Duggars, law, LDS, mental health, religion, true crime

Strict religions often destroy people and their families…

It’s the first day of December 2021, which means that Josh Duggar is FINALLY in court, answering to federal charges that he received and possessed child pornography. Although cameras and recording devices are not allowed in court, this trial promises to be a spectacle of the highest order. Josh Duggar, as many people know, is the eldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. The Duggar family is extremely well-known for being fundamentalist Christians. For years, they made a lot of money promoting their beliefs on reality television with their show, 19 Kids and Counting. They were famous for having extremely strict and conservative Christian– specifically Baptist– religious beliefs.

Many people admired them, and fully believed in the wholesome image they projected. Some people went as far as to try to emulate the Duggars. Ma and Pa Duggar were often asked to speak about their beliefs, selling them to people who were looking for a way to survive our turbulent times. Their image of closeness, coupled with strict morality and behavioral guidelines, were very appealing to the masses. It helped that most of the children were bright, articulate, and attractive, and came across well on TV. They made their strict lifestyles seem normal and desirable, as if they had a blueprint to God’s favor.

In 2011, before the shit hit the fan, I can remember being admonished by a high school friend when I criticized the Duggars on social media. In fact, my old friend pretty much quit communicating with me when I didn’t react with shame following her public chastisement. She indignantly wrote that she “loved” the Duggars. But then the skeletons started falling out of the closet. I don’t know how my friend feels about the Duggars now, or even if she remembers that she once criticized me for criticizing them. Knowing her for as long as I have, I suspect she doesn’t “love” them, or their image, as much as she did in 2011. The Duggars are certainly no longer that shining beacon of hope and prosperity that they once were. They’ve been tarnished by the worst kind of scandal, and it’s been perpetrated by the eldest child– the one who was supposedly “golden” and promoted as the straightest arrow in Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s quiver.

Here it comes… this may score the Duggars their highest ratings yet.

In May 2015, In Touch magazine published damning reports of how Josh Duggar molested four of his sisters and a babysitter when he was a teenager in the early 2000s. Suddenly, the world heard about how Josh, who had grown up on television, and had a highly visible job promoting conservative “Christian family values”, was not the paragon of virtue he purported to be. Later, there were reports about how Josh had cheated on his wife, Anna, and met with a sex worker, with whom he was accused of having “violent sex”. Then it came out that Josh had a paid account with Ashley Madison, a Web site that is notorious for providing married people with the easy means of having affairs.

This aged terribly… Josh is such a scumbag.

What is so sad to me is that even though he did these horrible things, his sisters were basically forced to defend him. And, in fact, in their belief system, the girls were basically told that they were at fault for tempting their brother (and other males). They didn’t get any real help in recovering from the abuse. Instead, they were told to cover up and “keep sweet”. Meanwhile, their brother got away with what he was doing… at least until that bombshell dropped in 2015. And it’s only gotten worse as the years passed. He’s probably about to face a reckoning… God willing, anyway. ūüėČ

Even with all of this proof of how “not Christ-like” Josh is, people still championed him. They fell for the image, rather than reality.

I think the below video is about when Jill started to separate from her toxic family. While I don’t necessarily agree with some of the things her husband, Derick Dillard, has said, I do think he’s done a lot to help her become healthier. She’s reportedly gone to counseling and, just this morning, it’s been reported that she may be called to testify against her brother in court. I pray she tells the whole truth.

The beginning of the end, back in 2015.

None of these stories are those one would expect of someone who is a strict Christian, as Josh was supposedly raised to be. I remember how, before all of this bad stuff came to light, the Duggar parents would proudly tell everyone about their “strict” Christian values. We all heard about how they didn’t allow their children access to television or the Internet. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were held up to be excellent parents. However, it’s pretty clear that they’ve failed spectacularly on many levels, in spite of their religious beliefs. And now, a lot of innocent people are paying the price.

Having observed this phenomenon, and having known some so-called “religious” people who have turned out to be total dirtbags, I am now convinced that strict, controlling religions can really damage, or even destroy, families. I have seen how charismatic people get in power and start to believe they are above the law. They invoke “God’s favor” to explain why they can and should be allowed to do terrible things. The people who are involved in the strict religious groups somehow accept and even cling to those beliefs, even when it puts them in danger and makes them miserable. And then it comes out that the so-called “leaders” are about as far from Christlike as a person can get.

Please note– I am not referring to mainstream religions that aren’t “culty” and controlling. I don’t think that most mainstream churches are that damaging. I base that on my own experiences growing up going to church. I mean the churches that dictate everything from how you will spend your free time to what kind of underwear you’re allowed to wear. Those religions don’t work well. The Duggars are just one example of how they can really fuck up an otherwise nice family. The Turpins are another egregious example. Later in this post, I will share an example of a non-famous family that has been damaged by religion and the bad behaviors promoted in the name of religion.

