[Paleopsych] NYT: A Mormon Daughter's Book Stirs a Storm

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Wed Mar 30 20:14:09 UTC 2005

NYT: A Mormon Daughter's Book Stirs a Storm
February 24, 2005

[Dr. Nibley's obituary follows. He died on the 24th.]


    The daughter of one of Mormonism's most prominent religious scholars
    has accused her father of sexually abusing her as a child in a
    forthcoming memoir that is shining an unwelcome spotlight on the
    practices and beliefs of the much-scrutinized but protectively private
    Mormon religious community.

    "Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith"
    details how the author, Dr. Martha Beck, a sociologist and therapist,
    recovered memories in 1990 of her ritual sexual abuse more than 20
    years earlier by her father, Dr. Hugh Nibley, professor emeritus of
    ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and arguably the leading
    living authority on Mormon teaching.

    The book, being published next month by Crown, an imprint of Random
    House, has attracted significant criticism both for its depiction of
    sacred Mormon ceremonies and for the author's effort to tie her sexual
    abuse to what she says were mental disturbances suffered by her father
    because of his role as the Mormon Church's "chief apologist."

    Dr. Nibley, who is 95, is ailing and is physically unable to respond
    to questions, Alex Nibley, one of eight Nibley children, said in a
    statement. Dr. Nibley has been aware of Dr. Beck's accusations for
    several years, Alex Nibley said, and maintains that they are false. As
    part of a defense of their father, Dr. Beck's seven siblings have
    condemned her assertions and have hired a psychologist and lawyer who
    has worked on lawsuits against therapists practicing recovered-memory

    The Mormon Church issued a statement condemning the book, calling it
    "seriously flawed in the way it depicts the church, its members and
    teachings." Dr. Beck and her publisher have said she has received
    e-mail messages containing death threats.

    In addition, Mormons around the country have participated in an e-mail
    campaign against the book, sending more than 3,500 messages to Oprah
    Winfrey, who has featured "Leaving the Saints" on her Internet site
    and in the March issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. The magazine includes
    a monthly self-help column by Dr. Beck, who has a doctorate from

    Though other recent books have taken aim at parts of the Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at well-known Mormons or at Mormon
    culture, rarely have they focused on so prominent a figure as Dr.
    Nibley. In 2003, for example, Jon Krakauer wrote about a group of
    renegade Mormon fundamentalists in "Under the Banner of Heaven: A
    Story of Violent Faith." As with the Beck book, the Mormon Church
    issued a statement condemning it before it was published.

    Recovered memory, in which a suppressed traumatic incident is recalled
    years later, has been one of the most disputed topics among
    mental-health professionals in the last 15 years. The American
    Psychological Association states that while "there is a consensus
    among memory researchers and clinicians that most people who were
    sexually abused as children remember all or part of what happened to
    them," most leaders in the field also agree "that although it is a
    rare occurrence, a memory of early childhood abuse that has been
    forgotten can be remembered later."

    But "Leaving the Saints," Dr. Beck's fourth book, seems as likely to
    be discussed for the things it leaves out as for those it includes.
    Among the omissions is an incident of sexual abuse that Dr. Beck said
    recently in an interview was never suppressed. When she was about 9,
    she said, a teenage neighbor barricaded her in his room, stripped most
    of her clothes off and sexually assaulted her. He did not achieve
    penetration, Dr. Beck said, and the incident was interrupted by her
    father, who was in the neighbor's house at the time. Though she called
    the event "extremely traumatizing," she said the incident was cut in
    the editing of her manuscript to shorten the book.

    Dr. Beck also does not mention that one person she consulted about her
    sexual abuse was Lynne Finney, a Utah psychotherapist who has said
    that up to one out of three Americans were sexually abused as
    children. In the early 1990's, Ms. Finney, who is referred to in
    "Leaving the Saints" by the pseudonym "Mona," was a leading
    practitioner of recovered-memory therapy, including the use of
    self-hypnosis, a practice that some studies have shown can result in
    the creation of false memories. Asked about the omission, Dr. Beck
    said she consulted Ms. Finney only after having already recovered the
    memories of abuse. She said that she practiced self-hypnosis once
    under Ms. Finney but that it did not play a part in her memory

    While Dr. Beck is now highly critical of the Mormon Church, in 1990,
    she and her husband, John C. Beck, had a book published by a company
    owned by the Mormon Church arguing that homosexuality is a compulsive
    behavior that can be overcome. After leaving the church, however, the
    Becks divorced and have lived openly as homosexuals, something each
    acknowledged in interviews. Dr. Beck said she left those details out
    of the book to keep it focused on the accusations of sexual abuse;
    John Beck declined to comment further on the book.

    Those and other facets of Dr. Beck's story have been discussed online
    in chat rooms and on bulletin boards, at sites devoted to Mormonism
    and at those favored by people who have left the church and view its
    practices unfavorably. The book's own Web site,
    [1]www.leavingthesaints.com, has had more than 6,500 visitors in
    February alone, triple the number in January, and has received more
    than 200 e-mail messages, 80 percent of them expressing outrage at the
    book, the publisher says.

    In an interview, Dr. Beck said she did not intend "Leaving the Saints"
    to be an indictment of Mormonism. Though she said her book did not
    reveal any church secrets, it discusses Mormon rites like the temple
    ceremony, a sacred ritual, and subjects like regulation temple
    garments, which Mormons wear under their clothes - in a sometimes
    mocking tone that has infuriated many devout Mormons. Her publisher
    said Dr. Beck had received at least one death threat by e-mail that
    cited her depictions of Mormon ceremonies.

