New Anti-Mormon Trump Card?

I have been undecided for several weeks about how to express my reaction to Marth Nibley Beck’s new diatribe Leaving the Saints (see review here and here) ever since I heard about it and read the first chapter last month. (Yes, this has already been scooped in the Bloggernacle here, here, and here, and in the comments on this BCC thread.) I have, however, counted to ten, metaphorically speaking, and resisted the urge to lay into her personally too severely on my blog (e.g. her anorexia, depression, homosexuality, and anti-Mormonness).

What I want to ask is if sexual abuse is going to become the ultimate new anti-Mormon trump card? As far as I know, as anti-Mormon as Fawn Brodie was, she never alleged that David O. McKay sexually abused her while wearing an Egyptian ceremonial mask.

But this is exactly what Beck alleges against her father, Hugh Nibley, as he wastes away on his death bed in Provo, Utah, surrounded by family, including all of his other children and his wife, all of whom have sworn affidavits in court that nothing of the sort ever happened in Hugh Nibley’s home. Why would she do this to her father? Oprah might say that it is obvious: she really was sexually abused, otherwise she would never do this to her father, noone would. But Oprah doesn’t understand the length to which anti-Mormons will go to malign the Church. In a way, Beck has resorted to the most effective anti-Mormon tool ever.

Claiming sexual abuse at the hands of a respected and successful Latter-day Saint scholar and priesthood holder is extremely effective because it allows Beck to side-step the sticky substance of the debate surrounding Latter-day Saint truth claims. If her first chapter is representative of her entire book, she does not footnote any of her antiquated, tired anti-Mormon barbs. She merely makes the anti-Mormon claims, particularly against the historicity of the Book of Mormon in the same paragraph as supposed recovered memories of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, a person largely responsible for battling against such anti-Mormon claims with sound scholarship from his knowledge of ancient languages, culture, and civilization. By taking this approach, Beck can act like these nineteenth-century criticisms of the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which have for the most part been squarely refuted by competent scholarship in the intervening century, are still valid. She can ignore all of the subsequent scholarly debate about these issues, which a credible treatment would both acknowledge in footnotes and provide thoughtful counterarguments against.

Thus, Beck has sunk to a new low in anti-Mormon diatribes, not even attempting to deal with the credible apologetics that defends the historicity of the Book of Mormon, much of which started with her own father. Her simultaneous hatred of the Church and apparent inability to surmount the difficult task of combatting the solid scholarship in defense of the Book of Mormon have led her to slander and now libel her father with claims of sexual abuse instead. That is the answer to Oprah: an anti-Mormon agenda knows no bounds, even the ingrained filial piety that would naturally dissuade even the most disaffected of daughters from bearing false witness against their own fathers for such a heinous deed. She has found the new anti-Mormon trump card; now we will see how many anti-Mormon copy-cats will follow in her footsteps.

As a side note, I wonder if it would be possible and/or feasible for the Nibley family to seek a Temporary Restraining Order to prevent the release of the book on March 1 pending a suit for slander and libel. If I were Nibley, I would pursue that option. I know the family is “considering” legal action for libel, but a TRO would prevent the book to accomplish its anti-Mormon goal of indoctrinating the readers of discredited and illegitimate nineteenth-century anti-Mormon criticisms through the vehicle of sexual abuse claims rather than solid scholarship addressing the sound subsequent scholarly debate on these issues. Whatever the case, she can erase a lifetime of work in defense of the Book of Mormon–scholarly work that is well-respected–by merely saying “sexual abuse.”

24 Responses to New Anti-Mormon Trump Card?

  1. Anonymous says:

    For those interested, the Salt Lake Tribune has published a story on the brewing controversy Simply reporting the basic facts, makes Martha Nibley Beck sound like a complete nut.

    First, her story is highly suspect. “Recovered” thirty year old memories of “ritual” sexual abuse as a 5-year-old, with her abuser father “possibly wearing some kind of Egyptian garb and imitating the sacrifice of the biblical Abraham.”

