A Loose Thread Unravels it All

About a year ago, I stumbled upon a book of fiction. It was an interesting and engaging read. While reading this book, I recall feeling unsettled by the obvious parallels with my own belief system, its birth and early years, juxtaposed with the beginnings of the belief system described in the book. This was perhaps the first time in memory that I remember allowing my doubts to form and take shape in my consciousness. I began to question the nature and authenticity of religious movements and men claiming to be messengers of God.

The book was called “The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff. It is part historical fiction interwoven with a modern-day suspense story. The book examines, in great detail, the early formation of the Mormon Church. It follows the life of Brigham Young’s rebellious wife, Ann Eliza,  who fled the community and publicly renounced the church. Her story is interwoven with a modern-day murder mystery and the lives of several youth who were on the run from the treacherous and criminal cult leader of an LDS offshoot.

The Church of the Latter Day Saints began with the revelation given by an angel to Joseph Smith. Smith retired into the woods one day and asked God to give him a sign. This set into motion a series of visits and the subsequent bequeathment of a set of golden tablets which were written in a strange language that only Smith could understand. This was the Book of Mormon, given to Smith by the angel Moroni. This book was the account of ancient indigenous Americans and the visions of Jesus Christ they received. Smith managed to convert a small band of followers and as established a small community in Illinois. Smith was murdered or “martyred” while in prison and Brigham Young became his successor.

Brigham Young, like Smith was thought to be a prophet and his followers believed that he was guided directly by God. As the community began to grow in numbers, so did outside persecution and the early Mormons were forced to make an exodus to Utah. There, they set up a tight knit  community, “brothers and sisters” in faith, shunning the outside world and it’s disbelievers, confident their way of life was superior and sanctioned by God.

Polygamy, as practiced by the early Mormons, was thought to be sanctioned by the Old Testament and was believed to be a duty of the faithful. The act  was rewarded in the afterlife with greater bounty given in proportion to the more multitudinous perpetrators.  Smith himself was married to at least 33 wives and Young had as many as 55.

I can’t help but draw parallels between the early accounts of the prophets, the book and the struggles of the early Mormons, to the those of Islam. To an ousider, the account sounds nothing short of ridiculous and yet followers of the faith view it as sacred. I was compelled to ask myself, how was my faith, it’s book and it’s Prophet any different? We have a man of no particular importance suddenly visited by an angel and receiving revelation. These revelations often conveniently changed or formed by events happening at the current time. Followers were persecuted and made hijrah. The same followers were sure their religion and way of life was the only way as commanded by God. After the death of the original prophet, men continued to be rightly guided by God and lay the foundation for the religion to survive the ages. Despite early obstacles, the faith and it’s book  continues to live today. It’s adherents still view the book as holy and sacred and the early  people of the religion as infallible and worthy of emulation.

While it took me longer to dismiss the prophethood of Muhammad, long after I rejected the divinity of the Quran, The 19th Wife planted an unmistakable seed in my mind. It was the first time I allowed myself to question. My eyes were opened. The thread was exposed and it all began to unravel.

The true story of the 19th wife as told by Ann Eliza Young can be found here.

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24 Comments

Filed under apostasy, books, ex muslim, Islam, LDS, Quran, religion

24 responses to “A Loose Thread Unravels it All

  1. I am drawn in from the very first few words.

    Thanks! :o)

  2. Interesting post! I’ve been wondering where the origins of your doubt came from or what triggered them. Didn’t want to pry. Isn’t is intriguing how a book or something you don’t expect to be life altering can really change your course?

    Hope all is well with you and your family xo

    • I think the doubt was always there on some level. However, reading this book was one of the earliest triggers that put the doubt into the forefront of my mind, rather than in my subconscious.

  3. almostclever

    My Dad’s sister married into Mormonism, they live in Utah and have 6 kids. My cousin Rachel grew up and moved to San Francisco (and I am in love with her for that, lol) and her and her husband still practice Mormonism, in fact he is the head of one of the Mormon churches in San Fran. Anyways, all of that is just to say, I can’t wait to one day ask her about how she views her religion, as of yet, I am still not comfortable asking. All I can say to you is this : knowledge is power. It is why they didn’t want blacks to read during slave days, and why girl’s education is so controversial in some countries. God forbid a seed be planted and original thought take place.

    • For what it’s worth, every single Mormon I’ve ever met was extraordinarily nice, in a real and genuine way. Well except Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck, but I’ve not actually met them in person 🙂 I think it is quite possible for religious fpeople to reconcile the early beginning of their faith, or more troublesome aspects of their faith. For me, it just wasn’t possible.

  4. I loved this post! So interesting. I love to hear stories of unraveling loose threads 🙂

    I think I’d like to read the book. I have one on a Mormon wife in my shelf but never got around to reading it.

    • My favorite genre in literature is historical fiction and I especially like how the book interwove the actual writings of Ann Eliza, her life and memoirs, with a modern day story. I recommend it highly.

  5. I read this book a couple years ago and found it very interesting! I remember it inspired a rant or two on my blog because I was a disgusted with parts of it. You treated it so much better in your retelling here. I enjoyed reading the parallels you found between your former faith and Mormonism.

    • Do you happen to have a link to your review? I looked on your blog, but was unable to find it. You’ve got a lot of posts! Which is a good thing, and I really enjoyed reading much of it.

      • Yes, it seems I am chatty. *ahem*

        Well, my reviews aren’t nearly as good as yours. It seems I focused quite a lot on the polygamy aspect because – for some reason – I was realllllly really hating it at that time in my life. 🙂

        But I mentioned the book in two posts found here. I searched under Ebershoff.

        http://susanne430.blogspot.com/search?q=ebershoff

        Another book you might like was recommended by a Mormon blogger who happened to read my thoughts on The 19th Wife.

