If I had this revelation from God and insisted to everybody that I'd been commanded to quit my day job and get really drunk with my friends else risk eternal damnation, would you believe me? Probably not. But far graver heaven-sent rationales do rule other American's lives; specifically the fundamentalist Mormons of Jon Krakauer's latest journalistic investigation, Under the Banner of Heaven.
Krakauer has made a literary non-fiction career exploring the psyches of people who live on the edge of survival--in the woods (Into the Wild), the mountains (Into Thin Air) and now, religious cults. In Heaven Krakauer draws a fine-tooth comb through the short history of Mormonism to untangle what he refers to as a "violent faith."
Heaven frames this exploration with a grisly crime novel hook: the bloody murder of a 24-year-old Mormon woman and her fifteen-month-old baby in their Utah home. The two killers, fundamentalist Mormons and also her brother-in-laws, had received direct orders from God to remove the woman and her baby from His Kingdom.
Using detailed 19th-century religious history, Krakauer shows that fundamentalist Mormons are cut from the same stalwart cloth as regular Latter-Day Saints, with some big variations. For instance, fundamentalists still practice polygamy, a notion once embraced by all Mormons. Apparently, the call to wife-collect was another direct order from God, abandoned in the late 1800's under pressure from the US Government. Krakauer shows that such revelations, which comprise the entire bible and order of the Mormon church, are usually self-serving, patriarchal baloney.
Heaven is a candid and disturbing portrait of Mormon theology from its 1830 inception to the factions of its present practice. Krakauer lays bare the facts positing how beginnings beget endings in the fastest growing religion in the world. ANNA SIMON