"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, September 29, 2012

September Books

So this month I ended up reading two books dealing with China, and two memoirs about people leaving their faiths.  I didn't know the two latter books would delve so much into childhood sexual abuse when I started them.  I was thoroughly disgusted at how two powerful churches (one for sure; the other maybe was falsely accused) have used their money and clout to cover abuse for the sake of their churches' reputations!  Children be damned as long as the faith is protected?  Horrible!  And even though these two churches are not my own, I condemn any who cover abuse for the sake of their reputations. How about some character, people...not hypocrisy!   And I would dare to speak for God and say He is thoroughly disgusted by this as well.  Yes, your church might go through bad publicity - as it should!  And it IS shameful.  And it IS a horrible testimony. And it DOES cause unbelievers to blaspheme God in many cases (see II Samuel 12).  But these things must be dealt with. You can't expect sin to stay hidden, that you will always be able to protect the guilty. God knows what is going on. He's not giving you a free pass.  Sorry, I had to get this out. I see my precious nephews. One is ten and a half, the other almost 17 months old, and I cannot stand the thought of anyone abusing them and getting by with it because some church doesn't want bad publicity.  And don't get me started on churches that know of sexual predators and reassign them to other posts where they can prey on a new batch of children. Grrrrr.

Boy, I rarely get this testy when doing my monthly book reports, huh?

Among the Righteous: Lost Stories From the Holocaust's Long Reach Into Arab Lands
by Robert Satloff -- This Jewish man researches the stories of Arab treatment of Jews in North Africa.  I enjoyed the story of Khaled Abdul-Wahab and the author's attempt to get him accepted as the first Arab remembered by Yad Vashem for his role in saving Jews during the Holocaust. He comes across many roadblocks as more recent politics play into whether Arabs want to be known for helping Jews. Also Jews sometimes deny the Holocaust's reach into the Arab countries.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang  -- I didn't realize this book was so long when I picked it up, but over 500 pages later, I must say that I enjoyed learning the story of these three women. The author shared about her grandmother who was a concubine to a general and later married to a much older doctor.  The family dynamics of her coming into this family made me appreciate the simplicity of marriage in my own culture.  (Her new husband's oldest son ended up shooting himself in a fit of rage because of this proposed marriage. He died.)  This story involved the author's mother and father, and their commitment to the Communist Party. I enjoyed the examples of life in China at this time and during the reign of Mao and the Cultural Revolution.  I had to smile when she told of how "eat all your food because there are poor capitalists in the West who are starving and would love to have the food you are eating" was used on them as children.  (I've heard a similar version growing up.)  I was struck by the patriarchy of this traditional society and how Communism declared women and men more equal. I got to wondering just how far back patriarchy goes and where did repressing women and elevating men begin? 

I just thought this was interesting.

"Following the custom, my great-grandfather was married young, at fourteen, to a woman six years his senior.  It was considered one of the duties of a wife to help bring up her husband."  (pg. 22)

With some exceptions like books on Mao's writings and "revolutionary operas," among the many things banned or seen as too "bourgeois" during the Cultural Revolution in China -- books, paintings, musical instruments, sports, cards, chess, teahouses, bars, flowers, grass (yes, grass was pulled up as if it were an enemy!), films, plays, concerts, long hair for women...  (pg. 332)

"To me, the ultimate proof of freedom in the West was that there seemed to be so many people there attacking the West and praising China.  Almost every other day the front page of Reference, the newspaper which carried foreign press items, would feature some eulogy of Mao and the Cultural Revolution. At first I was angered by these, but they soon made me see how tolerant another society could be.  I realized that this was the kind of society I wanted to live in: where people were allowed to hold different, even outrageous views. I began to see that it was the very tolerance of opposition, of protestors, that kept the West progressing."  (pg. 472)

The Lost Daughters of China by Karin Evans - a friend sent me this book thinking I'd like it and I did!  The author and her husband adopted a little girl from China (two actually),and she tells some of their story and also bits of stories from others. She explores the reasons women would give up their daughters, the hardship of life in China, orphanage life and adjusting to life in the US among other things. I shed a few tears for the innocent ones who are abandoned and left behind in orphanages as well as the ones who never have a chance at life because they are either aborted or killed upon delivery. Also I cried for those women who would have chosen to keep their children, but could not for the sake of society.  I can't imagine how difficult that must be.

Here is one excerpt I wanted to share.

Re: the only-children of China being spoiled:  "'Many parents of the nineties,'...'were part of the lost generation of the Cultural Revolution. After suffering so much themselves, they were determined not to deprive their only child. Beijing's biggest toy store was always jammed with parents buying toddler-sized fake fur coats, imported baby shampoo and red Porsche pedal cars.'

