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The easiest answer would be to have the inquisitor look into it themselves, although this could be damaging to a testimony. After reading Heaven I was generally disgusted at how it affects women and the gross power imbalence it give men. It gives readers of all stripes pause when confronted with the actual implementation of polygamy.

Darren, everyone agrees that the peek inside the FLDS communities provided by Krakauer isn't pretty. However, there's a big dispute about how much the practice of LDS polygamy in the 19th century resembled current FLDS practice, and IMHO that is the touchy topic that spurred the shrill LDS response to the book.

But I think that interesting debate is a different question than the simple one of how best to respond to those who expect every Mormon acquaintance to (1) have read Krakauer's book, and (2) to have "a response."

While I don't believe 19th century LDS polygamy was typically like FLDS polygamy, it often wasn't good. I always answer this charge that in the 19th century the Saints were given a lot of hard to fulfill commands, such as the United Order, polygamy, and a few others. By and largely they failed miserably so they were taken away. That way we can explain abuses as failures without necessarily having to justify the failures as theological failures. Of course that's the simple answer, but I think there is a lot of theological justification for it in many prophetic writings, not to mention the D&C.

A guy in my office kept bugging me about reading Under the Banner of Heaven. Basically, he thought that smart people couldn’t read Krakauer and believe in Mormonism. Finally, I read it, compiling more than 40 pages of detailed notes on it’s problems in the process.

When these notes proved too much to go over with him, I condensed my notes to this 5 page book review, entitled, “Through a Glass Darkly: Krakauer’s Dim View of Mormonism in Under the Banner of Heaven.” It was good enough at any rate to convince him that Krakauer’s book was poorly researched.

Drop me an email if you have any problem downloading it—it’s being served off if my mac.com account, which has sometimes been difficult for my friends with Windows to download from. I hope that you find it useful. (This isn't the first place I've posted it somewhere hoping to get feedback. But if you actually provide feedback, you will be the first.)

The strength of Krakauer’s book is it’s readability. But it has very few other strengths, and you should lose no opportunity to say so. As far as Turley’s response, it’s poorly written; specifically, it’s very boring and not nearly comprehensive as it could be.

But I think that interesting debate is a different question than the simple one of how best to respond to those who expect every Mormon acquaintance to (1) have read Krakauer's book, and (2) to have "a response."

To be more specific, I suppose that I would have answered two different ways, depending on when I was asked. A few years ago I would have dismissed it without reading it, then adding that it likly did not reflect what really happened. A decade before that, I responded to the polygamy question with the "all the men were being killed and someone needed to take care of the women" line.

Now I would answer that all forms of polygamy; modern, historical, or biblical is/was a disgusting abusive practice that provides no real net benefit to the women involved. Whether FLDS polygamy resembles LDS polygamy (which I have no reason to think otherwise), it is only a question of degree.

David, I was able to download and open your review -- interesting, thanks for posting the link. You certainly invested some time in Krakauer's book, which must flatter any author. I hope your review is of use to my LDS friend. Personally, I read Krakauer somewhat differently. He is not writing anti-Mormon literature, which is what some conservative critics seem to accuse him of. Nor is it clear that the errors he is accused of are all, in fact, errors. For example, his footnote on page 4 of UBH where he describes the makeup of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, then states, "All fifteen men serve for life," appears to be an accurate description -- and all of those men do serve for life (unless released for disciplinary reasons, an occurence that has not happened for several decades). He distinguishes between the LDS Church and "Mormon Fundamentalists" in the 20th century but traces polygamy back to Mormon doctrine and practice in the 19th century -- okay, that is where it came from!

On the positive side, Krakauer did a nice job documenting what goes on in FLDS communities, which should do a good deal to temper any latent sympathy for those groups that any LDS Mormons might still harbor. Polygamy isn't pretty, so why do we keep defending it? If I had to craft a conversational response to a "Krakauer question," I'd probably say something like this:

Yes, polygamy had its problems, which is probably why the Church abandoned it in 1890. However, Krakauer cited as factual explanations some theories about 19th-century Utah history which are disputed or even speculative, so don't take it all at face value. And the suggestion which he seems to make at some points that religion encourages violence seems misguided. Of course, it certainly is terrible when crazy people kill in the name of religion, like the Lafferty brothers or like these Christian mothers who for some bizarre religious reason choose to kill their own children . . . . Hey, have you read Into Thin Air? Great read, I couldn't put it down.

Anyway, that's kind of my approach.

Dave: Nor is it clear that the errors he is accused of are all, in fact, errors. For example, his footnote on page 4 of UBH where he describes the makeup of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, then states, "All fifteen men serve for life," appears to be an accurate description.

