Leaving the Saints by Martha (Nibley) Beck

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Leaving the Saints by Martha (Nibley) Beck

Post by Roy » 08 Dec 2015, 14:14

I recently read Leaving the Saints by Martha Beck.

This is an “interesting” book for several reasons. It is most controversial because Martha is the daughter of Hugh Nibley and reports having recovered memories of experiencing ritualistic sexual abuse at the hands of her father starting when she was 5 and ending at age 8.

Martha has a big credibility problem and I am not talking about her recovered memories. Many of the things that she reports in the books seem to exist on a sliding scale from slightly askew to outright outlandish. Some of them might be excused as just a random encounter with somewhat kooky extremist Mormons (Like the hairdresser that made her call her husband for permission to get a short haircut, or the Bishop that put his fingers in his ears and chanted “I can’t hear you.”, or the student that said because he holds the priesthood he will always know better than she does, or the Bishop that responds to a woman who is distraught over feeling like a second class citizen by saying, “but you see, you ARE a second class citizen.”) but then she also includes a few events that are fairly public and easy to verify and they do not check out. (Like her assertion that every mention of an important Mormon Feminist had been excised from the BYU Library or that she moderated a BYU woman’s conference panel where one of the panelists basically said that victims of sexual abuse were partially to blame. Both of these assertions appear not to be accurate. The BYU library still has the references [unless someone at BYU went to all the trouble to reinsert them after Martha’s book…] and the panelist that she quoted did not exist [the panel only included two individuals in addition to Martha. Martha appears to have invented the third participant.])

I dislike that she didn’t include any footnotes.... Even for research studies that she has referenced or newspaper articles that she directly quotes. I might actually want to read more in depth and I would think that a book author might want to make it easier for me.

I was actually offended by some passages in the epilogue. She says that one therapist that advised her to "honor the secret" of her abuse to protect the Mormon church later committed suicide. Martha writes, "I don't know if she was honoring any secrets besides mine; if so she took them to her grave." Martha writes of a psychologist who she describes as being conflicted about whether or not to reveal information that would be damaging to the church. He later suffered a series of strokes such that "his memory and his ability to speak were both severely compromised. I think Freud would have a thing or two to say about that."

I felt that it was really mean spirited of Martha to trivialize these individual's tragedies as though they were just getting their final comeuppance for not taking the same path that she herself chose.

In general, I take most of the book as a “based on a true story” movie dramatization of real events. A very detailed and unabashedly LDS apologetic review of her book is available here:

http://publications.maxwellinstitute.by ... 30&index=6

I do however appreciate some themes that I pondered while reading this book.

1) There appears to be no evidence of the sexual abuse that comes from sources outside of Martha. Yet to Martha this memory recovered later in life absolutely happened. I find myself thinking about the first vision experience.
JS said, “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.”
The way Martha describes her memory coming back to her it very well could have been a visceral visionary experience.
There are similarities and differences between the credibility of the two accounts but both of the primary participants seem fixed on something real happening.
The primary difference for me is that Martha’s account accuses an actual person of specific and horrible crimes. This presents a problem for me.
In the First Vision JS claimed that God disowned all the world religions yet he didn’t besmirch anyone specifically. Is the minimum bar for evidence to create a new religion lower than the bar to present potentially libelous accusations of specific wrongdoing?
What do you guys think about this comparison?

2) I am curious about Hugh Nibley. I find it likely that he did not abuse Martha but the picture of him that remains so very odd. He was a brilliant man that threw his considerable mental efforts behind LDS apologetics. Did he fully believe every argument that he made or did he think that it was ok to fudge a little if it meant building a fortification around fragile testimonies? Martha indicates that Nibley’s footnotes were lies (Todd Compton, who was critical of Nibley’s interpretation of some of his sources, nevertheless wrote, “I believe that saying that 90% of his footnotes were wrong is a wild overstatement.”) and I have heard others say that his research could be sloppy. Does he deliberately misinterpret sources to fit his theories? Was that carelessness or cover-up? Perhaps this line of thought goes to the heart of apologetics and cherry picking “evidence” that supports our case.
The accounts that I read tell of the Nibley home growing up as being pretty close to poverty. (This has actually been used as a defense against Martha’s accusations. The house was so small and crowded that there simply would not have been opportunity for such occurrences without somebody noticing something.) Why is it that a BYU professor and such a prolific author did not have better finances?
Nobody is accusing Martha of falsehood when she describes her father as emotionally distant. He often appeared absent minded, as though he was more comfortable exploring things in his head than talking to people around him. Perhaps he had Asperger’s or another autism spectrum disorder. In short, Hugh seems like a very complicated man – both great and impenetrable and also wounded and flawed.
These are my initial impressions of Bro. Nibley from reading this sometimes unreliable book and some internet searches about the controversy it created. I would appreciate it if others could help me to better understand him in a fuller context.

3) I was intrigued at Martha’s passing reference to the source of the word “religion” to the Latin verb Religare “to fasten or bind” While there are several interpretations of the word origin, I like the view of early Christian writer Lactantius. Writing in the early fourth century he said in his book, “We are tied to God and bound to him [religati] by the bond of piety” I find this as an interesting parallel to the Mormon mandate to bind and seal the whole of the human family. I thank Martha for clueing me in to this possible word origin.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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Re: Leaving the Saints by Martha (Nibley) Beck

Post by Curt Sunshine » 08 Dec 2015, 16:42

I have absolutely zero confidence in anything she wrote, for lots of reasons - but those three thoughts at the end of the post are interesting things to consider.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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Re: Leaving the Saints by Martha (Nibley) Beck

Post by Heber13 » 09 Dec 2015, 13:58

I find myself thinking about the first vision experience. ...
What do you guys think about this comparison?
I will not likely be checking out that book to know directly much about that author, but based on your review, she sounds like she has issues and has received bad therapy.

Because of that...I think there are limitations to comparing her experiences to Joseph Smith's....when I hesitate at the character. I do not believe Joseph Smith had outrageous stories to bring pity to himself or excuse his behavior.

I see some parallels that make some comparisons reasonable. When it comes to seeing angels and visions, when the small house in upstate NY with several family members all share bedrooms but Joseph is the only one to see or hear Moroni, well...it does make me think there were some things going on inside Joseph's head, not outside of it. I have no problem with that and feeling like it is still of God, if the message is positive.

If the message was about accusations based on no proof...um...that's not god-like.

I dismiss Martha (Nibley) Beck and accept Joseph Smith based on the body of work.

Good review, Roy. Well done, buddy!
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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Re: Leaving the Saints by Martha (Nibley) Beck

Post by Thoreau » 09 Dec 2015, 21:43

I read the book a few years ago and found it far fetched and bizarre. It sounded entirely made up.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Henry David Thoreau

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