Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer is the haunting story of Dan and Ron Lafferty, why they killed their sister-in-law and niece and how they gave their religion as motivation. The often disturbing story that unfolds reads more like a horror story than a work of nonfiction.
Karkauer uses the Lafferty story as a way to delve into the Mormon religion as a whole. He gives fascinating details about how the religion started and the road that brought it to the religion it is today. Krakauer’s research explains the reasons behind many of the various sects of the Latter-day Saints as well as the Mormon Fundamentalists.
With so many details and stories Krakauer often seems to be going off on a random tangent, but his tangents always link back to the main story in some surprising way.
The details behind the Lafferty murders are both horrifying and fascinating. Krakauer does a wonderful job of explaining the events that unfolded as well as the history of the religion with as unbiased an opinion as seems possible. So much of the history is filled with violence by and against the church. In response to an exaggerated report, Lilburn Boggs, Governor of Missouri, stated:
“The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public peace. Their outrages are beyond all description.”
I was fascinated by the history of the religion, how it came to exist and the various factors that played a part in molding it. For example, the US government is a huge reason the church eventually prohibited polygamy.
“Although LDS leaders were originally loath to abandon plural marriage, eventually they adopted a more pragmatic approach to American politics, emphatically rejected the practice, and actually began urging government agencies to prosecute polygamists. It was this single change in ecclesiastical policy, more than anything else, that transformed the LDS Church into its astonishingly successful present-day iteration. Having jettisoned polygamy, Mormons gradually ceased to be regarded as a crackpot sect.”
This brilliantly researched and well written book is a thought-provoking read that had me constantly pausing so I could read a passage to my husband. I was fascinated the entire time.