Under the Banner of Heaven—Jon Krakauer

What is the book Under the Banner of Heaven about?

Under the Banner of Heaven tracks the story of the Lafferty brothers and how they became Mormon fundamentalists.[1] The book details the crimes that these brothers committed and compares this story with the foundations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[2] The book also criticizes religion broadly, specifically on its connection to violence.[3]

What is a Mormon fundamentalist?

Mormon fundamentalists are individuals or groups that break off from the Church because they believe that the Church was wrong to stop the practice of plural marriage.[4] The Church excommunicates those who practice polygamy today.[5]

Does religion lead to violence?

Yes, religious beliefs can lead to violence.[6] They can also lead to peace.[7]

Religious criticism in Under the Banner of Heaven

Reference

Quote

Prologue

“Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness a crucial component of spiritual devotion.”[8]

Prologue

"As a means of motivating people to be cruel or inhumane, as a means of inciting evil. . . there may be no more potent force than religion."[9]

Prologue

"Extremism seems to be especially prevalent among those inclined by temperament or upbringing towards religious pursuits."[10]

Chapter 6 (pg. 70)

“All religious belief is a function of nonrational faith. And faith, by its very definition, tends to be impervious to intellectual argument or academic criticism.”[11]

Besides religious violence, are there any other themes in the book?

Yes, the book also talks about the practice of polygamy.[12] It notes that while the Church stopped practicing polygamy, Mormon fundamentalists continued the practice.[13] The book also conflates these two religious movements that share a common founder and common scripture.[14]

Who wrote Under the Banner of Heaven?

Jon Krakauer.[BIO] He is a journalist, a mountaineer, and the author of best-selling non-fiction books.[15]

What is the author's connection to Mormonism?

Krakauer has no known personal connection with Mormonism.[16] However, in a Medium article, he did mention he knew some Latter-day Saints growing up.[17]

Is the book Under the Banner of Heaven accurate?

Yes and no. While Under the Banner of Heaven seems to portray the facts of the Lafferty murders accurately,[18] Krakauer sometimes misrepresents or oversimplifies the Church and its members.[19]

What did critics think of the book?

Some critics praised the book, believing that it accurately and articulately showed tensions between faith and violence.[20] Other critics have pointed out the author's inaccuracies and sensationalism.[21]

Sample Reviews of Under the Banner of Heaven

Source

Review

Church Newsroom, June 27, 2003[22]

". . . Krakauer unwittingly puts himself in the same camp as those who believe every German is a Nazi, every Japanese a fanatic, and every Arab a terrorist."

Kirkus Book Reviews, July 15, 2003[23]

"At the moment 'when religious fanaticism supplants ratiocination,' then 'all bets are suddenly off.' Krakauer lays the portent on beautifully, building his tales carefully from the ground up until they irresistibly, spookily combust."

Jane Lampman, Christian Science Monitor, July 17, 2003[24]

". . . while this compelling book raises important issues - some pertinent to today's news - it also delivers a skewed and misleading picture of a faith now practiced by 11 million people worldwide."

Benjamin Park, Juvenile Instructor, February 20, 2012[25]

"What, we wonder, made Krakauer’s caricatured telling of Mormonism’s “violent” past so crucial that to avoid it in a historical survey of the LDS Church is worthy of being charged with negligence? . . . Put simply, it’s a shoddy work of history, and should have been destined to be another flash-in-the-pan sensationalist work that soon fell into insignificance."

Karina Wetherbee, Summit Daily, June 13, 2015[26]

"Respectful, but hard-hitting in his reporting, Krakauer hits another one out of the park with 'Under the Banner of Heaven.'"

Did the Church issue a response to Under the Banner of Heaven?

Yes. The Church issued several responses to the book,[27] listing specific factual errors.[28] Krakauer has acknowledged some of these errors[29] but generally disagreed with the critiques.[30]

Other Latter-day Saints have published both positive and negative reviews.[31]

What does the Church say about violence?

The Church condemns violence.[32] Scriptures also echo this message of peace.[33]

Some People Say . . .

"Under the Banner of Heaven is an anti-Mormon book."

— overheard in Sunday School

The Facts

  • Jon Krakauer published Under the Banner of Heaven in July 2003.

  • Krakauer is a journalist, atheist, and critic of religions.

  • Under the Banner of Heaven chronicles the Lafferty murders while also commenting on religion broadly and Latter-day Saints specifically.

  • The Church issued three different critiques for Under the Banner of Heaven in one release.

  • Under the Banner of Heaven received mixed reviews from Latter-day Saints and non-Latter-day Saints.

  • The Church condemns violence and lawless behavior.

Our Take

Under the Banner of Heaven presents an alarming story—pulling from violent and terrible events. In his book, Krakauer both tells the story of the Lafferty murders and comments on the Church and religious violence. This narrative raises questions like, "Did something about the Church cause the events portrayed in Jon Krakauer’s book?" or "Does Mormonism make people violent?"

These questions are worth examining, especially for those who want to evaluate if the Restored Gospel brings forth good fruit. While Krakauer accurately portrays many of the details of the murders, he sometimes misrepresents the Church, particularly in relation to Mormon fundamentalists. It can be concerning when members or in this case, former members, use religion to justify their violence. However, the Church has denounced violence in the past and continues to do so today.

It's important to regularly inspect our culture and our interpretations of divine truths, to make sure we best reflect the love of God and love for all people in our worship and actions. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of peace and love for all people, and church members should strive to exemplify that.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Convert, Return missionary & Desert Storm Veteran
    Hard to watch. The Author could not get basic beliefs right. He put all LDS in a box. 99% of historical portrayal was way off. I mean, get it right. LDS Women serve Missions, drive tractors, serve in the military, and we have opinions. SMH
  • Wendy B
    Ultimately, what needs to be understood by people, is that these people are a totally different religion. They took a church that doesn't preach or practice violence, nor polygamy, and twisted it to fit their sadistic minds. They are NOT real LDS members.
  • John
    You state that “the church has denounced violence in the past and continues to do so today.” With that in mind, can you speak to the churches practice of blood atonement in the 1800’s? Additionally, why do so many members glorify Porter Rockwell?
Footnotes