I grew up at a time when almost everyone I knew attended a church of some sort. I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which is a fairly benign and undemanding denomination. We went to church on Sundays and my parents were very involved in the music programs. Mom was an organist and usually didn’t work at the church that my dad and I attended (my sisters had all moved out of the house). But I didn’t grow up with any strict religious rules or anything, and I wasn’t subjected to “worthiness” interviews with a pastor. No one ever asked me about my sexual habits or anything else that is super private like that. We didn’t even say “grace” at the table.

At some point during my young adulthood, people started becoming more polarized about religion. I noticed many people became very devout. A lot of megachurches started popping up, and people like Joel Osteen became extremely popular. Shows like 19 Kids and Counting were on television, promoting strict religious beliefs. On the other hand, I also noticed a lot more people identifying as atheists. And I noticed that while many people were going to church more often than ever, a lot of people had also completely abandoned religion.

Then I married my husband, who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when we met. When Bill and I first encountered each other, he claimed to be a “true believer”. Later, I found out that he actually wasn’t a TBM, but was going through the motions in an attempt to save his marriage to his ex wife. Ex supposedly was, at that time, devout. Or, she claimed to be, anyway. One thing is for certain, though. She used the church to hurt other people. I have noticed that Ex isn’t the only one who’s done this, either. I have known many high-conflict types who have invoked religion as excuses as to why they should be allowed to act like perfect assholes or, in the case of Josh Duggar and others, do illegal and immoral things. After all, Jesus always forgives, right?

A couple of days ago, I ran across a heartbreaking video by a YouTube personality called Exmo Lex. A few months ago, Exmo Lex, who is a former Mormon, posted a video about how her in-laws were calling her a “jezebel” behind her back. I watched that video when she posted it, although I’m not sure if I wrote about it. I happened to see it while we were in the Schwarzwald, so I’m not sure if I ever got around blogging about this. However, I do remember seeing this video and feeling terrible for Exmo Lex. She was describing a very toxic situation that was partially caused by religion.

Exmo Lex talks about her in-laws were calling her a “jezebel”. She and her husband were afraid that her in-laws were indoctrinating their children.

Exmo Lex indicates that she thought her in-laws were respecting the boundaries she and her husband set. They don’t want their kids indoctrinated or influenced by Mormonism, which is a strict religion. To me, that sounds very reasonable, but I also know that true believing Mormons are often very convinced that they alone have the “truth”. And when someone decides to break ranks because they no longer believe, or are unwilling to submit to “authority”, families can go on the attack. The battles can become very toxic and even illegal in a hurry, and as Exmo Lex points out, sometimes they aren’t above using children to further their agendas. In the video below, you can hear Exmo Lex talk about the aftermath of the decision she and her husband made to leave Mormonism and be public about their choices.

This video shocked me more than it probably should have. It’s not like I haven’t heard similar stories from people who have decided to go their own way from a strict religion. I think if I were Exmo Lex, I would get a restraining order, pronto. I hope she’s taking good notes, in case her in-laws try to get custody of her children, or something. Jeez!

So often, we hear about how “lovely” religious families are. They are promoted as close and loving, having each other’s backs. We see them well-scrubbed, singing pretty songs about religious faith, Jesus Christ, and God’s love. But then it turns out that religious people are as fallible as anyone is. That’s because everyone sins. But some religious people turn out to be the worst sinners of all– and they leave a lot of heartbroken, damaged, people in their wakes. Many times, people who have been hurt by religion are left with nothing, not even their so-called loving families.

I have heard and read so many sad stories of people who grew up in very strict religious families or belief systems. More often than not, rather than providing safety, comfort, and security with the knowledge that someone always has their back, people in these families are actually members of a mini-cult. They must engage in group thinking, and anyone who deviates from it is cast out. This is not what I would call loving or “Christlike” behavior. This is toxic control, and it’s very harmful.

I have written so many posts about this phenomenon, and I have learned that even when the belief systems are “different”, the mechanics of the highly controlling groups are surprisingly similar. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have different beliefs than Mormons do. But if you take a close look at the way their groups operate, you see that a lot of their control tactics are the same. Ditto for groups like the Cooperites of Gloriavale, The Way, the Children of God, and others. The groups all have that thing in common– once a person has seen beyond the smoke and mirrors and wants out, they are ostracized. Why? Because the rebels are a threat to the group’s power and resources. Those who won’t toe the line are treated as if they have a disease that can spread and kill everyone… or, at least kill the belief system, which a source of power, and often, money.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with believing in God or going to church, or following any other religion. It’s when religion turns into fanaticism or cultism with strict controls and legalism that I think problems arise. That’s when we start seeing supposedly “loving” parents turning on their own children, kicking them out of the family circle, and defending abusers instead of protecting victims. I would also argue that a lot of abusers started out as victims. I think Josh Duggar was a victim before he started hurting others. If he could have gotten some real help from someone other than Jim Bob Duggar’s fucked up fundie friends who are not any better than Josh is, maybe some of this tragic shitshow that is now commencing could have been avoided. Or, at least, it might not have been on such a public stage. Imagine how hard this is for his children, and all of the other innocent people who will be affected. Meanwhile, the public will revel in watching this legal drama unfold.

Jim Bob Duggar wearing a rare “sheepish” expression. The shit is hitting the fan.

