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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 think one could be forgiven for assuming, after even only a brief survey, that the primary purpose of religion is to keep women in their place. You would be wrong, of course. Women just aren't that important. The primary purpose of any given religion is to inculcate children into that religion. Some of those children will turn into women and if you inculcate them well enough, they'll keep themselves in their place.
Maybe I'm being unfair. The polygamist practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, and of the many other Mormon spin-off sects who also practice plural marriage, are enough to turn you off religion for life, and possibly humanity in general if you're having a really bad day. The mainstream LDS Church, of course, has turned away from polygamy, it being illegal and more trouble than it's worth. Committed polygamists, however, appear to believe that it's a sacrament and commandment so fundamental and important to their faith that they hive off to their own communities and risk arrest for the right to marry, for example, their own 14 year-old step-daughter, or, only slightly less skin-crawlingly, hive their 14 year-old daughters and step-daughters off to be married to other polygamists. If the daughters don't, they will, of course, suffer eternal damnation.
This is one of the religious issues which forms part of the backdrop to the appalling double-murders of a mother and her infant daughter in the Summer of 1984 in Utah by Dan and Ron Lafferty. God told them to do it. They're both in prison now, Dan for life and Ron under sentence of death, protracted for decades on appeal. Neither of them are particularly sorry for their crime. They don't even regard it as a crime. God told them to do it, directly and personally, and they thought long and hard about it before concluding that they'd better get on with it or risk angering God.
Krakauer traces the story of the Lafferty brothers and what led them to commit divinely inspired homicide, tracing the roots of their beliefs through the history of the founding of Mormonism by Joseph Smith and the peculiarly bloody and violent rise of what is now one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Persecution, exile, murder and massacre follow the Saints on their trek across America, inflicted on them and perpetrated by them.
It's a compelling, sobering narrative, and though it examines some incidents in a certain amount of detail, in some ways this serves best as a survey for those unfamiliar with the history of Mormonism. Fellow Irish Catholics will not be surprised to discover that the darkest side of religion is, as always, not the dreadful and violent actions of extremist believers, but the systematic and widespread corruption, abuse and repression of the young and the innocent. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
I can't recall a book that I've read that had got a reaction out of me. Very relevant to today's "religious freedom" issues ... ( )
  beebowallace | Sep 4, 2015 |
The author does a good job of staying somewhat balanced. He inserts himself into the book through his interviews with various people, but he explains where he's coming from in terms of his own religious background. ( )
  Stembie3 | Jun 14, 2015 |
Excellent - well researched and informative. For a new religion it has an already calculated murderous history. Why kill children, women and men who don't even know who you are? Confirmation that people will belive anything despite solid evidence to the contrary. ( )
  Jeanne.Miller | Nov 12, 2014 |
I like Krakauer's other books but found this one tedious and poorly organized. I learned a lot about the history of the Mormons and the polygamist fundamentalist sects that exist today, but the book was heavy going. I finished feeling that I did not know why he felt compelled to write this book. ( )
  kishields | Jul 11, 2014 |
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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.
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:45 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Jon Krakauer's literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God. At the core of Krakauer's book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, 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.… (more)

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