Book Review: Salvage (Or what Jill Duggar should have read before her wedding)

I was looking for a good cleaning/renovation distraction story when I saw Salvage by Alexandra Duncan in the Editor’s Picks section of Audible.  It sounded like an interesting sci-fi story about a girl from space stranded on earth.  In this case, it’s less Ursula LeGuin and more Young Adult but intriguing in it’s own way.  In fact, it brought back some old memories but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Salvage is the story of Parastrata Ava, a “so-girl” on a deep space merchant ship who commits an unpardonable sin.  A so-girl is something like an assistant manager but in this case, Ava can only manage other women.  That’s because the deep space merchant ships have been in operation for so long that each one of them has become its own little polygamous tribe.  Think of it like a cross between the Taliban and the FLDS church traveling the Silk Roads of the galaxy.  Every now and again, two merchant ships will dock at a space station above Earth for some genetic swapping, er, marriages.  This involves sending some young 16 year old girl as a bride to the other ship.  She has no idea who she is going to marry or whether she will be a first, second or fifth wife of her husband.  There’s no choice in the matter and she’s not supposed to ask questions.  Virginity is highly prized and, as you can imagine, sometimes these weddings go disastrously wrong.  Without giving too much of the plot away, this is what happens to Ava and she is forced to flee the space station or face an honor killing via the airlock.

In spite of the fact that Ava has never been on earth before and has no cardiovascular conditioning, she manages to survive her abrupt introduction to gravity.  Ava’s story starts to resemble many hero narratives complete with a wise guide character who teaches her some basics and then dies tragically, leaving her to figure the rest out for herself.  Ava has been raised in a fundamentalist religious society but it’s remarkable how quickly she manages to discard all of that indoctrination.  I think it’s the fact that she is forced to survive on her own that makes it so easy for her to see how useless the religious dogma is to her new circumstances.

One such revelation occurs when she tells a young earth friend one of the foundation myths of her ship.  It’s about a ship on a voyage that was trying to hide from a marauding ship in the vicinity.  One of the women was singing and the men on the ship told her to shut up or she would attract the attention of the pirates.  But the woman said that was nonsense and kept singing.  Sure enough, the pirate ship found them and havoc ensued.  And that’s why women on deep space vessels were forbidden from singing on penalty of death!  Ava believes this story like it’s Eve’s curse until her young friend points out that her science book says that sound doesn’t carry in space.  Then it dawns on Ava that the myth was just another clever way to blame women for everything and keep them in their place.

It also dawned on me that there are a lot of silly myths that women are supposed to swallow without question even today that are intended to keep them in their place.  The Genesis creation story is just one.  The biblical obsession with virginity is another.  Maybe 3000 years ago it was important for inheritance rights, because, after all, you could only be sure of who your mother was back then and even up until blood typing, you could never be 100% sure who your father was.  But in the 21st century, we have genetic testing to keep everyone honest.  The notions that a woman must guard her virginity or be considered worthless coupled with all of the societal baggage that goes with being a female just seems antiquated in the light of new technology and contraceptives.  It does make you wonder who it is that fundamentalism is trying to protect. It also makes me cringe when I see even women on the left who claim to be feminists consistently deferring to men, ignoring their own concerns.  The indoctrination is very, very deep.

Anyway, I immediately thought of Jill Duggar, Duggar family valedictorian, now Jill Dillard, when I read this book.  As many of you may know, she is the first of the Duggar girls to get married.  She and her hubby tied the knot on that non-Christian holiday, Midsummer’s Night Eve, and they saved their first kiss for the altar.  A lot of people think that’s correct and virginal and special but I think that saving such an intimate thing as a kiss for a spectacle in a church full of a 1000 people who all but “hubba-hubba!” and cat-call in the pews, is a bit on the obscene side and looks like a violation of their privacy. Rather than looking uber Christian and sacred, it reminds me of something pagan, barbaric and tribal.

