Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

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

Rate this book
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.

352 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Martha N. Beck

24 books816 followers
Dr. Martha Beck is a New York Times bestselling author, life coach, and speaker. She holds three Harvard degrees in social science, and Oprah Winfrey has called her “one of the smartest women I know.” Martha is a passionate and engaging teacher, known for her unique combination of science, humor, and spirituality. Her forthcoming book, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self, is out in April 2021.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,297 (30%)
4 stars
1,494 (35%)
3 stars
1,016 (24%)
2 stars
263 (6%)
1 star
121 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 505 reviews
Profile Image for Patricia.
85 reviews
June 30, 2008
I'm sitting here typing and untyping (that would be known as deleting, I guess), which is what happens when there's something important and true and hard for me to write.

Of all the books I've read about living well after having been violated sexually as a child, this one is best.

Martha Beck and I both come from religious fundamentalist families; we both come from families that were and are highly dysfunctional. She has been branded a liar for remembering what happened to her; I have been called a liar for never having forgotten what happened to me.

Ms Beck and I have each moved on from the "Faith of Our Fathers", she more than I, but who knows where either of us will end up? Not where we came from, for sure. Her fealty to authenticity and integrity strongly resonates with me.

There are huge doctrinal differences -- chasms, really -- between Mormons and fundamentalist Christians, but the lifestyles and the disconnects between reality and religion seem very similar. And, although I am far from a fan of Mormonism, what Ms Beck really gets down on in this book is any kind of violence against children and any manifestation of woman hating. Mormonism isn't the only religion that turns away from the reality of one and promotes the other.

But Martha Beck grew up with a ringside seat on Mormon apologetics. She's a smart, honest person and she reports what she knows about Mormonism without being mean, without trying to change anyone's mind.

For me, that was not even close to what this book is about, despite its subtitle. I read in it a validation of my own experiences, emotions, and wounds. I also read in it compassion and wisdom.

I don't know that I'll leave this review up. It's such a painful, personal matter. From time to time, though, I still think it is important to speak out, if only to say: if it happened to you, you are not alone and it was not and is not your fault.
Profile Image for Sarah (Presto agitato).
123 reviews162 followers
September 8, 2014
In Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, Martha Beck recounts her experiences in the Mormon church. As the daughter of a highly respected Mormon apologist, the Mormon faith played a foundational role in Beck’s life. She left Utah to study at Harvard, then moved back to teach part time at Brigham Young University while completing her doctoral dissertation in sociology. She returned in part because she found the Mormon community to be more accepting of her young son with Down Syndrome than her friends and colleagues in Boston.

The Mormon community’s acceptance of her child’s disability was admirable, but most of the other things she described about Mormonism, from her wedding ceremony with threats of death if she betrayed its secrets, to the polygamy which is still part of church teaching (while Mormons are no longer supposed to have multiple wives on Earth, they can have them in Heaven), to the extremely patriarchal class structure, were disturbing in varying degrees. Beck’s description of the academic limitations placed on BYU professors reads like something out of 1984. While researching Sonia Johnson, a feminist Mormon who challenged the church’s teachings, she found that all references to the woman had been systematically removed from the BYU library. When she looked up citations in newspapers, the sections were missing. If faculty members challenged church teachings, they could be fired and excommunicated. As they had been instructed to publish only in official Mormon publications, regardless of their academic area, it could be nearly impossible for them to find positions in other academic institutions after leaving BYU.

The parts of this book dealing with Mormon history and doctrine were fascinating. Beck was less convincing, however, when discussing her struggle recovering a repressed memory of being sexually abused by her father as a child. Not surprisingly, this revelation creates a major divide in her family as well as within the church, which seems to treat survivors of childhood sexual abuse in a dismissive fashion.

Beck does not come across as the most reliable of narrators. Her eagerness to embrace certain types of phenomena like near-death experiences and astral projection does not seem consistent with her stated insistence on empirical proof. She talks about having a dream that someone named Dana will come to her aid, and then speaks of meeting Diane and Miranda two days later, with several of the same letters as the name Dana, as if that is fulfillment of a psychic prediction. This type of thinking makes her come across as a bit flaky. Beck’s (now ex-) husband left a one-star review of this book on Amazon, challenging her statements that they received phone calls and letters threatening violence and death when he left the Mormon church. Notably, however, her ex-husband does not challenge her statements about what happened at BYU.

Leaving the Saints is a well-written account of several controversial subjects. Beck’s allegations paint a disturbing picture of the hierarchy of the Mormon church, but the book suffers from questions about her credibility.
Profile Image for Tamra.
502 reviews8 followers
April 28, 2009
To know, first off: I am a fully active Mormon. Someone suggested I read this book because Martha's experiences reminded this person of my own experiences in the church. We will leave it there. Review follows.

I picked up and put down Leaving the Saints on the same day. I got about 30 pages into it. Here are some of my very limited opinions on the book.

1 - The pursuit of truth (and anything else, really) if not tempered with tolerance, love, and respect is almost worthless. I think, reading from Martha's tone, word selection, and topic, she's missed the boat here.

2 - It apalls me that anyone would want to speak so about their own father. Well, anyone's father, really. I don't see how this was helpful, no, re-word, it was NOT helpful, and it was probably VERY destructive for her family. I think her family probably sighed, shrugged their shoulders, and moved on. But this book screws her chances of maintaining relationships. This is probably a moot point for her (she probably wants no contact with them). But I don't think it is a moot point in reality. I think one of the things we are expected to do in this life is do our best to build bridges in terms of relationships. Try to understand and love as best we can. I guess this goes back to tolerance, respect and love. (Apparently, again, these are my beacons by which everything else is judged.)

3 - It saddens me that she would treat such things as temple worship callously. I understand that she doesn't see temple worship as sacred (and some of the issues she brings up, like being unprepared for temple worship, are valid. Hence, the Mormon Church handles some of those things differently now), but many other people do. This would sadden me even if I wasn't Mormon. The older I get, the more I think it is just unacceptable to do that to anyone, no matter their religion or creed.

4 - I probably already know the reasons she will give for her decision to leave the Church. I could come up with them myself. I could probably even write a parallel book: How I found my faith and the Mormon church at the same time. I think many people have written that book in their hearts. ... Some people are sheltered from church history, etc., so when the come up with some of the blacker aspects of the Church, they are shocked and it rattles them. Well, I was raised in a family that stared those things in the face. My father is an ameteur church historian and he's never sugar coated things for us. On top of that, we have seen, and we know of many things in the "underbelly" of the Church, if you will. People being shunned instead of loved. Excommunications that "shouldn't" have happened. Unfairness enough to go around.

The question isn't why do these things happen (because they will happen if you exist inside ANY organization), but how you deal with that fact. How do I reconcile my faith with the facts or situations? ... It is realitively easy to identify problems. It's harder to know what to DO with those problems.

Martha is a beautiful writer, though. I just wish she wasn't so full of hate. The woman needs to take a dose of her own Life Coach lessons.

(I got a little preachy. Sorry.)
Profile Image for Matt Evans.
332 reviews
July 27, 2008
Both stars are for the quality of writing. Martha Beck is a very funny and good writer. I might even add one more star for controversy, as Martha's husband, John, has given her a 1-star Amazon review (and a surprising revelation: they're divorced). As far as anti-Mormon books go, I've read much better. Reading this novel is an exercise in unreliable narration, which may sound like criticism but in my world it's something that I thoroughly enjoy. Anyway. Here's John's review. Caveat Emptor:

"675 of 841 people found the following review helpful:
Discrepancies, May 8, 2005
By John Beck (Phoenix AZ) - See all my reviews

"This review is from: Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith (Hardcover)
I've been asked by many people to give my views on this book since I am one of only five people actually named in the book: three of them are my children and too young at the time to comment on the veracity of the book; the other named person is Martha and her view is expressed in 320 pages.

"Before you read my comments, you should understand that Martha and I are divorced and have not lived as husband and wife for over ten years. Martha may argue that I am writing this review out of spite. I am not. Without my consent, I am made to feel like an accomplice in her accusations and her anger; I'm not comfortable with how that makes me look to my friends and family. By dint of her profession, she has a national audience ready to believe in her story. Others who are described (often unflatteringly) in this book have little or no access to the court of public opinion.

"Let me describe two topics in the book that bother me the most: the way my parents were portrayed and the "Mormon Response" to my leaving the church.

