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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of…

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (2003)

by Jon Krakauer

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I was not well versed in the history of the Mormon religion. This book talks about how the religion was founded, the violent history of religious persecution and in-fighting amongst the members of the sect. It also focuses on the fundamentalist Mormon's and their strict adherence to the original set of tenets on which the religion was based. It's well written and quite interesting. I learned a lot! ( )
  debbie.menzel | Feb 6, 2014 |
The author states his purpose in writing Under the Banner of Heaven was "a desire to grasp the nature of religious belief". He states that he has spent much of his life in the company of Latter Day Saints. He also tells us that LDS are great historians. Everyone keeps a diary and journals so there is much information available in this very young religion. The art of scrapbooking has its origin in Utah and their love of keeping records would match up with that craft. Mr. Krakauer himself does not know what he believes or even if there is a God. The LDS have decided to react to the book and state it is a one sided and negative view. I don't know what is in history books now but the history matched up to what I knew about the Mormon early history. I did not know however that there are schisms and splinter groups and that these groups still practice polygamy. The author in general is making a statement that faith is violent. He compares the flying of planes into Twin Towers as equivalent to the violence in other religions. I do not agree that faith is violent but I do think religious fanaticism can lead to violence in some people and through intimidation they control the followers. The author also states that mainline LDS have become mainstream American and have lost some of their identity as a peculiar people. I do think there is much effort to hide their differences when they are evangelizing us Gentiles and that anyone would benefit reading this book for the history of the religion before making any decision. ( )
1 vote Kristelh | Nov 16, 2013 |
Good grief. At the time of this posting there are almost 70,000 ratings and baskets of reviews. So why another one? Good question.

Predictably, if you are a Mormon you won’t like this book, although it does seem to be well-researched and relatively even-handed. What appears to us skeptics as just silly nonsense is, for some people, inspired holy writ. Go figure. The Mormons themselves can't figure out what's revelation or not and who is or is not a prophet as Joseph Smith discovered to his dismay. His original revelation suggested that any Mormon could receive a revelation but quickly got another message from God that revelations would only go through Joseph Smith or his appointee. Very convenient way of maintaining control. God said so, so do it. What a great line.

It's interesting, but reading about some of the misdeeds of the early Mormon settlers and comments about this book on other sites, I was reminded of similar remarks made on Civil War book reviews by adherents of the "Lost Cause" myth. The same kind of myopic view .

I had no idea that those "other" Mormons, the FLDS, the polygamists, thrive(d) in assorted little places like Colorado City/Hildale, AZ/Utah twin cities that straddle the border. ** The whole town is controlled despotically by the local leader/prophet (it sure is tempting to declare myself a prophet and start pronouncing, what a kick.) The police, the school board, the mayor, everyone in authority is FLDS. The United Effort Plan owns almost all the town property. Many men there have many wives and it has become (or should anyway,) a scandal in the way they manipulate the system. Since the wives are legally single mothers and are unemployed they draw millions in benefits which becomes a major source of income for the hubby in charge. Ironically, if the marriages were declared legal, they would lose millions. The FLDS folks are positive they represent the true adherence to the "principle", celestial marriage without which one cannot go to heaven; the mainstream is equally positive their prophet got a message from God indicating that being admitted tot he union was more important than celestial marriage. So, there you are. I say put it to trial by ordeal. Dump both prophets in a vat of boiling oil. Of course, in the end, it's all about money and power.

The issue of what constitutes valid revelation from God (somebody explain to me why God finds it necessary to speak in 15th century English.) Since all male Mormons become priests (blacks excepted until God changed his mind about their essential evilness in the early sixties) many of them feel God is speaking unto them. Most of us would consider them delusional and in the case of Dan and Ron Lafferty who insisted God had told them to strike down the infidels who happened to be their wives. Raised in an atmosphere of religious fanaticism and paranoia, not to mention hatred of the federal government (I’ve never understood why federal and not state and township,) they saw themselves as the true righteous and holy. Ron’s descent began when his wife refused to go along with his desire to take a polygamous wife. In 1984 he received a “removal revelation” from God which he recorded on a yellow legal tablet. He and Dan then murdered Brenda and Erica. Last I checked, Ron was awaiting execution in Utah. He is now 61 and his brother is serving two life sentences.

The Lafferty’s had been fans of Robert Crossfield, otherwise known as Onias, who claimed to have received several revelations of God making hm the one and true prophet. They helped to distribute the Onias revelations, which, conveniently, also said the Lafferty’s had been the chosen ones even before they were born.

Krakauer interweaves the history of the Mormon church i n this bloodthirsty account of the Lafferty brothers. He finds the seeds of their crimes in the church.

Tidbits: Brigham Young wanted the statet o be called the Beehive state rather than Utah (after the Ute Indians) because of its emphasis on the collective doing what's best for the group rather than emphasizing the individual. Today, given the collective association with communism, the beehive on the state flag is considered to represent "industry."

If you are interested in the whole revelation business, I recommend the LDS website’s transcript of the revelation regarding blacks and the priesthood. It’s available here: http://www.lds-mormon.com/legrand_richards.shtml Hard to believe there are people who take this stuff seriously.

For a recent example, I quote this from the June 3 Washington Post: "

The leaders have come under intense scrutiny. Barely 36 hours after the caustic New Year’s Dayvote, Boehner faced a coup attempt from a clutch of renegade conservatives. Thecabal quickly fell apart when several Republicans, after a night of prayer, saidGod told them to spare the speaker…..