I have to admit, I will also be watching to see how Josh’s case progresses. I am as interested as anyone is. It’s not because I delight in seeing his family humiliated, though… well, maybe I don’t mind seeing Jim Bob humiliated. I think it’s long overdue. I think Jim Bob is about as far from a decent Christian as a person can get. He hides behind the Christian facade, but it’s really about power and money for him, and his “reputation”. It’s certainly not about following Christ.

I do hope some good will come out of this latest chapter of the Duggar family saga. And I also hope that Exmo Lex and her husband are able to heal from the rift they’re experiencing. I think people should be loved for who they are, and allowed to follow their own beliefs, as long as no one else is harmed. I don’t think it’s harmful to grow up outside of religion or any other kind of extreme indoctrination. Maybe if more people were allowed to evolve naturally and authentically, we’d have fewer people hurting others.

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book reviews, celebrities, LDS, religion

Repost: A review of Faith and Fortune: A Mormon Family in Hollywood by Kimball Jacobs

I originally reviewed this book for Epinions.com in January 2006. I reposted the review on my Blogspot version of this blog in November 2014. In my previous repost, I included videos from Rachel Jacobs’ career. I am not including the videos this time, because they tend to get schwacked for copyright reasons.

A few days ago I was on YouTube, watching an old Pop-Tarts commercial from the mid 1970s. Someone asked who the little girl in the ad was.  I knew, because I was an avid fan of Diff’rent Strokes back in the day.  There was an episode in 1979 that featured a cute little girl named Rachel Jacobs as Arnold’s “girlfriend” when they were in the hospital together.

Rachel Jacobs went on to act in a number of TV shows, as did her brothers, Parker and Christian.  Their father, Kimball Jacobs, went on to write a book about his kids and their show business careers.  I read and reviewed his book.  It wasn’t good.  But I am reposting my review of Faith and Fortune anyway, because I know I have a lot of Mormon and exMormon readers who might be interested.  

Pros:  A little bit of gossip. Probably the only book about the Jacobs kids.

Cons:  Horribly written. Typos and grammatical errors galore. Preaching.

The Bottom Line: Writing this review might be my one good deed for today.

Since I am an aspiring writer, I take a strange form of comfort from the sheer suck factor of the 2002 book, Faith and Fortune: A Mormon Family in Hollywood written by Kimball Jacobs. This book is probably the worst one I’ve read in a very long time. But before I get into how hard this book sucks, let me explain who Kimball Jacobs is and why I read Faith and Fortune in the first place. After all, as I quickly found out, Jacobs’ book is not on any best seller lists– thank heavens! 

Kimball Jacobs is the father of three former child actors who worked mostly during the late 1970s and 1980s. His daughter Rachel, and his two sons Christian and Parker Jacobs, were in a number of commercials, television series, and movies. I am a child of the 1970s and 1980s. That means I remember a lot of cheesy television sitcoms from that era. Sometimes, I can be persuaded to watch re-runs of shows that aired during that time. Anyway, the other day, I was watching a re-run of Diff’rent Strokes and remembered the episode in which the character Arnold (played by Gary Coleman) gets a case of appendicitis. He goes to the hospital and shares his room with an adorable little girl named Alice, played by Rachel Jacobs. They become friends, much to Alice’s bigoted father’s (Dabney Coleman) chagrin. 

What transpires in the Diff’rent Strokes episode is not important as it relates to this review. Suffice to say that I became curious about the little girl who played Alice, so I went off to the Internet Movie Database and found Rachel Jacobs’ bio. It was there that I discovered that she had two brothers who were also in show business and she’s a Mormon. Besides being a fan of crappy 80s sitcoms, I’m also the wife of an inactive (now resigned) member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons). Being married to Bill has led me to learn more about the LDS faith, especially since Bill’s children are still members of the church. I noticed that Rachel Jacobs and her brothers were the subjects of Kimball Jacobs’ book. I looked up Faith and Fortune on Amazon.com and found that it got two one star ratings. One of the ratings appeared to be from a disgruntled family member, perhaps his ex wife. Apparently, this book was unauthorized. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why. 

Actual review from Amazon: This is a totally unauthorized version of exploiting your own family. Each child involved feels used. Each child involved requested that it not be printed and Dad went right ahead… not only that, even if the story is interesting, it is terribly written and tweaked in its approach …Mom thinks this is unforgivable.. (This review was written by someone named Rebecca.)

Some of you might be wondering why I read this book if it got such poor ratings. Well, Bill has been out of town all week, so I needed something to do. Besides, I’ve been reading entirely too many decent books lately. Against my better judgment, I went to Booklocker.com and downloaded Faith and Fortune. Thank God I didn’t pay full price for the paperback edition. The ebook version of Faith and Fortune runs for 120 pages. Actually, that’s not an entirely true statement. It runs for about 113 pages. The ebook was 120 pages long, but for some reason, quite a few pages were left blank. As I looked at all of those wasted blank pages, I was even happier that I didn’t buy a paper version of this book. What a waste of trees! 