    "I didn't write it to convince anyone not to be Mormon or not to join
    the Mormons," she said. "I just needed to get the story of my
    childhood out of my system."

    Her childhood was marked, she said, by unexplained depression,
    anorexia and despair that at times left her suicidal. Even before she
    recovered her memories of sexual abuse, she said, she recalled
    suffering unexplained pain and bleeding between her thighs when she
    was about 5. She writes that she remembered thinking that "if anyone
    finds out about it, no one will ever marry me." In her teens and 20's,
    she writes, several doctors commented on unusual scar tissue in her
    vaginal area, which she cites as physical evidence of the abuse.
    Later, she said, doctors confirmed to her that the vaginal scarring
    was not the result of childbirth.

    It was not until she was in her late 20's, however, while teaching at
    Brigham Young, that Dr. Beck experienced a flashback that resulted in
    the memories of what she describes as ritualistic rape by her father.
    During the incident, which she believes took place in her home while
    her older siblings were at school, her father recited incantations
    about Abraham and Isaac.

    Dr. Beck's siblings, who have known about her claims for almost a
    decade and several of whom attended at least one family-group session
    with one of Dr. Beck's therapists, dispute her account, saying that no
    evidence exists of abuse and that incidents in the book are either
    inaccurate or made up. Rebecca Nibley, a sister, said Dr. Beck
    "encouraged me to get my own recovered memories of being abused."

    "As hard as I tried, I couldn't remember anything untoward concerning
    my father's behavior toward me, and I can't validate any of Martha's
    claims," she added.

    Dr. Beck twice confronted her father about the claims, once at a
    family therapy session with her husband and her parents shortly after
    she recovered the memories. The other time was at a 2001 meeting in a
    hotel, an event that she uses as a device in "Leaving the Saints" as
    the story of her life and her understanding of her sexual abuse

    Joining her at that hotel meeting was a member of her extended family
    who has supported Dr. Beck's assertions from the beginning. The family
    member, who is identified in the book by a pseudonym, agreed to speak
    only on the condition of anonymity after receiving threats of physical
    violence because of her support of Dr. Beck.

    "I believed Martha from the beginning because the memories she had of
    elements of the abuse - memories that never went away and were always
    part of her history - also fit with the outward signs of the abuse I
    saw in her growing up," the family member said. Speaking to Dr. Beck's
    parents about it since, she said, "has only served to strengthen my
    belief in the veracity of her reporting of her experience."

The New York Times > Obituaries > Hugh Nibley, Outspoken Mormon Scholar, Dies 
at 94
February 25, 2005


    Hugh W. Nibley, a Mormon religious scholar who was one of the most
    active and outspoken defenders of Mormon writings and teachings, died
    yesterday at his home in Provo, Utah. He was 94.

    A spokesman for the family, Chris Thomas, said Dr. Nibley had been in
    declining health in recent months.

    Though not a member of the formal hierarchy of the Church of Jesus
    Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dr. Nibley, a professor emeritus of
    ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, was regularly called on
    by senior church officials to research and respond to questions about
    or criticisms of Mormon teachings.

    Unlike many previous Mormon defenders, Dr. Nibley used his training as
    a historian to support Mormon beliefs, making academic examinations of
    the origins and documentation of events and people in Mormon history.
    He focused his expertise on the Mormon Church's most sacred texts,
    particularly the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, a
    collection of the writings of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

    For much of the last two decades, Dr. Nibley worked on a defense of
    the portion of the Pearl of Great Price known as the Book of Abraham,
    which was the translation by Smith of an ancient Egyptian papyrus that
    he obtained in 1835 but that went missing after his death.

    In 1967 a researcher discovered the papyrus in the collection of the
    Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was returned to the church, but new
    studies of the document, based on modern Egyptian scholarship
    including an understanding of hieroglyphics not available when Smith
    was alive, claimed that the document was a common Egyptian funerary
    document. Dr. Nibley rejected that interpretation.

    Dr. Nibley has been the subject of heated debates among Mormons and
    former church members recently as one of his daughters, Martha Beck,
    of Phoenix, has prepared to publish a memoir in which she accuses her
    father of sexually abusing her as a child. The book, "Leaving the
    Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith," is to be published
    next month by Crown.

    Dr. Nibley's seven other children all signed a statement condemning
    the book, saying they were "saddened by the book's countless errors,
    falsehoods, contradictions and gross distortions." They said that Dr.
    Nibley had vigorously denied the accusations, which were based on
    suppressed memories that Martha Beck said she recovered in 1990.

    In addition to his children, Dr. Nibley is survived by his wife,
    Phyllis Draper Nibley; a brother; a sister; 24 grandchildren; and two

    Hugh Winder Nibley was born in Portland, Ore. He grew up there and in
    Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California, Los
    Angeles, with a history degree. He earned a doctorate in classics at
    Berkeley, training that led him to the military intelligence corps
    when he joined the Army in 1942.

    After World War II most of his life was spent in Utah, where he taught
    at Brigham Young from 1946 through 1994.

    Although a defender of Mormonism, within the church he was also an
    outspoken critic. In a 1984 commencement address at Brigham Young,
    with leaders of the university and high-ranking church officials in
    attendance, Dr. Nibley made a pointed contrast between leaders and
    managers, extolling the first while denigrating the second.

    "That one caused a lot of trouble," Dr. Nibley told the Deseret News,
    a newspaper affiliated with the Mormon church, in a 2003 interview. He
    added that even the university's president "hated it."

More information about the paleopsych mailing list