        Escape, biography by Carolyn Jessop, formerly of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) — I found it at my local library so maybe you can as well, if interested.

        • I enjoyed your review very much. My post wasn’t meant as a review so much as just an explanation into this book’s role in my apostacy.
          The subject of polygamy is a different one altogether. I’m generally against it in almost every case. Some will say it’s fine if both parties are consenting, but coercion is another ball of wax. Unfortunately, religion–I’m talking LDS and Islam–will tell followers that it’s sanctioned by God and then women will feel guilty because they can’t accept “God’s will”. We’ve all read accounts on these blogs about how miserable women are who are in a plural marriage, even as they defend polygyny. Why can’t men just keep it in their pants and be happy and satisfied with the one woman they have? Oh, wait, because religiously speaking, they don’t have to.

  6. sorry2say

    Diseases have many faces. One of them related to minds. Doubts are like viruses. That creates new cults, organizations etc..
    Those who have your belief create their own blog and join your religion.
    A confused, contradictory and doubtful mind has its own religion. It’s like a deadly virus in a particular mind of their own faith. Sometimes it spreads to weak faith and doubtful minds and thoughts….that disease spreads to many immoral, unethical acts. Most of the time criminal activities (robbery etc..) considered ok to that type of mind. Drinking alcohol after seven years also considered not bad for them and their children even though knowing most of the accidents, homicide and other criminal and immoral acts which harms themselves and the society around them comes out from that act.)
    The final destination to that diseased minds are “everything can be moral” which really harms their own beautiful life, their children, their family, society finally humanity. (lenin, stalin etc..)
    “Isms” has no bounds……..atheism, communism, agnosticism etc are the other side of all types communalisms. Religions help build moral society. Off course many cults harms the society. But all prophets taught how to lead a pure life. Anti religionists, anti prophets may twist the history of prophets’ moral life as unethical or immoral. But the truth prevails from minds filled with doubtful viruses (thoughts).

  7. I read this book about a year ago, also, as it was my book club’s selection at that time. I read it not long after I read Infidel, and I definitely saw a lot of parallels. It does boggle my mind how so many people seem to be swayed by so-called (and always self-proclaimed) “prohets.” I mean, if I suddenly claimed to have received a direct revelation from God, people would write me off as a whackadoodle, no? I don’t get it. Anyway, it was a fascinating and enlightening book.

    • I believe I left a comment on your book blog about this book. I was familiar with it but your review is what piqued my interest enough to read it. Now who’s the rabble rouser? 😛

  8. You’re so right, Stephanie. What made me start considering other possibilities to the religion I grew up in was going to a university which required religious studies. In my first religious survey course I found that there were so many similar threads in every religion! Yet each one fervently denounces all the others. Names, languages, cultures made for different trappings, but basically it was almost always the same story.

    I really learned to see the beauty in all religious traditions and to lose the biases which chose just one to be “right.” Gradually, my beliefs came to be that there are very few essential truths, and there is truth and fiction in all religions. For a truly reflective person, I don’t know that there is ever an end to the evolution of one’s philosophy and religious understanding. New insights and experiences will help you continuously hone your spiritual thinking, taking you on a lifelong journey. It’s using the mind God gave you (in my opinion). Welcome to liberation — life unmoored can be unsettling at times, but ultimately rewarding. You are free to find the good in everyone — especially yourself.

  9. former muslimah

    I enjoyed this post, it came right on the heels of my own unraveled thread. The string that started the undoing of 14 years in Islam was watching the religion portion of Zeitgeist the movie. Once the creators revealed how the tale of Jesus had been retold several times before then, in my mind, it meant Islam was built on forgery. It was the last drop that burst the dam wide open on years on blocking out all the inconsistencies. My logic was happy to be set free from the prison I willfully put it in so I could believe. The garment has been unraveled and all that is left is a whisper of something that once existed.

    • Welcome former muslimah–I’m not at all familar with that movie but I assume that you, like me, never expected it to be the object that finally opened the floodgates. I’ve read a couple of former Christians say that learning about Islam and finding it distasteful is actually what caused them to apostacize from Christianity. It seems as if questioning the validity of one faith will sometimes cause a believer to question their own as well.

  10. Lostsoul

    I think there is so much similarity between your thoughts OR no similarity at all in the woman of the following video. She is a Muslim for last 10 years.
    I felt wonder by watching her video to (your) this post and felt so fascinated and want to research to know how two different minds assume (one NEGATIVE another POSITIVE) the life and teachings of same person, topic or belief in quite opposite to each other?.
    The real deal between you and her thoughts are at the end of her video
    Subhanallah, Allah is most gracious and merciful to believer and a non believer alike.

  11. Sig

    I think it is interesting that several women I know who have de-Islamified have gone through a period of reading about — specifically — fundamentalist, polygamous Mormon offshoot groups (the FLDS and others). The similarities between the social rules, structure, system of conformity, etc. are striking. Since there is almost nothing about leaving Islam – and not from an American or convert POV certainly – it seems like books about these groups and men and women who escaped them are the next best thing to help process what we’ve gone through.

  12. Very interesting post, Stephanie! Like another of your regular readers, I have often wondered when you started thinking and questioning and when exactly you started realizing that perhaps your current beliefs weren’t the ultimate beliefs. This was a very interesting post!

    I haven’t read the book yet, but I definitely hope to read it soon. The title reminds me of this novel called “The Twentieth Wife” by Indu Sundaresan. I haven’t read this one yet either, but it was recommended to me by a good friend a few years ago.

  13. This looks interesting! Looking forward to read the book, thank you for sharing!

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