love, no part vengeance or retribution. I once read that forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past, and I reached that point a long time ago. But forgiving is not the same as obliterating memory. As Santayana wrote, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This is something I do not want to happen. Not to my father, and certainly not to me.

"Oh, I stand by everything I've said," I tell my father as I sit down on the sofa a few feet away from him. "That hasn't changed at all."

His expression turns from cheer to scorn in a heartbeat. "Ridiculous," he says. "Utterly ridiculous."

Those sky blue eyes flash toward the door and I feel my throat tense with the fear that he's noticed it's slightly ajar, that someone is listening. He's used to people observing everything he says and does—so perhaps his spider senses are tingling. The hotel room where we're meeting is decorated in tasteful, neutral earth tones, ridiculously bland for a battlefield. But that's what it is, and we both know it. We also know it isn't level; my father practically owns the turf and has the advantages of age, gender bias, family expectation, psychological dominance, and religious legitimacy. Which is why I'm making sure there are witnesses to every word we say. Everything. Add secrecy to his other advantages, and my father will win walking away.

"I know you say it's ridiculous," I tell him gently. "We've established that. But there's a lot of evidence that squares with what I remember. Something happened."

"Nothing happened to you," he says firmly. "Nothing like that. Never."

"Well, then, nothing left an awful lot of scars." He already knows this. I told him about the scars a decade ago, when I met with him and my mother in my therapist's office. "It's not the kind of scar tissue a kid gets playing on the jungle gym. Someone put it there."

"Oh," says my father with a shrug, "that was the Evil One."

I can feel myself blink, the way you do when the eye doctor sends that little puff of air into your eyes to check for glaucoma. The Evil One? I've heard a rumor that my family of origin thinks I was consorting with the devil at the age of five, but I never believed they'd actually say such a thing. Even my family can't be that crazy, right?

I sit and stare for a moment as my mind frantically tries on several different interpretations of my father's statement. Does he actually think I spent my childhood hanging out with Lucifer? Is the Evil One the name he has for an aspect of himself? If he's suffering from a split personality or psychotic fugue states, is he aware of this intellectually or only at some dark subconscious level? Is my father a calculated liar, or is he certifiably insane, or could he actually be empirically correct? I have no idea. My mind feels like a tar pit. We've been talking for less than a minute, and already I feel the same blend of bewilderment, fear, and self-doubt that flavored my early years. Wow. You really can go home again.

"The Evil One," I repeat, squinting at my father, as if that will make things clearer. "Well, I'm not questioning that."

He taps the arm of his chair with his fingers. His hands are strong and squarish, with prominent tendons. Like my hands. Like my children's hands. I feel a rush of tenderness and suddenly realize that he probably thinks I'm recording our conversation in order to turn him over to the authorities—either legal or (worse) religious. I want to reassure him I have no such intentions. I have witnesses in place only because that's what I was trained to do in controversial situations, where every perception is clouded by conflicting interests. Later, when my father claims this conversation didn't happen the way I will remember it, I'll be able to check several sources.

My desperate thirst for data in any area related to my father is a tribute to his job skills. He's ostensibly a retired college professor, but his real life's work, the area in which he's built his reputation, is as an apologist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as Mormonism. The Mormon Church, whose headquarters is in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the few major world religions that traces its roots to recorded history, leaving the claims of its leaders open to factual testing—and the Latter-day Saint leaders, especially the religion's founder, Joseph Smith, have always been fond of making claims.

For instance, Smith taught that the American Indians are the descendants of a small group of emigrants from Jerusalem, who arrived on the continent in approximately 600 BC, and wrote their history onto a book of golden plates. Smith said he was led to these plates, which were buried in New York State, by an angel named Moroni (rhymes with "the phone eye") in 1823. Using a magical pair of spectacles buried along with the plates, Smith said, he translated the plates, and later published them as the Book of Mormon (Mormon was one of the original owners and authors of the golden plates). The problem, from a Latter-day Saint perspective, is that when scholars set out to test Smith's version of reality, they tend to bump into a lot of contradictory evidence (such as the fact that DNA analysis traces Native American ancestry to Asia rather than to the Middle East). This is the time for apologists to rush in, like white blood cells attacking a virus, to defend Joseph Smith and the subsequent Mormon leaders. Nobody does this better than my father.

