It is easy for a non-Mormon to dismiss Tara Westover’s account of the deep-seated hold religious ideology can maintain over a person even when evidence mounts that all is not what it seems in her spiritual family.
Homeschooled in a rural community with an exceptionally religious father, a submissive mother, and mental health and family violence issues scattered throughout her bringing, it might be easy for some to “compare out” of this entrancing story.
Don’t be too quick to do so. Whether our upbringing is Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic, or Athiest, we have been prepared to face life with a specific set of preconceived notions and truths baked into our world view.
What if, despite best intentions and genuine love, your family simply got it wrong? The same principle applies to our political orientation and social mores and values. How do our beliefs stand up outside your bubble of like-minded people? Of course, as in must of life’s situations, it is rarely black and white. You can almost always find enough evidence to support your viewpoints, and out of laziness, fear, or egotistical pride, choose to ignore evidence that points to the contrary, even if it is causing you or another great harm.
Education is one ticket to that litmus test. Leave your family and community of origin and join a community of pluralistic ideologies and be exposed to knowledge centuries old.
This story assails the very ground we stand on. Tara challenges you to “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”
This may not come without a cost and can cause considerable pain and family conflict. The path of discovery is both beautiful and dangerous simultaneously.
This account also brings home serious lessons about mental health and family dynamics. Tara describes her own struggles with breaking free of abuse and toxicity: “The thing about having a mental breakdown is that no matter how obvious it is that you’re having one, it is somehow not obvious to you.” Ultimately she could not carry two separate and ideological truths within her mind – that of her child’s ideological worldview as learned from her family and her confrontation with history and society outside her home town.
Her journey, at times, was painfully slow. I wanted to scream how could you accept that hypocrisy as I sometimes want to scream now at ideological Trump supporters. I have to pause and make sure it is not I who am insane:
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”
We do not have to be dancing down the stairs at 1165 Shakespeare Ave in the Bronx to be unmoored from reality as Todd Philip’s Joker is seen here. If you have seen the film, though, this is a moment when the Joker is seemingly wholly free and powerful, coming into his own.
We can become unmoored by giving up our individual identity and responsibility for the comfort of group identity (Catholic, Democrat, Athiest, Republican, Progressive, Conservative, Pro-life, Pro-Choice, etc.). One day you are only voting along a party-line, and the next day you look have given up rational dialogue.
Tara, to quote the New York Times, is but yet another young person who left home for an education, now views the family she left across an uncomprehending ideological canyon and isn’t going back. This book is a must-read classic.
Finding home spiritually, politically, and morally is a journey complicated by our own individual experiences, externally imposed circumstances, and divergent historical forces beyond comprehension. Getting educated may not obligate or require giving up one’s theological, philosophical, and intellectual beliefs – but it will require confrontation with inconvenient truths that do not meld well with our preconceived world view.
Somewhere in this journey mental illness or horrible wrongs may be discovered. The path of recovery, healing, forgiveness, or other steps towards ownership of the self is a choice before us all. We can promote it or we can ignore or hide it risking the peril that an untreated malady can become a tsunami.
My own faith and political ideology confront ideological chasms where achieving cohesiveness (despite 2000 years of religious doctrine) is elusive in man’s hands. The devil is in the details of how to weave my faith in daily actions in a genuinely humble way. Recognizing my religious institution is not without error, and my political ideals not immediately achievable or perhaps even misguided calls for caution when the winds of anger or impatience are in my heart.
An Athiest somewhere is looking at me with disbelief at my faith, perhaps how I may have looked at Tara’s Mormon upbringing. There are inconvenient truths that I have experienced as have Christian descendants before me have experienced that are evidence of the Catholic institution acting improperly and contrary to any semblance of divine law. And indeed today we have both Democrats and Republicans as well as our nation making grave errors against humankind. We must confront the insanity and not let it hide in plain sight regardless of our tribal instincts.
True freedom does not negate societal values or laws. It does not deny divine spiritual truths. True freedom requires openness to both a self-examination of conscience and a societal recognition of our shortcomings and will to do better.
This book can challenge your faith or strengthen it, it can ignite your political orientation or destroy it. Perhaps it will do nothing at all except be a great read. That is okay as well.