Posted by: Ele Quigan | August 31, 2013

Under the Banner of Heaven – Jon Krakauer

I first came across Jon Krakauer from his incredible ‘Into Thin Air’ book about an ascent of Everest in 1996 which several people died (including the kiwi Rob Hall. His death is ever immortalised for me by the fact he was able to call his pregnant wife from the mountain to say goodbye. “Sleep well my sweetheart. Please don’t worry too much.”)

Anyways, his style of non-fiction writing is often incredibly well researched, dedicated to uncovering further truths, but of course rather than simply stating facts, a story threads and weaves its way through, making it interesting and easy to read.

I don’t know too much about mormonism except that which I’ve learnt through South Park, ‘The Book of Mormon’ (which is basically a South Park musical) & the occasional post on reddit.

It’s an odd religion to me, mostly because it’s so new and it’s premise seems so ludicrous (so, you got given GOLDEN TABLETS, that suddenly don’t exist anymore? seriously?), but this book focusses on another couple of angles, mostly how and why polygamy came into being, and 2 particular massacres (one of several people another of 2, a woman and her baby).

I dunno why but religion has always interested me. I don’t have any personal beliefs myself, but I find the historical reference, pure passion, and of course religious sites – incredible. It’s hard not to be awed in places like St Peter’s & the Sistine Chapel, or the beautiful ornate Wat’s in Thailand, Angkor in Cambodia, the 3rd largest Mosque – the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca…

I’d LOVE to go to Salt Lake City in Utah and see what the Mormon temple is like there. It seems so interesting to me that people can follow something with such fervour, and not question some of it too much. E.g. Inclusion of Polygamy was a late decision from Mormonism founder Joseph Smith, and was quietly practiced for several years before being presented to the followers proper.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much about online misogyny again, or feeling depressed about the PUA movement (pick up artists), or even starting to see what some people really think (the red pill. it’s horrifying), but the way it was presented (and particularly how it was specifically outlined to HIS WIFE in his writing that she was not to take issue with it) all seemed a little too convenient.

What saddens me most, at least in a historical sense, how much institutionalised abuse there must have been. Fathers marrying step daughters, sometimes even their OWN daughters. Children married off at 14 to people 3 times their age, with nothing they could do about it.

Hopefully just in history right? Right? Am I hoping a little hard here?

Sure I’m sitting here from my fairly settled married life judging mormonism from afar, which isn’t really right either, however how Polygamy is at least presented from my perspective leaves a significant amount of choice for the males, very little for the females.

I am sure there are still fundamentalist LDS followers who are practicing this within smaller areas, and I can’t imagine what that would be like. I’d get frustrated with other women in my house, I’ve got a low tolerance for minor annoyances anyway, but can you imagine what it would be like to have to develop a ‘sleeping together’ schedule with other women? What about overhearing it within the house at night? I know I’d turn into a bitter, sad old woman, resigned to an ever younger wife joining the household every year or two.

The ‘fundamentalist’ point is an interesting one throughout the book, in general I do feel that fundamentalism across pretty much anything isn’t a good thing. But it’s interesting the way the book presents I guess what could be seen as ‘modern fundamentalism’.

The Mormon church has a significant amount of documents they have never released, I genuinely think this it likely the same in the depths of the Vatican, and probably similar for most other religions. I do think it’s interesting that there’s less of a push for things/items/documents to be released by followers, and not as a ‘let’s see what you’ve got and test if it’s real’ but more of an interest/research/historical reference point.

Jon Krakauer rightly presents that due to Mormonism being essentially a modern religion, and around the time of the printing press, that we get more of an insight into Joseph Smith, not only as ‘The Prophet’ but also much more as a man. I’m sure were more documents released it would open more questions than answers, I guess they will continue to be hidden…

When the book was written, Mormonism was the fastest growing Western religion, which still surprises me. Sure, through South Park some of it’s premise gets gently disintegrated (similar to their treatment of Scientology) but interesting that people are still coming to the faith even now.

It’s a great read, and well worth getting the later version that includes the response from the Mormon church, and of course Jon’s rebuttal. I actually got his 3 cups of deceit book as well, so that will likely be up for review in the next week or two!

<Separate to this book, I read an incredible article on Vice about another religious sect – again, horrifying, but well worth the read The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia>



  1. After reading your post as a practicing Mormon, might I suggest that you give Krakauer way too much credit by calling his work “non-fiction.”

    I’d fully support visiting the LDS temple sites in SLC if you have the chance, as the history is very fascinating.

    Additionally, regarding never released documents, you may be interested in looking up the “Joseph Smith Papers Project”.

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