Anti-Mormon Trump Card III

On an earlier thread, I asked whether sexual abuse of the type that Martha Nibley Beck is accusing her father Hugh Nibley of perpetrating will become the new anti-Mormon trump card. This trump card allows self-proclaimed enemies of or detractors from the Church to sidestep all those inconvenient scholarly treatments of the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the plausibility of LDS doctrine and faith (or the implausibility of the criticisms against such, for that matter) and defeat such scholarship without having to use footnotes or spend time in a library.

Later, I revisited the question when O Magazine, that venerable source of knowledge, supported Beck’s book–and therefore its spurious claims–in its March column. O Magazine’s endorsement of the book, I surmised, seemed to support my predictions that this book has the potential both to damage the Church on its own and to set a new trend for anti-Mormon tactics.

One commenter had doubts that my analysis was sound based on my arguments that she was alleging sexual abuse against her father precisely as a way to attack the Church. He though it was more reasonable to think that her allegations stemmed from mental illness coupled with guilt and pride. He wrote

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.

A story in the New York Times displaying Beck’s book, however, lends support to my original suspicion about Beck’s purpose in alleging sexual abuse against her father:

The book, being published next month by Crown, an imprint of Random House, has attracted significant criticism both for its depiction of sacred Mormon ceremonies and for the author’s effort to tie her sexual abuse to what she says were mental disturbances suffered by her father because of his role as the Mormon Church’s “chief apologist.”

In other words, Beck is trying to show that the Church caused Hugh Nibley to abuse her, so, in the end, she is hitting the Church through devastating her father. They are one and the same in this situation, and she achieves two things simultaneously with these allegations: (1) as I have written before, she dispenses with the need to address sound scholarship, both by her father and by numerous other meticulous apologists, by simply coupling outdated anti-Mormon arguments with allegations of sexual abuse in the same paragraph, and (2) she is able to erase a lifetime of research and scholarship done by her father, the veritable father of academic “Mormon Studies” by discrediting him through these allegations. The field for future haters of the Church is now white, already to harvest: just allege sexual abuse and you won’t need to worry anymore about the work FARMS is doing.

[UPDATE 2/24/05: The Nibley family has set up a website in defense of Hugh Nibley that both maintains the ethic of the Nibley family and rebukes Beck’s approach in her book:; “No one in our family has any desire to choose sides between our father and our sister; however, intellectual honesty is a fundamental value of the Nibley family, and sadly we do not see that tradition reflected in “Leaving the Saints.”]

19 Responses to Anti-Mormon Trump Card III

  1. Geoff J says:


    Which mission of the church do you think Martha’s book will damage the most? Perfecting the saints, Proclaiming the gospel, or redeeming the dead? I could make an argument it will help with all of those. False allegations of sexual abuse are indeed a vicious and slanderous low blow, but it seems to me that in order to be considered a “trump card” they must do actual damage to the church and its missions. I’m not convinced this book will do any real damage.

  2. Ronan says:

    Don’t worry too much. This happens every generation and the Church survives. But you’re right that anti-Mormons can simply dismiss all of Nibley’s work now. That doesn’t mean that all of FARMS’ work is in danger, though. The real proof will emerge in a game of word association: for members and observers of the Church “Hugh Nibley” = “patriatch of Mormon apologetics. If Beck wins, it will be “Nibley” = “child abuser”. But it could go either way.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Two things come up.

    First, that Beck is an atheist, which makes one wonder about the description that O. gives her book about the journey out of religion and into faith. Is being an atheist the true discription of what O means when she says she is a woman of faith?

    Second, given the implicit endorsement of self-hypnosis for repressed memory extraction, which method would O or Dr. Phil endorse?

    Interesting questions, both of them, and I’m curious as to the answers.

  4. john fowles says:

    Geoff, I’m not sure, but my suspicion is that it will damage proclaiming the Gospel somewhat. Also, and what is more annoying to me (because I know that no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing, so I’m actually not too worried about that), it will damage Hugh Nibley’s life’s work and it could jeopardize LDS apologetics. What I mean by this is that Beck can reinforce antiquated and absurd anti-Mormon criticisms without addressing sound scholarship that refutes such.

