Monday, January 22, 2007

Under the Banner of Heaven

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith - Jon Krakauer (B) 399pgs.

Since the terrorist attack of September 11, fundamentalist religion has played on American minds. Largely, it has been focused on the fundamentalist movements present in other countries and cultures; not our own. Jon Krakauer's gripping book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, breaks that mold. Delving into the unfamiliar and unusual world of Mormon Fundamentalism, he tells the story of an American-made religion often backed by extreme violence and arrogance.

This is not a story about paralleling Mormon fundamentalists to Islamic fundamentalists. One of the few comparisons is only mentioned on the back cover, relating Mormom fundamentalist leaders and their power over their communities to "Taliban-like theocracies". It is a story of taking religious belief to the extreme, with a focus on the murderous act of the Lafferty brothers, Ron and Dan, who killed their sister-in-law and niece after receiving a "revelation from God".

There was a point in the beginning of the book where I was astounded by almost every sentence. "Uncle Rulon has married seventy-five women"; "several of his wives were given to him in marriage when they were fourteen or fifteen and he was in his eighties"; "His sermons frequently stress the need for total submission"; "perfect obedience produces perfect faith"; "for those who commit such unspeakable sins as homosexuality, or having sexual intercourse with a member of the African race, 'the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.'"; "men have never walked on the moon; film clips showing Apollo astronauts on the lunar surface are part of an elaborate hoax foisted on the world by the American government". I could go on. Polygamy is one thing. [waits for the tomatos to start flying]. Unequal polygamy in which men marry women against their will is unspeakably wrong. Men marrying pre-pubescent or adolescent wives, sometimes even their own daughters, is appalling.

One of my only criticisms I have of the book is the hodgepodge method Krakauer used to link modern fundamentalist events with general Mormon history. A result of this in-depth look at both present and past results in the eventual blending together of many individuals introduced. Not altogether his fault: I easily admit that it would be a highly difficult feat to pull this off. The inevitable result of numerous polygamist families is dozens of individuals with very similar names all interconnected in highly complex family trees. As Krakauer admits at one point, looking at a polygamous family tree is akin to peering at complex engineering diagrams. It's no wonder that many Mormons are experts in genealogy.

Other than that, I really enjoyed reading this book. Well, enjoyed is not quite the right word. Krakauer takes care to point out the long-standing persecution Mormons have faced, while also looking at the sense of entitlement and self-righteousness that lead a few Mormon fundamentalists, including Ron and Dan Lafferty, and Brian David Mitchell, to extreme acts of vengeance. It is definitely enlightening.


Wendy said...

Great review! I read this book some time ago, but remembering also being shocked at some of the revelations in it.


Literary Feline said...

I agree, terrific review. I also read the book quite a while ago, but it did make an impression on me. I haven't read anything else by Krakauer, but I believe I have at least one of his other books in my TBR room.

Nyssaneala said...

Wendy and Literay Feline -

Thanks! I'm planning on reading Into Thin Air soon. He has another book, Into the Wild, which also sounds good.

teabird17 said...

I've been meaning to read this book - and by the way, I (think)I agree with you on polygamy. As long as it's amongst consenting adults, it's none of my business...