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Book Review: Under the Banner of Heaven

24 February 2012

I recently finished reading Under the Banner of Heaven, written by Jon Krakauer.

I decided to pick up the book because A) I loved Jon's writing in Into the Wild and B) the gals from my book club read it before I joined and appreciated the discussions it stimulated.

Here's the Amazon book description:

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.

Disclaimer: I debated on whether or not to review this book publicly, because I find it impossible to do so without calling into question the beliefs of others.  So let me begin by saying, it is not my intent to pass judgement on any religion.  I will state my opinions, but I'm well aware that anytime you speak in generalities or try to stereotype an entire religion, you run the risk of alienating many beautiful individuals in the process.

Basically, Krakauer set out to look at religion and how it can shape people's beliefs and actions, through the lens of Mormonism.  He selected Mormons for two reasons: 1) the religion was founded less than 200 years ago, in an age of documentation, and 2) he grew up with many Mormons and was fascinated by their happiness and 100% confidence in their religion.

I did not love this book.  I found pieces of it quite interesting...and some stuff a bit dull or historically dense {I've never been a history lover.}

Here are some of my takeaways & insights, in no particular order:
+It's clear to me that Joseph Smith {founder of Mormon religion} was a man with a large sexual appetite.  The revelation that God gave him about celestial or plural marriage {aka polygamy} was either a figment of his imagination or an outright lie, used to justify his lusts & desires.

+With any religion, there will be a small faction of zealots who use the teachings to commit heinous crimes.  This is, perhaps, exaggerated in Mormonism because the religious teachings are founded on receiving direct perceptions from God.  Therefore, what God 'commands' you to do, can be manipulated by a sick mind and then later used to justify those actions.

+Any religion that thinks they are God's chosen people, and therefore, everyone else is destined for eternal suffering, lest they covert, simply rubs me the wrong way.  {And, yes, I realize that's like 90% of world religion.}  It's funny how every religion is so sure that they are right, and everyone else is wrong.

+My heart goes out to the girls who are born into polygamist communities.  It is so sad and scary that they are married away at very young ages, to men older than their fathers.  When the community is setup in such a way that you either follow the rules or you're excommunicated and left without any support network or lifestyles, it leaves these women {girls} with very few options.

+Science and religion should not be at such odds.  I find this very weird.  Mormons believe the world is only 6,000 years old.  When the evidence is clearly in the contrary, can't we just accept that maybe a few of the founding concepts might be wrong and move on?

+I should also mention that a fair bit of the book was spent with FLDS {Fundamental Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints} members, who are not affiliated with the modern LDS church in any way.




With all that being said, the Mormons I've gone to school with, worked with, and called friends are very nice people.  They are cheerful and have an attitude of service.  The Mormon community does a wonderful job of raising children and teaching them respectfulness, industriousness, and humbleness.  So I certainly don't intend to judge individual people based on some of the things I learned from this book.

As always, linking up with the fabulous Heather for Book Club Friday :)


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