Being raised catholic and reading the old testament cover to cover, then having been forcibly “converted” to christianity and reading the King James bible cover to cover, then exploring Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies in my late 20s, I like to believe that I am relatively well-read when it comes to religion. I’ve yet to finish reading the Koran (translated), but have read up on the history of the Muslim faith. All that said, I’ve been interested in the Latter Day Saints for a few years, but haven’t found many books that can present the faith without being overshadowed by an agenda. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer has been on my reading list for a few years now, specifically because someone who grew up in the Mormon church recommended it to me.
Under the Banner of Heaven is really about a murder that takes place in 1984, but it is also about the philosophy, history and tenets that govern the Mormon faith. Krakauer, renowned for his exploration of human experiences, both large (Into Thin Air) and small (Into The Wild), presents a vivid account of the inner workings of the Church of Latter Day Saints and Fundamentalist movement that is trying to stay true to the original church incorporated by Joseph Smith back in 1830. While the modern LDS Church has repealed certain revelations (known as The Doctrine and Covenants) Joseph Smith himself added to the original “book of mormon,” there are still a number of facets to this most modern of religions that go against not only natural law, but the law of man.
The book is also an exploration of a type of extremism that has become all to common in the modern world. Whether we’re talking about Al-Qa’ida, the Irish Republican Army, Aum Shinrikyo, or the KKK, extremism is no more than out-of-control passion without the understanding that tempers it. Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints fall into this category and Krakauer does a good job of keeping the editorial from being to heavy handed.
If you’re as interested in the fundamentalist movement as I am, Under the Banner of Heaven is definitely worth a read, even if it is just out of morbid curiousity.