Monday, February 22, 2010

Book 11: Stolen Innocence

So now I know where Big Love gets its inspiration... .at least for stories concerning Juniper Creek and Bill's complicated family history. Except in this instance, it is true. Stolen Innocence is Elissa Walls' story of growing up under Warren Jeff's in an FLDS sect of the Mormon church in Utah.
In and of itself, I don't have a problem with a group deciding to live in isolation to practice its religious beliefs. The Amish do it quite well. And probably lots of other groups I don't know anything about.
But the environment Elissa Walls grew up in I have significant issues with. In this community, power is in the hands of the Prophet, who is believed to be God's mouthpiece on earth. Men in the sect are granted a Priesthood, if they are deemed worthy enough, and expected to guide and direct their families in all aspects. If a man has at least 3 wives, and he is sealed to them for time and eternity, then he can reach the highest levels of heaven. Not my idea of reality or salvation, but under Uncle LeRoy and Uncle Rulon (the two Prophets before Warren Jeffs), people entered into these relationships with relatively little manipulation, although admittedly very little exposure to any other way of life, either. That's not to say there wasn't a dark side. If a man was deemed to be an unworthy Priesthood holder for some reason, then his wives and children could be reassigned to another man, with no consideration for what the wives might want. They were property of the husbands.
When Warren Jeffs began taking over the Priesthood from his aging father, things began to change. Warren Jeffs used his position to manipulate and control the community, eventually banning all influences of the outside world- television, radios, traditional education, even classical music and the historical celebrations held so dear to the Community. This was the tip of the iceberg. At age 14, Elissa Walls was forced to marry her 20 year old cousin. Despite her protests, both before and during her marriage, she was continually told to submit to her husband. After years of abuse, she managed to escape the clutches of the FLDS and eventually went on to become Utah's star witness against Warren Jeffs.
I won't go into any more detail about Elissa Walls' story here. It is quite compelling, and very easy reading. What I will rant on for a moment is the slippery slope of too much power in the hands of a few, and being in a culture that does not allow room for questions.
Under Warren Jeffs. entire families were torn apart. Underage girls were forced into marriages, threatened with eternal damnation if they went against the Prophet. Boys were expelled from the community with no money, little education and no hope. Religion fails when it uses the fear of losing salvation to manipulate its followers into obeying arbitrary rules. Religion also fails when it refuses examination and question. In some cases, questioning does lead to a loss of faith- but that should be left to the individual, arrived at through their own examination of doctrine and beliefs. It should not come to be because the person didn't "keep sweet." Walls is able to admit now that she was brainwashed.
It is easy for me, as an outsider, to say "Wow, how can these people believe this!" But if you grow up in a culture, and you feel this is your only hope for salvation it is understandable. While I wouldn't wish Walls' past on anyone, her natural curiosity and survival instinct allowed her to move past what she grew up learning, and make a path in the world for herself. She has a special kind of courage, and although I doubt our paths will ever cross, I wish her the best in her future.
I'd recommend for anyone fascinated with what I call "fringe religions" and anyone who is into Big Love on HBO. Also anyone who enjoys reading memoirs.

No comments:

Post a Comment