O Magazine Supports Beck

So much for the hype in the Bloggernacle that supposedly dispelled any notions that Oprah would support Beck’s outlandish anti-Mormon claims and false accusations that Hugh Nibley sexually abused her as a child. The March 2005 page for Oprah’s books sponsors Beck’s book. (This might be the one and only time that this blog ever links to Oprah’s sensationalist, pop-psychology website.)

The endorsement of the book, as unfortunate as it is, didn’t have to be as bad as it is. However, Oprah’s site uses language that presents Beck’s controversial, spurious, and religiously bigoted work as undisputed and established fact:

Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith (Crown) is Beck’s uncensored account of her chilling discovery that her father—a famous apologist for the Mormon Church—molested her as a child, and of how confronting that holy terror, now in his 90s, helped her complete her arduous journey “out of religion and into faith.”

Notice the language of this description of the book. It presents Beck’s allegations as fact (“uncensored account,” “chilling discovery,” “molested her as a child”). There is no hint in any of this that these are unproven, and, frankly, outrageous allegations.

Melissa Proctor, in the comments over at this BCC thread, has such a high level of faith in the American reading public that she doesn’t see much of a threat to the Church from Beck’s work. Apparently, she believes that the average American reads critically enough to see that Beck’s allegations are unfounded and stem from pop-psychological “recovered memories” from psycho-hypnotic procedures.

My earlier post about Beck’s book, on the other hand, pointed out where the danger lies for the Church in these allegations. Beck is able to erase her father’s career of dedicated and sound scholarship into the historical and cultural setting for the Book of Mormon and other aspects of Latter-day Saint faith by simply alleging that he sexually abused her and then adding unsupported and discredited anti-Mormon criticisms in the same paragraph as such allegations. Thus, she avoids the pesky detail that mountains of subsequent scholarly debate about the very anti-Mormon points that she dredges up has occured since these anti-Mormon criticisms against the plausibility of Latter-day Saint faith first surfaced in the nineteenth century. She doesn’t have to address any of the “apologetics” that defends the Church with sound research against her very accusations; rather, she plays the new anti-Mormon trump card: allegations of sexual abuse.

The American public is going to love this. It sets up an easy target–the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–for ridicule for an audience all too eager to find reasons to denigrate the Church. This audience is made up of a blend of Evangelicals and secular atheists, neither of which want to see the Church portrayed in a good light by any forum. This audience also reads the National Enquirer and hungers and thirsts after the newest “drama” and sensationalist reporting. Regardless of how inaccurately and absurdly the book portrays the Church and life in Utah, as well as the outlandish accusations against the Church’s greatest scholarly apologist, and despite the role that a discredited pop-psychological procedure of hypnotically recovering “lost memories” plays, Oprah and Oprah’s audience are going to receive it very well and take it as truth.

6 Responses to O Magazine Supports Beck

  1. Anonymous says:

    Over at the BCC thread , I had the following exchange with Melissa on this point (Steve, BCC doesn’t allow me to link to individual comments, so I have to cut and paste this discussion here ):

    Melissa wrote Martha’s book would have been much more damaging had she used her training as a sociologist to attack the church in an underhanded way. 

    I don’t agree with this. Beck’s book is all the more powerful for its lack of footnotes and acknowledgement of the sound scholarship that has already addressed most of the trite anti-Mormon claims in the book. Filling it up with footnotes so that its audience became the TTWs and Quinns and Krakauers of the world would have been far less damaging because it wouldn’t be for sale at Wal-Mart or digestible for the masses. In that form, sure, it might lend some real ammo to the scholarly anti-Mormon camp, but not to the masses of normal people who buy into the psycho-babble and watch Oprah and Dr. Phil.

    Beck’s approach, on the other hand, is far more damaging precisely because it is just a narrative couched in psycho-babble term. This is what happened to her; noone can say that it is wrong. Specific anti-Mormon claims (e.g. supposedly no chariots in pre-Colombian America, so obviously all the war chapters of the BoM are concocted) surface in the same paragraph as her “testimony” of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, the ultimate Mormon apologist. People will read the book for the salacious story of a supposedly pious man who nonetheless sexually abused his daughter while wearing Egyptian ceremonial garb. What could be more interesting to the readers of National Enquirer and watchers of Oprah than a story like that. That is the true attraction; the anti-Mormon claims are attached and become part and parcel with the real intrigue. Thus, it is swallowed together with the psycho-babble abuse claims and digested accordingly as fact; noone can dispute (in our present society) that she actually was sexually abused (short of clearing Hugh Nibley’s name in court, that is), and thus, noone can dispute the peripheral anti-Mormon claims either.

    Whatever you do though, I would follow Nate’s advice rather than Melissa’s and not buy the book. Boycotting something you disagree with can still make a point. There is no reason to give Beck your money just because she alleges that Hugh Nibley sexually abused her. If you want to read the entire book so as to be better able to dispell the misperceptions that Oprah watchers will have about the Church after reading it/seeing Beck on Oprah promoting it, then check it out of the library instead of buying it.

