book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: My review of Bringing Elizabeth Home…

Here’s a repost of an Epinions review I wrote in 2004. It appears here “as/is”. A whole lot has happened since 2004– to include Ed and Lois Smart’s divorce and Ed’s coming out as gay. I’m reposting the review for the sake of history, and because I think some people might find it interesting.

The first time I saw Ed and Lois Smart’s 2003 book Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I was tempted to purchase it. Their beautiful fourteen year old daughter Elizabeth was kidnapped from their Salt Lake City, Utah home on June 5, 2002. The Smarts’ other daughter, nine year old Mary Katherine, witnessed the abduction and alerted Ed and Lois Smart after Elizabeth and the kidnappers, later revealed to be Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, were gone.

I remembered how the summer of 2002 was a summer plagued by a rash of child abductions. A couple of those abductions had ended tragically– five year old Samantha Runnion was killed soon after she was taken, but not before she was brutally molested by her captor. Elizabeth Smart had, against all odds, survived her abduction, reuniting with her family in mid March 2003. And Elizabeth Smart’s story is a bizarre one indeed. Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee were revealed to be believers of a fundamentalist branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. According to news reports, Brian David Mitchell meant to make Elizabeth one of his wives.

The Smart family fascinated me. On the front cover of Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope there is a lovely picture of Elizabeth and her parents, and on the back cover, the whole family of eight is pictured. The Smarts seem to espouse the epitome of the American Dream. Ed and Lois Smart are well off financially, and they have six beautiful children. I wanted to know what lingered beneath the surface of the Smart family’s attractive facade. Nevertheless, I had read negative reviews about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, so I passed up the book.

Then last week, my husband went out of town for a meeting and I found myself with some extra time to do some reading. It wasn’t long before I found myself purchasing Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope. I finished the book in a few days and am left with my own feelings of ambivalence about the Smart story. On one hand, Ed and Lois Smart are not professional writers and they were telling the heartwrenching story of their daughter’s abduction. On the other hand, Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was ghost written by Laura Morton, who, according to information on the book jacket, has written a total of eighteen books, six of which were New York Times bestsellers. Unfortunately, I would have expected more from someone who has had such an auspicious career in writing.

While at times, I found Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope to be a warm, touching story, the writing is sometimes awkward and repetitive. Also, although the book is supposed to be written entirely from the Smarts’ point of view, the authors don’t seem to be very selective about their usage of pronouns. For instance, the chapters that are supposedly written by Ed or Lois as individuals read like personal narratives and employ the pronoun “I”. In other chapters, “we” is used, but so is “Ed and Lois”, as if the story is being told from a different point of view. It makes for awkward reading.

This book doesn’t shed a lot of light on the case, either. Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope doesn’t offer many more details than what was already printed in the news or portrayed in the television movie that was made about Elizabeth and broadcasted last fall. There are, however, a couple of interesting chapters about Ed and Lois Smart’s extended family. There’s also a lot written about Elizabeth’s love for playing her harp. Mary Katherine also plays the harp. I don’t know of any kids who play harp, so it was interesting to read about that. The book also offers some very nice pictures of the family. Again, however, it seems like I had already seen some of them in magazines.

The thing I liked the least about Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope was the “preachy” tone in the book. Yes, I understand that the Smarts’ faith had a lot to do with keeping them sane while Elizabeth was missing, but the book, particularly at the beginning, is very heavy on quoting scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the D&C (Doctrine and Covenants), which is another LDS document. If readers aren’t members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, they might not understand some of the significance of the quotes.

Speaking of quotes, the Smarts start most chapters off with one, and they are generally from LDS sources– either the Book of Mormon, or the D&C, or perhaps from a well known LDS leader like church president Gordon B. Hinckley. Again, it seems to me that the Smarts might have forgotten that they might have readers who have no understanding of the LDS Church. On the other hand, the inclusion of the LDS quotes may have been by design– to get more people to investigate the church. All one has to do is contact LDS missionaries and they can start learning about the church and possibly become a member. In any case, it seems to me that some folks might find all the LDS stuff included in this book off putting, particularly if they don’t believe in God or going to church. That said, I will also mention that before I picked up Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, I figured I would be reading something about the Smarts’ faith, so this aspect of the book didn’t surprise me much.

The Smarts continually contend that they want to protect Elizabeth’s privacy, and I respect that. On the other hand, I do find it curious that they published Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope, if they truly wanted to protect Elizabeth’s privacy. They write that they were hoping to put some of the false information to rest. It seems to me that the Smarts’ book is really more about how Ed and Lois Smart dealt with Elizabeth’s absence than Elizabeth’s ordeal, and to the Smarts’ credit, they do seem to convey that idea in the book. However, they had to know that people would buy this book expecting to read about what really happened to Elizabeth. The Smarts include a few details, but those who want to buy Bringing Elizabeth Home should realize that they won’t get the whole scoop.

I don’t think that Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope is a terrible book. It’s just that it doesn’t reveal that much more than what the public already knows about the Smart case. The writing is not as strong as it should be and there’s some preaching in this book that might turn some people off. Nevertheless, the Smart case is fascinating and if you want to know everything that’s out there about the Smart family, you might find reading this book worthwhile. On the whole, however, I think that most people would probably do well to skip it.

