Battlepanda: Monday Book Blogging: Under the Banner of Heaven


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Monday Book Blogging: Under the Banner of Heaven

The eagle-eyed among you would have noticed that there was no Monday Book blogging last week. What can I say. I slipped up. I'm still struggling through the book I was reading, a career self-help book called "High Tech Careers for Low Tech people" by William A. Schaffer. I saw it in a used book shop, flipped through the first couple of pages and thought "This book is tailor-made for me!" and took it home. Only later do I realize that, though it seems to be well-written and undoubtedly contain some wisdom I can use, most of it seemed irrationally exuberant (published 1999) and it seems to address those who want to get into a startup, work a bajillion hours and start climbing the ladder, which is really not me. I'm kind of in trench warfare mode with that book now, chipping away five pages here, ten pages there as I feel the strength.

I had no such trouble with "Under the Banner of Heaven" by John Krakauer. Everything that man writes holds my attention in a vice grip, and "Under the Banner of Heaven" is classic Krakauer. The book is nominally about the brutal murder of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter at the hands of her brother in laws, Ron and Dan Lafferty, all members of a polygamist offshoot of the Mormon church. The background, motivation and execution of the murders are all described in Krakauer's meticulous and unflinching prose. Onto this main narrative he delves into the origin and early of the Morman church, a background that yields many compelling stories of its own. It's all stuff that will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

I have a friend who is mormon. And she is very vehement about drawing the line between the mainline Mormon church which has renounced polygamy and (more recently) racism and those who still practise polygamy. Krakauer makes the distinction between the mainline LDS church and the radical FLDS, but he sees them as sects under the same umbrella religion and treats them as such in the book. This would probably upset many mainline Mormans, but then again, I don't think the takeaway message from Krakauer is that Mormanism is Bad anyhow. I think he is more interested in the question of Faith in general -- Mormanism simply provides an uniquely accessible subject because it is such a young religion, yet so well-established (and well-documented). If there is anything that Krakauer think is bad, I think it is the abdication of reason and our ethical responsibilities to a higher power unquestioningly. Dan Lafferty, the man who actually committed the physical murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby (though Ron was the mastermind) did not falter or experience any guilt because he is convinced that he is doing the Lord's will. The perpetrators of the Mountain Meadow massacre did not flinch in killing more than a hundred men, women and children (except those below the age of five) because they thought that "gentiles" were the enemy. On a less alarming note, defrauding the government is common in Utah because many Mormons believe that defrauding the government of Man is no crime, but a righteous way to "bleed the beast". There are certainly many examples from other religions of Bad Shit going down in the name of a righteous cause.