Faith and Fortune¬†starts off with Kimball Jacobs explaining how he and his first wife, Rebecca, met at Brigham Young University’s drama department. In his very affected writing style, Jacobs explains that it was his older brother, David, who introduced the two, because David felt he was too old for Rebecca. Kimball and Rebecca Jacobs were married and they moved to Ririe, Idaho to embark on their lives together. Kimball Jacobs got a job as a teacher and wrestling coach and his wife became a teacher’s aide.

It wasn’t long before Rebecca Jacobs gave birth to their first child, Rachel, the adorable little girl I saw on Diff’rent Strokes. A year and a half later, Christian Jacobs was born. Then, the family moved to Ogden, Utah, so that the Jacobs’ family could try their hand at running a restaurant, an adventure that lasted a year, during which time Parker Jacobs was born. It’s at this part that I’m starting to think that perhaps the exuberance of youth had gotten the best of the Jacobs family. Here they were with three young children, trying to launch a restaurant, a stressful venture under the best of circumstances. It sounded like a recipe for disaster and apparently it was. But Jacobs doesn’t dwell too much on this part of the book. He has bigger fish to fry. 

While Kimball and Rebecca Jacobs were trying to launch their restaurant business, they remained active in local theater. Little Rachel showed a talent for acting, so her parents started looking for an agent who could launch their cute daughter’s acting career. They got in touch with Hollywood child star agent, Mary Grady, who told them that they should be living in Los Angeles for best results. The young family left their safe Utah haven for Los Angeles, literally living on prayers. They used their formidable connections within the church to secure an apartment in Los Angeles. Then Jacobs got himself a minimum wage job, while his wife got their three children hooked up with Mary Grady, the Hollywood agent. In fact, the whole family started looking for show biz work in Hollywood, but the kids saw more action. 

What follows is Kimball Jacobs’ story of how his three older kids (youngest son Tyler was born after Rachel, Christian, and Parker had become established actors) became child actors. I won’t call them stars, though, because none of them ever really made it big. Jacobs points out that at one point, all three kids were regulars on network series, but that success was short-lived. 

In my opinion, Jacobs really comes off like a stage dad. It looks like he was really wanting his kids to become big stars and perhaps, ride on their coattails. This book reads like a poorly written resume, with Jacobs’ kids accomplishments listed and little else besides a gratuitous amount of self-important preaching.  Faith and Fortune is also riddled with typos and grammatical errors. Jacobs uses awkward sentence constructions and seems to have a particularly irritating penchant for writing in the passive voice. It’s clear to me that this book was never edited by a professional or even its author, for that matter. 

Faith and Fortune does not include any pictures, which would have made this book a little bit more worthwhile. Instead, it’s full of testimony bearing for the LDS Church and moralizing. Jacobs continually states that he and his family have high conduct standards and were constantly butting heads with agents and Hollywood types over the lines their kids would say, the products they would endorse, and how they would dress. I don’t really fault them for having standards, especially when it comes to how their kids were portrayed, but I got the feeling that Jacobs was expecting his family to make it big. And they weren’t willing to play by Hollywood’s rules in order to achieve that end. As it stands now, none of the Jacobs kids are still working in Hollywood (ETA: As of 2014, it looks like Parker and Christian may be back in the biz). What’s more, I got the impression (though I may be wrong about this) that the Jacobs kids were completely financially supporting their parents!

Faith and Fortune does include some interesting gossip about other kid stars from the 1980s. Jacobs dishes a little bit about Ricky Schroder, who apparently had a crush on Rachel. He shares a little bit about jobs that his kids had on popular sitcoms like Family TiesGrowing PainsSilver Spoons, and the short-lived All in the Family spinoff, Gloria. But the information that he provides is not very worthwhile and it is, very much, gossip. It’s not even firsthand gossip, either, since most of what he writes about are things that he heard about from his kids. 

I think that Kimball Jacobs could have written a decent book, had he taken the time to expand his story a bit, added some pictures, and included more insight into his experiences as a Hollywood dad. I do think that this book is more about his experience as a Mormon Hollywood dad than it is about his children’s experiences as child actors. And, while I’m not knocking Jacobs for having great faith in his religion, I do think that he pushed it a little too much. I think he could have written about his faith without constantly beating his readers over the head with it. 

Yes, Faith and Fortune: A Mormon Family in Hollywood has a high suck factor. Fortunately for you, dear readers, this book takes some effort to find. It’s not likely that you’d buy this book by mistake. I’m offering my opinion so that anyone who might be curious about reading it on purpose will think twice about it. Unfortunately, it’s garbage like this that give print on demand books a bad name.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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book reviews, religion

A review of Shunned: How I Lost My Religion and Found Myself, by Linda Curtis…

I am fascinated by demanding American religions, so last February, I downloaded Linda Curtis’s book, Shunned: How I Lost My Religion and Found Myself. Regular readers of this blog may know that my husband, Bill, was once a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is a highly demanding religion. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are also very demanding. In fact, I have a cousin who was a JW and eventually left the faith, along with his family. I knew a little about the JWs and the Mormons before I met Bill, who officially left the LDS church in 2006. I knew something about how people who leave highly demanding religions tend to get treated… although in Bill’s case, his shunning was only partly due to the religion. He was really mostly shunned because his ex wife is an abusive narcissistic creep who used the church to punish her former source of supply.