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book reviews, LDS, true crime

Repost: Elizabeth Smart’s My Story…

I wrote this post for my original blog on October 12, 2013. It includes the Epinions.com review of her book, My Story, which I posted on the same day. It appears here as/is.

I really hesitated before reading My Story, the book Elizabeth Smart wrote about her experiences being kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.  I have written a review, posted below.  This post is going to have less to do with the book and more to do with some things I realized while reading Smart’s book.

First off, Elizabeth Smart endured hell for nine months.  There’s no sugar coating it.  Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put that girl through sheer hell.  When I think about what it must have been like for Elizabeth Smart to endure daily rapes, constant threats on hers and her family’s lives, the outdoor elements while wearing filthy rags, and, in fact, the very loss of her identity since Mitchell forced her to change her name, I am truly amazed that she has been able to recover as well as she apparently has.  I have some new respect for her.  She is certainly a strong and courageous woman.

Secondly, it occurred to me as I read her book that she was kidnapped at age 14, which is the age Helen Mar Kimball was when she “married” Joseph Smith.

I don’t know if that has to do with Brian David Mitchell’s decision to kidnap Elizabeth Smart when she was fourteen.  Certainly, at fourteen, Smart was still very much a child.  She was especially naive and sheltered and was, no doubt, easier to control than she might have been had she been older and more worldly.  Smart reveals that Mitchell planned to kidnap more girls and make them his wives.  Elizabeth Smart calls him a pedophile, but I think it’s more likely that he just wanted gullible, obedient, easily controlled girls who had not been defiled by anyone else. 

Certainly, it was easier for Barzee if Mitchell had younger girls around who didn’t compete for her place as the alpha bitch.  In any case, though, it did occur to me that Mitchell, who had proclaimed himself a “prophet”, was doing something very similar to what Joseph Smith did.  Yes, Joseph Smith did it many years ago.  Does it make it less wrong that he was fucking fourteen year old girls and “marrying” the wives of other men?  Why should anyone admire Joseph Smith on that basis alone?

Finally, once again, I couldn’t help but feel horrible for Elizabeth as she described feeling like a beautiful vase that was shattered.  I had read an account of a speech she had given some time ago about feeling like a “chewed up piece of gum”, in part because of an object lesson she had taken part in at church.  She was taught that no one would want her after a man had put his hands all over her.  As a fourteen year old girl, she certainly had no choice but to let Brian David Mitchell defile her.  Of course he overpowered her, though she is careful to point out that she did try to fight him off.  I’m sure that line was added for those who might fault her for not fighting harder to protect her virginity.  Anyone who would fault her for that, by the way, is an enormous asshole. 

In any case, Elizabeth Smart felt like a shattered vase or chewed up piece of gum after Mitchell forced her to “marry” him and then raped her.  She felt like she no longer had any value.  That rape took away her self-worth because she was taught that sex before marriage is filthy.  Certainly being raped can be described as filthy, but a person doesn’t lose their intrinsic value as a person because they have been raped or because they have had intercourse before marriage.  Plenty of good people have been raped.  Plenty of good people have had premarital sex.  What happened to Elizabeth Smart was not her fault.  It grieves me to think that even for a moment, she felt worthless because she was victimized.  I think many religious organizations need to do a better job instilling self worth in girls.  That goes for any restrictive faith that places a high premium on chastity and modesty.

One other thing I noticed in Smart’s book was her description of the food Mitchell would steal.  I have never been LDS, but I have read a lot of accounts of the type of foods many Mormons eat.  They seem to be big on casseroles, Spam, and Jello.  For instance, Utah is the world’s leader in green Jello consumption.  Here’s just one thread on RfM about odd cuisine.  Mitchell apparently was very fond of mayonnaise and would mix it with carrots and raisins.  Just the thought of that makes me want to retch.  And Elizabeth washed it down with warm water from a plastic canteen shared by her captors… when she wasn’t forced to drink cheap wine or beer or liquor… Or smoking cigarettes…  Yeah.  I can see why she’d want to forget that time in her life. 

To add insult to injury, when she was finally found, the cop handcuffed her before he took her to the police station.  Why he cuffed her, I don’t know.  It must have been procedure.  Maybe he thought she’d have some kind of Stockholm Syndrome and might bonk him on the head.  Poor Elizabeth.  That was just one more thing she never should have experienced.

Anyway, I think the book is worth reading if you want to read Elizabeth Smart’s perspective of the horrible experiences that made her famous.  It’s definitely gotten me to thinking.   

Below is my reposted review.

I really debated purchasing Elizabeth Smart’s 2013 book, My Story.  I have read other books written by crime victims and, generally speaking, have found that victimhood does not necessary make one a good writer.  But Smart had help writing this book from ghost writer, Chris Stewart, and having seen her in the media in the eleven years since she was abducted from her home in June 2002, I figured I might as well. 

I managed to read Smart’s account of her abduction and nine months in captivity at the hands of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee in one sitting.  The book is written in the first person, as if Elizabeth Smart is standing at a lectern relating her story.  She begins with the story of the first time she laid eyes on Brian David Mitchell.  It was a chilly day in November 2001 and Mitchell was on a Salt Lake City street begging.  Elizabeth Smart was out shopping with her mother and a couple of her siblings.  Smart’s mother, Lois, felt sorry for Mitchell.  She gave him five dollars and her husband’s cell phone number so that they might offer him work.  Elizabeth Smart explains that she made eye contact with Mitchell and gave him a slight smile.  She, too, felt sorry for him.  At that moment, Mitchell determined that Elizabeth Smart would be his “second wife”.

