Leaving the Saints

Martha Beck
Doubleday, 2005

Anyone who lives in Utah and is not Mormon is influenced by Mormons. They run the legislature, most political offices, and are well over half the population. It is natural to be curious about who the Mormons “really” are, and since I live in this state as a non-Mormon, this book is like visiting a strange aunt’s house and listening to juicy gossip.

Beck’s story may or may not be one hundred percent “true” from every participant’s view. Not many memoirs are, but it is certainly a description of a dysfunctional family that lives in a religious community with its own way of doing things. The LDS are a real study in group dynamics and undercover operations, which I’ve respected since grade school.

But about this book. Beck and the nemesis she faces in her father both have a trait I wish I had. They can quote Shakespeare, poets, philosophers, authors, and playwrights at length and at a moment’s notice. The power of their ability to quote phrases like Ophelia’s reference to rosemary in Hamlet sadly only underlines the separation of great intellect to a guaranteed connection to heart and common sense.

Raised in a well known and respected LDS household, Beck attends Harvard, marries, has children and returns to her childhood home. Despite this privileged background, she begins to experience an odd depression until she is convinced of emerging, long repressed memories of childhood abuse by her father. The book is her battle to accept and confront what she knows as true, but no one else in her family will accept.

Another item I’ll credit Beck with is her unfailing sense of sly humor. It’s easy for a non-Mormon to giggle while reading Joseph Smith was commanded to marry “more than a grundle, less than a horde” of women. These clever jabs kept the tone lighter and some would argue make it easier to doubt Beck’s sincerity and honesty. However, I have come to believe that outside of love, humor can be one of the most valuable tools a person can have when facing deep hurt.

Leaving the Saints is one more book of a woman finding her spiritual way. Mormonism is not kindly handled, but it is not smeared in any more than one woman’s tears. Some might consider it an entertaining primer on the religion, though it certainly wouldn’t meet church standards. The LDS are big on faith. Beck instead walked toward enlightenment which separated her from family.

I’ve watched non-Mormons snicker after reading stories like this that affirm the LDS as fallible and unable to live up to the pedestal they place themselves on in Utah. But underneath some of the snickering I also have witnessed a true compassion for an imprisoned, seeking spirit who all alone must find her own way out of childhood binds.

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