    Meanwhile, over decades her father interacts with his large family, numerous colleages, and countless students in the small community of Provo Utah, and NONE of these people can substantiate even a hint of untoward conduct on his part. To the contrary, all attribute the highest character to him.

    (Occam’s razor anyone?)

    Second, MNB’s abuse claim is essentially unfalsifiable and unverifiable. No one was present except her abuser and herself and her accused father is “crazy” so no matter what he says on his deathbed we can never really know what happened.

    So why write this book and make the charge public now?

    “I write memoir and self-help because . . . my own heart seem to push me toward dealing with the most difficult issues of real life . . . . [This book] is about an experience that taught me more than any other experience of my life . . . .”


    Having made her devastating claim of abuse over a decade ago after hypnotizing herself, she shared the claim with her family where it was utterly rejected (along with the gay lifestyle she decided to pursue). In her wounded pride she has added further wild details and is now committed to taking it to her grave (and letting Dad take what is almost certainly a false accusation to his). Unwilling to face the professional and personal consequences of backing off, she has instead decided to use her writing talent (no doubt inherited from the father she slanders) to A) justify her own rejection of her roots (ie family and entire social structure) and LDS values (many of which have undoubtedly aided her “life coach” career), and B) make a substantial profit while doing so.



    Posted by Pete

  2. Anonymous says:

    So why write this book and make the charge public now?Pete, we talked about this in my office but I think I could just iterate my basic thoughts on this here as well. She does this here and now because it is the most effective way for her to damage the Church. It doesn’t hurt that she stands to make a lot of money on this as well.

    Aside from this, which I do view as the essential reason, I think that your analysis is likely quite accurate as to a contextual picture of what is happening. The Salt Lake Tribune article certainly would back that up, with some of its quotes from Nibley’s other children regarding these outlandish claims against Hugh Nibley. 

    Posted by john fowles

  3. Anonymous says:

    Why does she write it now? Why does she write it ever? Guilt and pride. Those two reasons combined will give her the false sense of security she is so desparately seeking. It will possibly give her temporary relief, however she die a lonely selfish and unhappy person, yearning for understanding. It is unfortunate that Satan has bought and sold her so well. 

    Posted by cooper

  4. Anonymous says:

    I tend to go with the “guilt and pride” primary motivator rather than the idea of MNB primarily seeking to carry out a strategic attack on LDS religious tenets or her father’s substantive work.

    I am not saying MNB is not trying to hurt the Church, but I think it is safe to say she has no *religious* motivation for her attack (ie she’s not a converted baptist who now believes LDS are damned to hell). And (assuming her allegations are false) she has no rational non-religious “truth-seeking” motivation to single out mormonism, but she is not rational, and this is personal.

    To put it another way, her attack is not about the church, it’s about her–her being able to say in essence, “see, Oprah and her viewers believe me, I’m on the NY Times bestseller list, and I’m making a bunch of money . . . I’m not a liar after all, the world at large approves of my chosen lifestyle (which is antithetical to everything I once believed to be true), and everybody (in the world I once knew) is crazy, not me.”  

    Posted by Pete

  5. Anonymous says:


    I agree with your trump card analysis — that was my thought as well. It’s a (sadly) brilliant move. 

    Posted by William Morris

  6. Anonymous says:

    Honestly, I don’t believe she is doing anything except trying to explain herself. I am giving her the benefit of the doubt here, I admit.
    I am actually much more interested in the publisher’s motivation. Isn’t this a case where the proverbial “5 minutes on the Internet” would clearly demostrate that she was off her rocker? Is the publisher, looking to break into the “lucrative” Mormon market, selling the book the way they sold Anne Heche’s book a few years ago? Did they think, “She’s clearly unstable, but articulate. People will buy it to watch the trainwreck.”? I am fascinated by this aspect of it. 

    Posted by John C.