Many people already know what happened next.  On the night of June 5th, 2002, Mitchell broke into Smart’s home and awakened the sleeping fourteen year old by pressing a knife to her neck.  Smart, who had been sleeping next to her younger sister, Mary Katherine, silently got out of bed and, wearing nothing but her red satin pajamas and a pair of running shoes, left her home with Mitchell.  She was gone for nine months.

Smart explains that after being forced to “wed” and then repeatedly raped by Mitchell, she felt like a priceless vase that had suddenly been smashed to bits.  What do you do with a shattered vase?  You sweep up the pieces and throw it away.  Smart writes that Mitchell had defiled and demoralized her to the point at which she felt like her life was meaningless and no one would ever want her.  Smart writes that Barzee treated her like a slave and seemed to have no empathy whatsoever for Smart’s plight.  In fact, Smart writes more than once that Barzee had “given up” her six children so she could be with Mitchell.  I’m not sure that giving up access to one’s children automatically makes someone *bad*…  After all, in divorce situations, men are asked to do it all the time.  However, I definitely see how Elizabeth Smart made that determination about Wanda Barzee, under the circumstances.

Aside from the cruel treatment and neglect she received at the hands of her captors, Smart writes of the very uncomfortable living conditions she was forced to endure.  Mitchell and Barzee were derelicts who lived outside; consequently, Elizabeth Smart, who had grown up privileged and comfortable, found herself going days without eating, going thirsty, and wearing filthy clothes that were cast offs from other homeless people.  Mitchell also forced Smart to drink alcohol, smoke, and view pornography, activities that were strictly against Smart’s Mormon beliefs.

My thoughts

I had read Bringing Elizabeth Home, a book written by Ed and Lois Smart in 2004.  I wasn’t very impressed with that book because it was very sanitized and offered little information that wasn’t already in the news.  Moreover, it also included a lot of religious “preaching” related to the Smarts’ belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I was a little afraid that Elizabeth Smart’s book would contain more of the same, although I had read that the book was going to focus much more on what went on during her actual captivity.

My Story is, in fact, about what happened to Elizabeth Smart during those nine months she was away.  I have to admit, after reading this book, I have new respect for Elizabeth Smart.  Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put her through hell.  Smart makes it clear that given a choice, she would certainly favor Barzee over Mitchell, whom she describes as a narcissistic pedophile who was unspeakably cruel to her. 

I finished this book in a couple of hours.  It’s printed in large type and written in a conversational style that includes a lot of sentence fragments which I think was supposed to be engaging.  Personally, I find one word sentences annoying.  I also noticed at least one instance in which Smart’s captor was referred to as David Brian Mitchell.  That’s not a big deal, but I did catch it.  There are no photos, not that I really expected Smart to have pictures from that time period.  This book is not nearly as graphic as it could be, which is certainly understandable.  For many readers, I’m sure the lack of graphic details will be a relief.   

Overall

I don’t think the writing in My Story is the stuff of Pulitzer Prizes, but it’s not bad.  The book was a quick read and doesn’t include a whole lot more information than what has been printed in the media already, though it does give Smart’s perspective more so than any news article could.  I admire Elizabeth Smart’s fortitude during that ordeal.  I think My Story is worth reading if you’re interested in what really happened to Elizabeth Smart.  The writing could be better, though.

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Reviewing Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International, by Charlene Edge…

I just finished reading my latest book, Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International, written by Charlene Edge and edited by Ruth Mullen. This was the first time I had ever read anything about The Way International, a a global, multi-denominational, Christian organization based in New Knoxville, Ohio and founded by Victor Paul Wierwille in 1942. Wierwille had started his ministry as a radio program, and it eventually grew into The Way, Inc. in 1955. The Way is now officially known as The Way International, and is now widely regarded by many as a religious cult.

I was curious about The Way after seeing some viral videos a few years ago. You may have seen them yourself, as they are quite hilarious. I’ve shared them on my blog, but I’ve also seen them on Facebook. Behold…

This is from The Way International’s 2007 Concert Series… but as cheesy as this is, it’s not as famous as the video below. I’ve had this song stuck in my head for days. That choreography is enough to make me cry.
Oh my God… They sure look happy, though.

I discovered these videos in 2014, while visiting Nice, France. My cousin’s late husband shared a funny post about Christians making cringeworthy music videos and the one directly above, along with “Jesus Is a Friend of Mine” by Sonseed, were the best of the lot in the most embarrassing ways. Sonseed was a Catholic group, though, and not as intriguing as The Way was. I say “was”, because I’ve just finished reading Charlene Edge’s book, Undertow, which, at 475 pages is a pretty substantial and informative read about what she, herself, now defines as a cult.

Who is Charlene Edge, and why did she write this book?

Charlene Edge was, for many years, a dedicated member of The Way International. She was raised Catholic, mostly by her father, because her mother died when she was a teen. She has an older sister, Marie, who at seven years older was never very close to Charlene. When Charlene was suddenly left without a mother, she became disenchanted by the religion in which she was raised and went looking for something new. As it so happens with many future cult members, Charlene was basically a sitting duck when she first encountered recruiters for The Way. They found her when she was young, inexperienced, and weakened by misfortune and tragedy.

