One of the themes of my book, Torn by God: A Family's Struggle with Polygamy, is that people who are in the position of speaking for God are in a position of great power. They get to say what reality is not only in this life, but in the next as well. The code we use to make decisions about what is right and wrong, determines to a large degree, how we perceive the world and the others who inhabit this space with us. Our religious perspective often determines who we favor and who we reject, who we see as friend or foe, and even sometimes who we can kill with impunity. In more fundamentalist societies, the extent to which “reality” is controlled by religious doctrine can be so great that the followers have little ability to conceive anything beyond the prescriptions given them by their leader. We can see the effects of this kind of mind control in groups such as that led by Warren Jeffs and it is easy to become outraged and worried about the children who have no escape.
In my story, Beth comes to realize that she has been under the control of men who say they speak for God. The same is true for her mother and her father and the Bishop. They have all been hearing the same stories, passed down since the mid-eighteen hundreds, originating from Joseph Smith, told and refined over time. It’s the stories that create the reality – stories in the form of scriptures, or sermons, or even as testimony. The same thing being said again and again and again. Warren Jeffs is a product of that. He grew up behind a fifteen foot wall. We used to drive by it when I was kid and I would see the three peaked roofs of the buildings where the polygamists lived. Evidently, he was a kid not very well liked by the other kids. But he stood by his father when he was dying. Became the one who would “relay” his father’s words in the last days, or so I’ve read. And so he was in a position to say he’d been designated by his father as the next prophet. The thing I wonder is, what did it feel like when he took on this power? Did he wonder why God wasn’t talking to him, when he was supposed to be the prophet? Or did he believe he was talking to God? Did he gradually, or suddenly, recognize the power he had, to tell the people what they could and could not do? Did he test it? Did he say, okay today I’m going to tell them they can’t wear red? And the next day, that they couldn’t have pets? Or whatever, he came up with. Evidently, when he was in prison, in Purgatory Prison in Hurricane, Utah, he confessed that he wasn’t really the prophet.
What I want to know is, do these people, these men, in most cases, who rise through the ranks of the world’s religions and find themselves at the top, the ones who are supposed to be in touch with God. Do they suddenly have a crisis of faith if they speak to God and he doesn’t speak back? Or do they really talk to God? Does he tell them how to lead the lives of others? Does he give specific instructions of what the people must do?
My father always wanted to talk to God. He believed it was possible. I think he wanted a personal relationship where he could ask his questions and not have to rely on an interpreter for the answers. Even in the latter days of his life, when he was well into his Alzheimer’s he was still looking for God. I went to the desert to see him in his little house near Hurricane, Utah, and found him wearing a sweater in the blazing heat. He must have been terribly dehydrated; perhaps he’d been abstaining from food or drink, in the way of the prophets of old. I took him into his little house and gave him water and sat with him. We looked at each and I asked him if he was all right, I was not asking about his physical state, but his mental state — was he okay with not knowing who he was or who I was. He shook his head yes and his eyes shone and tears rolled down his cheeks and he said, “I talked to him.”
I said, “Who?”
His answer came in a whisper, “I talked to God.”
From the look on his face, I couldn’t help but believe it was true, for him, if for no one else.
I find myself wanting to talk to God, but I’m not sure who or what God is at this point. I’m like my father, I guess. I want a direct relationship. I want to discover for myself who God is. I don’t want someone else telling me.