  7. Anonymous says:

    John C. wrote Is the publisher, looking to break into the “lucrative” Mormon market, selling the book the way they sold Anne Heche’s book a few years ago?I think there is probably something to this. I wonder about this basic question too. I guess that as the Church grows and gains respectability, it becomes a bigger target for the sensationalist journalism and accusations that are prevelant in other areas of public life.

    But I disagree that she is merely trying to explain herself. She is falsely accusing her father of sexual abuse. Given the sworn affidavits of the other children and his wife that such activity never took place in their Provo home, why should you give her the benefit of the doubt on that claim? It is, truly, overly generous. 

    Posted by john fowles

  8. Anonymous says:

    I feel a need to clarify. When I said that I gave her the benefit of the doubt, it was that I thought she could be sincere in her beliefs about her family life and the church. I do not believe her story. But that doesn’t preclude this being a sincere attempt to tell her version of events.
    She is clearly deeply troubled. At this point, that makes it easier for me to believe that she is self-deluded and being used, than to believe that she is making these sorts of stupid accusations in a deliberate attempt to hurt the church. 

    Posted by John C.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Yes, the trump card analysis is all too right. The problem is that sexual abuse is already a subject that people have a hard time thinking about without a tinge of hysteria (and understandably so, God bless ’em). So the normal reasons people would reject libels like this–i.e, the fact that Mormons are generally decent people and they like the Mormons they know and respect their example–don’t apply. Because child abuse can be anywhere! in any form! etc, etc. 

    Posted by Adam Greenwood

  10. Anonymous says:

    I probably should write my review up tonight since I’ve had the book for nearly two weeks. Just let me say that she does make some verifiable claims in the book that reportedly her ex-husband suggests aren’t so. However all those sorts of charges and counter-charges probably are better handled by people with direct evidence.

    I think anyone reading the book who is familiar with Utah life will notice a long series of hyperbole, exaggerations, distortions and outright falsehoods regarding life here. When those aspects are so distorted it does undermine ones ability to trust the rest of her comments.


    Posted by Clark Goble

  11. Anonymous says:

    Adam, in addition, people like to read macabre accounts of child-abuse. On one hand, they provide the feeling of disgust and horror that has become synonymous with entertainment in our society. On the other hand, people genuinely feel for the children (rightly so) and so a good “human interest” piece with an abused child at its center dismisses people from any need to be rational in their reception of it, as such (when true) rightly engenders moral outrage and, indeed, righteous indignation worthy of a good flogging. When not true and coupled with an anti-Mormon agenda–that is, when such a claim serves as the vehicle for such an agenda–then it is the worst form of bearing false witness precisely because of the power it has over the minds of the reader. It plays on the most righteous sense we have of protecting innocent children from such depravity, and then it connects the adherents and doctrines of an entire religion to that precise depravity. 

    Posted by john fowles

  12. Anonymous says:

    Clark wrote I think anyone reading the book who is familiar with Utah life will notice a long series of hyperbole, exaggerations, distortions and outright falsehoods regarding life here.
    Unfortunately, this will be on the national stage if Oprah sponsors it and gives Beck a stage from which to propagate her claims. I can attest that there are still a lot of people in the south who both watch Oprah and believe that Mormons have horns. They will drink this up and take it as truth. 

    Posted by john fowles

  13. Anonymous says:

    For those interested, ZLMB has an ongoing debate on the topic as well. Alas precious little actual information. Just lots of flaming as that forum is want to be.

    The fact is that recovered memories are notoriously unreliable. Most psychiatrists, as I understand it, consider the likelihood of long repressed memories brought forth by stress – especially by a therapist with questionable motives – to be extremely likely to be false. Even according to Beck’s book, it sounds like her therapist was extremely gunho and Beck herself fired her. Now the book claims that the repressed memories came out during the birth of her son. However by her own admission it was an extremely stressful time – doubly so since her child has downs syndrom. That adds to the problem.

