Thursday, July 3, 2008

Under the Banner of Heaven. Jon Krakauer.

New York: Anchor Books

Why read it? A study in extremism. While this book is primarily about Mormon fundamentalists (read, believers in polygamy, which mainstream Mormons do not accept today), it is also a history of Mormonism. Hard to believe that people would be credulous enough to accept Joseph Smith's account of the Angel Moroni and the golden plates which he translated from Egyptian hieroglyphics by means of magic glasses and a magic stone.

While Krakauer's book suggests some reasons for the appeal of Mormonism--the close relationship with God, the expectation of the Second Coming of Christ, the clear statement of what is good and what is evil, the desire to submit to authority, thus removing the uncertainty and discomfort of having to make individual decisions--I still fail to understand why people are attracted to the religion. And they are. Along with Islam, Mormonism is one of the fastest growing world religions. Like Islam's Koran, Mormon scripture purports to be the actual word of God.

Religions take the characteristics of their founders and, in the case of the Mormons, Joseph Smith gave to his followers a belief in personal revelations from God and a culture of violence.

Some Quotes and Ideas to Discuss:
John Taylor, Jan. 4, 1889: "God is greater than the United States, and when the government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the government. I defy the United States; I will obey God."

Judge Bullock: "In my twelve years as a judge, I have never presided over a trial of such a cruel, heinous, pointless and senseless a crime as the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty. Nor have I seen an accused who had so little remorse of feeling." [God told him to do it.]

"Faith-based violence was present long before Osama bin Laden, and it will be with us long after his demise."

"In any human endeavor, some fraction of its practitioners will be motivated to pursue that activity with such concentrated focus and unalloyed passion that it will consume them utterly. One has to look no further than individuals who feel compelled to devote their lives to becoming concert pianists say, or climbing Mount Everest. For some, the province of the extreme holds an allure that's irresistible."

"Extreme and bizarre religious ideas are so commonplace in American history that it is difficult to speak of them as 'fringe'...."

"...sermons frequently stress the need for total submission. 'I want to tell you that the greatest freedom you can enjoy is in obedience.... Perfect obedience produces perfect faith.' "

"David Leavitt doesn't consider Green's plural marriages a matter of religious freedom or a harmless sexual relationship between consenting adults. Leavitt views Green as a pedophile, plain and simple. 'He preyed on little girls who, from the cradle, knew no other life but polygamy.... He robbed them of their childhood.... They are victims of pedophiles.' "

"What goes on in our homes here is nobody's business," asserts Sam Roundy, Colorado City's polygamous police chief. "We're not infringing on anybody. Don't we have the right to practice our religion?"

"But polygamy is a crime in all fifty states as well as in Canada, and police officers are sworn to uphold the law."

"Mormonism is a patriarchal religion, rooted firmly in the traditions of the Old Testament. Dissent isn't tolerated. Questioning the edicts of religious authorities is viewed as a subversive act that undermines faith. When the prophet speaks, the debate is over."

"As for Brian David Mitchell, in the days following his arrest [for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart] he steadfastly insisted that he had done nothing wrong, arguing that forcing a fourteen-year-old girl into polygamous bondage was not a criminal act because it was a 'call from God.' "

"I do not believe that zealots are mentally ill, per se. A zealot is simply someone who has an extreme, fervently held belief and is willing to go to great lengths to impose those beliefs, act on those beliefs. I guess my actual the existence of an extreme religious, personal or political belief system is not, per se, an indication of mental illness."

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