Jon Krakauer,
Under the Banner of Heaven:
A Story of Violent Faith

(Doubleday, 2003; Anchor, 2004)

I would pick up anything by Jon Krakauer based on the excellence of his past nonfiction journalistic pieces, Into Thin Air and Into the Wild. I've seen enough of the ABC Primetime specials on the fringe-Mormons who still practice polygamy to have an interest in reading about that culture and practice, too, so the subject matter was an added bonus.

This book is really three stories -- that of the mainstream Mormon Church (a cutthroat business poised to take over the world by 2080), another about the polygamist, often incestual, beliefs of the offshoot Fundamentalist Mormon sects, and a third about the religious convictions and potentially schizophrenic beliefs of the Lafferty brothers, who believed God commanded them to kill Brenda and Erica Lafferty 15 years ago.

The LDS church has been in the spotlight more recently for the abduction of Elizabeth Smart by Fundamentalist Brian David Mitchell. After reading Krauker's interviews with Fundamentalist LDS members, I can understand how Elizabeth went with her captor willingly, believing God intended her to be his plural wife in a transient lifestyle.

In all, I came away much better educated about both mainstream and Fundamentalist LDS beliefs and practices (I didn't even differentiate between the two prior to this book). I don't know that Krakauer provided any resolution, but maybe that wasn't his task. He said he originally intended to write only about the LDS Church's relationship with its historical roots, but that his research pulled him in other directions. I agree that this book is truly about the LDS Church as a whole, but it was the Lafferty vignette and the interviews with the Fundamentalists of Colorado City that made it a page-turner for me (this is only natural; these are the parts of this book that would qualify for reproduction in a Court TV drama).

Interesting side note -- Krakauer mentions that the LDS Church, contrary to American popular opinion, does not consider Salt Lake City a cultural and religious center. They believe it to be full of heathens and far prefer the more dominantly Mormon outlying regions.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
23 September 2006

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