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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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)|
Krakauer Talks About New Book - Washington Post, DC|
Mandela's bridge ('Mormon Fringe') - St. Louis
Jon Krakauer Talks About New Book - Atlanta Journal
|Author Jon Krakauer
Talks About New Book - Miami Herald, FL|
crowd gathers for Krakauer lecture - Salt Lake
|'Banner' author fields
questions - Deseret News, UT|
|Best-selling author speaks
about violence in Mormon history - Wyoming News (AP)|
speaks about violence in LDS history - Provo Daily Herald
|Overflow crowd gathers for
Krakauer lecture - Salt Lake Tribune|
|Krakauer responds to criticism - The
|Author Jon Krakauer
Talks About New Book - Miami Herald, FL|
Jon Krakauer Talks About New Book - Atlanta
in the news - Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, FL|
Page created by Sterling D. Allan July
Page last updated October 22, 2006