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

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
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Apr 02, 08

bookshelves: tried-to-read
Read in April, 2008

Hmmm...where do I start? First of all, I didn't finish reading this book. It was intriguing in the beginning to learn about the Fundamentalist Mormons and the interestingly odd things they believe and practice. It was also interesting to contemplate the power of faith. Faith in something or someone, regardless of what or whom they are, can make people do unbelievable things. This is true.

I can see how Krakauer would have been frustrated when access to historical documents and interviews with prominent LDS leaders weren't granted to him. In order to tell all sides of a story, you must be able to research all sides. I think in the past 5-10 years, the LDS church has been more forthcoming and open with their history and archives, thanks largely to the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley. So perhaps if Krakauer were to have written this book now, he would not encounter these same road blocks.
Some people may feel that if some aspects of the churches history were to be exposed to the general membership of the church, it would cause members to lose faith. This may be true of some. But I believe that those who truly have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel, the prophet Joseph Smith, and especially of the Lord Jesus Christ; these people would not sway from their beliefs.

Being a devout member of the LDS (Mormon) faith, I was a bit disturbed to see how the defining line between the FLDS and LDS churches was often blurred and crossed. These religions are completely separate in all but their initial history. Polygamy is not currently being practiced by any member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is in good standing. If a member were practicing polygamy, they would be excommunicated.

That said, I also did not appreciate the tone with which Krakauer referred to Joseph Smith. I have great respect and admiration for this leader of my church. He was a good man who did the things that God and Jesus Christ asked him to do. I'm sure it wasn't always easy, but he did it anyway.

There are things in the history of the Mormon church that have and still occasionally do disturb me. For instance: polygamy, the priesthood being withheld from black men, the Mountain Meadows massacre, etc. But I also know that I do not understand everything and will be able to gain a complete understanding when I leave this earth.

Most of all, I know that I have a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that Jesus Christ did restore His church here upon the earth through Joseph Smith. I know that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. I also know that if I have Faith, that intense faith that is required for people to do extraordinary and even seemingly ordinary things, I will one day stand before my Lord Jesus Christ, sure in the knowledge of my place as a daughter of God.
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message 1: by Genene (new)

Genene I started this book but couldn't stomach the autor's complete lack of understanding of the mormon church. He obviously has no comprehension of the difference between faith and blind obedience. But what do I know, according to the author I don't think for myself.

I hoped to learning more about Ron Laffety (sp) but the author seemed more interested is dscusssing topics he did not seem to understand. Overall I found this book to be a big waste of time. I didn't even make it half way through.

message 2: by Clay (new)

Clay Smith That last comment was from Clay not Genene

Heather In the foreword, Krakauer explains his relationship to Mormons and Mormonism. He establishes his respect for the faith itself, and the good people who follow the tenets of the LDS church. I respectfully disagree with the comment that Krakauer has no comprehension of the difference between faith and blind obedience; rather, he poses that very question to the reader. He does not attempt to answer the question for the reader. He leaves to the reader the job of differentiating between faith and blind obedience.
Also, the book was published in 2004, which was during President Hinckley's tenure as prophet. Even with Hinckley at the helm, Krakauer found the lack of transparency troubling.

Cheryl I am guessing that the last comment was posted by Ryan, not Heather. Correct me if I'm wrong. :) There is no denying that Krakauer is a skilled writer whose material and writing style are thought-provoking; causing the reader to look deep within themselves and their beliefs. But this does not change or excuse the way in which he portrayed Joseph Smith and other early members of the church. The tone with which he talked about them, in my opinion, was disrespectful and wrong. Can you honestly tell me that this did not bother you?
Yesterday in General Conference Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, "We have a duty to speak out to clarify our doctrine and what we believe. We should be the ones to state our beliefs rather than allowing others the final word in misrepresenting them."
I feel like this sums up what I needed to do in posting my comment on this book.

message 5: by Heather (new)

Heather "I 'know' that Jesus Christ did restore His church... I 'know' that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.. I also 'know' that if I have Faith..."

hmmm, I think you mean "believe" instead of "know".... yeah, there's a big difference.

