Yeah, I'd said I'd not post more on this. There are a few new issues that have come up. One is an excellent review by Jeff Needle from AML which he has kindly granted me permission to post here. Those familiar with him know that Jeff is a non-Mormon who seems to have an abiding interest in Mormon literature of most kinds. I found his review interesting as it is a more middle ground review. It seems like most reviews I've read are either from believing Mormons familiar with Nibley or ex-Mormons who dislike Mormon apologetics. Having someone familiar with Nibley and Mormonism but who clearly doesn't accept the Mormon truth-claims is quite interesting. I'll post the review in a subsequent post.
In other news, as many know, Beck has been making the rounds of the news shows. She was apparently on ABC and CBS morning shows on Monday. By and large as expected there are few tough questions, beyond Charlie Gibson's statement that her claim to love Mormons seems a bit hard to believe given the content of the book. The family hasn't been interviewed to give their version, which claims many of Beck's historical claims are false. That's about what I expected. The big curiosity is whether Oprah will have her on this week when she goes to Chicago. No word one way or an other. (I suspect she will, but then Oprah may decide to avoid the controversy)
An other bit of controversy is whether Boyd Peterson reads Beck correctly regarding the key claim. The issue is what role Egyptian mythology has in the claimed abuse. The issue is pages 122-3 and 146-7 in Beck's book. It appears to many readers that Beck has a dream flashback where Nibley is taking the role of an Egyptian figure Amut. The issue is exactly what Beck is claiming. However the text is tremendously confusing on this point. We know there is something involved and that the appearance of the Egyptian figure Amut triggers this. Given that focus on appearance many read her as claiming Nibley dressed up like this Egyptian figure.
Some ex-Mormon critics have said the is Mormon apologists intentionally distorting Beck to make her appear to be making ludicrous assertions. It seems a fair reading that Beck only claims some role relationship and nothing more. However one can't help but wonder given the passage exactly what Beck in claiming. I admit that the first three or four times I read it I read it the way Peterson did. Otherwise the whole dream flashback and questions about "the Egyptian stuff" don't make a whole lot of sense to me. However Beck defenders rightly point out that an abuse victim might be unable to relate the events cogently. I might understand that perspective except shouldn't an editor have caught this? It really is a very confused set of passages.
The other criticism made of Peterson's review is the whole "blue truth detector." This was Peterson's comment about how Beck somehow always seems to know what is going on in the minds of people around her. Beck describes a dream or imaginary state where people turn blue when they lie. But as a literary technique, she then invokes this blue imagery in several places. The accusation is that Peterson is making is seem like Beck claims people actually turned blue. I don't quite see how Peterson says that in the least. He simply is talking about the metaphors and imagery Beck uses. I think the issue of Beck knowing the actual views of those around her is a good one though. Beck recreates a lot of dialog (always in her favor) as well as presentations of events. She doesn't simply relate her perceptions, but portrays events in a detail to the reader that she definitely couldn't know. It's something you don't really pay attention to until the end. But when you think about it, you end up wondering about it. After all most of it must be made up, unless Beck has a photographic memory. The point is that these dialogs and encounters are largely fictional where Beck gets to control the other people involved. Had Beck merely described what she remembered it wouldn't bother me. But I think it ends up being a rhetorical device that is fairly deceitful. We don't mind such techniques in fiction, even quasi-historical fiction. But in a memoir of this sort, it really is somewhat deceptive. (IMO).
My apologies for focusing in on this as much as I have. I've tried to take a more cautious middle ground. But I certainly acknowledge my biases. I have tried to post more of my usual scientific and philosophical musings. I'm a tad sick at the moment otherwise I'd have a lot more up. Still, I score rather highly on google for queries related to this controversy. Given that the media outlets are only showing one side of the story, and a rather deceptive one at that, I think it important for people to be able to find other information.
A few new things I thought I'd put here as it is as good as any place. I'm still getting lots of hits on the topic even though I've not written on it for quite a long time. (And a few of the links don't work anymore - perils of linking to transitory sites) I did think it a good idea to link to the Washington Post story from a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty similar to the New York Times article from a few months ago. Overall it was quite balanced, but clearly not too favorable to Beck.
The other thing I wanted to quote was John Beck's comments. He posted them in the Amazon review and I kept forgetting to post them here. (He gave the book one star)
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.
Looks like there wasn't much comment by this point, but what most miss is that Beck is talking about herself and nothing else -- and the lies, the half-truths and the misdirection are completely irrelevant to her since that is not where she is centered or what she cares about.
That's fine in a comedy sthick, but not so in something that appears to be a true memoir.
Think. Her father dies, she says he visited with her in a meeting of joy and light and she will devote her life to the support and glory of his legacy. If you thought she was writing about the truth you would just say "huh?" If you realize she is telling stories about herself, with herself as the star, then it makes sense.
Too bad our part of the truth touched on her fictions.