under the banner of heaven – leaving me disgusted with religion

i just finished reading Jon Krackauer’s book, “Under the Banner of Heaven”. I wanted to read this one after reading “Into Thin Air”, which was amazing. “Under the Banner of Heaven” jump-starts with the murder of a young mother and her daughter. They were killed by the mother’s brothers-in-law, who believed that god had told them to kill her and her baby. The book is two-fold in my mind – it is a history of Mormonism (and I might add that it’s noted at the end of the book that the Mormon church (LDS) highly disapproves of this book and has disputed many of the points contained in it), but also a look at FLDS, which is fundamentalist Mormons, that have been excommunicated from the church or never belonged to LDS proper in the first place, and how they developed, what they believe, and where their particular beliefs come from.
I think that a major reason that Mormonism comes off in a less-than-shiny light in this book is that I think that the author feels the need to explicitly explain where these fundamentalists broke away from the main – for example, on the topic of plural marriage, celestial marriage, polygamy (whatever you want to call it) he attempts to trace back the practice to Joseph Smith, and points out the although the LDS church has renounced polygamy, the revelation to Joseph Smith in which god told him to engage in polygamy is still part of the accepted doctrine of the church. It’s been out of accepted mainline LDS church practice for a very long time, and I think many Mormons would prefer that everybody just let it freakin’ go (and who can blame them?) but it’s still an important part of history in examining the rising of these fundamentalist groups.
That said, it’s a very stark portrait of the development of the Mormon church. Other than a PBS special about the history and development, this book is the only major source of information that I have on the subject. I find it very interesting…it’s a portrayal of a people less than 200 years ago, that were trying to forge out their new faith, and were being strongly persecuted for it. The author posits this as a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario – he asserts that the early Mormon community had little to no regard for laws outside of the ones they set for themselves, and formed insular communities, isolating themselves from the outside world. I feel that it’s a bit of a scenario where depending WHAT one considers to have happened first, different people are to blame for tensions between communities. Of course, it’s rare that one side of a conflict can be simply blamed anyway, whether you’re talking about the early LDS church or any other group of people.
I feel like I’m rambling, and so I guess the crux of the matter is that I read this book and kept thinking to myself “How could they be so callous towards others? How could they be so self-righteous to think that they are the only ones with some kind of ‘truth’?” And I kept having to pull myself back – after all Mormonism only does what every other faith does – they assert that they have the one truth from god himself, and everybody else is damned. They believe that to protect their children, they should be shielded from teachings outside the faith, as many Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others do. After all, isn’t that what home-schooling, parochial school, madrassas and Hebrew school are mainly about – to make sure that kids are taught what’s right according to a particular faith system?
In the end, the book left me upset about pretty much every faith. The very end of the book a former fundamentalist Mormon name DeLoy Bateman, now an atheist, is interviewed. He talks for a while about the intolerance of the church to have people question the inconsistencies in teachings – they’d rather have blind following than critical thinking, according to Mr. Bateman. His final quote in the book is, “If ou want to know the truth, I think people within the religion – people here in Colorado City – are probably happier, on the whole, than people on the outside. But some things in life are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself.”
I agree – any religion, government, or person that tells me it’s more important that I just follow the rules, believe exactly what I’m told, and do what they say than to critically examine evidence and make my own conclusions and choices is bloody out of their minds.
(as a small after-note, i want to emphasize again that my knowledge of mormonism is limited, and this post isn’t meant to be a slam against it or any other religion in particular – reading this book simply brought up some strong feelings about religion in general)


3 Responses to “under the banner of heaven – leaving me disgusted with religion”

  1. Krakauer is an amazing writer–INTO THIN AIR is a masterpiece, I felt vertigo as he was describing some of the scenes on Everest. INTO THE WILD is another terrific offering from the author, a true story of a guy who decides to rough it in the wilderness of Alaska…with tragic consequences.
    Good post…

  2. I read Under the Banner of Heaven and it also left me feeling enlightened and disgusted at the same time. He’s a good writer. I read Into the Wild, too…another really interesting story.

  3. mermaid mommy Says:

    I hear that Into the Wild is soon to be a movie. I see it as great film material.

    As for Banner–it makes me not disgusted with religion in general, but most definitely with FUNDAMENTALIST religion. It seems like the extremes in religion have caused the problems over the centuries. I’m sorry about that, because then all religion tends to get a really bad reputation. I still contend that many religions do much good, but the crazy extremists get most of the press.

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