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You are here: Greater ThingsBookstore > Book Reviews > Under the Banner of Heaven > SLC Reading

Jon Krakauer Resonates with Overflow Audience in Salt Lake City

Recovering extremist, Sterling Allan, gives first-hand account of SLC reading -- and extremism. Author of Under the Banner of Heaven 'nails it.'

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by Sterling D. Allan
Copyright Greater Things
July 19, 2003

SALT LAKE CITY

I attended Jon Krakauer's presentation Friday night in Salt Lake City, where he read excerpts from his bestseller book, Under the Banner of Heaven and fielded questions.

The LDS Church's opposition to the book has helped spur controversy to generate additional interest in an already popular book. 

I knew I would need to arrive early in order to get in.  But it took me 20 minutes just to find parking, there were so many people there when I arrived at the facility.  I arrived at the entrance to the auditorium just at 7:00 pm and was one of the very last to be let in.  They had stopped admitting people several minutes before.  Because I had a friend in a wheelchair with me, and because I drove 2.5 hours to attend, they let us in. We sat right in front.  I was ten feet away from the speaker.

Perhaps what impressed me the most was how real Jon Krakauer is. He was as comfortable and non-effected standing in front of 800 people as he might have been standing and talking to his best friend or his brother.  There was no spotlight on him.  Just a simple lamp next to the podium, set off to the left side of the hall.

There was no air of pride or self-importance about him, even though he is a national sensation right now.

Though humble, he wasn't the least bit intimidated by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd that had gathered to listen to him.

Just watching his body language and how he dealt with the people in the audience, told me that he is one of the most genuine people I have ever come across in my life.

He is the kind of person I would like to become close friends with. I actually hope that will happen. Being born and raised in Boulder Colorado, where Jon now lives, may help give me such an opportunity.

As for his message, I have been learning the same thing independently, and in my own way, and rejoice to see Jon articulating the message so well, and with such wide interest.

I was excommunicated from the Mormon church for "apostasy" back in 1993, and can vouch first hand at how easy it is to use LDS doctrine to justify extreme behavior.

I'm a recovering extremist.

I'm one of those who for many years though I was the one and only "One Mighty and Strong" spoken of in LDS scripture, destined to set the Church in order.  I even tried to get up in LDS General Conference in 1992 to give a talk and was escorted out by security guards.

If Jon happens to read this write-up, I have news for him.  There are women included in the ranks of the hundreds of people who believe they are the one mighty and strong.  I've met a few.

I now believe that this title is one held by every one of the 144,000 spoken of in prophecy; and that behaviors such as those of Ron/Don Lafferty and Brian Mitchel disqualify one from this calling.

What I find as the ultimate problem here is when people take edicts or creeds, whether they be religious, political, scientific, or social, and follow them with no regard to their conscience.

In a sentence, that is what I believe Krakauer's message boils down to. I don't know that he has drawn that conclusion, but his whole book leads up to it (from what I can gather, I have yet to read it myself).

In the 15 minutes during which Jon read from his book Friday night, before fielding questions, I was struck time and again with how profound his perceptions are of human nature.

He nailed so many things so accurately regarding faith and extremism. I should know, I have lived the life on the edge within the religious world, as Jon lived on Everest. Many of my best friends are or have been extremists.

Oh that we could have the kind of honesty and introspection within the LDS Church that Jon invites with his book and with his person.

Another thing I was surprised at was how non-confrontational Jon was regarding the LDS Church.

He did not strike me in the least as "anti-Mormon." Not one whit. In fact, he had some very laudatory things to say about the Church and about its founder, Joseph Smith.

Jon has been surrounded by the Church since his childhood, where many of his best friends were LDS.  He admired their faith.

Still, he could have written the same book, taking any religion and any extremist within that religion. One of the main reasons he chose to use the LDS Church to illustrate his point about church doctrines fostering extremists behavior in the fringe, was that because the LDS church is a relatively new religion, and a major world religion at that.  Because it is so new, it's history is extensively documented -- something that cannot be said about other religions.

We have reams of documentation about the teachings of the early LDS Church.  Because of this documentation, the Church cannot, and does not deny having taught such things as polygamy. Polygamy is one of the most typical reasons for people leaving the mainstream in favor of what they perceive to be a more "fundamentalist" approach to God.

