In Short: A look at some of the extreme Fundamentalist Mormon sects and the early history of the Mormon church
Thoughts in General: Again, Holy Freakin Cow. Under the Banner of Heaven is centered around the 1984 vicious murder of a woman and her 15 month old baby in the outskirts of Provo, Utah. Two of her brothers-in-law, who were incredibly upset at her resistance to their (and her husband’s) Fundamentalist Mormon beliefs, felt impressed by God to slay her and the babe.
From there, Krakauer dives into the early history of the Mormon faith, especially the principle of polygamy that was practiced by the early leaders of the religion (officially until 1890). After the Mormon church banned the practice of polygamy, many groups splintered and even today there remain many groups who still subscribe to the principle of plural wives. Krakauer explores these groups as well as some of the famous cases in recent history (eg Elizabeth Smart’s abduction)
Now let’s back up a bit and talk a little Trish History. Six months before the Lafferty murder, my parents and I moved from closeby outskirts of Provo to Toronto. This murder basically happened in my former backyard. I also grew up in the Mormon church, though I have been inactive for over 15 years. I attended one year of college at BYU-Idaho and have read The Book of Mormon. While I don’t practice anymore (any religion), I still have a lot of respect for the church and anyone who can have such an amazing amount of faith.
To say that reading this book was a fascinating read is a huge understatement coming from my point of view.
To top all of that off, I recently learned that my great-great grandfather took a plural wife. And while reading Under the Banner of Heaven, I realized that one of the most bloody massacres in Utahn history (Mountain Meadows Massacre) happened just outside of where my gg-grandmother was living as a child. Her parents surely would have known about these goings-ons.
Fascinating. Horrifying. This book–I couldn’t put it down.
When I was younger, and still a practicing member of the church, people would always ask me if my dad had more than one wife. Duh–they don’t do that anymore! It was such an inane question and it always irritated me. But what really irritates me is how the church history that I was taught as a young adult was really only a piece of the story.
I was always fascinated by the church history and the prophets of the church. I read a lot and was pretty knowledgeable. And yet. I think it was just a few weeks ago that the church finally confirmed that Joseph Smith was a polygamist with up to forty wives.
Under the Banner of Heaven is fascinating. And horrifying. For sure. And I recognize that it is one side of the history–just as the side that I was taught growing up was another side. And I don’t think there are simply two sides to the story. History is like that–complicated and complex.
A few more things to end up this terribly personal look at my thoughts on this book. It was a touch long–I started skimming near the end. It doesn’t paint the Mormon church in the best lighting (even given that the mainstream Mormon church is absolutely separate and in no way affiliated with the fundamentalist sects). And since this is a continuing history, it is 11 years out of date (eg Warren Jeffs, who is discussed in the book as being the next fundamentalist prophet, is now in prison serving for all sorts of charges).
Bottom Line: I absolutely recommend Under the Banner of Heaven. I couldn’t put it down. I loaned it to my dad a few years ago (obviously before reading it) and I didn’t realize at the time how much of the church history was included. Now I’m loaning it to him again so we can discuss it. Because I have all the questions. And reading this book has made me eager to seek out other sides of the stories told.
Maybe it’s mostly due to personal reasons, but wow–this book.
Have you read Under the Banner of Heaven?