In 2002, the year the Winter Olympics were held in Utah, the New Yorker published an article on the state's most prominent religion. The reporter who penned the story, a writer named Lawrence Wright, referred to my father as "the most venerable scholar in Mormonism, though he is little known outside of it." Wright interviewed the venerable scholar about some problematic aspects of Mormon scripture. Why is it, he asked, that after decades of archaeological work bent on verifying the Book of Mormon, "not a single person or place named in it has been shown to exist"?

My father's official published response, quoted in the New Yorker, was: "People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear." Wright also recorded what my father told him during their interview—comments tinged, according to Wright, "with some asperity." I know exactly the tone Wright meant: a stern, disdainful note my father adopts whenever his assertions are under attack.

"Well, if it was all pure fiction, who on earth had ever done anything like that?" my father said. "This is the history of a civilization, with all its ramifications having to do with plagues and wars. The military passages are flawless. Could you please tell me any other book like that?"

When I read the New Yorker article, several responses leapt to mind (for one thing, the "flawless" military passages in the Book of Mormon record battles waged between enormous populations who herded sheep and goats, operated mines, smelted metals, and rode wheeled chariots drawn by horses, none of which existed in North America prior to their introduction from Europe several centuries after the people described in the Book of Mormon allegedly arrived). But of course I knew that my father wasn't actually requesting input from Lawrence Wright. His response was rhetorical, a question that really meant the guy should stop asking so damn many questions.

This is the kind of thinking with which I grew up, the style of debate I took with me when I ventured out of Utah, the conservative-value capital of America, and off to a non-Mormon university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where liberal attitudes are practically manufactured for export to other population centers. I still remember the immense relief I felt the first time one of my Harvard professors ripped into a paper I'd written, pointing out that my logic was circular, my language duplicitous, and my evidence shadowy. Part of me felt that my skin was being flayed off by sheer embarrassment, but a much larger part of me was practically screaming with relief that someone was dealing with reality more or less the way I naturally did, instead of reinforcing the way I'd been taught to think. "Thank God!" I remember thinking, though at the time I was an atheist. "Thank God, thank God, thank God!"

Thus began my love affair with evidence, which has ultimately brought me here, to a hotel room I have carefully arranged as a kind of psychological laboratory. Even after ensuring that I'll have multiple eyewitness accounts of our conversation, talking with my father still makes me feel as though my brain is twirling slowly in my head. I'm very grateful that my cousin Diane is parked next door, and Miranda is curled up in the closet across the room. I needed this kind of backup to gather enough courage to meet with my father at all, and though I feel weak and childish, there is huge comfort in knowing that people who would never hurt either of us are hearing this strange debate.

"Well, see, Dad," I say carefully, "I find your reaction to the scar thing kind of strange." I notice his eyes widening a little, perhaps because I'm openly disagreeing with him, perhaps because I called him Dad. This suddenly feels right. It feels like rebellion. It's the harshest, most disrespectful word I've ever deliberately said to him.

"If one of my daughters turned up with a lot of weird scars," I go on, enjoying the giddy, reckless feeling of saying what I actually think, "I wouldn't just blame the Evil One and drop the subject. I would want to find out what had happened to her."

"Nothing happened." My father's voice carries the ring of absolute assurance, absolute finality, that has made him a safe haven for so many Mormons whose faith is getting a little wobbly. The debate is resolved, the balcony is closed, the fat lady has sung, the last dog is hung, that's all she wrote.

This dead-certain tone is characteristic of many deeply religious folk, but Mormons are trained to use it about as thoroughly as any group of people I've ever known. As soon as they can talk, Mormon toddlers are held up to microphones in church meetings, lisping to hundreds of onlookers the words their parents whisper in their ears: "I know the Church is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. I know our president is God's prophet on the earth. I know these things beyond a shadow of a doubt."

Mormons tend to know a whopping lot of stuff beyond a shadow of a doubt. I envy them. My whole life is shadowed by doubt. The only conviction I embrace absolutely is this: whatever I believe, I may be wrong.

For a moment, looking at the stern pioneer conviction on my father's handsome face, I'm so disoriented that I feel my brain twirling even faster—not in agreement but in familiar hopelessness, in the sickening conviction that no one will ever take my word over his. Everything seems to slither right off the hard drive in my head. He's right: People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear. At the moment, I can't even remember the chain of events that took me out of Mormonism, that have made me "a hiss and a byword" not only to my father, not only to my family, but to an entire religion.

