Religion, God and Addiction – The Story Behind Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story
When I think of my Mormon upbringing, one word comes to mind: Addiction.
My mother, an Austrian emigrant who converted to the Mormon religion when she was sixteen, has always been consumed by her Mormon faith —to the point that it almost completely destroyed our family.
Every day of my childhood started with an hour-long home church session and ended with hymns and prayer, on top of what seemed like never-ending official church meetings. Every decision my mom made was guided by our Mormon bishop (the equivalent of a priest), or by the Church doctrine that places Mormon men in an almost God-like position and gives them complete authority over their wives and children.
I started trying to escape the suffocating religious lifestyle at home at the age of six. But I began escaping for real when my parents divorced and my mother married a cruel man who exploited the religious power he had been given to oppress and abuse our family.
When I wrote my memoir, Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story, part of my goal was to shine the spotlight on the serious damage that can occur when a religion gives men complete dominance over their wives and children. But I also wanted to illustrate the consequences of blindly following a religious doctrine.
Sarah: Thanks for the background. So what part of your story is specific to Mormonism? Would your experiences have been similar if your family were a different religion?
IR: Interesting question. While I think a lot of religions put men in the power seat, I think what makes my story specific to Mormonism is the extent to which Mormon men are given complete power over their wives and children. All Mormon men are ordained as members of the “priesthood,” with the absolute authority to preach the gospel, bestow blessings, prophecy, perform healings and baptisms, and generally speak for God. My dad was kicked out of the Mormon religion so didn’t carry this authority over my mom. But when she married her second husband, he was a priesthood holder with absolute authority and abused that power horribly. As a Mormon woman, my mom felt she had no choice but to succumb to the oppression. What also makes my story specific to Mormonism is the fact that Mormons are married for “time and eternity” in the Mormon temple – which further traps women and makes it almost impossible for them to get divorced. Because my dad was excommunicated, my mom’s temple marriage to him was automatically annulled. But it was next to impossible for her to get a temple divorce from her second husband – despite his cruelty.
Because of my mom’s obsession with religion and her desire to turn her life over to God, I think I would have experienced an extreme religious upbringing regardless of the religion I grew up in. But I think my siblings and I would have suffered less if we had been raised in a different Christian religion.
Sarah: When did you become an Atheist?
IR: I consider myself more of an Agnostic than an Atheist – though my idea of a higher force, if there is one, has nothing to do with a single entity. It has to do with karma.
I started to question the idea of God at the age of thirteen, when my mother married a guy who weaseled his way into her life by pretending to be “a man of God”, and then used God as a weapon to keep me from my dad. I began questioning God’s existence in an even bigger way when I reached my early 20s and started writing for a relief organization. I traveled to what was then dubbed the “death triangle” in Southern Sudan to document the plight of hundreds of thousands of children dying from starvation, malaria, AIDS or, in some cases, by machete. Mothers came to me with dead babies in their arms, desperate for help. I saw a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl sitting on her own body bag waiting to die. It’s hard to comprehend how any sort of God would allow such horrid suffering and injustices to occur.
Sarah: How is it that your father and mother married and then your father seemed to lose interest in religion, while your mother maintained Mormonism?
IR: I think there are two general types of personalities – those who are drawn to rules, structure and groups; and those who can’t stand rules or conformity of any kind. My mom is an extreme example of the first type of personality. My dad is an extreme example of the second type of personality (I clearly took after him).
My dad grew up in the Mormon religion in Northern Utah, where Mormonism is ingrained in every facet of life (school, politics, social activities). It was all my dad ever knew, but he never paid much attention to it. After high school, he left Utah and headed to Hollywood to make a name for himself. When that didn’t pan out, he decided to buy himself a little time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life by doing what all nineteen-year-old Mormon boys are expected to do: head out on a two-year Mormon mission. My dad was sent to Austria, where he met my mom, who was then eighteen. They fell in love – or at least they thought they did. But once his mission ended and my mom immigrated to Utah so they could marry, they both quickly realized they were at odds when it came to religion. The more my mom pushed her religious views on my dad, the more he rejected it. Soon, he began leaving on sales trips for months at a time to escape my mother’s religious extremism. As soon as I could, I escaped too by joining him on the road as a tool-selling vagabond.