Look, I concede that your statements may or may not ultimately prove to be truth- but belief is NOT equivocal to knowledge. period. and I think making that jump is the same as the jump from "belief" to "blind obedience" you quickly sought to point out as the chief difference between yourself and LDS church verses the fundamentalists portrayed in this book.....

other than that, i appreciate your defense of your religion, but agree with heather/ryan that Krakauer did indeed distinguish between LDS and FLDS.

Nate Heather wrote: ""I 'know' that Jesus Christ did restore His church... I 'know' that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.. I also 'know' that if I have Faith..."

hmmm, I think you mean "believe" instead of "know"....."

The argument that the relationship between the FLDS and LDS churches is tenuous just doesn't hold water. Sure, they diverged historically, but it wasn't that long ago, in the grand scheme of things! (Compare this to say, Judaism and Christianity. Christianity began as a subset of Judaism, then ultimately diverged, and has remained quite distinct for nearly 1900 years). The distinction becomes clearer with time, sure, but the FLDS and LDS have much more in common than Judaism and Christianity. The distinction is blurred because, in reality, it isn't quite so pronounced.

Nate Oh, one more thing. The initial reviewer stated : "It was intriguing in the beginning to learn about the Fundamentalist Mormons and the interestingly odd things they believe and practice." Do you have no sense of irony? Your Mormon forefathers believed those very same "interestingly odd" things just a century ago! Plural marriage! Marrying very young girls to much older men! Africans as the cursed offspring of Cain! These "interestingly odd" beliefs were once major tenets of *your* church.

Just had to get that off my chest.

message 8: by Heather (last edited Aug 20, 2009 10:53AM) (new)


yo Nate, I'm not exactly sure why you quoted me above...?
actually, I think we're probably on the same page with this book, (and reviewer), I just didn't want to cause a religious war and chose softer words :P

ps where is your picture- its gorgeous!!??

Nate Oops. Hit the reply button instead of post comment. Was meant for Cheryl, not you. =)

That's Davis lake off the John Muir Trail in the Sierra of California. Heaven on earth!

Dryfly Reading the above review, I'm not sure why the book was rated 1 star? "intriguing in the beginning", "It was also interesting to contemplate the power of faith." That doesn't sound like a 1-star book to me! It seems that perhaps the reviewer is not honest with her feelings.

I've never had the opportunity to discuss things with mormons, and there are some things that I just don't understand. I don't like how a church picks and chooses tenets that they decide to follow. Either they're following what is supposed to be the word of god or they're not. For example, how Smith could be correct about so many things but so wrong about polygamy, it's beyond me.

message 11: by Phronk (last edited Oct 20, 2009 08:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phronk It baffles me, too, how one could believe that polygamy is wrong and worthy of excommunication, yet at the same time worship Joseph Smith, who blatantly practiced polygamy.

I'm sure there are plenty of stock rationalizations, but when you get down to it, it's inconsistent at best.

Apzmarshl Polygamy is blantanly wrong because it was taken out of practice and is against the laws of our government. It can still be an eternal principle however. By that I mean, for example, anyone believing in an afterlife and also believing that you will reunite with your family, you have to consider polygamy at some point. If you have had more than one wife because of death, which spouse will you then be married to in Heaven? That is how Joseph Smith is still believed (but not ever worshipped) as a prophet.

message 13: by Doug (new) - rated it 4 stars

Doug Bradshaw Polygamy is a tough one. If you were to read the talks from the Journal of Discourses about Polygamy, and of course section 132, you may be swayed to believe that those who continued to practice the principle are the ones that really understood it and are the chosen ones. However, having read many journals and diaries of those Mormons who practiced the principle in the Joseph Smith and Brigham Young days, I'm not convinced that it really ever worked very well.

Have you read Sarah Pratt's autobiography? It is heartbreaking. Anyway, I don't profess to "know" anything, really. One day there may be a dig where they find the remnants of the Nephites and a lot of people like me will be scrambling.

By the way, I kind of hated the book too.

