Friday, August 26, 2011

Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer

The full title for this book is Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, and I really feel that the subtitle is the least superfluous subtitle in the history of books. Or at least in the history of books that I have read. If I had to choose one word to describe this book, I would have to go with "violent."

Under the Banner of Heaven tells the story of a double murder committed by two fundamentalist Mormons because, essentially, God told them to. But instead of just focusing on the murder and the trial, Krakauer delves into the violent history of Mormonism. The short history (the religion was founded under 200 years ago) of Mormonism has been colored by bloodshed, both committed by and against Mormons. I am not a Mormon, so the history of the religion was new to me. I had read the memoir of a former polygamist before, but she didn't really go in to the history of the church the way Krakauer does. I picked up this book after seeing it recommended several times in the comments section on Jezebel articles about the trial and conviction of Warren Jeffs.

Well, I didn't pick up the book. I picked up the audiobook, and that may have been a mistake. I've been in the car a lot the last few weeks, so I grabbed the audiobook to listen to during my drives. Now, I am no stranger to violent fiction. I started reading Stephen King novels when I was in 9th grade. However, listening to the description of how an 18 month old had her throat slashed to the point that she was nearly decapitated.... I almost vomited in my car. I'm not sure if it was the fact that this is a true story or if it was actually hearing the words out loud.... but it was very unsettling. I guess if I was reading the physical book I could have just skimmed that paragraph, but in the car I didn't have that option. I just turned the radio off and drove in silence until I had worked up the courage to turn it back on.

If you're not so much interested in all the blood and guts, but you are interested in legal proceedings, I would check out this book in order to read about the trials of the murderers. They truly believed they were acting out the word of God (one of the foundations of Mormon beliefs is that all believers have the ability to communicate directly with God). There is a really interesting debate on whether this kind of belief is a delusion. If the belief is a delusion, is the believer then incompetent to stand trial? Does this mean that all religious zealots would automatically be ruled incompetent? Could no person of faith be held responsible for their own actions?

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith is a great book. Check it out if it's something you're interested, but you've been forewarned: it's definitely not for the faint of heart.


Rachel said...

This is one I need to pick up but have been putting off. I was raised mainstream Mormon but my ex-husband comes from a fundamentalist background. They aren't quite as crazy as this lot or even as the Warren Jeffs type. They wore regular clothes and all marriages were entered into willingly and by people over 18. However, I can see where some of their beliefs could be misinterpreted and twisted into evilness. I heard my ex-brother in law once remark that his cousin's ex wife should have her throat slit just because she left him. Scared the *bleep* out of me at the time and especially when I decided I wanted a divorce a year or two later. I don't think any of them would ever act on it but just being able to casually say something like that was crazy disturbing.

I'm only semi-active in the mainstream church but I hate that we get lumped in and confused with these fanatical crazies. The two groups are immensely different.

Rachel said...

Oh, and as for the direct communication with God. Well, from what I have learned, that's more in the form of prayer much as any other Christian religion. We believe that he tells us things through signs and what not. Again, not much different from many religions I've heard of.

We do believe in a thing called the Holy Ghost but that's very much like a conscience. It's that little voice that tells you when something you're doing is wrong and shouldn't be done or that feeling that you shouldn't be in a certain place at a certain time.

I've never heard of it being taught as a direct communication, such as conversation or something like that.

As a matter-of-fact when I was married to my ex he once asked how I felt about plural marriage. I told him that God himself would have to come down and tell me that it was OK before I would agree to it. I felt that was a fairly safe deal to make. Sure enough, he never showed.

P.S. Sorry for the rambling comments. Just wanted to shed a little light on the subject.

miranda. said...

Thanks for your comments- I guess I should have phrased it more as "potential to receive communication from God (either directly or indirectly)" rather than implying that all Mormons have direct conversations with Him all the time. That wasn't really what I meant and it's not what Krakauer says in the book. I usually write these reviews in a hurry, partly because I always (wrongly) assume Abby is the only other person who is going to read it, so I don't always take the time editing my writing as well as I should.