Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

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DarkJedi
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Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by DarkJedi » 02 May 2022, 06:48

I watched the first episode this weekend (there are two out, I didn't have time for the second). I recognize that this series is controversial for some and may make some untoward assertions about the church or religion in general, but it is a dramatization and does not claim to be an actual recounting of events. The plot revolves around the actual (gruesome) murders of Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter in American Fork, Utah in 1984 (no gory scenes, at least in episode one where the murder did happen in the beginning). The lead is played by Andrew Garfield as a fictional detective leading the murder investigation and from the series description eventually questioning his own LDS faith. I don't want to be a spoiler so I will be careful about sharing info other than what is in the descriptions or what can be inferred.

I have read some reviews, many of which disliked it but some of them were basing that dislike on dislike for the book of the same title on which it is based. I have not read the book (there is an old thread here discussing it) and don't intend to. I'm watching the series for entertainment, the same reason I watch many other things on TV/streaming.

That said, I think the first episode did an outstanding job at depicting the church of the early 1980s. It does show members in individual and family prayer, social gatherings where the church is omnipresent, some judgementalism, references to temple marriage, several instances of "Pres. Kimball said...." and so forth. There are even references to drinking Coke and to health food (I didn't really get the thing about the McDonald's fries). The idea that a woman wants to have a career is clearly frowned upon. There are also references to main anti talking points of the time (which haven't changed a lot), including Mountain Meadows and hidden history. I think the latter may make some more believing members uncomfortable (as they did at the time pre-internet when they could be more easily poo-pooed) but they are things we discuss here regularly. Clearly the antagonist in that part (sowing doubt with the detective) has done his homework and knows what he's talking about and they are all things we recognize as correct today.

There are some little annoying things that characters have said that real Utahns wouldn't say (working "up I15" in Sandy for instance - they'd just say Sandy or up in Sandy, everybody knows where Sandy is). It's also sort of implied that BYU is in Salt Lake, even though the writers know it's not. And in flashbacks the murdered woman, originally from Idaho, is treated as though she's an outsider (with a bit of mistrust) even though all the old pioneer stock don't distinguish Idaho and Utah and the church is not different in Idaho (and certainly wasn't in the 1980s). I chalk those things up to being written for an audience that doesn't include only church members or Utahns.

Just for kicks, here are some links to Utah reviews:
Scott Pierce: https://www.sltrib.com/artsliving/2022/ ... iniseries/
Jana Riess: https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2022/04 ... hat-under/
Hal Boyd: https://www.deseret.com/2022/4/25/23037 ... day-saints

Has anyone else watched? Thoughts?
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by Roy » 04 May 2022, 16:38

Neither the book nor the miniseries are intended to be strictly historically accurate. I feel that Jon Krakauer weaves non-fiction elements into narratives for the purpose of telling a story. I personally love "based on a true story" films and Mormonism is something that I know well. I feel that I will be entertained by the parts that ring true to me and also entertained by finding those parts that feel out of place or anachronistic.

From what I have read, it seems that the film makers or promoters might be hoping that any controversy will only generate buzz and drive more eyes to watch. The streaming wars are real and it is not an easy task to break through all the noise.

The opening scene of episode 1 had what looked to be a flyover of the older style Provo temple (without the angel on top). It made me wonder if they used old footage or did CGI.

Detective Pyre is fictional and he lives and works in the fictional town of West Rockport or somethin like that.

There is a scene where the Lafferty family is having some sort of family reunion/gathering. There are some strange undertones but for the most part they all seemed really wholesome. Knowing how many of the brothers become radicalized it feels like a slow moving train wreck is coming.

It is fascinating to see a depiction of LDS life in the 1980's. It feels weird. It makes me wonder how much of the weirdness is common for the 1980s US, how much is 1980's LDS Culture, and how much is fictional for the purpose of the narrative.

So far the stuff about JS, BY, and Mountain Meadows all appear as flashbacks that are used by a Lafferty brother to try to justify the weird stuff he and his brother's were doing. I think the point is that there is lots in our history to justify doing really weird and radical stuff if your into that. I feel like LDS people in general are fairly good at keeping their feet grounded but their head in the clouds. For example, we are a church with some strong "the end is near" overtones and yet we prioritize education and career planning. I suppose that is the balance between hoping for a second coming and becoming a prepper.