Yet she saw good things coming out of the situation. 'Many people thought that a country populated with Little Emperors was headed for disaster. I disagreed.  Granted it might be unpleasant to live in a nation of me-first onlies, yet I saw a social revolution in the making. For generations, Chinese society had emphasized the family, the clan, the collective over the individual. Now, for the first time in four thousand years of history, the relationship was reversed. Where the Mao generation failed, the Me generation just might succeed.' She quoted a British friend, Michael Crook, 'If you have a population of Little Emperors, you can't have little slaves. Everyone will want to tell everyone else what to do. You'll have democracy.'"  (pg. 234)

Losing My Religion by William Lobdell - I found this at the local Friends of the Library book sale; a reporter talks about his faith in Christ, how he got a job reporting religious news for a newspaper and eventually lost his faith.  The book was very respectful, really, but made me sad because he admits he saw very little difference in the majority of Christians' lives compared to the general population.  I don't think it's supposed to work like that!

"So what has taken the place of God in my life? A tremendous sense of gratitude. I sense how fortunate I am to be alive in this thin sliver of time in the history of the universe. This gives me a renewed sense of urgency to live this short life well. I don't have eternity to fall back on, so my focus on the present has sharpened.   I find myself being more grateful for each day and more quickly making corrections in my life to avoid wasted time.  I've tightened my circle of friends, wanting to maximize time with people I love and enjoy the most. I've become more true to myself because I'm not as worried about what others think of me. ... That's what losing God has done for me. Permanent death - I don't think I have the escape hatch to heaven anymore - now sits squarely in front of me, unmoving as I rapidly approach.  And you know what? My breakfast does taste better. I feel the love of my family and friends more deeply. And my dreams for my life have an urgency to them that won't allow me to put them off any longer. I can no longer slog through each day, knowing that if my time on Earth isn't used to its fullest potential, it's no big thing, that I have eternity with God ahead of me."  (pg. 278-279)

Leaving the Saints by Martha Beck -- I've often been driven to tears and disgust and anger and laughter and joy, but I don't think a nonfiction book has creeped me out until I read this book. Really it wasn't that creepy, but I just so happened to read a part (about Danites if you must know) right before bed and it must have upped the "creep factor" in my mind.  Like I told someone else, I take most leaving the faith stories with a huge dose of salt (as opposed to a mere grain) because I realize sometimes people won't present their former faiths in the best lights due to their own personal experiences. For others, the faith is a hugely wonderful thing partly because they haven't experienced those awful things. So, that said, I enjoyed this book and some of the talk of sealing in the temple (she didn't go into great detail because she knows it's sacred), wards (I often wondered what those were pg. 54), heavenly mothers (yes, plural, since God is a polygamist, too pg. 75), BYU (pg. 77), the Mormon view of heaven and its levels (pg. 87), the Egyptian papyri that early Mormons bought from a traveling guy who showed the papyri for a living (pg. 155), more talk on polygamy and how women and men viewed it (pg. 177), the victimization of the Saints in history (pg. 181) and much more. I stopped noting it after awhile.

By the way, this lady came out as sexually abused by her father, apparently a well-known Mormon apologist. I decided to look him up.

This is her father, Hugh Nibley

A Q&A with her after the Mormon Church responded and a sampling of some of the responses she's received by email.  It's sad how many others have been sexually abused.

A collection of sites about this book - not sure how fair these are, but there are a number of links.

And when I mentioned this book to a Mormon blogger, she said she'd read the book, it did not ring true and she wasn't the only one who thought this way.


jaraad said...

Great post!
Thanks for the books reviews.
Regarding your first book I remember that there were many Jews in Bab Tuma, a very beautiful souq in Damascus.
The shop owners there are mainly Christians but there were also Muslims and Jews shop owners all in one street. People would buy from the cheapest regardless of the shop owner's religion.

sanil said...

It looks like you read a lot of very interesting books this month! :)

I remember you posting the quote about a wife bringing up her husband, probably on Facebook. I'm still amused by it...I think that's expected in our culture too sometimes! Even with marriage being limited to adults over here, people expect men to be children and women to do the work of making sure the house and family run smoothly. It's very strange.

Susanne said...

Sanil, I agree that that quote was amusing and also what you said about women here being expected to making the family run smoothly. I wonder if this is just how our media portrays things though. Men (dads, husbands) in sitcoms often seem to be really silly and shallow and juvenile. I guess that makes for funny TV, but now I'm wondering how much of it happens in real life. I know my dad is very adult and nothing like sitcom fathers yet I know others who could probably fit that stereotype pretty well. Hmmm. There should be a study about this... :)

Susanne said...