Back in the late 1960s and early 70s, when Charlene was a young adult, she had a Jesuit boyfriend who liked to surf. She really liked this guy, but bristled when he pointedly told her that The Way is a cult. She lost touch with him, and seemed to regret that they didn’t marry or at least have more of a relationship. She went to college at East Carolina University, but could not focus on school as she became more and more involved with The Way. Soon, she dropped out of college, blowing off her exams and leaving school with a 1.8 grade point average.

Against the objections of friends and family, she got a job working for The Way, researching the Bible and learning Aramaic. Her work led her to spend a lot of years studying the Bible, and even reading ancient texts in libraries around the world. I don’t know if she’s ever visited Armenia, but I do know that her enthusiasm for reading ancient Bibles would make her a prime candidate for visiting the Matenadaran, which is a museum in Armenia where ancient Bibles and other manuscripts are displayed. I visited there myself when I was in the Peace Corps.

Speaking of being of service, Edge eventually joined The Way Corps, which she made sound like a cross between Sea Org (in Scientology) and the Peace Corps (which isn’t a cult, but does have kind of a churchy/missionary vibe, even though it isn’t a religious organization). It was an intensive two year program, designed to make followers of The Way even more dedicated and loyal to the ministry. Edge also had to raise money so that she could join The Way Corps. Naturally, that experience bonded her more to the ministry and its followers. She found friends and, at least at first, the church gave her what she needed. But it wasn’t long before that sense of belonging turned into a form of slavery.

Based on Edge’s story, I got the sense that joining The Way Corps was the kind of thing the die hard cult members did. She legitimately worked for the organization and was paid about $30,000 a year– enough to live on, but not enough to save much of, particularly after she married her first husband, Ed, who was also a cult member. Edge writes that she and Ed were not all that compatible in 1973, when they married. They just felt it was what God wanted them to do. Soon, they had a daughter named Rachel, but she didn’t bring them closer together.

Charlene Edge becomes trapped in The Way…

For seventeen years, Charlene Edge was a devoted employee and follower of The Way. However, she didn’t seem very happy in the religion. Little things bothered her– lies she was told and asked to promote. But she’d put her concerns aside, believing that following the tenets set by The Way was truly the best way to live life. She diligently did all that the church asked her to do, ignoring the cognitive dissonance.

The church’s founder, Dr. Victor Wierwille, was called “Doctor” by everyone. He had German Shorthaired Pointer dogs and basically made himself the king of the compound. Like all good cult members, Edge listened to her leader and did what he commanded. When Wierwille warned of a potential government attack against the church, Charlene prepared to live off the grid. As her charismatic leader grew ever more abusive and paranoid, and increasingly asked his followers to do more and more bizarre things, Edge continued to ignore the signs that she was deeply entrenched in a cult. Wierwille denied the Holocaust and began promoting his personal false interpretations of the Bible as truth.

Meanwhile, Charlene’s marriage was continuing to decay. Ed was drinking more and more, and he was unfaithful to his wife and daughter. They were constantly trying to make ends meet with the meager compensation they got from the church. There was never time to make plans, to think straight, or to enact changes that would get them out of the predicament they were in. Although it was clear that the couple wasn’t happy together and the marriage wasn’t working, they stayed married for 18 years, finally divorcing in 1991.

The shelf collapses…

One day, Charlene heard something that might have seemed banal to her colleagues. Wierwille was trying to put out literature about a Bible verse of which he didn’t agree with the official interpretation. He wanted his researchers to ignore what the Bible verse actually said and promote Wierwille’s false interpretation as the truth. Although she had been able to ignore Wierwille’s crazy shenanigans for years, for some reason, on that day, Charlene Edge suddenly gained awareness. And it happened when one of her colleagues leaned over to her and whispered that he liked Wierwille, but “sometimes his Greek isn’t so good.” Somehow, that simple comment– so mundane and trivial– had made Charlene realize that her leader wasn’t sent by God. He was a simple, narcissistic, power-hungry, greedy man, who had taken them all for a ride and swindled them out of everything from money to their precious youth. Later, toward the end of her time in the sect, Edge discovered that Wierwille had a sex ring, and female church members were stroking more than his ego.

Then, in 1985, “Doctor” died, supposedly of a stroke. Later, Edge found out that Wierwille’s death had actually been caused by cancer. He’d never let it be known that he had cancer, since he had told his followers that cancer was caused by the Devil. This was just another lie that Charlene Edge could not reconcile. She soon noticed other deceptions that she could no longer ignore… and each lie that unfolded made her angrier and less supportive of The Way’s teachings. And yet, she had to keep up the facade, because her livelihood depended on appearing to be faithful to the church… as did her housing, at one point. She had rented a house that belonged to a member of the ministry who had let her have it at a discount.

My thoughts

I have read a whole lot of books about people who have escaped cults and abusive religious organizations. Much to my surprise, The Way International is not among the worst of the religions I’ve read about. I don’t, for instance, think The Way is worse than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of The Way aren’t encouraged to shun their family members who aren’t involved. They aren’t told what they can drink, not to smoke or use drugs, or have to wear special underwear.

The Way International does have a “missionary-esque” organization in The Way Corps, but it doesn’t sound to me like it’s akin to what the Mormons do. I don’t think The Way is as extreme as Scientology or the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientists. It’s promoted as a research based religion, but as Charlene Edge discovered, some of the research was shoddy, and the inner circle of researchers were pressured to ignore facts and promoted untruths that propped up Wierwille’s (and subsequent leaders’) egos.

Edge’s writing is jam packed with similes and metaphors. Sometimes, they were clever, but after awhile they became noticeable and somewhat annoying to me. She often would describe people in animal terms, writing things like “He paced like a caged dog.”, then turning around and using another animal simile to describe someone or something else. On the other hand, her style does have a pleasant flow to it, which made getting through all 475 pages somewhat easier. I do think some of the manuscript could have been pared down a little bit. There seems to be a lot of minutiae slipped into her story that made getting through it tougher going, although another positive is that Charlene includes a lot of photos.

I still don’t feel like I know as much as I would like to know about The Way International, even though Undertow is so long. Again, there’s a lot of mundane information about Charlene Edge’s life that could have been exchanged for information about what the ministry believes and how it recruits members. I think I would have enjoyed reading more about the organization as a whole. For example, Edge only mentions the music groups in passing, but as you can see from the above videos, they do have a musical ministry that is no doubt intended to lure new members and entertain existing ones. She could have added that information and deleted about 100 pages of the minutiae, and I think the book would have been better.

Charlene Edge mentions that she lost a lot to the “cult”. She joined at such a young age, which caused her to delay her education, lose precious years of her youth and time with friends and family members who weren’t involved in the cult, and hamper her own aspirations for her life. However, I would suggest to Edge that she did get something out of those years. She got her book, which has no doubt had an impact on many readers in some way. For instance, I know more about The Way International than I did a couple of weeks ago. That counts for something. I see from reviews on Amazon that her book has been well-received by others, too.

As I was describing Undertow to Bill this morning, I was reminded of Elizabeth Smart. Before she was kidnapped in 2002, Elizabeth Smart was on her way to becoming the perfect Mormon “Molly”. She majored in music at Brigham Young University, which I suppose would have led her to doing work with the LDS church’s music ministry. Or maybe it wouldn’t have. My point is, Elizabeth Smart’s life’s work is toward activism and the prevention of children being abducted and abused the way she was. If she had not been a victim of a deranged man who had warped ideas about religion, she would not be doing the important work she’s doing. She probably would have been Mormon royalty, living a posh family life in Utah instead. I’m certainly not saying I’m *glad* Elizabeth Smart was victimized. What I am saying is that she’s chosen to turn that ordeal into something that benefits people all over the world, and if not for her personal experience, I doubt she would have chosen her activist career path on her own.

Likewise, in her own way, Charlene Edge has turned her negative experiences into something positive and beneficial for other people. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Charlene paid such a high price to gain this knowledge. She fell victim to the predatory methods of a cult, who swept her up when she was young, naive, and heartbroken. It happens to a lot of people. Bill joined the LDS church when his marriage was failing, thinking it might help him save his family. All it did was make things worse… and cause his life to be much busier and more complicated than it needed to be. I think the same thing happened to Charlene Edge.

Anyway… I’m glad Charlene Edge has found her own way… and gotten out of The Way of her own success. I would give this book a rating of four stars out of five.

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Repost: Repost of my review of Natascha Kampusch’s 3096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape

And finally, my reposted review of Natascha Kampusch’s book. Natascha Kampusch was also abducted and kept in a dungeon in Austria for years. Incidentally, today is the 23rd anniversary of Natascha’s abduction.

I always wanted to be a mother, but given the recent awful stories about child abductions that have become so widely publicized, maybe it’s better that I’m not one.  Thanks to the constant influx of news we get these days, I think if I were a mother, I would worry all the time about my kids.  When I was growing up, I had the freedom to pretty much do as I pleased.  I was all over my rural neighborhood and sometimes didn’t come home until after dark.  Today’s kids, by and large, don’t seem to have that same level of freedom.  Sometimes I think it’s ridiculous… until I read about people like Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, or Natascha Kampusch

In 1998, Natascha Kampusch was a chubby ten year old girl living in Vienna, Austria with her mother.  As she writes at the beginning of her book, 2010’s 3096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape, Natascha’s early life wasn’t very fulfilling.  Her parents were divorced and did not co-parent very effectively.  Her mother wasn’t especially kind to her, especially about her weight issues.  Her father was uninvolved and treated her like an inconvenience. 

In fact, on March 2, 1998, the day her life changed, Natascha was fresh from an unsatisfying visit with her father.  She dressed for school, ate breakfast, and headed on her way.  She had no way that Wolfgang Priklopil was waiting for her with his white van.  The kidnapper grabbed Natascha and forced her into the vehicle.  He then drove her to his home, where he had built a tiny dungeon especially for her.  The dungeon had just five square meters of space, but it would become her home for the rest of her childhood. 

