Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Just very, very sad




Two novels in those years featured Iowa. One of them was basically romantic tripe--The Bridges of Madison County--a sadly unfulfilled farm wife finds sexual glory for a few fleeting days in the perfectly lovely arms of a photographer/artist. When he leaves, she sadly but inevitably goes back to her humdrum hog farmer, who's been away at the Iowa State Fair with their kids and his pigs. The story is the fantasy. It sold big.

The other was A Thousand Acres, an inside-out version of King Lear. Three daughters scrap wildly over their father's farming kingdom. I read it too, loved it, admired it vastly more than I did Bridges, and I wasn't alone: in 1991 it won the Pulitzer Prize. I read A Thousand Acres several times, assigned it in my classes, and marveled at Jane Smiley's ability to "get Iowa right." She was not a native Iowan and I'm no Iowa farmer, but there was so much sensuous-ly on-the-money about that novel, so much that caught life here in a kind of exactness that I loved--life in Iowa, on a farm, a big one, circa 1990.



Somewhere I have a long, published essay about A Thousand Acres, an essay which both explains my admiration for Smiley's work and begs off of full praise because the novel's most significant character motivation is created, almost blindly, by what eventually becomes what people called, back then, repressed memory. As the daughter walks back through the home she grew up in, she suddenly remembers how her father used her, as a child, for his own deviant sexual pleasure.

Repressed memory was a national phenomenon back then. Three times in those years--late eighties and early nineties--I was asked to write some old friend's story. One at a time, two women and one man came to me to tell me what had almost ritually happened to them as little children--how specifically their fathers and/or mothers had similarly violated them, repeatedly, in a ways that these people had evidently repressed until the present, until some moment--maybe therapy, maybe not--when memories were released and came flowing back into their conscious minds and hearts and souls, prompting a kind of sweet anger that often seemingly answered long-held questions they'd always felt about themselves and their worlds and, of course, separated them violently from their parents.

The sheer repetition worried me. For a while, repressed memory, along with its counterparts,"multiple personalities" and "Satanic ritual abuse" actually became, in a perverse fashion, all the rage. What some call "moral panic" was raging throughout the land, a phenomenon I still don't claim to understand.

Two weeks ago another old friend sent me a note to tell me that he'd just read a book from someone whose family he'd known, a book that told a story so sordid that, he said, he simply couldn't believe it, even though he felt he had to--after all, there was the book. You ought to read it, he said, so I ordered it, from Amazon, and it came two days later.

I finished it last night, a book titled Am I Alive?, written by Ruth A. Zandstra. I'm interested in stories about the folks from whom I come, the Dutch Reformed, and this one, I thought, promised me just that, even if I understood from the e-mail note that it was going to be an attack on self-righteousness among the strict Calvinist ethos in which Ms. Zandstra was reared, as was I.

Don't buy the book. If you want to know what it's like, just google satanic ritual abuse and you'll see and hear all you wish to know. Am I Alive? is one of those books I didn't help someone write twenty years ago. It accuses her father and mother of horrors only a perverse imagination could create, if it weren't for thousands of other very similar tales. Dad is a member of a demonic cult who ritually sacrifices babies and rapes children--Dad, an elder in the church and a member of the local Christian school board.

Honestly, as awful as it is to say about such stories, they're cliches. They are.

Not to the woman or man who suffers the nightmares, of course, but to those who believe that his or her parents were somehow blood-bound into some horrific demonic cult, there is only this to say: no one has ever uncovered even the slightest reason to believe that such cults actually existed. If the thousands of such repressed memory stories were true, then tens of thousands of adults--many of them expressly evangelical Christian in their professions--had to have been involved. It simply goes beyond belief that someone, somewhere wouldn't have been converted back to the Christian faith they outwardly professed wouldn't want to come clean--like the 90-year-old Dutch woman who, last week, walked into a police station in Holland and confessed to murdering a man she and the rest of the Resistance was sure was a Nazi collaborator. She'd lived with that murder since 1946, but finally dumped her guilt at the station. That has never happened with tens of thousands of practitioners, ritual murderers and rapists, of these demonic cults. In all likelihood, such organizations never existed.

