Friday, November 09, 2007

I Love Mormons, Part 2

"Under the Banner of Heaven" is a In Cold Blood type non-fiction book about the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter by her brothers-in-law, Dan and Ron. The Lafferty family belong to the church of Latter Day Saints. The cut and dry of it is Ron claimed he had received a revelation from God saying that Brenda, a young headstrong woman who persistently resisted her husband and her brothers-in-law in their growing conviction to a Fundamentalist belief system, needed to be "removed" as she was an impediment to God's work. Her daughter also needed to be "removed," because, in the words of Ron Lafferty, she would, "just like her mother, grow up to be bitch." Ron and Dan Lafferty arrived at Brenda's apartment one morning, beat her until she was unconscious, and tied a vaccum cord around her neck. Dan went upstairs where he killed the baby by slitting her throat, then returned downstairs to exact the same on Brenda. Both men are now in jail, Dan for life, Ron is on death row. Brenda was 24; her baby was 15 months old.

This disgusting and disturbing story is enough to make any reader turn against the Mormon church and its beliefs. And I don't deny that several of the tenets of Mormonism, especially the idea that any person can receive "divine revelations," is just asking for crazy people like the Laffertys to take their religion down a very dark path. Joseph Smith revealed that God intended to send "one mighty and strong," who would avenge all the persecution Mormons have endured since the genesis of their faith and lead the church, and several men have stepped up to the plate. The Laffertys consider themselves this person. Brigham Young, no doubt, considered himself this person, and more recently, Brian David Mitchell, the abductor of Elizabeth Smart, considered himself the "one mighty and strong." There's no doubt here that this is a very dangerous religion.

But, what religion isn't?

There are fundamentalist Christians and there are fundamentalist Muslims. We all know what scale of atrocities these religions are capable of. When life on earth is considered merely a stepping stone to heaven, people will do anything to secure a place next to the Almighty. What interests me about Jon Krakauer's book, ultimately, is that he's chosen to tell the history of Mormonism as a whole in juxtaposition with these horrible murders. I was skeptical, at first: not all Mormons are fundamentalists. And in fact, most Mormons (at least the ones I'm friendly with) are some of the gentlest, kindest, most reasonable people I know.

But, the subtitle of Krakauer's book is "A History of Violent Faith," and goodness me, it is indeed a violent one. Assassinations, Massacres, Paranoia, Sacrifices, you name it. Mormonism is the first American born religion, and it carries a very bloody trail behind it.

But again, what religion doesn't? Couple that thought with the fact that not only were Mormons trying to build a religion, they were also trying to build a home, in the very wild west, mind you, with hostile denziens (rightly so) in the desert, basically, completely exposed to the elements. After the leader of their church had been assassinated, they just assumed anyone coming through their territory was coming to kill them. Yes, it's rash, but it's not completely unreasonable.

In no way am I defending the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. They are responsible for some of the most heinous acts, in particular against women, namely through the systematic emotional and physical abuse of very young women that are forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers (and sometimes ARE their fathers) in what the FLDS calls "plural marriage."

However, while I found the Krakauer informative and enlightening, I had to ask myself if the Mormon history, while violent, was really that surprising. Or, if the Laffertys aren't just another example of how religious fanaticism isn't good no what which cake you're cutting from, Mormon or otherwise.

Which brings me back to Big Love . Big Love , for those of you who haven't seen it, is the new-ish HBO series about a Mormon family that practices "the principle," aka, "plural marriage." In other words, Bill Paxton's character, Bill Hendrickson, is married to three women, and has fathered children with all of them. I don't feel qualified to go into the series in a major way, since I've yet to see the whole first season, but I will say that in some ways Big Love is good for us in that it gets the Mormon discussion going, but it's also negative because it portrays Mormons as polygamists and obviously this is not the case in every Mormon household.

That said, Mormonism is quickly becoming one of the biggest religions in the world, with multitudes of converts every year. Whether us "gentiles" want to deal with it or not, we're going to have to realize that Mormons will continue to confront us in our every day lives (see: Mitt Romney), and yes, not all of them are murderers and rapists.

I'll close with this:

Aforementioned friend, L., invited me to Easter services at her "steak," our freshman year. I was flattered to be included and honestly, I was curious.

"Am I allowed?"
"Of course! You can come to steak stake all you like, you just can't go in the temple in Salt Lake."

Upon entering the church, which looked just like any other church, to be honest, and upon being greeted by several people quite warmly, "Oh we're so glad to have you, L.'s told us all about you, welcome," and the like, I thought, hey, I could get used to this. Next thing I knew L. was telling me, "Grab a score."

"A score? A score to what?"
"The Messiah."
"Oh, to follow along with the choir?"
"No, silly, we're going to sing it."
"No, just selections."
"Wait, you're telling me this congregation is going to SIGHT-READ Handel's THE MESSIAH?"
"Do you guys do this every year?"
"No, we've never done it before."

And I'll tell ya. Those Mormons. Every man, woman and child picked up a score of The Messiah, and we sang one of the most beautiful Messiah's I have ever heard. We sight-read that thing. It was a lovely Easter.


m said...

me again. i actually think big love handles the plural marriage issue really well, because it shows the compound (a fundamentalist community bill and nicki come from), their "nuclear" family, and traditional lds families (such as friends of the daughter, barb's extended family). there are characters who fully accept the principle, both compound-born and secular (like margene) and characters who struggle against it despite practicing it. so i think it does a good job of portraying plural marriage in modern society, without laying claim that all mormons practice polygamy. i think its a great show (i've seen the first two seasons, and there's a lot going on.)

Snobber said...

right on, dude. you're right about HBO showing the three different "levels" of mormonism. i just got a DVD player for my TV in the common room, so there's going to be a lot of big love going on. i love nicki. i love, love, love her.

thanks for reading!

m said...

this is emily. and i like your blog. and i get really sad when you don't update.

Snobber said...

i know you, you cutie pie. aw, you sweet. i need to update more often!