I finished Under the Banner of Heaven two days ago now, and I haven’t written the review yet, waiting to see if anything would change in my mind about Mormons, and so far nothing has. I still think it’s a horribly misogynistic religion that goes even further than all other religions I know to take away all responsibility, independent thought, and individualism, and literally sacrifice oneself to god and whoever is your president and high lord protector (the title isn’t exactly this, but is just as preposterous), whether you be regular Mormon or fundamentalist — of course, he is a man, without a doubt.
The crux of the book is the deaths of Eric and her eight or so year-old daughter at the hands of the Lafferty brothers who still can’t decide who officially slit the girls throats. While the book managed to enrage me throughout, it did serve to educate and enlighten me on the religion in general, and on the important differences between the fundamentalists and the Latter Day Saints (LDS). The book also presents the history of Mormonism with Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and what led to the creation of the religion, its development through the decades and centuries, with the Mormons being ostracized wherever they went, until they settled in the deserts of Utah and set about completely ignoring the US government and living their lives as they saw fit. The Church of Latter Day Saints continues to do this to some degree today, and the fundamentalists especially, thriving on it.
So let’s clear up the main thing first: polygamy. The Church of Latter Day Saints condones and doesn’t allow polygamy, after changing this steadfast rule from the D&C (Doctrine and Covenants — the rulebook which Mormons go by as put down by Joseph Smith, with additions made by Brigham Young and successive “prophets”) in the nineteenth century when the government essentially pressured them into doing this, since polygamy was (AND STILL IS!) illegal in every state. But in a religion where everyone from the president to the lowly devout woman has the ability to talk with god and receive his instruction; splitting, and the formation of break-off sects and groups is as inevitable as night coming after sunset. And it it’s these break-off groups that form their own churches and communes (Colorado City in Utah is one of these), and they are the fundamentalists groups who believe that the LDS have fallen from the true ruling of god and take it upon themselves to adhere to the D&C as they see fit. The result is a town like Colorado City, in the middle of the desert, isolated, as they like it. There polygamy is a way of life; if you don’t subscribe to this way, you are pressured and then ostracized. It is also in this town where anywhere from thirteen to sixteen year-old girls are ordered, yes, ordered by the president to marry whatever man the president decrees, without any choice in the matter. Ordered to marry that man, live with him, and whose sole duty is to bear as many children as possible, no questions asked . . . or you’re going to hell! This is the truth. This is life in Colorado City. It is also here that instances of rape and pedophilia are becoming common place, as fathers take a liking to their eleven year-old daughters (whether they be biologically or adopted through marriage), rape them, and them force them to marry their fathers.
And it seems pretty pathetic when our president makes it his duty to prevent homosexual marriage from ever being considered, even though homosexuality is a genetic predisposition and is what you simply are, while in Utah there are groups doing what I said above and millions of people worry that it is the homosexuals who risk destroying the sanctity of marriage. Forget that, is my response.
One part of the book that struck me hard was the Mountain Meadows Massacre which happened in the nineteenth century in Utah. The Mormons had been settled for a while, Brigham Young was running the show, and they were happily going about their polygamous, incestuous, misogynistic, abusive business; then the gold rush happened along with the opening of the west in California. So you had a slew of people heading west. There was one group of 170 or so people with their wagons and thousands of cattle who were traveling through Utah. Mormons had been ordered to never feed or offer shelter to these Gentiles (as anyone who isn’t is Mormon is referred to) and if they did, they would be excommunicated. And it was in the Mountain Meadows valley that the Mormons bribing the aid of the Paiute Indians, surrounded the group and proceed to wipe them out. But the Gentiles were able to hold their own, defending themselves behind the wagons, and this went on for days. So the Mormons finally held up the white flag of surrender, met with the group and said they would let them through Utah, not offering them any aid, but they would pass through Utah alive and unhurt. So the wagon train reformed and the Mormons surrounded them and they started off, then the order was given and the Mormons opened fire and slaughtered every man first, and then set about murdering every woman and child. When they were done they took what they wanted, stripping the bodies and taking the cattle, giving the Paiutes a menial and far less than agreed upon amount of the spoils, and left. The bodies rotted in the sun and the bones dried and whitened for decades, then a group of Gentile explorers came through, saw the graveyard and put up a stone monument of assembled rocks in commemoration. The next Mormons that came by (it may have been Brigham Young, I’m not sure), tore the moment down in delight. The Mormons never took any blame or punishment for this massacre and to this day essentially blame it on the Paiutes.
And then there’s the story of how Joseph Smith made the rule of polygamy, because in the early days of the religion, each Mormon had one wife. But Smith got bored with his aging wife and wanted some younger flesh, and decided that god had told him Mormons were to be polygamous. But when he baited his people with this, they erupted in natural outcry, and so it was not added to the D&C, nevertheless Smith continued secretly to have multiple wives, even though his first wife who’d been with him a long time and supposedly believed in him and his religion the entire time was totally against polygamy and left him. The guy decided he wanted a younger girl and so made polygamy law, and that’s what has led to the fundamentalist polygamous groups today and everything mentioned above.
What was really interesting about the book was seeing the development of a religion from its conception to the fastest growing religion in the world today. Because it began in a time with the printing press, and the popularity and ubiquity of the written word, its growth has been well documented throughout, unlike most other religions that have been around a lot longer. Of course, much like the giant vaults of the Vatican, lots of material on the religion remains secreted in Utah.
I would recommend one read this book because it opens your mind. It’s one of the those books that everyone should read to understand and realize what is going on in this country every day. Also it makes what happened to Elizabeth Smart clear and sadly makes perfect sense, especially since Utah covered it up at the time and little was known about it. Another thing that goes on in Colorado City is whatever the president says goes, without question. He’s said no one is to have television, read anything other than Mormon writings and not to wear red; this is life for these people.
If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.
Originally written on March 30th 2005 ©Alex C. Telander.