The story arc seems to follow the fictional Detective Pyre and how the murder investigation changes him as a person. Because Detective Pyre is fictional they have ALL the latitude to tell that story as they want.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by DarkJedi » 08 May 2022, 08:32

Episode three contains some brief scenes from the temple that some might find concerning. There is a mix of accuracy. The dress is accurate (complete attire) although it may not have been being worn at the point in the endowment session where a conversation between some women takes place (just at the beginning of the endowment apparently). The time was early 80s when the penalties for divulging certain things were part of the ceremony, and there is a scene with one of those although it is not completely accurate (it is mostly accurate and you get the gist). There is also a scene from initiatory but no words are spoken and it's not clear that the sister is naked under the shield, however she references it in the scene of the women conversing (it's an intermixed scene going back and forth between the two and the person recounting the story). This scene could be skipped without significantly affecting the story as part of the purpose of the scene is to establish that some members thought Brenda less than a perfect fit for the family's developing ideology and that is further established in other ways.

There is a bit more violence and a small amount of gore during a scene recounting the Haun's Mill massacre. That description appears to be accurate (although the timing of the "nits will make lice" statement probably didn't happen as portrayed).

And there's an interesting conversation between the detective and his bishop that many of us would find familiar, and this is later referenced by the "doubt antagonist" (Allen) even though he wasn't there (it has to do with trusting the prophet, not looking at the past, putting things on a shelf).
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by Roy » 08 May 2022, 13:46

DarkJedi wrote:
08 May 2022, 08:32
The time was early 80s when the penalties for divulging certain things were part of the ceremony, and there is a scene with one of those although it is not completely accurate (it is mostly accurate and you get the gist). There is also a scene from initiatory but no words are spoken and it's not clear that the sister is naked under the shield
DW specifically mentioned that these parts were inaccurate. She had never heard of the penalties. Also the naked part in the initiatory and having the old person touch the side hip as they bless individual bodily functions. We had a brief discussion about how these ordinances have changed since the 1980's and that these changes were almost certainly because of how these elements made many members feel going through for their first times.
DarkJedi wrote:
08 May 2022, 08:32
(although the timing of the "nits will make lice" statement probably didn't happen as portrayed).
I had only ever heard the "nits will make lice" comment in reference to the Hauns Mill Massacre. It surprised me to find that this was a not uncommon phrase of folk wisdom. Similar to "the early bird gets the worm."
DarkJedi wrote:
08 May 2022, 08:32
And there's an interesting conversation between the detective and his bishop that many of us would find familiar, and this is later referenced by the "doubt antagonist" (Allen) even though he wasn't there (it has to do with trusting the prophet, not looking at the past, putting things on a shelf).
This scene takes place in the bishop's office. It left me wondering if it was his church office or his home office. There was a couch and some other furniture that would seem odd for a bishop's office at church. There were pictures hanging behind the bishop's head on the wall. There was Jesus and then 4 modern day prophets below, JS, BY, (?), and SWK. I was unable to place the third modern day prophet. Might have been John Taylor but just not the angle that I have come to recognize.

Everything that the bishop said is plausible (trusting the prophet, not looking at the past, putting things on a shelf). I particularly thought that part about trusting the living prophet seemed relevant since the question had to do with blood atonement and that is not something that SWK taught. However, SWK did teach some things that have not aged well. Sometimes the errors of teachings are more noticeable as time moves on.

As a storytelling device, the bishop seems to serve as a harbinger or warner. He tells the protagonist of the dangers of moving ahead or off of the beaten path - however, the warning also indicates that not everything is idyllic as it seems.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

Roy
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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by Roy » 08 May 2022, 14:34

Two additional comments:
Roy wrote:
04 May 2022, 16:38
Knowing how many of the brothers become radicalized it feels like a slow moving train wreck is coming.
At this point in the storyline, the brothers seem to be radicalizing mainly on the issues of taxation. These ideas seem pretty libertarian in that the government should only perform services that citizens CANNOT do for themselves, either individually or collectively. IOW, that the government is the institution of last resort.
There also appears to be some overlap with church (Judeo/Christian) teachings and church (Judeo/Christian) history.
1) That sometimes God's law can trump man's law and it can be a test of faith/duty to obey God's law in the face of human punishments.
2) That the individuals tasked with enforcing man's law in these circumstances have often been painted as adversaries at best and evil at worst.

