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Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith - Jon Krakauer One thing I’ve noticed about Krakauer books is that I always feel as if the author wrote all the subjects for the book on index cards, threw them up in the air, collected them, and then shuffled them before writing. He seems to write a chapter based on one particular interview or idea rather than writing chronologically or logically. As such, it becomes a little confusing as he changes gears from modern times to the distant past and back and forth in time such that someone is dead one day and alive the next. I have to wonder if his editor pussyfoots out of the editing process just because the author has an interesting story to tell that the editor knows will sell … and because he’s Krakauer? I actually downloaded this audiobook from my library without knowing the subject and simply because it was a Krakauer book, so I guess the editor was right on that front.

Under the Banner of Heaven tells the story of the Mormon faith, attempts to explain the difference between the mainstream Mormon church and the fundamentalist version of the religion, and details a violent incident carried out in the name of the fundamentalist version of the faith. A group of guys calling themselves prophets received a "prophecy" from God listing people that the prophets should kill. This book seeks to explain all the underlying reasons why these "prophets" felt that they were justified in taking on such a killing spree. However, I don't think that you can blame Mormonism for their choices. People who want to murder will find an excuse to do so no matter their religion. Maybe The Great Pumpkin would have told them to do it if they weren't Mormons. Who knows? I do think, however, that their religion did provide a catalyst and vehicle for their extreme personalities and psychoses to thrive. And I think that that is what people fear when they rail against a "fundamentalist" version of a religion. It's not everyone within the faith that they fear; it's those who take their extreme faith to more extremes than usual and those who harm others in the process.

I grew up in a fundamentalist faith, so in some ways, perhaps I understand what these men were into in some way. When you combine a logical brain with fundamentalism, you find people who look for tangible evidence of their faith. They look for signs of God confirming what's been said. They want physical evidence to justify their belief. But then it can go nutty. I spent a large portion of my childhood and all my teen years looking for hidden meaning in everything from my dreams to whether or not the next car over the ridge was red or not. I lived my life based on "prophecies" for the future. In some ways, it became crippling because every move of every day was significant. If I left home 5 minutes later than I planned, I would avoid a terrible car accident. If a person slipped up and accidentally said the name of the city I was thinking of traveling to rather than the word they meant to say, it was a confirmation that I was supposed to go there. The collision of your faith and logic can leave you "hearing from God" about the macro- as well as the microcosm of life and finding confirmation of this in something as simple as breaking open an egg to find a double yolk. In the case of these "prophets", their messages came in the form of a "prophecy" that was dictated and auto-written, and their confirmations came from "fleecing" god with if-then statements to determine whether or not they were supposed to do these horrendous things that God had seemingly told them to do. I find it terrifying that I can understand the logic of why they thought they were in the right. That I can wrap my brain around their justifications 15 years removed from a fundamentalist belief system means that you are very correct to fear extremists and crazies within fundamentalism. But who's to say that these people wouldn't have gunned down innocents in a movie theater in the name of the Joker instead of in the name of God? People who are going to do horrible things will find their reasons and justifications anywhere. However, extreme religion can certainly feed and cultivate extreme actions a lot more efficiently than stand-alone craziness can.

As for Mormonism, I learned in this book why I could never buy into it: peep stones and DNA. I never realized Joseph Smith found the famous golden tablets and other things by the use of "peep stones". I also never knew that Native Americans are supposed by Mormons to be a lost tribe of Israel. I wonder how the founding of Mormonism would go over if it happened today. Would it have gotten off to the same start in the 2000s as it did in the 1800s? Anyhow, there are plenty of belief systems I don't subscribe to, and this is one of them. To each their own. The majority of belief systems contain fantastical tales that are to taken on faith, so what's the difference between their faith and yours if you have a faith? You just choose which fantastical tales suit you, and they choose which ones they prefer.

In the end, I rated this book 2 stars because it needs serious editing. I also think that it wasn't necessarily fairly written in that it seemed to want to blame the Lafferty brothers, prophets, and company's killing spree on them being fundamentalists rather than them being just crazy. Fundamentalism might have been a contributing factor, but I felt that the author wanted to point is finger at all fundamentalists of any religion as having the potential to become these guys. I really don't think this is so, although I'd certainly fear someone who was able to rally an entire army of crazies that were also fundamentalists. I think the fear factor rises with strength of numbers.