Escape from fundamentalism

Just finished a book from 2018, written by a woman who was raised Mormon, but worse, by an abusive father who thought the end times were coming and that women had no rights. The author, Tara Westover, describes what it is like to be indoctrinated. It’s hard to read, it seems like she will never get out, but you know the author must have, or she couldn’t be writing the book.

She manages to get to Cambridge, where she finally understands that you can read something, and form an opinion on it. In her home, all non-godly books were banished. Books were read to tell you what to think. In college she realized she could avoid fear or adoration when reading. It was thrilling to read words that she might not agree with, especially that her dad wouldn’t like them. She learned that “books are not tricks, and I am not feeble”.

Her life traces the history of religions like Mormonism, and their effect on a population. When she meets feminists, who are just nice women, not shunned by her peer group as it would have been in her Idaho community, she takes a few of their phrases and looks at them, spends hours reading Wollstonecraft and John Stewart Mill. Mill pointed out that we don’t know what women are capable of or who they could be because centuries of oppression have shaped them into something that doesn’t allow any expression of that. When she reads that, she knows exactly what Mill was talking about because she lived it.

I think it’s easy for those of us who have lived lives of being encouraged to think for ourselves. It seems obvious that if you just read some book, you’ll understand how the world works and you’ll stop oppressing women or internalizing that oppression. This story shows how hard it is.