[By Nic Lindh on Monday, 17 November 2003]
Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith tells the story of the double-murder of Erica Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Brenda by two of Brenda’s husband’s brothers. In order to put together the mental framework that lead Ron and Dan Lafferty to commit these murders, Mr. Krakauer provides a history of Mormonism and various fundamentalist Mormon splinter groups.
The book is well-researched and delivered in a calm, journalistic style. As the subject matter is a particularly wild-eyed, frenetic religiosity, this detached style works very well, and if anything makes the subject matter even more chilling. It’s stunning to read about the belief systems that are still thriving in the 21st century in the richest nation on Earth. The brief background of the religion and its tenets is very enlightening. Mr. Krakauer takes great care to separate official Mormonism and the various fundamentalist offshoots, and also to note the areas where they intersect.
Particularly interesting is Ron Lafferty’s insanity defense during his second trial, where the court finds that he is not insane, but that he has a highly unorthodox belief system, and that if the court were to find him insane, they would in fact rule everybody who’s religious insane.
Under the Banner of Heaven is an eminently readable and scary book that puts the spotlight on a lot of aspects of religion in historic and contemporary America. Highly recommended.