Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Paperback | June 8, 2004

byJon Krakauer

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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.

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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 ...

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 ...

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

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:432 pages, 8 × 5.14 × 0.89 inPublished:June 8, 2004Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1400032806

ISBN - 13:9781400032808

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from A scary history I read this book for a book club that I have been attending. This was their latest book. I was only part way through the book before the meting started. This book was a real eye opener. I knew some of the history of the Mormons as I had read a book about them last year. I have even traveled through Salt Lake City. I had heard something about some extreme fundalmenalists who still practised polymagmy, but not to this degree. There are some pretty gruesome stories in this book. It is hard to believe that people would do this sort things to other people and even members of their own family. This book attempts to a factual look at Mormon fundamentalist. The author uses the history of Mormons to explain where the fundalmentists got there beleifs and what the they did to protect their beliefs. This was a very heavy book. It took me awhile to read it. This book is not for everyone. Some of the subjuect matter may be too intense for some readers. It can even be frieghtening. As a sudent of religous history, I was interested in the book. If it weren't for the book club, I might not have read it. Ifound the book very interesting.
Date published: 2013-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Under the Banner of Heaven Fascinating. Required reading before seeing "the Book of Mormon".
Date published: 2013-08-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting read! With all the contorversies and news surrounding polygamy and the LDS church, Jon Krakauer delievers gripping novel about mormonism. It explores the issues of fundamentalists vs modern LDS, and explores the development of the Church from when it was founded until now. Presented in an unbiased manner, this book is not only informative, but it reads like a good mystery/crime book! Good for anyone looking to understand a bit more about what they see in the news. Note- there is some very disturbing content in this book. Including stories about murder and rape. Read with caution.
Date published: 2009-06-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from It Would Be Nice If... Authors telling the story of Joseph Smith used sources other than Fawn Brodie's biography "No Man Knows My History". Krakauer tells a fascinating story of the Lafferty Brothers and their many crimes and motivations, however his religious prejudice shows in his descriptions of the founders of Mormonism. He puts as much emphasis and spin as possible on the negative events in Mormon history in order to set up the Lafferty story. While I don't like sanitized versions of Mormon history, Krakauer should be more professional in presenting a view of a religion, even if he has a personal distaste for it.
Date published: 2006-08-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intriguing read If you are interested in the roots of the Mormon faith, the fundamentalist views (including the support of polygamy and incest) of a small percentage of Saints, then you will likely find this a captivating read. I found the entire book, from the history of the Mormon religion to the modern murder committed by a group of FLDS followers, to be captivating. Krakauer makes the history of the church interesting, bouncing back and forth between the early founding of the church and the modern-day teachings. I would definitely recommend this title!
Date published: 2006-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling account of religious extremism John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven is a compelling and well-written account of Mormon fundamentalism. Krakauer examines the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty by Ron and Dan Lafferty in an attempt to understand the history and theology of Mormonism. The author is particularly adept at outlining how and why the Mormon Church moderated its theology to move closer to the mainstream of American life, and how this accommodation moved some Mormons to extremism and bloody violence. The appendix alone is worth the price of the book. Krakauer easily refutes attacks on the first edition of Under the Banner of Heaven by Mormon elders. He then challenges them to open Mormon archives to non-Mormon scholars so that a full critical history of the church can finally be written. We need more books like this one!!!!!
Date published: 2005-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and Disturbing Having been a fan of Krakauer's Outdoor articles, Into Thin Air, and Into the Wild, I was somewhat taken aback when I saw the topic of his latest book. I was skeptical as to whether a book about Mormon fundamentalism would be interesting and what insight an 'eco-writer' would have. Suffice to say I found it very interesting and well written and thoroughly enjoyed every word. His views are informed and well articulated though un-popular with mainstream Mormons. This edition has the LDS critique and author's reply included which demonstrates a commitment to accuracy and fairness by Krakauer. The historical review of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young et al. was fascinating and the treatment they were given was in my view fair. That being said it is probably easier for me to reach that conclusion being an agnostic secularist. Sometimes the truth hurts and the LDS leadership exhibit [within the book and in the aftermath of its publication] a desire to pretend that polygamy was not a central tenet of Joseph Smith's teachings. Their reasoning and the ecclesiastical convenience which is exposed I found to be intriguing. I expect we have not heard the last of Mormon Fundamentalism in the news and that further conflicts are ahead. This book is essential reading for those who are interested in religous fundamentalism of any denomination and the effects it has on our society.
Date published: 2004-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely unbelievable!!! This book is so good that I can't put it down! It's an incredible, engrossing and unbelievable story of the Mormon faith and fundamentalist beliefs. Society today talks about terrorism and religious fanatics in Afghanistan yet this book explores the relious fanatics within our own borders. It's an intriguing, thought-provoking look at a growing religion.
Date published: 2004-07-14