I depart from many of my fellow fringe friends in that I do not believe polygamy is the highest order of matrimony, but I believe Joseph Smith and Brigham were deceived on that point; yet that does not mean I do not believe in the basic goodness of what Joseph Smith brought forth by way of the Book or Mormon and such.

The early LDS doctrine of "blood atonement" is more controversial and appalling, and is at the root of what justified behaviors such as the Lafferty's, who were able to kill with no compunction, fully believing they were called of God to do so.

These are doctrines that the LDS Church fostered and promoted strongly during earlier chapters of its history. Jon suggests they should take more responsibility for the role these doctrines in their history repeatedly play today in fomenting extremist behaviors.

Religion is quick to take credit for the good that comes from their doctrine; but when bad comes of it, they refuse to accept any responsibility.

For pointing this out, Jon is considered sufficiently dangerous by the LDS Church to warrant them issuing an official condemnation press release two weeks prior to the book's release.  This was sent to all of the major news organizations in the country.

"We couldn't have had better luck," was the response of Krakauer's publisher.

No doubt that helped fuel the keen interest in the book, which peaked at number 4 on Amazon.com's best seller list July 16, the day following its release.

Major papers and televisions stations around the U.S. covered the story, from CNN to the New York Times.

It became a national event.

No. Jon is not anti-Mormon. In fact, one of his heroes is D. Michael Quinn for the very reason that despite his intellect and ostracism from the Mormon Church, he still believes the LDS Church is the "Lord's Church."

Jon admires faith.

But he also sees it as a danger when taken to extremes. He saw it on Everest. His story of his personal encounter with extremism in the outdoors is what propelled him into bestseller status in the first place. People connect with that.

"You would think that my book would decrease the number of people interested in climbing Everest; but that is not what happened," he said, with a nervous chuckle.

That is why he doesn't see this book "Under the Banner of Heaven" as changing the religious climate in the world.

"We will continue to have religious extremists," he remarked.

For what it is worth, here is one extremist (me) who is coming around; and I'm very glad there is a Jon Krakauer in the world calling attention to these issues.

"The LDS Church teaches its members to repent of their mistakes, but they do not follow that admonition as a body. They refuse to look at their own history and admit fault," he said, stirring one of three or four hearty applauses of agreement from the audience.

If this book accomplishes anything, perhaps it will stir enough conscience in the LDS body to take responsibility for its strange doctrines, repent, and heal.

Perhaps.

If not, at least there will be a good number from within the ranks of the church, who will get this message and make a personal change for the better.

It has me.

Keep up the great work Jon. Though you consider yourself an agnostic, I consider you one of the most godly people I have ever met.

Let's do lunch some time.  In Boulder.

Related News Stories

Author Krakauer Visits Salt Lake City, Defends Controversial Book - KSL-TV, UT (You can see me on the second row about twelve seats over)
Author Jon Krakauer Talks About New Book - Washington Post, DC
Nelson Mandela's bridge ('Mormon Fringe') - St. Louis Dispatch, MO
Author Jon Krakauer Talks About New Book - Atlanta Journal Constitution, GA
Author Jon Krakauer Talks About New Book - Miami Herald, FL
Overflow crowd gathers for Krakauer lecture - Salt Lake Tribune, UT
'Banner' author fields questions - Deseret News, UT
Best-selling author speaks about violence in Mormon history - Wyoming News (AP)
Author speaks about violence in LDS history - Provo Daily Herald (AP)
Overflow crowd gathers for Krakauer lecture - Salt Lake Tribune
Krakauer responds to criticism - The BYU Newsnet
Author Jon Krakauer Talks About New Book - Miami Herald, FL
Author Jon Krakauer Talks About New Book - Atlanta Journal Constitution
People in the news - Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, FL

 

See also

Supplement Index > Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith - Supplemental index of book written by acclaimed author, which deals with frightening fundamentalist manifestations of LDS doctrines no longer actively practiced by Mormonism.

 

Page created by Sterling D. Allan July 19, 2003
Page last updated October 22, 2006

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