"One of the most hurtful discrepancies in the book is the way she describes my parents. She reports that my mother and father came to our house the day after my appearance on television (not true, it was a couple of days later) and in the midst of much small talk Martha inferred that my parents were telling me that they still loved me. Here's how it really went. My mother walked in the door gave me a hug before she even had her coat off and with tears in her eyes said "I don't agree with your decision, but you are my son and I want you to know that I will always love you." It was one of the most touching and important moments in my life. I will always love and respect my mother for her forthrightness and willingness to so openly forgive me even though I had done something so hurtful to her.

"My experience of the Mormon response to my leaving the church is also rather different from the one I read in this book. While I left the church even before Martha (and arguably more publicly), I personally never received one threatening phone call or note. I never even saw any of Martha's. While I remember Martha talking about one crank phone call, she received; I do not remember that the caller threatened to "dis-member" us. Nor did Martha show or talk to me about the copy of a "blood red" Antichrist note she writes about receiving. I never took any precautions against such "threats" because I never heard about them. Perhaps she did receive them, but said nothing to me about them.

"When I did leave the church, I did it for principally spiritual reasons. I was never ostracized by my friends or colleagues. Two of my close friends at that time were sons of top Mormon officials-they remain colleagues to this day. I had many discussions with Mormon co-workers, family members, and even old high school friends in the days and months that followed the public disclosure that I had "left the church." People wanted to understand, but none of them shunned me. Neighbors were sometimes socially uncomfortable and didn't know how to react to me when I wasn't going to church on Sundays; some of them expressed their differences of opinion with my decision. But I still have many, many Mormon friends."
Profile Image for Jeremy.
23 reviews
May 14, 2009
I started this book two days ago, and completed it just last night. This book is an amazing story of the daughter of the most prominent Mormon (LDS) apologist, Hugh Nibley. She discusses some of the horrific events of her childhood, her strained relationship with her father, and her tenure as a professor at BYU.

It is important to note that this is not a trashy anti-mormon book, although some LDS members will certainly perceive it that way. It is not an expose of Mormon temple rituals, nor is it necessarily an effort to discredit the Church; rather, it is an account of a woman who was a victim of child abuse and the difficult position she found herself in as the daughter of such a well-known and respected member of the LDS Church. Martha Beck is certainly critical of the Church -- to say otherwise would be misleading -- however, one can hardly imagine that someone who had been through the experiences that Ms. Beck has would leave the Church without some bitterness and anger.

I found this book thoroughly intriguing and could not put it down. I highly recommend it. It is perhaps not for Mormons who may be intolerant of other beliefs or criticism of the Church; however, those Mormons who do read it may find an unlikely source of comfort within its pages. Every religious adherent sometimes questions his or her faith, and may feel guilty or inadequate when they cannot find answers to difficult private questions. Knowing that they are not the first nor last person to question can be extremely cathartic.

Profile Image for Beth Pearson.
527 reviews
April 20, 2011
This was a tough book to get through...At times I was very sorry I picked it up and started it.

Why did I start it? Because I read and was fascinated with Martha Beck's "Expecting Adam" and even more so after finishing the story and realizing that I actually knew of the parents she speaks of so much in telling the tale of her pregnancy of her 2nd child....A boy known to have Down Syndrome before he was born. I've never forgotten some of the amazing spiritual experiences she recounts in Expecting Adam and have always wondered what happened to her and her family after that.

It was apparent from this books title that she left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (The term "Mormon" is a nickname for the church, but I am going to use LDS (Latter Day Saints) as a shortened name for members of this religion because it is much shorter to type.) So, being familiar with Expecting Adam and understanding how very active Martha's family was in the LDS church, I wondered how someone with no religious beliefs could have such a spiritual awakening and then arrive at that kind of ending. Thus I wanted to read the book to find out the "rest of the story."

In short, the book offended me.

The most glaring offense to me was her portrayal of women in the LDS church. Martha calls herself a feminist, which leads me to presume she has spent a lot of time fighting stereotypes dealing with women, their skills, abilities, etc. Thus, I was very disappointed that she falls right into those same traps of generalizing LDS women into one lump of mealy-mouthed, wimpy little followers of the big, strong, patriarchal male leaders in the church. The only women that didn't seem to fall into that description were other female BYU scholars like herself who fought the "status quo". I've known thousands of LDS women in my 42 years and would not describe more then 2 of them as Martha did. As a whole, woman of all the world are amazingly tough, strong, and courageous and LDS women are no exception. While most LDS women do try to obey God's commandments, follow the prophet, etc., it is because of their own relationship with God and Jesus that they do so, not because they are too brainwashed or weak to do otherwise. I found Martha's references to the thoughts, skills, and desires of LDS women very dated and falsely stereotypical.

Martha writes that when she was being a "good Mormon", she baked bread daily, made cakes from scratch, and grew and canned her own berries into jam. On page 48 she "washed, mended, iron, picked flowers from the garden and arranged them in pretty vases for the kitchen table, made peach pies from scratch" ...."Nevertheless, I still fell far short of the standards set by really dedicated LDS housewives...I would have had to gather and canned windfall apricots, pears, and cherries. I would have ground raw wheat into flour for my homemade bread. I would have pressed the flowers from the garden, using them to decorate family scrapbooks, instead of letting them wilt and then tossing them out. I was never more than a mediocre homemake by Mormon standards, but throughout the summer I kept trying."

Since Martha calls herself a scholar and feminist, I'm disgusted she didn't shatter that stereotype and learn how to be a "good Mormon" without that garbage. It was like she never updated her childhood notion of what woman look like, do, and think from Leave it Beaver episodes and never updated her opinion with the reality of the thousand women around her that were NOT sporting Helmet-head hair styles, baking their own bread, and existing only to push out babies and support "their man".

These quotes are from Julie B. Beck--who is president of the church's woman's organization, The Relief Society:

"A good woman knows that she does not have enough time, energy, or opportunity to take care of all of the people or do all of the worthy things her heart yearns to do. Life is not calm for most women, and each day seems to require the accomplishment of a million things, most of which are important." 2010

"One of the most precious commodities we all have is time. Most women have many responsibilities and never have sufficient time to do everything their hearts and minds want to do." 2009

I think these 2 quotes--directly from the official church website (LDS.org) is a much more accurate portrayal of the modern day woman (LDS or not) as one who wants to be all and do all, but is limited by the reality of a 24 hour day and has to choose what is important. No where in Julie B. Beck's speech does she mention bread baking, capitulating to a husband, or creating homemade meals from scratch as necessary things to do.

IF LDS women have a heightened rate of depression like Martha claims, I propose it is from Martha and others like her that push these type of stereotypes as the "righteous" way to be. Since no one really fits that mold, women find themselves lacking in all areas and get depressed. Shame on Martha Beck for only perpetuating that myth! It is too bad she got caught up in all that fluff.

Martha's generalizing and tone towards the LDS church continues through out the book and she seems to choose the most inflammatory things to include in her rationalization of the male domination in the church. She reports one collage age student told her "I hold the priesthood, and that means I'll ALWAYS know better then you". I cannot imagine anyone so pompous and ignorant as to say such a thing, but I do recognize there are idiots everywhere. Her recounting of the classes reaction is bull, I think. I attended BYU during the years she was there teaching and if a male had actually been stupid enough to say such a thing, the class would have wrote him off as a chauvinistic ass, not "nodded sagely in agreement."

Is this simply a case of people always finding what they are looking for or is Martha making things up? I don't know. I do know that Leaving the Saints is NOT an accurate portrayal of the LDS church, its beliefs or its tenets of faith. She says that according to the LDS church, it is easier for Adolf Hitler to get to heaven then for someone who like herself, who has left the church. That's crap. Some statements I thought were out right lies, but more often, Martha gives quotes or examples completely out of context and chooses words to make LDS people and their religion to be as kooky and cultist sounding as possible.

She gives very few LDS people in her book license to be loving, supportive, and kind. One exception to this is the president of the woman's group at her local church congregation. She calls her Rosemary Douglas and describes her as Christ-like in her love and acceptance of Martha regardless of whether she returns to religion or not. Two pages before the book ends she writes "I think most of the Latter-day Saints are very much like Rosemary" but the proceeding 303 pages spends lots of times pointing out the kooky, judgmental, and threatening people that seemed to fill her life on all fronts. Those who don't notice LDS people first hand will leave with a very skewed view of LDS people.

As someone that seldom reads dust jackets, I didn't realize that a lot of the book talks about her recovered memories of sexual abuse and her efforts to deal with these new memories, confront these demons in her past, her unbelieving family, etc. From my previous work, I've seen the devastation in victim's lives left from sexual abuse, so I hated reading about that. I was definitely bogged down in the book as I was sloshing through all of that. I considered quitting the book entirely (I generally don't take 3 weeks to read a book!), but was still curious as to her spiritual growth, where she ended up, how she got there, etc.

