Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A previously undisclosed discount book purchase

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (hc) by Jon Krakauer for one dollar.

I bought this about a month or so ago, but didn't think to mention it as I already own a copy which I have read. I got this one as a gift for someone who had mentioned in passing how strange the origins of Mormonism are.

This is actually one of the most interesting books on religion I've read. It is a case study examination of two Mormon fundamentalist brothers who kill their sister-in-law and niece on what they believe to be the order of God; the story cuts between details relating to the murder and Mormonism's early history of authoritarian violence.

For more on the book, see Robert Wright's review.

In July 1984, in a Utah town called American Fork, Dan Lafferty entered the home of his brother Allen, who was at work, and killed Allen's wife and 15-month-old daughter. Dan, now serving a life sentence, has no remorse about the murders and no trouble explaining them. His older brother, Ron, who assisted in the crime and is now on death row, had received a revelation from God mandating that Brenda and Erica Lafferty be ''removed'' so that, as God put it, ''my work might go forward.'' Brenda Lafferty, a spunky 24-year-old, had been bad-mouthing polygamy and in other ways impeding the fundamentalist mission that had seized Ron and Dan.

Parallels between the Lafferty brothers and Islamic terrorists aren't obvious, and Krakauer doesn't explore them very explicitly. The author of ''Into Thin Air,'' the best-selling account of death on Mount Everest, he is essentially a narrative writer. He mentions Osama bin Laden near the beginning and end of the book and leaves it for readers to draw their own conclusions, with some help from the book jacket's reference to ''Taliban-like theocracies in the American heartland.''

Still, by setting Mormon fundamentalism in its historical and scriptural context, and by powerfully illuminating Dan Lafferty's mind, Krakauer provides enough raw material for a seminar on post-9/11 questions. What drives people toward fundamentalism, and then toward violence? Where is the line between religious fanaticism and insanity? How heavy is the influence of religious history, in particular scripture, as opposed to the material conditions of modern life?

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