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Under the Banner of Heaven

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith - Jon Krakauer The phenomenal adherence, by the followers of the Latter Day Saints to a code of secrecy, and the profound strength of the endowment of G-d-like powers to “appointed” human prophets, makes one truly question the veracity of this group as a religious order rather than a cult. The backbone of the religion seems to rely on the belief in a G-d who is cruel and barbaric and who reveals himself to mere humans. All Saints are his conduits.
Briefly, Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS, had visions and revelations. He believed in vicious brutality toward infidels. On p. 130, we learn of Joseph Smith’s avowed desire to replace the government of the United States with a government of G-d. Then we have Brigham Young, among so many others, who was basically a despot, a liar and quite possibly an accessory to many murders and yet, today, he is still revered and honored. While reading, this question constantly came to me, why does the religion spawn so many deranged followers?
The fact that Mormon history is a part of modern history, and that there is proof of so many horrible acts of violence, makes one wonder about them more than if they were an ancient religion. Ancient religions were steeped in superstition and bondage as well as a belief in a supreme being. They were desperate for salvation, and religion offers that to those who are forlorn, as well as to those who truly believe. LDS is a modern day creation which seems to have been run by psychopaths, at various points in its history.
The religion also holds such sway over its members that one has to question the allegiance of the congregants since their first duty is to their G-d and religious doctrines, as dictated by their leaders, rather than to the US. This is documented in their books. They have such control over local governments in their communities that they certainly can operate outside our mainstream laws if they make the effort.
At first, I thought Krakauer concentrated too much on the aberrant behavior of some of the followers, but as I read on I realized he also covered the basic tenets of the larger religion, in addition to the factions that were more radical, that broke away. The Fundamentalists are as “far out” out from the mainstream as the fundamentalists in every religion.
The more moderate members adhere to more of our own cultural mores today, eliminating plural marriage, but still requiring obedience from their women, whom they do not offer equal rights or participation in the hierarchy of their church, in contrast to most religions in our modern times. The women, however, are a far cry from the braided hairdo look and pinafore wearing females of the more fundamentalist sects, but one has to wonder sometimes, why the historic documents are kept under lock and key, why there is a cloak of secrecy surrounding their background and why they are so interested in proselytizing. Do they believe in religious freedom for others or like Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, and like their founder Joseph Smith, do they still believe all others are infidels, not worthy of living?
Their Book of Mormon and its other varied doctrines still call for the submission and obedience of women, plural marriage as G-d’s commandment, the “blood of atonement” which sanctions death for non-believers, and approves of outright lying if it is in the pursuit of their religious beliefs and so in that way, it has been compared to Islam.
To whom would a member of the Mormon faith owe allegiance, his G-d or his country? Would one be able to believe the denials of certain behaviors knowing the precepts they deny are still written in their books of observance, especially if lying is sanctioned in furthering its cause? Because of the modern day nature of the “backward” beliefs, the question does give one pause.
It is not the odd fanatic that made me wonder about the Mormons, but rather it is the doctrines that they follow that are anathema to modern society. The heinous commands of some of their leaders, leading to the deaths of many innocents, made me wonder, at times, why they are called Saints and not “sinners”.
All that said, I hope this book is not used, during our election seasons, as a political weapon against those of the Mormon faith who are running for political office, since many of their brethren have served the country nobly. Obviously, there are two different sects, one of which is really radical, (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, FLDS), while the other (Latter Day Saints, LDS), is not. LDS has changed and modernized over the years, even if their books and methods have not. I do believe that the aura of secrecy around the followers and the leaders needs to be further explored and made more transparent to satisfy my curiosity and doubts.
I have known Mormons, actually been close friends with some, as a matter of fact, and I don’t paint them with a broad brush filled with bias. They were wonderful peace-loving people, monogamous teetotalers who were devoted to each other and their Church, but their behavior was absolutely controlled and dictated by their Church leaders.
The history and lifestyle of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) and the other errant sect’s that have broken away, is so confusing that it was hard to keep track of the lineage as young brides became wives of their step fathers, stepmothers to children older than themselves became mother-in-laws to their own stepmothers, and then their children, in turn, went through the same progression with their marriages which were often to men many times older than they. The mother and daughter may be married to the same husband or they may marry the father of their own mother. Fathers even take daughters as their wives. It is difficult, at times, to read about the revelations of the horribly abusive behavior of the men towards the women, sometimes even the boys toward very young girls, which was, and quite possibly still is, often overlooked and condoned by their society and ours.
When originally founded or organized, the Mormons were essentially a peaceful group, but when pushed by society, when government consistently forced them to relocate, when they were attacked and murdered by non-believers, the constant harassment and brutality forced them to fight back and as they believed in more violent behavior, so increased the violent men numbered among them. When America pushed harder, they organized a militia.
While Joseph Smith preferred tolerance and strict adherence for his own brethren, he did not wish to honor such values for non-Mormons and held as a main idea, a need to proselytize everyone and make the entire country Mormon. Later, another powerful leader, Brigham Young, believed in polygamy, and while he preached publicly that the policy had been abandoned, he privately sanctioned secrecy in the community to allow the practice to continue. Duplicity was a common practice.
Every religion has its fanatics but this one seems to have so many within it that break away, believing themselves to be modern day prophets, emissaries of G-d in direct contact with Him, that one almost has to suspend disbelief to believe in its origins and founders. Which is the one true belief system of the Latter Day Saints? Which Mormon was the real conduit of the angel Moroni? It is based on such convoluted and unverified diatribes that it becomes a chore to figure out who truly believes he is the right hand of G-d and who is actually a charlatan taking advantage of the precepts which have been so easy to manipulate and make their own.