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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Krakauer, Jon

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9780385509510: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. In UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN, he shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders. At the core of his book is an appalling double murder committed by two Mormon Fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill their blameless victims. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this “divinely inspired” crime, Krakauer constructs a multilayered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, savage violence, polygamy, 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.

Krakauer takes readers inside isolated communities in the American West, Canada, and Mexico, where some forty-thousand Mormon Fundamentalists believe the mainstream Mormon Church went unforgivably astray when it renounced polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the leaders of these outlaw sects are zealots who answer only to God. Marrying prodigiously and with virtual impunity (the leader of the largest fundamentalist church took seventy-five “plural wives,” several of whom were wed to him when they were fourteen or fifteen and he was in his eighties), fundamentalist prophets exercise absolute control over the lives of their followers, and preach that any day now the world will be swept clean in a hurricane of fire, sparing only their most obedient adherents.

Weaving the story of the Lafferty brothers and their fanatical brethren with a clear-eyed look at Mormonism’s violent past, Krakauer examines the underbelly of the most successful homegrown faith in the United States, and finds a distinctly American brand of religious extremism. The result is vintage Krakauer, an utterly compelling work of nonfiction that illuminates an otherwise confounding realm of human behavior.

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Review:

Under the Banner of Heaven is a riveting read. The Lafferty boys were brought up in a squeaky clean All-American family. So what made two of them follow revelations from God to slit the throat of their ex-beauty queen sister-in-law and her infant daughter? The problem was that they got involved in the fundamentalist, survivalist wing of the Mormon Church.

Author Jon Krakauer expertly jumps from the immediate horror of the Lafferty boys to the context of Mormonism and the wider questions of religious violence. In the process we are taken on a house of horrors ride through the badlands of fundamentalist Mormon religion. Krakauer introduces us to red necks with more than 30 "wives"--many who were "married" in their early teens. It's a story of fraud, child abuse, incest, physical violence and spiritual and emotional rape at a deep level.

The contemporary story is lurid and shocking, but as Krakauer relates the picaresque story of Joseph Smith--the founder of the Mormon religion--you realise that present day fundamentalist Mormons are far closer to their founder in spirit and behaviour than the more squeaky clean manifestations of modern Mormonism. This well researched and tightly written account gives a great potted history of Mormonism and illuminates the psychotic fringes of religious mentality. In doing so it reveals the wild dangers of spiritual free wheeling and the need for caution and restraint in religion. --Dwight Longenecker

Review:

"'A provocative look at the twisted roots of American fundamentalism' Will Self, Evening Standard Books of the Year; 'Excellent... a lucid, judicious, even sympathetic account not just of Mormon Fundamentalism but of the seductive power of fanaticism in general' Daily Telegraph; 'Krakauer writes exceptionally well: as thrilling as Capote on true crime, as devastating as Nietzsche on religious fundamentalism' Scotland on Sunday; 'Remarkable... for anyone interested in the wilder frontiers of spiritual conviction, this book is a must' Independent; 'Krakauer is an adept chronicler of extremists, and he's as intent on understanding religious fanatics as he was in his earlier books on exploring the obsessions of monomaniacal adventures' Los Angeles Times"

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