Easter Personally, I don't see how any believer in the Mormon church can continue venerating their founder when he had sex with an underage child.
Also, believers should continue to be disturbed at the church's treatment and attitude towards people of color.
It's obvious the original reviewer was not willing to entertain challenges to her faith. If you wish to be ignorant, that's your problem, but the book didn't deserve the poor rating.

message 15: by Alex (new)

Alex Nate wrote: "Heather wrote: ""I 'know' that Jesus Christ did restore His church... I 'know' that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.. I also 'know' that if I have Faith..."

hmmm, I think you mean "believe" ins..."

For Nate- your breakdown about the differences between FLDS and LDS in comparison to Judaism and Christianity is misleading. You are correct in that the division is more recent, and thus a better comparison might be Divisions within the Protestant sect (I do not know that much here). I think in the US among the branches of Protestentism is Anglicanism and Episcopalianism (spelling?) and then Evangelism (and I am sure their are varieties within that genre- and Fundamentalism and more.
There seem to be clear delineations among the actual participants- from those that I have spoken to- among both Mormonism and Protestantism, even as though they are young divisions. Also in Judaism there are a number of young divisions- Ultra Orthodox as opposed to Traditional Orthodox as opposed to Modern Orthodox- each of which do have a clear division as well. After this comes the Conservative Movement and then the Reform Movement. The trend to me is that in most religions across the board there seem to be more and more divisions over the last two centuries- with a definite fundamentalist swing in many of them.
It is difficult for all people of all faiths who hold to the more center or left streams of their religions or denominations to clarify these divisions.
Cheryl and Heather- it is not just Mormons who struggle with this.
Also Nate :-) The forefathers and ancient writings of most religions held a lot of disturbing customs and Mores. It was a function of history, times. You might next suggest that because Mormonism began only two centuries ago that the originators should not have done what the older religions did thousands of years ago- but this was the point- at the time of the start of Mormonism there were many a crisis of economy, faith- and a new world. The originators of Mormonism held strong to a revival of the traditional tenets of the older religions as a way to unify people and create vision and cohesion.
I am not saying that this was the best idea at the time- I do not know I was not there.
Nothing exists in a vacuum. Religion is a social construct - people building a community wherein faith can grow surrounded by the support of the community.
Just to stipulate -I personally do not identify with any organized faith, but that is a personal thing.

I think their are two or three questions that would interest me in such a context-
Learning about why and how people flock to organized faith communities, the difference between Blind following (I do not like the term blind faith) and faith- and how a number of intelligent people can often be so one track minded that they do not seem to be able to grasp the larger context of their actions and often resistance to full view of society. I read here that in the eventual interview the author asks the convicted killer what he thinks the difference was between his actions and the actions of other fundamentalist groups of other religions- such as Bin Laden and the convicted killer says the difference is that he is right. I wonder how certain he is of that- and if he is so certain, I wonder about the line between following faith and the loss of ones ability to judge the saliency of a situation. That the convicted Killer seemed to really think that he was right to kill in the way he did- where Bin Laden or whoever was not- this seems to be problematic.
I wonder if this is simply a human condition in general, if it is possible for any and all of us to abdicate our sense of moral support of man for fellow man. I also wonder about how easy it may be to fall into a community that helps one completely redefine ones ingrained sense of ethics and morals? How long does it take? and if, as it seems, ethics and morality are social constructs that can and do differ- are there basic tenets that all of human society must defer to in order to live together? How would this look-
and there I suppose some answers can fall to communities, states, government, alliances, unions, religion.
So the original question answers itself. Religion, while perhaps a social construct seems to in general exist to act as one of the few constructs that can help maintain the contours of a functional world. SO what then for the outcropping of more fundamentalist groups within? Why in recent times, or have we always struggled with this and learn more now because of the global society? From the experiences I have had with some more orthodox strands of a religious community, it seems to me that most people within really believe that they are upholding important ethical standards that are helping to keep the world afloat. The concern comes when in this vacuum of strict adherence and lack of deep questioning- that there are people within who might see the opportunity to take advantage of any position of power to forward their own interests. Power does corrupt absolutely and if one is in a situation where one feels that they are surrounded by people who are unlikely to question their actions because of their standing and their previous leadership- it can certainly happen. It seems to be the nature of things- as we have seen also with the great scandals in the priesthood of some Catholic communities.
So my question is, should we be concerned about the fundamentalist outgrowths? and if so, what if anything should we do or say to try to minimise this? Should we be more welcoming of divergent opinions? Should we be more encouraging of questioning of all of our leaders and cohorts? Should we look to delineate those things that faith is best at dealing with and those things that society needs to study upon and work through to make sure all society can pursue their faith and their drive to be a valuable part of their community and society? Faith is vital for our strength to continue living on this planet- it is a healing salve for our souls. However, we also need healing in our communities that comes from treating each other with respect and care.