Then I remember Miranda and Diane, just a few feet away, and my vision seems to clear. The whole thing comes back to me, the journey that has taken me out of religion and into faith. I recall its horror and beauty, the enormity of the things I have lost and the incalculable preciousness of the things I've gained. I wouldn't give up the journey, not a moment of it. On the other hand, I have no desire to live it again. If Santayana is right, this means I must be willing to remember the whole story. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and force myself to go back to the beginning.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 63 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 63 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2008

    One who studies other faiths besides his own

    I found Martha Beck¿s account of her religious experience to be fascinating. Her wit and writing style make for an outstanding read. The outrage concerning this book comes from one segment of American society... people associated with the LDS church. Although I am not Mormon, I have conversed with Elders of the Mormon Church and studied the Mormon religion. Ms. Beck has not revealed anything that has not already been disclosed. A person with an open mind will see how painful it was for the author to separate from family and friends due to the tenants for the LDS Church. Ms. Beck does express rather well her issues with the LDS Church and its leadership as well as her admiration and love for her Mormon friends and family. Some say that what she has written is derogatory and an attempt to defame a religion. Lamentably, the most incensed are the ones who need to consider what Martha Beck has written and explore for themselves the possibility that her points may have merit.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2007

    A voice for those who don't dare speak

    I laughed, I cried but most of all I found comfort in learning that I was not the only one to go through all of this. To see that my life and experiences in Mormon-land were so identical to someone else is very healing. Like Martha, I also had to leave. This book has helped me to cope knowing that I was not alone.

    10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2007

    Harrowing

    The book wasn't what I had expected - I had expected the story of an intellectual's gradual distancing from the LDS Church rather than the gripping story of her coming to terms with childhood sexual abuse. Nonetheless, the story is brutal, honest, well-written and actually (at times) even funny.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2006

    A church still persecuted

    It is okay to write your story and I am not saying Martha Beck isn't telling the truth about what happened to her. There is molestation going on in every religion. The LDS church that I know is a family oriented, loving, christain church. It is definitely not a cult. That is absurd. It is 12 million members strong and growing rapidly all over the world. This church is perfect in its beliefs but the members are not perfect and there are wrongs done every day in any religion. I was not born into the LDS church but into a Pentecostal home. I suffered physical and sexual abuse for 17 years. This doesn't mean that the Pentecostal religion is a cult or the members all monsters. As an LDS member, I believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible. Also the Book of Mormon as a second witness to the Bible. There is nothing sinister or cultish about this church. It is a great, magnificent following of people dedicated to serving and following Jesus Christ and living our lives to one day return to our Heavenly Father. What happened to Martha was not the LDS churches fault, it was the fault of her Fatehr who was wrong and what he did was horrific, but he doesn't stand for this great church.

    9 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2008

    The Manson Family didn't think they were a cult either...

    Those who have berated the author for her brutally honest memoir of her life in the mormon church are only upset because they cannot see the forest for the trees. I was raised Lutheran, baptised mormon at 19 and left the church at 22 and never looked back. I DO know what the church is all about, I have been through the temple ceremonies and have even worn their 'garments', thats magic underwear to the layman. And I can say that this 'church' is without a doubt a cult. No, not every religion is considered a cult and if you believe this then you need to educate yourself. The 'church' is highly secretive (temple ceremonies) and at it's center is the idolization of Joseph Smith. He's pulled one over on millions of people for over 100 years now, including me. Wake up and smell the coffee, your 'church' is a cult and kudos to the author for having the guts to speak out about something so personal. I highly recommend this book to everyone and no, I will not be praying for anyone's salvation.

    8 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2007

    'Your soul will know the truth'

    When I read these words towards the end of the book, something opened up inside me. As an ardent reader of memoirs, autobiographies and bios, this book will remain on my shelf as a favorite. I received the book as a gift and I hope the giver knows just how many gifts are found within the pages for me. I'm drawn to the authors sense of curiosity, her need to know more and not to stop with the facts (her assertion) of the abuse to herself. Personally I have no doubt about her assertions as to her own experiences. Additionally I relish her own search for her understanding of the 'whys' behind the abuse. This is something that has been helpful and healing for myself. We may never truly know why abuse occurs specific to an abuser, but I find it helpful to look beyond the act or events to see the world that created a place for such abuse to occur. This is a book I recommend to many in various aspects of my life. An excellent read, engrossing, life savingly humorous and fascinating.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2006

