Some vacation reading I have done was Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. It examines the case of Ron and Dan Lafferty’s murder of their sister-in-law and baby niece as a jumping off point to take a look at Mormon history and Mormon fundamentalism particularly and to thereby examine some aspects of religion generally.
The Laffertys seemed to have grown up as pretty solid mainline Mormons. They converted to Mormon fundamentalism in part because of a conviction that the abandonment of polygamy by the mainline Church was contrary to the revelation of Joseph Smith about the sanctity of plural marriages. One thing led to another and they wound up killing their uppity sister-in-law and her toddler daughter because God told them to.
Krakauer speculates that some of the fundamentals of the development of the Mormon religion probably parallels the development of other more “major” religions. The difference is that due to its recency, the rise of Mormonism is better documented than the rise of Christianity or Islam. Like Joseph Smith, Mohammad and Jesus were probably charismatic individuals with odd ideas and claims to a direct link to God. Men who seemed peculiar to most, but by virtue of their extreme charisma were able to convince a non-trivial number of people of the truth of their odd ideas. The oddities of Mormon belief are not inherently less believable than some of the oddities of Christian belief, for example. The Christian oddities are simply older and more familiar. Transubstantiation – the Catholic idea that bread and wine are literally turned into Christ’s flesh and blood or even the idea of a Virgin Birth don’t generally make most people bat an eyelash. But, it’s pretty easy to get people to raise their eyebrows at the Mormons’ sacred underwear.
In case any of you are looking for a book to read, I’d recommend Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.