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When Men Become Gods by Stephen Singular

Posted by Sherry on 5/25/2008 in Current Events, General, Nonfiction |

When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and The Women Who Fought Back by Stephen Singular.

If ever a book were “overtaken by events” this expose by Stephen Singular was overtaken and made both relevant, as background to the raid last month at the Yearning for Zion Ranch, and irrelevant, as those who were interested learned more about the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints than anyone needed to know and more even than Mr. Singular, after a year of research, knew when he wrote his book. In fact, although the book gives the reader a lot of information on the history of the FLDS, it’s obvious that very little, if any, of Mr. Singular’s information came from actual, current FLDS members. Probably that’s not his fault, since I’m sure they refused to speak to him. Still, he had to get his information from law enforcement officers, social workers, and disgruntled ex-members. None of those groups could be expected to give an unbiased report on the FLDS, and they don’t. Mr. Singular’s picture of life inside the FLDS is unrelentingly negative. Reading about it feels like reading about life under the Taliban in Afghanistan.

However, the difference between Afghanistan and Short Creek is night and day. It truly is possible to leave the FLDS; many men and women and teenagers have done so. Although “prophet” Warren Jeffs probably is a power-hungry cult leader with sadistic tendencies, no one is forced by law to obey him or even listen to his dictates. Mr. Singular writes about girls and women “forced into marriage” and about men who “lost their families” when Mr. Jeffs excommunicated them from the FLDS. However, no adult woman had to marry anyone, and those families chose to disown their excommunicated loved ones. Many of the situations Mr. Singular describes constitute a tragedy, to be sure, but the participants in those tragedies for the most part chose to obey Mr. Jeffs as consenting adults. The crime for which Mr. Jeffs is now in prison, participation in the forced marriage of a fourteen year girl, is an exception to that rule of adult willingness to obey Warren Jeffs, and Mr. Jeffs is rightly serving time for his disregard for the wishes of the (minor) girl involved.

There are lots of allegations of child abuse and spiritual abuse and under-age marriage and polygamy in this book, but Mr. Singular never explains why, if these crimes were being committed, no one was ever charged or prosecuted. He implies that this lack of prosecution is due to a lack of willing witnesses, a common problem in cases of spousal abuse and child abuse. Nevertheless, anyone can write a book and allege all sorts of crimes, but unless some proof is offered that will pass the standards required in a court, the accused are considered innocent in the eyes of the law.

Because Elissa Walls was willing to testify against Warren Jeffs, he is in prison. Because the Texas DFPS had no solid evidence to back up their allegations of physical and sexual abuse at YFZ Ranch, the FLDS children should be returning to their parents very soon. (I hope.) And that’s all as it should be.

When Men Become Gods was published “sooner than planned” according to Mr. Singular’s website “because of recent events.” The book has no index, maybe because of its rushed publication, a serious drawback since I wanted to give a few specifics here but I was unable to find some of the incidents and events I wanted to discuss. It’s also NOT about YFZ Ranch, but rather centers on the FLDS community at Short Creek on the Urah/Arizona border and on the rise and fall of leader and prophet Warren Jeffs. It’s a fascinating read, and it’s obvious that Mr. Singular and Texas law enforcement and CPS officials were getting their information about FLDS beliefs and practices and crimes from many of the same sources.

If you would like more information about the raid on the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado and subsequent events, check out the coverage at The Common Room or at Grits for Breakfast. Either blogger has much more, and more accurate, information posted on this CPS power grab than can be found anywhere in the mainstream media.

7 Comments

  • While it may be true that members may leave the community and their families, saying it is easier that actually doing it. Where is a 14 year old girl going to go? She has no money, no outside family members, no where to go. Most believe that if they do leave they will be sent to hell. It’s a very powerful method of brainwashing. When their very salvation is at stake, most will do whatever is required of them to be saved. So although they may be “consenting,” I still think that is under duress.

    About three months ago, I met a women who had left the community (she was a sixth wife) when she found out that her husband was sexually abusing at least 14 or more of the children in the family. If that doesn’t say pedifile I don’t know what is. Even though she had left, discovered a “whole new world” she also was unwilling to write about her experiences to protect the family she still had in the community. This is a topic that I think will always be biased as I don’t think anybody ever will talk.

  • Sherry says:

    Do you mean that the woman you met didn’t want to write about her experiences because she still had family inside the community and didn’t want to hurt their feelings/reputations/faith? Or did she not want to protect those she still had in the community by writing about the abuse that was going on? Both reasons are disturbing. Why did she not bring such aggravated abuse to the attention of the authorities? Are the children still being abused by the husband she left behind?

    I don’t understand why anyone would allow this sort of thing to continue. But then I don’t understand why abused wives return to their abusive husbands either.

  • I believe that she took her own biological children with her, but yes, the husband was still in the community with the other wives and children and I’m not sure what type of action was being taken. I actually came across this women in a seminar about writing. She said she had a lot of stories to tell, but would never dream about writing about her experiences in a polygamist community. Both are disturbing. I think she didn’t want to name names and hurt reputations.

    You’re right when you say you just don’t understand. Nor do I.

  • Rachel says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful review. It’s never as simple as media would have us believe.

  • writer2b says:

    I saw an Ellen Goodman column in the paper a few weeks ago that raised some similar questions about the raid on the ranch… If I remember correctly the children then still in custody had asked for a group prayer time and a breadmaker, and she was asking, who’s sick again–these guys, or mainstream culture? Like you (and me), she comes down hard on the child abuse. But there are other aspects of their community life that can’t be painted with the broad, condescending brush of so much coverage of the story.

    Sounds like an interesting, and maddening, book. Thanks for the review.

  • Sage says:

    You raise a lot of good points about sources. Have you read “Under the Banner of Heaven?”

    As a gentile, I lived in Southern Utah for a little over a decade (I left early in 2004). I remember being at a church rummagesale (non-LDS church) and a polygamous family came in (they probably felt more accepted there than in the regular LDS community). The old man (he had to be in his 60s) and women who may have been 25 and up… when one of the “girls” found a “bargain” for herself or her kids, she’d take it to the old guy to get approval–items generally were 25 cent! I couldn’t believe it!

    Of course, these were probably not FLDS–there were families who practiced plural marriages who were not FLDS.

  • DaniGirl says:

    While I agree that Steven Singular’s sources are obviously biased and the book is coming from the point of view against polygamy, I find it disturbing how lightly you make of the brainwashing that is going on. Where it is not like the Taliban in the sense that it’s the LAW, these people are following words of a “Prophet” that are considered God’s Law. So as they are consenting and adults, they are being led to believe that this is God’s will and to do anything otherwise would be sending themselves straight to hell. Most of these men and women are many generations of polygamist and have only been raised in this cut off community. So to think that they have the same education as we in the “Gentile World” do and STILL consent to shunning family members and marrying young is absolutely ridiculous. If it’s all you’ve known all your life, then it’s so easy to fall under the brainwashing and perversion that is happening around them. Luckily there are those women, men, and children who have fled the community knowing that there is not something right and there are basic rights that one holds as an American that no one should take away. Where I don’t believe in yanking children away from their parents, I also don’t believe in turning a blind eye to the repeated patterns of sexual, mental, and physical abuse that is among the FLDS. I only pray that the recent events have helped some to get out of that environment and lead a normal life.

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