The claims of sexual abuse are tough. It wasn't overly detailed, but is still a hard read for me as I consider sexual abuse to be one of the most damaging things that can happen to a person. Combined with her thinly veiled vindictive and inflammatory tone towards the LDS church, it was difficult to decide if she was telling the truth or not.

Do I believe a person can repress memories of traumatic events in their lives? Yes.
Do I believe a person committing the atrocities can block them out of their mind also? Yes.
Do I believe a sick person who abuses children can also be and do amazing things in other areas of their lives? Yes.
Do I believe a wonderfully good, righteous person can be tempted or warped and then do unrighteous things? Yes.
Do I believe their sins and/or crimes negates any good things they also do in their life? No.
Do I believe the good things they do strike the sins and/or crimes to be inconsequential? No.
Do I believe that families and people that appear to be perfect, are really such? No
Could a person guilty of sexual abuse still reach spiritual highs with God in other areas of their life? I don't know.

But, I DO know that the Martha Beck in the book believes her claims of sexual abuse to be completely true. With very few exceptions, her family says otherwise. If she is right in her claim, this book is an amazing story of finding peace and freedom after the shackling pain of sexual abuse. I am glad she was able to come to peace with her beliefs. I am amazed that she was even able to find some possible justification (or excuses) why someone would do some unspeakable crimes against a child. Her journey toward personal freedom from the guilt and shame generally associated with abuse has some good ideas on how all of us are only free when we let go of our anger and forgive.

I am glad she has found peace and joy in her life. I am sad Martha's life has led her away from her family, friends, and religion, but I cannot judge another's healing path after sexual abuse. I can only imagine the pain, conflicting emotions, and confusion that comes when one has been abused. I can only imagine the mental exercises needed to move on from such tragedies. Perhaps Martha's experiences can be used by other victims to help them find healing also.

Martha's visual of us being a leaf in a stream and the need to turn over our power to God to give us the experiences we need for wisdom and joy in our lives is a powerful metaphor that I need to work on myself. I'm going to TRY to take the few good nuggets of truth from this book, improve my own life with them, and leave all the crap behind. Because there are so much skewed reporting, piles of crap, and hurtful generalizations in this story, I don't recommend this book to others. There are much better ways to learn about the LDS church, explore spiritual paths or find healing from sexual abuse.

Profile Image for Jess.
134 reviews2 followers
April 18, 2017
This book had a long history for me. Years ago I read Expecting Adam and loved it. A friend I loaned it to was skeptical however, and did some research. In retrospect that must have been about the time Leaving the Saints was hitting the Mormon community like a flaming bag full of poo. There were plenty of people to be found online claiming that Martha Beck was a compulsive liar who'd made up half of the details in a book she explicitly labeled a true story (Expecting Adam), and that much of the content in Leaving the Saints had been refuted by everyone from her ex-husband to her hairdresser. I was a tiny bit crushed and bitter because reading Expecting Adam I felt like I'd gotten to know her and felt betrayed, like a close friend had lied to me. After that I forgot about Martha Beck for a while and became obsessed with the wacky Mitfords.

Recently something that had to do with Beck piqued my attention (damned if I can remember what) and I found myself putting this book on hold at the library. Before I started it I revisited some of the online controversy about the book and Martha in general. I was determined not to be taken in this time so I wanted to make sure I had as much of both sides of the story as possible. All this to say that I went into this book with a somewhat cynical attitude. I kind of didn't want to believe her, damn that fibbing Martha Beck!

However, after reading the entire book, I'm pretty sure that Martha is an intelligent, kind, honest person who was a victim of a smear campaign by the Mormon church. She had the dubious luck to be part of a famous Mormon family. Her father is revered as an apologist for the faith by the Mormon church & community and unfortunately her book is the story of how she dealt with the aftermath of being sexually abused by this man as a young child: Cue the shouts of "Heresy!!"

After reading Under the Banner of Heaven, everything Martha writes about just confirms my certainty that although the vast majority of Mormon people are good, sincere (I've only known a few Latter Day Saints, but they were all just... nice*) people, the Mormon church leadership is the typical religious establishment with a hefty dose of rabid paranoia, propaganda, and barely subdued violence. Beck lays out a lot of the basic Mormon beliefs which, she says, the average Mormon is not even fully aware of. Mormons are encouraged not to think too deeply about their faith and even the academics are at BYU are suspiciously watched and distrusted by the church authorities.

The fact that her family had publicly denied and even ridiculed Beck's claims of abuse was one of the things that made me leery of her claims in the first place. However, knowing that denial and mocking of the victim is a common trait in dysfunctional families, and that her siblings are all still deeply involved in the Mormon church, along with Beck's loving and understanding descriptions of her siblings in spite of their lack of support made me fairly certain that Beck is the one telling the truth here. Her father died shortly after the book was published, still refusing to acknowledge her claims.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit and found I identified with Beck in a lot of areas, especially the matter of growing up in a repressive (though less so, in my case) religious atmosphere and then finding my way as an adult to my own beliefs. She occasionally goes too far off the wacky spirituality spectrum for me to follow, but in general we have very similar outlooks on life.

*And I don't mean that in a negative way. I mean genuinely kind and well-intentioned.
Profile Image for Abby.
387 reviews64 followers
May 7, 2019
EDITED in 2019:

I read this book years and years and ago. Somehow it's been sitting on my Goodreads bookshelf as never having been finished, and I was just putting it on the "read" bookshelf. It was interesting to read this review again because of that.

In the past 8 years, I've become friends with one of this author's siblings. Like I would have expected, she told me that Martha Beck never talks to any of them, and they all think she's nuts. (My words interpreting her facial expressions, not the sibling's actual words.) So, yeah. I still think she's nuts.

On the other hand, while I do still think she was exaggerating what happened to her, I see a shred of truth in some of the things I thought were impossible before. For example, she talked about BYU professors being censored and disciplined, I said "no way", but now I realize that that definitely was happening in the 90s when she was there. So while she still seems solidly out there, she also may not have been making up every single thing. Fine, I admit it. I think it was all based on her perception and memory of her reality however, and not necessarily how things were intended.

Anyway, it's interesting how a few years can change your perspective on things!

My original review from 2001:

I’m a little miffed at this author. This is Hugh Nibley’s daughter (the famous Mormon scholar and apologist) who accused him of sexual abuse, left the LDS church and now is a lesbian somewhere. I’m mad, because the first half of the book she really had me going. I couldn’t imagine that she would make something so bizarre and awful up as what she was telling, and as she told her story of going from a faithful Mormon BYU professor to apostate spiritual guru I even found that I identified with her in some ways. I thought she was being pretty honest, from the descriptions of how nice Mormons are to explanations of how boring our meetings can be. (Which is an example of one of the unflattering things that I had to agree with her on – I’ve been to other churches with paid clergy and they are way, WAY more interesting and fun than listening to the new family from down the street with an inherited fear of public speaking read stories from the New Era for 45 minutes.)

She talked about her wedding day in the Provo Temple, and I had to be honest with myself and agree with her about a lot of her feelings on that day. And truthfully, the Mormon community does have really high standards that everyone shoots for and falls short of, like she said. And she’s right that the average Mormon can’t tell you a lot of basic things, like where the Pearl of Great Price came from or the story behind it. She was right on a lot of things, and I could empathize and even go along with her story. And her dad, Hugh Nibley – honestly, I was introduced to his writings as a freshman at BYU by two guys in my ward who worshipped him. One of these guys was arrested a year or so ago (he was married, still active LDS and going to law school in Illinois) for coming out to Utah to meet a 14 (15?) year old girl for sex. He was 28. The other served a mission in Korea, married a Korean girl from his mission, had a rocky five year marriage to her with at least a couple visits from police at his home, ending in a divorce. He was dating a 19 year old boy the last I heard of him. So yeah, I could even buy into Hugh Nibley being a closet weirdo because the two guys I most closely associated him with were also closet weirdoes.

BUT DANG IT. She is full of crud. Her story sounded fishy here and there, and then by the final ¼ of the book she turned into a lunatic. I don’t believe 90% of what she said, which makes me way, WAY more reluctant to believe any of her ‘recovered memories” of child abuse. I kept thinking, “Wow, BYU was sure different when she was there than when I went.” But then I realized that she left BYU in 1993. I started there the fall of 1999. There’s no way it changed so much in 6 years. She’s just full of it.

I will give you a few examples of her crazy, unbelievable stories. There are so many of them. Perhaps one or two was true, maybe some are partially true – but anyone who is Mormon, has lived in Utah or gone to BYU will raise their eyebrows in a most dramatic and annoyed manner because these are just not real.

