Lesson Plans Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

Why We’re Afraid of Mormons
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It was in this libertarian spirit that he came to reject the Mormon Church's jettisoning of polygamy; church leaders had caved in to an invasive federal government. Ron, like Dan, turned toward fundamentalism while under economic pressure. The bank was about to foreclose on his home -- he would sometimes break into tears over his family's plight -when Dan convinced him that God wanted him to forsake material goals and become a fundamentalist missionary.

Dan also drew his four other brothers into the fold, but there was one problem: Brenda, the wife of his brother Allen. As the Lafferty boys started espousing polygamy and other strange things, Brenda urged the other wives to resist. And Ron's wife took Brenda's advice in spades. She divorced Ron and took the children to Florida.

So when Ron's divine revelation about Brenda's ''removal'' arrived, he was in a receptive frame of mind. Though organized around the Lafferty brothers' crime, ''Under the Banner of Heaven'' recounts the always interesting history of Mormonism, starting with the day in when the New York visionary and suspected charlatan Joseph Smith met an angel named Moroni.

Study Guides on Works by Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith Summary & Study Guide. Download Lesson Plans. 30 Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. Get Under the Banner of View the Lesson Plans. Study Guide. Order our Under the.

Krakauer wants to show how the Lafferty murder is rooted in the Mormon past. He emphasizes, for example, the doctrine of ''blood atonement,'' stressed by Smith but later dropped by the church. View all New York Times newsletters. It's true that Dan Lafferty, while delving into church history, encountered this idea. But it's also true that by then he already harbored volatile grievances and that he had come from a violent background; his father killed the family dog with a baseball bat as family members looked on.

Most religions, and certainly the monotheistic ones, have odes to violence in their scriptural past. See, for example, Deuteronomy. The question is what makes some people more inclined than others to latch onto these passages. However valid Krakauer's linkage of past and present, it steepens an already formidable storytelling challenge.

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The contemporary parts of the book -skipping from the Lafferty case to sketches of two fundamentalist towns to a late-breaking chapter on Elizabeth Smart -- can themselves disorient the reader with disparate detail. From a strictly literary standpoint, polygamy's main downside is its creation of lots of characters with the same last name.

With long historical sections mixed in, the momentum dissipates further.

Almost every section of the book is fascinating in its own right, and together the chapters make a rich picture, but there is little narrative synergy among them. The book ends near the desert town of Colorado City, Ariz. He grants that believers are happy but says happiness isn't as important as being free to think for yourself. He's referring partly to the totalitarian undercurrent of Mormon fundamentalism.

The town's leading prophet tells his flock to avoid television, magazines and newspapers -- and sometimes tells teenage girls whom they should marry. Still, this, the book's closing note, will be taken by some as a verdict on religion writ large -- especially since, at the moment Bateman notes religion's conduciveness to happiness, he happens to look out over ''a quivering sheen of mirage. Certainly the picture of religion presented in the book is unflattering. Linking the Laffertys to Mormon history means stressing its violent and authoritarian aspects.

And of course neither of these is an invention of Krakauer's. Polygamous societies in general tend toward authoritarianism, as the anthropologist Laura Betzig has shown. She attributes this to the need of powerful men to control not just women but the understandably unsettled lower-status males who, through the grim mathematics of polygamy, go mateless. Still, it would have been nice to see some of religion's upside. Something must explain the vibrancy of mainstream Mormonism, and I doubt it's just the dark energy of residual authoritarianism.

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Religion, like patriotism, can nurture virtue within the group even while directing hostility beyond it. Courtroom arguments over Ron Lafferty's sanity impinge on the question of religion from another angle, by questioning the line between religious fervor and pathological delusion.

Though believers may find this question offensive, in a way it acquits religion of some charges against it. If there isn't much difference between the talking dog that gave David Berkowitz his marching orders and the ''God'' that visited Ron Lafferty, then for all we know Lafferty, had he not been religious, would have gotten his guidance from another voice.

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THE human mind is great at justifying its goals, and it does so by whatever medium is handy, including -- if neither god nor dog seems plausible -- simple moralizing. Dan Lafferty, asked to distinguish himself from Osama bin Laden, says, ''I believe I'm a good person. Krakauer writes that ''as a means of motivating people to be cruel or inhumane.

It is a common denominator of crimes committed in the name of religion, nationalism, racism -- even, sometimes, nihilism.

And it isn't the only element of the Lafferty story with this kind of versatility. A name intensive book - as usual Krakauer has done his homework and taught the reader loads on a religion that has surpassed Judaism by number of people. If you live in the US, and faith maintains an active role in your life, I would encourage you to read this book. Crazy to see how a US-centric view of God and man caught hold in the second great awakening as Mormonism did.

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This extraordinary work of investigative journalism takes readers inside America's isolated Mormon Fundamentalist communities, where some 40, people still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God. At the core of Krakauer's book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith.

Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America's fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief. Edition: First Anchor books edition. ISBN: Branch Call Number: Characteristics: xxiii, pages : maps ; 21 cm. From the critics. Comment Add a Comment.

Thou Shalt Kill

Examined every disturbing piece. One of the finest true crime--if not nonfiction--books ever written, period. Good journalistic writing, but too long.