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Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions

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Beyond Belief addresses what happens when women of extreme religions decide to walk away. Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) have compiled a collection of powerful personal stories written by women of varying ages, races, and religious backgrounds who share one commonality: they’ve all experienced Beyond Belief addresses what happens when women of extreme religions decide to walk away. Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) have compiled a collection of powerful personal stories written by women of varying ages, races, and religious backgrounds who share one commonality: they’ve all experienced and rejected extreme religions. Covering a wide range of religious communities—including Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Calvinist, Moonie, and Jehovah’s Witness—and containing contributions from authors like Julia Scheeres (Jesus Land), the stories in Beyond Belief reveal how these women became involved, what their lives were like, and why they came to the decision to eventually abandon their faiths. The authors shed a bright light on the rigid expectations and misogyny so often built into religious orthodoxy, yet they also explain the lure—why so many women are attracted to these lifestyles, what they find that’s beautiful about living a religious life, and why leaving can be not only very difficult but also bittersweet.


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Beyond Belief addresses what happens when women of extreme religions decide to walk away. Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) have compiled a collection of powerful personal stories written by women of varying ages, races, and religious backgrounds who share one commonality: they’ve all experienced Beyond Belief addresses what happens when women of extreme religions decide to walk away. Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) have compiled a collection of powerful personal stories written by women of varying ages, races, and religious backgrounds who share one commonality: they’ve all experienced and rejected extreme religions. Covering a wide range of religious communities—including Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Calvinist, Moonie, and Jehovah’s Witness—and containing contributions from authors like Julia Scheeres (Jesus Land), the stories in Beyond Belief reveal how these women became involved, what their lives were like, and why they came to the decision to eventually abandon their faiths. The authors shed a bright light on the rigid expectations and misogyny so often built into religious orthodoxy, yet they also explain the lure—why so many women are attracted to these lifestyles, what they find that’s beautiful about living a religious life, and why leaving can be not only very difficult but also bittersweet.

30 review for Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stacey

    I marked this as a DNF, although I did read about 90% of the book. I felt that it didn't actually resemble the description: "The stories in Beyond Belief reveal how these women became involved, what their lives were like, and why they came to the decision to eventually abandon their faiths. The authors shed a bright light on the rigid expectations and misogyny so often built into religious orthodoxy, yet they also explain the lure—why so many women are attracted to these lifestyles, what they fi I marked this as a DNF, although I did read about 90% of the book. I felt that it didn't actually resemble the description: "The stories in Beyond Belief reveal how these women became involved, what their lives were like, and why they came to the decision to eventually abandon their faiths. The authors shed a bright light on the rigid expectations and misogyny so often built into religious orthodoxy, yet they also explain the lure—why so many women are attracted to these lifestyles, what they find that’s beautiful about living a religious life, and why leaving can be not only very difficult but also bittersweet." I found very little of this in the book. What might be a more accurate description is: "Vignettes of life, from women who are living happily or unhappily, in or out of a religious environment." There's not really a lot of commonality, other than many of the stories are "moments in time" that represented why it wasn't working for them. Some of the women were actually involved in abusive religions, some were in abusive situations where the religious tenants were being misused. Some were not in a bad situation at all, only in one that didn't fit with their inner vision. Some were self-destructive. Only one of the stories seemed to fit the description of "shedding a bright light on the rigid expectations," and I really wanted to read more of her exit story, but the framework of the book (just a slice!) didn't have room for that. For those looking for the "how and why," this is not the book. I think I was a great deal more disappointed with the stories simply because the jacket copy is so misleading.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    This book is horrible and not at all what the title leads you to believe! I only got through about the first quarter of the book. Boring. Boring. And more boring. These are NOT examples of extreme religion situations. They are examples of regular religion; perhaps a little outside the norm, but nothing "extreme." One Saturday of Orthodox Jewish observance is NOT extreme. I can get more extreme stories talking with friends about their personal experiences growing up. Not worth my time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    JulieK

