Krakauer on the Nature of Faith

Jon Krakauer’s new book, Under the Banner of Heaven, is slightly different fare for the author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, but that doesn’t stop his superb storytelling ability and thorough investigative skills from making this book a very interesting story. My wife and I listened to the audio version of the book recently over a couple of road trips (can you say that you’ve “read” a book if you’ve listened to the audio version? I would argue that you could, but that’s a debate for another day).

The story that Krakauer investigates is the murder of a woman and her baby by her brothers-in-law. The brothers-in-law, both Mormon Fundamentalists, claimed (and still claim) that they received direct revelation from God that they should kill their sister-in-law and niece. In telling the story, Krakauer delves into the sordid world of Mormon Fundamentalism, with its practices of polygamy and belief in individual direct revelation.

The books reads (or listens) very well and it is evident that Krakauer has done his homework. The interviews he had with the murderes are chilling, as well as the antics of the religion he describes. Krakauer’s editorial comments, however, are another story.

At the end of the book, Krakauer comments on the nature of faith, and how all faith that had strong beliefs were dangerous. I’m paraphrasing here (a downside of only listening to the book), but Krakauer says something like this, “If someone can receive direct revelation from God, that trumps all other authorities. The Lafferty brothers believe that they have done nothing wrong because God told them to do this.”

Krakauer, an admitted agnostic who calls faith “irrational,” concludes from this that faith (he hints at evangelical Christianity) have the potential for such dangerous outcomes as these murders. While I agree on some of these points (if people believe that God is telling them to kill someone, and that is their ultimate authority, this is dangerous!), Krakauer leaves out much when reaching his conclusions.

Take evangelical Christianity, for example. We do believe that we can talk to God and that he providentially directs our everyday lives. A Christian, however, should have a problem if they sense that God is telling them to kill someone. Why? Because Scripture forbids it. God trumps man, and God’s written word trumps man’s senses.

If God had not provided us with an infallible, inerrant written word, Christianity like Mormonism (I do consider them two different religions) would be open to continuing revelation that could supercede anything that was revealed before.

Krakauer calls “faith” what he should be calling “some faiths.” If only Krakauer would have put as much thought into his editorial comments as he did his research for the book…