Monday, March 9, 2009

Compound Life

What is it about those zany fundamentalist Mormons? They just fascinate me. Big Love got me started; before that show, I'd never given LDS or the FLDS a thought. At heart, all religious stories are fantastic and unreal. To have faith is to suspend disbelief. So, while some people believe in trans-substantiation, others believe Joseph Smith found some golden plates in upstate New York, translated them, and became a prophet. People believe what they believe, no sense going there.

It's when the Little House on the Prairie garb comes out that I become fascinated. Who are these people who believe in sacred underwear? Why do they wear prairie dresses and sweep their hair up into beehive wings? Why do they listen when the Prophet tells them to marry off their barely post-pubescent girls and leave their sons on the side of the road? Why do they obey when music is banned?

Escape and Stolen Innocence, two women's accounts of their life in the FLDS and their escape from it, help to provide some answers. With no contact with the outside world, and having been told from birth that outsiders are evil and the Prophet's way is the only way to the celestial kingdom, it's easy to see how an unquestioning mindset evolves. It's easy to see how and why people live as the FLDS lives, when no other option, no other life, ever presents itself.

To a heathen like me, life on an FLDS compound feels like fiction, so perhaps it makes sense that the most enlightening book on FLDS I've come across is David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife, a novel. Ebershoff entwines two stories: the fictional account of Ann Eliza Young, 19th wife to Brigham Young who leaves the church to prosyletize against polygymy; and the story of Jordan Scott, a contemporary "lost boy" who was banished from a fundementalist compound when he was 14, whose mother, herself a 19th wife, has been accused of murdering his father. The murder mystery and the historical fiction unfold together, and through both well-researched narratives I've learned more about the FLDS mindset than I did from any factual account.

Can I ever really understand why people who live lives so different than mind do what they do, believe what they believe? Probably not, no matter how much I read. However, if I can devour a good murder mystery during my attempt at understanding, so much the better.

4 comments:

Thomas said...

The books by apostates should be taken with a grain of salt. Such books are not reliable because these people are complelled to emphazise the negative in order to justify their leaving the sect.

tunsie said...

LIFE is someting 2 b lived every second of every minute,of every hour.of every day,of every month, of every year,of the rest of your life.RELIGON is not one day a week.U need 2 go thru life being a good person,because the real religon is KARMA.if u go around and hurt people,especially good people,U WILL GET PAID BACK WITH INTEREST.I try 2 b good 2 people even if they treated me bad.I FORGIVE,I DON'T FORGET.if u think I am wrong just look at a certain woman who treated me bad.and tell me how she looks.tunsie.spike.TUNSIE

link said...

Personally, I dislike the use of the word 'apostate.' I think it's an ugly term that always comes across as derogatory. I also find the accounts by FLDS "apostates" very plausible - the separate accounts agree on many aspects of FLDS life.

If you'd like to read more accounts, this site contains a ton of info and writings, straight from head honcho Warren Jeffs: http://texasflds.wordpress.com

Scott Gunsaullus said...

Religious doctrine is often used as an expedient justification of the status quo. Since the days of Jacob in the old testament, multiple wives have always been a rich man's province. At that time, the women were used a precursor for real estate and livestock transactions. The measure of a man's success was the size of his flock. Men would acquire stock through their wives dowries and extra hands through the production of children. Multiple wives were then a product of ambition and power.

Casting off sons when they have outlived their usefulness was also common, as were such themes in judeo christian parables. The practice was a practical way of eliminating claims of inheritance. Jealousy and competition among wives must also have been a factor. Why else would the Old Testament be so explicit about covetousness.

Mormon polygamy has it's origins in that religion's status as a persecuted minority. Polygamist family structures were a practical way to increase their population under harsh circumstances. FLDS polygamists have similar motivations.