Over the next eight years, Natascha would come to love the simplest things in life, things that many people take for granted.  She grew to love listening to the radio, which the kidnapper had originally set to only pick up stations that came from the Czech Republic.  Not knowing Czech, Natascha had no access to information.  Natascha grew to relish the very few times when she had a full stomach.  Wolfgang Priklopil had an eating disorder and misery loves company, so he shared his food issues with Natascha.  He forced Natascha to stick to very strict starvation diets, which caused her to lose all that extra weight her mother used to criticize her for.  The kidnapper hated women, which may have been why he forced his captive to starve.  When she started to get too “strong” for him, the kidnapper would withhold food again, until she was on the verge of collapse.  He meant to keep her weak, compliant, and I daresay, boyish, a look that even extended to Natascha’s hairstyle. 

The kidnapper was extremely paranoid of anyone finding out that he had Natascha with him.  Conscious that crimes are often solved by hair samples, Priklopil forced Natascha to wear bags on her head.  Later, he forced her to cut off all her hair until she was bald.  He convinced her that if she tried to escape, people would die.  He claimed that all the doors and windows in his house were rigged with explosives.  In time, the kidnapper forced Natascha to do work.  

Natascha Kampusch did not leave the kidnapper’s house until she was 18 years old, and even then, he was always with her, warning her against alerting anyone that she needed help.  He would not let her call herself by her name or talk about her life prior to her time with him.  Like so many other kidnappers, Priklopil knew that he had to erase his victim’s past.  And yet, somehow, she was able to keep a sense of dignity.  When her kidnapper demanded that she kneel and refer to him as “My Lord”, Natascha refused to do it.  On August 23, 2006, she finally found the strength to escape.     

My thoughts

Natascha Kampusch relates her amazing story in highly intelligent, dignified, and descriptive prose.  Despite being pulled out of school at 10 years old, Natascha Kampusch is very educated, in part because the kidnapper gave her books to read.  At the end of the book, there is a note that Natascha Kampusch wrote the English version of her book.  It is very well written, albeit in a rather formal style.

I appreciated Kampusch’s analysis of what had happened to her.  She relates the experience in a rather detached way, yet manages to offer a clear story of who her kidnapper was.  In riveting detail, she explains what it feels like to starve.  She relates how terrified she was when the kidnapper would become enraged and beat on her. 

I also found it interesting to read about how people treated Kampusch when she was rescued.  At first, people were very kind to her.  But when she didn’t hate her kidnapper the way the public felt she should, they turned on her.  Some people accused her of suffering from Stockholm syndrome, which she denies.  I have to admit, her reasoning makes a lot of sense.       

Priklopil committed suicide right after Kampusch escaped.  When Kampusch heard the news, she was supposedly grief-stricken about it.  The public didn’t understand how she could grieve for a man who was so cruel to her.  But Nastascha explains that for eight years, her whole world revolved around her kidnapper.  Her time with him was a significant part of her life and he wasn’t always cruel.  There were times when he showed her small kindnesses, for which she was always very grateful.  It seemed to me that Natascha came to the very true realization that no situation is all good or all bad.  And no person is all good or all bad. 

I admire Natascha Kampusch’s logic and dignity and wonder at her ability to survive and analyze such an ordeal.  I read from a different source that after Priklopil died, Natascha Kampusch became his heir.  She now owns the house where she was held prisoner… a place she never wanted to live in for which she now must pay utilities and taxes.  Life is bizarre.

Overall

As horrible as Natascha Kampusch’s experiences were, I am grateful that she wrote this book.  I found her story fascinating. 

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Ex, LDS, religion

Mormonism… complicating lives since the 19th century

I haven’t been writing much about Mormonism lately. I haven’t had a need to, since my husband’s daughters have become adults and their whackadoodle mother is no longer interfering in our lives. But today, I need to write about the “so called church” once more.

Regular readers may know that my husband, Bill, was once a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as “The Mormons”. When I met him twenty years ago, he still attended church and obeyed its tenets. At the time, he assured me he believed in the church with all his heart. As I got to know him better, it became very clear to me that Bill was going through the motions. His belief was basically a facade. He’d put it on in an attempt to keep his family together and his first marriage intact.

Bill and his ex wife converted to Mormonism in 1997, when Ex’s son was nine or ten years old and Bill’s two daughters were three and six. At the time, Bill believed the church might help fix his marriage, which had been fraught with problems from the beginning. At first, the church gave Bill a place to direct his attention besides his disastrous homelife. The church provided him with positive regard that comes from the initial “lovebombing” church members heap on potential new members. There were things to do, people to get to know, and places to spend what little free time Bill had in those days. Lovebombing usually wanes once a person is firmly entrenched. Like most everything else in the church, it’s basically a facade designed to influence people to join up and stay put. It’s not unlike the intoxicating lure narcissists use to get their supply. It wasn’t long before Bill noticed the lovebombing was ending, and shit was getting real.

Two years later, Bill and Ex separated, and by June 2000, they were divorced. Bill resigned from the church in 2006, and eventually lost contact with his daughters for years. They treated him with contempt for divorcing their mother and turning his back on “the one true church”. Some readers may recall that in November 2016, Bill’s younger daughter popped back on the radar when she showed up as a “person Bill might know” on Facebook. At the time, I was livid, because she had been so mean to him and assured him that she wanted nothing to do with him. But in the wake of that situation, Bill and his daughter started chatting, emailing, and Skyping. He still hasn’t seen her in person since 2004, but they now speak regularly. Older daughter is now 28 years old and still lives with her mother.