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ONETHE CITY OF THE SAINTSFor 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 14:2And 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 85revealed to Joseph Smith on November 27, 1832Balanced 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.Next door to the temple, the 325 voices of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir swell to fill the tabernacle's vast interior with the robust, haunting chords of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," the ensemble's trademark song: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . ."To much of the world, this choir and its impeccably rendered harmonies are emblematic of the Mormons as a people: chaste, optimistic, outgoing, dutiful. When Dan Lafferty quotes Mormon scripture to justify murder, the juxtaposition is so incongruous as to seem surreal.The affairs of Mormondom are directed by a cadre of elderly white males in dark suits who carry out their holy duties from a twenty-six-story office tower beside Temple Square.* To a man, the LDS leadership adamantly insists that Lafferty should under no circumstances be considered a Mormon. The faith that moved Lafferty to slay his niece and sister-in-law is a brand of religion known as Mormon Fundamentalism; LDS Church authorities bristle visibly when Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists are even mentioned in the same breath. As Gordon B. Hinckley, the then-eighty-eight-year-old LDS president and prophet, emphasized during a 1998 television interview on Larry King Live, "They have no connection with us whatever. They don't belong to the church. There are actually no Mormon Fundamentalists."Nevertheless, Mormons and those who call themselves Mormon Fundamentalists (or FLDS) believe in the same holy texts and the same sacred history. Both believe that Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism in 1830, played a vital role in God's plan for mankind; both LDS and FLDS consider him to be a prophet comparable in stature to Moses and Isaiah. Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists are each convinced that God regards them, and them alone, as his favored children: "a peculiar treasure unto me above all people." But if both proudly refer to themselves as the Lord's chosen, they diverge on one especially inflammatory point of religious doctrine: unlike their present-day Mormon compatriots, Mormon Fundamentalists passionately believe that Saints have a divine obligation to take multiple wives. Followers of the FLDS faith engage in polygamy, they explain, as a matter of religious duty.There are more than thirty thousand FLDS polygamists living in Canada, Mexico, and throughout the American West. Some experts estimate there may be as many as one hundred thousand. Even this larger number amounts to less than 1 percent of the membership in the LDS Church worldwide, but all the same, leaders of the mainstream church are extremely discomfited by these legions of polygamous brethren. Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle--they try to keep the "polygs" hidden in the attic, safely out of sight, but the fundamentalists always seem to be sneaking out to appear in public at inopportune moments to create unsavory scenes, embarrassing the entire LDS clan.The LDS Church happens to be exceedingly prickly about its short, uncommonly rich history--and no aspect of that history makes the church more defensive than "plural marriage." The LDS leadership has worked very hard to persuade both the modern church membership and the American public that polygamy was a quaint, long-abandoned idiosyncrasy practiced by a mere handful of nineteenth-century Mormons. The religious literature handed out by the earnest young missionaries in Temple Square makes no mention of the fact that Joseph Smith--still the religion's focal personage--married at least thirty-three women, and probably as many as forty-eight. Nor does it mention that the youngest of these wives was just fourteen years old when Joseph explained to her that God had commanded that she marry him or face eternal damnation.Polygamy was, in fact, one of the most sacred credos of Joseph's church--a tenet important enough to be canonized for the ages as Section 132 of The Doctrine and Covenants, one of Mormonism's primary scriptural texts.* The revered prophet described plural marriage as part of "the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth" and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the "fulness of exaltation" in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that "all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same . . . and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory."Joseph was murdered in Illinois by a mob of Mormon haters in 1844. Brigham Young assumed leadership of the church and led the Saints to the barren wilds of the Great Basin, where in short order they established a remarkable empire and unabashedly embraced the covenant of "spiritual wifery." This both titillated and shocked the sensibilities of Victorian-era Americans, who tended to regard polygamy as a brutish practice on a par with slavery. In 1856, recognizing the strength of the anti-polygamy vote, Republican candidate John C. Frémont ran for president on a platform that pledged to "prohibit in the territories those twin relics of barbarism--Polygamy and Slavery." Frémont lost the election, but a year later the man who did win, President James Buchanan, sent the U.S. Army to invade Utah, dismantle Brigham Young's theocracy, and eradicate polygamy.The so-called Utah War, however, neither removed Brigham from power nor ended the doctrine of plural marriage, to the annoyance and bafflement of a whole series of American presidents. An escalating sequence of judicial and legislative challenges to polygamy ensued, culminating in the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, which disincorporated the LDS Church and forfeited to the federal government all church property worth more than $50,000. With their feet held fast to the fire, the Saints ultimately had no choice but to renounce polygamy. But even as LDS leaders publicly claimed, in 1890, to have relinquished the practice, they quietly dispatched bands of Mormons to establish polygamous colonies in Mexico and Canada, and some of the highest-ranking LDS authorities secretly continued to take multiple wives and perform plural marriages well into the twentieth century.Although LDS leaders were initially loath to abandon plural marriage, eventually they adopted a more pragmatic approach to American politics, emphatically rejected the practice, and actually began urging government agencies to prosecute polygamists. It was this single change in ecclesiastical policy, more than anything else, that transformed the LDS Church into its astonishingly successful present-day iteration. Having jettisoned polygamy, Mormons gradually ceased to be regarded as a crackpot sect. The LDS Church acquired the trappings of a conventional faith so successfully that it is now widely considered to be the quintessential American religion.Mormon Fundamentalists, however, believe that acceptance into the American mainstream came at way too high a price. They contend that the Mormon leaders made an unforgivable compromise by capitulating to the U.S. government on polygamy over a century ago. They insist that the church sold them out--that the LDS leadership abandoned one of the religion's most crucial theological tenets for the sake of political expediency. These present-day polygamists therefore consider themselves to be the keepers of the flame--the only true and righteous Mormons. In forsaking Section 132--the sacred principle of plural marriage--the LDS Church has gone badly astray, they warn. Fundamentalist prophets bellow from their pulpits that the modern church has become "the wickedest whore of all the earth."Mormon Fundamentalists probably cite Section 132 of The Doctrine and Covenants more than any other piece of LDS scripture. Their second-most-popular citation is likely Section 85, in which it was revealed to Joseph that "I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong . . . to set in order the house of God." Many fundamentalists are convinced that the one mighty and strong is already here on earth among them, "holding the scepter of power in his hand," and that very soon now he will lead the Mormon Church back onto the right path and restore Joseph's "most holy and important doctrine."TWOSHORT CREEKExtreme and bizarre religious ideas are so commonplace in American history that it is difficult to speak of them as fringe at all. To speak of a fringe implies a mainstream, but in terms of numbers, perhaps the largest component of the religious spectrum in contemporary America remains what it has been since colonial times: a fundamentalist evangelicalism with powerful millenarian strands. The doomsday theme has never been far from the center of American religious thought. The nation has always had believers who responded to this threat by a determination to flee from the wrath to come, to separate themselves from the City of Destruction, even if that meant putting themselves at odds with the law and with their communities or families. . . . We can throughout American history find select and separatist groups who looked to a prophetic individual claiming divine revelation, in a setting that repudiated conventional assumptions about property, family life, and sexuality. They were marginal groups, peculiar people, people set apart from the world: the Shakers and the Ephrata community, the communes of Oneida and Amana, the followers of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.Philip