Under a Banner

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

(What can I say?  I really need to make a library run.)

Other Books I’m Reading:

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

So.  Under the Banner of Heaven  by Jon Krakauer.  I’ve struggled with exactly how to review this book.  There are so many levels on which this book struck me that I’m torn.  There is the level on which Banner of Heaven is an interesting lesson on the history of a successful modern religion.  There is the level on which Banner of Heaven is a surprising study of a gruesome murder.  Then there is the level on which I just want to theologically, morally, and logically shred some of the people in this book.  And I am not by any stretch of the imagination a theologian, a moralist, or especially logical.  

Banner of Heaven is an in-depth look at the 1984 murder of Brenda Lafferty and her fifteen month old daughter Erica.  The murderers are Brenda’s brothers-in-law Ron and Dan Lafferty, two Fundamentalist Mormon zealots.  Brenda’s great sin?  She tried to keep her husband Allen and his five older brothers, including Dan and Ron, from becoming Fundamentalist Mormons and she encouraged Ron’s battered wife to leave him.  In exploring the origins of Ron and Dan’s conviction that murdering Brenda and Erica was not just the right thing to do, but demanded of them by God, Krakauer also explores the origins of the Mormon church from its inception, as well as its many sects. 

There are few chapters in the book that will be old news to anyone who keeps half an eye on the news.  For instance, Krakauer looks at both the Elizabeth Smart case, and some of the earlier cases surrounding the Colorado City FLDS church.  These chapters include all the things the American public often hears in the news about Fundamentalist Mormon sects, including the mistreatment of women and girls.  The book was published in 2004.  It does not encompass recent developments with Warren Jeffs, or the raid on the Texas compound of the FLDS.  Although Jeffs’ rise to power is explored to a point.   

The historical chapters seem to be well researched, and are certainly interesting to read.  Krakauer does stay with the facts, instead of descending into name calling.  He also speculates about some possible cover ups in the early church, including the possibility that three members of the Powell expedition were killed by Mormons.  Chapter Eighteen is a very graphic description of what happened during the Mountain Meadows massacre.  Chapter Sixteen is a very graphic description given by Dan Lafferty of the day he and Ron killed Brenda and her daughter.  Both chapters are unutterably tragic and possibly very upsetting if you are a sensitive reader.  There are also some wonderful passages about Emma Smith, Joseph Smith’s first wife.  Also some interesting material on how the question of polygamy was handled by the early Mormons.  

I think the thing that struck me most about this book was how many of the people in it are running on pure emotion.  Things are done because they feel good, or they feel bad, or because they give the perpetrator a “feeling of peace”.  It’s a fascinating study in why right and wrong do matter and why truth is in fact a fixed point.  

Logical and Theological footnotes from my point of view:

1. If you think the voice of God is telling you to do something that goes directly against previous scripture, for instance the fifth, sixth, seventh, or tenth commandments, it’s not the voice of God.  You may be talking to yourself.  The devil, or evil spirits may be talking to you.  It’s not the voice of God.  

2. Yes, polygamy is practiced in the Bible.  It is, however, important to realize that in the Bible polygamy leads to family strife, jealousy, war, murder, adultery, and incest.  There is never an endorsement of the practice. 

3.  If your brother tells you flat out he’s going to kill your wife and daughter, get police protection.  If your sons plan to kill your daughter-in-law and granddaughter while you are sitting in the room do something about it.  If a member of your sect tells you he’s going to kill some people for God, stop him.  Do not just make a note of it and file it away.  

4. If your husband has a religious experience and starts beating you and/or the kids.  Leave then.  You will all be far safer that way.  

Enjoyability:   I don’t know if I can give Banner of Heaven an enjoyability rating.  It’s a fascinating and visceral read.  It’s interesting.  I do recommend the book.  I’m not sure that it’s enjoyable.  

Where to read this book: Well, I wouldn’t read it at night before bed.  Especially chapters sixteen and eighteen.

Further reading: I’m on to Game of Thrones.  

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Posted on August 20, 2011, in Nonfiction, Reading, review and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. southparknitter

    Amen! This book was a very scary read for me.

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