  5. Kristine says:

    John, you’re too worried and defensive. Beck’s book will be read by most as the personal memoir of a sad, histrionic, and extremely articulate woman. She can’t undermine scholarly work about the church because she’s not attacking it; the anti-Mormon angle is oblique. The book is about *her*, not her father or the Church.

    Krakauer’s book was a lot less sensationalistic and silly, and still it was a flash in the pan–another year from now, nobody will remember it at all. Yes, we’re all going to spend a few uncomfortable months explaining our underwear at PTA meetings, but that’s not such a bad thing if we had good answers ready.

  6. Kristine says:

    er, *have* good answers ready.

  7. john fowles says:

    Kristine, I sure hope you’re right. Whatever happens, I am extremely saddened that Hugh Nibley had to die like this. My father-in-law Jack Welch was able to see him yesterday, the day before he died. He wouldn’t even speak to Jack, and Jack spent the time speaking to Phyllis instead. Before leaving, however, Jack bent down to Nibley and said, “I sure love you, Hugh,” at which point Nibely whispered, “I love you too, Jack.” Somehow, this anecdote seems to express Nibley’s sadness, at least to me. It really is quite distressing. But it is nice for my father-in-law that those are the last words Hugh Nibley ever said to him.

  8. john f. says:

    In the wake of Nibley’s death, peace is entering my heart on this issue. Perhaps my biggest concern was actually with how devastatingly sad and hard this must have been for Hugh Nibley, a loving father, to bear. He is now resting in peace. I will miss him but I am happy for him.

  9. Peter D. says:

    I don’t see how the highlighted quote demonstrates that Beck’s primary motivation for the book was to attack the Church.

    Does she mock the church? Yes. Did she hatch a calculating plan to do as much damage as she could to the church and THEN decide that her father abused her (figuring that she could get the most mileage out of that story)? No. She made up or “recovered” the abuse story first, and then out of guilt and pride over her shameless accusation and emotional and personal problems, she has dug in, retelling the story now in grand public fashion in order to vindicate herself, taking cheap shots at the Church at the same time.

    As her sister has said: “Martha has always lived life as a melodrama, bouncing from one form of self-destructive behavior to another.” I think this book is a self-destructive episode about Martha, and if she can bring the Church into her own miserable world, she is glad to do it.

  10. Stephen says:

    In a phone interview from her home in Phoenix, Beck said she felt her father’s presence for two hours Thursday morning.
    “He was so beautiful, full of love and joy,” Beck said. “I hope I can live the rest of my life to honor his memory, as paradoxical as that seems.”
    Well …

  11. john fowles says:

    Stephen’s bizarre quote from Beck comes from this SLC Tribune article.

  12. Stephen says:

    That link speaks for itself, and thanks to John for posting the other link.

  13. Geoff J says:

    Sorry about my delayed response here John — life got a bit hairy there for a while.

    I think the mostly likely things that will happen regarding the threefold mission of the church as a result of this book are:

    1. The 99% of the saints who have never read any Hugh Nibley might actually buy a book and check his work out. That’s a very good thing (though not all books are equally accessible… I recommend The World and the Prophets as a break-in read.)
    2. Nobody likes slander — in or out of the Church. Those who have even a slight chance of being interested in the gospel will feel drawn to defend and better understand their Mormon friends, not ostracize them. Also, the missionary work of the church always does better when people remember we’re out there.
    3. Redeeming the dead will go largely unchanged (unless a lot of people read Nibley’s excellent work on the temple and begin attending more regularly).

    Among other things, I have been a PR guy my whole professional career. Being in the news is almost always better than being ignored. The one exception to this rule is if we really do screw up and get caught. The church did nothing wrong here so slanderous reports will help raise our profile and bring out our friends in our defense. Considering the stagnating convert growth number we have been seeing over the last 15 years, more attention is definitely better than none.

  14. john f. says:

    Geoff, I guess that’s why Brigham Young purportedly said that any press is good press.