    Terrible title - most of the religions represented are not "extreme," nor are the women's lives "secret." That said, the essays are an interesting look at women's experiences across a range of faith traditions.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    A Title, Women’s Approach to God and Religion would have have been a better title then using, “extreme. I enjoyed the essays, but found the expectations nawing at me during the reading.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Susan Sink

    I am only halfway through this book (I've read some of the later pieces as well as earlier), but I'm not sure I'll finish, so I want to weigh in now. But take it with a grain of salt, because I haven't read the whole book. But it is that kind of book. A collection of stories, one from each author, it doesn't aim to have a through line, although it is arranged to reflect the women's religious experience-- entering, living, leaving. You can dip in, come back, and each piece stands on its own. The bo I am only halfway through this book (I've read some of the later pieces as well as earlier), but I'm not sure I'll finish, so I want to weigh in now. But take it with a grain of salt, because I haven't read the whole book. But it is that kind of book. A collection of stories, one from each author, it doesn't aim to have a through line, although it is arranged to reflect the women's religious experience-- entering, living, leaving. You can dip in, come back, and each piece stands on its own. The book's editors raise an important issue in their introduction: what is defined as an "extreme religion"? They let the women decide, and basically it is defined by all of them as the distance they felt between the religion they were practicing in their home and the outside, secular world. How strict were the religious codes and practices; how fierce was the world view in opposition to the mainstream? Because most of the stories I read have that in common-- the women feel like outsiders to the world around them, and ultimately, when they leave the religion, like outsiders to the community in which they were first formed. And in this book, they have their tribe. Having written this kind of story-- a whole book-length one-- I was really interested in not just what they had to say but how they processed and said it. However, the collection clearly is devoted to narrative, not analysis. There is very little reflection on what these women experienced (and this seems to be from design). Perhaps not surprisingly, I found most interesting the ones that were farthest from my own experience. The story that has stayed with me is one by Huda Al-Marashi, "Beaten by Devotion," about participating with her mother and other women in a Shiite Muslim lamentation ritual in Los Angeles. I also was drawn to the inside view of life in the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. What really struck me, however, was the difficulty of tone, especially for the former fundamentalist Christians, like me. Many take a slightly ironic tone, as if to convey that this is funny as well as heartbreaking, but also to reveal that these individuals are somehow now "beyond" it. I recognize this tone, and I'm not sure you ever lose that sense that "maybe they're right and I'm wrong," and the distancing even while reverencing the experience that goes on and on as you tell the stories... The awkwardness of being outside the circle never leaves you. In this book, these women have found their tribe in each other-- and the experiences are surprisingly similar and similarly told. It is in a way a quest for belonging as well as understanding what happened. In terms of the book, the writing is solid throughout. I do wish, however, that there weren't so many very short stories. For me, I need more meat on the bones, and would have preferred a few women from vastly different traditions telling longer stories at each point in their religious journeys. Being able to follow someone throughout, get invested in their story, instead of dipping into 26 different experiences, would have been more satisfying to me as a reader.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    I think the subtitle "extreme" isn't accurate but I liked having a little glimpse into many different religious experiences.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Boy, did I pick the wrong book here. I was expecting stories about women an the real problems they encounter in church and religion. What I got is stories about how hard it is, not to date the boy one really likes, because your pastor won't let you. Especially the first half of the book does little more than show that some of the reasons why people get sucked into religious groups are disturbed family-circumstances, already religous parents, or a family/parents suffering from a lack of education. Boy, did I pick the wrong book here. I was expecting stories about women an the real problems they encounter in church and religion. What I got is stories about how hard it is, not to date the boy one really likes, because your pastor won't let you. Especially the first half of the book does little more than show that some of the reasons why people get sucked into religious groups are disturbed family-circumstances, already religous parents, or a family/parents suffering from a lack of education. This is neither exceptionally insightful, nor very interesting (as tragic as these reasons are). In the later half the reader is being presented with the, once again enlightening, revelation that a possible reason for doubting your church or religion, or even falling out with it is....using your brain. Reading about a woman who, after many years of church-going, is starting to think that a talking snake might after all just be a man-made invention leaves me speechless. The feeling many accounts in this book left with me was that while a church might get it wrong, sprirituality itself still is a good thing. A statement I certainly wasn't expecting when reading the back of the book, or a few comments for that matter. For me this was a waste of time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I thought this was a good idea of a book, but it didn't measure up to it's premise for me. After reading the book description and the preface, I was expecting a book filled with stories of women and their experiences in extreme religions. But, the outcome was a bit different. While there were some really interesting stories about unique religions, I found a lot of the stories too adolescent to belong in an anthology about women in religion. I thought the anthology was a good first draft, but nee I thought this was a good idea of a book, but it didn't measure up to it's premise for me. After reading the book description and the preface, I was expecting a book filled with stories of women and their experiences in extreme religions. But, the outcome was a bit different. While there were some really interesting stories about unique religions, I found a lot of the stories too adolescent to belong in an anthology about women in religion. I thought the anthology was a good first draft, but needed a bit more editing to make it a more concise book. It wasn't a very good introduction to the variety of religions that exist, and felt very incomplete.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Corrie

