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Book Review: Under The Banner Of Heaven


“the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own…”

– The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Both dark and light sides of human nature occur as a most mysterious phenomenon. The reasons behind why we do are as myriad and varied as the colors in a color palette, the variety of plant and animal species we observe, and the endless nuanced branches of our myths and traditions as we negotiate our collective and individual journey and meaning through life. Jon Krakauer’s “Under The Banner of Heaven” illuminates roots of meaning and experience contextualizing the religious foundation of the Lafferty brothers’ decision to malevolently murder an innocent child and her mother in the name of God or as some would say, under the banner of heaven.

There are books that you read for fun, books that you read for learning, and then there are books that you read because you must, gripped by a duty to check your own ego and darkness by reminding yourself of the inextricable connection of each human heart to that darkness so tragically displayed by Ron and Dan Lafferty through the pages of Krakauer’s prose.

The desire to escape this connection to darkness, to make oneself clean and spotless, before the divinity or audience of one’s choosing even if only in the echo chamber of one’s mind, may be the ultimate mark of greedy, over-consumptive ego, the ultimate continual and repeated failure in each age of mankind, this desire to embody and possess a cleanly perfected sense of meaning, order to this chaotic and mysterious world, and justification for commission of any act enshrined in this perfected order. Clearly this justification, as Krakauer eloquently describes, drove Dan to murder and Ron to premeditate such murders.

Couching this murder story in a modest historical scaffold of Mormonism from the time of Joseph Smith through to Brigham Young and beyond to modern fundamentalist Mormons enables Krakauer’s presentation of the Lafferty’s choices to be read in their historical and cultural context where from the reader can gain at the very least some sensible comprehension of where Lafferty brothers drew their beliefs from. Anything beyond a simple tracing of their belief systems would require a deeper work yet this book sits comfortably readable at this level of analysis.

Categories: Uncategorized

Kent Bull

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