    Posted by: john fowles | February 8, 2005 02:30 PM

    Melissa replied:

    John wrote,

    “Filling it up with footnotes so that its audience became the TTWs and Quinns and Krakauers of the world would have been far less damaging because it wouldn’t be for sale at Wal-Mart or digestible for the masses.”

    I think your idea of “damaging” is different than mine. I am not too concerned with the latest sensational expose on Mormonism. There have been multitudes of similarly scandalous books. They are published, sell like hotcakes, create a public stir, and then quickly go out of print—or into relative obscurity. No one remembers these sorts of books 5 or 10 years later. A personal narrative of one woman’s experience is much more easily dismissed and ultimately forgotten than a carefully conducted in-depth sociological survey.

    Further, your post reveals an attitude towards those you call “the masses of normal people,” with which I also disagree. I frankly do not think that the reading public is as gullible as you seem to think. Although, I recommended reading the book so that members of my ward (Cambridge singles—mostly graduate students) would be well-prepared to answer any questions about the book, I don’t think that most people read things uncritically, and this book will not be an exception. In fact, many people who read this book will know/know of Mormons who do not fit the picture that Martha paints. I might also add that Oprah is no fool. Although she clearly respects Martha, she has also had experiences and relationships with very different sorts of Mormons that would necessarily complicate any simplistic picture Martha tries to offer.

    My point is that while we should try to correct inaccuracies about the church (whatever they may be) in Martha’s book, we should not be overly concerned with its popular reception in the coming months.

    Case in point: Krakauer’s book was prominently displayed at the Brown bookstore as the manager’s recommended book for several months when it came out. A number of people talked to me about this book, asking for clarification and so forth. All of them assumed that there were errors and biases and wanted to know from me what those were. The presence of errors and biases will be much more obvious in a book written by an estranged daughther of a powerful LDS family.

    Posted by: Melissa | February 8, 2005 03:16 PM

    In that last sentence Melissa wrote The presence of errors and biases will be much more obvious in a book written by an estranged daughther of a powerful LDS family.But as you will notice, O Magazine has not acknowledged this in any way in endorsing the book. Rather, it presents the allegations as given fact and links to a bio of Beck portraying her as someone to be listened to because she has a Ph.D. from Harvard and is a “Life Coach.”


    Posted by john fowles

  2. Anonymous says:

    This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Like you, I worry this will be used to simply attack Nibley’s scholarly writings. However, to be fair, apologetics have moved on. I think recent works are typically far superior to the stuff Nibley did. On the other hand they aren’t quite available in the way Nibley’s is.

    But I do expect that anti-Mormons to really use this to attack Mormonism and Mormon apologetics. I expect an increase in attacks on Mormons over the next few years. I’ll make a prediction that it’ll only get worse. 

    Posted by Clark Goble

  4. Anonymous says:

    Nice post John.

    I agree that those who care about the church’s public image to mainstream America have good cause to be concerned. It’s one thing to have an outsider like John Krakauer tell the factual story of the Lafferty murders and then exercise academic license to tie those to religion generally, and mormonism specifically. It is quite another for an insider, child of one of the most venerated figures in the church, to present recovered memories of abuse by her father as fact and to have her story praised as a courageous truth-telling episode by one of the most powerful media influences on American women.

    On her profile at Oprah’s web-site, http://www.oprah.com/living/lifemake/experts/martha/living_expert_martha.jhtml, Beck looks extremely credible and very well adjusted: “Dr. Martha Beck is the woman with the blueprint to stress-free living. She has her Ph.D. from Harvard, is a mother of three and works as a Life Coach.” Of course, neither Beck’s book nor Oprah mention that Martha and her ex-husband have both “converted” to an openly gay lifestyle, nor that the ex husband and all of Martha’s immediate family (including a number of very intelligent sisters) strongly believes she has fabricated her abuse claims. Instead, her story is presented as uncontroversial truth.

    Perhaps the most disturbing phrase in the Oprah’s description of the book is the notion of “Beck’s ‘love affair with evidence.'” 1) Martha Beck has NO evidence of abuse, and indeed the great weight of the evidence suggests she is fabricating her story, and 2) her writing generally is fluffy motivational junk science wholly unsupported by “evidence” (not to mention her sweeping anti-mormon claims). This is in contrast with her father’s life’s work, which makes use of (and cites) the best available evidence in support of its claims. But Martha gets a free pass because she is a woman claiming abuse.


    Posted by pete

  5. Anonymous says:

    “out of religion and into faith.”

    I thought Beck had become an atheist? That makes for an interesting equivilence if true.

    One could easily conclude that for O, faith = atheism.


    Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

  6. Anonymous says:

    John your fears are well founded. Oprah has become a “prophet” for the masses, much like NASCAR. If she says “bob” her audience bobs, likewise if she says “weave”. She has enough money to go places around the world, plunk down a marvelous – conscince soothing – sum, and gain the adoration of everyone she seeks.

    With this recipe, Oprah has chosen to support someone who has helped fill her empty cistern. The cistern however, has a leak, unknown to Oprah, it continues to go empty and she runs about seeking for another to fill it again.

    Unfortunately in this process, she wields a mighty sword of influence, that confuses and warps the view of the world, for the masses of fans that believe in her mission and purpose. 

    Posted by cooper

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