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

by Jon Krakauer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The crime which sits at the center of this book is the work of deranged individuals. What Krakauer does is set the violence of the Lafferty brothers within the context of their Mormon fundamentalist beliefs and the common Mormon tradition they drew upon. He paints a picture of bizarre individuals fed on a particular brand of supernaturalism, an acceptance of violence and misogyny.

It is true that parts of Krakauer's recap of Mormon history reads more like conspiracy theory than an objective fact. I am not a Mormon and share some of Krakauer's biases but I can admit that the truth is probably more complicated than is shown here. People are always a mixed bag. The fact that Krakauer can point to violence and demeaning, hierarchical views of marriage (and polygamy) does not mean the whole Mormon enterprise is bad. But that is part of their history, worth telling and often suppressed. What I read here about Mormonism, both in the fundamentalist and the mainstream LDS varieties, disturbs me somewhat. But then Krakauer is not an impartial witness. At any rate polygamy is pretty awful for women (which of course LDS doesn't believe anymore but it's in their history).

Would the Lafferty brothers have conspired to kill their sister-in-law and niece if they weren't part of a bizarre polygamous sect? Don't know, but they were part of the sect because they hated women.
( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
Jon Krakauer's look at the Mormon religion — or more precisely, the fundamentalist pro-polygamy offshoots of the modern Latter-Day Saints — was both fascinating and disturbing. I'm pretty agnostic, so to speak, on the issue of polygamy. I happen to have some friends who are in a polyamory relationship and it seems to be working out fine for all involved. But they were adults when they all chose to enter that relationship. Marrying 12- and 14-year-old girls to 65-year-old men whose primary drive is sexual and reproductive is extremely disturbing. Wrapping such actions in the cloak of religion does nothing to distinguish them from straightforward pedophilia in my view.

In order to explain how the FLDS differs from the mainstream LDS church, Krakauer explores the history of this uniquely American and modern religion. As he explains in an afterword, he initially set out to write a more general book about religion but was drawn to writing about Joseph Smith and the LDS church in large part because it was founded recently enough (the early 19th century) to have an extensive written record about its founder and its development. There are plenty of unsavory aspects in this history, as there are with pretty much every religion I can think of. Krakauer tries to make the case that the LDS church has a particularly violent bent, with its belief in "blood atonement" (there's a deep dive into the late 19th century "Mountain Meadows Massacre" to support his case), but I wasn't persuaded that it was much different from, again, many other religions (the Crusades? the Inquisition?).

The primary modern-day focus for Krakauer is the case of Ron and Dan Lafferty, brothers who teamed up to murder their sister-in-law and her baby daughter in 1984 because she tried to prevent her husband (their brother Allen) from joining fully in their fundamentalist beliefs and actions. It's a sickening crime, and Dan Lafferty's continued belief that the murders were ordered by God is upsetting to read. Krakauer evidently interviewed him extensively in the prison where he's serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. There's an interesting discussion in this part of the book about whether religious believers who believe that they can talk with God should be considered mentally ill. Krakauer makes a compelling argument against that notion, but it's not a slam-dunk.

Overall, I found this account to be well-written and interesting. I learned a lot that I didn't know about the Mormon faith and in particular about the fundamentalist offshoots. Nothing in the book makes me think any differently about the various Mormon individuals I know, most of whom are wonderful people and a few of whom are jerks. But then, you could substitute any other religious denomination (or "atheist" for that matter) for "Mormon" in that sentence and it would still be true. :-) ( )
  rosalita | May 4, 2017 |
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer is his examination of the Mormon religion and some of it’s offshoots. Using the story of a well known murder case when two Mormon fundamentalist brothers murdered their sister-in-law and her fifteen month old daughter in cold blood to anchor his thoughts, he explores the creation, history and on-going success of the Mormon religion. In particular he also examines some of the radical Mormon sects that have broken away from the main church as they differ in their theological beliefs. Many claim to be in direct communication with God and believe that he has confirmed that polygamy should be adhered to.

In a journalistic style, Krakauer relates the facts in a number of disturbing cases, such as the Elizabeth Smart abduction by a Mormon fundamentalist as well as the founding and continuation of isolated communities in Utah and other states, including Canada whose members live as polygamists. One thing these cults have in common is the superiority of men over woman. Women are taught that obedience is everything and many simply stand aside as their husbands take on more wives and often cross the barrier by marrying their own step-daughters. Beatings, shunning and mental manipulation is used in controlling the females and allowing the men to have all the power.

The Mormon religion does have a dark history of violence and persecution and there does seem to be a certain amount of “looking the other way” by government officials, but whether that has anything to do with religion or is simply a result stemming from the difficulty in applying the law to radicals that chose to ignore it is not clear. What is clear to me is that Under the Banner of Heaven poses some striking questions about the closed-minded, closed-door policies of many religions. Although I am totally in favor of a person’s right to religious freedom, I believe that these breakaway communities need to be closely monitored as to their nature and activities in order to ensure that everyone involved has freely chosen this way of life. ( )
1 vote DeltaQueen50 | Apr 10, 2017 |
a quarter of the book was enough - it didn't draw me in. ( )
  kate_r_s | Feb 12, 2017 |
On July 24, 1984, Dan and Ron Lafferty murdered their sister-in-law and her baby girl. Why? Because god told them to do so.

Jon Krakauer provides a fascinating look at the religious environment that created them. The author begins with a history lesson. Her follows the creation of the Mormon Church by Joseph Smith two centuries ago and traces how the religion has become what we know today. The family were members of a fundamental branch of the LDS Church - a branch that broke away from the mainstream church and was horrified at the direction the church was taking - away from the comfort of patriarchal monotheism, away from the subjugation of women, away from the tenets of polygamy. The brothers blamed Brenda Lafferty for speaking up for herself and other women. The book is a terrifically interesting blend of history and true crime.

"Under the Banner of Heaven" isn't so much an indictment of Mormonism (mainstream OR fundamentalist) as it is an illustration of how excessive faith, or extremism in ANY religion can lead to corruption, immorality, and unreason. Towards the end of the book, the author provides a quote from a former member of a fundamentalist branch of the LDS, "If you want to know the truth, I think people within the religion are probably happier, on the whole, than people on the outside But some things in life are more important than being happy, like being free to think for yourself". ( )
  EvelynBernard | Jan 26, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 167 (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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Jon Krakauerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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.
JOHN TAYLOR (ON JANUARY 4, 1880),
PRESIDENT, PROPHET, SEER, and REVELATOR,
CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS
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.
HAROLD BLOOM,
THE AMERICAN RELIGION
Prologue
Almost everyone in Utah County has heard of the Lafferty boys.
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
Dedication
For Linda.
First words
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)

» see all 7 descriptions

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