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

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Thu Mar 31 03:46:08 UTC 2005

Interesting piece, Frank. I knew Hugh Nibley, lived next door as an 
undergrad, talked with him many times. I know one of his children, Tom.  
The other seven children - some of whom are highly estranged from the 
LDS church and would love to see it fall - are united in refuting her 

Martha's story actually has changed numerous times across the past ten 
years. She originally practiced self hypnosis to try to self-diagnose 
her problems, accused various people of molesting her before she settled 
on her father. As her sister said today on a radio interview, all her 
life, Martha has been a great story teller but highly unreliable. She 
changes her stories and expects others to forget the earlier versions.

I have been in Nibley's home, and it was exquisitly small and crammed 
with stuff. No child had a room of his/her own (eight children, in a 
very small home).  The ritual abuse story is too incredible (where/when 
could it happen in a crowded little house full of children, guests, 
students, and anyone passing by), even leaving out the fact that Hugh 
Nibley was a remarkably frank and open man. His lecture on Management 
Versus Leadership was a classic. He once gave the invocation - opening 
prayer in Mormon parlance - at the commencement exercises, and asked God 
to forgive us for coming before Him in the robes of a false priesthood. 
Another shocking moment.  But he always meant what he said.

Ten years ago there was a lot of paranoia about satanic ritual abuse, 
and I interviewed several patients who claimed it. I also interviewed 
several people who were abducted by flying saucers. The sincerity of 
their claims does not overcome the unreliability and unbelievability of 
their stories. One woman - not my own patient - claimed to have had a 
child who was ritually murdered and eaten by satan worshippers. A man I 
am acquainted with was the federal prosecutor, so he investigated the 
case. He had her examined by an OB who reported she was a virgin and had 
never had a child.

This Martha Nibley Beck story seems to fit into the "recovered" (read, 
"constructed") memory syndrome.


Premise Checker wrote:

> NYT: A Mormon Daughter's Book Stirs a Storm
> http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/24/books/24morm.html
> 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
>    therapy.
>    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
>    Harvard.
>    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
>    recovery.
>    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
>    unfolds.
>    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
> http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/25/obituaries/25nibley.html
> 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
>    great-grandchildren.
>    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."
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