- She went to get her hair cut short. The hair dresser saw her wedding ring and got the manager, who came and demanded she call her husband to get his permission for the cut.
- A female friend complained to her Bishop that the way the church was set up made her feel like a second class citizen as a woman. The Bishop shook his head and said, “But you see, you ARE a second class citizen.”
- The LDS church started tapping her home phone calls, and the phone repairman came out and told her that her phone wires had been crossed with the local chapel so that they could listen in to their private conversations.
- A colleague of hers was in a panic because he was counseling a young woman who had been molested by someone high up in the church and he was told to diagnose her as (schizophrenic? - something like that) and drug her up and institutionalize her, when he thought she was telling the truth and wanted to help her. They threatened his job if he didn’t do it.
- She moderated a panel on sexual abuse at a Women’s Conference at BYU (that was true, everything else was false – including the identities of the panelists and what they said – which is easily verified and confuses me as to why she would have included it) where she claimed a doctor agreed to speak because he was concerned that 1/3 of the women in his Utah clinic were showing up having been sexually abused. A “midlevel church leader” (who didn't actually exist) said to the large crowd that in every molestation case there are two parties participating and both must accept responsibility for their part of the behavior. Of course, no one actually said that on the panel, and if they had there would have been a riot and he would have been booed off the stage. That goes against everything and anything the church has ever taught about abuse. I'm not so dumb I believe that was said.
- After she and her husband left the church a woman showed up at their door and said to her almost 8 year old daughter, “We’re having a party at the church. There will be balloons, and cake, and friends. Lots of friends. It’s called a Baptism Party, and you can get baptized. Do you want to come to our party? It will be so fun!”
- A returned missionary in her BYU class stood up and said to her, “I hold the priesthood, so I will ALWAYS know better than you.” The entire class “nodded sagely in agreement”. I can’t imagine people not throwing their shoes at that guy, let alone agreeing with him.
- She went to the BYU library and found that every reference to an outspoken Mormon feminist had been completely erased from the microfilms. (I read another detailed review of this book where the author went and looked up this woman and found tons of material in the BYU library, all there since the day it happened and none of it mysteriously vanished. (http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publi...)
- She claims to have gotten threatening notes and letters saying things like “You’ve gone too far. You are the antichrist”. She was terrified for her life. Seriously?
- She would make statements like “Mormon women are reprimanded for working out of the home or consuming caffeine.” Hello? She was working at BYU, employed by the church! And I have never in my life seen someone reprimanded for drinking caffeine, even at a church event. She’s being ridiculous.
- She had a therapist whose giant dog would climb on her lap during sessions, and who would interrupt her sentences to make or take phone calls, like when the author said “I’m having a really rough time. I’m doing worse than ever” and the therapist would say, “Don’t worry about it, you’re much better already. Hang on, I have to call these idiots at Paramount.” And then would make a phone call about a movie right in front of her. Really? She was that bad and yet you kept going to her over and over again for more help, and brought your siblings to see her with you as well?
- When her stake president visits and she says she has questions about why the church is shutting down anyone with questions he puts his fingers in his ears and sings “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” What?
- When she called any close personal Mormon friends and told them that she was starting to have flashbacks of abuse from her father, her friends all said instantly “You can’t tell anyone this. It would hurt their testimonies. It’s your calling in this life to be completely silent about this so that it won’t hurt the church.” One ex-Mormon friend said, “They (the Mormon church) are going to kill you.” The Mormon church became the secret police in her mind, with colleagues afraid to talk to each other at BYU for fear of being told on, excommunicated and careers ruined.
- She said that “The Brethren” were pulling in tighter and tighter reins on the BYU professors and would not allow them to research anything that would put the church in a bad light, true or not. That didn’t jive with an article I came across recently about a BYU professor who did a study on homosexuality and concluded from his research it is biologically based. That goes completely against what President Packer said in General Conference. I should check. Did the Mormon hit men get him yet? (Here’s that article: (*http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/49488*)
- Not only does BYU censor everything, but she says that Mormons are discouraged from reading anything about the church that isn't approved by their official panel (The Correlation Committee). Well, having never actually received an approved reading list from my Bishop I can’t be certain, but I don’t THINK this book would have be on the list. Nobody said I wasn’t allowed to read it. I am a pro gay marriage Mormon, which puts me pretty far out there in a lot in that regard, and I have had leanings towards that for several years. I have yet to be called in and reprimanded. So weird.
- Oh yeah – she also talks about the “Danites”, the guys who the Mormon church still has around to go do their dirty work – like how Porter Rockwell would protect and defend Joseph Smith to the death. It's as if the LDS church is the Mafia, and they aren’t about to let you out of their scary cult if you are a threat to them in any way.
- When she was a child in Provo, Utah her teachers pulled her aside and told her specifically not to play with the non-Mormon children. She got away with having a best friend who was Catholic only because of her lineage.

There were just so many of these things – I know I’ve missed some crazy ones. She also talked about trying so hard to be the perfect Mormon. She baked her own bread from scratch, she canned food, she mended clothes, ironed, cleaned, cooked, etc… Problematically, none of these things have anything at all to do with being Mormon. She then let it drop casually that while she was trying so hard to live her religion perfectly she had never really been great at attending all three hours of church on Sunday. Anyone familiar with Mormonism at all would know that the basis of someone’s activity in the church has way more to do with going to your Mormon church meetings on Sundays than baking your own bread from scratch. No one knows who bakes their bread. Everyone knows who does or doesn’t come to church on Sundays. Oh, hell. It's so dumb.

Finally, she is riddled with mental illness. She was depressed, anorexic, suicidal, cut her arms, was an insomniac, suffered from nightmares, and did crazy things – like go outside in the middle of the night during winter to climb a tree in her backyard and hack it with an axe for a few hours until she felt better. At first her craziness made me more likely to believe that she had been abused as a child – few people are as nuts as her without some cause, right? But by the time I realized she was making up pretty much everything in her entire book, I thought of it in reverse- she’s saying these crazy weird things happened to her because she is crazy and weird.

So Martha Beck, yeesh. Be Mormon. Don’t be Mormon. I don’t care. It was interesting learning about how you made the decision to no longer be part of the church you were raised in, and if it hadn’t been so full of made up crap I would have enjoyed it much more. My final opinion is that she’s made up the abuse. Even if she believes it in her head, I think she made it up. I will never know. I just don’t care anymore, though. I’m mad at her for lying to me and dragging me through a whole book before I realized she was nuts.

PS. Nobody likes her! Affirmation – a group for gay Mormons had an article about her and her then husband John that says “In their book Breaking the Cycle of Compulsive Behavior, LDS authors Martha and John C. Beck lumped homosexuality together with alcoholism and drug abuse as “addictions” or misguided compulsive behavior that must be overcome. Since then, the couple have divorced, left the LDS Church, and come out as gay.” She’s just full of inconsistencies. Her ex-husband also says he never saw the threats that she says she received, and all of her seven siblings (some who are also no longer members of the LDS church) say she’s full of it. They lived in a teeny house with ten people, and even the ability of her father to find the private time and space to perform these elaborate abuse rituals on her would be nearly impossible. No one close to her supports her story. Everyone knows she is wacked out. Now I’m in that group too, finally.
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 1 book341 followers
August 28, 2007
Martha Beck was an atheist-inclined grad student when miraculous happenings during her second pregnancy reawakened her interest in spirituality. After moving back to her hometown of Provo, she embraced her childhood religion in effort to deepen this newfound faith. She writes with lucidity and humor about how she instead discovered the dark side of the Mormon church, including fundamental beliefs that contradict known fact, a culture that stifled intellectual exploration, and a suspected relationship between the inferior position of women in the church and incidents of sexual abuse.

A large part of Beck’s journey involves confronting her own history of sexual abuse, and the book sometimes feels disjointed as it shifts back and forth between the narrative and a scene in which she confronted her abuser. That issue aside, Beck’s attempt to free herself from the unhealthy aspects of her religion while still keeping her seed of faith alive serves as a fascinating example of how important it is to continually ask critical questions in all matters of faith.

