Tag Archives: Religous Fundamentalism

BOY ERASED: a memoir of identity, faith, and family

[T]he American Psychiatric Association [in 1973] had removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [as a mental disorder] . . .

[Frank] Worthen disagreed, and started Love in Action [after hearing the voice of God] . . . “It was God’s answer to the APA saying homosexuality was normal. And God is saying, ‘not really.’”

I have now lived geographically in the heart of the Bible Belt for thirty-three years. I was permanently transplanted here quite by accident from northern New York State. The very first question I was asked by the very first person I met was, “Are you saved?” It was news to me that I was in danger and my immediate reply was – From What?

Now that I have been here over a quarter of a century, I still don’t understand how my upbringing as a member of a large Roman Catholic community who believes in the Holy Trinity -Father, Son and Holy Spirit should be considered a non-Christian cult. How does it differ so radically from my evangelical neighbors? My only hope, I’ve been told, is to accept Jesus as my personal Savior. Since I thought I have all along, I still can’t figure out what I am doing wrong.

My book club selected Boy Erased for last month’s discussion. As I read the book and smashed into the inner struggles of Garrard Conley’s life, I felt like I was dropped from 35,000 feet into Dante’s inferno.

Garrard was raised, much like myself, in a religious vacuum. There is comfort in a community that sees themselves as the one true religion. Everyone knows the rules and the dangers of violating them. Rule by fear. For me, there was weekly confession where I could profess my dastardly sins. For Garrard, there was no one to  help him understand his unsettling nature. There was no one to help him see deep into his troubled soul to see that a loving God accepts you just as you are; not as you are judged by men.

Garrard knew at an early age he was a miss-matched fork in the silverware drawer. Different, somehow. He knew his parents loved him dearly and he knew that what ever made him different inside, if exposed, would threaten his relationship with them and, more importantly, his salvation. As he matured, he realized that he preferred boys to girls and his internal conflicts accelerated; he had a name now for his disquiet – gay.

At age 19, Garrard broke tradition within his family and left for a secular education at a “liberal” college. Although his parents were concerned that his relationship with God would be affected by exposure to secular education, they paid his tuition.

At this time, his father, a successful businessman in his work life, decided that it was time for him to become a fundamentalist preacher and like, Jesus, become a fisher of men. While Garrard struggled with his identity, his father was asked by the elders responsible for approving his ordination if he would advocate for intolerance of the LGBTQ community; sinners living this lifestyle by choice – a giving in to the Devil.

Garrard was raped by a male college classmate; someone he considered a friend. For whatever evil purpose, this “friend” revealed to Garrard’s mother that her son was gay. This information began a cataclysm within his family and within himself.

After consulting their church pastor, Garrard’s parents were convinced to send him to a strict gay conversion therapy group known as Love in Action. Nip things in the bud, so to speak. As I read the horrors that occurred in the name of God by the counselors in this reclusive organization, I became furious and physically sick forcing me to put the book down now and then and step outside for a breath of fresh air.

Garrard hasn’t lost his parents’ love but their relationship has forever been altered by the conflicts between their vision of God and sexuality. As he feared, exposure of his secret affected his parents within their religious community. His father became tainted for having a gay son. Along the way, he lost God’s voice in his life. He affirms it may be irretrievable.

As the step-mother to a gay man and enjoying friendships with several members of the LGBTQ community, I needed this book. Please be patient as you read Garrard’s story. Within the chapters, his story flips erratically from past, present and future showing his inner struggle. Anyone wanting a glimpse of what it is like, at the individual level, to feel different.  To live in the shadows. Always fearful of losing your job or even your life because society disapproves of you and who you choose to love. Read this book.

As I write this today, our national leaders are pushing hard to remove safe-guards to eliminate discrimination and actually condoning outright violence against the LGBTQ community. My heart breaks at the cruelty done in the name of religion.

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EDUCATED


Tara Westover was born sometime in September of 1986, the youngest of seven children. She’s not exactly sure of the date as she was born at home in a remote mountainous area of Idaho; an area popular with other off-the-grid folks living in the western US area known as the Mormon Corridor. There is no formal record of her birth; no birth certificate was issued until she was nine years old. Like most of their remote neighbors, the Westover family were, in name, Mormons.

Now in her early 30s, Tara shares her moving story. She begins with her apocalyptic childhood leading to her adult life off the Idaho mountain and alienated from most of her family. Her journey is harsh and painful but offered to the world openly and honestly. She exposes a side of life most people have no idea exists and tells us how difficult it is to question your parent’s authority and concern for your well-being. She expresses the contradictions she finds herself facing; rebel against her parent’s way of life thus alienating herself from those she loves and freeing herself to discover the past, present and future available to her through education.

I have floundered with this review. I really enjoyed the book but find it hard to tag it. It’s not the usual “woe is me” memoir. Tara openly expresses love and affection for her family; something I am not sure I would feel under the circumstances. It is my opinion that the author had more than the general public in mind when she wrote the book; she wanted to educate the world about the fundamentalist culture, the bizarre and dangerous life she faced with eccentric parents and she needed to justify leaving her loved ones behind to allow herself the freedom to control her own life as she saw fit.

By the time she was born, her mother, overwhelmed with the number of children and the hard work of a subsistence lifestyle had given up on home schooling. She felt her job was done if she taught the children to read. To be fair, there was never a restriction on the children’s reading interests, but any child with an itch to read did so discretely after a full day’s chores. Tara had access to her older siblings aged text books and rabidly self-educated herself.

Tara Westover was not raised in a traditional Mormon family. Her father demanded total obedience in all matters and maintained control over his family’s daily routine. The slightest action could turn him into a demonic authority pontificating his own version of Mormon fundamentals. In this markedly patriarchal environment, male siblings held power over the girls; one particular brother was a cruel bully. Another brother was helpful in encouraging Tara to find her true north.

