3 Sentence Summary
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer explores the topic of fundamentalism in the Mormon faith and the consequences of extreme religious belief. The book delves into the story of Joseph Smith and the founding of the LDS church, as well as modern splinter groups. Krakauer compares the brutal murders committed by the Lafferty brothers to the 1857 massacre of Mormons and Paiutes to illustrate the dangerous effects of fanatical faith.
Summary Read Time: Less than 4 minutes
Actual Book Length: 400
First Published in: 2003
Disclaimer: Please be advised that this book includes graphic accounts of sexual abuse and murder, which will be discussed in the summary. Reader discretion is advised.
Below is the detailed yet quick summary of the book:
In “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith,” Krakauer examines the violent history of Mormon fundamentalism and its connection to the brutal murder of Brenda and Erika Lafferty by Ron and Dan Lafferty in 1984. He delves into the psychological effects of physical abuse and strict religious expectations on the Lafferty brothers. He then examines their eventual embrace of extremist views and polygamy through the influence of fundamentalism. The book also connects the Lafferty murders to the violent past of the Mormon faith, including the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Dianna, Ron’s wife, confided in Brenda, the wife of the youngest Lafferty brother, about her concerns with Ron’s behavior. Brenda, a confident and assertive college graduate, disagreed with what she saw as an evil influence on the family and defended Dianna. Ron’s behavior became more and more irrational, and he eventually began physically abusing Dianna. In the meantime, Dan, Ron’s brother, suggested to his wife Matilda that he take his stepdaughter as a second wife. When Brenda learned of the abuse, she encouraged Dianna to leave Ron. Dianna gathered her six children and moved out of state, leaving Ron with a grudge against Brenda.
Krakauer compares the experiences and radicalization of the Lafferty brothers with the history of the Mormon religion. He cites the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre as a possible explanation for the Lafferty brothers’ irrational behavior in 1984. In this massacre, Mormons killed an innocent wagon train out of fear that it was part of a government conspiracy. Additionally, Krakauer notes that the story of Joseph Smith’s secret polygamy resembles the lengths to which the Lafferty brothers were willing to go. They were willing to pursue their own polygamous marriages. Through this comparison, Krakauer suggests that faith itself can be irrational. Additionally, he suggests that the distinction between mainstream faith and religious extremism is blurry.
The mainstream LDS church has distanced itself from the more extreme principles of Joseph Smith. It also asserts that fundamentalist sects are not part of the Mormon faith. However, Krakauer argues that the violent history and patriarchal nature of Mormonism create an environment in which these sects can thrive and potentially become radicalized.
Krakauer suggests that those who ignored the consequences of this type of faith allowed many sects to operate in isolation and without oversight. Additionally, the ongoing conflict between the Mormon church and the government contributed to this lack of oversight. The actions of Ron and Dan Lafferty, as described in the book, are just one example of the larger issue of abuse within these sects. These issues include manipulation, tyranny, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.