Jon Krakauer · 372 pages
Rating: (130.8K votes)
“There is a dark side to religious devotion that is too often ignored or denied. As a means of motivating people to be cruel or inhumane, there may be no more potent force than religion. When the subject of religiously inspired bloodshed comes up, many Americans immediately think of Islamic fundamentalism, which is to be expected in the wake of 911. But men have been committing heinous acts in the name of God ever since mankind began believing in deities, and extremists exist within all religions. Muhammad is not the only prophet whose words have been used to sanction barbarism; history has not lacked for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and even Buddhists who have been motivated by scripture to butcher innocents. Plenty of these religious extremist have been homegrown, corn-fed Americans.”
“As a means of motivating people to be cruel or inhumane-as a means of inciting evil, to borrow the vocabulary of the devout-there may be no more potent force than religion.”
“But some things are more important than being happy. Like being free to think for yourself.”
“Balanced atop the highest spire of the Salt Lake Temple, gleaming in the Utah sun, a statue of the angel Moroni stands watch over downtown Salt Lake City with his golden trumpet raised. This massive granite edifice is the spiritual and temporal nexus of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), which presents itself as the world's only true religion. Temple Square is to Mormons what the Vatican is to Catholics, or the Kaaba in Mecca is to Muslims. At last count there were more than eleven million Saints the world over, and Mormonism is the fastest-growing faith in the Western Hemisphere. At present in the United States there are more Mormons than Presbyterians or Episcopalians. On the planet as a whole, there are now more Mormons than Jews. Mormonism is considered in some sober academic circles to be well on its way to becoming a major world religion--the first such faith to emerge since Islam.”
“I was irresistibly drawn to write about Latter-Day Saints not only because I already knew something about their theology, and admired much about their culture, but also because of the utterly unique circumstances in which their religion was born: the Mormon Church was founded a mere 173 years ago, in a literate society, in the age of the printing press. As a consequence, the creation of what became a worldwide faith was abundantly documented in firsthand accounts. Thanks to the Mormons, we have been given an unprecedented opportunity to appreciate--in astonishingly detail--how an important religion came to be.”
“Launching a nice little war to divert national attention was a gambit no less appealing to nineteenth-century politicians than it is to their present-day counterparts.”
“When Debbie was fourteen, she felt "impressed by the Lord" to marry Ray Blackmore, the community leader. Debbie asked her father to share her divine impression with Prophet LeRoy Johnson, who would periodically travel to Bountiful from Short Creek to perform various religious duties. Because Debbie was lithe and beautiful, Uncle Roy approved of the match. A year later the prophet returned to Canada and married her to the ailing fifty-seven-year-old Blackmore. As his sixth wife, Debbie became a stepmother to Blackmore's thirty-one kids, most of whom were older than she was. And because he happened to be the father of Debbie's own stepmother, Mem, she unwittingly became a stepmother to her stepmother, and thus a step grandmother to herself.”
“Whether one believes that the faith he spawned is the world's only true religion or a preposterous fable, Joseph emerges from the fog of time as one of the most remarkable figures ever to have breathed American air. "Whatever his lapses," Harold Bloom argues in The American Religion, "Smith was an authentic religious genius, unique in our national history.... In proportion to his importance and his complexity, he remains the least-studied personage, of an undiminished vitality, in our entire national sage.”
“The religious literature handed out by the earnest young missionaries in Temple Square makes no mention of the fact that Joseph Smith--still the religion's focal personage-- married at least thirty-three women and probably as many as forty-eight. Nor does it mention that the youngest of these wives was just fourteen years old when Joseph explained to her that God had commanded that she marry him or face eternal damnation.”
“One man's faith is another man's delusion. . . .”
“Alleging that the Mormons had committed a long list of treasonous acts, in May 1857 Buchanan dispatched a contingent of federal officials to restore the rule of law in Utah, including a new territorial governor to replace Brigham Young. More ominously, the new president ordered twenty-five hundred heavily armed soldiers to escort these officials into Salt Lake City and subdue the Saints if necessary. For all intents and purposes, the United States had declared war on the Mormons.”
“There is a dark side to religious devotion that is too often ignored or denied. As a means of motivating people to be cruel or inhumane -- as a means of inciting evil, to borrow the vocabulary of the devout -- there may be no more potent force than religion. When the subject of religiously inspired bloodshed comes up, many Americans immediately think of Islamic fundamentalism, which is to be expected in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. But men have been committing heinous acts in the name of God ever since mankind began believing in deities, and extremists exist within all religions. Muhammad is not the only prophet whose words have been used to sanction barbarism; history has not lacked for Christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and even Buddhists who have been motivated by scripture to butcher innocents. Plenty of these religious extremists have been homegrown, corn-fed Americans.
Faith-based violence was present long before Osama bin Laden, and it ill be with us long after his demise. Religious zealots like bin Laden, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Shoko Asahara, and Dan Lafferty are common to every age, just as zealots of other stripes are. In any human endeavor, some fraction of its practitioners will be motivated to pursue that activity with such concentrated focus and unalloyed passion that it will consume them utterly. One has to look no further than individuals who feel compelled to devote their lives to becoming concert pianists, say, or climbing Mount Everest. For some, the province of the extreme holds an allure that's irresistible. And a certain percentage of such fanatics will inevitably fixate on the matters of the spirit.
