Under the Banner of Heaven is another excellent piece of non-fiction from Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild. The book is subtitled "A Story of Violent Faith." Woven throughout this expose of the troubling history of Mormonism is the story of the murder of a mother and her infant child by Ron and Dan Lafferty, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.
Warning: it's sickening at times to read this book. Krakauer does not sensationalize; he merely reports. But what he reports is gruesome. It's also terribly, terribly sad that human beings can be so deceived by false religion that they do the kind of things to other people that are detailed in this book (rape, incest, polygamy, deceit, abuse, brainwashing, revenge, etc.).
Besides telling us about the Lafferty crimes of 1984, Krakauer's larger aims are twofold: first, to peel away the mystique around the roots and growth of the Mormon faith and its offshoot versions; and second, to throw religion as a whole under the bus. As to the first aim, I learned a lot about Mormonism - especially Joseph Smith and Brigham Young - that I did not know. Krakauer's research appears thorough, although Mormon spokesmen have attacked it as biased and incomplete.
As to throwing religion as a whole under the bus, it's apparent that Jon Krakauer has heard bits and pieces of the gospel but hasn't heard or understood the full or balanced picture. He's obviously learned about enough junk done in the name of God ("under the banner of heaven") that it's no wonder he's skeptical of all religions. Have Christians (like Mormons) messed up in the past? Absolutely. Do we need to own up to our failures just as Mormons need to own up to theirs? Absolutely. But sooner or later every human being comes back to the age-old questions: Why are we here rather than not here? What's the meaning of our lives? What will be the basis of hope when we're looking death in the face? If God does not exist, why do we bother to wake up tomorrow morning?
May these questions lead Jon to Christ, who will one day wipe every tear from our eyes and recreate this messed-up world in justice and peace.