As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my faith teaches me to forgive 70 times. .
My faith urges me to love my enemies, to bless those who curse, and to do good to those who hate. Current President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson, a 97-year-old former heart surgeon, recently pleaded with his fellow Latter-day Saints “to do whatever you can to put end the personal conflicts that are currently raging in your hearts and in your lives.
And yet, FX’s new serial drama “Under the Banner of Heaven,” a redux of Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name, is built on the premise that my faith is dangerous — violent even.
It’s a funny thesis.
But the logic goes something like this: By placing “revelation” above “reason,” religious people are particularly susceptible to violence.
The irony, of course, is that Krakauer advocates “reason”, while committing a fundamental logical error – the fallacy of composition – in assuming that what is true of the parties (some religious people are violent) is also true of the together (all religions/religionists are violent).
But, in fact, when it comes to Latter-day Saints, statistics support the idea that communities with a high percentage of Latter-day Saints tend to have lower than average rates of violent crime. Utah, the state with the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints in the nation, ranks as the 13th least violent state in the nation, according to annual FBI statistics. Idaho, the state with the second-highest percentage of Latter-day Saints, ranks 10and Least violent state.
Some of the safest cities in Utah (Bountiful, Farmington, Pleasant Grove, Spanish Fork, etc.) are communities with above-average Latter-day Saint populations (between 70% and 90%). Meanwhile, Idaho’s safest city, Rexburg, is home to Brigham Young University-Idaho with a population of 90% Latter-day Saints.
When Krakauer’s book first arrived in the years after 9/11, violence and religion were still on the minds of many Americans. Some commentators have thankfully drawn careful distinctions between the very small group of violent terrorists who carried out the attacks and the millions of Muslims for whom faith inspires peace.
But Krakauer, Richard Dawkins and other types of atheists (Krakauer says he is a non-believer, not an atheist) have often displayed the limits of their own rationality by painting with overly broad brushstrokes and, ipso factoequating religion with violence.
In his book, Krakauer uses the Lafferty murders and early Mormon strife to weave a clever narrative that makes for entertaining reading, but ultimately presents an irrational argument.
The redux of “Under the Banner of Heaven” commits similar sins, depicting a fictional detective who grows disillusioned with his faith while investigating the Lafferty murders. But those sins seem less justified more than two decades after 9/11. With a 2022 release date, the schtick comes across as anachronistic at best, and downright bigoted at worst.
There is a real war in Ukraine right now. Latter-day Saints send humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed authors behind “Under the Banner of Heaven” are making media junkets.
In fact, if any American community today commands the nation’s attention for its acts of violence and irrationality, it would not be the suburbs of Salt Lake City. It would probably be Hollywood.
From the steady stream of Kevin Spacey-like #MeToo revelations to the recent right hook heard around the world, to Johnny Depp’s ramblings on the witness stand and the shocking events on the set of ‘Rust’, the only culture which seems closer to producing “dangerous men” – a phrase used in the first episode of “Under the Banner of Heaven” – would likely be Tinseltown.
So while there is certainly room for reasoned critiques of religion in general, and my faith in particular, Hollywood today lacks moral authority and “Under the Banner of Heaven” simply lacks substance. .
But none of this is so surprising.
When the Deseret News asked if any active Latter-day Saints had been hired to help produce “Under the Banner of Heaven,” a publicist said they would check. They later confirmed that no active church members were paid to write or produce the show. But they found active Latter-day Saints working in costume design and with “the crew.”
So there is that.
Imagine Hollywood spending millions of dollars to produce a series focusing negative attention on a minority faith in America and then deciding not to incorporate their voices into the writing or production.
You don’t need to imagine. Hollywood just did that.
To be fair, the show’s writer-producer Dustin Lance Black, 47, grew up as a member of the faith. And they had two other former church members involved. But Black’s career has also been punctuated by projects nudging the church of his childhood.
For those unaware of such momentous Hollywood events, Black cut his teeth (and wrote a few checks for himself) working on HBO’s “Big Love,” a drama about a polygamous family. , as well as the not-so-friendly documentary titled “8: The Mormon Proposal.”
“Maybe it’s controversial,” Black recently said of his latest work, “Under the Banner of Heaven,” “but listen, if you dive deep into any religion, but I think in particular to the Mormon religion, there are only two ways to go. Either it will become a musical or it will turn into terror and horror.
Seems fairly unbiased.
Utah has actually been in a nearly two-century “deep dive” into the “Mormon religion” and today the state boasts one of the strongest economies in the country (The Wall Street Journal reports this). dubbed an economic “star”) as well as one of the highest upward mobility rates. By at least one measure, the state ranks as the happiest in the country and has the highest percentage of children raised by two parents under the same roof.
Oh the terror. Oh the horror.
Black is known to take issue with past political efforts by the church to define marriage as being between a man and a woman (Reminder: In 2008, Barack Obama thought the law should define marriage as a woman). Black was angered by California’s Proposition 8 policy.
But we are now almost a decade and a half away from Proposition 8. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land. As recently as 2019, Utah ranked second in the nation in overall support for LGBTQ non-discrimination laws. The church is pushing for federal legislation that seeks to balance religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. Renowned thinkers and longtime advocates of same-sex marriage such as Jonathan Rauch of Brookings and William Eskridge of Yale Law School, among others, have publicly encouraged such efforts.
Despite the constant drumbeat in some quarters that gay Latter-day Saint children are far worse off living in Latter-day Saint homes, researchers at Bowling Green State University recently published findings suggesting that gay Latter-day Saint children last days might actually have a lower suicidal tendency than non-gay people. Latter-day Saint children in Utah. The researchers attribute these findings to lower rates of drug use—Latter-day Saints avoid drugs and alcohol—and more stable two-parent households.
Utah, of course, doesn’t just have glowing statistics. He has plenty of flaws. The same is true for Latter-day Saints.
But “Under the Banner of Heaven” doesn’t pay much attention to contemporary issues that might actually foster a better understanding of my religious tradition. Instead, the production comes across as just one more marker in a decades-long trail of angst.
In ancient times you heard the words “thou shalt not kill,” Jesus said in his sublime Sermon on the Mount. But anyone who is “angry,” he continues, is in danger of judgment and in need of reconciliation. So leave your offering at the temple, he said to his disciples, and go straighten things out.
America desperately needs reconciliation.
We must work to foster real peace. But that won’t happen if our artists continue to sell us fear and resentment. Unfortunately, too much of the latter is what’s being produced these days under the Hollywood banner.
Samuel Benson contributed reporting to this article.