About the Author:
Ingrid Ricks is a Seattle-based writer and speaker who focuses on overcoming adversity and embracing the moment. She is the author of Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story, a compelling true story about a feisty teenage girl who escapes her abusive Mormon stepfather and suffocating religious home-life by joining her dad on the road as a tool-selling vagabond – until his arrest forces her to take charge of her life. The book as is available as eBook or paperback on Amazon or BN.com . For more information, visit www.hippieboybook.com
Good news, everyone! I just read about this and I’m so excited I nearly spat out my spicy tuna roll:
Free tickets might inspire me to shower the musical with lots of PR on this blog, hint hint…
That’s not why I’m doing another post on Mormonism, though. It’s no secret that in the past year, I’ve read Under the Banner of Heaven and started watching Big Love, so this all-American religion, and particularly its fundamentalists, have piqued my interest like analogies pique my interest.
This Jew has only met a handful of Mormons in my life. Most of what I knew about them before this past year, and certainly my introduction to Mormonism, comes from the Great Brain books, which I loved. They were very funny memoirs of non-Mormon kids in Victorian Utah, featuring a greedy child prodigy up to no good. I never knew anything about “plural marriage” from these books (they were, after all, books for kids), but learned that Mormons don’t drink alcohol or caffeine and had a unique relationship with Native Americans. I thought maybe you ex-Mormons out there would want to know how other people learn about Mormonism.
Back to the point, here is another personal story of an ex-Mormon. Joshua Allen wrote about leaving Mormonism on the Facebook group Ex-Mormon Atheists and Agnostics:
“I sent my letter in at the end of January, and I got “the Dodge letter” this week. It’s pretty annoying being expected to jump through hoops that I know I don’t have to jump through. It’s like one last pathetic attempt to prove that they still have power over you. It’s ultra stupid.
I am still awaiting a visit from the local goons and anticipating my final release letter…I wrote about my experience SO FAR, here:
If you are in this situation or thinking about sending the letter, read that link. It’s more funny than annoying, what they do, so the blog post makes for lighthearted reading.
His link is worth reading in full. Does a resignation process simply take your name off the list of proselytizers, just like removing your name from telemarketing lists?
I get the impression that despite his bluntness and effort, Joshua is still not free.
I have missed this blog! Between winter holidays, Andy getting badly injured, planning a wedding and miscellaneous happenstances, I haven’t posted in a while, though I religiously (heh, heh) have posted every Thursday.
It’s no secret that I have big love for the HBO series Big Love, which I discussed in my posts about Mormonism. The opening credits end with Bill, the husband, meeting each of his three wives in heaven. (Do they get every third night with him in heaven, too, or how does that work?) Maybe it’s because I’m getting married, but recently I paid attention to that part and it choked me up a little.
All right, so Andy and I won’t meet in heaven. That may not really be a loss for me, as I don’t remember ever believing in heaven. Jewish theology doesn’t discuss the afterlife much, and in any case, there is no hell in Judaism. (Hell is other Jewish people.) This is another point in favor of Judaism: no hell. Thanks, guys!
Many atheists tell me that atheism is a positive thing– they don’t need to feel “watched” and judged all the time. They won’t be punished in the hereafter. Still, there are quite a few who tell me that they lament the loss of a loving god and not going to heaven. They are sad that this life is all they will get and that they won’t get to join their loved ones after they die. It is indeed a rude shock to think that you’ll spend an eternity in paradise only to conclude that such a place doesn’t exist.
Skeptic extraordinaire Michael Shermer’s stock response to his feelings on life after death is “I’m for it.” Many people may want an afterlife, but I suspect these people haven’t really thought it through. I would rather die tomorrow than be forced to live forever. Would you really want to go on forever and ever (and ever and ever) after the earth ends, the universe ends, and you’re just floating in nothingness, with nothing to occupy you but your thoughts?
What do you think? Do you miss the idea of an afterlife, including an eternity in the Celestial Kingdom with your spouse (or spouses)? Are you glad you’re not going to hell? Are you glad you’re not going to heaven? Did Christians ever portray a really compelling heaven, for that matter?
Here in the Not My God penthouse, I’ve realized that I’ve been doing this blog for almost a year. Praise Darwin! I’m acknowledging the milestone a little early since I’ll be in Germany meeting my new nephew soon and probably away from the blog.
