Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book Review: Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer

“When Elder Packer interviewed me as a prospective member of Brigham Young University’s faculty in 1976, he explained: ‘I have a hard time with historians because they idolize the truth. The truth is not uplifting; it destroys. I could tell most of the secretaries in the church office building that they are ugly and fat. That would be the truth, but it would hurt and destroy them. Historians should tell only that part of the truth that is inspiring and uplifting." - Boyd K. Packer, President of the Twelve, apostle in the LDS church to Michael Quinn LDS scholar.

As a woman in the church that quote is offensive in so many ways but mostly because it justifies withholding the truth from the members.

As a member I want to know! I have a right to know! I shouldn't have to go outside the church to know the truth. History is for everyone, not just something for a select few and hidden in vaults somewhere.

And so I have been on a search for truth.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

I don't normally do reviews on this blog. I have a review blog for that. However I thought this one would be best served here.

The LDS church which I officially belong to admonishes it's members,when reading things about the church to only read church sanctioned materials, because there is so much out there that isn't true.

In some ways it makes sense. If you want to learn about dentistry you don't ask a plumber. If you want to learn about Mormonism, you ask a Mormon.

For years I followed this advice because when I did read something from non-Mormons it was mostly false and nothing like my experience.

When I wanted to find out more history about my church, I decided to look a little further than the Mormon sanctioned sites. Because I discovered that the church publications didn't tell the whole truth. My manual about Brigham Young does not talk about his many wives. There's a statue in Temple Square in Salt Lake that shows the love between Emma and Joseph Smith. Nowhere are there statues for the other women that Joseph married and caused Emma so much heartache. The church glosses over the bad stuff.  I found sites that were Mormon friendly but told the whole truth, not just the parts that the church wanted me to know.

Which has sent me on a whole other journey which will be part of this blog although not so much this post.

Jon Krakauer is not a Mormon, nor has he ever been one, however in reading this book and knowing what I know now about the LDS history I find this book balanced even if it is scary.

The main purpose of the book is to tell the hideous but true story of the Laferty brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and her baby girl by slitting their throats. To understand what happened the author found it helpful to link the thought process of the brothers to their religious upbringing and the history behind it.

The Laferty's were ex-communcated from the church before they did their crime. So let's be clear about that. They were not acting for the church in any way.

However, one wonders if somehow the history of the church does have something to do with the craziness of fundamentalists. It's the same history.

And the history is far more brutal than I realized. The author tells about Joseph and his sordid past, about Hauns Mill, about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and about Brigham Young and his stand towards women, blacks, the American government and murder in the name of God.

It's fat and ugly.

Now the author does get some things wrong. He calls Lyman Wight, Lyman Wright (I happen to actually know this since my children are related to him). He tells the story of Elizabeth Smart and makes the mistake of saying that her abductor wore the robes that Elizabeth would have seen in the temple. Elizabeth would not have seen anyone wearing robes in the temple because she wouldn't have been in that part of the temple.

However he does use proven scholarly books written by Mormons for his history. Books that are well respected in the Mormons scholars world.

This book however, is not an attack on the church. It merely attempts to make sense of how two formerly devout and honorable LDS men can become so evil.

Don't read this book if you don't want to know the history of the church or if you want to follow the admonition of President Packer to not know the truth.

As for the quote at the top of this post -

It's like a woman asking her husband where he's been and he answers "I went to the movies," which is the truth. It just leaves out the part about how he went with another woman and later they went to a motel.

I'm sure Packer would approve.

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