Jenkins,Mystics and MessiahsSnaking diagonally across the top of Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a stupendous, 277-mile rent in the planet's hide that functions as a formidable natural barrier, effectively cutting off the northwestern corner from the rest of the state. This isolated wedge of backcountry--almost as big as New Jersey, yet traversed by a single paved highway--is known as the Arizona Strip, and it has one of the lowest population densities in the forty-eight conterminous states.There is, however, one relatively large municipality here. Colorado City, home to some nine thousand souls, is more than five times as populous as any other town in the district. Motorists driving west on Highway 389 across the parched barrens of the Uinkaret Plateau are apt to be surprised when, twenty-eight miles past Fredonia (population 1,036, the second-largest town on the Strip), Colorado City suddenly materializes in the middle of nowhere: a sprawl of small businesses and unusually large homes squatting beneath a towering escarpment of vermilion sandstone called Canaan Mountain. All but a handful of the town's residents are Mormon Fundamentalists. They live in this patch of desert in the hope of being left alone to follow the sacred principle of plural marriage without interference from government authorities or the LDS Church.Straddling the Utah-Arizona border, Colorado City is home to at least three Mormon Fundamentalist sects, including the world's largest: the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. More commonly known as the United Effort Plan, or UEP, it requires its members live in strict accordance with the commandments of a frail, ninety-two-year-old tax accountant-turned-prophet named Rulon T. Jeffs.* "Uncle Rulon," as he is known to his followers, traces his divinely ordained leadership in an unbroken chain that leads directly back to Joseph Smith himself. Although his feeble bearing would seem to make him poorly cast for the role, the residents of Colorado City believe that Uncle Rulon is the "one mighty and strong" whose coming was prophesied by Joseph in 1832."A lot of people here are convinced Uncle Rulon is going to live forever," says DeLoy Bateman, a forty-eight-year-old science teacher at Colorado City High School. Not only was DeLoy born and raised in this faith, but his forebears were some of the religion's most illustrious figures: his great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were among the thirteen founding members of the Mormon Fundamentalist Church, and his adoptive grandfather, LeRoy Johnson, was the prophet who immediately preceded Uncle Rulon as the leader of Colorado City. At the moment, DeLoy is driving his thirdhand Chevy van on a dirt road on the outskirts of town. One of his two wives and eight of his seventeen children are riding in the back. Suddenly he hits the brakes, and the van lurches to a stop on the shoulder. "Now there's an interesting sight," DeLoy declares, sizing up the wreckage of a television satellite dish behind some sagebrush off the side of the road. "Looks like somebody had to get rid of their television. Hauled it out of town and dumped it."Members of the religion, he explains, are forbidden to watch television or read magazines or newspapers. The temptations of the outside world loom large, however, and some members of the faith inevitably succumb. "As soon as you ban something," DeLoy observes, "you make it incredibly attractive. People will sneak into St. George or Cedar City and buy themselves a dish, put it up where it can't easily be seen, and secretly watch TV during every free moment. Then one Sunday Uncle Rulon will give one of his sermons about the evils of television. He'll announce that he knows exactly who has one, and warn that everyone who does is putting their eternal souls in serious jeopardy."Every time he does that, a bunch of satellite dishes immediately get dumped in the desert, like this one here. For two or three years afterward there won't be any televisions in town, but then, gradually, the dishes start secretly going up again, until the next crackdown. People try to do the right thing, but they're only human."As the TV prohibition suggests, life in Colorado City under Rulon Jeffs bears more than a passing resemblance to life in Kabul under the Taliban. Uncle Rulon's word carries the weight of law. The mayor and every other city employee answers to him, as do the entire police force and the superintendent of public schools. Even animals are subject to his whim. Two years ago a Rottweiler killed a child in town. An edict went out that dogs would no longer be allowed within the city limits. A posse of young men was dispatched to round up all the canines, after which the unsuspecting pets were taken into a dry wash and shot.

Bookclub Guide

US1. 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?