I made a personal goal for myself that I would try to read two books a month. So far, I've read nine books this year, so I'm a little behind. I just finished my ninth book last night, and it was so interesting, I felt the need to write a (lengthy) blog about it.
I don't usually read non-fiction (with the exception of true-crime novels, because I have a morbid fascination with serial killers) because I find them kind of, well, boring. The subject matter has to really interest me for me to get involved in a non-fiction novel. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer is an unraveling of the history of Mormonism. Krakauer has the case of Ron and Dan Lafferty at the core of his novel. In 1984, these two brothers killed their innocent sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty, and her 15 month old baby, Erica Lafferty, because Ron had received a revelation from God telling him it was God's will that he murder them. Under the Banner of Heaven studies how the Mormon religion came into being, the initial teachings of Mormonism, and the history of this recently formed religion to help understand the Lafferty case. The book takes a particularly intense look at Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (extreme sects of the Mormon religion) in both present and past, as the Lafferty brothers were ex-communicated LDS who turned to the Fundamentalist LDS teachings.
I found the novel very interesting, since I've always had a certain adverse fascination with the Mormon religion. I knew that Joseph Smith founded the religion, but I didn't know much about him as an individual or the history surrounding the initial church. I learned that he started out as, basically, a phony. At an early age, he had "special" stones that he called "peep" or "seer" stones that he believed could tell him where buried treasure was. He was hired to find buried treasure for property owners and one prospector hired him to locate a rumored hidden lode of silver that had been mined by the Spaniards centuries earlier. Of course, he didn't find any of the silver, and he was later charged in court as being an impostor.
Want to know how the Book of Mormon was written? I swear, it is the most retarded thing I've ever heard in my life. Here's a short version: One night when Joseph Smith was 17, he saw an angel, Moroni, who told him that there was a sacred text with gold plates buried under a rock. Joseph supposedly dug them up, only to have the angel take them away because it wasn't the proper time. Moroni told Joseph that he would get another chance to receive the text when the time was right. Four years later, Moroni told him to get the text and Joseph did. Apparently, the text was written in an ancient language that Joseph couldn't understand. Moroni gave him special glasses that would translate the text for him. Joseph transcribed the text into English using these glasses. Joseph gave the papers he had transcribed to his friend, but his friend "lost" the papers. The angel was angry at Joseph for letting this happen, and he took the special glasses away so Joseph couldn't translate the text. That was when Joseph Smith used the previously mentioned "peep stones" to relate what is now The Book of Mormon. The entirety of The Book of Mormon was written by this process: Joseph Smith put the peep stones in a hat, then put his face in the hat, and he would then "see" what the words were and he would tell them to his transcriber. When the time came to publish his work, Joseph Smith didn't have enough money to do so, and asked his neighbor, Martin Harris, if he would pay for it. Martin Harris expressed hesitation in putting forth the money, and Joseph Smith told him that he had a revelation from God demanding that Martin Harris pay the printer, and if he didn't, he would die. So, Martin Harris paid the $3,000 advance required for the print. And that's how The Book of Mormon became printed. Retarded, right?
There were other things I found interesting. Joseph Smith told of a group that left Jerusalem 600 years before the birth of Christ that came here, to the U.S. This group ended up splitting into two separate, warring groups. One was the Nephites who were righteous and fair-skinned, and the other was the Lamanites, who were idle and full of mischief and the Lord was so annoyed by their behavior that he cursed them with dark skin. Native Americans, according to Joseph Smith, are descendants of the Lamanites. (Even though DNA evidence proves that Native Americans are not descendants of any Hebraic race, this is what Mormons believe.) The Lamanites ended up killing all of the Nephites, so that "explains" why there weren't any fair-skinned people in the U.S. when it was first discovered. Also, Jesus supposedly visited these people in America.
Then there's The Doctrine and Covenants, which is a LDS text that records the revelations that the Prophets receive from God. This includes the revelation known as Section 132, which is Joseph Smith's revelation that polygamy is God's will. While modern-day LDS followers have renounced polygamy (due to the fact that it was the only way the federal government would leave them alone) Many Fundamentalist Mormons practice polygamy. There are polygamous sects in Utah, Northern Arizona, Eastern Nevada, and other areas. There are men in these sects that have 20-50 wives and over a hundred children. Because polygamy is not legal, the men legally marry their first wife, and then take multiple "spiritual wives." According to the research done by Krakauer, the state, technically speaking, sees these spiritual wives as single mothers, and they are therefore allowed to qualify for welfare and other forms of public assistance. The polygamous community known as UEP that is in Arizona and Utah receives more than 6 million dollars a year in public funds. I don't know about you guys, but that makes me extremely angry.
For many years, until 1978, anyone other than white males was banned from priesthood within the Mormon church. After 1978, males of all races were allowed to enter the priesthood. (Women are still not allowed to enter the priesthood. The Mormon religion is very heavy in patriarchal beliefs. It was originally taught that a woman should serve the man. Most modern-day Mormons say they do not feel this way, but the Fundamentalists certainly still preach this.) So, the modern Mormon church allows African-American priests, but the official LDS policy has continued to strongly admonish white Saints not to marry blacks. Brigham Young wrote that anyone who committed such horrible sins as homosexuality, or having sex with a member of the African race would be punished, and "the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." Wow. Racist, homophobic, and sexist. Where do I sign up?
There is so much more I could write about this book and what I learned from it, but I will save that for you, the reader, to learn if you're interested. Seriously, you should read it. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. It's eye-opening.