Bob Harris was a travel writer specializing in luxury destinations. He began to think that, “There’s a point where luxury passes beyond any sane human comfort and starts touching lunacy” (like a hotel in Dubai spending $300,000 a year on pure gold pastry decorations). Harris’ ethical musings on money led him to Kiva, a non-profit providing microloans at zero interest to business owners. Bob Harris began lending small amounts and consistently, promptly being repaid. He then wanted to meet the people behind the loans. Read about Bob Harris’ journey around the world, meeting the business people and communities he helped change for the better in The International Bank of Bob: Connecting our World one $25 Kiva Loan at a Time.
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SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: Under the Banner of Heaven
Author: Jon Krakauer
Page Count: 372
Genre: True Crime
Tone: Disturbing, Thought-provoking
1. What assumptions about Mormonism did you bring to this book? Did any of your views change?
2. Have you read Jon Krakauer before? Are you interested in reading more now?
3. Do you think that he used a balanced hand while writing?
4. Krakauer calls Mormonism a distinctly “American” religion. What did he mean by that?
5. “Control of the LDS Church resides in the hands of fifteen men.” (p. 4) Do you think that it matters if women are allowed to hold positions of authority in the LDS Church?
6. The main difference between LDS and FLDS is that Fundamentalist Mormons (FLDS) believe in the religious duty of plural marriage. Do you think polygamy should be a religious freedom? Should polygamy be legal or illegal?
7. Prosecutor David Leavitt believes that FLDS polygamy is pedophilia. (p. 23) Do you agree with his assessment?
8. What is your reaction to the FLDS use of public funds to support their large families?
“Despite the fact that Uncle Rulon and his followers regard the government of Arizona, Utah and the United States as Satanic forces out to destroy the UEP, their polygamous community receives more than $6 million a year in public funds.” (p.12)
9. What is your personal reaction to hearing Uncle Rulon say, “I want to tell you that the greatest freedom you can enjoy is in obedience. Perfect obedience produces perfect faith.” (p. 12)
10. Pedophilia is commonly mentioned in Under the Banner of Heaven. What do you think the punishment for this crime should be?
11. Should a 13-year old be allowed to get married, even if they want to?
12. What was your reaction to Bountiful’s community motto: “Keep Sweet, No Matter What”?
13. What was your reaction to learning that Joseph Smith “…devoted much time and energy to attempting to divine the location of buried treasure by means of black magic and crystal gazing, activities he learned from his father.” (p. 56)
14. In 1830, when Joseph Smith formally established the Mormon Church, it had 50 members. The next year, membership exceeded 1,000 people. Why do you think it grew so fast? (p. 29)
15. What were your reactions to The Peacemaker, the elaborate biblical rationale for polygamy that turned Dan Lafferty to plural marriage?
16. Krakauer quotes R. Laurence Moore saying, “Persecution arguably was the only possible force that would have allowed the infant church to prosper.” (p. 95) What did Moore mean by that?
17. Do you think the Mormon Church would have survived if it hadn’t given up plural marriage in 1890?
18. What was your reaction to Section 132 (the doctrine of plural marriage) mentioning Joseph Smith’s first wife, Emma, by name? Why do you think her name was included in this doctrine? What was Emma’s reaction to Section 132?
19. How and why was Joseph Smith killed?
20. What is “blood atonement”? (p. 204)
21. How did the U.S. government respond to Brigham Young saying, “…any President of the United States who lifts his finger against this people shall die an untimely death, and go to Hell!” (p. 206)
22. What was your reaction to Ron receiving a revelation to kill Brenda, her child, and two other people?
23. If the revelation didn’t come from God, where did it come from?
24. Allen (Brenda’s husband) was told of the revelation. Allen asked Ron why his baby daughter had to die and Ron said, “Because she would grow up to be a b—-, just like her mother!” (p. 169) After hearing this, Allen said he couldn’t accept the revelation, but never told Brenda of it. No one ever told Brenda, not Allen, not her mother-in-law, not Onias. Why? Would this be a different story if someone had told Brenda the revelation?
25. Why do you think that Ron tried to kill Dan in jail in 1995? (p. 310)
26. Dan currently thinks that he is Elijah, the prophet that will usher in the second coming of Christ. (p. 313) What does this say about Dan and his current state of mental health?
27. Dan Lafferty killed someone because he believed his brother received a direct revelation from God. Osama bin Laden killed 2000 people in a terror attack because he believed God directly told him to do so. Does Dan see any commonality between himself and Osama bin Laden? (p. 317) Do you see any commonality?
28. Did you like how Under the Banner of Heaven was written – with its back and forth between Mormon Church history, the history of Fundamentalism, and Ron and Dan’s story?
29. What are your thoughts on the footnotes?
30. What emotional toll did this book take on you?
Book Browse book discussion questions
NPR interviews Jon Krakauer
Daily Beast review of Under the Banner of Heaven
NYT review of Under the Banner of Heaven
LDS Church’s response to Under the Banner of Heaven
Jon Krakauer’s response to the LDS outcry
Photo gallery of the Lafferty brothers
Present state of the Ronald Lafferty case
Update: Under the Banner of Heaven was written in 2003. Since then, Warren Jeffs, Uncle Rulon’s successor as the president of the FLDS Church, was sentenced to life in prison for two felony accounts of child sexual assault.
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