    I received this book through First Reads. Thanks so much! Wonderful and interesting stories. It was great to read all these unique and personal essays by women in a wide variety of situations and religions. They gave me some insight into some religions I knew nothing of. I always enjoy reading something that is thought provoking.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Book

    Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions edited by Susan Tive & Cami Ostman “Beyond Belief" is an average collection of essays all written by women on the fascinating topic of women in extreme religions. A wide variety of religious beliefs are covered in this anthology. There are various standout essays but a lot left something to be desired. Unfortunately, some of the best essays are in the last third of the book by which time most readers will probably tune out. This ordin Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions edited by Susan Tive & Cami Ostman “Beyond Belief" is an average collection of essays all written by women on the fascinating topic of women in extreme religions. A wide variety of religious beliefs are covered in this anthology. There are various standout essays but a lot left something to be desired. Unfortunately, some of the best essays are in the last third of the book by which time most readers will probably tune out. This ordinary 330-page book includes twenty-six essays broken out by the following three sections: In the Beginning, Burnt Offerings, and Exodus. Positives: 1. Well-written and well-edited essays. 2. The fascinating topic of women in extreme religions. 3. Women wrote all the essays. They share their experiences living in religion. There are twenty-six essays that cover a wide and diverse group of beliefs. Kudos for including not just women of Christian faiths. 4. There are several standout essays. The ones that resonated most with me were in the latter third of the book. Valerie Tarico’s essay is worth the price of the book. Julia Scheere’s essay is quite memorable. 5. The authors were candid and forthright about their experiences. 6. Readers will learn about some of the peculiarities of each religious group. “The only difference I could see between the Presbyterians’ and Baptists’ beliefs was baptism.” 7. One recurring theme throughout this anthology is the large and influential impact religion has particularly on women. 8. The speaking of tongues, “That’s what you call it when you start to speak in tongues. It comes from the Bible story about how the flames of the Spirit came down from heaven on the heads of all the believers at Antioch and they all started talking in foreign tongues.” 9. I’m happy to see some essays on religions I know less about. “Shia Muslims believe the tears we shed in the name of our ill-fated imams (those spiritual leaders we believe are the rightful successors of the Prophet Muhammad) are blessed and rewarded.” 10. There are indeed some extreme religious practices covered. “’It means we do baptism by proxy.’ I must look even more confused because she continues. ‘We do them in place of people who have died. You will be baptized on their behalf. It’s how we give others the chance to accept the Gospel even though they weren’t able to do so when they were alive.’” 11. Some essays cover replacing one faith for another and the interesting insights that led to such a decision. “I badly needed a belief system that built me up, not one that reinforced my sense of unworthiness.” 12. Some essays capture the essence of surrender. “I am signing up to spend six years of my young adult life in a fantasy land where God speaks through microphones using seemingly perfect preachers and their wives to persuade their devotees to do as they’re told. Or that I will soon be challenged to cut myself off from my friends and family who do not agree with my new ways of thinking and being and believing; or that in the not-too-far-off future I will marry a man I’ve never even kissed—all for the sake of upholding the sanctity of the way, the truth, and the life of which Jesus allegedly spoke.” 