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Robert L. Millet

They Leave It, But They Can't Leave It Alone

The memoir of a disaffected Mormon.

In Leaving the Saints, Martha Beck, popular "life coach" and author of a regular column in Oprah Winfrey's monthly magazine, recounts her disillusionment with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which she was raised. Her memoir commences with her journey back to Utah (after receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees at Harvard), where Beck and her husband John reunite with family and friends and become employed at Brigham Young University, and concludes with their painful exodus from BYU and the Church some five years later. Latter-day Saints and those somewhat familiar with the faith who choose to read the book will cringe, roll their eyes, and even chuckle, while those who are thoroughly unacquainted with the faith will cringe, roll their eyes, and chuckle. But for different reasons. Beck is a fine writer who blends her eloquent prose with a nifty wit. So if one is not terribly concerned with what really took place, this book is a good read: it would make for great fiction.

Beck seeks to equate weird anomalies in Mormon culture with the norm. For example, the "niceness" of Mormon folk is really only the "top layer" of the LDS lifestyle; Latter-day Saints are robotic and Pollyannaish; they "make the Trapp Family Singers look like Hell's Angels." LDS women believe that making cakes from scratch will lead to a higher reward hereafter than using a mix. When not baking cakes, they keep "grinding away at the one occupation recommended for Mormon females: breeding well in captivity." All Mormons agree with the current president of the Church that mothers should not work under any circumstances. And their menfolk? "Men [at BYU] must … wear socks, on the premise that the hair on human ankles can be thought of as an extension of pubic hair." Mormon speakers often get weepy when talking about "stockpiling ammunition for the Apocalypse." This is plain ole nonsense.

How did Beck arrive at this point? She tells us. During a period of excessive frustration ...

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