I initially read Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith when it first came out six or seven years ago. That was before several recent high profile polygamy cases and the HBO series “Big Love”. These recent events prompted me to read it again. I also had a friend tell me that he was interested in hearing what I thought of the book. I couldn’t find my original review so I’ll do my best to cover all those details as well as post some of my impressions from reading it the second time.
Krakauer has a very easy to read style. His books feel like the in depth investigative reports that they are. All of them have a similar approach that works very well. He starts with quick overview of what hit the news. Then he goes backwards as far as he has to on each line to explain why the events unfolded as they did. I’m currently reading Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. He’s using this same format to tell Pat’s story and it’s working very well.
In Under the Banner of Heaven the news story was the savage 1984 murders of Brenda Lafferty and her daughter, Erica by her two brothers-in-law Dan and Ron Lafferty. The Lafferty brothers were members of a polygamist sect of the LDS church. The details of the murders were very tough to read. But had Krakauer stopped with the events of that year it would have been very incomplete. It was important to explain what lead up to the murders and what caused these murders to believe that they had the right and even the duty to murder innocent family members.
To get those answers Krakauer had to go back to the early 1800s and pull a lot of skeletons out of a lot of closets. This is the primary section that most Mormon readers will be uncomfortable with. The history of Joseph Smith is presented based on the contemporary evidence. Most LDS readers would not be familiar with this since they are likely used to the whitewashed “official” versions of the history of the early church. That being said I did not think that one sentence of the history was mean spirited or could honestly be classified as persecution. But if you’re the type that refuses to accept any imperfections in the people you have chosen to follow you might want to stay clear.
The simple truth is that polygamy would not exist to anywhere near the extent that it does in the United States if it were not for the actions of one man, Joseph Smith. Giving an accurate account of the Lafferty murders without mentioning Joseph Smith would be like writing a book about September 11th, 2001 that did not mention Islam. Like it or not, the LDS Church will be forever linked to these polygamist sects who, incidentally, all believe that it is the Salt Lake church that has gone astray and they are preserving the true teachings of Joseph Smith.
I’ve detailed some of my own opinions on polygamy previously on this blog and explained how it’s a mathematical recipe for child abuse. And here is a link to some of my Great-Grandfather's journals. He grew up in a home that still practiced polygamy long after the 1890 declaration by the church stating that it was a forbidden practice. One of the next books I have on my reading list is Lost Boy. Victoria just finished reading it and from her report it seems to validate my mathematical theory.
In my humble opinion Under the Banner of Heaven should be read by every Latter Day-Saint. The practice of polygamy never should have been officially sanctioned by the church and I believe that Salt Lake should take much more drastic measures to apologize, make amends and distance themselves from this evil practice. Simply saying “Yeah but that’s in the past. We don’t do that anymore.” is seriously inadequate.
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