Second comment:
Allen asks Brenda to give up her dream job offer of being a television anchor. He says essentially, "You have your degree now, they will still want to hire you after we raise a bunch of kids." Certainly, that is some wishful thinking. I think the teachings of SWK could certainly have been quoted here because he equated the postponing of children in order to establish careers to idolatry.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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DarkJedi
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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by DarkJedi » 09 May 2022, 09:19

Roy wrote:
08 May 2022, 13:46
DarkJedi wrote:
08 May 2022, 08:32
The time was early 80s when the penalties for divulging certain things were part of the ceremony, and there is a scene with one of those although it is not completely accurate (it is mostly accurate and you get the gist). There is also a scene from initiatory but no words are spoken and it's not clear that the sister is naked under the shield
DW specifically mentioned that these parts were inaccurate. She had never heard of the penalties. Also the naked part in the initiatory and having the old person touch the side hip as they bless individual bodily functions. We had a brief discussion about how these ordinances have changed since the 1980's and that these changes were almost certainly because of how these elements made many members feel going through for their first times.
Yes, I was endowed in 1983 and I remember thinking the penalties were a bit out there and few people would actually suffer their lives to be taken rather than divulge relatively simple and relatively useless symbols. I also thought the naked initiatory was weird, and I'm not a particularly touchy person and didn't like being touched like that. The touching part was specifically mentioned in the women's conversation. Since this part could have been recounted without the flashback scenes (as some other things seem to be), I wonder if this scene, which is fairly short, is more for shock effect. It may be much like the gratuitous sex found in media.
This scene takes place in the bishop's office. It left me wondering if it was his church office or his home office. There was a couch and some other furniture that would seem odd for a bishop's office at church. There were pictures hanging behind the bishop's head on the wall. There was Jesus and then 4 modern day prophets below, JS, BY, (?), and SWK. I was unable to place the third modern day prophet. Might have been John Taylor but just not the angle that I have come to recognize.
Yeah, it is kind of an odd bishop's office, and the interview itself was a little odd as well (basically only asking if they paid tithing - with a definition - and did they believe this is the one true church). I assumed it was at church, perhaps in an older building. The fourth prophet picture appears to be Heber Grant but I don't know the significance of him among the other three. Literary symbolism of him being the last fully bearded prophet? The last president to practice polygamy? The first president born in Utah?
Allen asks Brenda to give up her dream job offer of being a television anchor. He says essentially, "You have your degree now, they will still want to hire you after we raise a bunch of kids." Certainly, that is some wishful thinking. I think the teachings of SWK could certainly have been quoted here because he equated the postponing of children in order to establish careers to idolatry.
Definitely a teaching of the time and one that is still held onto by some members (fortunately those numbers are shrinking). I agree it could have been a "President Kimball said...." moment but maybe since they were married and this topic had apparently come up before it was assumed they were on the same page, even though there was a deal made. Allen could also have pulled the priesthood card like his brother did in an earlier scene. Sort of relating this to modern time, earlier this year there was some apparent alarm that the US birthrate had dropped to record lows. However I read/saw way more news articles relating to this from Utah sources. I did in my mind at that time make this connection to former teachings of the church (our membership does increase by popping out babies), particularly because of the public types who were talking about it and the generation they came from (a certain US senator and former presidential candidate seemed to have a fair amount to say about it).
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by DarkJedi » 12 May 2022, 07:45

Interesting article in the Deseret News today interviewing Brenda Lafferty's sister Sharon Wright Weeks. https://www.deseret.com/utah/2022/5/11/ ... eks-sister

Her main criticisms seem to be that the writers of the series have an agenda of portraying the church as something other than what it is (namely that it breeds violence). I don't disagree with that point of view, I think the writers do not have the best interests of the church in mind (and as non-members/ex-members there's not a darn thing the church can do about it). She also believes Brenda is painted as something other than what she was - a faithful church member. I have to disagree with that one, I believe it does make that very clear (at least in the first three episodes). One point she specifically criticizes is the temple scene, asserting that Brenda would not have felt that way and loved the temple. Fair enough, it is a dramatization and it is more than plausible nothing like that actually happened.
The series latches onto Krakauer’s book’s controversial take that “the roots of (Ron and Dan’s) crime lie deep in the history” of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Along the way, Weeks said the show sweeps Brenda up into that larger “agenda” against the church, even though she said Brenda “absolutely loved” her faith.