Anyway, eventually, Bill’s situation partially rectified. One of his daughters– ironically the one more devoted to Mormonism– eventually reconnected with him. The other daughter remains estranged, but that seems to be more because of her mother’s toxic influence than religion. Still, I remain interested in stories about restrictive religions and what happens when people choose to leave them. Linda Curtis published her true story about leaving the Witnesses in 2018. When I noticed it got a lot of positive reviews on Amazon, I decided to read it.

I started reading Shunned right after I finished reading Fear, Bob Woodward’s first book about Donald Trump’s presidency. I probably would have fallen into this book regardless, but I think reading about religion after reading about Trump’s White House was especially inspired. It took me just a few days to read Shunned, while Fear took weeks. Linda Curtis has a somewhat engaging writing style, and her story is basically interesting. I’m not sorry I read Shunned, although I think it could be improved.

Who is Linda Curtis and what’s her story?

Linda Curtis grew up in Portland, Oregon, one of three siblings. Her mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Her father, Frank, was not a believer until Linda and her siblings were adults. Linda’s family often prayed for her father to see “The Truth” and join the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Linda fervently prayed for that herself… but when her dad finally came around and decided to join the JWs, Linda was on her way out of the faith. No one knew that watching her dad’s baptism didn’t bring her the joy it brought her mother and siblings, or her first husband, Ross. They were unaware that Linda was experiencing a crisis of faith that led her to question the beliefs she had held dear her entire life.

Linda had always been a devout believer. Parents sent their questioning children to her because she was seen as a good influence. The religion had helped her develop a talent for sales, thinking on her feet, and connecting to people. Like all JWs, Linda went door to door to talk to people about the afterlife. It was something she’d never questioned until one day, when she knocked on her boss’s door. She hadn’t known he lived at that address. She found herself giving him the familiar spiel, telling him in not so many words that if he didn’t see “The Truth”, he was doomed to obliteration. Somehow, Linda realized, as she spoke to her boss, who had also been a mentor and a friend, that she was condemning a man she deeply respected.

After that chance meeting with her boss, Linda somewhat lost her zeal for the religion. Her first husband, Ross, a convert to the Witnesses, realized that his wife’s participation at Kingdom Hall was waning. He confronted her and she admitted that she was having issues with her beliefs. Moreover, Linda and Ross weren’t particularly compatible, and she realized that she didn’t love her husband.

The couple spoke to the elders at the church, but eventually decided that they needed to divorce. The split seemed relatively amicable, although due to their beliefs, they were still considered married in the eyes of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The religion teaches that the only legitimate reason for a dissolution of a marriage is adultery or death. That meant they weren’t supposed to have sexual relations with anyone else.

Linda and Ross had married young. Linda didn’t initially go to college, even though she was very smart. The religion didn’t encourage her to get a degree. But she did get a job in banking, and it turned out she was very good at it. She got promotions and more and more responsibility. Her family wasn’t necessarily onboard with her having a career; she was supposed to be a wife and a mother. That family life coupled with strict religion was not what Linda wanted for herself. Linda makes Ross sound a bit whiney and immature, but that might be because of her use of dialogue, which was a bit melodramatic. But he also decided to take a drive in Linda’s brand new car after he’d been drinking during one of their fights. I was surprised by all of the drinking that was referenced in this story. I know JWs are allowed to drink (I don’t think my cousin would have ever been a member if drinking wasn’t allowed), but I was under the impression that drinking was supposed to be done sparingly.

After the divorce, Linda moved to Chicago, then eventually San Francisco, as she continued to excel at her career. Meanwhile, she dated men, and eventually had sex. Admitting to adultery made it possible for Ross to remarry, but it also led to the JWs casting her out of the religion. Fornication is what led to her being “disfellowshipped” by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and shunned by her family, even though she was legally divorced when she did it. She could have repented and gotten back into “good standing”, but Linda determined that she didn’t want her life ruled by religion. I can hardly blame her for that. Shunning and “disfellowshipping” people for being “disobedient” to a religion or other group is manipulative and toxic… it’s basically asshole behavior intended to control other people. As I am fond of saying, it’s NOT a punishment to be shunned by an asshole. However, when it’s your family and friends doing it, shunning can be very hurtful.

Through it all, her mother kept telling her that all she needed to do was come back to “The Truth” and get right with “Jehovah God”, and she would be welcomed back into the fold. It was the old “carrot and stick” cure. Jump through some hoops to make mom happy, and everything will be okay. It didn’t matter that the religion wasn’t working for Linda’s life or plans for herself. Linda’s brother, Randy, was the first to shun her, which cut her off from her niece and nephew. Her sister, Lory, who had struggled in the faith and got divorced from her first marriage, eventually also turned away from Linda, telling her that the family would never reach out to her (which turned out to be untrue).