What I have in mind here are the counsellors in the First Presidency. These do not need to be Apostles (as he also states in the footnotes), they serve at the pleasure of the prophet, and they are released at any rate when the Prophet dies. I do believe, therefore, that Krakauer is wrong here. I also think it is symptomatic of his sloppy approach that he is wrong again and again about things that he tries to give the appearance of being an expert about.

Thanks for reading it, and thanks for the feedback. I wouldn't call Krakauer anti-Mormon as much as I'd say he's sloppy, lowbrow, and intellectually dishonest.

I think my response would depend on what I perceived as the intent of the questioner. If it was a good friend who had read the book and wondered what I thought of it because they knew I'm Mormon, I'd probably just tell them I hadn't read it and I don't think I want to. If it was an acquaintance looking to bash, I'd be more inclined to respond by saying something like, "Gee, I haven't been reading that kind of stuff lately; I've been reading Karen Armstrong's The History of God. Have you read it? What do you think of it?"

I saw some snippets of a review by Terryl Givens in Turley's review I believe, and emailed him (Givens) a while back and he sent me the whole text of the review. I'll post it here since I don't think you can find it online. Most of the formatting is missing (underlines, italics, etc.). Hopefully some of you may find this interesting.


Review of Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith Doubleday, 2003; and Dorothy Allred Solomon, Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy. Norton, 2003.

By Terryl L. Givens
Professor of Religion and Literature
University of Richmond
(author of By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion. Oxford, 2002).

“When the subject of religiously inspired bloodshed comes up,” Jon Krakauer writes in his latest book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (Doubleday), “many Americans immediately think of Islamic fundamentalism”(xxi). Hoping to improve upon this imaginationally challenged response, Krakauer sets out to trace a story of savage murder and depravity to a homegrown source. In 1984, the two Lafferty brothers, Dan and Ron, brutally killed a woman and her infant daughter, convinced that God had so commanded them.

This book is therefore a lurid story of brutal murder and mental depravity. It is also an account of modern polygamists of the American West and the Mormonism of America’s past. Jon Krakauer takes us on a sordid journey into a modern renegade culture that has institutionalized child rape and abuse, and largely perfected both the degradation of women and the exploitation of the welfare state. Juxtaposed with this rehearsal of a perennial subject of TV newsmagazines, is the account of Elizabeth Smart, whom the public now understands to have been a victim of a delusional polygamist. But it is a book in search of a larger purpose.

Mormons, murder, and polygamy form a suggestive triad, reminiscent of the racy potboilers of the 19th century. Those novels and pseudo-memoirs labeled Mormonism “the modern abomination,” and fed a public fascination with the demonized religion that led Senator Cragin to declare from the Senate floor in 1870 that the Latter-day Saints had an altar “in the temple block, upon which human sacrifices were to be made.” The same fad led popular preacher Reverend De Witt Talmage in 1881 to impute the recent assassination of President Garfield to the same religion, since the crime clearly had “the ugliness of a Mormon, the licentiousness of a Mormon, the cruelty of a Mormon, the murderous spirit of a Mormon.”

Endeavoring to avoid such facile sensationalism, Krakauer makes some token gestures at seriousness of purpose, but they fall short, leaving his work snugly entrenched within a 19th-century tradition of caricature and incendiary insinuation. Most grandiosely, Under the Banner purports to be an investigation into “the roots of brutality” and “the nature of faith” (xxiii). To understand how an ostensibly nice religion that produced Donny and Marie Osmond could also produce perpetrators of brutal murder, we are told, we need to take a “clear-eyed journey into Mormonism’s violent past.” Really? In his court appearance, Ron Lafferty claimed that a homosexual angel was trying to invade his body through his anus, hence the sign he wore on his posterior saying “exit only.” And to understand this man, legally declared a paranoid delusional murderer, we need to go deep into “this history of an American religion practiced by millions”? I don’t think so.

Trying to extrapolate profound truths from isolated examples of religious excess is a dangerous game. “If Ron Lafferty were deemed mentally ill because he obeyed the voice of God,” Krakauer queries, “isn’t everyone who believes in God and seeks guidance through prayer mentally ill as well?” The Laffertys were not the first murderers to hear voices, and they won’t be the last. But applying Krakauer’s model, every David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) would provoke an inquiry into the sinister potential of Judaism (after all, Abraham heard voices telling him to kill Isaac). But that would clearly be anti-Semitic. Exactly.

