May. 4th, 2017

osprey_archer: (books)
And now for something completely different: a review of a memoir that I actually quite liked! Rebecca Stott's In the Days of Rain is half memoir, half family history of her family's four generations of involvement with the Exclusive Brethren, who are sort of like the Plymouth Brethren except they believe the Plymouth Brethren are not hardcore enough and in fact are especially damned for getting so close to seeing the light and then not going all the way.

This is a background guaranteed to add pep to any memoir, and Stott combines it with a thoughtful and lucid writing style and an excellent figure for a central character: her father, brilliant, charismatic, and flawed, the very definition of larger-than-life. I am glad he's not my father, but he's fascinating to read about.

The Exclusive Brethren seem to have been a fairly normal conservative sect until the sixties, when a new leader harangued his way to power by accusing everyone else of a lack of reforming zeal, at which point the Exclusive Brethren basically began to run like small-scale version of the Soviet state in the 1930s. If a sect member was suspected of breaking the rules, the Brethren would send a pair of churchmen in good standing to interrogate that person at their house, and if they did not prove repentant on the first try, to lock them away in their own house, not allowed to speak even to their family members, but only to the interrogating brothers until they were deemed sufficiently sorry. This led to a rash of excommunications and suicides.

Stott was still a child when her parents got fed up and left the group during a schism, so her viewpoint of this is inevitably rather limited. However, as Stott points out, people like her father who were involved were often too ashamed to speak of it. He was still trying to write his memoir when he died, but he just could not get past the new leader's abrupt ascent to power to the part where he himself became complicit in the system.

The abruptness of the transition really struck me: the character of the sect changed almost overnight when the new leader rose to power. It reminded me of progressive websites that I've been involved with that have begun to eat their own through this same kind of Purer Than Thou rhetoric - 50book_poc, the original Slactivist, Ana Mardoll's blog. (Mardoll's blog is a bit different in that the rot set in not through the commentariat but in Mardoll herself, but it created a toxic environment in pretty much the same way.)

Is this just something that inevitably happens to groups of humans who try to be too far morally superior to the surrounding masses? Does the attempt inevitably loop back around into hair-trigger ostracism for the masses and worshipful adulation for the few who have successfully anointed themselves holier-than-thou?

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