  15. Anonymous says:

    IF the allegations against Dr. Nibley are true, how very sad indeed for him and his family. As a victim of sexual abuse I am very sad, because IF this did happen to Martha Beck it seems to me that no one in the church is willing to believe her. However, I have VERY serious doubts that she was ever sexually abused. First, she says that she couldn’t remember the abuse. But later through “self hypnosis” she was able to recover these memories. Well let me tell you, if you were the age that Martha says she was when the abuse took place, YOU NEVER FORGET!!Furthermore, you don’t need any “self-hypnosis” or “regression therapy” or a psychic or a witch doctor to tell you that these things happened to you!!!Therefore, I think that it is incredibly wrong and irresponsible for her to make these claims. As a survivor of sexual abuse, it hurt and angered me that she would willfully take away the legitimacy and the voice of those who are actual victims of such a sinful act. The Lord said these kinds of things would happen in the church and that even the very elect would be decieved. It seems to me that this sister has been over come by the adversary and that she is in need of our prayers on her behalf.

  16. Anonymous says:

    “sidestep all those inconvenient scholarly treatments of the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the plausibility of LDS doctrine and faith”

    Historicity? Plausability? Show me one, just one tiny piece of physical evidence that supports your book. One. Anywhere.

    “Scholarly treatments” have been written about the flat earth, and the idea that men did not land on the moon.

    If you want to believe something, just because it makes you feel cozy, go ahead. But do not label your belief as “historicity.” The Mormons have no such thing, not a trace, not any, anywhere.

    To quote a respected archaeologist, “show me a potsherd.” Mormons do not have a shred, not one tiny scrap of physical evidence to support their story. Not one.

    Show me.

    Better yet, show yourself…?

  17. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous (4/16/2005), you sure seem eager to believe that no evidence exists of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It is true that we believe in the Book of Mormon because God has manifested the truth of it to us through the power of the Holy Ghost, which speaks the truth of all things. But you might be interested (since it appears you have not done your homework before making that accusation) to know that there are a number of compelling evidences of the Book of Mormon.

    Jeff Lindsay has collected a few of them at his Book of Mormon Evidences website  and on his related websites. You should also go to the FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) website before making any hasty judgment solely based on what your preachers have been telling you over the years. You also need to review the FAIR LDS website for evidences and arguments that show the “scholarly treatment” that I am referring to in this post and that Beck is able to sidestep by merely alleging sexual abuse. No need to drop footnotes addressing and refuting past LDS scholarly evidences for their own faith if you can just claim that one of the leaders in the field of LDS apologetics ritually abused you while wearing Egyptian ceremonial garb. Additionally, you should check in at the SHIELDS research website. You also need to read at least  a book published by FARMS called Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (2002). It will provide you with at least a few items that should cause you (if you are intellectually honest) to admit that there are evidences available that testify to the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Finally, I highly recommend a 1998 article by Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, two Evangelical scholars, in the Trinity Journal entitled “Mormon scholarship, apologetics, and evangelical neglect: Losing the battle and not knowing it?” This article will, at the very least, open your eyes to the solid research that is being done by qualified (i.e. Ph.D.s from all the right universities in relalted fields of study, such as ancient near eastern studies, biblical studies, biblical law, ancient languages, Hebrew scripture, mesopotamian studies, etc.) LDS scholars into the historicity of LDS truth claims and scripture that is not even being addressed by Evangelicals in their efforts to detract from LDS faith. The point of the Mosser and Owen article is that small-minded criticisms such as yours just won’t cut it anymore in trying to refute LDS truth claims. 

    Posted by john fowles

  18. Anonymous says:

    I don’t recall at the moment who made the following great quote.

    “All truth passes through three stages”.
    1. First it is ridiculed.
    2. Second it is violently opposed.
    3. Finally it is accepted as inevitable.

    The critics have set themselves up as jurors and judge and speedily jumped on the guilty band wagon with little or no investigation or verified evidence againts Hugh Nibley on which to base their convitions.

    If they applied the same guilt standards for slanderous and false accusations made against Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, it is self evident that Christ would have been denied even a three year ministry.

    Truth is eternal and can withstand all slanderous assaults, inuendo and lies. Truth can stand on it’s own. Truth need no additional supports or props. Truth will stand the test of time.

    I find it ironic and of no surprise that some of these same detractors that launch a vicious unsupported attack on Hugh Nibley are of the same flavor of those who centuries earlier slanderously condemned Jesus Christ.


    posted by Glenn Mickelson 5-22-05 8:46 AM

    Posted by Glenn Mickelson

  19. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the comment Glenn. 

    Posted by john fowles

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