Tuesday, September 25, 2007
49. Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer

My most recent Fall Reading Challenge book was Jon Krakauer's nonfiction work Under the Banner of Heaven and once again, he has not disappointed (I've read a few of his previous non-fiction books). This is the story of Dan and Ron Lafferty, brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and her baby daughter because they believed that they were told to do so by God.

The Lafferty boys, and the rest of their family, were devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), aka Mormons. Things in their lives seemed to be going along fairly well until one of the brothers, Dan, became convinced that the LDS church had strayed away from Joseph Smith's original God-given revelations regarding the one true religion and began exploring what most call Mormon Fundamentalism. This offshoot of Mormonism includes Polygamy as one of the main revelations not being practiced by the LDS church. One by one, the six brothers eventually adopted the same fundamentalist views much to the chagrin of their wives, who begin to complain to the one wife who chose to stand up to her husband and, ultimately, his brothers. This eventually results in her death when Ron starts to receive personal revelations from God, telling him to kill her and her daughter.

Under the Banner of Heaven doesn't just give us the facts about the story and a few first hand recollections of the brothers' childhood. He goes back to the early childhood of founding "Prophet", Joseph Smith, and explores how Mormonism came to be. As with many religions, it's had a pretty violent beginning. The book traces the development of Mormonism from it's early days in the east, the trek of the Saints across the country and how Utah eventually became the focal point for their religion and the location of it's world headquarters. It also examines the rise of fundamentalist beliefs and explores various polygamous communities throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. The influence the leaders of many of these communities had on Dan and Ron Lafferty in the months leading up to their act of religiously inspired murder combined with their fervent belief in the LDS church is, at times, frightening.

Krakauer doesn't hold this book up as an argument for or against Mormonism, or any other religion but I felt it was pretty obvious that he wasn't a follower, nor did he have much faith (for lack of a better word) in one of the fastest growing religions in the world. Having said that, I cannot find a single example of where he was disrespectful or ignorant towards any of the subject material he provided. Having grown up in a relatively small town with a sizable Mormon presence, I found his look at LDS teachings quite intriguing. While not intended to be presented as a book on the history of Mormonism, it provides the layperson a quite detailed insight into some of it's basic teachings. Additionally, the look at the practice of polygamous marriage is very much in the news at the moment with the trial of Warren Jeffs currently underway. Jeffs and his father, "Uncle" Roulon, are two of the polygamous community leaders that Krakauer discusses in Under the Banner of Heaven.

I haven't quite finished it but will likely be done by Monday. Jon Krakauer has also written Eiger Dreams, Into Thin Air, and Into the Wild (a movie version directed by Sean Penn will be released this month). My reading list is going to change a little bit now as I received a great recommendation from a professor at the UofA for a book on the history of mondern Mexico which I'm going to try and tackle next.


Bla said...

Fanatics suck.

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