Yeah, I think the so-called Christians out there should know what some of us see during these Quiverfull weddings.  We have a completely different interpretation of what we are witnessing and it’s vaguely horrifying, not spiritual.  What did we miss?  The parading of the blood stained sheets the next morning?  Was there a contract to return the bride to Jim-Bob if Jill’s hymen turned out to be too easily ruptured?  Why not actually watch to make sure the marriage is consummated like royals did thousands of years ago?  These people are way too involved in their children’s private lives.  A Duggar wedding, while preceded by a chaste courtship that’s supposed to be all about getting to know your future spouse’s character, turns out to be focused almost entirely on sex and not companionship.  It seems strange and the reverse of what most everyone we know does these days.  We know that when it comes to relationships, the thrill is gone all too quickly and it’s only when you decide there are other things to keep you together that you get married.  That’s the sacred that the Duggars seem to miss.  And it’s not like the Quiverfull movement doesn’t have it’s share of miserable marriages and those that end in divorce.  Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering is a testament to the failure of these unions and the destruction they wreck on the young people forced into them.

I remember when my Jehovah’s Witness friend H. got married at the tender age of 17.  She and her boyfriend B. abstained until their wedding night but we all knew that the reason they married so young was because they couldn’t be normal unmarried teenagers and do even a bit of snogging without getting disfellowshipped.  Two months later, she was sitting in my living room with her head in her mother’s lap, suffering from morning sickness.  She was a changed person in every way and no longer the happy, confident friend I knew.  It was shocking.  Her youth was spent in just a few weeks.

Parastrata Ava turns her back on all of that and focuses with laser like intensity on the future where she controls her own destiny and whether or not she even wants to have sex and with whom.  What I really regret was that Jill didn’t get a copy of this book smuggled to her before the wedding so that she knew there was something out there besides a life of never having a minute to herself and babies and men telling her to stop singing all the time (even if her hubby, Derick, does look like a reasonable guy who might even let her wear pants someday).

Recommended.  4 sponges.  There are some parts of the middle that drag a little bit and the ending, while satisfying, could have been more satisfying and ended all too soon.  Hoping for a sequel.  This character has earned one.

The Pledge

Some of this pledge hit a funny note with me.  Because my mother was a Jehovah’s Witness when I was a kid and JWs are in to making their kids instant targets of childish affection in the classroom, I was not allowed to say The Pledge when I was in school.  The first day of class, someone from the office would pass the note to my homeroom teacher that would instantly condemn me to a year long club of my very own.  I don’t know how my sister and brother handled it but since they seem to be better adjusted, I’m going to assume they ignored the note and said the pledge.  Well, as long as there weren’t other JWs in the same homeroom class to report on you (and that was kinda their job), you could probably get away with it.

I never said the pledge.  I just stood there.  My mother put me in a difficult situation, especially when we lived in South Carolina and I didn’t know that I was supposed to stop in my tracks during Reveille (yes, they actually played it) and then recite the pledge no matter where I was standing.  I got my little 8 year old ears chewed out by the Vice Principal who followed me down the hall one morning when I returned to my classroom after an errand to the office and didn’t stop.  I was a totally clueless transfer student from hippy dippy California.  His attitude did not improve once he saw the note from my mother.  I could see it in his eyes.  That dude was out to make my world a miserable place to live in.

Anyway, well into my teens, I didn’t say the pledge.  But I started to realize that the people around me were just going through the motions.  They had no idea what they were saying or weren’t really thinking about it.  When they said the pledge, this video is what I heard.

Which explains a lot of what goes on in politics and public discourse today.  People tend not to think things through.  They like the comfort of repeating what everyone around them is saying.

I guess I should thank the JWs for making me realize that but oddly enough, I absolutely despise every thing about them.

Monday: Women need religion like a kick in the head. Literally.

