Book Review: Behind Closed Doors

By | August 16, 2019
Book Review: Behind Closed Doors

The novel Behind Closed Doors is written by Ngaire Thomas, which got published in New Zealand.

The novel revolves around the Exclusive Brethren and provides an extensive description of what all is happening behind the doors of Exclusive Brethren. There are a lot of questions which are left unanswered. The book tries to find the answer to one of such questions. For instance, nobody is aware of the feeling that one gets on being a part of the select group.

This select group is vested with the responsibility of maintaining the pure path according to the faith of Christians. Ngaire Thomas, the author of the book, was born in the 1940s into the church and left his birthplace in 1970s.

This book was released roughly when Bryan Wilson, the great sociologist, died. Probably, this might be a coincidence.

Bryan was not only a great sociologist but he was also an expert witness who took part in the cases dealt by the church. Further, Bryan had conducted deep research on the Exclusive Brethren and released a study on the basis of his research. Wilson reached a conclusion derived from those facts that are made available by the religion itself.

In addition to this, he got accounts of ex-members of the court dismissed on the grounds of stories being dubious and atrocious. He also made the courts of Church aware of the same and warned them not to rely on the testimonies provided by these members.[1] In the current times, it has been observed that the accounts of the ex-members were higher than that of those who were involved in academics. This was more noticed when there was an outbreak of violence in other religions of the world as well.[2]

Ngaire Thomas is one of those ex-members who got expelled by Bryan and the book that was launched by Thomas is a compelling one.

She does not have the nature of judging others. In the process of describing the set of experiences gained by her, she has also acknowledged the rights of Exclusive Brethren to follow the path of religion through which they are able to find meaning.

The beginning of the book commences with the description of the childhood of Ngaire. Her strict upbringing along with her long dresses are held responsible for making her different from other children. She can open up and can be her real self only in the school and due to this reason, she loves her school a lot. She has no exposure to any kind of worldly things. For instance, she is not aware of any of the known- Brethren books and radios because the airwaves are ruled by Satan.

Bible is the centre of life.

The mother of Ngaire preaches the teachings of the Bible as well as the end times during Revelation to the friends of Ngaire whenever she brought them home. The people belonging to other religions are also deemed as suspects. Ngaire has also revealed that she was subjected to straps whenever she used to attend Bible secretly in the school classes and caught while doing so.

Chapter X is one of the spectacular pieces of literature. The scenes in Chapter X portrays how Ngaire is pressurised for admitting that she was involved in committing fornication along with her cousin. This pressure was imposed on her even when she was not aware of the meaning of fornication.

Her case was shifted to the assembly of Auckland and provided with the opportunity to represent her case. But she was found guilty by the adjudicating officer and pursuant to which, she was compelled to confess before 500- 600 solemn faces. This whole scene was pervaded by the holy surveillance with undercurrent as well as Salem like nature.

Denis, the husband of Ngaire, is used by her to depict the rest of the story in the upcoming chapters. In the 1960s, there was an evolution of notorious and no compromise era during which the rules were strictly followed.

The marriage of Ngaire and Denis took place during this era. There were several rules prevailing in the society.

For instance, members were restricted to eat or drink with those people who do not belong to their group, the members were not allowed to be part of any other association or group like the library to list a few. The pets of the members were not only deemed as idols but also given away, destroyed or disappeared.

There were several other rules for Ngaire as well. One of them was that she should not speak more than 10% of what her husband speaks. But her husband preferred not to speak most of the times and due to this very reason, implementation of this rule proved to be very difficult for her.

The account of the period “confession madness” that was written by Ngaire had swept through the church. The priests used to serve as the religious police and used to examine the lives of people in the form of forensic investigators and dragged up rumours from the past decades. Drinking whiskey was a symbol signifying that the members have nothing to hide.

This is why members were encouraged to drink it and were also compelled to admit that they had committed sins, that could be imagined and real. Those members, who admit that they have committed any of the sins, had to bear heavy costs. Along with it, they were excommunicated (withdrawn from) or put under house arrest (shut up) and have no access to their loved ones. Since these rules were prevalent, Ngaire and her family comprising of her husband and her four children were withdrawn from.

Adjustment of family

There is a massive adjustment of family. Since the family of Ngaire was withdrawn from society, the members were not aware of the manner how to behave in society and were also unused to the freedom, which got recently.

On the other hand, the two eldest sons of Ngaire refused to come out of the prison as they loved the discipline of prison more than the freedom in society. Thus, both of them ended up in prison when they were given the choice of getting out. Ngaire has gone to University while Denis died of liver cancer. Those, who are interested in the Fowler’s stages of faith, will also show keenness towards shifts in faith shown by Ngaire. The shifts had helped Ngaire within herself to find the kingdom of heaven.

When an author writes something with such an incredible, forgiving and unpretentious style, it becomes difficult for the readers not to like it. There is an old proverb that nothing is perfect and henceforth, there must be some loopholes as well. Such as the structure of the novel is not that polished such as it would be better if the later sections were depicted in the form of appendices and some small printing errors to list a few. Further, the author tried to answer a lot of question but she ended up inviting even more.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the book presents the picture into an absorbing as well as a valuable window of the religion, which is not accessible for the majority of the population.

In comparison to other autobiographies, Behind Closed Doors does not bring forward the mystical insights in Life of Teresa of Avila or theological complexities as in the Confessions of St Augustine and so on. However, it is a story depicting what all takes for a woman to open all her truth in front of the world.


[1] Bryan Wilson, “The Exclusive Brethren: A Case Study in the Evolution of a Sectarian Ideology,” in Patterns of Sectarianism: Organisational and Ideology in Social and Religious Movements, ed. B. Wilson (London: Heinemann, 1967) 287; Bryan Wilson, The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism, Sects and New Religious Movements in Contemporary Society. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990) 19; Bryan Wilson, Letter to the Editor, Evangelical Times (23 Sept 1999)

[2] Benjamin Belt- Hallahmi made this point in his paper titled “ Dear Colleagues: Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research” which was  presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Nov. 1997, San Diego, CA


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Author: Akriti Gupta

Akriti Gupta is a student at Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. She is a research enthusiast and possesses capable draftsmanship along with this, Akriti is a holder of various renounced publications and participated in prestigious national moots.

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