Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Typically, there are two conversations that I tend to avoid . . . religion and politics! These are two topics that are oftentimes very close to someone's heart and can cause a range of emotions in many individuals. However, these two hot topics are also two topics that can also be the most enlightening and intriguing to me. What a dilemma! I have decided not to avoid the topic of religion for now because I just finished reading a book on one religion that is growing exponentially here in the United States, and I was so immensely intrigued that I am really curious to know what others think of it!

But first . . . just to touch on the topic of religion from my point of view . . . I personally feel that I am very sensitive to the topic of religion and the importance of different belief systems. I was raised in a unique situation in which I was surrounded by a multitude of religions, many not tending to agree! However, with that said, I also feel that religion is one aspect that I am not that educated in and that I can expand myself on dramatically. I am very interested in learning more about ALL religions, and thus, the reason for reading this book. I remember when the book was first released. I was actually working at a bookstore at the time and I thought, "Hmm . . . that looks interesting!" Since then, I have had multiple people recommend the book to me and I am just now getting around to reading it.

I want to be precise in describing this book, so I have taken the following description from Amazon . . .

In 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered the wife and infant daughter of their younger brother Allen. The crimes were noteworthy not merely for their brutality but for the brothers' claim that they were acting on direct orders from God. In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer tells the story of the killers and their crime but also explores the shadowy world of Mormon fundamentalism from which the two emerged. The Mormon Church was founded, in part, on the idea that true believers could speak directly with God. But while the mainstream church attempted to be more palatable to the general public by rejecting the controversial tenet of polygamy, fundamentalist splinter groups saw this as apostasy and took to the hills to live what they believed to be a righteous life. When their beliefs are challenged or their patriarchal, cult-like order defied, these still-active groups, according to Krakauer, are capable of fighting back with tremendous violence. While Krakauer's research into the history of the church is admirably extensive, the real power of the book comes from present-day information, notably jailhouse interviews with Dan Lafferty. Far from being the brooding maniac one might expect, Lafferty is chillingly coherent, still insisting that his motive was merely to obey God's command. Krakauer's accounts of the actual murders are graphic and disturbing, but such detail makes the brothers' claim of divine instruction all the more horrifying. In an age where Westerners have trouble comprehending what drives Islamic fundamentalists to kill, Jon Krakauer advises us to look within America's own borders. --John Moe

I learned a great deal from this book regarding the LDS church as well as about the extremists within the religion. I know that I have many a friend out there both LDS and non-LDS alike that may or may not have an opinion about the book itself. Therefore, I want to put the question to each of you . . . what did you think of this book? Do you feel that it was accurate? What would you say to someone (like myself) who has just finished reading it? I am soooooo curious to know others' thoughts and I want to encourage you to respond. If you do not feel that a reply to the post is the appropriate place, but would like to share your opinion, please feel free to email me a response and I will post it under my name to reveal your identity. Like I said, I am completely aware that religion is a sensitive topic, but I believe that your thoughts and opinions can help to educate me and have a better overall understanding! :)


  1. I have never read it, but I have heard only awful things about it. The Church being that it has over 12 million LDS member the church has set up a public relations department. The public relations department usually ignores slander, or books written against the church. With this book, however, the church sent out an email to media outlets to clear up preemptively the misconceptions, and in general the lies and corner which are cut in this book. The fact that they did that is telling in my opinion. Here is an article about it..

    From that article...
    As Michael Otterson, director of media relations for the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, said last week in a telephone interview, "We would regard people like the Laffertys as the most extreme examples of fundamentalism. Why are they in the same book with the LDS Church?"

    Basically what I am saying is take it with a grain of salt. I haven't read the book but from what I understand it does not paint the church in a very good light. I wouldn't base too much of your Knowlegde of the LDS church on this book. A great website to visit it which would have more factual information.

    I hope I am not coming off as mean. I am not sure how to type things so you can tell I am not mad, just stating my view. I really really really really am not mad or offened. I just really want to point out this book might not be the best source to base your knowlegde of the LDS church on, know what I mean. Then again I haven't read it, so take that into consideration too.

  2. Oh even better the Church's official response..
    Krakauer’s portrayal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is utterly at odds with what I — and millions like me — have come to know of the Church, its goodness, and the decency of its people. This book is an attempt to tell the story of the so-called fundamentalist or polygamous groups in Utah, and to tie their beliefs to the doctrines and the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The result is a full-frontal assault on the veracity of the modern Church.

