Final Thoughts: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

bbe0b-underthebanner2Before the break I’d been reading Under the Banner of Heaven and in the month and a half I was away I finished reading it. (Along with a few other books!) Here are my final thoughts on it. 

To recap, the book is an effort to present a set of murders perpetrated by Fundamentalist Mormons and use it as a stepping stone to explore violence in Mormonism. He shares the events that led up to the murders and their aftermath, while telling the story of how the Mormon religion began and developed. Krakauer weaves in stories about the life of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other important members of the religion throughout time. By the time you’re done with the book, you’ve gained quite a bit of insight into how the religion works and what Mormons believe in.

Of course, Krakauer’s story focuses on “the dark side” of religion, in this case the Fundamentalist side of the Mormon faith. This means that while you’re learning about Mormon beliefs, you’re also being told about countless rapes, incest within polygamous families, and what seems to be a pervasive lack of education. However, one does well to remember that these are stories taken from a small sample of the Mormon population. As I read, and as some of the initial posts on this book reflect, I was constantly amazed at what people believed and were willing to endure for their religion. This seemed especially true of the Fundamentalists in the Mormon faith. 

The text constantly interrogates itself and it’s characters on whether or not believing in god and following any religion is an act of delusion and insanity that drives people to irrational and sometimes violent actions. It’s a topic that resurfaces in a few chapters and the author seems to lean towards believing that’s the case. It’s imperative to point out that Krakauer is a biased party, with his own ideas about religion in general and Mormonism in particular. While I don’t doubt that there could be or had been instances of rape, incest, and the like in the Fundamentalist Mormon faith, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that it was the case for everyone then or that it’s representative of what the religion is today.

If I’m being completely honest, what I knew from the Mormon religion prior to reading Krakauer’s account came from that one episode of South Park where a Mormon family comes into town. The book taught me a few things and, even though I staggered through it, I have to say it was an enjoyable experience. As with anything, it’s the kind of book that needs to be read keeping in mind that every story has two sides. That being said, I definitely recommend it. The author makes the narrative feel like all these characters who exists in different times and different places are all part of one twisting thread.

In the end, I sit back and think about what my takeaway from this book is going to be if I believe it’s a narrative that is completely biased and lacks a counterpart to make a balance. And I think, more than learning about the religion and finding out about the murders, to me what stands out is one phrase towards the end. Krakauer is writes about a man who left the religion and became an atheist because he could no longer believe in the things he’d been taught. This man says that the Mormon religion allows you to place blame and choice on god and the prophet, freeing you from the stress of navigating the world and making potentially fatal decisions. “If you want to know the truth,” he says, squinting against the glare, “I think people within the religion—people who live here in Colorado City—are probably happier, on the whole, than people on the outside.” He looks down at the red sand, scowls, and nudges a rock with the toe of one shoe. “But some things in life are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself.” He’s what I take with me as I close this book, a man willing to sacrifice happiness in order to have the freedom to seek what he believed to be true.

What would you guys choose happiness in ignorance or a pursuit of truth that meant being considerably less happy? Let me know below in the comments! As always, stay golden readers. Until Next time!

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