"Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" - Jon Krakauer
I was morbidly interested in reading “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.” I knew I personally possessed feelings that made me unsympathic toward the Church of Latter Day Saints. My feelings are deeply ingrained and reinforced by my own belief system, the media, and contemporary events. Still I felt compelled to explore what makes over 14 million people around the world aspire to belong to the ranks of the “Saints.”
“Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith” is an extensively researched and intriguing read. Krakauer works to provide background knowledge on an often misunderstood but intensely popular faith system, alternating chapters detail the beginnings of Mormonism and its scriptures with the increasingly horrifying true life story of the Lafferty brothers’ murder of their own sister-in-law and niece and their legal battle against the state of Utah.
“Under the Banner” is careful to delineate between the beliefs and rituals of the mainstream Church of Latter Day Saints and the many fundamentalist sects that exist throughout North America. A common deviation exists in the practice or prohibition of polygamy, or the practice of a man taking more than one wife. The main stream LDS church renounced this practice in 1890 after concentrated pressure from the U.S. government. The mainstream church does not condone the practice and avoids association with splinter groups that do.
Mormonism is a fascinating religion as it is one of the main major faiths in America (the other being Scientology) that was founded in the modern time. Founded by an American and in America, with a history and scripture that cites all important historical and scriptural events as happening in America, it is truly an American religion with rapidly growing numbers of believers every year.
Krakauer leads you through the history of the Church of Latter Day Saints and the lead up to and aftermath of the Lafferty brothers’ terrible crime with astounding first person sources, historical antidotes and interviews from inside the maximum security jail where the younger brother Dan Lafferty will remain for the rest of his life.
You cannot help yourself from gasping audibly at moments; struggling at others to put aside reason to see the faith that lies at the center of so many lives. “Under the Banner” does not try to sensationalize or gloss over any aspects of Mormon history and the stories of sex abuse, rape, incest and violence, especially against women and children are infuriating. However the persecution that many early Mormons faced is also explored, giving insight into a community that has often turned inward for protection and understanding when shunned by others.
The depth and range of belief amongst the fundamentalist groups Krakauer explores is eye-opening, sometimes frightening and unfailingly enthralling. The spirit of some of his Mormon interviewees shines with an eerie but dazzling light.
Published in 2003, “Under the Banner of Heaven” provides insight into a misunderstood sector of the American population through many people who know the Mormon Church and community firsthand. Krakauer cannot and does not try to answer all the questions; the Lafferty trial was and is still pending a final decision and the future of the LDS church is one that only time will reveal.
A compelling read that challenges readers to consider their own beliefs, biases, and religious background, “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith” is the type of book that makes one take pause and reevaluate faith, what it means, and what roles it plays in modern American life.