13. Discoveries of false prophets (aren’t they all) are always of interest to me. 14. The issue of same sex and living within the faith is always of interest. “I knew them all by heart, had memorized each admonition as well as I had memorized the luscious curves and contours, the sweet and secret depths of Chris’s body. How could I not know that what I felt for Chris was a sin? But how could I go forward without her? I couldn’t, not in this life. I would worry later about the hereafter.” 15. The interesting story of Brother David Terrell. 16. Issues of sexual discovery and religious guilt. 17. Misogyny rears its ugly head. “I now read the Bible with a new awareness, stung by the anti-female sentiment in so many passages. A sampling: 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” 18. Valerie Tarico’s essay of the problem of evil is one of my favorite essays. “So we shouldn’t harm little children, but God can? Even the most benign passages of the Bible appeared in a new light. A Jesus who would make one lame man walk or one blind man see? Was that the best God could do? They were impressive tricks for a magician, to be sure, but not at all impressive for a deity who with equal ease could simply do away with all blindness—or with all cancer that leaves two-year-olds paralyzed and dying.” 19. Issues of leaving the fold. “PERHAPS THE NUNS WILL continue to chase me in my dreams and haunt me at the clothesline. Perhaps I will learn to stop resisting that. Perhaps my sisters will always be part of me. I may never know if I did the right thing by choosing to leave, but I know I did the necessary thing, and sometimes that’s all anyone can do.” 20. An excellent section on “About the Contributors”. Readers will find links and backgrounds to the contributors of this anthology. Negatives: 1. Most of the essays are average at best. One of the biggest problems is the lack closure. Many of the essays get the readers interested only to end in an unsatisfactory manner. 2. The title is a misnomer. A lot of women were not in extreme religions. Many times publishers insist on titles that have buzzwords. 3. The book desperately needed a table summarizing the religious beliefs covered in this anthology. A big missed opportunity. 4. Some essays dare I say were boring. 5. A where are they now section with respects to their original beliefs would have added value. 6. Some hot-button topics as they pertain to women were for the most part missing. As an example, abortion was not mentioned once. Feminism was only mentioned in one essay. 7. The quality of the essays varies considerably from essay to essay. In summary, I was surprisingly disappointed in this effort. I had high expectations and they were clearly not met. The biggest problem with the book was the lack of closure. Some essays tease the readers with interesting tidbits only to have the rug pulled from underneath them. Many hot-button issues of interest to women were completely surprisingly ignored. The anthology was saved however by some standouts, as a humanist those essays about leaving the fold and embracing doubt were my favorites. A mixed bag, I can’t really recommend this anthology but borrow it from your local library and at the very least read Valerie Tarico’s essay. Further suggestions: “Escape" by Carolyn Jessop, “The Dark Side of Christian History” by Hellen Ellerbe, “Inside Scientology” by Janet Reitman, “Stolen Innocence” by Elissa Wall, “Man Made God: A Collection of Essays" by Barbara G. Walker, “Doubt: A History” by Jennifer Michael Hecht, “Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars” by Sikivu Hutchinson, “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “Freethinkers” by Susan Jacoby, “Coming Out Atheist” by Greta Christina, “Quiverfull” by Kathryn Joyce, and “The Good News Club” by Katherine Stewart.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Paige Peploe

