Leaving the Saints by Martha Beck

Leaving the Saints
Martha Beck
2006, 352 pgs
Library

Book Summary from Goodreads

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.

My Summary

Leaving the Saints isn’t about Beck’s anger with the Mormon church. It’s about her person journey to discover what she truly believes and not what has been dictated she believe since childhood. While quite a bit of what she uncovers during her research is not complimentary to the Church she didn’t set out on this journey for that purpose.

Overall I really enjoyed the story.  The element of the book that has come under the most criticism are Beck’s repressed memories of sexual abuse.  I generally take repressed memories with a grain of salt, especially when they arrive with psychological coaching – I’ve heard of many instances where the coaching led to false memories.  In Beck’s case I do believe her.  She has scars that back up her uncovered memories and her memories came after private meditation – no coaching.  But as I said above, the abuse is only a part of the book as its part of her journey to discovering herself and faith.  I don’t think you have to believe her to find value in her journey.

The history in the book is fascinating.  I’ve read other books about the LDS (I’d recommend Jon Kraukauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven), but there were still a few things I was unaware of.  I’ll admit that I got the giggles when she’s explaining about the Egyptian papyri and several times when she quotes text from LDS doctrine.  I have no problem with people believing anything that they want to, especially if it brings them comfort, but it does make me laugh.

Beck does have a tendency to start a story and then decide she needs to give the reader more background so at times the story felt choppy and it was hard to determine where you were at in the time line.  Also, I have a pretty big vocabulary, but I wished I was reading this on my Kindle so I’d have access to the “touch a word, get the definition” awesomeness.  I’m too lazy to get a dictionary so I had to revert to best guess based on context quite a few times.

Overall a solid book. The choppiness lost a few stars but definitely worth a read.

7 out of 10 stars

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