Under the Banner of God

Under the Banner of God

Taliban-like patriarchies run on a doctrine of complete obedience to whatever the elders say. Dissent is not permitted, especially from women. A woman who dissents is often savagely beaten. Young teenage girls are forced to “marry” men triple or quadruple their age, men they are often revolted by. The men sometimes rape their “bride” on the wedding night. The elders can have dozens such wives, and these pubescent girls are told the only way they can achieve religious salvation is by consenting. As if they have a choice.

Violence towards children and women is common. In one gruesome case, five brothers who became increasingly bizarre in their religious beliefs alarmed one of their wifes who then stood up to them. Two of the brothers then received a “revelation” from God to murder the woman and her 15 month old daughter and did so. Incredibly they told her husband, their brother, of the plan, and he did nothing. Neither did their mother, who also knew.
No, this wasn’t in Afghanistan. It was in Utah, among Mormon Fundamentalists who practice polygamy. There are hundreds of thousands of them, maybe millions. The Mormon Church, which was forced to renounce polygamy in the late 1800’s or face ruin by the federal government, officially decries both polygamy and these splinter groups, many members of which have been excommunicated by the Mormon Church.

Yet the Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, added polygamy to his “revealed” church doctrine years after forming the church, because, well let’s be honest here, he liked to fuck young teenage girls and was getting into trouble over it. So as a religious justification, he then “revealed” that God had personally told him polygamy was just fine and dandy, and what’s more, the girl couldn’t be saved unless she complied. Yes, it really was that sleazy, a scummy religious figleaf for even scummier behavior.

All of this and more is detailed in Jon Krauker’s “Under the Banner of God. A Story of Violent Faith”, which details those two murders, the history of Mormonism, and much more. Where does religious faith end and fanaticism begin? Believers in many religions look for guidance from God – and find it. Their lives are richer and more meaningful because of their religion. Yet a minuscule few become so deluded and insane that they think God told them to do something depraved like slit the throat of their 15 month old niece. 

The original doctrine of Mormonism, which the current Mormon Church has moved away from, included polygamy and blatant racism against blacks. Current doctrine includes an unsettling doctrine of “blood atonement” which states those who seriously oppose the Church can and should have their own blood spilled so they then can have an opportunity for salvation – not unlike medieval Catholic torturers who wished to destroy your body and life to “save your soul.” And not unlike forcing a 12 year old girl to have sex with a man in his 60’s. It’s for her own salvation. God told me, so it must be true.

The Mormon fundamentalists (who are not Mormon per se) say, quite accurately, that the Mormon Church has sold out their original precepts for political expedience and survival. This is an undeniable fact, made no less true by those original precepts being noxious to many current Americans (and no doubt many Mormons too.)

I became friendly with a Mormon a few years back while on a programming project. He’d had drug problems, his life had been spiraling down, One day he read the Book or Mormon and got saved. Now he lives in Salt Lake City, is married with four kids and appears quite happy. That his vision of happiness might be another’s vision of Hell matters not!

Mormons take care of their own. You tithe, and if you believe and maintain the faith, then if things go wrong, you will be taken care of. One wife of those five brothers finally summoned the courage to divorce him and took herself and five kids far away to Florida. The Mormon Church provided her with financial and spiritual help during this hideous time for her. Other churches simply don’t have the financial wherewithal or the support apparatus to do this kind of thing. Mormons do, and that certainly is to be applauded. However, their price is unquestioned obedience.

There’s no easy answers here, no black and white. Religions provide meaning and strength for millions. Religions also can create gibbering lunatics capable of extraordinary violence in the delusion that their Deity told them to do it; it can be a Mormon Fundamentalist slitting the throat of a baby or a Islamist decapitating an innocent outsider or a Christian fundamentalist shooting an abortion doctor or a .. fill in the blanks… And of course, some extreme lunatic secular politicos, both Right and Left, are indistinguishable from religious fundamentalists in their behavior and belief in their inerrancy.

Religions require a “leap of faith” to embrace their beliefs, beliefs which can not be proved by logic or reasoning. That “small still” inward voice spoken of in many religions as a guiding light does indeed guide many. However sometimes that voice gets displaced by madness or zealotry or fanaticism. And what was beneficial and helpful then becomes ugly and sick.