Book Review – Under The Banner Of Heaven

by Jon Krakauer (Pan) ISBN: 9780330419123

This non-fiction book looks at the history of the Mormon faith. It examines the creator of this new form of Christianity, Joseph Smith the prophet; polygamy’s current status; and specific followers’ tales, including such fanatics as the Lafferty brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and baby niece because they believed they were commanded to do this ritualistic murder as part of a divine revelation.

Krakauer analyses the murder trial where the question of how to make the decision between mental delusion and unorthodox faith is pondered. He also quotes the psychiatrist working on Ron Lafferty’s case who says that, like Ron Lafferty, most people who introduce a new religious system into the world by proclaiming they are a prophet or guru, fit the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.

The author also interviews once-ardent Mormon, DeLoy Bateman, who left the fold and became an atheist when things did not add up. Bateman is now trying to ‘instil a healthy skepticism about religious dogma of all kinds’ in his children. He says he still finds it difficult to disregard what he was taught while growing up in a Fundamentalist Mormon household: black people are bad, the earth is only six thousand years old and that if you just do what the prophet commands, he will take responsibility for all your actions. He says he is amazed how gullible people are, and that, although people following the religion are happy, he now thinks freedom of thought is more important.

Krakauer concludes the book as follows: ‘Most of us fear death. Most of us yearn to comprehend how we got here, and why – which is to say, most of us ache to know the love of our creator. And no doubt we will feel that ache, most of us, for as long as we happen to live’.

Amanda Blankfield-Koseff

Posted on: 30th April 2013