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Saturday, August 2, 2003

Mormonism + X = violence.

Quick: Find the variable in this equation! Why should you be suspicious of Jon Krakauer's premise in Under the banner of heaven: A Story of violent faith?

Robert Wright, author of The moral animal, puts his finger on it:

Krakauer wants to show how the Lafferty murder is rooted in the Mormon past. He emphasizes, for example, the doctrine of "blood atonement," stressed by [Joseph] Smith but later dropped by the church.

It's true that Dan Lafferty, while delving into church history, encountered this idea. But it's also true that by then he already harbored volatile grievances and that he had come from a violent background; his father killed the family dog with a baseball bat as family members looked on. [Not your everyday Family Home Evening activity.—Ed.] Most religions, and certainly the monotheistic ones, have odes to violence in their scriptural past. (See, for example, Deuteronomy.) The question is what makes some people more inclined than others to latch onto these passages.

Wright says Krakauer picks on religion too quickly:

The human mind is great at justifying its goals, and it does so by whatever medium is handy, including . . . simple moralizing. Dan Lafferty, asked to distinguish himself from Osama bin Laden, says, ''I believe I'm a good person.'' An unfortunately common sentiment. Krakauer writes that ''as a means of motivating people to be cruel or inhumane . . . there may be no more potent force than religion.'' But sheer instinctive self-righteousness may ultimately be a bigger part of the problem. It is a common denominator of crimes committed in the name of religion, nationalism, racism — even, sometimes, nihilism.

An uncritical faith — especially in oneself — is a dangerous thing indeed.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 2 August 2003 at 2:13 PM

Previous: Bright bigotry?
Next: Genesis for grown-ups.

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