Yesterday, I wrote that the VastApostateArmy of former Jehovah’s Witnesses was starting to take direct action against the Watchtower Society. Now, some of you may be wondering why they are even bothering with a church that has rejected them or vice versa. Why not just “LEAVE THOSE WITNESSES ALOOOOOONNNNE!”. After all, they aren’t bothering anybody. It’s rude to protest at a Kingdom Hall where the good people of East Bumfuck are worshipping quietly and not making any trouble. At least they’re not out going door to door, right?

The problem with the witnesses is that there’s something very rotten at the core of their organization and the country’s movers and shakers might be taking lessons from high control groups like the JWs, but I’ll address that later. The one thing many people don’t know about JWs is that once you are baptized, if your family is also a part of the religion, anything you do that causes you to get the attention of the Watchtower Society could potentially separate you from your family for the rest of your lives. Many adolescents who were raised as witnesses are pressured to become baptized before they really understand what this means. Essentially, it means that you can never grow up because if you do, and start making your own decisions about how you want to live, what you can force yourself to believe and who you marry, your ties to your family can be severed by the elders at your Kingdom Hall if your decisions fall outside their very strict rules.

Now, why is this important? For women witnesses, submission to their husbands is the most important thing in marriage. And unless a spouse can be shown to have committed adultery, there is no divorce or remarriage. A divorce for any other cause than adultery is grounds for disfellowshipping. He says jump, you say how high. With that in mind, take a look at what is in the upcoming Watchtower on Feb. 12, 2012. It’s hard to believe this is the 21st century:

Note where the Watchtower’s Interests are.

Of course, this is a religion so who are we to judge, right?

Violence against women, not just for the Taliban anymore.

Update: Here’s a video from Vast Apostate Army member, Danmera, who was a domestic abuse survivor.  She went to the elders for help.  They told her to give her husband more sex.  I’ll let you guess how that turned out.

This video has more of the text of the February 12, 2012 Watchtower but it also contains some disturbing (but effective) images.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Witnesses

I’ve been spending the last couple of days looking back on my years of association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  There are several sites where ex-JW’s try to get over their PTSD.  I wasn’t even baptized and only one of my parents was a JW.  Unfortunately for me, the other parent was at sea for most of my childhood so in many respects, I got the full JDub treatment including the no holidays routine and all of the crazy forbidden activities at school.  I did sing in chorus and was in a few plays but being brought up a JW even if you aren’t one, is a pretty austere existence with superstrict rules on just about every topic.  For example, did you know that JW teenagers are discouraged from getting a higher education?  Yep, don’t waste your time on college.  The world is going to end soon!

Those of you who are interested in this kind of thing, and there might be people out there who  are voyeurs for religious experiences that are not their own, might want to download Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk by Tony Dushane to see what the full JDub experience was like.  Religion and horny adolescence has never been so funny.  Dushane describes a culture that will sound so bizarre to most “worldly” people that you would swear it was a cult.  Um, it is.  The most hillarious part of his story involves eavesdropping on the distress call of a  married couple to his elder father.  The couple had “accidentally” done something in bed that was on the forbidden list.  Ok, maybe hillarious isn’t the word for this.  Maybe creepy comes a bit closer.  What adult couple confesses the most intimate aspects of their lives because they are afraid that Jehovah will blink them out of existence over one transgression?  And how much detail are you entitled to if you’re an elder?

Dushane’s style feels like an open chord.  His narrative is spare.  There’s not a lot of descriptive detail and the plot jumps ahead years without warning.  I would have liked to have learned a bit more about some of the characters but there’s enough there for the reader to fill in the backstory with his or her imagination.  It’s a good thing Dushane can look back on his life as a JW and not see it as a total loss.  I guess therapy helps.  Or maybe it’s that so many JW children don’t know any other life and what they’ve been told about the lives of worldly children makes everyone outside the Kingdom Hall seem depraved.  What comes as a shock for so many who eventually leave is that they can no longer turn their consciences off to the depravity of what goes on within it.

