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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith » User review

Tremendously good read... gripping throughout!

  • Feb 25, 2004
  • by
The brutal murders of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter by Ron and Dan Lafferty are at the center of this examination of Mormon fundamentalism. If your only exposure to the writing of John Krakauer has been his personal account of an ill-fated Mount Everest expedition (Into Thin Air), you'll be pleased to discover that his abilities as a writer stretch much further than the first person narrative. Under the Banner of Heaven is an engrossing inspection of religious zealotry focusing on Ron and Dan Lafferty, two Mormon fundamentalists who carried out the murders based upon what they believe were instructions from God.

Krakauer augments his story with a basic history of Mormonism that does well to explain it's growth from inception to a religion of prominence in less than two centuries. At the same time, he shines a perceptive light on some of the idiosyncrasies within Mormon theology that may have contributed to the existence of fundamentalist splinter movements promoting polygamy, misogyny and pedophilia. There are plenty of simple questions, none of which are met with clear or straightforward answers. Did the oppression of the early Mormons lead to the development of a subculture of violence in later years? Was Joseph Smith a prophet, charlatan or religious genius? And what of the other self-proclaimed prophets, have they truly received revelations from God, are they delusional or mentally ill?

One interesting facet of Krakauer's writing here is that he forgoes an aggressively journalistic style of writing in favor of a more direct approach. By that I mean that he doesn't qualify pieces of narrative by writing that Ron Lafferty "allegedly" or "might" have received a revelation, he simply writes that "God spoke to Ron." That might foster disagreement with those of us who might question whether or not Lafferty is a creative liar or some form of schizophrenic, however it makes for a much lucid read; and in any case, Krakauer seems more interested in offering enough evidence to allow the reader to reach their own conclusions within the context of their personal faith.

I learned a great deal from this book. Compared to other religions, Mormonism is a relative newcomer with its inception in the 1820's. The history of how this religion has grown and sprouted splinter movements of its own is fascinating. It's these offshoots that have become the most problematic for mainstream Mormons, sowing the seeds for the Lafferty murders, along with the more recent kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.

With this effort, John Krakauer (an agnostic) has produced a fascinating work of history, crime, psychology and theological discussion that will affect you in one way or another.

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review by . July 28, 2004
On the recommendation of my sister, I went to the library and picked up Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. It's a look at a murder of a woman and her baby by two Mormon Fundamentalists who claimed that God told them to kill the victims. But while that's the core premise on the cover, it's really a deeper examination of the Mormon religion and how the Fundamentalist groups have split off over the issue of "plural marriages", or polygamy. I found the book and material interesting and challenging …
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Michael Meredith ()
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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. InUnder 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 ...
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ISBN-10: 0385509510
ISBN-13: 978-0385509510
Author: Jon Krakauer
Genre: History, Religion & Spirituality
Publisher: Doubleday
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