Ok, I have this Mormon friend who’s getting married this summer, which is awesome. What is not awesome is that her dress has to have sleeves, and not even cute little cap-sleeves, but full-on, upper-arm-covering sleeves, high neckline, the works. I shudder for her. I seem to recall that the only thing about planning a wedding that didn’t get old in under five minutes was trying on dresses, and that’s just because none of the dresses I tried on were on the cover of My Shiny Prom, circa 1983.
Under the Banner of Heaven – Jon Krakauer
Which, ok, this girl is totally gorgeous and slim and has this glossy dark hair and blue eyes, so she’d look good in a paper sack, but for reals…elbow-length sleeves are uggers.
All that to say the Mormons walk among us, and most of them are really very normal and great, and on the whole they seem like a devout people, trying to live by obedience and not drive anyone crazy. This is exactly the picture Jon Krakauer presents of most Moromons. But, as with all religions, the ones who drive everyone crazy are so much louder and fronter and centerer than those ones quietly planning their Modest-Bride weddings. And, unfortunately for the genial, down-to-earth majority, happy, sprawling families (with a half-dozen wives and ACRES of children) don’t make for compelling literature.
But religious crazies do! And the Church of Latter Day Saints is full of those.
The book centers largely on one horrific murder committed by two brothers – certifiable nutter-butters – at the urgings of God. Because Krakauer milks this murder for all it’s worth, returning again and again to the events leading up to and proceeding from it, he inevitably repeats himself, and I’m left thinking, ‘Haven’t I heard this bit already? Is this happening again? Who’s getting killed?’ In between the murdery bits, he splinters off to tell the history of this fairly young, surprisingly persecuted (and, arguably, persecuting) faith. Sometimes it seems like everyone has always hated the Mormons, and the Mormons have always hated everyone right back.
The last third kind of devolves into a rambly, confusing history of various minor Mormons who all seem to have the same name (because everyone’s having 80 kids, and marrying their daughters off to their brothers) and it’s the same old story: declaring yourself prophet and your opposition damned and defecting and adding a few new rules and wham-o! Whole new religion. Because if everyone hears from God equally, then who’s to say that I’m not the new President, Prophet and Seer if I say that God sayeth I am?
For about three pages near the end, Krakauer speculates on the nature of faith, and whether anyone who kills in the name of God gets to ride the Insanity Plea Train out of jail which, A., has the disconcerting effect of immunizing anyone who kills and claims divine direction, and B., calls everyone else who believes in God, even if we don’t hear him telling us to kill anyone, it calls us crazy as well. To be honest, this is the book I wish Krakauer had written.
But he didn’t and the book he did write is totally fine and good and interesting. I think religions are fascinating, and the fact that they usually start with one guy (Abraham, Jesus, Mohammud, Joseph Smith – take your pick) standing up and saying, ‘I heard God speak, and he spoke thusly,’ and then people believe this, and then they follow him…blows my mind. I’m a card-carrying Christian, and I think sometimes I’m a little nuts for subscribing to the words of an old dead Jew. But isn’t that the spice of life, being a little bit nutty?
H’ok, this is rambly, and my mind isn’t really in it today. Great history of the Mormon faith, not so much the exploration of the things we do in the name of faith that the back flap led me to believe it was going to be, but entirely servicable and readable.