Insofar as Krakauer recounts Mormonism’s past, he does it poorly, using outdated sources and discredited reports to portray a Joseph Smith and a Mormonism reminiscent of 19th century caricatures (Smith emerges as a two-dimensional serial seducer). His picture of contemporary Mormonism is also seriously misinformed, leaving us with far more overlap between Mormons and renegade polygamists than really exists and grave misperceptions about the first: most Saints do not believe the world will end 7,000 years after creation (321); there is no “official (or unofficial) LDS [policy]… strongly admonish[ing] white Saints not to marry blacks” (331); today’s church does not pressure women “to give birth to as many children” as possible (78); and Mormons certainly do not teach that because man is inherently virtuous an atonement is unnecessary (112). He irresponsibly misinforms as well on subjects from the Book of Mormon to the Mountain Meadows Massacre—all in an effort to link deluded modern murderers with a skewed depiction of Mormonism’s past and present. His book is ultimately more about doing violence to a faith, than uncovering the violence behind a faith.

Perhaps Sir Richard Burton was right. Mormonism, he wrote in resignation, “as in all other exclusive faiths, [has] an inner life into which I cannot flatter myself [to have] penetrated.” That may be why Dorothy Allred Solomon’s Predators, Prey, and Other Kinfolk: Growing Up in Polygamy (Norton), succeeds so admirably where Krakauer fails. Solomon has produced a book sprinkled with both beauty and “indelible sadness,” leaving readers convinced that other accounts of Mormon polygamy are hopelessly reductive; as one who has suffered its trauma, she is especially qualified to tackle the subject in all its ethical and emotional complexity. To read the excerpted letters and journal entries of the author’s grandfather Harvey Allred, is to experience the paradigmatic agony of a devout and gentle man virtually destroyed by his conviction that he was called upon to participate in an Abrahamic test. However, once freed from the constraints of centralized supervision and institutional sanction, the self-prescribed polygamy Allred practiced—as Solomon painfully chronicles—became a magnet for both devout non-conformists and free-wheeling fanatics and sociopaths, like the scary LeBaron clan (or Krakauer’s Lafferty brothers). Solomon is too respectful of the sanctity of individual conscience, and too subtle in her intelligence, to stoop to silly generalizations or sensationalistic cliché’s about the roots of religious violence. Every group has its lunatic fringe, she observes, and any “religious fixation in a physical world can lead to insanity.” But tyranny, she reminds us, can be found anywhere—“not just in patriarchy, not just in polygamy.” Such an insight would have saved Krakauer a futile, however titillating journey.

That's a pretty good review. He does a great job of pointing out the problem with Krakauer's entire approach.

If you ask me what I thought of the book, I'd say that I thought it was an interesting read. I think what pissed off Mormons was the tone rather than the evidence presented; he seemed to come across as somewhat hostile to the faith. Also, many Mormons, and definitely the COB, never like it when the church and polygamy are discussed in the same sentence. They want to be able to say that we don't practice it anymore, case closed. I thought that Krakauer was very clear in stating what were the actions of the LDS church, and what were the actions of the FLDS and other apostate groups. Overall I thought that his treatment of the LDS connection to polygamy was fair.

I think it's a little harsh to say that it's sloppy scholarship when he said that members of the first presidency are apostles. I think that the fact that early on there were a few instances were they weren't is really splitting hairs. There were some charges made by Krakauer that could be considered sloppy scholarship though, like when he said that Joseph Smith was rumored to have frequented New Orleans brothels.

The truth is, there was a lot of violence in Mormonism's past, much of it unflattering when you really take a look at it. The Danites, Joseph's "Destroying Angels" bodyguards in Nauvoo, Porter Rockwell and Boggs (not proven, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were true), and of course MMM. And the truth is that most Mormons are completely unaware of these things.

So, how would I respond to someone asking me about the claims Krakauer makes in his book. Honestly I'd have to tell them that while it's not 100% accurate, that for the most part it's a fair treatment of Mormon polygamy and the Lafferty brothers, although there are some minor mistakes throughout the book, and it has an overall negative bias towards Mormonism. I would also say that although there have been some violent episodes in Mormonism's past (some their fault, but many not), that my experience is that there is definitely no culture of violence in mainstream Mormonism, and there really hasn't been since the frontier days.

Mike: I think it's a little harsh to say that it's sloppy scholarship when he said that members of the first presidency are apostles.

I agree that in isolation, this is a small fault, and if this were the only fault, I'd not have bothered to review the book. My problem with the book is actually not the tone, which I found to be engaging and affable. My problem is the sloppy scholarship. I mention the first presidency gaffe only briefly in the context of several other simple errors that include claiming that a 3rd BC century prophet appears in the Old Testament (which, of course, doesn't cover anything after the 4th century BC) and claiming that Laban from the Book of Mormon appears in the Old Testament. All of this takes about as much space in my 5 page review as I've spent on it here. And my point of discussing it is to emphasize exactly how much he does not get write.