What can anyone say to Ruth A. Zandstra? Probably nothing. She is absolutely and entirely convinced that what happened to her as a child is the honest-to-God truth, and no one--not me certainly--is going to affect some change of mind or heart. She truly believes. The book is her testimony, and growing up evangelical, she knows what a testimony is.

It's interesting and sad, at least to me, that the phenomenon which ran like a plague throughout American culture in late 80s and early 90s, the "moral panic" of repressed memory and satanic ritual abuse, began in the company of strict evangelical Christians, people who believed whole-heartedly in the reality of Satan, the Devil.

The problem with Satan, C. S. Lewis used to say, is two-fold: we either believe in him too greatly, or not enough.

Some kind of balance is a requirement in life, or so it seems to me, including a balance between faith and doubt. Faith without question is idiocy. Doubt without hope is madness.

Am I Alive? is self-published, and it's available on Amazon. Amazon isn't in business to care what it markets, as long as it gets its nickles and dimes. In a way, Ruth Zandstra's book is an example of the new democratic world we live in, a world in which we can all be writers, a world without gate-keepers, without editors who would have questioned the wisdom of publishing this memoir.

We live in a brave new world in which you can play along if you've got enough money to get the admission price up to the counter. Just because it's a book doesn't mean it's true. Just because it's on Amazon doesn't mean it's something anyone should read.

But then, again, maybe some should read it, if for no other reason than to be reminded, once again, that being a believer can never mean checking your brain at the door when you enter the sanctuary.

I feel nothing but pain and sadness for Ruth A. Zandstra. Her testimony is a perverse and awful fantasy too, but it's also a parable. Sometimes there are no simple answers--not even heinous simple answers--to our worst problems. Sometimes our most trying questions have no good answers.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I remember your essay about "1000 Acres" and how you were concerned about the response to the repressed memory phenomenon. I'm taking a course these days on stress reduction through meditation and the psychiatrist who leads the course claims that repressed memory is a reality. He says that he has patients who, through psychotherapy, begin to remember horrific abuse they suffered. So I'm not sure what to believe. I'll take your word for it and avoid that book. At this point, I'd read it for the wrong motives.

Anonymous said...

How are these books about evil and remorse any different than what is promoted consistently on our daily local, national and world news programs? These programs also recoup considerable monetary and political profits. We know that the news stories are about those people out there. But when someone talks and writes about "us" they have then gone to meddeling. It's tough being the "chosen".

Joel said...

Hmm. Five rather glowing reviews on Amazon (by five people who admit to friendship). She must at least be a compelling writer (or person).

That said, there seems to be a sub-genre of memoir decrying all the self-righteousness of religious parents. It does strike me as its own sort of self-righteousness, but what do I know.

Anonymous said...

wow. so you don't believe there is any such thing as ritual abuse? what do you do with the evidence in the book then? what do you do with the fbi visits and the goat's head chains? what do you do with police reports all over the world? what do you do with folks who leave cults now and report the same happenings? you're so determined there can't be evil in the world that you will discount those who have suffered and survived and who know better? and the friends and therapists who have walked with them? THAT is sad.

Anonymous said...

wow. so you don't believe there is any such thing as ritual abuse? what do you do with the evidence in the book then? what do you do with the fbi visits and the goat's head chains? what do you do with police reports all over the world? what do you do with folks who leave cults now and report the same happenings? you're so determined there can't be evil in the world that you will discount those who have suffered and survived and who know better? and the friends and therapists who have walked with them? THAT is sad.

Anonymous said...

wow. so you don't believe there is any such thing as ritual abuse? what do you do with the evidence in the book then? what do you do with the fbi visits and the goat's head chains? what do you do with police reports all over the world? what do you do with folks who leave cults now and report the same happenings? you're so determined there can't be evil in the world that you will discount those who have suffered and survived and who know better? and the friends and therapists who have walked with them? THAT is sad.

