Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 227
Under the Banner of Heaven is concerned with the relationships among religious conviction, extremism, and homicide. Beginning with a single, much-publicized case of two killings done by two killers, John Krakauer expands to analyzing the role that religion apparently played in the murderers’ actions—according to them. He contextualizes the extreme, fundamentalist stance of individuals within isolated communities that emerged from, but more importantly rejected many tenets of, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism). Because one central area of disagreement has concerned polygamy, Krakauer also analyzes the extent and variation of this marriage practice among the groups.
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The central case that stimulated his research occurred in 1984. Two brothers, Ronald and Dan Lafferty, claimed to hear God telling them to kill their brother Allen’s wife, Brenda, and young daughter, Erica. By reviewing testimony and coverage of the trial, Krakauer situates this particular case within larger issues, especially the patriarchal control of the splinter sects. The excessively strict control of a few men over large numbers of women is one issue. The youth of the wives, who are often teenagers, is another important area. Krakauer includes one self-proclaimed leader with more than seventy wives and the kidnapping case of Elizabeth Smart. Krakauer clearly distinguishes the extremism of these examples from Mormonism as generally practiced, and includes a history of the church from its nineteenth-century origins.