Religious fanaticism is something that interests and intrigues many people because more often than not it is something so far outside their own experience. In his book, John Krakauer looks at radical Mormons who have done unspeakable things in the name of God specifically looking at the double murder committed by Ron and Dan Lafferty.
Krakauer manages to weave together a number of stories in his work; the history of the Mormon Church, the contentious battles over polygamy; the rise of more radical factions; and finally the details surrounding the brutal murder committed in 1984. The Mormon Church makes up a strange part of American history and had been a subject of persecution, mockery and ridicule. Krakauer sidesteps this and focuses on how dangerous religious fanatics can be, especially when they believe God has told them to murder.
While the chapters surrounding the history of the CHurch and competing ideologies were interesting I found myself most intrigued by the chapters dealing with the Lafferty’s defence. Ron Lafferty refused to plead insanity believing so firmly that God had ordered him to kill their sister-in-law Brenda and infant niece, Erica. This cause a lot of stir among the American public; how can you claim that someone who speaks to God is insane without condemning others (albeit others who do not kill) who claim the same thing.
It was definitely an interesting book, and brought up a lot of questions surrounding just how tricky it is to persecute and hold religious fanatics accountable for their actions. Tragedy is always intriguing especially when it is so far outside our own experiences. For some however, this story probably hits quite close to home.
The disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 has kept the world guessing for years. Carl Hoffman, in this book chronicles his travels to New Guinea and his attempts to reconstruct the events that led to Michael Rockefeller’s death.
No trace of Rockefeller was even found after his disappearance and soon rumours surfaced that he’d been killed and eaten by the Asmat, a local Native tribe whose culture included ritual cannibalism. The Rockefeller family and the Dutch government vehemently denied the story ruling Michael’s death officially as a drowning. Carl Hoffman travelled to New Guinea immersing himself in the culture of the Asmat, located witnesses willing to speak publically about the event and finally “solves” the decades-old mystery; chances are that Rockefeller was eaten ceremoniously.
While Hoffman in this book claims to “illuminate a culture transformed by years of colonial rule,” the whole narrative itself seems to further perpetuate it. Hoffman is quick to criticize the decades of Dutch colonial rule in this area and points out that the “pull of the primitive” is outdated, but his descriptions of the Asmat and being around them read like a 19th century anthropological account. Here, cannibalism is still being treated like an oddity in a very voyeuristic and almost sensationalized way. It felt wrong and kind of off-putting to me. I understand what Hoffman was trying to do, but I don’t think that there was much awareness on the part of Hoffman as to his position; A white male, asking questions about another white male who died 50 years earlier. By framing his story this way, with the focus on the murder of Michael Rockefeller, Hoffman is essentially shaming the culture for their ritual practice of cannibalism, whether he intends to or not.
Maybe I’m wrong and reading too much into it, but as I was reading something just didn’t sit right. His writing is poetic and he does tell an exciting story compelling the reader to continue. I just felt like Hoffman didn’t have the same amount of respect for the Asmat as he could, or should have. His descriptions of their day-to-day lives is reminiscent of some of the 19th century travel writing I’ve come across written by Englishmen about Native Canadians. For Hoffman, the “pull of the primitive” still holds its appeal.