While national headlines labeled the Lafferty murders as “religious killings,” Weeks said anyone who paid attention to the court cases — especially the 1996 retrial — would know prosecutors accused Ron Lafferty of using his religious views as a cover for what was really a “crime of passion.”
In court, Dan Lafferty said he was fulfilling the “revelation” Ron claimed to have received, calling for the “removal” of Brenda, Erica and two church leaders. Prosecutors said Ron Lafferty used the “revelation” as an excuse, and the killings were revenge for encouragement Brenda gave to Diana Lafferty, who divorced Ron in 1983.
That’s what the series misses while focusing on religious extremes, Weeks said: The real story about how “dangerous” human emotions of “jealousy and revenge” can be.
I am sure there was a lot of human emotion, jealousy, and revenge involved. And I agree that the Laffertys likely used church history as an "excuse" (example?) for what they had done (I've only read a few things about the case). While the dramatization might make this more of a focus than it actually was, it did nonetheless figure in to the story, and the historical stuff used seems to be accurate. And let us not forget the story of Nephi and Laban in canonized scripture - Nephi also said God told him to do it.
Despite her misgivings with the series, Weeks wants to be clear she doesn’t harbor ill feelings toward Black, saying she understands he had every right to do what he wanted with his own project because Krakauer sold the rights.
She also said she doesn’t want to “diminish anybody’s suffering or experience” within the church, which is what Black is also highlighting with the TV series.
“It’s his truth,” she said. “And he wants that to be shown.”
Fair enough, and I agree. That's much of what we do here. Perception is reality.
(If you don't know, Dustin Black is a former member who is openly gay and married but was raised in a conservative church family.)
Weeks is also frustrated Brenda seems to be depicted as a religious fanatic, when in reality she said she had a rather normal relationship with her faith. She said even the protagonist in the series — the fictional Latter-day Saint detective Jeb Pyre, played by Andrew Garfield — speaks like a zealot. She has similar gripes with how Brenda’s husband, Allen, is portrayed.
“She didn’t talk like that,” Weeks said. “When you watch the show, they say ‘Heavenly Father’ like 30 times in the first 10 minutes. And she just didn’t talk like that.”
Again, fair enough, I didn't know Brenda or anybody else in the story. But I knew many church members of that era and I'm not at all taken aback by the way people (portraying members) talk in the movie - I think it's spot on. I know people who still speak like that.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by nibbler » 12 May 2022, 13:54

I don't have any streaming services, so I haven't seen it but from what I gather it's a drama, not a documentary, right?

Dramas are going to... dramatize.
DarkJedi wrote:
12 May 2022, 07:45
I am sure there was a lot of human emotion, jealousy, and revenge involved. And I agree that the Laffertys likely used church history as an "excuse" (example?) for what they had done (I've only read a few things about the case). While the dramatization might make this more of a focus than it actually was, it did nonetheless figure in to the story, and the historical stuff used seems to be accurate. And let us not forget the story of Nephi and Laban in canonized scripture - Nephi also said God told him to do it.
I've got to think that if it were a problem with the religion then there would be more than a few isolated cases that spanned decades. Religions are made up of humans and humans are going to do human things. Does the religion produce below, at, or above the average rate of violent crime recorded outside of the religion?

That said, you mentioned Nephi. The fact that the Laffertys could reach back and find toeholds, things to use as excuses. There's also Mountain Meadows, the Danites, Battle Creek, Fort Utah, Circleville. The pre-1990 endowment. It's not all in the past, more recently there's the increasingly violent rhetoric of some DezNats.
“When you watch the show, they say ‘Heavenly Father’ like 30 times in the first 10 minutes. And she just didn’t talk like that.”
Hearing someone say Heavenly Father 30 times in 10 minutes doesn't sound that far off from some people I know.

In the year 2060 if someone makes a drama about Mormons that's set in the year 2022 is a member watching it going to say, "When you watch the show, they say ‘covenant path’ like 30 times in the first 10 minutes. And we just didn’t talk like that."
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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by DarkJedi » 12 May 2022, 14:26

nibbler wrote:
12 May 2022, 13:54
I don't have any streaming services, so I haven't seen it but from what I gather it's a drama, not a documentary, right?