Profile Image for Sarah.
1,720 reviews103 followers
July 28, 2011
I really and truly enjoyed this book. It was funny as hell, and I really related to her struggle to leave the faith that she was raised in. I feel like a learned a lot about Mormonism, the good things like the kindness and charity, and the bad things like the cracked out history and the desire to treat women (particularly those who have been abused) like shit. For what it is worth, I believe her stories of sexual abuse wholeheartedly since they are very similar to the stories of many other abuse victims I have known. I also appreciated that she stayed realistic, portraying herself as someone who is brave but not perfect. She shouldn't have to be superwoman in order for people to believe her molestation claims and there is no such thing as a perfect survivor. She is just one individual telling her story and I'm glad she decided to share it.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in memiors, academic freedom, child abuse, religion, Mormonism, or feminism.
136 reviews8 followers
September 8, 2008
She's a fun writer--little twists of language and imagery that creates a wonderful voice. She brings up an important topic: child abuse perpetuated by unexpected persons, especially the ostensibly pious. My concern? Unreliable narrator. She stereotypes the Mormon community just as she stereotyped the Harvard community in her previous book --if I remember correctly, almost every Harvard character was intellectually insecure, overly demanding, rather cruel, and a bit out-of-sync with reality. In this book, the Mormons are similarly unreal--all sorts of exaggerations or falsehoods pepper the book. I attended Harvard, and have had extensive association with Mormons, and can say that her perception of each community is exaggerated at best, unreal at worst. I assume that she believes what she is saying--I just have to wonder if her reality exists. Therefore, her other accusations are suspect. .
Profile Image for Terrie.
328 reviews8 followers
October 30, 2007
This book was not what I expected. I can't say as I entirely followed all the spiritual experiences, but Beck is an excellent writer, and it was a much deeper treatment of Mormon beliefs and culture than in "Secret Ceremonies".

I found out that the author and her husband subsequently divorced and both indicate that they are actually homosexuals. It gets stranger because prior to leaving the Mormon church they authored a book together about how to suppress one's homosexual tendencies.
Profile Image for Ange.
141 reviews
May 12, 2009
I read it about the same time I read John Krakauer's book "Under the Banner of Heaven", so a comparison of the two always stands out in my mind. Under the Banner of Heaven gives us a look at the beginnings of the FLDS (and LDS) church and also some information about some current FLDS sects. But it's written from the perspective of an outsider looking in. This book is written from "an outsider's perspective" who used to be an "insider". I find it sad that the author of this book has undergone much criticism regarding whether or not her "repressed memories" are true or not. Knowing that this woman had enough integrity to leave the LDS religion, leads me to believe that she also has enough integrity to not misrepresent her experience in a book. Are all "repressed memories" always true... probably not. But I think we should give her the benefit of the doubt that there is a serious possibility that what she remembers did happen. I think this book comes close to describing the pain and the emotional turmoil one experiences in leaving the "Faith of their Fathers". I give kudos to the author for being brave enough to write it and share her experience with all of us.
Profile Image for Cory.
95 reviews8 followers
May 2, 2008
Beck is another gutsy lady who had the courage to stand up for herself and think for herself. Her experience with being ostracized from the Mormon church says more about the church than her. I admire her for speaking out against what she thought was wrong.
Profile Image for Janiece.
11 reviews15 followers
February 3, 2008
Fiction. The definition of memoir is consistently debatable. But according to her husband at the time this is probably along the lines of a million little pieces fiction masquerading as memior.
Profile Image for Christopher.
61 reviews299 followers
April 10, 2008
Even though I highly doubt much of the content of this book, I found it extremely entertaining and enjoyable to read. I took a class from her brother-in-law who would occasionally mention this book and how hurtful it had been to him personally. Aside from the main point, of her having been molested by Hugh Nibley as a child, he felt the majority of the books details did not reflect actual events and were unnecessarily hurtful. All of her siblings were interviewed together on public radio, several of whom have left the LDS Church and they unanimously decried the book as inaccurate, even aside from its central point, and cited numerous examples. I found their declaration persuasive. Particularly since several of them had left The Church so had no particular reason to defend it. And in reference to the books most inflammatory point, that her father had raped her as a child, I find that highly suspect. Nearly all psychologists and psychiatrists now feel that repressed memories are false. That if a child has forgotten abuse it is because it wasn't traumatic or understood at the time so not something the mind felt a pressing need to store. Memories recovered from hypnosis are especially suspects. It has been repeatedly shown in clinical studies that false memories can easily be implanted through hypnosis and that memories recovered by these means cannot be trusted. However, having said all that, considering this book as a work of fiction, I found it both insightful and entertaining. Her description of the near death experience she had was moving and inspirational to me. I read this book in almost one sitting and enjoyed nearly every paragraph.
I read it as soon as I could, before having heard the interview with her siblings, so, while dubious of her main claim of abuse, which I suspect she truly believes, I read the book believing it to be accurate. Were I to read it again knowing what I know now I may feel differently.
Profile Image for Ellyn.
297 reviews
February 23, 2009
The author was raised in a strict Mormon home in Provo, Utah, her father one of the church's high authorities. When their son is born with Down syndrome, Martha and her husband leave their graduate programs at Harvard to return to the supportive Mormon community that raised them. The years that follow (which are the years covered by this book) are tumultuous as Martha begins to recognize how the church silences dissidents and begins to confront her own history of sexual abuse by her father. I found this book to be a fascinating account of the author's journey towards faith and an interesting insider's view of the history and current state of the Mormon Church in America. The author is obviously extremely intelligent and well-spoken. Her experience of faith is hard for me to relate to because it's so outside the realm of my own experience, but I loved reading about it. Since reading this book, I have become aware that it is very controversial and that members of Martha's family have raised doubts about the truth of her accounts. I can't speak to whether her story is fact or fiction, but I do think that it's helpful to know some background on the author before reading it. In retrospect, I also wonder about the fairness of the author's portrayal of the Mormon Church. I still highly recommend this book, but I also recommend reading other writings about the Mormon Church from a variety of perspectives for the sake of balance.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
389 reviews88 followers
June 29, 2010
I understand the personal struggle any person can have when wrestling with the challenges of leaving their religion of origin. However, I take issue with calling out the legitimacy of any religion based on the behavior of one or two clergy men.

Additionally, Beck exaggerates the extent in which the L.D.S. church will go to "protect itself" to such an extreme that it is hard to believe any of the other accounts in her story.

This story felt irresponsible and sensational. This is highly problematic for me as a former member of the L.D.S. church. It was painful for me to make a choice to leave the religion. It was not based on leaders raping their children or secret Mormon police following around feminists. Instead, the struggle was born from my lack of spiritual connection with the religion but my deep connection with the culture and community. It was like turning my back on family that I loved and where I drew much of my identity.

It has taken a lot of hard work to reconcile the loss I have felt and still feel from time to time. This book does a disservice to that challenge.
Profile Image for Hanna.
158 reviews8 followers
October 28, 2016
Here we have a woman who - among other things - believed that God communicated with her during her pregnancy, via the Downs syndrome child she was carrying. She claims her father, a famous Mormon apologist, sexually abused her as a child, despite the denial of her eight siblings and both her parents. The memories of abuse came to her through "regression therapy" — previously she had never mentioned it. This is the therapy that lies behind the (false) Satanic Ritual Abuse allegations in the 1980s.

The book just isn't credible. The author claims her mother got angry when she was accepted to Harvard. She's not giving any justification, just stating it among an endless stream of "poor-me" memories. She quotes any number of strange Eastern philosophies which she seems to believe in. I'm afraid she gives an unstable impression.

I get the feeling of an attention-seeking person who is prone to exaggeration, drama and extending the truth to tell a good tale. I don't believe her father abused her.

Some of the reviewers here are Mormons who have a bone to pick with the author. They give her a low rating because she left the Mormon church and is telling tales. I'm not in that category, I just don't think she is very credible.
Profile Image for Giedra.
366 reviews
March 11, 2013
I’d like to start this review with reassurances to my Mormon friends and relatives that I did not choose to read this because I have any interest in trying to discredit your faith. Rather, I chose to read it as one of many stories of spiritual journeys. These have included Mary Karr’s journey through alcoholism to Christianity, Sara Miles’ journey from atheist to Christian, Lauren Winner’s journey from orthodox Judaism to Christianity and later, through divorce and doubt and back to faith, and Rachel Held Evans’ journey through doubt and back to faith. In comparison to those, Martha Beck’s journey might be considered more extreme…but I still found she had a lot to offer. If anyone else has favorite stories of faith journeys, please share!

I had already read Beck’s book Expecting Adam, in which Beck has some pretty remarkable experiences while pregnant with her son, so I wasn’t surprised that this book also featured some stories in which she experiences a sense of the divine (what I would call God) in spine-tingling “no way!” kinds of ways. The way she writes about these experiences is quite beautiful and comforting, and completely believable, at least to me.

I can understand why this book was controversial among Mormons and even Beck’s own family. It seems that her spiritual journey was propelled in large part by the return of repressed memories regarding abuse by her father, who was a well-regarded Mormon church historian/academician; it stands to reason that if her allegations are true, it would likely be easier for her family and church community to write her off than to accept her story at face value. I tend to believe her story, but true or not, it’s clear that she experienced a lot of healing from her journey and from leaving the faith of her family. She was able to feel joy and have a sense of peace and truth in a way she hadn’t been able to before she had the experiences recounted in the book.

