Ellen's Reviews > Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
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's review
Dec 10, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction
Recommended for: anyone who wonders why people are weirded out by Mitt Romney's religion.
Read in December, 2007

Wow. I'm slowly becoming more of a fan of non-fiction, and this book is great for that! Krakauer gives a well-researched (judging from the length of the bibliography) account of the history of the Mormon church, interwoven with an absolutely chilling look at Mormon Fundamentalist communities that practice polygamy in the desert wilds of Utah, Arizona, and Canada. These people are nuts, plain and simple. I can have a limited respect for a watered-down and spiritualist form of religion, but this kind of extremism is just insane. It's a completely irrational justification for the worst kinds of human behavior, including domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, and, what is central to Krakauer's story, murder.

Krakauer has been accused by some of not presenting an even-handed account, and I think it's true that it's easy to see that he thinks Mormon fundamentalism is absurd. On the other hand, it's a rare person who doesn't. And Krakauer refrains (for the most part) from actively condemning or poking fun at his subjects, although it would be very easy to do so. He lets the absurdities of Mormon history and belief speak for themselves. No direct criticism could be so damning.

Particularly interesting is the part of the book where Krakauer talks about religion and insanity. He focuses on the story of Ron Lafferty, a Mormon fundamentalist who participates in the brutal murder of a young woman and her 18 month old daughter. During Ron's trial, the prosecution works hard to make the case that Ron, despite his history of hearing voices and his belief that an evil spirit is trying to enter his body through his anus, is mentally competent to stand trial. And part of that argument is arguing that these totally absurd and violent beliefs are really just as rational as any other religious person's beliefs. And since they are, we cannot judge Ron to be insane, because that would be saying that all religious people are insane. In the absence of any rational reason for believing in one version of the supernatural as opposed to another, it is indeed difficult to argue that one belief system is insane, while another deserves to be endorsed by nearly every candidate for the president of the United States. Food for thought, for sure.
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