A debut memoir explores a young man’s upbringing in the Mormon Church and his flight from it.
Hansen was born in Washington state but raised in Hawaii to be a devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He chose to undertake a two-year Mormon mission—he was assigned in Germany—when he was 19 years old. But his faith was repeatedly challenged by contradictions within the religion and his desire to become a writer free from conformist dogma of any kind. As a result, his faith withered over time. He married a woman he helped convert to Mormonism in Germany—he was 23 and she was 18—and he ultimately moved back to the country after returning home to marry her, study medieval German literature, and work as a journalist. But as his attachment to his religion evaporated, so did the bonds of matrimony. After he committed an infidelity, the marriage ended in divorce. While Hansen’s recollection is largely a personal one, he also furnishes a short history of the birth of Mormonism and founder Joseph Smith’s 19th-century ministry. Furthermore, the author discusses the basic theological principles of Mormon doctrine, including issues as diverse as the Trinity and the sexual significance of the so-called “magic underwear.” Hansen’s conversion experience to secular nonbeliever, though, wasn’t a bitter one laced with resentment at deception. He deftly describes Mormons in mostly positive passages, arguing that they are generally successful, healthy, family-oriented people who prize education and personal growth and are open to progressive change. The author, in limpid prose, fleshes out a fascinatingly complex religion, which he convincingly argues is the most American of spiritual traditions. In addition, his philosophical restraint is admirable—far from repudiating Mormonism, the author actually succeeds in broadening and deepening the terms of its appraisal: “Back when I was a church member, the question of Smith’s charlatanism bothered me. Now that I have left the church, I see the story differently—not as a question of true or untrue, but as an aspect of his humanity.”
A candid and thoughtful reflection on faith, reason, and art.