Saint Misbehavin'

Life on Planet Mormon

Even before its publication, Phoenix author Martha Beck's Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith was causing cramps among Latter-day Saints around the globe. In the memoir, Beck, a life coach and columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine, depicts sacred Mormon ceremonies and accuses her father, Hugh Nibley, of sexually molesting her as a child. Nibley, who died in February, was a well-regarded authority on Mormon teaching whom Beck paints as having suffered his own childhood traumas. Despite her rather sympathetic portrayal of her whacked-out father, the Mormon Church is calling for Beck's head. And the best-selling author, who's still receiving daily threats from people who call themselves saints, is laughing all the way to the guillotine.

New Times: I was surprised at how much humor there is in your book, which at its core is about a very terrible occurrence.

Martha Beck: But don't you think that's a description of life on Earth? There are so many terrifically funny things in the world, yet so much to be frightened of, too.

Local author Martha Beck spills the beans on magic underwear.
Local author Martha Beck spills the beans on magic underwear.

NT: You might be the single most qualified person in America to stand up to the patriarchy of LDS society. Your father was a pillar of that community.

Beck: I don't know. I think that every problem that human beings create has a cast of characters around it. Mine just happen to be Latter-day Saints. Some of them are Abe Lincolns and Harriet Tubmans, the people who are pointing out that there's a problem with child sexual abuse among Mormons. I say, "How do you use what you've been given in this life to maximize your experience here?"

NT: There was actually an e-mail campaign against the book before it was published.

Beck: Right -- by groups who wanted my publisher to stop the presses. There were threats of lawsuits, and physical threats against me. And it wasn't a reaction to the book, because no one had read it. There was one e-mail campaign aimed at Oprah, to try to get the book disavowed by Oprah or to get me fired from O magazine. [The naysayers] did me a huge favor by jumping the gun, because it was clear that these were people who were complaining before they'd even read the book, which made them look a little paranoid. They do get feisty, these Mormons.

NT: The LDS folks seem to think your book will turn people against them. Memo to Mormons: Most of us who aren't Mormons already think you're scary as heck.

Beck: I'm so glad you said that. They're so enclosed in their little world that they can't imagine that I wanted people outside of Mormonism to understand that world a little better. It's like my mother telling me once that I shouldn't go into therapy [to talk about my sexual abuse] because there are no psychologists who haven't heard of my father. On what planet, Mom?

NT: Mormons are wacky. I mean, they believe that their underwear repels demons.

Beck: Oh, yes, indeed. And if you wear your [special underwear], after you die you get your very own planet to live on.

NT: I have enough trouble managing a house. A whole planet would drive me nuts.

Beck: But if you were Mormon, you'd have dozens of wives to keep the planet tidy for you.

NT: Wives? This scenario keeps getting scarier. But speaking of marriage, what's this thing about a vow that Mormons take on their wedding day that if they ever tell temple secrets, they'll allow themselves to be killed?

Beck: "I will suffer my life to be taken" is the exact wording. It's true. It's part of the marriage ceremony.

NT: I read some of your hate mail on your Web site. All those Mormons writing in to say they're glad you'll be burning in hell. Devout people say the nicest things!

Beck: This is something we should be discussing in the world: that fundamentalism and fanaticism are the most dangerous things in the world today.

NT: Well, that and tsunamis.

Beck: I doubt there were many Mormons on vacation in Phuket. Thank God Star Jones got out in time!

NT: That was a close call. The most shocking scene in your book is where your mother telephones to say she knows your father molested you.

Beck: That was the hardest part to write, too. I was writing in Borders Books and I just put my head down on the table and was crying uncontrollably. I felt bereft and abandoned, because she threw out a rope to me and then withdrew it. It's the closest I came to ever feeling mother-love from her.

NT: And now your family is denouncing your book, claiming it's all untrue.

Beck: Yes, although they don't have a theory about the physical evidence, the internal scarring I have. They claim I've been surrounded by guardian demons all my life, and they're forcing me to have these untrue memories. The demons inflicted the scars. Others claim I was having sex with Satan. I keep telling them we only went on a couple of dates, Satan and me. But nothing happened.

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