Imagine a world where your parents told you that everything outside their front door was corrupt. That something called the Deep State had eliminated personal freedoms and the “Medical Establishment” could not be trusted. The family would avoid hospitals and doctors regardless of the severity of the illness or injury.

Her father consumed with an “End of the World” theory, built massive supplies of food, weaponry, and ammunition to protect his family from renegades unprepared for survival in an apocalyptic world. He worked his children like indentured servants in a dangerous junkyard to pay for the supplies. Horrific physical injuries befall several family members; treatment restricted to mother’s self-created herbal medicines. If a sick or injured person failed to survive on their own at home, it was just God’s will.

Over time, Tara’s older siblings peeled away from the family home, escaping their father’s control leaving a very young Tara to fill their shoes in the junkyard. By the time she was fifteen-years-old, she began planning her own escape. She found odd jobs in a nearby town, made friendships outside the survivalist culture and devoured any and all sources of literature to prepare to take the college ACT test. At seventeen-years-old she enrolled at Brigham Young University, and discovered how much of life she knew nothing about.

One of first lectures, I raised my hand and asked
what the Holocaust was because I had never heard of it.

Encouraged by “outsiders” who recognized her potential, Tara Westover has achieved a first-class education. It was a struggle at first to fill in the blank slate but she graduated from Brigham Young University with honors in 2008. Following graduation she was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and earned a Masters in Philosophy from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009. In 2010 she became a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge University where she was award a PhD in history in 2014.

Well done, Tara.

Recommended reading. An excellent book club selection.

An in-depth interview with the author can be found on NPR.

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The Life We Bury

the-life-we-bury

format_quoteI remember being pestered by a sense of dread as I walked to my car that day, pressed down by a wave of foreboding that swirled around my head…If I had known how that drive would change so many things- would I have taken a safer path?

The Life We Buryblood-splatter4-md

by Allen Eskins

Seventh Street Books | 2014
Paperback  | 300 pages
ISBN: 978-1-61614-998-7
Genre: Fiction/Murder Mystery
Review Source: Personal Copy

★★★★  4/5 stars

blue-ridge-readersThe first time I water-skied (and stayed upright) I remember the exhilarating thrill of being pulled up rapidly onto the surface of the water and the feeling of flying out of control in the wake of the boat.

The opening paragraph of The Life We Bury left me feeling that I was up on my skis and heading into one hell of a story, as it too, careened out of control. Allen Eskins’ debut novel measures right up there with the best for suspense and drama. Things start out small and build and build until you are holding your breath as the plot reaches its climax. And the final chapters bring you back to a soft landing with a real feel good ending.

What makes this book so special to me are the well crafted parallel story lines.  The hardships of a self-funded college program are difficult enough but Eskens has tossed Joey other battles such as abuse of the disabled, parental alcoholism, mental illness, caregiver stress and the emotional struggles of dealing with an out of control bi-polar mother.  Other topics that certainly were explosive and thought provoking include vivid descriptions of Vietnam service and religious fundamentalism.

Joey Talbert, 20, recently left home in the dead of night, not to join the circus he says, but to avoid the heated argument certain to occur if he told his mother he was leaving to attend college. The hard part was leaving behind his beloved severely autistic brother, Jeremy Naylor. His wildly erratic alcoholic mother, Kathy Nelson would have pitched a fit if she had had a chance to stop him.

His decision to attend the University of Minnesota was so last minute that his class choices were limited and he had to fulfill his English language requirement with Biography English.  His term project was to interview an elderly person to “tell about the struggles and forks in the road that made them who they are.”  Without living grandparents he needed to find an elderly person pronto so the obvious place was a nursing home. Hillview Manor had more than its share of elderly but only one resident still had all his marbles, Carl Iverson.

Carl Iverson had arrived at Hillview Manor straight from Stillwater Correctional Facility where he served 30 years of a life sentence for the horrific rape and murder of a teenage cheerleader. Carl’s life sentence would end soon as he was dying of pancreatic cancer. With little choice, Joey reflected that at least his biography project of the life and times of a deranged murderer would be unique. While he waited to see if Carl would agree to be interviewed, Joey did research on the murder.

“I found a picture [of Carl Iverson] in the bowels of the University of Minnesota’s Wilson Library… The archive room had the feel of a tabernacle, with millions of souls packed away on microfilm like incense in tiny jars, waiting for someone to free their essence to be felt, tasted, inhaled again, if only for a moment.”

The moment they meet sparks fly. In a scene somewhat less traumatic than Clarice and Hannibal Lector, Carl and Joey agree to answer each other’s questions honestly – quid pro quo.  And thus begins a hair-raising experience that nearly costs Joey his life. Carl’s biography evolves into much more than a college project and as the suspense builds you want to hold Joey back… don’t go there!

Threaded through the main arc of the story is a tender friendship that eventually leads to a deepening love relationship between Joey and his neighbor, Lila.  And I just had to save mentioning my favorite part until the end – the deep love between brothers. Jeremy’s story brought tears to my eyes.

Highly recommended.  Fabulous book club selection!

AWARDS

Winner—Rosebud Award, Best First Mystery Novel
Finalist—Edgar® Award, Best First Novel
Finalist—Anthony Award, Best First Novel
Finalist—Minnesota Book Award, Best Genre Fiction
Finalist—Barry Award, Best Paperback Original Novel
Finalist—Thriller Award, Best First Novel
Best Books of 2014 (debut), Suspense Magazine
Best Debut Novel of 2014, MysteryPeople
A LibraryReads pick, October 2014
Library Journal Editor’s Pick, fall 2014
Amazon Editor’s Pick, “Books We Loved” 2014

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