Southerland woke up convinced that Boehner should be spared. Others, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they, too, prayed before siding with Boehner.“ He’s not a God of chaos, he’s a God of order,” Southerland said."

Amazing that God might give a shit about the Speaker of the House.

Oh, and by the way, I have just received a startling revelation. Everyone reading this must get together and purchases for me an around-the-world cruise on the QM2, a suite of course. Chop, chop, if you want to avoid everlasting damnation. Now explain to me how that might be different from a revelation to kill my wife or to add wives. Or start a new religion.

**http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hildale,_Utah ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
I actually threw the book accross the room at one point, I was so mad. Krakauer profiles a crime wherein 2 Mormon brothers go and murder the wife and baby of their 3rd brother for his "crime" of moving away from their faith. The author does a fair job of explaining that these men represent a splinter group of the modern Mormon church - but interweaves the historical events in the early Mormon experience that led (in his opinion) to the crime, giving it the proper context. Illuminating and infuriating. ( )
  stuart10er | Sep 27, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 143 (next | show all)
His project is ambitious: With Mormon fundamentalism as his chief illustration, he seeks to understand why religious extremism flourishes in a skeptical, postmodern society. . . . The result is a book that is both insightful and flawed.
SINCE Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have talked a lot about the dark side of religion, but for the most part it isn't religion in America they've had in mind. Jon Krakauer wants to broaden their perspective. In ''Under the Banner of Heaven,'' he enters the obscure world of Mormon fundamentalism to tell a story of, as he puts it, ''faith-based violence.''
added by mikeg2 | editNew York Times, Robert Wright (Aug 3, 2003)
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We believe in honesty, morality and purity; but when they enact tyrannical laws, forbidding us the free exercise of our religion, we cannot submit. God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the government...Polygamy is a divine institution. it has been handed down direct from God. The united States cannot abolish it. No nation on earth can prevent it, nor all the nations of the earth combined, ... I defy the United States; I will obey God.
No western nation is as religion-soaked as ours, where nine out of ten of us love God and are loved by him in return. That mutual passion centers our society and demands some understanding, if our doom-eager society is to be understood at all.
PART 1 The schisms that shattered Mormonism time and again, more critical tha inroads from without, only attest its strength. They were signs of the seriousness with which converts and dissenters took their salvation, ready to stake their souls on points of doctrine which a later, less Biblical generation could treat with indifference. WILLIAM MULDER AND A. RUSSELL MORTENSEN, AMONG THE MORMONS
For Linda.
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Almost everyone in Utah County has heard of the Lafferty boys. That's mostly a function of the lurid murders, of course, but the Lafferty surname had a certain prominence in the county even before Brenda and Erica Lafferty were killed.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0330419129, Paperback)

In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered the wife and infant daughter of their younger brother Allen. The crimes were noteworthy not merely for their brutality but for the brothers' claim that they were acting on direct orders from God. In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer tells the story of the killers and their crime but also explores the shadowy world of Mormon fundamentalism from which the two emerged. The Mormon Church was founded, in part, on the idea that true believers could speak directly with God. But while the mainstream church attempted to be more palatable to the general public by rejecting the controversial tenet of polygamy, fundamentalist splinter groups saw this as apostasy and took to the hills to live what they believed to be a righteous life. When their beliefs are challenged or their patriarchal, cult-like order defied, these still-active groups, according to Krakauer, are capable of fighting back with tremendous violence. While Krakauer's research into the history of the church is admirably extensive, the real power of the book comes from present-day information, notably jailhouse interviews with Dan Lafferty. Far from being the brooding maniac one might expect, Lafferty is chillingly coherent, still insisting that his motive was merely to obey God's command. Krakauer's accounts of the actual murders are graphic and disturbing, but such detail makes the brothers' claim of divine instruction all the more horrifying. In an age where Westerners have trouble comprehending what drives Islamic fundamentalists to kill, Jon Krakauer advises us to look within America's own borders. --John Moe

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:09 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Jon Krakauer,s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. In UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN, he shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders. At the core of his book is an appalling double murder committed by two Mormon Fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill their blameless victims. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this b3sdivinely inspiredb4s crime, Krakauer constructs a multilayered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, savage violence, polygamy, and unyielding faith. Along the way, he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America's fastest-growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief. Krakauer takes readers inside isolated communities in the American West, Canada, and Mexico, where some forty-thousand Mormon Fundamentalists believe the mainstream Mormon Church went unforgivably astray when it renounced polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the leaders of these outlaw sects are zealots who answer only to God. Marrying prodigiously and with virtual impunity (the leader of the largest fundamentalist church took seventy-five "plural wives," several of whom were wed to him when they were fourteen or fifteen and he was in his eighties), fundamentalist prophets exercise absolute control over the lives of their followers, and preach that any day now the world will be swept clean in a hurricane of fire, sparing only their most obedient adherents. Weaving the story of the Lafferty brothers and their fanatical brethren with a clear-eyed look at Mormonism's violent past, Krakauer examines the underbelly of the most successful homegrown faith in the United States, and finds a distinctly American brand of religious extremism. The result is vintage Krakauer, an utterly compelling work of nonfiction that illuminates an otherwise confounding realm of human behavior.… (more)

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