Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer
i’ve read a couple of krakauer’s books (into thin air, into the wild), and have mostly loved them. i say “mostly”, because, while i think he’s a great writer and storyteller, and meticulous in his research, there’s occasionally a hint of arrogance or smugness that i don’t find appealing. that said, i found under the banner of heaven to be exceptionally fascinating.
if you’re not familiar with krakauer’s work, his books all have the same general approach: he tells a particular story, but places it within the context of its larger setting. in this case, the particular story is of a double murder, carried out by two fundamentalist mormon brothers (of their sister-in-law and her daughter) based on an alleged prophetic message from god. but the larger context is a thorough history of mainstream mormonism, and a much more detailed history and current-day description of the various fundamentalist mormon sects that have split off from the main lds faith.
of course, this book was published before the news-swirl earlier this year of the raid on a polygamous fundie compound in texas, and all the fall-out from that; but those characters play into this book (specifically, warren jeffs, the de facto leader of the particular splinter group that raided compound rolled up to). i learned a lot about mormonism, and even more about fundamentalist mormons (who, i have to add, krakauer treats with as much empathy and fairness as is possible).
all that said: what was really intriguing to me were the broader questions the book occasionally asks, but were regularly percolating in my mind, about religion. questions about civil disobedience, and how to respond when one’s faith and government are at odds with each other. questions about hearing the voice of god. questions about authoritarian structures and communal discernment. even questions about marriage, fidelity, and intimacy. at one point, i jokingly said to jeannie, “hey, maybe we should consider polygamy.” she was at a particularly weary moment, and quickly responded, “could the other wife do all the cooking and cleaning?”
at the bottom line, under the banner of heaven bubbles up the danger of any one person saying he or she is speaking for god.