I’ve certainly learned a lot about the subject matter and gotten a lot to think about through this book project. I conceived Not My God in the first place around Darwin’s 199th birthday party when I heard through Boston Atheists about a teenage boy in the area who was an atheist and lived with his grandmother, who was religious, and he knew she would kick him out of the house if he let her know he was an atheist. That got me thinking that there must be many stories like that. I also knew that if this could happen in the Boston area, it must be many times worse in the Bible Belt. I wanted to illustrate how Americans hate and persecute atheists, and how this is relevant in the New Atheist movement.
Through networking, I found potential interviewees and selected 20 that I thought should be included in the book; I interviewed two of these and wrote sample chapters. The stories and characters were so much larger than life that people assumed I had written fiction.
Thanks to all of you who have contributed your stories or thoughts to this project. I realize that, anonymous or not, it takes a lot of chutzpah.
The most important fodder I’ve gotten from this blog is the debate that maybe atheists deserve to be hated. I admit that there is a lot of truth behind that point of view and I can’t reconcile it.
Back to the subject matter, here’s something from Dawkins’s Converts Corner:
“I am 42 years old and was born into a multi-generational Mormon family–a descendant of polygamists on both sides of my family. Like so many others I was taught that it was a sin to ‘delve into the mysteries’ that god had not yet revealed. All literature that told Mormon history from an objective perspective was labeled anti-Mormon and of the devil. I began my departure from Mormonism last year after stumbling across some objective information regarding the history of the church…
“So, Dr. Dawkins, I am on board. This has got to stop. I have three little girls under 5 years old and my soon-to-be ex-wife wants to raise them in the cult. Now that I have broken free, I must now wrestle my daughters free from the grips of such a destructive cult. My family reminds me that so many of my ancestors gave so much for the faith–some crossed the plains pulling handcarts. I find it sad that they were deluded into the pain and suffering and polygamy. The indoctrination and brainwashing is incredibly powerful and difficult to penetrate with reason.
“In all cults, those who leave are labeled as bad, deceived, evil, etc. So it is with me. My wife, many in my family, and former friends all believe I am the bad guy. I read Raven about Jim Jones and the People’s Temple cult. It is a great book, and a fascinating example of cult dynamics. It helped me recognize the same dynamics at play in my religion. There were striking parallels between Jim Jones in isolated Jones Town and Brigham Young in isolated Utah in the 1850s.
“The good news is that I am now living life for the miracle that it truly is. I was in many respects waiting for heaven instead of living life. I recently was asked by a Mormon how I could be an Atheist. I explained that it was not really that far from Mormonism. Mormons believe that all other churches are false, so there is only one more to disprove. Thank you for helping me to shake off the anesthetic of familiarity and to see this world for the amazing place that it truly is.
David Arnold, proud Atheist
Las Vegas, Nevada”
Divorce lawyers, how do you handle this one?
Hi Diddly Ho Atheisterinos,
Andy recorded my act at TAM 7. Here it is. The quality isn’t great (no offense, Andy…I’m grateful to see it before the DVD comes out, so thanks again), but when the DVD of the event comes out, I’ll post the professionally recorded version.
I’m open to constructive criticism, but please go easy:) Not too Simon Cowell-esque.
Now onto Not My God stuff. In the past few weeks, I’ve gained a much greater understanding of the unique challenges facing Mormons who want to leave Mormonism– and for obvious reasons, the ones who want to leave because they do not believe in God.
Aubrey Hales writes:
“I really was born and raised in the heart of Mormon country, or ‘happy valley’ as we call it here in Utah. Near Brigham Young University, I grew up in an area that has the highest saturation of Mormons per capita than any other place in the world. Walking in my neighborhood, one would never know that another life existed. The rhetoric was purely church-oriented, and there were literally Mormon churches on every corner, and for my young mind I had no idea that other religions even existed. However, my young mind was also highly mischievous with a very strong capacity for knowing when I wasn’t being told the truth. I remember sitting in church, being about five or six years old and feeling that I was totally and completely being lied to. I always knew.”
