Monday, January 2, 2012

Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer (2003)

Reviewer: BeezusKiddo

Rating: 3.5 pierogies

Review: I borrowed this book from Elle Ewok (click link for her review). I was considering not bothering writing a review, because her review skilfully captures my same thoughts.
Krakauer tries to explore the mysterious history of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, as well as tell the story of its many fundamentalist spinoffs, in addition to the violent story of the Lafferty brothers. Combining all three of these topics is a delicate undertaking, and should be done carefully. Krakauer fails to do that.

I understand that because the history of the LDS church is not widely known to much of the American public, it is necessary to discuss the church's history generally, before getting into the more specialized issues of the fundamentalist spinoffs. Krakauer fails to do this with care, and as a result, I felt that Krakauer gave the mainstream LDS church an unnecessarily bad rap.

Every religion has a history in blood, and most don't flaunt past tragedies. I'm comfortable in saying that most every religion has made efforts to cover up past bad events. The LDS chuch wouldn't have acted uniquely in hiding, or discouraging conversation over, tragedies like the Mountain Meadows massacre. Perhaps I'm pessimistic, but that's the nature of organized religion.

All the bad things about the fundamentalist LDS spinoffs are easy to see. I felt like Krakauer blurred the lines between the LDS church and the fundamentalists, or at a minimum, didn't do enough to distinguish the fundamentalist sects as fundamentalist. The fundamentalists are excommunicated from the LDS church, they are by definition not part of it, even if they claim to be of the same religion. Krakauer drops disclaimers about that here and there. However, I wasn't the only one who didn't find the disclaimers to be particularly effective, as the publication of this book spurned outrage from the LDS church. Krakauer spends a 20 page addendum responding to the LDS church's objections, which quickly got boring. I read only about 3 pages of it.

I know very little about the history of Mormonism. Anything I know about fundamentalist sects, I know from watching Big Love. This book was fascinating to me. I felt guilty about that fascination, because I felt like Krakauer didn't give the mainstream LDS church a fair shake.

I recommend this book highly, but encourage you to read it with an open and critical mind.

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