Last night, Bill Skyped with his younger daughter, who is now the mother of two very young children. Her husband, who grew up in a very Mormon family, is currently searching for a job. Like a whole lot of people, he’s interviewed at many places. He scored a job offer that turned out to be based on lies. The company that hired him couldn’t pay him, and expected him to do things other than what they hired him to do. So, though he’d moved his family to a new city for the job, that opportunity disappeared after just one day.

Meanwhile, he’s got a son who’s not quite two years old and a six week old daughter to support. He only graduated college a couple of months ago and doesn’t have enough experience to land a job that will pay enough to support his family. They’ve only just moved into an apartment, but now it looks like they’ll need to move again, since the city they just moved to doesn’t have the job opportunities they need to get her husband launched into a job that pays enough to support the family. Younger daughter found someone to take their apartment, but they’ll probably lose their security deposit. They really need that money.

In the course of their conversation, younger daughter described to Bill what it was like growing up with Ex, who basically kept everything chaotic. She would have done that whether or not they were LDS, but the church certainly kept things more complicated. Because along with having to keep up with family responsibilities, job requirements, and basic life stuff, they were also having to keep up with church crap, including tithing. Although the church promised that it would make life better, the reality was, it made things all the more complicated and expensive. Younger daughter found comfort in the church that she didn’t get from her family. But it’s come at a price.

Last night, I listened to Bill try to talk to his daughter. He’s still afraid to be totally straightforward with her, because he’s afraid of alienating her and doesn’t want to lose their newly established connection. She’s still a believer in the church, and even I will admit that there have been times when the church has been helpful to her. For instance, going on a LDS mission helped younger daughter escape her mother’s toxic household, the same way the military helped Bill escape it. But any help the church extends comes with strings attached.

Yes, the church has social welfare programs for its members, but members who use it are expected to “pay back” the church by doing time consuming work for no pay. And anyone who is taking help is expected to tithe on whatever money they do have. So here you have a church that is wealthy enough to pay for everything in cash, but won’t pay members to do necessary work like cleaning its churches. Imagine that… the church could hire custodians again– people whose job it is to see that the church is clean and might actually have an incentive to care about doing the work properly. They’d be earning an actual paycheck, rather than needing the church’s assistance and tithing on their welfare, or whatever. But instead of hiring people, they expect members to clean the meetinghouses for free as “service” to the church. People who need assistance are at the top of the list of those expected to work for free, even though they should be spending their time looking for work that pays.

Younger daughter says her husband can go work for Deseret Industries, a church owned business. But it won’t pay enough, and working there will no doubt come with expectations and commitments beyond simply earning a paycheck. While in the short term, working there would bring in much needed money, in the long run, it may turn into a situation that will keep them impoverished.

As Bill was telling me about this, I read an article in Deseret News about Ed Smart, father of Elizabeth Smart. At age 64, Ed Smart has come out as gay. He wrote a letter explaining things. He says he’s going to divorce his wife, Lois, and perhaps leave the LDS church, which he says doesn’t have a place for people who are LGBTQ. Ed Smart is the father of Elizabeth Smart, who has famously parlayed personal tragedy into a career.

In 2002, Elizabeth Smart, then 14 years old, was abducted from her home. She spent nine months being repeatedly raped and abused by her captors before she was finally found. Now 31 years old, married, and the mother of three, Elizabeth Smart is an activist. But when Elizabeth was missing, her dad, Ed, was front and center. For a time, he was a very visible representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He and his wife, Lois, seemed to be perfect. They had six beautiful children, money, prestige, and a seemingly blessed life. I’m sure a lot of people looked at the Smart family and held them up as an example as to why Mormonism “works”. Some people may have even joined the church because of this attractive, high profile family. The Smarts certainly did their part in promoting the church, even though Elizabeth’s kidnapping might have even been directly related to Mormonism, given that her abductor used Mormon beliefs to justify his actions and get Elizabeth to be compliant.

A couple of years after Elizabeth was reunited with her family, Ed and Lois Smart wrote a book called Bringing Elizabeth Home. I read the book when it was first published. It was full of LDS church quotes which supposedly helped the Smart family get through their ordeal. A couple of years after I read that book, I purchased a DVD about the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) called Banking on Heaven. Ed Smart appears on that DVD basically excusing fundamentalist Mormons, reminding everyone that he is descended from polygamists. He was still selling Mormon bullshit to the masses, even as he privately realized that he was gay and that gay people have no place in Mormonism. Even then, he must have realized that he was promoting lies that ultimately would complicate lives for other people.

As I read about Ed Smart’s decision to come clean about his sexual orientation, it occurred to me that his wife, Lois, is now in a pickle. Because in the LDS church, a woman needs a man to take her to the highest echelon of Heaven, the Celestial Kingdom. To reach that level in the afterlife, Mormons have to be temple married, and women have to be married and “sealed” to men who are “worthy”. Marriage in the temple is supposed to be for eternity. Marriages that do not take place in the temple are only for “time” (meaning time on earth).

According to Mormon beliefs, Ed Smart isn’t worthy anymore. So where does that leave Lois, who presumably now must get a “temple divorce” and find some other guy to take her to the CK? At her age, finding a worthy LDS man who hasn’t already been married will be difficult. It would likely mean that after death, she’d be in a polygamist relationship, if the man was already married and sealed to another woman. Because, in the eyes of the LDS church, sealing is forever, unless one gets a temple divorce.