Aubrey illustrates how Mormons, even mainstream ones, are very secluded when they live amongst only each other. In a place like “happy valley,” it would be easy to be cut off from mainstream America. It’s amazing that from such a young age she understood that she was being lied to.
“Fast forward to the start of college and a liberal education, after junior high and high school years full of feeling like a freak because I didn’t believe, and a rebel when I dared to stand up and question the doctrine and the people who felt as if they had ‘authority’ over me. I was constantly going back and forth between what family and friends wanted for me and what I knew was the truth of myself. There were many times I even wanted to commit suicide, sometimes out of despair that I couldn’t believe, and sometimes to bring attention to the kids who were struggling just like me. I knew the church was false, that I didn’t believe, that I COULDN’T believe, not just that I was unwilling. Being in scholarly pursuits as an English major I did (literally) thousands of hours of research about the church, leaving no stone unturned. I was lucky enough to have apostate professors at Utah Valley University who even allowed me to incorporate what I was finding into my education at certain points. As cheesy as it sounds they are the ones who gave me the courage to walk away and follow my truth.”
It sounds as if she was lucky to have apostate professors in her university. Otherwise, how could she have questioned “authority,” as she was not free to do before?
“Around my 23nd birthday I submitted a letter to the church stating that I was resigning my membership, with strong wording that it was my constitutional right to do so and threatening to get lawyers involved if harassment ensued. This really just means that your name goes from one list to another in the church, from ‘the ones we have’ to ‘the ones we have to get back.’ And I make no bones about the fact that this has quite a bit to do with the 10% of one’s income required to stay a Mormon in good standing.”
This is the case in many religions, but in Mormonism it appears more salient that the church is about money, money, money. Aren’t there poor Mormons who simply can’t afford the tithe?
“Once I did this friends stopped speaking to me. People who had always known me and been proud of my fierce independence became ashamed, and I gave up the idea that the person I loved would love me back. Because my ENTIRE family is actively Mormon I can’t escape it, and I’ve had to make the choice to keep my voice silent about what I know about how the church is and how it actually operates. If they knew the truth it would shatter their lives, and they would lose the directional compass for their families. They would flounder; so as much as I oppose it, there are many Mormons who don’t find out the truth because they couldn’t function otherwise. Two Sundays ago I missed attending a church function (a blessing ritual for infants, similar to a christening) that my whole family attended, and was then subsequently treated like I didn’t love and care about the family member who was being honored in the ceremony even though it is my nephew, and he is my heart and soul. I couldn’t even bring myself to attend for him because I am so angry about the time and money the church has pumped into ensuring that GLBT people do not have the same rights as every other American. I feel like the church has become a voice for hate and intolerance, which stands out more to me then the fact that it has been founded on a completely fraudulent basis. I am coming to feel that I can’t stay silent, and I need to become actively involved in exposing the church for what it is. It’s a moral dilemma for me…if I work for truth and expose injustice am I a bad person because I may also foster hate? I just don’t know.”
A worthy mission…I think Aubrey’s desire for activism is what New Atheism optimally should be. I understand her dilemma: it is one many of us face. For what it’s worth, hatred of something bad– and in this case, hatred of hatred– does not, in my book, a bad person make. Quite to the contrary.
“Being raised Mormon from birth is an unparalleled experience, one that is hard to describe to anyone who has a different background. But this is my attempt to show people that the church is a sham, a front for spreading hate and building up large coffers of money. It’s workings are interesting to say the very least, but I feel that ex-Mormons like me have the power and knowledge to bring the falsities to light.”
I missed last week’s post since I was as the Amazing Meeting and meeting some amazing people with amazing jobs talking about amazing stuff (not being sarcastic there). Much as I hate Las Vegas the city, I’m glad I went to TAM. I’m also proud of doing my stand-up act at the talent show. Even though I didn’t win, it was my best and most challenging act so far. Congratulations again to the winners and all the other contestants– I was up against some very stiff competition! I’m particularly proud that the bit I did about talent show judge Sean McCabe’s appearance on Jerry Springer inspired the TAM staff to air the clip to the audience, to Sean’s apparent displeasure. I made it happen.
I will post my act once it’s up. If you want to critique me, be gentle:)
About TAM: while I know that not all skeptics are atheists, it seems likely that all atheists are skeptics. Skepticism is an important part of atheism and the movement against religion’s damage in general.