Dramas are going to... dramatize.
Yes, billed on Hulu (I believe it airs on FX on cable/OTT streaming as well) as a drama, ostensibly of the "true crime" variety. The crime part does appear to be accurate. It does not claim to be historical and it is clear Detective Pyre is totally fictional.
DarkJedi wrote:
12 May 2022, 07:45
I am sure there was a lot of human emotion, jealousy, and revenge involved. And I agree that the Laffertys likely used church history as an "excuse" (example?) for what they had done (I've only read a few things about the case). While the dramatization might make this more of a focus than it actually was, it did nonetheless figure in to the story, and the historical stuff used seems to be accurate. And let us not forget the story of Nephi and Laban in canonized scripture - Nephi also said God told him to do it.
I've got to think that if it were a problem with the religion then there would be more than a few isolated cases that spanned decades. Religions are made up of humans and humans are going to do human things. Does the religion produce below, at, or above the average rate of violent crime recorded outside of the religion?
I could probably pretty easily find a redneck nearby who believes all Muslims are radical murderers set on ridding the world of infidels.
That said, you mentioned Nephi. The fact that the Laffertys could reach back and find toeholds, things to use as excuses. There's also Mountain Meadows, the Danites, Battle Creek, Fort Utah, Circleville. The pre-1990 endowment. It's not all in the past, more recently there's the increasingly violent rhetoric of some DezNats.
To clarify, I don't recall that the Nephi/Laban example was used in the show (so far), but the Book of Mormon has been briefly quoted and referenced. However, if some of the Lafferty's defense was that "God told me to do it" the story does fit and it's right there in the canon. They do reference Mountain Meadows as well as the extermination order and violence against the saints, and Joseph Smith's apparent inclination toward militarism later in his life (some of which they attribute to the influence of Brigham Young). Danites seem to be referenced without naming them, and Porter Rockwell is clearly referenced in flashback scenes (violent ones of course). DezNat didn't exist but I think the Laffertys would have agreed with them. Part of their belief was antigovernment (taxes and license fees are mentioned) and there are certainly those types then and now in Utah/Idaho.


“When you watch the show, they say ‘Heavenly Father’ like 30 times in the first 10 minutes. And she just didn’t talk like that.”

Hearing someone say Heavenly Father 30 times in 10 minutes doesn't sound that far off from some people I know.

In the year 2060 if someone makes a drama about Mormons that's set in the year 2022 is a member watching it going to say, "When you watch the show, they say ‘covenant path’ like 30 times in the first 10 minutes. And we just didn’t talk like that."
Point taken. I never heard covenant path in the 80s, but as I said I have known and do know people who speak like some did in this show. And in the 80s I knew lots of them. The scenes where they do family prayer and such are spot on. I know this woman claims they came from a more pragmatic family in Idaho, and I get that and believe her - but I don't believe she didn't know lots of people who were like those in the show because you couldn't live there and not.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

My Introduction

Roy
Posts: 6591
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Re: Under The Banner of Heaven miniseries

Post by Roy » 16 May 2022, 16:15

DarkJedi wrote:
12 May 2022, 07:45
Interesting article in the Deseret News today interviewing Brenda Lafferty's sister Sharon Wright Weeks. https://www.deseret.com/utah/2022/5/11/ ... eks-sister
Will Smith recently portrayed Richard Williams (the father of Venus & Serena) in the movie, King Richard. One of his daughter's from a previous marriage complained in the newspapers that the movie did not tell the whole story. Richard had abandoned his previous family and went on to create a new family on which the movie was based. My knee-jerk reaction is that this is a movie and not a biography. Everything in a movie exists for the purpose of telling a story and moving the narrative forward. So, yes, I 100% agree that any characters based on real people will not be depicted with 100% historical accuracy. That must be hard for people that see people from their own lives depicted on the screen in ways different than they remember them.
DarkJedi wrote:
12 May 2022, 07:45
She also believes Brenda is painted as something other than what she was - a faithful church member. I have to disagree with that one, I believe it does make that very clear (at least in the first three episodes). One point she specifically criticizes is the temple scene, asserting that Brenda would not have felt that way and loved the temple. Fair enough, it is a dramatization and it is more than plausible nothing like that actually happened. [ snip ] Weeks is also frustrated Brenda seems to be depicted as a religious fanatic, when in reality she said she had a rather normal relationship with her faith.
I find the two quotes somewhat interesting. 1) the series doesn't do enough to depict Brenda as faithful to the church and 2) the series goes too far and depicts Brenda as too religious.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

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