Torn by God
A Family's Struggle with Polygamy
by Zoe Murdock


Torn by God: A Family's Struggle with Polygamy
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Torn by God: A Family's Struggle with Polygamy Kindle e-book version

A riveting family saga that takes place in 1959 in a small Mormon town in Utah. It chronicles the devastation brought upon the Sterling family when the father has a vision which leads him to become involved with a local polygamist group run by a self-serving fundamentalist. The father comes to believe that the Mormon Church never should have rescinded polygamy. Even though the practice is now against the law and grounds for excommunication, he feels it is something God demands of him. Twelve-year-old Beth watches helplessly as her mother sinks into depression and illness. When her father leaves town to build a church for the polygamists, the family is cast off by the Mormon community and it is up to Beth to take care of her sick mother and her little brother. The story delves deep into the controversial association between mainstream Mormons and fundamentalist off-shoot groups such as those led by Warren Jeffs. It explores the power of indoctrination and religious control. It is a story inspired by true events.

The Story Behind the Story

Torn by God is a story from my life. I wrote it to try to understand what happened between my parents that so disturbed my mother that she died young and sad when I was only twenty-five. There was a sense that my father was to blame. When I searched the past for where her sadness began, I discovered it in that period when my father got interested in polygamy. I was so young at the time; I can't remember exactly what happened, only that I'd find my mother in bathroom, with a towel over her head, crying. And I remember her telling my father, "If there's polygamy in heaven, I don't want to go there."

We all grew up with the idea of polygamy. I mean, we were Mormons and even though polygamy was against the law and grounds for excommunication, we knew it was still going to be practiced in the next life and we knew that the prophets, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had been polygamists, along with a lot of other men, including our great grandfather. It caused a kind of split in our brains when as kids we made fun of the polygamists from the Rulon Jeff's clan who lived just up the road, because in a way we were making fun of ourselves: ourselves in the past and ourselves in the future.
To write the story, I had to take my self back to the scene of the crime, back to when I was twelve or so, and see if I could look behind the closed doors and the hushed words, and write about what must have happened and why. What I learned broke my heart. But the tears I cried weren't just for my mother; it was for all of us, including my father. He wasn't really to blame. He also grew up in that in between world of the polygamy of the past and the polygamy of the future. He was born in 1917, just 27 years after polygamy was officially banned by the Church and he had a polygamist grandfather who was the hero who hid Brigham Young from the U.S. militia when they came to Utah to arrest everyone. That heritage left him with lots of questions and he wasn't one to just accept what others said, even if it was the prophet. He wanted to know for himself. He wanted to hear it straight from the mouth of God, like Joseph Smith, like Moses, like all the great prophets of old.

Midnight thoughts . . .
January 26, 2009

A child has no reason to disbelieve what she's been given as reality by her parents, her teachers, and her religious leaders, unless she sees an incongruity in what she is hearing. Then the child may be forced to decide for herself what is really true.

Our social world is held together with the glue of consensus belief. It is the thing that defines who we call us and who we call them. It tells us who to love and who to hate, who to believe and who to reject. It is hard for a child to give up that sense of belonging, of feeling part of that group of people who they live amongst. Knowing this, some religious leaders may try to keep children from feeling any of that kind of dissonance while their minds are still in a state of development. It is only after they are fully indoctrinated that they can be trusted to enter the world. Then they will know what is right and what is wrong. They will know who God is and what he wants.

When dissonance awakens the mind, a child may come to believe that nothing she has been told about God is true. She may think that religion and God come from the minds of men. If there is a God, he/she/it must be born from the human need to know what exists beyond the knowable. God is a creation of the human urgency to understand, to be safe, to know the rules of how to live in order to arrive some other place at the moment of death. And let it be some place nice, better even than the chaotic mortal world. Let it be heaven.

My young narrator, Beth, watches as her parents - and the world view they've given her - disintegrate into chaos before her eyes. At first she tries to patch the world back together, but over time she realizes that what she has been told in the past and what she is hearing now cannot coexist. The two versions of what God wants her father to do cannot both be true. So what is true? That is what Beth must decide.


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