    Brave, Honest, Well-Written

    I am amazingly impressed with Martha Beck's honesty about such difficult subjects as religion and sexual abuse. I couldn't put the book down. Her writing is clear and honest about her family, Mormonism, and her struggle to cope with her father's sins. She still manages to be entertaining and write with a style that keeps you laughing out loud at her descriptions and clutching your chest at the heart-wrenching way she was treated both by her family and her community. It would have much easier not to write this book but the fact that she did and that so many people have been helped as a result makes her a hero in my book. After reading it there is little wonder that the Mormon community would rally around the Church. You see them with the single star ratings.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2006

    A glimpse into the 'creepy' mormon religion.

    Well written and very informative. This book provides a factual insight into the creepy, ultrasecretive non-christian religion exposing factual truths that this church's leaders would rather keep hidden. I highly recommend this book.

    7 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2009

    Couldn't put it down

    Thank you, Martha Beck, for a very honest, personal, heart-wrenching story of your life with the Mormons. My experience doesn't come close to yours, I was raised in a very "normal" Catholic environment. When I went off to college I left it behind--like so many of my cohorts in the 70's-- religion seemed unnecessary and anachronistic. At age 28 I met and married a non-practicing mormon. But over the next 15 years I came to discover the "cultish" nature of his family and upbringing, a culture which turned out to be nightmarish for me and my children. Slowly the beliefs and indoctrination began to unwind and I learned the bizarre reasons for my growing discomfort around my husband and his family. I won't go into detail, suffice it to say that everything you revealed rang true and I have passed the book along to my grown children. I hope it will help them deal with the confused feelings of abandonment they have experienced since "we" walked out on their father.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2005

    Heartfelt

    Ms. Beck's courage is most striking in her story. Though recovered memories are highly controversial, many of her other experiences with the church are quite truthfully told. This is her story, not a bash-fest. She never expresses hatred towards the Mormon church; she does create a clear picture of how the church operates and why it didn't work for her. Please give her a chance to tell her story- approach it without bias, and you may be surprised by the truth in it.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2005

    Compelling!

    Bravo! I could hardly put the book down! Beck describes Mormon culture with humor, sensitivity, and accuracy. I was a devout Mormon for 26 years before leaving the LDS Church after finding many contradictions in doctrines, Church history being revised, and learning that Joseph Smith married other men's wives. It takes courage to stand for the truth, especially when it means losing every thing you thought you knew, including your loved ones and 'friends' when they shun you for 'apostatizing.' 'Leaving the Saints' is a compelling account. I, too, 'lost the Mormons' and found Jesus of the Bible! Hallelujah!

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2009

    Balance the negative with the positive...

    I didn't know much about this religion except that I work with several great LDS folks and have many friends who are LDS also. I know some who have left the church for various reasons. That said and from a non-LDS objective view, I felt the angst of this book. It was very clear the author had been through extremely traumatic experiences in her life of which her recovery from was stifled, by the shame and guilt instilled in this family over religion. While the same could be said about Catholocism, Lutheran or other religions (all have the guilt and shame going...) I found this book's perspective to be a cross between light- hearted and traumatic. It swung like a swing from one mood to the next, leaving me emotionally exhausted in some areas. It is a truly gripping read however and one that left me feeling like saying, 'but hey what about the good things about this religion?'. I've read about many religions - I'm not biased, they all have good and bad to them. For that reason, I caution for people out there to get a balance of the good and bad about the LDS religion. If I only read this, I would be thinking 'bad' about this religion, without giving it a fair and balanced chance.

    5 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2005

    The TRUTH about the 'one true church'

    This is another excellent book written about the deception that riddles the Mormon faith. Most books have been written by former Mormon's who finally saw through the lies. Martha Beck wonderfully expresses the truth behind the facade of the Mormon Cult. Her ability to find humor, despite the violations of her father and the Mormon hierarchy, are a true testament to her resilience. Most Mormon's would rather believe that things like this do not go on within their community, however, the TRUTH is that sexual abuse among children is rampant within Mormonism. Kudos to Martha for bringing the truth to the public. Hopefully this will enlighten the people that the Mormon Missionaries are trained to prey upon.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2005

    Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith

    This Author is on the forefront and is a pioneer of telling the TRUTH. Every chapter offered AN AWAKENING. It¿s as though the black cloud has been lifted from my nightmares and I could see the light beaming threw the bedroom blinds. As I turned the pages I was there once again. Because I really was. Not with Martha Beck in Utah. I lived the nightmare in California where the cultic followers are abundant. Unfortunately, My mother was born into the cult of Mormonism and so there we were, like prey for the SAVAGES(that dressed extremely nice with big houses) garnishing their white teeth as they attempted to take our souls for their own desires; NOT GODLY OR ANYTHING THAT IS EVEN REMOTELY RELATED TO CHRISTIANITY. I read this book with enthusiasm and perseverance while I desperately held back my repressed anger that had turned to RAGE over the years. In this book as we see the light shinning on evil they become very argumentative or repressed but they refuse time and time again to be wrong and see the TRUTH! Amazing, they are supposedly stoutly educated? Please I beg, if you are a Mormon or Exmormon and are having emotional difficulties seek counseling outside of the cultic Mormon Forced Stronghold. My Family is still active in the cult and I have been threatened and I fear for my family¿s safety. Not an hour in the day goes by that I don¿t pray for their salvation. Although, many fear the truth behind the history of the Mormon Church and for good reason but don¿t give-up! Pray and ask your Lord and Savior with all sincerity for the courage to continue to seek the truth and ye shall find. I now live the life The One and Only True God had intended me to live with faith in Him; not false Prophets.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2005

    Diana Kline, author of 'Woman Redeemed'

    This is an amazing memoir about the life of a woman who grew up betrayed by those who should have protected her. I can easily relate to her pain because my book talks about the same subjects and having grown up Mormon in an abusive environment. Very sad but very true, sexual abuse is an all-too common occurance in the Mormon church, while its leaders go to great lengths to cover up the scandals and crimes. I applaud Martha for her bravery in dealing with an issue that most people would rather stick their heads in the sand about. Her honest, witty, and moving account is nothing short of a masterpiece in literature.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2005

    Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith

    This book fully was meant to enrich the lives of many. The book was written as a journey that was meant to be shared. This Author has gone through (Eyes-Wide-opened) and shared unthinkable childhood memories that can never fully be understood by a true loving human. This dark secret doesn't have to live in shame and self-destruction any longer. This author has open many positive doors to many mormon-women that are living in denial and shame. The Author explains how we can over-come the unthinkable and help others, as well. And those who are still trying to cover-up for a 'church' that practices False-Biblical Teachings and ideals an monstrous (Not a True Godly man) icon by the name of Joseph Smith are more lost than the gentiles. The author discusses the known programming-classes (Primary) that given to and demanded to be taken by small, innocent, naive, easily misguided children(Should be a loving parents first RED-LIGHT). I exscaped from mormonism more than a decade ago and everything that was written is exactly true. They made sure I lost everything including my family. But God was right, They could never take away what 'The One-True God' had given me, FAITH in the truth.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2011

    This is a

    Wonderful book about family, religion and secrets needing healed along with wounds from these areas. Is about Ms. Beck's search for truth, healing, and the power of love and forgiveness in her quest.

    Uplifting and gut wrentching as she battles her own inner struggles and the willingness to see it through.
    Her sense of humor is hilirious and adds levity.
    I recommend reading her book Expecting Adam first. It ties into this as a flow. A mixture of Spirit and being grounded. Fear into Love.
    If in a period of crises now or to be of help if one comes, Expecting Adam can be a human/spiritual REALness. Was also a catapult for this book, Leaving the Saints.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2008

    Dazed and Confused

    I failed to see the point of this memoir besides Beck trying to find someone to blame for the misfortunes in her life. She used a controversial religion to attract attention but the book was more about her childhood abuse. If she had left the church out of the book, it would have meant a lot more.

    4 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2007

    perspective please...

    The moment a microcosm is magnified to present a master view of any mass it has lost its veracity. While these experiences sadly may have happened, they are instances connected to the individual and do not provide a realistic representation of a worldwide organization. Those who take it to be so linger in ignorance...they the blind imagining sight.

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2006

    A page turner, reads like a novel

    I couldn't put this book down. People say the Da Vinci code was an exciting story of conspiracy, but this book tops that, considering Martha Beck's is a true story. This is also a great book to read for someone who wants to learn how to overcome being a victim of sexual abuse.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 63 Customer Reviews

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