The theme that unifies of all the faith journeys I have read about thus far is that spirituality is a very personal thing. What resonates with one person will not resonate with another, and yet it’s not that the one person’s experience is right and the other wrong. I think organized religion (all varieties!) often fails to recognize this truth—and this leads to all sorts of problems, even though a lot of good things go on along with the problems. Based on the (admittedly limited) reading I’ve done recently about journeys of faith, some people’s experiences lead them to farther in to organized religions; while some are led farther out. I don’t think either path is wrong; they are just different.

All in all, an interesting book. If you’re Mormon, it will probably make you mad, although you might also find it simply interesting.

Some quotes I liked:

The only conviction I embrace absolutely is this: whatever I believe, I may be wrong.

People who have had near-death experience sometimes say they not only relived all their mortal interactions with others but also felt every impact they had on those around them, as if they themselves were both object and subject of their behavior. If that’s how things work, it’s more than enough to satisfy my longing for justice and my anger at those who do violence.

Picture these experiences [those that occurred during events described in Expecting Adam] combined, boiled down into their most concentrated elements of pure joy, then multiplied by trillions and injected into every one of your cells. That might begin to help you imagine what I felt when the sense of Something Bigger emerged in the hurricane’s eye of my life, surrounded by events that were otherwise completely devastating.

If Adam was some sort of radio operator and I was just the broadcasting tower, no wonder the frequencies had all gone silent when he checked out and pulled the plug. It didn’t occur to me, not yet, that there was another radio operator in there—let’s call it my true self—who might do an adequate job on her own.

I wondered idly if the name Milky Way reflected the ancient Chinese belief that the vast creator goddess Nu-ah formed the constellation by accident, when she was nursing the first human and her uncovered breast sprayed white droplets across the sky. At the time I heard the myth, I thought that the whole concept of a woman spraying milk was as weird and fictional as “vast creator goddess.” Now I could do it my own self, anytime I wanted to, often when I didn’t. I wondered what other supposed impossibilities were only figments of my limited imagination.

One of the books I’d been reading—a Buddhist description of an Islamic text—described every spiritual quest as having three stages: the camel, the lion, and the child. “In the camel stages of awakening,” the author said, “we make ourselves available to the spirit through humility, prayer, repetition, and manual labor.” In a Zen monastery, this might mean submitting to the famous two-step “chop wood, carry water.” A Catholic…might volunteer to serve the poor and the sick.

Zen appealed to me with all its sparseness, Chinese Buddhism because of its emphasis on erasing delusion, as opposed to adding knowledge.

It felt as though the part of me doing the slamming [closing mind off from connection with divine energy in universe during meditation] was the very same part that longed so desperately for communion with God.

What if God felt about me the way I felt about my own children, about this tiny person I held in my arms? What if the force that ruled the universe adored me this much, accepted me without reservation, would protect me no matter what the cost?

[As] my mind contemplate[ed] the idea of a loving God, my heart [was] unable to feel it. It was like being able to chew but not swallow.

[Experience of God during a surgery] We were best friends sharing a joke: “Oh, my God, can you believe I thought all that crap was real?” “Yeah, you were totally buying it for a couple of decades there.” Gales of laughter, from both of us. “Remember how I was always thinking, ‘Oh, no, there’s pain everywhere and we’re all gonna die, we’re as doomed as doomed can be . . .’ ” More laughter, bubbling over, filling the universe. “Kid, you were freaking out!” “God, I know!” God. I know.

Though they were not described in words, the things I would need to remember were as clear as if this Being of Light had written them down in bullet points, memo-style, like this:
1. I am here. Always. I am always right here.
2. The way we are now, this being together, being one, is not the way you are supposed to feel after you die. It is the way you are meant to experience life.
3. The one place you can find me is the one place you have been afraid to go: your own heart.
4. It will not be easy for you to go there.
5. I will be here. Always. I will always be right here.

[These days, I meditate. I enjoy the silence.] In the silence, I feel a gentle, infinite peace, as sweet as the feeling the Light brought with it, and always available…I don’t really care whether it comes from a higher power or from the working of my meditation-primed brain. Whatever its source, connecting with it makes life feel like a gorgeous unfolding miracle instead of a doomed Sisyphean struggle. It’s strange to look back now at a time when silence was my worst enemy—though of course, that was a different sort of silence. Silence comes in two varieties: one that nourishes and comforts; another that chokes, smothers, and isolates. Solitary confinement is the worst kind of imprisonment we can inflict on fellow humans, and if you are forced to keep silent about some dark secret, you live in solitary confinement. Without the bridge of communication connecting you to other human beings, you can’t share your burdens, can’t receive comfort, can’t confirm that you still belong. Silence is the abyss that separates you from hope. The silence I kept in the weeks after my flashbacks began was this second kind, as malignant as cancer. I’d enforced my own silence to avoid interfering with other people’s connection to God. Now I know that it had exactly the opposite effect.

The truth I needed to be free was simply the reality of my own life: This is what I think. This is what I feel. This is what happened to me. To know these small truths was to know myself; to speak them was to connect with my real self, other human beings, and God.

Later I would recall the text where I’d read about the camel, the phase of a spiritual quest that eventually gives way to the lion. The quotation goes like this: “When we have discovered the heart’s capacity to face any situation, the joys and sorrows of existence as they are, we awaken to freedom. Then the golden lion speaks with a roar. Out of the mouth of the lion comes the undaunted voice of truth, the liberation of the unbounded heart.” …I’d left the persona of the camelish acolyte whose highest good is to subordinate all personal initiative to an established religious tradition. Knowing my own truth made me responsible for choosing a course of action based on that truth, even if it meant breaking with traditions and institutions.

I remember the laughter I felt during my moments with the White Light, the hilarious joyful, bubbling jollity. It seems to me at this moment that laughing is a serious thing, that it connects us with truth and love and God. The Light couldn’t have cared less about being mocked or about how loudly people laugh; that would be like the air blaming the leaves for sparkling in the wind.

The only thing scarier than telling my secrets would be keeping them. When the “sensitive information” you carry is your own history, going mute to protect the system doesn’t keep you from being destroyed; it just means that you destroy yourself. “What profiteth it a man,” Jesus said, “if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” For a long time I felt as though my soul was lost, hidden even from my own understanding, to protect me from the consequences of openness in a culture that demanded my silence. Now that I know what it feels like to be whole, my worst fear is not death, but a return to that soulless existence.

…for the past several years, it seems I get everything I pray for, too. It has something to do with the way I’ve learned to pray, which is more about listening than demanding. Every day, if I can still my body and mind enough to hear Silence, I notice that my heart is yearning toward certain things, avoiding others. It’s when I voice this deep yearning that my prayers are answered. And nothing else I might ask for really matters.

My God is more amorphous, more of a universal constant, like gravity or magnetism. This constant doesn’t pick favorites; it simply flows into any opening we make for it.

I believe that the line between good and evil doesn’t separate human beings into different categories; it runs through every one of us, and every moment is a choice: heal or destroy.

The Stream, he said, was the ubiquitous power of God that flowed through every being, sentient and nonsentient. To become a Leaf was to ride the current without struggling, to sense the inclination of a benevolent reality and surrender to it, moment by moment. Sometimes, the Stream carried me into things anyone would call spiritual practice: prayer, meditation, introspection, good works. But at other times, the current of the Stream picked up the pace, splashed me into whitewater.

No matter how difficult and painful it may be, nothing sounds as good to the soul as the truth.

It wasn’t slavery, but it was a powerful form of bondage: the belief that God had ordained a pattern of secrets and silence, that religious authority always trumped one’s individual sense of right and wrong, that the evidence of the senses must bow to the demands of orthodoxy, no matter how insane. It was a kind of institutionalized madness, and its shackles were all the more confining for existing almost entirely in the human mind.

One thing we had both come to believe was that each person’s path to God is unique, that we all follow a slightly different trajectory as Leaves in the great Stream, and that each human being’s operating instructions are therefore different.

The word religion comes from the Latin re-ligos, meaning “to tie together again.” On a grand scale, I think this means the reconnection of all souls, all spirits, all the bits of divine creation that briefly imagine they—we—are separate and alone.

In the last stage the lion gives way to the child, to an original innocence. This is the Child of the Spirit for whom all things are new. For this divine child there is wonder, ease, and a playful heart. The child is at home in the reality of the present, able to enjoy, to respond, to forgive, and to share the blessings of being alive.

