Pamela ✨I Blame Wizards✨'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 22, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: americana, contemporary-american, history, mormons

Under the Banner of Heaven was a comprehensive look at fundamental belief that really got me thinking. I grew up LDS, so a lot of what this book covered resonated with me. Krakauer goes into a lot of detail about the history of the Mormon faith, so it was interesting to see the differences in the way people react to that history. In my case, it led me to Atheism; how could something that started with so much lying and dissembling be true? In the case of the Laffertys, whose heinous crimes are the subject of this book, it drove them to fundamentalism, as they saw the church's history as truth, and mainline Mormonism as a departure, therefore an abomination. The current, mainstream LDS reaction to church history is usually to claim that most accurate tellings of the founding of the Mormon religion are 'anti-Mormon' literature. They actively discourage members to delve too deeply into any historical research, however recently, with the publishing of official essays on Church history, they have attempted to address these issues in a world where information is increasingly right at our fingertips.

What really struck me about Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven was his complete lack of judgement. When writing about a double murder, child abuse, spousal abuse and religious fundamentalism, it's easy to become emotional and angry in your writing style. Krakauer, however, remains an impartial writer, presenting the facts as they appear, whether it be from the mouth of the victims, or from the perpetrators. Even Mormon history he presents as matter of fact, rather than lending any kind of emotional indignation to the founding of the LDS church. The early Mormons do not come across as blameless in some of the atrocities they perpetrated in the founding of their church, but then neither do the early Americans, who committed equally horrendous crimes against the Mormons. I found it quite refreshing. These topics can be quite emotionally charged.

What really struck me, was how Krakauer just understood what was relevant, and conveyed it in a way that can appeal to every reader. He understands what it is to be driven by faith and does not judge it. He also understands the pain and emotional trauma that comes with leaving one's faith. But where this book really shines is in its study of the rationality of faith. To outsiders, the Lafferty murders seem to be the product of madness. Two men truly believe, without regret, that they were instructed by God to kill a woman and her baby. When it comes to prosecuting, however, it raises all kinds of question about madness vs. belief. Just because faith turns violent, does that make it a product of insanity? And if you apply insanity to it does it then, by extension, mean that all religious faith is a product of insanity? When is faith mad, and when is it rational? Neither I nor this book professes to have those answers. “How can a society actively promote religious faith on one hand and condemn a man for zealously adhering to his faith on the other?”

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It was deep, truthful, thoughtful and for me at least, highly personal. I will leave you with the parting words of a fundamentalist apostate. Like so many of us who leave our faiths, we go through a period of questioning, confusion, and indeed, unhappiness while we find ourselves in a world that essentially has a far different reality to the one in which we grew up. “But some things are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself.” To all of you struggling with your faiths out there, I promise, the unhappiness of uncertainty will pass. The ability to think for yourself is well worth the uncertainty you will face.
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Reading Progress

April 22, 2015 – Started Reading
April 22, 2015 – Shelved
April 28, 2015 –
page 250
67.75% "What a book. It's matter of fact, and surprisingly non-judgemental. I think I might recommend this to everyone I know!"
April 30, 2015 – Shelved as: americana
April 30, 2015 – Shelved as: contemporary-american
April 30, 2015 – Shelved as: history
April 30, 2015 – Shelved as: mormons
April 30, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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Petra X I didn't know there were any Mormons in Caerleon.


Pamela ✨I Blame Wizards✨ I'm an Australian from Melbourne. I was never Mormon here. There is however an ex-Mormon in Caerleon. :D


Petra X From the metropolis of Melbourne to the village of Caerleon, that's a long way.


Pamela ✨I Blame Wizards✨ Petra X wrote: "From the metropolis of Melbourne to the village of Caerleon, that's a long way."

It certainly is! I moved from Melbourne to work at the NHM in London, then met a lovely Welsh boy and here I am, enjoying the rainy Welsh summer.


Petra X What's the NHM?


Pamela ✨I Blame Wizards✨ The Natural History Museum.


Petra X I love that place. Haven't been in years.


message 8: by Carol (new)

Carol I am LDS too! I've been wondering if any of our fellow readers are of this faith. I have friends in our book club that are, and we are really enjoying the different books we find and share with each other.


message 9: by Terence M (new)

Terence M Excellent, insightful review, Pamela. As a fellow apostate (former RC priest trainee), I have read many books on religion, but this one is a definite "Add to TBR List" following your review.


message 10: by Terence M (new)

Terence M I am also a boy, err, *ahem* old bloke from Melbourne :)


Pamela ✨I Blame Wizards✨ Terence M wrote: "Excellent, insightful review, Pamela. As a fellow apostate (former RC priest trainee), I have read many books on religion, but this one is a definite "Add to TBR List" following your review."

I bet we'd have lots to discuss! Perhaps a coffee when I'm next in Melbourne. Always love to actually meet a fellow reader, and hot beverages are the perfect social lubricant I find :)


message 12: by Terence M (new)

Terence M I look forward to your next visit to Melbourne and if you have the time I would be more than delighted to meet and chat over one of Melbourne's excellent coffees, Pamela!


Pamela ✨I Blame Wizards✨ Terence M wrote: "I look forward to your next visit to Melbourne and if you have the time I would be more than delighted to meet and chat over one of Melbourne's excellent coffees, Pamela!"

Trip planned home for next year. I'll be in touch closer to the date. Looking forward to it already! :)


message 14: by Terence M (new)

Terence M And so am I !!


J. Bryce Excellent review of a great book. All his books are very good, and I can recommend them highly.


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