    That’s not to discount her views in the least. Clearly she sincerely feels them to be true. However she obviously has many issues, she had the issue of her repressed homosexuality and her husband’s, their child, not believing in the church yet living in a very conservative society. Then you have odd things like that book at Deseret Books about curing people of homosexuality through faith, written like case studies, but apparently autobiographical about her home life. (i.e. rather dishonestly told)

    There’s a lot of pattern in her life that makes it difficult to buy many of the things she says. 

    Posted by Clark Goble

  14. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think we can say either way whether she sincerely believes these allegations to be true. Surely, she would claim that she sincerely believes them. But how can we know that she didn’t simply invent them altogether out of a conscious agenda to destroy her father and hopefully the Church too?

    That said, it is certainly possible that she really was sexually abused by someone (although, personally, I must confess that I don’t think it remotely possible that Hugh Nibley did it). But even if she really were abused and the abuser really was a person in leadership in the Church, say, a home teacher or Bishop, that doesn’t justify her accusing her father of it. She says in the book that there is “scarring” that proves that she was sexually abused. I was confused as to whether she meant there was actual physical scarring or if she just meant emotional scarring. Even if there is physical scarring, that could not be considered reliable proof that Hugh Nibley sexually abused her. For all we know the physical or emotional scarring could be self-inflicted, as was her anorexia. Hugh Nibley is innocent until proven guilty. And there is this remarkable little detail that the other siblings asserverate that nothing of the sort happened in their home. 

    Posted by john fowles

  15. Anonymous says:

    I apologize in advance for this rambling comment.

    This genre of books, i.e., anti-institutionalized religion in general, and anti-Mormonism in particular, is a growing breed of rhetoric from disenfranchised people whose agenda is mindboggling vindictive. This is nothing new and we should expect nothing less.

    It seems that this author makes up for her lack of ingenuity and scholarly diligence with sensationalist accusations that are effective headline grabbers that hopefully translates to increased sales.

    Other institutions, namely the Catholic and Methodist churches, are experiencing similar attacks. Sexual abuse by the leadership and hierarchy in secret places. This is indeed a trump card. I’m reminded of the accusations/trump card du jour, circa 1980s and 90s, when lots of people came out alleging suppressed memories of abuse at the hands of parents and relatives after receiving psychological “treatment” or psychotherapy. Research has since refuted these allegations. For more, see Richard Ofshe’s Making Monsters. Perhaps, the author is one of these patients whose “repressed memories” of abuse were inexplicably, and miraculously, brought to the forefront at the treatment, or behest, of the therapist. Who knows, just a thought.

    What’s my point? Simply this: The allegations against Mr. Nibley are nothing more than red herring to the author’s substantive thesis of proving the falsity of Mormonism, to which Nibley and many others have addressed. These allegations of sexual abuse are already the anti-Mormon’s trump card and will continue to be because they are as difficult to defend as they are to prove, but for different reasons.

    What’s to be done? In the long-run, this book and the author will join the “dust-heap of history” with many of its kind. In the short-run, one can only hope that a forum like this can bring to light the severe inaccuracies and utter inadequacies of the author’s points, to say nothing about the author’s own…shall I say, shorcomings. I’m sure that the author, like her thesis and stories, come with more luggage than we care to look at.

    In sum, this books adds nothing new to the debate about the LDS faith and its doctrines. It only introduces a famaous old man who happens to be a preeminent and prominent scholar. Futility thy name is Martha. She must be really desparate to sell books to pay back school loans.  

    Posted by Simón

  16. Anonymous says:

    Welcome to the Archipelago, John. I guess you’re an Archipelagian twice over now, given your affiliation with United Brethren.

    About Martha — it’s odd for someone with a PhD to publish a book like this. It seems like she is burning her bridge to academics or even to being taken seriously by reasonable people. Admittedly this view is based only on the media articles, but that also seems to be the view of most people who have read advance copies of the book (which seem to be circulating rather freely). 

