Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

by Jon Krakauer

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | June 8, 2004 | Trade Paperback |

4.1429 out of 5 rating. 7 Reviews
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Jon Krakauer's literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.

At the core of Krakauer's book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America's fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: June 8, 2004

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1400032806

ISBN - 13: 9781400032808

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– More About This Product –

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

by Jon Krakauer

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: June 8, 2004

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 1400032806

ISBN - 13: 9781400032808

Read from the Book

ONE THE CITY OF THE SAINTS For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth. Deuteronomy 14:2 And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God. The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 85 revealed to Joseph Smith on November 27, 1832 Balanced atop the highest spire of the Salt Lake Temple, gleaming in the Utah sun, a statue of the angel Moroni stands watch over downtown Salt Lake City with his golden trumpet raised. This massive granite edifice is the spiritual and temporal nexus of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which presents itself as the world''s only true religion. Temple Square is to Mormons what the Vatican is to Catholics, or the Kaaba in Mecca is to Muslims. At last count there were more than eleven million Saints the world over, and Mormonism is the fastest-growing faith in the Western Hemisphere. At present in the United States there are more Mormons than Presbyterians or Episcopalians. On the planet as a whole, there are now more Mormons than Jews. Mormonism is considered in some sober academic circles to be well on its way to becoming a major world religion--the first such faith to emerge since Islam
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From the Publisher

Jon Krakauer's literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.

At the core of Krakauer's book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America's fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

From the Jacket

Jon Krakauer''s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.
At the core of Krakauer''s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America''s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

About the Author

Jon Krakauer is the author of Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air and is editor of the Modern Library Exploration series.

Editorial Reviews

“Fantastic. . . . Right up there with In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song . ” — San Francisco Chronicle “Powerfully illuminating. . . . Almost every section of the book is fascinating in its own right, and together the chapters make a rich picture. . . . An arresting portrait of depravity.” — The New York Times Book Review “This year’s most audacious work of nonfiction. . . . A white-knuckle mix of true-crime reporting and provocative history.” — New York Post “Scrupulously reported and written with Krakauer’s usual exacting flair, Under the Banner of Heaven is both illuminating and thrilling. It is also the creepiest book anyone has written in a long time—and that’s meant as the highest possible praise.” — Newsweek “Krakauer writes with almost astonishing narrative force. It is hard to stop reading.” — The Baltimore Sun “Stunningly researched. . . . Elegant reportage. . . . An evenhanded inquiry into the nature of religious belief itself.” — Newsday “Captivating. . . . Fascinating and appalling. . . . [Krakauer] should be applauded—and read.” — The San Diego Union-Tribune “A great book. . . . Krakauer has found a fascinating story in plain sight, right in the heart of the American West, and told it with the narrative drive and unflinching honesty that marked his 1998 best seller, Into Thin Air. ” &#
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Bookclub Guide

Jon Krakauer is the author of Eiger Dreams, Into the Wild, and Into Thin Air and is editor of the Modern Library Exploration series.

1. In his prologue, Jon Krakauer writes that the aim of his book is to "cast some light on Lafferty and his ilk," which he concedes is a daunting but useful task for what it may tell us "about the roots of brutality, perhaps, but even more for what might be learned about the nature of faith" [p. XXIII]. What does the book reveal about fanatics such as Ron and Dan Lafferty? What does it reveal about brutality and faith and the connections between them?

2. Why does Krakauer move back and forth between Mormon history and contemporary events? What are the connections between the beliefs and practices of Joseph Smith and his followers in the nineteenth century and the behavior of people like Dan and Ron Lafferty, Brian David Mitchell, and others in the twentieth?

3. Prosecutor David Leavitt argued that "People in the state of Utah simply do not understand, and have not understood for fifty years, the devastating effect that the practice of polygamy has on young girls in our society" [p. 24]. How does polygamy affect young girls? Is it, as Leavitt claims, pedophilia plain and simple?

4. Joseph Smith claimed that the doctrine of polygamy was divinely inspired. What earthly reasons might also explain Smith's attraction to having plural wives?

5. When Krakauer asks Dan Lafferty if he has considered the parallels between himself and Osama bin Laden, Dan asserts that bin Laden is a "child of the Devil" and that the hijackers were "following a false prophet," whereas he is following a true prophet [p. 321]. No doubt, bin Laden would say much the same of Lafferty. How are Dan Lafferty and Osama bin Laden alike? In what ways are all religious fundamentalists alike?

6. Krakauer asks: "if Ron Lafferty were deemed mentally ill because he obeyed the voice of God, isn't everyone who believes in God and seeks guidance through prayer mentally ill as well?" [p. 297] Given the nature of, and motive for, the murders of Brenda Lafferty and her child, should Ron Lafferty be considered mentally ill? If so, should all others who "talk to God" or receive revelations-a central tenant of Mormonism-also be considered mentally ill? What would the legal ramifications be of such a shift in thought?

7. Krakauer begins part III with a quote from Bertrand Russell, who asserts that "every single bit of progress
in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world" [p. 191]. Is this a fair and accurate statement? What historical examples support it? What improvements in humane feeling and social justice has the Mormon church opposed?

8. How are mainstream and fundamentalist Mormons likely to react to Krakauer's book?

9. Much of Under the Banner of Heaven explores the tensions between freedom of religion and governmental authority. How should these tensions be resolved? How can the state allow religious freedom to those who place obedience to God's will above obedience to secular laws?

10. Joseph Smith called himself "a second Mohammed," and Krakauer quotes George Arbaugh who suggests that Mormonism's "aggressive theocratic claims, political aspirations, and use of force, make it akin to Islam" [p. 102]. What other similarities exist between the Mormon and Islamic faiths?

11. How should Joseph Smith be understood: as a delusional narcissist, a con man, or "an authentic religious genius" [p. 55], as Harold Bloom claims?

12. Krakauer suggests that much of John Wesley Powell's book, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons, particularly his account of his dealings with the Shivwit Indians, should be regarded with a "healthy dose of skepticism," and that it embellishes and omits important facts [p. 245]. Is Krakauer himself a trustworthy guide to the events he describes in Under the Banner of Heaven? Are his writing and his judgments fair and reasonable? What makes them so?

13. What patterns emerge from looking at Mormon history? What do events like the Mountain Meadow massacre and the violence between Mormons and gentiles in Missouri and Illinois suggest about the nature of Mormonism? Have Mormons been more often the perpetrators or the victims of violence?

14. At the very end of the book, former Mormon fundamentalist DeLoy Bateman says that while the Mormon fundamentalists who live within Colorado City may be happier than those who live outside it, he believes that "some things in life are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself" [p. 334]. Why does Krakauer end the book this way? In what ways are Mormons not free to think for themselves? Is such freedom more important than happiness?

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