    As someone who has spent many nights pondering religion, I felt like I could relate to many of the women in this book. It was refreshing to hear small pieces of their lives and to find common ground in our experiences. Maybe this book wasn't for everyone, but I'd be happy to share it with anyone who has an interest in hearing real-world experiences of various religions.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I really enjoyed this book. It consisted of a series of essays by women who had once been or were currently involved in what the author termed "extreme religions" such as fundamentalist Christianity, and some of the religions themselves weren't extreme – there were stories from Catholics and Mormons were pretty mainstream, but the concept was the same in that women from all walks of life were telling their stories, and they wrote in a slice of life, fashion, in which they gave first-hand account I really enjoyed this book. It consisted of a series of essays by women who had once been or were currently involved in what the author termed "extreme religions" such as fundamentalist Christianity, and some of the religions themselves weren't extreme – there were stories from Catholics and Mormons were pretty mainstream, but the concept was the same in that women from all walks of life were telling their stories, and they wrote in a slice of life, fashion, in which they gave first-hand accounts of incidents in their lives. The ones I found most interesting were the ones set in the authors childhoods, about young women growing up in these religions and how they related to them. Not all of the religions were protrayed negatively, but there was definitely a sense that there was a lot of anti-women, misogynistic bias that these religions presented in these women's lives. Some of the essays dealt with losing faith, others dealt with connecting with God, as they understood him, (and it was always a him). The conversion stories were interesting to. 2 of the essayists had written books that I had already read, and it was interesting to get more information about their lives after the books were written. There was a very interesting material here, and I found myself riveted – I usually traded my books after I read them, but this one. I'm going to keep and reread. There were also 2 really interesting essays about young women discovering their sexuality as lesbians, while being raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. These I found particularly interesting because of my own background.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    As many have noted, the title is something of a misnomer; the religions discussed, for the most part, are not extreme, and the lives of the women, for the most part, are not really secret. The intro does explain that "extreme" was not defined for the women writing the essays - fair enough. What you get instead is a number of vignettes of women on their way in to, or on their way out of, religions that do require some serious commitment. You don't get the full arc of each woman's story, nor do yo As many have noted, the title is something of a misnomer; the religions discussed, for the most part, are not extreme, and the lives of the women, for the most part, are not really secret. The intro does explain that "extreme" was not defined for the women writing the essays - fair enough. What you get instead is a number of vignettes of women on their way in to, or on their way out of, religions that do require some serious commitment. You don't get the full arc of each woman's story, nor do you get a full picture of the religion in question. So, I don't know that it's a great book for someone seeking either an educational or sensational discussion of the tenets of "extreme" religions and their intersection with feminist principles (especially if that seeking someone isn't religious to begin with). However, for a woman who has followed an arc quite similar to some under discussion here (the ins and the slow outs), I did appreciate this collection on an emotional and human level. Four stars for solidarity and a decently excuted idea for which the book's title doesn't quite gel.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Some of the essays in this collection were very well written and quite powerful. Others were full of venom and didn't really make much of a point beyond "I hate God" and/or "I hate religion". Overall, in keeping with the name, the anti-religion bias of the editors was clear. Few of the religions featured were actually what I would consider "extreme" despite what the title claims - but if you are coming from the perspective of being highly antagonistic to religion than I suppose ANY religious pra Some of the essays in this collection were very well written and quite powerful. Others were full of venom and didn't really make much of a point beyond "I hate God" and/or "I hate religion". Overall, in keeping with the name, the anti-religion bias of the editors was clear. Few of the religions featured were actually what I would consider "extreme" despite what the title claims - but if you are coming from the perspective of being highly antagonistic to religion than I suppose ANY religious practice would qualify as extreme - and clearly that is the case here. If you're a post-faith agnostic or atheist you will likely enjoy this book. But if you are a person of faith curious about how others experience their faith or even just a person curious about faiths/religion in general, this book falls short of the mark.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Janelle