To continue my previous post, I am interested in ex-Mormons these days. Naturally, extremist religions of all kinds are particularly difficult to break free from and the people who do break free are particularly brave and gutsy.
I’m not proud of myself for many things, but I am very proud to be an atheist. In a culture in which I was pressured from all sides (well, most of them, anyway) to practice religion, and in which I was strongly discouraged from being an atheist and a free-thinker, there was something inside me that was strong and smart enough to compel me to stand up and say, “I am not going to buy this. I am not going to do what you say.” (I don’t know where that came from, either.) I believe the same is true of many, if not all, atheists.
One correspondent, from whom I would like to get the whole story, left a comment on my blog last week, which I would like to repeat in full, since it is exactly the kind of narrative I’m looking for:
“Hey Sarah, I have recently discovered your site, and I really enjoy it. Posts like these are really weird for me when I read about them on atheist blogs, because the cult I grew up in, which seems so familiar to me, is so foreign and lacking details when I talk to other people.
Krakauer’s book was written about a wide swath of extremist Mormonism, but the faction he gave the most focus was the Warren Jeffs faction, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. That’s where I grew up, and those people are insane. The fact that their prophet is a pedophile is the least of their worries.
I guess I could most accurately say I left in 2003, when I was thirteen. But it feels weird to say that, since I never really drank their Kool-Aid. As far back as I can remember, at least, I thought they were bringing batshit to a whole new level. My whole family was excommunicated (de facto) for a long time before that. I myself have been an atheist-by-any-other-name for most of my life (although I did have the whole teenage epiphany thing going for a year or so).
Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for writing on a subject like this. It’s a bit tough to be an ex-polygamist living in Utah, since mainstream Mormons hate you on account of atheism AND on account of polygamy. Add to that, we pretty much haven’t got any good spokespeople, except a lady named Flora Jessop, who is as dumb as a Neolithic fire extinguisher. So I really appreciate it when people write about stuff like this. It lets people like me know the world isn’t completely deaf to the struggles we faced.”
For those of you who saw the South Park episode All About Mormons, you know how interesting the Mormon church can be. I’ve also read Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book about extreme Mormonism, Under the Banner of Heaven, and more recently, been watching the HBO series Big Love. That show is so great. It’s about a closet polygamist — he’s not a Mormon extremist, just a quote-unquote regular Mormon who happens to have three wives.
So naturally I’m more interested in Mormons, or in the case of Not My God, ex-Mormons, these days. In person, I’ve only met a small handful of Mormons in my life. I’ve corresponded with some before for this site. Richard Packham submitted his story to me some time back.
Richard studied Mormonism seriously and when disturbing questions came up, he put them aside. One dilemma especially troubled him: “Brigham Young had taught that Adam is God the Father. But the present church does not teach this. What is the truth?”
When he could no longer reconcile the differences, he concluded that the religion had to be man-made and, in a gush of relief, told his wife, who did not want to hear the news.
“I tried to continue my church responsibilities, primarily as ward organist. But I found it more and more difficult to sound sincere in public speaking, public prayer, or participation in class discussions. During the next summer my wife took the children back to Utah for a visit, and I felt it was silly for me to continue to wear the temple garments. And why shouldn’t I have a cup of coffee with the other students, or have a glass of wine at a party? I had never tasted coffee or alcohol in my life, but there was no reason now, I felt, to deprive myself of those pleasant things. The next year was an armed truce in my marriage.”
Richard, whose story had an ultimately happy ending, was not a Mormon extremist. I would love to hear from people who have successfully left Mormon extremism. Escaping from any cult, for that matter, must be very difficult and perhaps even dangerous. As to Mormonism specifically, I’d like to know the accuracy behind the Mormon compound on Big Love and in Under the Banner of Heaven.
Just one more thought: any group of people that eschews caffeine and alcohol (one or the other would be bad enough) isn’t fun.
Just kidding. This is Not My God, a site for the personal aspect of atheism. I'm putting together a book with that title, having already 20 interviews lined up, but I still want to hear from more of you.
I've expanded the blog to include material not related to atheism, including rants, raves, consumer issues, curmudgeonly matters and other miscellany.
Read more about Not My God on the About page
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