Anonymous said...

How is it that you can doubt another human beings truth based only on your ethnicity and connection to "Dutch Reformed."

Where is your evidence that this is false?

I find the lack of your evidence even more troubling than that a woman faced her truth and the horror that she experienced.

Evil is evil and it exist openly as well as in secret societies.

Shame on you!!

LDeJong said...

Wow, you are really insufferable. Just because you deem it to be so, Satanic Ritual Abuse doesn't exist. Ruth's story is all in her head, sad as that may be. Well, let me tell YOU something. I held Ruth in my arms as those little ones inside her were terrified and reliving their experiences. There is no faking that. Those little ones don't lie. Ruth doesn't lie. She tells the truth. She has substantial evidence for those who need outside support to believe her story. What is really sad about this entire situation is that you could have a platform to help people whose lives have been decimated by abuse. But you choose to believe that it doesn't exist. Isn't that pleasant for you. Ruth courageously wrote her story and yes, she self-published. Many people do these days - it doesn't make her book any less because she did. If one other person who has been the victim of Satanic Ritual Abuse is helped by this book, it will have been worth all of the effort it took to write and publish it. Because the horror of living through SRA is something you cannot even fathom - none of us can - except those who have lived it. Ruth is a woman of incredible integrity. She did not let the forces of evil win. She fought for and reclaimed her life, bit by bit, with the help of HP and a wonderful therapist. You should be ashamed of the way you have totally discounted her experiences. Are you all knowing and all seeing? Are you God? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

The writer of Stuff in the Basement certainly used a very subjective approach to Ruth Zandstra's book. It seems he had his mind made up without listening to the facts. Here are a few more facts for him to mull over. I grew up in the same town as Ruth. The very cult in which Ruth was victimized was infiltrated by a law enforcement officer who was found out and had to leave the area with a new identity. A retired police officer in the same area tells about the Dutch mafia that was active in the 50's. Also, the phrase "false memory syndrome" was coined by a MN counselor who had abused his daughter and used it as a cover-up. To discredit this book as flippantly as you did, has the power to re-inflict injury on those already hurting. Shame on you! I assume you are living in a rather Dutchy community and feel safe and secure. Well, sorry to inform you, but evil does exist and is alive and well.

Anonymous said...

I am a survivor of Satanic Ritual Abuse. I live in MN and grew up in a perfect Catholic family. I got straight A's in school, graduated from college with honors and looked "normal" and successful. Of the five children in our famiy; all four girls have eating disorders, one has both anerexia and bulemia. One has had a nervous breakdown and been labeled by my parents as "crazy."
I couldn't stop crying in my senior year of high school. I wanted to go to the after school support group for the kids who wanted to talk about things. I couldn't go because our family "does not have any problems." So...I buried my feelings and pretended I was o.k.
12 years ago I could not pretend anymore. I began therapy and it took two years to face the true fact that my dad, uncle, and two grandfathers had sexually abuse me and used me in ritual ceremonies.
I have thought I made it up, and was crazy because of the accusations and ignorance of society believing what the "media or experts say."
I was shocked that I was not believed! Who would make up this pain and who would choose rejection from society. What would I have to gain?
I wanted other people to believe me and when they didn't I almost gave up. Recently I decided to KNOW from deep within what happend to me is true, without any support from other people.
While reading Ruth's book and I was helped greatly because she shared many similarities to my childhood abuse experience. My family will not look at this issue and hides behind "perfect attendance in our church." I wish I had a sister to support my memories or that documentation or "gold chains" would be found to support my story. But from the people who don't believe no matter what is shared, I need to let that wish go and support myself.
A book that also really helped me is titled, Safe Passage to Healing: a guide for survivors of ritual abuse by Christine Oksana. Thank you Ruth and Christine for writing to help the survivors of ritual abuse feel supported and believed.