Another important question- is how can we start to prevent such violations of power as can be seen by those people who for whatever reason abuse power to some pretty gruesome ends - be it pathological or their blind struggle for survival that misleads them- or greed- or being blinded by power in the first place? Perhaps part of the above corrections might help- in a more open community of respect and caring, members of communities would not likely remain quiet when abused if they truly felt that they were held in esteem by the community. Who knows.
I am tired now:-)
Just food for thought.

I have struggled deeply with these issues in my life. Might even write a book:-)

I can tell you that the mind is vast and social constructs are powerful- and we do see what we choose to see most of the time. That is completely normal. What we should strive for is more of a balance- more of a wider perspective, and a realization of our limitations.

any one of the above who blanket wide negates the beliefs of another- it is not so simple, and all of us are culpable in choosing one path over another- because our brains feel like they need to choose- because that makes it easier for us to function- it gives us a small enough structure that we can navigate on a daily basis. That's fine- that is normal. However the truth is much more complex.

I do not have the answers- just the questions.

My personal belief is that following blindly within any socially constructed dictum of faith and society without a balance of consideration to the health of individuals and the freedom of spirit and pursuit of life for all is an unhealthy pursuit. That is the iron cage, it will destroy us. However, we do need social constructs to help give a unified contour to life and its pursuit.

Very tricky.

Morgan How can you possibly rate a book you didn't finish? Not to be a prick, but that seems a little strange to me.

message 17: by Doug (new) - rated it 4 stars

Doug Bradshaw Morgan, it's embarrassing when someone starts preaching from a here's what I've been taught in church point of view instead of from an informed and thoughtful educated point of view, isn't it?

Patrick Here is a question to all Mormons out there. Do you think Mormonism is its own religion separate from Christianity? For me it seems it is and here is why, you guys have your own prophets and holy book. The other Christian denominations are basically emphasize different aspects of Christianity whereas Mormonism seems unique in having prophets and the Book of Moroni.

message 19: by Doug (new) - rated it 4 stars

Doug Bradshaw Patrick wrote: "Here is a question to all Mormons out there. Do you think Mormonism is its own religion separate from Christianity? For me it seems it is and here is why, you guys have your own prophets and holy ..."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believes they are the restored Church of Jesus Christ and that other Christian churches have some of the truth but not the full truth. They also believe that their Prophet is God's mouthpiece here on earth. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus.

Patrick So basically, it is a new religion. Just as people cannot say that Christianity is simply a denomination of Judaism because of the New Testament. By having the Book of Mormon, one cannot simply say that Mormonism is a denomination of Christianity.

message 21: by Doug (new) - rated it 4 stars

Doug Bradshaw Well, I guess you could say that. It's not a meaningful statement to me though.

message 22: by Luisa (new)

