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nder the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Author: Jon Krakauer
When I was young, my family and I spent a vacation touring various sites where our ancestors had settled in the mid-Mississippi River valley in Missouri and Illinois.
During this trip we visited Nauvoo, Ill., a river town where the Mormons (aka Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) had settled for a time in the mid-19th century before being driven out by local "Gentiles," as non-Mormons were called, and making their final journey to Deseret - better known as the state of Utah.
I found their story interesting, yet after the visit to Nauvoo and also to the former fringe Mormon enclave of Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, the Mormons still remained somewhat of a mystery to me. At the same time, Mormons and their culture in Utah fascinated me. Who were they? Why did they believe what they believe and why did they face such fierce opposition everywhere they went?
Jon Krakauer, author of the non-fiction best sellers Into the Wild and Into Thin Air has answered many of those questions and raised others in his fantastic new book about the fringes of Mormonism called Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.
Krakauer is a skilled writer and reporter. The focus of his story is Ron and Dan Lafferty, two seemingly unstable Mormon fundamentalists who in 1984 brutally murdered their sister-in-law and infant niece. The brothers believed they were acting on orders from God.
It was that same misguided Mormon fundamentalism that led teenager Elizabeth Smart to be kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home in 2002 and taken as a "plural wife" by a seemingly deranged fundamentalist Mormon. This these same beliefs spawned guys like Utah's Tom Green who sleep with and marrying adolescent girls in the name of religion.
While Krakauer goes into much detail about the murders and follows up with the brothers two decades after the fact, he also does his homework on the Mormons' dark and rocky history.
Under the Banner of Heaven includes information the Latter-Day Saints' charismatic founder and original prophet Joseph Smith, and follows church's growth into one of the fastest growing religions on the planet. Krakauer also manages to dig up much about the isolationist Mormon Fundamentalism sect and its followers, most of whom live in a community called Colorado City, which straddles the desolate Utah-Arizona border.
Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) embrace polygamy while the mainstream LDS church does not. As a result, the FLDS followers consider mainliners "apostates" for refusing to recognize polygamy or the taking of "plural wives," a tenant of the faith that LDS church founder Joseph Smith originally openly embraced.
The area of southern Utah where the fundamentalists reside is not far from Mountain Meadow, where Mormons massacred approximately 150 Arkansan emigrants as they were making their way to a new life in California. Former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, now our nation's new Environmental Protection Agency director, had an ancestor at the massacre, according to Krakauer.
Krakauer is a great storyteller and Under the Banner of Heaven opened my eyes to some of the history of Mormonism and its violent, polygamist and seemingly xenophobic roots. That's not to condemn an entire religion; these days Mormons are generally wholesome and law-abiding and by no means is Krakauer presenting a full-fledged history of the Mormons.
Krakauer is clearly skeptical of organized religion in general and the book should be read with that in mind. Judging by his writing, Krakauer has a somewhat dim view of organized religion.
Not a transcendent writer, Krakauer does educate on portions of Mormon history and addressed many questions I'd had since childhood. Under the Banner of Heaven is for anyone who enjoys books dealing with history and true crime.
Andrew West Griffin 12/28/2003