Under the Banner of Heaven

A colleague from work read this book – Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer – and had some questions for me about my faith in the LDS church.  I agreed to read it despite its misrepresentations of our church. 
Here is my response which is merely based upon my own experience and perhaps polar opposite bias as a devout member of the LDS church.  For the official church response to the book, you can look here.  First, John Krakauer is a very talented story teller, and he told a very tragic story of two brothers, Dan and Ron Lafferty, (excommunicated members of the LDS church), who ultimately tried to carry out Ron Lafferty’s "revelations" to murder a set of people that Ron held a grudge against.  They ended up horrificly murdering their sister in-law and her toddler daughter.  The story was compelling in all its tragedy.  Where I thought Mr. Krakauer did his readers a disservice was presenting selective facts to lead the reader to the following conclusion:
1.  You can not communicate with God.
2.  If you do, you are likely crazy or at the very least unreasonable.  Look at what happened to the Lafferty brothers.  There is certainly an implication that people that claim to receive revelation put themselves above law and commit unthinkable violence.  This is a theme that is reinforced over and over through very selective facts.
3.  The LDS church members holds dearly to the belief that each individual can communicate with God and receive answers, therefore the LDS church members innately have this disposition to commit unthinkable acts.  There is an extension of this conclusion to denominations of the mainstream Christian church that also believes that they may receive answers from God.

Mr. Krakauer at the end of the book, fully admits that he is a skeptic.  He believes quite strongly that we can not communicate with God.   To be honest, I can understand his skepticism.  Many people feel that it is impossible to communicate with God.  Many people feel that it is impossible to know God.  And many people will look at facts and issues through their own special filters and blinders to justify their own beliefs.  I only say that I understand, because I was once a very convinced atheist.  I had contempt for those that claimed that they "knew" God existed and that they saw God’s hand in their lives. I felt sorry for those that turned coincidences into divine intervention.  Our brains are quite good at recognizing patterns and also making up patterns among random data when none exists.  Indeed, I have once walked in Mr. Krakauer’s shoes believing that religion was for the feeble minded, and annoyed by what seemed like exaggerated testimonies.

However, because I was often surrounded by men and women that were religious, I was always curious and remained open minded to the small probability that there could be something more.  Now and then, I would demand defiantly of God to prove himself.  Show me that He existed.  If He’ll do that, then I’ll believe.  Not surprisingly, He never answered my demands.

Then one day, in one of my most humbled hours, I asked – not demanded.  I asked to know if He was up there.  I asked him to save me from my predicament, because I was broken-hearted.  I was in a business situation that clearly seemed like I could not save myself.  He didn’t save me from my financial troubles, but He did answer me.  He has answered me over many years through powerful experiences that seared into my heart that I could never forget, nor ever deny.  These experiences I’m happy to relate in person.  No, He did not save me from my business troubles, but He did save my life.  Through His promptings, through His teachings, through the studying of scripture, my life was reprioritized.  I found my father’s love that I have never known just years before he passed away, and served him to the best of my ability in those last years.  I was blessed with an incredible wife with whom by any measure I have a stellar relationship with.   We are blessed with a wonderful family, my most treasured assets.  Could this all be a coincidence?  Possibly, but I know it’s highly improbable, because I know who I was before God answered me.  I know what my priorities were, and how I have changed to be prepared and appreciate the blessing I have received.

So, this is my answer to Mr. Krakauer’s book.
As for the demeanor of our church members, there are almost 13 million members in the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints.  Mr. Krakauer chose to represent this church through
a handful of excommunicated members, dissidents, apostate fundamentalist groups,
quotes from leaders of the church without historical context or context
of their quote in order to justify his thesis – his own beliefs.  The
most intellectually insulting aspect of the book was that it takes the
most sensationalist people and events, and poses them as
representative of the church.  Dan and Ron Lafferty are about as
representative of our church (or any Christian church) as Pol Pot, Stalin, and Mao Zedong are of atheists.  Although it may make for an attention getting, controversial book, neither are true.  I wish there was a book that catalogued the millions of lives that our church has saved from despair, millions of families that are strengthened.  This is the church that I know, and the effect of a Christian life that I’ve experienced. 

More importantly, Mr. Krakauer poses a very important question – Can I know that God exists?  And does He talk to us?  These are indeed fair questions.  Mr. Krakauer certainly seems to think it is impossible. 

To Mr. Krakauer, other skeptics, and those who might be wondering – Can I know?  I am compelled to answer, Yes you can.  As surely as you can know that Antarctica exists (assuming you’ve never seen it), you can know.  The more relevant question becomes, "Do you really want to know?"  Because if you do, and if you ask in sincerity, He will answer.  Many people for much of their lives, may not care, or often don’t want to know.  I think this is ok.  Inevitably however, there comes a point in every person’s life, where they are confronted with a broken-heart – with a situation that they feel they can not endure by themselves.  When this time comes, I urge you to ask.  He will answer, as a doting Father does for his beloved child. 

This is merely my experience and my testimony.  I hope and pray that you, the reader, will one day remember these comments and take up the challenge when the time comes, so that you too may have your own spiritual experiences and a testimony of His divine love and plan for each one of us.

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