I'm reluctant to push my review any further (it's quite self-serving enough for me to have posted a link to it at all), but a mistake that's rather typical of Krakauer is what he says about the Hoffman forgeries:

"More than 400 of these fraudulent artifacts were purchased by the LDS Church... then squirreled away in a vault to keep them from the public eye."

On the face of it, this is silly. If Hoffman were twice his age and spent every waking hour of the day making forgeries, it's doubtful he could have created 400+ of them and sold them to the church.

In reality, Hoffman sold a total of 393 documents to the LDS church, and only 48 were forgeries. The 345 non-forgeries were perfunctory frontier court records. Of the forgeries, only a few were embarrassing. Far from squirreling them away from the public, the church placed articles about them in the Ensign. Hoffman himself said of the Joseph Smith III blessing, “It surprised me a bit that the Church didn’t buy it up quick[ly] and stash it away somewhere....”

At any rate, Krakauer gets more than just the details incorrect. He misrepresents the LDS church nearly every time he brings it up.

Okay David, I read your review. I agree w/ most of the points you brought up, but there are a few that don't quite sit well with me.

On page 3 you stated, "The simple, boring truth of the matter is that the LDS church does not dictate historical beliefs." While the church might not dictate your beliefs, it sure does try to dictate what beliefs one should be free to publish. The church's actions against Fawn Brodie, the September Six, David Wright, and Grant Palmer all show fairly clearly an organization that wants to control how its history is presented by its members.

You also said, "Moreover, LDS leaders have seldom influenced their followers’ political views." What about the ERA, and all of the recent efforts by the church to fight SSM in CA, UT, HI, and other states? What about all of ETB's crazy anti-communist/liberal books when he was an apostle? And most would agree that there are frequently more subtle messages about what political views one should have sent from the pulpit all of the time.

I guess that in spite of the mistakes that were contained in his book, I still found it an enjoyable read. And even if he corrected all of the mistakes you pointed out in your review, I still think we'd largely have the same book.

I think though, that what makes his book as popular and widely read as it is, is that like No Man Knows My History, it is quite readable and engaging. I know that I read it within a few days, which I hardly ever do with any other books.

Mike, I agree that the LDS church tries to control what is published by its members, but most membership based organizations place some limits on what members can publicly say about the organization. And, in any case, this is very different from trying to control beliefs.

ERA is certainly an example of influence, but anti-ERA sentiment wasn't created sui generis. Most Mormon's were basically against it or on the fence, and responded well to the church's call to action. Same with SSM. Krakauer states that the Mormon church all but controls the political opinions of its members, and this is simply false.

We'll have to agree to disagree about whether the book would be different with the corrections. For example, if he explained that the Woolley story is spurious and that Woolley himself was a marginal Mormon and a kook from the get-go, he would have severely undermined the connection he posits between fundamentalism and the LDS church.

I agree that the book is readable, but it's not in the same category as No Man Knows my History, which (for all its flaws) is very good history and an unequivocal landmark in LDS history. UBH is more on a level with a James Bond novel: fun but forgettable.

Anyway, thanks for reading it! I appreciate the feedback.

i wasn't trying to compare his book to brodie's on a substantive basis, but rather strictly on a readability basis.

DKL, I understand you are trying to defend the church, but I'm not sure what you mean by saying that it "doesn't try to dictate historical beliefs," or even that it doesn't "try to control beliefs." Maybe you just mean that they don't implant electrodes in your brain to try to control your thoughts directly.

I believe Brodie was excommunicated for writing her "unequivocal landmark in LDS history."

And who are all these "membership based organizations" that "place some limits on what members can publicly say about the organization." Have some examples? Most large organizations that I can think of do not expel members for writing unpleasant things about the organization's history.

kodos, if you belong to a club and you become an outspoken critic of that club, there's a good chance you'll get kicked out. Examples? How 'bout most high school chess clubs and the masons. As to how critical you have to be to justify getting the boot, that's just a threshold question.

Of course Brodie was excommunicated. Just because it's good history doesn't mean that it's not heresy.

As to my motives, I'm not sure they're a good topic for this thread.

urp, This happened to me today at the gym. A woman I like quite a lot came up to me holding it and asked me what I thought. I had no idea what to say, especially since I haven't read it, nor am I likely to anytime soon. I can't read about that kind of horror when I'm lactating. I'm already half-unhinged.

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