Resigning from the church or excommunication or even getting a divorce doesn’t necessarily cancel sealings. There has to be a temple worthy man waiting in the wings, ready to take on the responsibility of taking the woman to the Celestial Kingdom. If there isn’t one, a temple divorce won’t be granted. Although Bill never got one himself, I have heard and read stories of people who have. It’s not easy, particularly for women. A man can be sealed to as many women as they want, as long as his tithing is paid. A woman can only be sealed to one man, and he has to be temple worthy.

Even if the man quits the church, the church will ask the ex husband for dirt in the form of a letter asking if the wife has done anything that would make her ineligible to be sealed. And also, any children resulting from the marriage would also belong to whichever man to whom the wife is sealed, particularly if the ex husband left the church. An ex wife would also get a letter if her husband wanted to be sealed to another woman, but church officials seem to care less about what the woman says, even if she’s still a faithful member. Because again, men can be sealed to multiple women. I must state right here that I don’t actually believe any of this nonsense. What’s important is that church members do, and they go through incredible trauma because of it. I know that this issue can cause huge emotional wreckage to those who divorce and remarry, not just to the divorcing couple and their families, but also to the people they marry and their families.

Lois Smart probably won’t have any issues… or at least not the issues that less famous members would experience. She’s wealthy, attractive, well-known, and well-respected. I would not be surprised if she remarries and even gets sealed to someone else. But, I write about this to illustrate how complicated church shit can make things. Divorce is hard enough when there is no religious bullshit involved. If you’re a believer in Mormonism, you have a whole ‘nother set of commitments to deal with… and that complicates things a lot. Not only do you have to deal with the emotional pain of it and the expense, you also have to deal with the involvement of a lot of unrelated people… church leaders and members who are in your business and folks who want to make sure the proper procedures are followed so that Heavenly Father won’t be pissed off. It’s totally ridiculous, yet people tolerate it, and things are made much harder than they need to be.

As far as I know, Bill is still considered “sealed” to his ex wife, even though he’s resigned, she’s remarried, and her husband joined the church. The reason I think this is because, based on the experiences of others who have been divorced and resigned from the church, I know that when a previously sealed woman wants to be sealed to another man, the church typically sends the ex a letter asking them if there is any reason why the member shouldn’t be allowed to be sealed to someone else. LDS church folks are very good at tracking people down, so even though we’ve moved a bunch of times, I would expect them to be able to find Bill and send him the letter. He’s never gotten one, and I suspect that Ex uses the prospect of who will be sealed to her as a means of keeping her current husband in line. Of course, by now, maybe neither of them cares anymore. Maybe they both know it’s all a crock of shit and makes life harder than it needs to be. In fact, maybe Ex’s current husband even looks forward to being free of Ex in the afterlife. Who knows?

It’s likely that Mormonism no longer serves a purpose to Ex and she’s abandoned it. Meanwhile, her daughter is still mired in it… and it’s complicating things for her, because she’s been pressured to get married and have babies. She doesn’t have a job; her husband is newly graduated and doesn’t have a job. But they have themselves and two small children to take care of. Ex has also insinuated that maybe older daughter could also come out there and live with them, an idea that younger daughter has wisely vetoed. (Ex is a big fan of foisting needy family members on each other, or glomming on herself… again, making shit much more complicated than it ought to be.)

On the up side, this situation isn’t as dire as it could be. Younger daughter is 25 years old, not 18. She has some college education, although she hasn’t yet finished her degree. She’s bright enough to realize her mother is crazy and has reached out to more competent and “together” people for help. She has skills and talents that she can easily use, and she’s already proven that she’s resilient and competent. But she and her husband married and had a baby before either of them finished school. They now have a baby girl who has some health issues. Her husband is out of work and under tremendous pressure, and younger daughter, who hasn’t yet had a chance to graduate school or launch, can’t help him with creating a financial situation more conducive to having a family. Meanwhile, in addition to all of the stresses that come from having a young family and needing work, there are church commitments that must be considered as well. Younger daughter and her husband don’t have the status, money, and connections that Ed and Lois Smart have.

When Bill and I visited London in 2009, we saw a bus with this on it… The older I get, the more it rings true.

My head hurts as I consider all of this, and I’m not even LDS. To Bill’s credit, he did gently suggest to his daughter not to do what her mother is famous for doing; that is, she shouldn’t expect that Heavenly Father will work things out for her. She needs a plan. She needs to put on her own oxygen mask before considering the needs of the church. To younger daughter’s credit, she is clearly cognizant that her mother is nuts, and she’s ready to reject any “big ideas” her mother has for getting out of the situation she and her husband are in right now. She’s reached out to Bill, who is ready and willing to help her. But my lord, it seems to me that this situation could have been a lot less complicated without the church. I’m sure they’ll get through it… but it could have been easier if they’d just waited to finish school and launch careers before leaping into marriage and parenthood. And maybe they would have done that if religion hadn’t gotten in the way, reminding them of their “duty” to procreate and make more tithe paying members for the church.

I’m not quite an atheist myself. I think I have a belief in a higher power. However, as my good friend Dave once put it, “Having religion in your life is like driving with bugs on the windshield.” As I ponder the life choices inspired by religion that have led people to make decisions that needlessly complicate their lives, I think he may be right.

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