    This book is not history, and Krakauer is no historian. He is a storyteller who cuts corners to make the story sound good. His basic thesis appears to be that people who are religious are irrational, and that irrational people do strange things. He does a huge disservice to his readers by promulgating old stereotypes. He finds sufficient zealots and extremists in the past 150 years to help him tell his story, and by extrapolation tars every Mormon with the same brush. The exceptions are the rule by his standards. One could be forgiven for concluding that every Latter-day Saint, including your friendly Mormon neighbor, has a tendency to violence. And so Krakauer unwittingly puts himself in the same camp as those who believe every German is a Nazi, every Japanese a fanatic, and every Arab a terrorist.

    It is evident from the adulation that Krakauer heaps on three or four historians who are unsympathetic to the Church that they have heavily influenced him. On the other hand, there is such a paucity of quotes attributed to modern Church leaders or ranking members that one wonders who the “dozens of Mormons” were whom Krakauer is supposed to have interviewed for his research.

    To read it all here is the link..

  3. Thanks for the information Jill! I am going to go check out these websites right now!

  4. I haven't read it either, but I have to agree with Jill: if you're interested in finding out details about the LDS church, a sensationalist novel is not the place to get accurate history. There is definitely a lot of feeling about the LDS church, ranging from strongly anti to claiming it to be the only religion with the full truth of the gospel. I'm in the latter category, but I like to think that I keep an objective view. A favorite site of mine is It discusses all sorts of claims made on the LDS church and dissects the motives, climates and backgrounds of the people making the claims and more importantly, examines the claims within historical context.

    My opinion without having read the book? It's the same type of thing as the movie September Dawn. Sensationalism. It paints history (let me emphasize here that I know nothing of the background of the story, only enough to assume it's based in some truth) in such a way as to sway it's audience in the direction the author wants. It twists context and ties the fundamentalist groups too closely and inaccurately to the LDS church. If you're looking for sensationalism and dirt on a rapidly growing religion, then you have your book. If you're looking to learn more about fundamentalist mormons, I can't help you-- I don't know if it's accurate for them. But if you want to learn about the LDS church, follow Jill's leads!

  5. I wanted to add one more thing. I could be wrong on this, so I apologize in advance if others find this offensive. But trying to learn about the LDS church by researching the beliefs of the fundamentalists is a bit like trying to learn about the Catholic church by researching Baptist beliefs (arbitrarily picked...). Yes, we started out the same, same leaders, same scriptures, but obviously our interpretation of scripture and how we follow God's word is quite different.

  6. Thank you for your thoughts Sheen! I really appreciate them!

    And, just to set the record straight . . . by posting a review of this book, I did not mean to offend anyone in any way. If there was a purpose behind my post and the whole reason I read the book, it was to educate (primarily myself). I apologize if anyone has been offended. Upon further research, I have found there to be many similarities from the book and the resources that Jill and Sheen have recommended; however, there are also many differences. I do think that it is important to note that this book does primarily focus on the fundamentalist viewpoint, and what others will tend to view as a very extreme view. Every religion has its extremists. And, just as I do not judge a book by its cover or a person by his appearance, I also do not feel that I should judge a religion by its extremist. I know many people within the LDS Church, including family members, that are so completely opposite from what has been described as this "violent faith" that to put them in the same category as the fundamentalists is outrageous. Though I believe it is good to acknowledge that the fundamentalists exist, I also believe that it is appropriate to note that not all individuals within a religion (not just the LDS Church) should be judged by them.

    Thank you again for your responses and thoughts. I truly do appreciate hearing everyone's thoughts and encourage others to share as well.

  7. I didn't think for a minute that you were being offensive. Nor did I think that you would ever go as far to think that LDS people have violent tendencies. I was simply stating my point of view. I will admit I was a tad worried that the book had a lot of false doctorine that you might think was true. I know you have a lot of common sense though so I didn't worry too much. For some reason part of the comments are cut of on the side for me, so it is hard to read the comments but I got the jist of what you were saying and its all good.

  8. I agree with Jill's comment. My only concern was that you and others may get inaccurate information about the LDS church and fundamentalists. I was not offended in the least and would think myself a fool if I had been. I recognize that there are many viewpoints out there, I just hope that you are seeking accuracy and that you are finding it. Thanks for the interesting post and comments. It's always interesting to stretch myself in new ways.


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