Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346
Themes of Under the Banner of Heaven include the difference between faith and fanaticism, the dangers of fundamentalism, and how the system can fail the victims of religious oppression.
Many people whose stories Jon Krakauer tells in the book have moved from faith to fanaticism. They no longer just worship a God and try to live by guiding principles; instead, they use their religious beliefs as an excuse to do violence or hurt others. Many of them believe that they're being ordered to do things directly from God. For example, Dan and Ron Lafferty say that God told them to kill Brenda, their sister-in-law, and her 15-month old daughter Erica.
The dangers of fundamentalism is another theme that's evident throughout the book. Religious fundamentalists use their faith in a way that damages and creates danger for others. One case that Krakauer examines is that of Elizabeth Smart. She was raised in a Mormon family and eventually kidnapped by a fundamentalist man who believed that God was telling him to marry her as his second wife. Krakauer says that if he'd kidnapped a girl who didn't have the same deep religious beliefs, it would have been harder for him to indoctrinate her. Even someone raised in a caring family can experience the dangers of fundamentalism when their religious worldview makes them more susceptible to it.
Finally, Krakauer makes it clear that the system often fails the victims of these religious fundamentalist groups. Flora Jessop talks about her sister Ruby, who was forced to marry an older relative when she was only 14. Flora told the authorities about her sister, but the people keeping her told the police that she was on vacation when they came to check on her. Flora says that Ruby was brainwashed by the polygamist community where she grew up from the day she was born and that that's what allowed the police to leave her with her abusers. She gave birth at 16, and Flora says that no one has heard from her since 2001, that she "effectively vanished into the folds of the Fundamentalist Church."