Luisa Wow. I feel like I've got a lot to say. First of all, Heather, 'knowledge'- the definition from Webster's Dictionary: the condition of knowing with familiarity gained through experience or association; acquaintance with or understanding of.' Ummm, according to that definition there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with Cheryl's statement that she KNOWS the LDS church is true, as I KNOW it to be true - 'through experiences that have granted me familiarity with the truth. You can't tell someone that they don't KNOW something to be true, especially when you can't prove that it's not. Now Esther, get your facts straight. Joseph Smith did not have sex with an underage child. Do REAL research about the person you presume to slander. We are talking about the 1800's here. 90% of ALL women were married before the age of 17. And aside from that, it is OBVIOUS to me that the reviewer WAS ready to 'entertain challenges to her faith' in the fact that she fearlessly posted her testimony is such a personal and exposed way, regardless of the sure knowledge, I'm sure she had, that it would spark disagreement and discord. Bravery would be the adjective of choice, NOT ignorance. Patrick Acuna, based on the definition of Christianity: "a religion based on the life and teachings as Jesus Christ... teaches that Jesus is the Son of God and that He came to save humanity from their sins. Christianity further believes that Jesus suffered died and was buried, only to be resurrected in order to be able to allow all those who follow him faithfully to repent and receive a remission of their sins." In every single way stated above, we are CHRISTIANS in every sense of the word. This Church is HIS, not Joseph Smith's. It is the Church of JESUS CHRIST. The whole theory of this book just enrages me, however. Does Krakauer really have nothing better to do with his life and his time than try to destroy peoples faith? I mean, even if his claim is to 'enlighten' and teach the supposed truth.... didn't he openly admit that he COULD NOT obtain access to the records of the church, nor receive interviews with the current leaders? How accurate can you be when you can't even fully research the facts? Finally, I would really like to know how many of the worlds murderers are Catholics, Protestants, Jews or any other denomination. Somehow, attention is drawn to an incident where the murderer happens to be a Mormon, and it becomes a big controversy. Finally, ANYONE who has actually READ the Bible, can tell you that polygamy has existed since, nearly the beginning of time. It was an ancient principle practiced a long time ago by men of God, just as now, it is not practiced in the LDS church.

message 23: by Patrick (last edited Jul 01, 2011 09:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patrick Luisa,

That is essentially what I thought of LDS church before I read this book that it is just another denomination of Christianity; the reason I have changed my mind about it is due to the fact LDS is truly unique in having its own prophet and book that other denominations do not have. Whereas other denominations go by the bible primarily as the word of God, the LDS church has the Book of Mormons as just as a sacred text as the Bible. This is the reason, I think the Mormonism is really a separate religion from Christianity because you guys place another book as important as the Bible. It is like saying Christianity is simply a sect of Judaism which is not because of the New Testament.

I think when one starts having new sacred text apart from the standard old ones then one has a new religion.

Although I respect what Mormons have done in our society to better America, I personally can never see myself as one because of the recent past episode of polygamy as well as the fact that until fairly recently people of color were not allowed in the priesthood. I personally cannot understand how God's true prophet on earth fails to understand that His word is for all men until after the Civil Rights era was over.

message 24: by Dukeoflindon (new)

Dukeoflindon Patrick wrote: "Luisa,

That is essentially what I thought of LDS church before I read this book that it is just another denomination of Christianity; the reason I have changed my mind about it is due to the fact..."

I have to admit Patrick your logic is very sound. I would however point out that the LDS faith does not preach with logic but rather by the spirit. What I mean is there are many very prominent men and women in the church. Why in the world would they follow some crazy 14 year old boy from the 1820's who professed to have recieved another set of scriptures from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am no scholar but I can tell you from personal experience that the Lord does answer prayers in a real way. Christ has always tought to pray to the Father. Years ago I wanted to know if the Mormon faith was really what Joseph Smith professed. There is only one way to know and that is if you ask God himself. If it's true the spirit tells you so if it's not well you won't feel any different. (By the way the Lord doesn't always answer on the first try). I read the Book of Mormon and prayed and asked God if these were really his words and if Joseph Smith was really his Prophet. After several days the answer can to me in an over whelming feel that I cannot deny God told me yes it is true.

No one will ever convince you that he LDS faith is led by a true and living Prophet. Only you and the Lord can do that.

Good luck readers.

