|Book Title:||Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith|
A Review of Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith
Review by Tom Kimball
I just finished reading Leaving the Saints by Martha Nibley Beck (uncorrected proof). First, I must say that it’s a very well written book. Martha has really missed her calling to write fiction; I would be a fan.
As I started the book, I felt she was a sort of “kindred spirit,” in that she was returning home after being away from Utah for some years. Since I returned to Utah after being away for ten years, there’ve been times when I’ve almost killed myself and others–when driving I spend more time staring at the mountains than the traffic. I also found a familiar connection to Martha with her “lost God” issues early in the book.
But the further I went in the book, I found myself going from kindred spirit to unfamiliarity, to puzzlement and, finally, to frustration. The narrative, for me, began to shift when the nurses who attended Martha at the Provo hospital kept calling her “Sister Beck.” My wife and I have had three of our five kids in Utah, and Martha’s description of the way people relate to each other in a hospital (or elsewhere in Utah for that matter) would really be extraordinary. Unless the nurses were from my home congregation, (which would be highly improbable), strangers in Utah–even in Utah County–don’t call each other “brother” or “sister” (even at church, now that I think of it).
Martha’s book is reminiscent of nineteenth-century anti-Mormon narratives of Utah where women claimed to have jumped from the towers of the Salt Lake Temple into the Great Salt Lake and swam to safety. Martha’s book is full of fantastic narratives. For example, she has a story about her beautician wanting to contact her husband to ask permission to give her a short hair cut. I realize my culture is strange, and I’m sure that some of my kids will disappoint me by attending BYU, but I’m sure when they attend that school, there isn’t a rule that men have to wear socks because the school views leg hair as an extension of pubic hair.
Perhaps most fantastic of all, Martha infers that her famous father raped her as a child while he wore some sort of Egyptian costume. This claim apparently puzzles the rest of the Nibley family. Hugh would have been almost sixty when the supposed events took place. This accusation is disputed by all of Hugh’s other daughters, and Martha shared a room with her sisters while growing up.
In my mind this book is really a problem. Any Mormon who reads this book will find that Martha’s normal experiences are really extreme and tend to happen on cue. The narrative is narcissistic and the good people in the narrative are painted with bright dramatic details and the villains are dark and stupid. Her claims that the Strengthening Church Members Committee tapped her home phone and this was verified by the phone company is yet another example of the improbable extreme experiences Martha tends to portray in her book. I grew up on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley and currently live in American Fork, Utah; in the end I found her descriptions to be well outside my own experiences in what I’m sure is considered a strange western culture. I found that I stopped believing the book to be credible. I feel sad for the Nibley family. I can’t even imagine how horrible this book will be for them.
I have two major concerns about the book.
- Her book will undermine the credibility of those who have been legitimately abused by family and others.
- I work for a press that has published studies that, at times, are critical about Mormonism, and I feel that Martha’s book will undermine those who do serious critical Mormon studies. Her book is so outrageous at times that the Mormon apologists are going to have a heyday. I’m sure that in years to come apologists will use Martha’s exaggerations and fabrications as an excuse to discredit legitimate Mormon scholars who are critical of traditional or orthodox Mormon claims.
I can’t grasp why Martha would publish this book. It’s clearly going to be skewered by most Mormons of all stripes. Its new-age feel will do nothing for Evangelicals and general Christians and will most likely hurt what seems to be a successful career as a Life Coach. Leaving the Saints is problematic at best but most likely heavily laced with fiction.