    I loved this book. From start to finish it gripped me with stories of real women dealing with their spiritual lives or in many cases their inherited religion. I cried in many of the stories, feeling the genuine distress, the feelings of hopelessness and unworthiness. I thought about how much it would cost each of them to tell their stories truthfully, but also knew that some would have healing in doing so. In many cases the stories are a mere snapshot into one woman's spiritual life. They were t I loved this book. From start to finish it gripped me with stories of real women dealing with their spiritual lives or in many cases their inherited religion. I cried in many of the stories, feeling the genuine distress, the feelings of hopelessness and unworthiness. I thought about how much it would cost each of them to tell their stories truthfully, but also knew that some would have healing in doing so. In many cases the stories are a mere snapshot into one woman's spiritual life. They were told frankly and that really spoke to me personally. I have asked many of the questions that these women were asking and I particularly related to Nikki's story coming from a similar background. Ultimately this book made me feel that I'm not alone in my journey out of the spiritual background into which I was born and have lived my life so far.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I'm still working my way through this book but I was kind of misguided by the title and the synopsis. As far as I can tell this is more like a tiny moment in the lives of women in what some people might (i stress might) call extreme religion, what to me is extreme may be to you just run of the mill. Even putting aside if a religion is an extreme religion. There is very little of what was promised in this book. In the book's defense I have not finished it yet and so far at least; it delivered on I'm still working my way through this book but I was kind of misguided by the title and the synopsis. As far as I can tell this is more like a tiny moment in the lives of women in what some people might (i stress might) call extreme religion, what to me is extreme may be to you just run of the mill. Even putting aside if a religion is an extreme religion. There is very little of what was promised in this book. In the book's defense I have not finished it yet and so far at least; it delivered on giving us a look into what drew some of these woman, who were raised in an era of women's lib, to join a religion that considers women second class citizens. I would have like to read deeper into some of these women's stories. My biggest complaint is the book gave up a good deal of detail and narrative in order to cover a broader range of religions.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    This is an astonishing and beautiful book. Each story opens a window into the world of extreme religion, showing what attracts women to it, why they stay, and what motivates them to leave. Given the range of faiths that's covered, it's surprising how much the women have in common. What's also beautiful is their honesty in telling about their experiences. This is not an anti-religion book, but rather an honest look behind the scenes. Some of the authors have written longer memoirs about their exp This is an astonishing and beautiful book. Each story opens a window into the world of extreme religion, showing what attracts women to it, why they stay, and what motivates them to leave. Given the range of faiths that's covered, it's surprising how much the women have in common. What's also beautiful is their honesty in telling about their experiences. This is not an anti-religion book, but rather an honest look behind the scenes. Some of the authors have written longer memoirs about their experiences, and some have works in progress. I'm dying to read more.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    I loved this anthology of different women telling their stories about the religion they either grew up in, or adopted later. I loved that different religions were represented (Christianity, Muslim, Judaism) with a common thread that unites all of them. I found myself wanting to read more from every contributor. This book is for every woman who ever struggled to live their religion and be true to themselves.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Louise Silk

    This is a depressing book- many unhappy women-confused- treated unfairly- poor self-images that result from the pressures of prescribed actions by religious authorities. The best part of the book was having some exposure to a variety of religions that are not within my experience- except that it all seemed so negative and one sided.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melinda Worfolk

    This book had a couple of interesting essays--I thought "Baptizing the Annas" by Caitlin Constantine was particularly well-written--but on the whole, most did not engage me. I much preferred Deborah Feldman's Unorthodox for a well-written and inspiring account of a woman leaving a repressive religious community.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Yvonne

    I presumed this book would be about "exotic" religions that I know little about. There was some of that but a lot of these stories were about good old American Protestants and home grown patriarchy. Good to have a light shown on the restrictions and rules put on women pursuing their spiritual paths.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alys

    It struck me how sad most of these women were (or are). They're each looking for something meaningful, but find themselves, for the most part, in dysfunctional situations. This book lead to an incredible conversation at our book club. There's a lot to discuss.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Debbie Mcnulty

    I loved this book. Once I started reading I did not want to put it down. I saw myself in many of these women. I am grateful that they shared a part of their stories in these pages. This book deals with hard questions in a sensitive manner. I am sad that the book is over.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Find my review of Beyond Belief here: http://www.thewhynottblog.com/book-re... Find my review of Beyond Belief here: http://www.thewhynottblog.com/book-re...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alicia K.