All faiths form around the same priceless thing: the Stream, the Silence, the Light.

Over and over, I groped past the shallow scrims of intellectualism and perfectionism to find something deeper and truer beyond them. Love, I discovered, is the only thing human beings do that really matters a damn. Happiness, like beauty, is its own excuse for being.

Don’t ‘network’ into meaningless relationships with colleagues who bore you; find the people who can make you laugh all night, who turn on the lights in your heart and mind. Do whatever work feeds your true self, even if it’s not a safe bet, even if it looks like a crazy risk, even if everyone in your life tells you you’re wrong or bad or crazy.”

We all make the same trip. We believe without question almost everything we learn as children, stumble into the many potholes and pitfalls that mar any human endeavor, stagger around blindly in pain and outrage, then slowly remember to pay attention, to listen for the Silence, look for the Light, feel the tenderness that brings both vulnerability to wounds and communion with the force that heals them. Don’t worry about losing your way, I tell my clients. If you do, pain will remind you to find your path again. Joy will let you know when you are back on it.

I am free, and always have been; free to accept my own reality, free to trust my perceptions, free to believe what makes me feel sane even if others call me crazy, free to disagree even if it means great loss, free to seek the way home until I find it. All the great religions I have studied, including Mormonism, hold that this irrevocable soul-deep liberty is the key to the end of suffering and the beginning of joy. The Buddha said that just as you can recognize seawater because it always tastes of salt, you can recognize enlightenment because it always tastes of freedom.

Any spiritual practice is ultimately just a way of stripping off the illusions we have learned from other flawed mortals, letting go of whatever holds us back, opening ourselves completely to what comes next. It feels like a terrible risk, to be so vulnerable, to disobey the rules, to end up losing the things and people we love.

the worst pain, fear, and torment I’ve ever experienced has only deepened my ability to experience joy. I feel this even when I’m hurting, because while pain and pleasure are mutually exclusive, pain and joy are not.

The more I tune in to the source of my own being (and every religion I’ve studied has helped me find ways), the more anger, sorrow, and fear seem confined to the shallows of my personality, while my true self—and yours, and that of every being—is like a sea whose depths are always tranquil, however troubled the surface may become. Pain reminds me to return to the deep, calm, gentle sea, so that I find myself crying because I’m happy, and because I’m sad, but never because I’m in despair. Once you’re sure that God is waiting in the acceptance of every true thing, even pain, I’m not sure despair is even possible.

“The roads are different,” wrote the Sufi poet Rumi, “but the goal is one. When people reach the goal, all those who yelled at each other along the road, ‘You are wrong!’ or ‘You are a blasphemer!’ forget all possible differences.

Maybe, though, we’ll arrive at a place and time (or something beyond space and time) where we’ll sit around laughing and swapping stories about the messes we made during our respective treks through the blind maze of mortality. We’ll toast Muhammad, wave to the Buddha, high-five Jesus, Mary, and Rabbi Hillel, scratch the twelve opossums behind their ears. Then I plan to sit back to watch the flower fire, knowing that I’m home and I’m safe and it’s okay to go to sleep .

Profile Image for Dustin the wind Crazy little brown owl.
1,079 reviews144 followers
May 19, 2022
Highly relatable. I initially read the book in 2006 while living in Utah. I remember purchasing my copy in Sugarhouse and hiding the cover as I took it to the counter. Recently, I was checking my library for Martha Beck's newest book, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self, and saw that the library had an audiobook of Leaving the Saints, got my paperback off my bookshelf and started reading for the third time. Like the author, my Mormon roots go back to the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Leaving the Saints gave me to the courage to change my perspective and I moved from Utah the same year I read the book. The descriptions of Mormon culture, rituals and beliefs are accurate. Like Martha Beck, I seek spirituality without organized religion.

Related titles to consider: The Glass Castle, Educated, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins

Favorite Passages:

They say religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, and spirituality is for people who've been there. If you're in the second category, this book is dedicated to you.

Room at the Inn
The only conviction I embrace absolutely is this: whatever I believe, I may be wrong.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, I Am from Utah
When I'd dreamed of my wedding day, my girlish fantasies never included having old ladies daub my naked body with oil. If they had, I seriously doubt that I would have been granted a temple recommend.

Inner Darkness
As far as Latter-day Saints are concerned, I've already committed the only sin worse than murder: I left the church. Cold-blooded killers stand a chance of being forgiven by God, provided they undergo some form of execution that involves spilling blood (this is why at this writing, in 2003, Utah still practices death by firing squad). But we apostates are beyond help. After our deaths, no matter how bloody they may be, we get a one-way trip to outer darkness. This is the Mormon equivalent of hell, but a chilling one: no fire and brimstone here, just an endless emptiness, a cold, hopeless void that, come to think of it, sounds kind of like my childhood.

The Kingdom of God
I know a lot of people who claim that their families are weirder because of Mormonism, but I am one of a much more select group who can justifiably claim that Mormonism is weirder because of my family.

While the world had opened up for girls of my generation, my mother kept grinding away at the one occupation recommended for Mormon females: breeding well in captivity. She was good at this; she just didn't like it. I could certainly identify with that.

To outsiders, we were probably a litter of mangy, indistinguishable, nearsighted blond urchins. But to me, my brothers and sisters were quite simply the walking definition of love.

The World of Allusion
No one gets out of the building without promising to give everything - every bit of money, property, time and talent - to the Church. They don't tell you you're going to make this vow when you go in. They spring it on you after you're already in so deep, having mimed your own death and all, that it's pretty impossible to say no.

. . . you don't know the meaning of surreal until you've seen a bright red, football-sized version of your mother-in-law trying to crawl up your torso. It's the closest I'd ever come to an acid flashback.

. . . Mother in Heaven is a vague and bashful figure in Mormonism. One is not supposed to discuss her too frequently or in any detail, lest her tender feelings be hurt.

The Lord's University
Men must also wear socks, on the premise that the hair on human ankles can be thought of as an extension of pubic hair (I don't know what group of anatomical analysts made this determination, but whoever they are, I never want to see them naked).

"We're not supposed to study feminism?" I said.
The woman who had already spoken shook her head. "It's the other f-word. We don't even say it."

Father Abraham
. . . they needed someone to explain, to spin, the parts of the tale that couldn't be suppressed. Someone reputable and educated. Someone brilliant yet absolutely committed to the faith. Someone like my father.

. . . I called another friend, an ex-Mormon from Utah, and described what I planned to write. "They'll kill you," she said immediately, without a trace of levity.

My father didn't respond verbally. He began jiggling back and forth a little, perhaps invigorated by his potion magique, muttering under his breath in a foreign language. In short, our relationship was back to normal.

The Gang Bang
"Unbelievable," she said. "Filthy. Dirty diapers in the corners, junk everywhere, I mean everywhere. Mint green walls with hunger orange chairs - indescribable, really."

"It just doesn't make sense," John told his mother one day as we sat in my in-laws' home, eating homemade chocolate-chip cookies. "A lot of stuff about the Church seems wrong to me."
"Have you prayed about that?" John's mother asked, unable to keep the shrill edge of anxiety from her voice. "The Lord will tell you the truth, you know. You'll get the burning in your bosom." (The "burning in the bosom" is a classic quote from Mormon scripture, the sensation by which God confirms one's "testimony." I always wished the phrase came with an illustration of a flaming brassiere and perhaps a sample-sized pack of Rolaids.)
"Yes, Mom, I have prayed about it," said John. "And I really, truly feel that a lot of it's wrong. For me."
"Well, I don't see how you'd get that," said his mother, voice crackling.
"I feel it, Mom," he said. "I think it, and I feel it."
"Are you sure those feelings are in line with the Gospel?"
"No," said John. "They aren't. That's just the point. I'm trying to find out what's true for me."
"Well," snapped his mother, with more anger than I'd ever seen her display, "that's just sign seeking. You go praying like that, you could end up believing anything."
"I know," said John quietly.

Committing Publicity
"My nephew did what you're doing," one neighbor told me, "and a week later he died of a ruptured spleen." "Our bishop's son left the Church," said another, "and now he's bankrupt in prison."

Personal Priesthood
"You understand you'll have none of the special powers and authorities that come with the priesthood?"
"I understand," John nodded, his face impassive.
"But," said Bishop Harry, brightening up just a little, "you will still be allowed to give 10 percent of your income to the Church. You'll still have that blessing."

"Were you wearing your garments when you made this decision?" he asked, glaring at John. Where were you on the night of June 7, when Professor Plum was murdered in the study with the lead pipe?

Even after receiving quite a lot of hate mail, it felt all new and fresh to be on the crap list of an actual apostle.

