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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Limited Censorship

Beth Quist Blog

When we were young, my mother tried to make sure her daughters didn't read books that were not church approved. Sometimes when I would overhear our mother talking about a book that had been banned, such as Betty Friedan's book "Feminine Mystique", I would perk up my ears and then WANT to read and discover what was so sinful and awful about the book. In fact, after I read Feminine Mystique I wondered what all the controversy was about? It made perfect sense to me and I can credit this experience to helping to spur me on to work toward improving the equality for women. So my mothers tactics of censorship sometimes could backfire.

I am reading my mothers journals and responding to what I discover in the NaBloPoMo writing event for November. She seldom records any emotion in her journals, but here is one of her rare arguments recorded. It is about her dismay that one of her daughters (who was around age 48 at the time) dared to read a book that she had not approved and was apparently controversial with mother's beliefs (or the Mormon church).

“I talked with (my daughter) Louise (not her real name) and she is reading the book “Mormon Enigma”, a book about Emma Smith (the wife of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion). I have the book but I would never recommend it to anyone because it puts Joseph Smith in a bad light. Louise is caught up in sympathy for Emma and severe criticism for Joseph.

Her attitude really upset me. If Joseph made mistakes it was because he was human and the Lord forgave him of his sins! Indeed in 132 of D&C Joseph’s calling and election is made sure. Louise is condemning polygamy (as many people do). I maintain it was the Lord’s will to raise up a righteous generation and establish the Kingdom of God on this earth at this time. Many great people came from the lines of this great man who were called to take plural wives. A great example is our beloved STEVE YOUNG, who is a direct descendant of Brigham Young”

I am now wondering why this book would cause one of those rare moments of dismay and angst to sputter into a flurry that mother felt she needed to record? Was she advised to NOT read this book and expected others to follow that advice? Did the content strike a nerve within her and she was afraid of how to process the information? Or was she dismayed that she had a daughter who was making a "wrong" choice? Or was it yet another battle over control?

I became curious and searched for information about this book. Here is a review of the book posted by Roger D. Launius, a historian at the Smithsonian Institute, on Amazon:

This is one of the finest examples of what can be accomplished when diligent and skillful historians of Mormonism move beyond their religious biases and seek to understand a subject rather than engage in religious polemics. Written by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, this biography of Emma Smith, the wife of Joseph Smith Jr., the Mormon founder, presents a sweeping and dramatic portrait of this remarkable woman.

Generally accepted as a pathbreaking book, "Mormon Enigma" rehabilitated the image of Emma Smith as the obstinate and faith-shirking figure that had long held sway among the Mormons and at the same time debunked the image she enjoyed in Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now the Community of Christ, which she joined in 1860. In that tradition she was "holier than thou," a good samaritan who faithfully discharged her responsibilities to ensure that her son, Joseph Smith III, became president of that dissident group. In both instances the result was positive. The book placed Emma Smith into an interpretive framework which taught Mormondom much about its trials and sacrifices, triumphs and tragedies. The work made possible, along with other historical works, a major reinterpretation of the formative period of Mormonism.

The book review doesn't sound that shocking and controversial to me, but mother was used to censoring and controlling what we read when we were growing up. What seems strange to me now is that she didn't censor other art forms, such as paintings and sculpture. She even displayed nude pieces of art in our home. It must have been that she saw herself as an artist and as such, categorized visual art differently and would allow the lines of censorship to be a bit more blurred.

It is interesting to recognize that mother's censorship probably affected us in the opposite manner she anticipated. We each developed a healthy dose of curiosity and desired to explore the world outside of the Mormon church, searching and exploring things that were not allowed in her home. Perhaps that drive and curiosity would not have been so powerful and deep had she not tried so hard to suppress and chase it away.