    An interesting read. It's a heart-cracking-open experience of compassion and empathy, even if you've never lived in an extreme religion.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Becca

    I loved this book. I found it both uplifting and heartrending, full of moments I could identify with. I've lived some of these same moments, had these same doubts, I know what draws people into a religion and how earth shattering the severance of that relationship can be. Each chapter is a vignette of life lived by a different woman, each on her own journey either in or out of a religion that, at one point in her life, was an all consuming world for her. I completely understand why some women ch I loved this book. I found it both uplifting and heartrending, full of moments I could identify with. I've lived some of these same moments, had these same doubts, I know what draws people into a religion and how earth shattering the severance of that relationship can be. Each chapter is a vignette of life lived by a different woman, each on her own journey either in or out of a religion that, at one point in her life, was an all consuming world for her. I completely understand why some women chose to talk about the moment when they began to doubt, while others chose to focus on the moment that fervor took them. Both seek to answer the same question: "How the hell did I get here?" This may be my sensitivity to the issue speaking, but some of the reviews have felt a bit darkly voyeuristic, as though the traumas described and explained in the book were not traumatic enough, the religions were not extreme enough to satisfy their morbid curiosity. For those reviewers who say "these religions weren't extreme enough", may I humbly suggest that you've missed the point. As the editors themselves explain: "What's your working definition of extreme? It's true that the word extreme is an extreme word! For some of our atheist friends, any religion that espouses a belief in any kind of supreme being is extreme. Yet for those who live inside orthodoxy or fundamentalism, what they live is not extreme to them at all: It is quite normal and sensible. All of the women in these books lived lives dominated by their religion and saw themselves through the lens of that religion. It was their identity and their whole social structure. Admitting you don't believe and walking away from that can be incredibly devastating. As someone who was raised in what many would consider a very mainstream branch of Christianity, I can attest that even within these so called hamlets of normalcy lies the potential for unbelievable damage. I do not believe that all religions are bad, or that all religious experiences are corrupting and damaging. But I do believe that religion has the potential for both great help and great harm. Religious Trauma Syndrome is real, and one does not have to be a former member of a polygamist cult to suffer it's effects. Please do not discount the experiences of others because you have not walked in their shoes. Rant over, stepping off my soapbox.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gayle Francis Moffet

    I don't agree with the use of "extreme" in the title. A number of the stories seemed to come from people in more conservative parts of faith but not necessarily the far corners of it. It felt at times that "waiting to have sex until married" was considered a big sign of fundamentalism by the anthologies editors when, in reality, it's a common practice in a lot of versions of various faiths. This isn't a bad collection, just one with some weak spots. I think it's worth grabbing from the library a I don't agree with the use of "extreme" in the title. A number of the stories seemed to come from people in more conservative parts of faith but not necessarily the far corners of it. It felt at times that "waiting to have sex until married" was considered a big sign of fundamentalism by the anthologies editors when, in reality, it's a common practice in a lot of versions of various faiths. This isn't a bad collection, just one with some weak spots. I think it's worth grabbing from the library and having a look through if you're interested in this sort of personal essay work. I felt the middle section (Burnt Offerings) had the strongest showing.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Yup, a solid 3 stars. I liked it. It was interesting, fascinating even. But, as many have noted, the title is a misnomer. I was expecting some really extreme religions and more variety. I also wasn't really expecting these women to all be writers. Nevertheless, I appreciated this book, the intent of it, and the voice that these women gained.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    The vignettes were compelling, insightful, and worth the time and emotional energy to read and Process. But I really wanted to see more, beginning, burning, and Exodus for each story. Leaving me longing, unfulfilled maybe that is part of the key.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Holly Mascaro (birdbrainbooks)

    A high 3.5 - I feel the reviews sorely undersell this little collection of stories. If it piques your interest you should definitely give it a read. The stories all differ and all represent various stages of being engrossed in various intense expressions of religion.

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