Jaraad, aw, thanks for reminding me of Bab Touma. Check this out ... :)


jaraad said...

Thanks for the link. Amazing pictures. It seems I will come back again to read your Damascus posts. I think I have missed these. I like Damascus old city neighborhoods.

Susanne said...

Well, we weren't friends back then so you probably didn't realize they were there. I posted them over 3 years ago now. But I'm glad you reminded me of Bab Touma so I could go back and read some of my old posts from Damascus. Those were wonderful days!

Sarah Familia said...

I haven't read Leaving the Saints, but I read her previous book, Expecting Adam, and loved it.

Just so you know, not all Mormons believe that God is a polygamist. (I, for one, do not.) In their enthusiasm for polygamy, some 19th century Mormon leaders even taught that Jesus was a polygamist, married to both Mary and Martha. They had a huge incentive to legitimize polygamy.

Some of the weird doctrinal stuff floating around back in the 19th century (such as the belief that Adam and Eve were literally Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, or the idea that people of African descent were less righteous before they were born) has been officially repudiated by the Church. Other stuff just continues to float, popping up every once in a while to spice up Sunday School discussions.

sanil said...

It may be largely media. My comment was largely based in recent personal experience, but I hope it's not so common these days. :)

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

I read Wild Swans years and years ago and really enjoyed it (but I was very young, I think this was like 12 years ago), can barely remember it.

Susanne said...

Thanks for that info, Sarah! I enjoyed it.

Sanil, aha! :D

Becky, I've seen a number of copies in second-hand stores lately. It must have been popular around here at one time, and I missed it. :)

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Thanks for the book ideas. I haven't read Martha Beck's but have heard plenty about it. She has been dismissed as wacko by plenty of people. Will form my own opinion after reading the book.

Susanne said...

Yes, I would like to know your opinion. Bridget already shared hers and she agrees that it did not ring true.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

This comment is extremely long, sorry:
OK Susanne, I have read Leaving the Saints. The author has a PHD from Harvard, thus I expected a well-written thoroughly documented book. And got . . .the opposite: a sarcastic, demeaning, insulting, inventive book full of half-truths and untruths, and I got the feeling the author reveled in her cleverness while looking down the nose at her less-educated readers, especially Mormons and people of faith in general.

I resented her neglect of standard non-fiction practices such as naming all people, citing sources, and enlightening the reader with detailed footnotes. I’m a BYU trained historian and know a serious writer must make meticulous use of all of the above. Interesting that she bashes her father for “making up footnotes;” she goes one step further by not using them at all.

Just a couple of the multitude of untruths.
One, Beck mentions several times that by leaving the Church she will be in outer darkness. That’s an archaic phrase rarely used, but it refers not to people who leave the Church but those who deny the witness of the Holy Ghost under certain circumstances. There’s more to it than that; just be assured that she casually inserts this phrase using it incorrectly.
Two, she states more than once than Mormon women are not supposed to work outside the home. There is no such doctrine.
Three, Beck states that every references to Sonia Johnson has been purged from the BYU library. BYU doesn’t censor materials.

A few of the crazy statements and impossibilities.
Beck mentions the salon that wanted to get her husband’s permission for her haircut. What the heck??
Beck says “A a good Mormon woman has elaborately curled, longish hair until middle age, and a permed, upswept coiffure in later life.” I hadn’t heard.
She gives the Danites way too much credit and seems to enjoy feeling important enough that she has to fear for her life. Oh please.

She constantly hammers Church authorities and BYU for warning or firing teachers who vocally and actively speak against the Church. Well, it’s a private Church institution and as such BYU has every right to do so. And students and teachers have every right to not attend or work there if they are bugged by that. Do vocal anti-Catholics retain their positions at Catholic universities?

I resent her method of putting down the Church and its members. One example: “From the top-dog rank of bishop, to the mid-prestige senior Sunday school teachers, to the lowly child-care specialist in the junior Sunday school . . .” There is no prestige in any calling in the Church. We have an unpaid ministry. My husband willingly served as Bishop for 5 years. During that time he also worked his regular full-time job at Intel, providing for our family. He humbly assisted people who had crises whether emotional, spiritual, employment related, and so on. We have both served in the past as nursery teachers (ages 18 months-3 years) and there is nothing lowly about it. We were teaching God’s principles to His children.

The most bizarre part of her book is that of imprisoning her very aged father in a hotel room and tormenting him to get him to admit to sexual abuse. I found this extremely disturbing; someone should have called the cops on her.

Here’s a link to an article I found by Hugh Nibley’s son-in-law, Boyd Petersen: