With a little help from my friends


“Ritual Murder Committed by the Danites”
by Hippolyte Leon Benett (d. 1917)


My friend David Charles calls a soon-to-be-released book to my attention:


“Soon after the World Trade Center towers fell on 9/11, it became clear the United States would invade Afghanistan. Writer and ‘This American Life’ radio producer Scott Carrier decided to go there too. He wanted to see for himself: who are these fanatics, the fundamentalists, the Taliban and the like? What do they want?

“In his new book, Prisoner of Zion, Carrier writes about his adventures, but also about the bigger problem. Having grown up among Mormons in Salt Lake City, he argues it will never work to attack the true believers head-on. The faithful thrive on persecution. Somehow, he thinks, we need to find a way—inside ourselves—to rise above fear and anger.

“Prisoner of Zion is Scott Carrier’s second collection of dramatic tales and essays.

Scott Carrier is a writer, photographer, and radio producer. He was born, raised and still lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and he teaches journalism at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. His print articles and photos have appeared in Harper’sEsquireGQRolling Stone and Mother Jones. His radio stories have been broadcast by NPR All Things Considered, NPRDay to Day, APM The StorySavvy TravelerHearing Voices from NPR, and PRI This American Life.”


He appears to be a remarkably courageous man, to still be living in Salt Lake City.  And he works right in the very belly of the beast!  (Utah Valley University is only a few blocks from my cave!)


“In the aftermath of 9/11,” says Publishers Weekly, “Carrier, a journalist and radio producer, sought to make sense of the terrorism that caused the great loss of American life and triggered the Afghan war. In a series of remarkable essays, Carrier, raised among Mormons, noted similarities in the beliefs and practices of the Taliban and the Utah church, stressing the fundamentalist pledge of obedience to authority, and revelations and visions from God to a ‘Chosen people.’ Carrier is alternately humorous and serious about the reports from Afghanistan, its people, its culture, and the heavy fighting. Journalists on the front lines fascinate us when they get this close: Carrier gathers opinions from some Afghans who believe that Osama bin Laden was a U.S. creation and that the real goal of the war was capturing oil reserves. Chatty but provocative, Carrier’s critique of the true believers teaches us options for reconciliation. (Apr.)”


I can scarcely wait.


And, surely, comparing Mormons to the Taliban is a promising first step toward reconciliation.  I think I speak for all of my tribe when I say that we crazed fanatics find such overtures simply irresistible.


In a similar vein, Gd Crocker has brought the following important item to my attention:


Not, I think, by Scott Carrier



"Is the Evangelical My Brother?: A Sea-Change in Mopologetics"
"Banning squirt-gun fights should earn the Boy Scouts the Nanny State merit badge"
Missing: Elizabeth Elena Laguna-Salgado
"Religion Poisons Everything!" (29)
  • Jeremy

    Funny thing is, for real serious believers in anything persecution isn’t a catalyst but largely irrelevant. What does many in (or saves them from his train of thought) who believe they are fully converted to whatever, is truth and logic or the appearance of it. If you haven’t read things like this: http://mormonthink.com/tomphillips.htm before then do and see how seemingly small “evidences” can have large and profound effects of “true believers.” No true believer is proven to be such in mortality until he becomes a martyr, the act of martyrdom cannot then be the catalyst having been the initial test. If I were he I would focus more on defeating the truth and logic and experiences which so utterly convince them/us that they/we are true believers and not the after effects of that correct or fallacious logic.

  • Matt Carlson

    Jeremy, your grammar left me wondering what the hell you were saying.

    Dan, another superb blog entry.

  • Ed Ludeman

    I used to live in Orem but all the beheadings were way too much for me. Have you issued the Mormon Fatwah on this author yet? Well, I gotta go stone some inactives. Laters.

  • Jon

    Some bits from Carrier’s book: “It doesn’t bother me that Mormons believe God grew up as a human being on a planet circling a sun called Kolob. I’m not upset when they tell me He came to Earth in a physical body and had sex with the Virgin Mary. These beliefs, as Jefferson said, neither pick my pocket nor break my bones. And when it comes right down to it, some of the most liberal minds I know come from Mormon families–men and women who would be careful before criticizing what they don’t understand. I have a problem with only one of their beliefs–that Mormons are God’s chosen people and He gave this land to them. This is Zionism, and I’m against it, wherever it occurs, because it’s nothing but a lie used to justify taking land and liberty from other people. This does pick my pocket and break my bones, and I hope someday it’ll be seen by everyone as a ridiculous and archaic notion, similar to the belief that the Earth is flat.”

    Speaking of temple ceremonies, Carrier writes: “I first heard about these ceremonies when I was eight years old, walking to school with my two friends. They told me they’d been baptized in the Temple and now they were going to a different heaven than I was, unless I converted. They said there are three levels of heaven and they were going to the highest one, the Celestial Kingdom, but the best I could hope for was the second level, the Terrestrial Kingdom, which isn’t a bad place, just not the best place. There is, they said, no hell, except for a few really bad people, Sons of Perdition, who are cast into the Outer Darkness. The best thing about the highest heaven, where they were going, was that through ‘the law of eternal progression’ they would someday become gods, like our God now, with their own planet, only somewhere else in the universe. They said they were telling me all this because they didn’t want me to miss out. They wanted me to start reading the Book of Mormon and praying about whether it was true. Each of us had peach fuzz on our faces and pants with patches ironed onto the knees, and we were carrying ‘new math’ textbooks, yet they were on their way to godhood and I was just walking to second grade.”

    The book features material previously published elsewhere regarding the Elizabeth Smart case (http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-384-12741-the-one-mighty-and-strong.html?current_page=all; and http://www.motherjones.com/print/91481). Carrier makes a reference to Professor Peterson at one point. Stating that the defense lawyers “brought in psychiatrists who had examined [Brian] Mitchell and concluded he was a delusional schizophrenic, an insane man who believed he was talking to God,” Carrier writes: “The prosecution countered this by calling experts in religion who argued that talking to God is common among Mormons, and therefore normal and not insane. One of these experts, a BYU scholar, estimated that there are at least two hundred men in Utah and the surrounding states who also believe they are ‘the one mighty and strong.’”

    • danpeterson

      This is going to be a fun book to review, I think.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Seemingly, Dr. Peterson is passively judging a journalist who in 2001 was doing what he thought was right in examining a US lead escalation to an all out war in Iraq/Afghanistan. Scott Carrier was so very curious that he traveled, under his own steam, to the most dangerous place on the planet. He also interviewed a mother in Afton who was willing to commit her five sons to this invasion, under the banner of freedom.

    Anyone who is interested in “the rest of the story”, may be intrigued with this 53 minute interview which is personal and poignant (http://www.kuer.org/post/83111-prisoner-zion).

    Thanks, Dr. Peterson for bringing this to your reader’s attention.

    • danpeterson

      I’m not judging him on account of his journalism in Afghanistan; I know nothing about it yet.

      But I’m learning somewhat about his views of Mormonism and of the community in which he and I both live and work, and — I’m sorry — he’s not coming across very well.

  • Louis Midgley

    Lucy, seemingly impressed with an interview of a woman in Afton, Wyoming, seems to have neglected to mention that Scott Carrier, busy doing his journalistic duty, actually works in the very heart of the Mormon version of a Taliban-type version of evil, and also has the courage to live near its nerve center. Carrier was, as Lucy points out, “doing what he thought was right” in going to Afghanistan. And, we can assume. he is also doing what he thinks is right when he mentions the presumably resemblances between what he found there and what he knows from his own experience in Utah.

    Carrier seems to me to be a secular curate who is taking pains to cure (or purify) the world in which he lives. Instead of fire and the sword, he seems intent on curing the evils he sees in the world with his journalistic zeal. We can hope that he has been careful to fashion something well-wrought, and hence noteworthy, or at least curious, in at least one in one of the more ironic meanings of that word. I am curious, in another sense of that word, to see if this is the case.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    I suppose what impresses me about this journalist, is his willingness to put himself in harms way in order to attempt to understand and report on a very complex war, and his desire to try and obtain people’s reaction to it in the Rocky Mountain West in those early months.

    I recently watched a Frontline documentary which detailed the sectarian violence in Syria (Sunni against Alawite) which has been fueled by religious and political hatred among a group of people who, before the civil war, considered each other as brothers. The very brave reporters embedded themselves on both sides of the conflict and their report is harrowing. These tribal communities have no problem killing each other in the name of Allah, and actually, in their own words, look forward to their own eventual martyrdom.

    I’ve not read Carrier’s book so I can’t speak to any parallels he believes to exist between the Taliban Islamic and Mormon faiths regarding what I believe he described as Godly entitlement. It seems like a huge stretch to believe that any comparisons exist today. Historically, perhaps. A book published in 1852 about the Latter-day Saints, written by Lt. Gunnison who spent a year in their company in Deseret, may have influenced Carrier’s writing and reporting.

    It’s always interesting to read the words of writers on the frontier and this online available work will be a good read methinks. http://archive.org/stream/mormons00gunngoog#page/n0/mode/1up

    • danpeterson

      “A huge stretch,” indeed.

  • Lucy Mcgee

    Something else worth mentioning is that more journalists have been killed during the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict than during any other war in history. A once classified bit of footage, recorded from a Apache helicopter gunship camera, shows the death of two Reuters reports killed as they were embedded with soldiers. The final few minutes of footage, shows an arriving van, with two children on board, shot at while they were retrieving the wounded. Wiki-leaks offered the areal footage to the world. http://lockerz.com/u/20920199/decalz/9801586/reuters_reporters_killed_by_apache_helic

    This is a stark reminder that often, the cost of war is borne by those innocents who have little idea of what is happening.

    The Frontline documentary about the Syrian civil war is telling and heart wrenching and hopefully people will watch and react to it. There are important lessons to be learned and I for one, applaud the reporters who put themselves in harms way to offer such a report. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/syria-behind-the-lines/

    • danpeterson

      I admire war correspondents in many ways. But Mr. Carrier had an advantage over most of them: Having been born and raised in Utah, among Mormons, the Taliban and Afghanistan can have had few real terrors for him.

  • Nirvash

    From Carrier’s book:
    “It doesn’t bother me that Mormons Believe God grew up as a human being on a planet circling a sun called Kolob. I’m not upset when they tell me He came to Earth in a physical body and had sex with the Virgin Mary. These beliefs, as Jefferson said, neither pick my pocket nor break my bones. …”

    “I have a problem with only one of their beliefs — that Mormons are God’s chosen people and He gave this land to them.”

    Carrier writes about the statue of Joseph Smith in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building:
    “You can walk right up and stand in front of him, gazing up at his proud and handsome face. But when you look down about eye level you see he’s wearing some pretty tight pants and there’s a six- or seven-inch bulge between the legs, like the back of a white whale surfacing above the water. You can touch it if you want, even rub it like in the Catholic and Hindu traditions.”

    “In the early days of the Church, Joseph Smith taught his followers that there was only a thin veil separating this temporal plane from the Celestial realm, and that by praying in the proper manner and performing certain rituals they could part the veil and have magical and mystical experiences with angels and gods and demons who had human bodies filled with white spirit fluid instead of blood.”

    “There’s a saying that all Mormons know — ‘When the prophet speaks, the thinking has been done.’”

    • danpeterson

      Excellent and fair-minded journalism.

      Who’s up for a U.S. invasion of Utah? These Mormon fanatics need to be driven out.

    • mike

      Well, at least he appears to have done the necessary research in the counter-cult sources, to say nothing of his personal insights gleaned at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

  • LBRussell

    My quick takeaway about Carrier at least what the Publisher’s Weekly blurb chose to focus on is that war and violence are not so much the problem, rather it’s the “root cause” of true believers. Oh and it’s not so much that persecution (meeting “the other” headon) is wrong but that it’s ineffective. Like he’d be okay with it and have many helpful strategies but it would be counter-productive.