Linda Curtis went on to marry her second husband, the late Bob Curtis. She became a stepmother and began to find her way in the world. But she paid a high price for that freedom, as her family and friends she had known in Portland couldn’t completely accept her outside of the religion. They didn’t completely cut her off, as the title of the book suggests, but they had a lot less to do with her. Leaving the JWs and living life on her own terms was a big step with a steep price. It does seem to me that the high cost was well worth it to Linda Curtis.

My thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I managed to get through this book somewhat quickly. It’s a fairly easy read. Linda Curtis is clearly very intelligent and basically writes well. Her story is interesting, if not a bit sad. Personally, I think shunning is a shitty thing to do, especially to a loved one. I don’t support it, mainly because at its core, it’s a power move consisting of emotional blackmail and control tactics. I empathize with Linda Curtis’s situation, dealing with a family that had once been so loving turning on her simply because she didn’t believe what they believed and dared to declare independence and free agency.

However… there are some things I noticed as I read this book. First, Linda Curtis has a fondness for so-called “fifty cent words”. I have two master’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree in English. Several times, I had to look up obscure words she used. I did so because I like to know the meanings of words I don’t know. My guess is that the vast majority of readers won’t take the time to do that, and most of them won’t know what some of the more obscure words mean, either. I don’t mind the occasional fancy vocabulary word, but I think too many of them can have a bad effect on writing. For many people, time is money, and it takes time to look up those fancy words. Those who don’t take the time to look up the fancy vocabulary words are going to miss some of the meaning in Curtis’s story. I wouldn’t mention this if it had only happened a couple of times, but it happened several times– enough times that I found it noticeable and annoying.

Secondly, Linda Curtis’s writing style is a bit “novelesque”, but not in a particularly creative or evocative way. Her writing sometimes comes off a bit like she was trying to set a vivid scene. But instead of using details and descriptions to jazz up her tale, she includes unnecessary details to the scenes that didn’t add anything. Like, for instance, at one point she mentions a fly landing on a dirty plate after a discussion she had. That action had no significance on the story she was sharing. It was an unnecessary detail. More than once, she mentioned getting into a car and putting on a seatbelt. There’s nothing wrong with safety in the car. But it was an unnecessary detail that didn’t add to the story and could have been edited out or replaced with something more pertinent to the story. That quality of her writing was irritating to me. It came off as amateurish.

And thirdly, Curtis uses a lot of dialogue that is a trite and one dimensional. Dialogue can be very effective in a personal story, but I think of it as more of a technique that breathes life into the story. This author’s use of dialogue frequently comes off as stilted and melodramatic. Curiously, she could have added some detail and “spark” to her dialogue, but she didn’t do that often enough. Instead, we get details about clothes people wore or flies on dirty dishes, rather than details about non verbal cues or tone of voice.

I did relate to Curtis’s story. I empathized with her sorrow over her family choosing a religion over a loved one. However… I did notice that while Linda’s family had less to do with her, they didn’t completely shut their door to her. She was invited to her grandmother’s funeral, and her parents came to her husband’s funeral. She received gifts from her family when she married her second husband, although no one in her family attended the wedding. I know other people who have been completely shunned, meaning no contact whatsoever, after leaving highly demanding religions like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My husband, for instance, lost complete contact with his daughters for about 12 years. One daughter hasn’t seen or spoken to him since 2004. That’s real shunning. What Linda Curtis describes is more like disapproval. People still spoke to her, even if there was less warmth and familiarity than there once was.

Much of Shunned was sort of a cut and dried story about Linda’s life, but there wasn’t that much deep insight into how she really felt launching a life outside of the JWs. I would have enjoyed reading a bit more about how she adapted to life “in the world”, as she got used to celebrating Christmas and birthdays. She does write a little bit about that, but not very much. She casually mentions having sex with a lot of men, attending a new age church after trying several different ones, and getting involved with friends. But she doesn’t really write about what those experiences were like beyond the surface. I also think she could have delved more into her relationship with her family and how it suffered when she left the JWs. I felt like much of what she writes is superficial, with a lot more about her successes at work. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this book could use a bit more heart and feeling, and less logic and reason.

I don’t think Shunned is a terrible book. I just think that a good editor could have made it markedly better. I also think that Linda Curtis should have gone deeper than she did. Her story lacks insight and spark. If she traded some of the insignificant details for more personal insights, this book would be much improved and more interesting. As I said, it’s obvious that Linda Curtis is very talented in her job. She’s intelligent and accomplished and yes, she finally did pursue her college degree. She has intellect and drive, and I know there must have been some truly amazing moments in her journey that she left out of her book. At the very least, she could have added some spice to the stories she did include.

Shunned is a serviceable enough read; I just don’t think that writing is necessarily Linda Curtis’s gift or her passion. To use musical terms, her writing is kind of the equivalent to someone with a nice choir voice as opposed to someone who sings solos, if that makes any sense. But with some direction, she could develop more of a “soloist’s sound”.

I am not sorry I read Shunned, and I would recommend it to those who are interested in the subject matter. I think I’d give it three stars out of five.