    Posted by Dave

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Dave. How have all these people gotten their hands on advanced copies? What “loops,” exactly, do you have to be in to get one? You must know since you have an advanced copy of that God and Country book. . . . 

    Posted by john fowles

  18. Anonymous says:

    The whole Egyptian ceremonial mask thing … what an idea. Sounds like a bad b-movie that one insomniac would watch at 2:00am. Give the world a break. 

    Posted by danithew

  19. Anonymous says:

    Danithew, still it worries me. I do some silly things with my daughter. For example, one time I put a towel over my head and chased her around the living room trying to tickle her. What if, as I lay on my death bed, she dredges up that memory (of the chasing and towel over the head) and then alleges that I used to dress up like a Klansman and molest her. What if Hugh Nibley did indeed don an Egyptian mask in some silly moment with his children and tickled them. I submit that such behavior is not a crime and I doubt there is a father out there who has not done something similar. My dad would chase us around the house with a witch mask on when we got the Halloween Box out of the attic in October. It is a chilling thought that this could happen to anyone who has a (female) child, just as it is happening to Hugh Nibley. 

    Posted by john fowles

  20. Anonymous says:

    Honestly, I don’t believe she is doing anything except trying to explain herself.I think that is a large amount of what she is trying to do, to justify her life.

    I would note that using hypnotism to “recover” memories makes the new memories much stronger than normal ones and much more believed in. Not to mention that starting with self-hypnosis and then moving to a therapist after several years of that can really start one off completely messed up. A terrible thing to add to mental illness.

    Can anyone point me to the comments her ex-husband made? I’m curious.

    Thanks. My e-mail is

    Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

  21. Anonymous says:

    Well, seems to me that martha Beck seems to be following the script written by a bunch of “feminist scholars” like Catherine MacKinnon and her cohorts. Every angry “feminist” type who doesnt get her way seems to become a victim of sexual abuse that t hey had “repressed”. It also seems that a network of quack clinical psychologists are in t he business of diagnosing and recovering “repressed memories”, a practise that is questionable at best. Martha Nibley is probably a frustrated middle aged woman who is frustrated with her life, her choice to be a lesbian, angry at the world becasue the world does not act according to her wishes, so, she jumps to play the role of “victim”. And what can be more satisfying to her twisted ego, if she can bring down an icon in the LDS world. She needs serious psychotherapy with a real psychotherapist, not a column on O, or a friendly relationship with Oprah. 

    Posted by ronin

  22. Anonymous says:

    EXCELLENT BOOK! One of the best I’ve read so far this year. Martha does an outstanding job of articulating her thoughts and feelings in response to the abuse by her father, Hugh Nibley and as she handles the experiences that led her out of the Church. 

    Posted by David P.

  23. Anonymous says:

    David P., I take it then that, in addition to enjoying the talented prose, you also take the accusations of abuse at face value? If you do, then how do you assess Beck’s credibility given other blatant and easily recognizable falsehoods about Latter-day Saints and life in Utah county that Beck includes in the book. If you know, on the one hand, that those things are patently untrue, then how can you take allegations of sexual abuse at face value? It sounds like an exercise in picking and choosing what one wants to believe based on one’s pre-conceived agenda. 

    Posted by john fowles

  24. kittywaymo says:

    Excellent comments! Ms.Beck is a disgruntled, attention-seeking woman who is bent on destroying her father and some family members she is angry with. Of course her real hatred is toward herself~ She is bi-polar/major depression. I actually feel sorry for her. As a victim of real child sexual abuse however, I must say I am disqusted at her lies against her father, causing the world to think upon child sex abuse as possibly “crying wolf”. Shame on her to do that to her own father, and to those of us who are recovering from abuse issues!

    Hugh Nibley is a gentle soul, honest in heart~how anyone with a gripe with the Church can “lie” for a “good purpose”(aka destroy the Church etc.) shows how desperate the anti-mormon plight really is.

    Posted by kittywaymo

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