The zealot may be outwardly motivated by the anticipation of a great reward at the other end -- wealth, fame, eternal salvation -- but the real recompense is probably the obsession itself. This is no less true for the religious fanatic than for the fanatical pianist or fanatical mountain climber. As a result of his (or her) infatuation, existence overflows with purpose. Ambiguity vanishes from the fanatic's worldview; a narcissistic sense of self-assurance displaces all doubt. A delicious rage quickens his pulse, fueled by the sins and shortcomings of lesser mortals, who are soiling the world wherever he looks. His perspective narrows until the last remnants of proportion are shed from his life. Through immoderation, he experiences something akin to rapture.
Although the far territory of the extreme can exert an intoxicating pull on susceptible individuals of all bents, extremism seems to be especially prevalent among those inclined by temperament or upbringing toward religious pursuits. Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness a crucial component of spiritual devotion. And when religious fanaticism supplants ratiocination, all bets are suddenly off. Anything can happen. Absolutely anything. Common sense is no match for the voice of God...”
“pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy . . . , indicated by five (or more) of the following: 1. An exaggerated sense of self-importance . . . 2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love 3. Believes that he or she is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people . . . 4. Requires excessive admiration 5. Has a sense of entitlement . . . 6. Selfishly takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends 7. Lacks empathy 8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her 9. Shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes”
“He offered a crystal-clear notion of right and wrong, an unambiguous definition of good and evil. And although his perspective was absolutist and unyielding, it presented a kinder, gentler alternative to Calvinism, which had been the ecclesiastical status quo in the early years of the American republic.”
“We were brought up to be very independent. Our parents taught us that we were given certain talents and we needed to pursue them -- that we shouldn't go through life relying on others when we had all these abilities.”
“And although his perspective was absolutist and unyielding, it presented a kinder, gentler alternative to Calvinism, which had been the ecclesiastical status quo in the early years of the American republic.”
“I have to admit, the terrorists were following their prophet,” Dan says. “They were willing to do essentially what I did. I see the parallel. But the difference between those guys and me is, they were following a false prophet, and I'm not. “I believe I'm a good person,” Dan insists. “I've never done anything intentionally wrong. I never have.”
“On the morning of the July 24, Pioneer Day, Dan got up, prayed, and felt prompted by the Lord to saw the barrel and stock off a 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun that he had been storing at his mother’s house.”
“How can a society actively promote religious faith on one hand and condemn a man for zealously adhering to his faith on the other?”
“Both revelation and delusion are attempts at the solution of problems. Artists and scientists realize that no solution is ever final, but that each new creative step points the way to the next artistic or scientific problem. In contrast, those who embrace religious revelations and delusional systems tend to see them as unshakeable and permanent. . . . Religious faith is an answer to the problem of life. . . . The majority of mankind want or need some all-embracing belief system which purports to provide an answer to life’s mysteries, and are not necessarily dismayed by the discovery that their belief system, which they proclaim as “the truth,” is incompatible with the beliefs of other people. One man’s faith is another man’s delusion. . . . Whether a belief is considered to be a delusion or not depends partly upon the intensity with which it is defended, and partly upon the numbers of people subscribing to it.* ANTHONY STORR, FEET OF CLAY”
“For years he had complained that political leaders were disregarding their sworn duty to safeguard the Mormons' constitutionally guaranteed freedom to worship without being subjected to harassment, and worse, at the hands of the religious majority. Yet in both word and deed, Joseph repeatedly demonstrated that he himself had little respect for the religious views of non-Mormons, and was unlikely to respect the constitutional rights of other faiths if he somehow won the presidency and were running the show.”
“And if I remain in the dark about our purpose here, and the meaning of eternity, I have nevertheless arrived at an understanding of a few more modest trusts: Most of us fear death. Most of us yearn to comprehend how we got here, and why - which is to say, most of us ache to know the love of our creator.”
“In any human endeavor, some fraction of its practitioners will be motivated to pursue that activity with such concentrated focus and unalloyed passion that it will consume them utterly.”
“When I think about it, it’s like I would have never been able to grow out of it. It’s like the tree and the bicycle. I grew around it and it became part of me.”
“And then he draws the lamb in one smooth strong stroke, and slaps and rakes its wet mosslike fur to make it breathe, feels the power of its fast heartbeat in the chicken-bone cage of its ribs, still wet in his hands from the grease of birth, all these things of life, from jissom to mucus slavered between thighs to the wet sack of birth and glistening oiled newborn thing—all of these things of life awatered.”
“And so I eventually stopped crying myself to sleep at night. Stopped dreaming of them coming back to save me. Stopped believing anyone would save me. I learned I had to save myself. That I could only depend on one person, and that was me.”
“You will never be able to eliminate a weakness you don’t even know about. The first step to eliminating a negative habit is to become aware of it.”
“No phenomenon directly involving a frequency has yet been detected above approximately 10^12 cycles per second. We only deduce the higher frequencies from the energy of the particles, by a rule which assumes that the particle-wave idea of quantum mechanics is valid.”
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