Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith – Job Krakauer

A lengthy but interesting book about the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and how it relates to a double murder committed “in the name of God”. The two brothers who committed the murder of their sister-in-law and young niece are interviewed throughout the two strands of this book, and I thought it was very interesting to see how people can twist and turn religious belief into something that justifies a horrendous crime.

As any reasonably smart human will recognize, there are always a few zealots in each religion that give that belief system a bad name through purposely misinterpreting sacred text for crime. But to hear the two brothers explain why they did what they did and to see that they felt absolutely no remorse about it was mind-boggling.

Krakauer is well known for his investigative journalism (Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, Eiger Dreams), but I think this book was probably the most complicated for him as it required him to juggle a lot of information from a lot of different sources and then organize it into a coherent logical whole. He does this well, although it was a bit confusing for the first third as there were so many names and who was related to who.

What I found to be most interesting was the history and evolution of the Mormon Church.  Joseph Smith, the founder, was a charlatan with a criminal record who invented this whole religion from scratch. Reading how he laid out his beliefs at the beginning, I find it incredible that people would actually believe this sort of thing. I think that perhaps Smith tapped into a need for absolute answers about large philosophical questions when they needed it. But how people *still* believe this today is beyond me. (And this argument could be extended to almost any other religion if one wanted to be argumentative.)

I understand the need for some people to have “something more” in their lives, to have the Big Questions answered, but honestly, when you read the writings of Smith, it is obvious he was making stuff up. (Jesus came to America? Really? And Eden is in Missouri? Hmm. And people of color are all Evil? Nope. Not buying it.) And again, in a more argumentative mode, this idea of Faith vs Fact (which it all boils down to really) fits most religions throughout the world.

With the trial of Warren Jeffs ongoing in Texas, this is has been an interesting read. The splinter group of Fundamentalists that the two brothers belong to believe in polygamy (or, as they term it, “Celestial marriage”) which stinks for the wives and their children. However, this group believe that the more wives you have, the better your chance of getting into Heaven. Hmm.  Seems a pretty one-sided benefit to me.

Although I do not profess belief in any organized religion, I respect the need that some people have to join a large belief network. However, when their belief system is used to demean and abuse others, then there I have to draw the line.

Please note: I am not slamming the mainline Mormon religion in any way (although it has been somewhat tardy in addressing some of its ills throughout the years). Yes, people have the right to believe whatever they want. However, it’s a matter of degree and to what extent it ruins other people’s lives (who have no recourse to escape it).

A thought-provoking read.

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