Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Jon Krakauer wrote a book on Mormonism called Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. I just finished reading it last night and it has brought me a new appreciation for his writing.

Krakauer weaves the religion's history with a story of Dan and Ron Lafferty's egregious murder of their sister-in-law and nice, Brenda and Erica Lafferty. The Lafferty murder is one of sadness. Because Ron Lafferty had a revelation from God to kill his brother's family, Dan and Ron sliced the throats of not only their sister-in-law, but also their baby niece's (around 18 months old). It's a tragedy of magnificent proportions.

The Mormon history has a number of, while not necessarily as grotesques, equally odd and disturbing events. Joseph Smith created the religion by using peep rocks to find and translate the plates of gold. If you're not familiar with peep rocks, they were used in black magic as a way of viewing precious metals in the ground. In fact, if you're interested in an investment, I think you can buy stock in the Dream Mine. Unsure of its legitimacy? The mine's founder, John H. Koyle, had a dream that minerals where in the mine and thus the digging started. Being he was a Mormon, it has to be true.

A part of the book I found particularly interesting is the Mountain's Meadow Massacre. This is where the Mormon's were suspected of impersonating Native American's and murdering the Fancher wagon train as they made their way to California. In a despicable act of cowardness, the Mormons pressured the Fancher people to surrender, which they did, and then proceeded to slaughter most all of them.

The only survivors were small children, who the Mormons took into their homes in hopes of molding them into future Mormons. Fortunately, the U.S. government stepped in, took all the children back and placed them with family or foster homes. If you read about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, you'll find it a despicable act.

There is a number of other fascinating stories in the book. If you catch me over a beer sometime, I'll share a few others. Should you read it? If you're interested in religion history and want to know more about the Mormon church, I think it's a nice addition to your personal library.


Seth R. said...

The LDS Church has published a response to Krakauer's book that can be read here:


Krakauer is entertaining, but he is not a historian. He is extremely selective in which sources he chooses to quote and ignores a lot of the competing historical data.

Also, the central thesis of his book - that religion makes people crazy and violent - is extremely sketchy to begin with.

Anonymous said...

Mac, you probably already read Krakauer's other books, 'Into the Wild' and 'Into Thin Air.' Great reads too.

Seth, IMHO there does seem to be a lot of religion-induced crazy/violent stuff in history. See talking snake, jihads, crusades, poligamy, on and on.


Seth R. said...

Yeah, but do you blame that on religion per se? Or just human nature?

What about Pol Pot?

And yeah, I like "Into Thin Air" and "Into the Wild" too.

t-snide said...

Blaming religion for the evils of some of the religious is like blaming politics for the genocide of Nazi Germany. Sorry to Godwin the discussion, but the comparison fits. (It doesn't kill people; people kill people.)

Still, every religion to which I have been introduced has several ideas that do not jibe with evidence and logic, and THAT is what I find scary about religion. Like guns and politics, it's an extremely dangerous weapon when in the hands of the wrong people.

Seth R. said...

"Still, every religion to which I have been introduced has several ideas that do not jibe with evidence and logic, and THAT is what I find scary about religion."

You could also easily say that about just about any political party. Most movies out there too. And high school football camp for that matter.

Like it or not, people are not Mr. Spock. They operate on more than pure logic. Nobody on earth operates on pure logic, unless they are mentally disabled that is.

t-snide said...

Yes, I could say that about just about every political party. Nothing I said contradicts that.

I'm curious as to why you ignored the evidence part, and instead have some notion about how I would like to see "pure," Vulcanian logic.

Seth R. said...

Depends on what you accept as "evidence" I suppose.

t-snide said...


Scooter said...

I think you've finally talked me into reading a book.