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religion, videos

Repost: The Children of God cult…

Here’s another repost from the original blog. I wrote this in January 2019, just before the old blog went “poof”. I am reposting it as/is here, since I recently reviewed Not Without My Sister, a book about sisters who were raised in the Children of God cult. This was the first post I wrote about this cult; I first heard about it on the A&E series mentioned below.

Having now exhausted Leah Remini’s Scientology episodes, at least for now, I moved on to another A&E series hosted by Elizabeth Vargas, called Cults and Extreme Belief.  Since yesterday afternoon, I’ve seen three episodes.  The first two, about NXIVM and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were disturbing enough.  But the third one, about the Children of God (now known as The Family International), made me stop and blog.

Before I watched the show, I had heard a little bit about this religious cult, founded in California in the 1960s by a charismatic preacher named David Berg. ¬†Originally called “Teens for Christ”, this group mostly consisted of runaways and hippies, and preached to each other about salvation, happiness, and a coming apocalypse. ¬†Creepy founder, David Berg, was frequently known by the alias Moses David, and gave himself the titles of “King”, “The Last Endtime Prophet”, “Moses”, and “David”. ¬†His first wife, Jane Miller, married him in 1944 and divorced him in 1970, two years after he started his cult. ¬†Berg married his second wife, Karen Zerby, in 1970. ¬†She is currently leading The Family International, since Berg died in October 1994.

One thing that struck me about this cult is that it was full of musically talented people, children in particular.  One of the children involved was Berg’s granddaughter, Merry, who was also known as Mene.  Merry, who died in her sleep in December 2017, was fifteen days older than I am.  She was musically talented and very ethereal looking, with beautiful blonde hair.  Merry was featured on musical recordings done by Children of God, as well as videos. 

Merry Berg…

Other talented children were also used to make songs about love and sex, and some were also forced to do strip teases.  Aside from that, there was rampant sexual abuse.  Merry was one of the most victimized of the bunch, having endured multiple forced exorcisms as well as extreme abuse on all levels.  She was forced to live in different places, locked in a closet for six months, whipped, tied up, and screamed at by her grandfather, who claimed she was possessed by the devil.

The whole story was very disturbing to me, but I think what really captured my attention was the way these kids looked.  Here they were, maybe ten or eleven years old on these videos from the 70s… a lot of them are probably my contemporaries.  Most of them were attractive and musically gifted, singing so beautifully songs about love.  But the love they sang about was inappropriate and forbidden because it involved sex.  Indeed, these children were commanded to go “flirty fishing” to entice new people to join the cult.  The flirty fishing was more than just flirtation; in fact, it included sex.  David Berg preached sex.

Creepy!

As I watched the above video, I was eerily reminded of the beauty pageants that used to be so popular in the 1980s.  The lyrics sound so wholesome, yet all of the singers look like they’re in a trance.  These teens in the video were likely born into the cult and knew nothing else.  It’s all about worshiping their sick leader, who was supposedly an alcoholic and may have also suffered from mental illnesses.

This clip is from 20/20… a young girl is very upset and repeatedly insists that there’s nothing wrong with sex.

As a child of the 70s and 80s myself, I am also aware of the late actor, River Phoenix, who was extremely famous and much beloved by people of my generation.  Phoenix died in 1993, having overdosed on drugs at The Viper Room in Los Angeles.  He and his similarly talented siblings were raised in this cult when they were very young.  Phoenix once claimed that he lost his virginity at age four, but later said he was kidding.

And A Current Affair also covered this group, explaining “flirty fishing” more.  Imagine the kind of people who were enticed into this group by watching young girls behave sexually.  It sounds like a nightmare.
A 20/20 episode about Children of God.  Not the same one I watched this morning, but also worth viewing.

David Berg unofficially adopted Ricky Rodriguez, nicknaming him Davidito.  He was born in the Canary Islands, the son of Berg’s second wife, Karen Zerby, and a man she “flirty fished”.  In 2005, when Rodriguez was 29 years old, he murdered a woman who had been his nanny and sexually abused him.  Then he killed himself.  Rodriguez was forced into inappropriate sexual relationships when he was a child and developed deep seated resentment toward Berg and Zerby because of the abuse he suffered.

Megyn Kelly speaks to Children of God cult survivor, Christina Babin, who speaks about how difficult it was to be in the cult and how most of the children never got more than a sixth grade education.

I know I heard of this cult before I watched Elizabeth Vargas discuss it this morning.  I remember hearing about River Phoenix and his siblings being in a religious cult when they were young.  It’s tragic how many youngsters were affected by this cult, which was considered a “religion” and granted special privileges.  Many who were raised in The Children of God later committed suicide because they had no foundation from which to launch their lives beyond the cult.

It’s amazing how many cults there are out there and how people get caught up in them.  It’s tragic that children grow up in these organizations and are left with nothing when they come of age.  I may have to find something a little lighter to watch later.

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book reviews, religion

Reposted review of I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Athiest’s Eyes

Here’s another reposted book review. It was written for Epinions.com on June 14, 2010, and appears here as/is. I’m still thinking about today’s fresh content.

eBay has changed the face of American commerce, making some rather unconventional methods of earning money available to people smart enough to come up with a clever gimmick. Hemant Mehta is one such clever guy. In January 2006, when he was 22 years old, Mehta came up with a very interesting moneymaking proposal. An atheist since he was 14 years old, Mehta held an auction to get eBayers to send him to church.