There is a much darker aspect of the religion that they don’t tell converts at first.  The reason why so many people stay in it long after they’ve seen the light is because you can lose your entire family if you step out of line.  JW’s practice extreme shunning and they are particularly hard on apostates and those members of their community that make the organization look bad.  Such is the case of Barbara Anderson, who is a hero to many JW’s who survived childhood in the cult.  She was once one of the highly esteemed JW’s who worked at Bethel, the name of the American headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract society.  I didn’t realize this until last month but you can see their building from the Brooklyn Bridge, which means they saw the OWS batsignal because it was pointed right at them.  Oh, the symbolism is so thick you could cut it with a knife.  Betcha there was a lot of praying about Armageddon that night.

Anyway, Barbara and her husband joyfully submitted themselves to 10+ years of slave labor for WBTS in Brooklyn when their JW 19 year old son decided to dedicate his life to Bethel.  Barbara’s husband was a plumber and he helped Bethel with their many building projects, for $114/month stipend.  Did you know that the WBTS owns a hefty chunk of tax exempt property in Brooklyn in the same way that Trinity Church owns much of the land in lower Manhattan?  Yep, the JW’s are as rich as Croesus.  Barbara worked at several jobs.  She was good at administration and accounting.  Then she got assigned to the writing deparment where she wrote some of the Awake! magazine articles.  That sometimes required her to go back to the stacks to do research and while her untapped gifted and talented mind was rummaging through the old documents, she stumbled upon a wealth of evidence of documented physical and sexual abuse of children from various Kingdom Halls.  The JW’s had a Catholic priest problem.  She tried going through normal channels to get the governing body to take action on these cases but they just wanted to settle out of court and make the problem go away.  Eventually, she went back to regular JW life outside of Bethel and her husband became an elder.  But she started to hear from other JWs that the congregation she was in had some well known pedophiles.  After years of being a submissive women and getting nowhere with the patriarchy of the WBTS, she decided enough was enough and gave an interview to NBC news.

She was promptly disfellowshipped.  That meant that no one in her congregation or her family was allowed to associate with her, including her son, daughter in law and grandson.  They cut themselves off from her.  Her husband tried to defend her at a judicial committee hearing within the congregation, pointing out that she couldn’t let the abuse go on any longer and they disfellowshipped him too.

In the meantime, Barbara has gotten hold of court documents of cases between abuse victims and the members of the WBTS and has published them online.  Now, Barbara gets emails every day from abused former JW children from around the world.  I’ve heard a couple of interviews with her. (Once you get over her somewhat floopy voice, you find that she’s an excellent storyteller.  Her recall, detail and narrative skills are riveting.)  In fact, it sounds like she’s heard and read more than anyone should read in a lifetime.  The details are really heartbreaking.  Unfortunately, the WBTS is still covering up for pedophiles and hasn’t required their elders to promptly report such cases to the police in every state.  Surprisingly, there are states that don’t require clergy to do this.

One other thing I’ve found out from the Jehovah’s Witness Recovery site is that the JW’s are really good at creating atheists.  When kids finally do leave after a whole lifetime of regimentation and the terror that accompanies the feeling of not being good enough to survive Armageddon and constant fear of public reprimands for the tiniest infractions, the LAST thing that they seem to want to do is worship a god.  They’ve done enough worship for a lifetime, thank you very much.  Many of them describe feeling free once they let go of god.   As in emancipated.  As in slavery to the thought of having to work your way into a paradise where you would have to spend eternity without sex and surrounded by other Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The JW’s don’t believe in Hell but that right there has always sounded pretty Hellish to me.  I made up my mind when I was about seven that there was no frickin’ way were they ever going to dunk me.

They also seem to be a lot savvier about how cult manipulation works.  Check them out if you’re ever feeling bad about your Catholic upbringing.  After a few threads, you’ll realize how lucky you were.

And you’ll never respect any politician who says you need religion in your life.

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