The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, July 14, 2003

There's a new book coming out called Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by journalist John Krakauer. It's about the Mormon fundamentalist movement, whose origins and present-day manifestations are covered pretty deftly in this excerpt.

A review of the book calls it an even-handed, revealing account of the monsters in our midst. I'd have to read the entire book to get a better sense of that; however, I have to point out a couple of things in the excerpt that put a lie to this:

"... the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which presents itself as the world's only true religion."

Hello? Doesn't practically every single religion on this planet present itself as the "world's only true religion"? At least, every major one. You can't hardly have a religion without trying to sell your believers that it's the only way to pray, babe. I feel it's an unnecessary point to make, a rather transparent swipe at the LDS.

"On the planet as a whole, there are now more Mormons than Jews."

News flash: Jews have been a global minority for a looooong time now. There are more lots-o-things than there are Jews in the world. That's not a very remarkable comparison to make; if it's supposed to inspire dread at the size of the Mormon nation, I don't think it works.

"The LDS Church acquired the trappings of a conventional faith so successfully that it is now widely considered to be the quintessential American religion."

According to whom? The Mormons themselves? It may be just my Eastern U.S. weltanschauung, but I've never considered the Mormons to be anything but a crackpot sect, right on a par with Scientologists. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone on this.

A specific focus of the book deals with a fanatical killing in 1984 by brothers Dan and Ron Lafferty of their sister-in-law and her infant daughter. This month's issue of GQ has an extended excerpt, different from the one above, that details a lot of this event. I read it over the weekend, and I have to admit that I haven't been able to get it off my mind. There's a grisly fascination we all have with these sort of psycho-sexual obsession episodes; I guess that's what's making it cling to me. Just like all those Jack The Ripper enthusiasts.

I recently re-connected with an acquaintence, a guy named Ked. He's a fun guy to talk to and hang out with. He was raised Mormon, not fundamentalist, but definitely devout. He got married young, all part of growing up Mormon. At some point, he decided the whole thing wasn't for him; he got divorced, and pretty much became an atheist. In a strange quirk, he retained the moral structure of the Church as his personal ethical guideposts, while rejecting the Mormon God. It's an interesting development.