Oh and in answer to your question on LDS church being a denomination of cristianity or not. Well a denomination denotes from something and doesn't cary all of the previous teachings other wise they would not have denoted (if that's even a real word). All Christian denominations came from other churches. But have always carried the one constant and that is Christ himself. The LDS church is no different Christ is the center. The LDS church professes it is the restored church that Christ originally set up in Jerselem. Therefore, it is not a denomination at all. So you are correct. But it's also not a new religion it is the original one once again restored.

Good luck I hope this makes sense.

message 25: by Patrick (last edited Jul 11, 2011 10:45AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patrick Dukeoflindon,

I like your explanation of Mormonism. I also agree that Christianity as a religion is based on faith that cannot readily be answered by logical arguments and thus respect your answer.

I like the fact that you defend Mormonism as the one true religion just as I will defend Catholicism as the one and original form of Christianity and I am sure other Christianity denominations who are actively practicing their own faith will do the same with their own faith.

I guess in the end, for purposes of a pluralistic society such as the US, one should look at what the members of the church have done. And to that, I have to hand it mainstream LDS church that you guys produce excellent productive members of society.

message 26: by ian (new) - rated it 4 stars

ian Curious how much discussion there is on this review. I don't care about your theology or personal feelings about Joseph Smith -- "I didn't finish reading this book" should be a conversation stopper. Please don't rate books you haven't actually read. Certainly don't rate them at one star. You are skewing the results and are doing so dishonestly, unless you have actually READ the book.

message 27: by James (new)

James @Patrick Acuna,
Yes Mormons are separate from Christianity.
The catholic church, baptists, episcopalian, and several other Christian churches have said that Mormon beliefs are not consistent with Christianity.
See a similar book, Answer them nothing.

message 28: by James (new)

James @Cheryl
"Polygamy is not currently being practiced by any member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that is in good standing"
These are weasel words,
"Lying for the Lord" is a part of Mormonism.

Wendy Matthews I appreciate this dialogue greatly. I consider myself a Born Again Christian. I have a personal story of seeing God's work in my life and through my life. This depiction of Mormonism has shaken me up! The approach of the doctrine has been to seperate and isolate, and allow a single individual authority which is seen as divine. It appears that the Mormons see themselves as the true chosen ones, and what a difficult path to follow! I find it particularly ironic that polygamy is practiced in Africa extensively and links a very important element of the faith with the negro culture. What is polygamy and why polygamy? How better to ensure control? How better to dominate your holdings than to "own it" all! As a childless professional women who resists male-dominance as a life long theme I can see I would have no place in such a religious culture. There is so much food for thought brought forward in this book...

message 30: by Luisa (new)

Luisa Wendy, this book is absolutely NOT an accurate depiction of the LDS church, beliefs and culture. If you want to have a better idea about what Mormons believe, visit .

Wendy Matthews Luisa thank you for your comments..I will do as you suggest!

Erica A book that wasn't finished does not deserve a rating. That's all I'm saying. Finish it, then rate it.

message 33: by Louise (new)

Louise Mol I have to agree with Erica. Finish the book if you are going to rate it. This book absolutely blew me away. I knew some things about LDS including that Joseph Smith had received a vision, but I did not know that he claimed to have found tablets on which he received messages from God. However, he was the only one who saw them and then they disappeared. How on earth can people believe this? There are highly educated people in LDS, makes me scratch my head. It also makes me concerned that no Morman like Romney or any other ever be elected to President. I would have fear over that one as LDS believes they are the chosen ones. Scary. Everyone needs to read.

message 34: by Joy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joy Banger This was an excellent book, totally undeserving of 1star - especially since this reviewer admits not having actually read the entire book. It's a shame the books ratings are mired by people's theological agendas and personal biases.

message 35: by Lourie (new)

Lourie Nolan Mormonism is Christianity in the same way that Atheism would be Christianity if we named the Flying Spaghetti Monster "Christ". Their version of Christ as the ruler of this world while other gods rule other worlds... and their belief that they too will someday rule their own world... says loud and clear that their "Christ" has very little if anything in common with the "Christ" talked about in the New Testament. That said... they are both boloney so it doesn't really matter until their nutty followers start trying to use it as a tool to control other people.

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