His proposal read as follows:

I’m a 22-year-old from Chicago. I stopped believing in God when I was 14. Currently, I am an active volunteer for a couple of different national, secular organizations. For one of them, I am the editor of a newsletter that reaches over 1,000 atheist/agnostic college students. I have written several Letters to the Editor to newspapers in and around Chicago, espousing my atheistic beliefs when Church/State issues arose. My point being that I don’t take my non-belief lightly. However, while I don’t believe in God, I firmly believe I would immediately change those views if presented with evidence to the contrary. And at age 22, this is possibly the best chance anyone has of changing me.

So here’s my proposal. Every time I come home, I pass this old Irish church. I promise to go into that church every day– for a certain number of days– for at least an hour each visit. For every $10 you bid, I will go to the Church for 1 day. For $50, you would have me going to mass every day for a week.
 (15)

Mehta continues by promising to go to church willingly and keep an open mind, yet not saying or doing anything inappropriate. He offers to volunteer with the church and interact with the people of the church and do his best to learn about the churchgoers’ beliefs. He also promises to maintain a diary, take photos, or secure any other type of proof the winning bidder desires in order to uphold his end of the bargain.

Proving that Americans love a good gimmick and are willing to pay for it, Mehta was successful in finding someone to pay him to attend church. The winning bidder of his auction was Jim Henderson, a minister from Seattle, Washington, who paid $504 to get Mehta to attend church. Mehta donated the money to the Secular Student Alliance, one of the organizations Mehta was involved with when he was a student.

Instead of just attending the old Irish church, however, Henderson opted to have Mehta try a variety of different churches and maintain his impressions on Henderson’s Web site, http://www.offthemap.com. And Mehta did make good on his end of the deal, visiting churches in four different states that ranged from mega-sized to small and intimate. Mehta’s eBay experiment led to his decision to write his 2007 book, I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Athiest’s Eyes.

My thoughts

This book wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be when I decided to buy it. I was under the impression that Mehta’s memoirs of an atheist sitting in church would be about just that… sitting in church. But it turns out I Sold My Soul on eBay is also about what makes an atheist tick. He offers some commentary on the atheist movement, as well as some insight as to why he gave up Jainism, the faith Mehta grew up in.

Mehta’s eBay experiment led him to attend some very well known megachurches, to include Ted Haggard’s New Life Church and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. Mehta offers his observations of what it was like for him as a non-believer. While I’m no atheist, I can understand where he was coming from, particularly when he writes of his experiences in the megachurches, a burgeoning American phenomenon that I personally find a big turn off. That being said, not all of Mehta’s observations are negative. He has good things to say about Joel Osteen, going as far as to quip “I may be an atheist, but I love Joel” (123). Based on Osteen’s constant presence on television over the past few years, so do a lot of other Americans.

Toward the end of the book, Mehta offers his thoughts on both what works and what’s wrong with typical Christian church services. I didn’t agree with all of Mehta’s insights; for example, he says he wishes there was less singing. I don’t attend church regularly anymore, but one of the one things I do enjoy about church services is the music. Mehta also complains that a lot of Christians have an intolerant attitude toward atheists.  I can agree with that statement.  On the other hand, Mehta also observes that a lot of churches offer valuable community outreach, which he claims to find commendable, and some of the pastors he met made sure their messages were very relevant.  The pastors who kept their messages useful to Mehta today stood the best chance of getting him to change his mind about religion and go back to church.

At the end of the book, Mehta writes an interesting chapter about what it would take to get him to convert. He writes that he still has unanswered questions about Christianity, though at this point, he’s still a devout atheist. As I was reading this chapter, I started to wonder why it should matter to most people whether or not Mehta chooses to believe in God. But then it occurred to me that for many devout Christians, it really does matter. And so, for those people, Mehta’s last words may be the most compelling in the book. I’m sure former teen heart-throb Kirk Cameron, who has famously become a devout Christian and even ambushed Mehta on a radio program, would want to know how to get him to believe and be “saved”.

This book includes a guide for discussion groups. I’m sure the guide is very useful for those who want to read this book as a group and toss around some ideas afterward. Mehta also offers some notes at the end of the book with clarifications and more resources, along with an invitation to join his personal blog, http://www.friendlyatheist.com.

Overall

I liked this book. I guess I would have enjoyed it more if it had been more focused on just the eBay auction and was written more like a story instead of a progress report, but I did find Mehta’s observations intriguing. Mehta has a friendly, honest, engaging voice; he’s intelligent and seems to have an open mind, and that’s very refreshing. One thing potential readers should know is that Mehta mostly confines his church attendance to Protestant denominations, which may or may not have affected his opinions.

I would recommend I Sold My Soul on eBay to those who are interested in learning more about Atheism, as well as those who find religion stimulating. I will warn, however, that this book takes a broader approach than I was expecting. It’s not as much as a memoir as I was thinking it would be, which may or may not be appealing to other readers.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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