(There are so many books out there about religious cults and polygamy. Unfortunately, many of them specifically mention the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church), although that church has not endorsed polygamy for a very, very long time. So I was quite pleased when Down from the Mountain was about a religious cult more along the lines of the Branch Davidians.
Down from the Mountain is a first-person narrative of a young woman (Eva) whose mother joined a cult called the Righteous Path when she was at a vulnerable place in her life. As is often the case, the leader, Elijah (who sees himself as a version of David Koresh), preyed on her need for protection and love, providing what she thought was a safe place both on this earth and in heaven. Of course, it was all lies. But what’s important in this story is how Eva learns to question what she has been taught most of her life.
In many religions (not just cults) people are taught that those outside their religions (or who don’t share their beliefs) are less than them. Are going to hell. Are awful, evil people, not to be pitied, only to be shunned. And I’m not just talking about those small churches and communities on the fringes. Some more mainstream churches are this way, and it makes me angry and sad in the worst way.
What is especially amazing about Down from the Mountain and that sets it apart from other similar stories is that Eva didn’t start questioning her beliefs because of anything that was going on in the community (that only came later). What really planted that seed of doubt was her seeing the genuine kindness and good in people outside of her community. Seeing how that contrasted with the behavior of those that she had been taught to believe were God’s chosen people.
Down from the Mountain is a refreshing take on the insular religious community trope. After you read it, you won’t look at your own churches and communities the same way again. It’s almost a call to action; one I hope we’ll all follow.