In Provo, at the Lord's University, it seemed that I couldn't open my car door without smacking an incest survivor.
Profile Image for Alia.
17 reviews
May 16, 2010
Ok, the author of this book is a totally annoying hippie dippy LOON. I kind of wanted to punch her, more than once. She acts like all Mormons are exactly the same and horrible terrible people who only care about what "The Church" thinks about them. My mother and Aunt ex-communicated themselves from the Mormon church when they were in their early 20s, do my Mormon grandmother and grandfather ignore them and act like they aren't a part of the family? Of course not! My husband ex-communicated himself from the church in his early 20s as well, his oldest brother is also a homosexual, did their family ditch them? NOT IN THE LEAST! This woman comes across as if you're a Mormon and you leave the church your friends and family will never speak to you ever again. I know a LOT of Mormons and let me tell you, I've never seen this happen in my LIFE. She even goes out to say that if you live in a highly populated Mormon area (which I do) and aren't Mormon but have children, your children will have an impossible time finding friends because Mormons don't like their children being friends with non-mormons...um...my son's BEST FRIEND and all of his cousins on my husbands side are LDS, this is total NONSENSE!

I gave it 2 stars because the good parts were the history of the Mormon church (interupted by chapters of her really annoying hippie flippy philosophy on life and her story about growing up with her abusive father). Most of the history stuff I already knew (That the Natives through DNA have been shown to be descendants of Asia and not the Middle East and that the church went through Holocaust records and decided to baptize all the Jewish victims they could find into Mormons) but I had no idea about the true story of "The Book of Abraham" and how it was found in a museum in the 1960's and later translated to actually be a part of the Eqyptian Book of the Dead. Crazy stuff!

Do I think Mormons are bad people? Absolutely not. Do I believe in the religion? Absolutely not. Then again I never have. I wouldn't recommend this book, I'd recommend Under the Banner of Heaven if you wan't to read some nitty gritty stuff on the LDS church. Much better book.
Profile Image for Mary.
633 reviews
November 20, 2009
The wonderfully written story of a woman who bravely left the Mormon Church because of many reasons, including sexual abuse. I hadn't realized what a complete package Mormonism is. Since she left it, neither her 7 siblings nor her parents have had any meaningful contact with her. (Maybe saying hi at a funeral.)That must be painful. But she stayed true to her feelings and her truth. Many intellectuals who taught at BYU were told to completely water down their teaching to the point of idiocy. She doesn't use the word witchhunt but she might as well have. She keeps trusting herself and comes to an inner faith that serves her well. She is full of love for others, not bitterness. Highly recommended.
This same woman wrote Expecting Adam, for those of you who've read that.
Oh yeah, and the dysfunctionality of her family was, I have to say, refreshing. (Painful for them, I know. But it normalized things for me...)Unbelievably repressed.
Ok, ps, now I'm reading other people's reviews and it turns out she and her husband divorced, and that he contradicts some of her scenarios...hmmm. And her siblings as well....hmmm
Oh, and one more thing: great sense of humor. Lots of good laughs and chuckles.
Profile Image for Cynthia Sillitoe.
580 reviews13 followers
January 11, 2012
It's fascinating reading reviews of this book. (It astonishes me that someone feels entitled to refer to someone's memoir as "a novel." Um, were you there at the time?) I can't help wondering how many of the people dissing it and attacking Beck would react the same way if it were about someone else with an unknown father in a different religion or even the same religion, but maybe a father who was not a "good" Mormon. I've spent enough time near Mormonism to know who Hugh Nibley was and have some idea of his influence on Mormon intellectualism, but personally have no connection/loyalty/whatever to him. Maybe that's why it didn't freak me out to think there might have been sexual abuse in the Nibley home. I found the book believable, haunting, and incredibly brave. I saw it as one woman telling her story, not trying to destroy her father/family/church, though I'm not at all surprised it's been interpreted as such. It must have been both terrifying and liberating to write and publish.
Profile Image for Eden.
Author 1 book25 followers
May 9, 2013
I seem to be reading all of Martha Beck's books now. This one really tests her sense of humor as she describes some horrific childhood memories that resurfaced as she was conducting sociological research at BYU, made even more horrifying by the fact that the Mormon church tried to suppress not just her personal story but her academic work. It's like Communist China up Utah way, strangely, and I learned a lot about the Mormon church, good and bad, from the POV of an apostate. She went through hell but she came through a stronger person because of it. This is one of those books where the heroine's bravery rubbed off on me, because if she can come through all of THAT in one piece then surely I can work through my own petty dysfunctions.
Profile Image for Heather.
829 reviews13 followers
November 24, 2021
Reading the criticisms of this book after completing the book is kind of fascinating. The book itself is a beautifully written memoir of strength in the face of extreme struggle. The way Beck speaks about spirituality, forgiveness and her love and appreciation of people in the Mormon church is courageous and inspiring.

I wonder if many of the critics of this book actually read it? I amazed at how many people can come to the firm conclusion that she’s made up sexual abuse allegations of her father. Victim blaming at its finest. It’s almost a study in how the #metoo movement came about.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,737 reviews649 followers
October 10, 2008
Having read the thought provoking Under the Banner of Heaven, I was not sure what to expect. But Krakauer is viewing it from outside. Martha Beck's view is from the core and it is very personal. Having left Utah for an academic life in the Ivy League East, we find out why she goes back and what awaits her. At times gut-wrenching, it gives a chilling portrait of what she finds both at BYU and in her personal history. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Susan.
235 reviews
March 25, 2015
I'm sure this was situational, but I thought this book was a marvel. I was visiting Salt Lake City for the first time, staying not two blocks from the Mormon church headquarters (incl Temple Square) while I attended a conference at the convention center. For whatever reasons, I felt like the air was thick with... *something* that made me feel vaguely yet definitely uncomfortable, and QUESTIONS kept arising to interrupt my conversations with my husband, who had lived there for two years while studying at Utah. I could feel myself scratching the bottom of the barrel of his knowledge, and was hungry for more... that's when we took a field trip to the well-stocked [and Mormon-owned] used book store, Weller Book Works, in the old Trolley Square, and I stumbled upon this book.

It reads easily and clearly: she used an interview with an aging parent to create a compelling framework of organization that drew me eagerly from one chapter to the next. She was blunt and honest about the good and bad angles of Mormonism and the Mormon community, and her academic background provided the perfect tone for her moving and personal analysis. I've enjoyed a fair amount of reading about people's personal spiritual quests, and this book engaged me in that way, also.

If you've ever been curious to learn more about the Mormon faith and lifestyle, but didn't want ANY proselytizing, this book is for you. (Caveat: it does contain material about sexual abuse and incest --very brief parts are explicit--, so if that freaks you out, I wouldn't recommend this book.)
Profile Image for Joanne.
2,526 reviews
November 28, 2012
This is a hard book to review. The writing is very good, especially about Beck's spiritual experiences, which may come across to some (which even she acknowledges) as "woo woo," but still read as true. She also is very funny and self-deprecating.

The veracity of her story of being abused as a child has been challenged by her family. I have no idea whether or not it's true, but believe she believes it is. It is horrific and disturbing to read (cost me some hours of sleep one night), and her writing about coming through it to a deeper experience of God is a testimony to her strength, or if one doubts her story, to her creativity.

She also made me think about what a culture looks like which enables the abuse of women and children. In her case, she attributes it to the LDS church, especially its history of polygamy, and a theology which makes women dependent upon men for their salvation. They're unique in that history and theology, but not unique in establishing a culture of authority and wanting to ignore accusations of abuse from said authority -- see Penn State, the Catholic church, the Boy Scouts, etc. Troubling.

So: an interesting read, though one undoubtedly controversial - hurtful to some, and like cold water in the desert to others.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
803 reviews
July 7, 2008
I am just not sure what I think about this book. I read Expecting Adam and really liked it. But this one? I'm not so sure. I still love the author's funny, irreverent way of telling stories and her fact-bound, critical review of her faith. But I found her almost . . . annoying? Everything was always so dramatic and extreme with her, that I even found myself disbelieving some of her story, which then made me feel guilty. And what happened to Adam and her other kids while all these events were happening? And the prologue in which she relayed that she and her husband divorced? What was that about? For me, it completely defeated the purpose and awesomeness of her husband's mystical experience in that Japanese temple in Expecting Adam. And it also seemed weird that she tricked her father into meeting her, only to try to force him into some confession. What purpose would that serve? That her happiness and closure was dependent on someone else's admission of his sins? Understandable, I guess, but disappointing, given her journey of self-discovery and self-actualization. Wow -- the more I write, the more annoyed I am with this book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 505 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.