(Spoilers follow.) Dustin Lance Black gets The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though that makes sense since he was raised in it, he showed that through his direction of Under the Banner of Heaven. He also showed that he understands a culture it fostered as of 1984, the year in which the limited series is set.

But he’s not FX Productions. That’s the studio responsible for the release of the series that sees Jeb Pyre’s faith in the church break.

I wonder if FX realizes how much that scene undoubtedly means to so many individuals. For one, I sobbed when seeing Jeb’s worldview shatter. I also know from one conversation that someone else took it hard. From subreddits to Facebook groups, social media is full of so many folks who talk about departing from the church.

Below are eight thoughts regarding Under the Banner of Heaven.

1) Similarities with Jeb Pyre’s faith breaking in Under the Banner of Heaven

Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) as his worldview shatters in Under the Banner of Heaven. (photo credit: FX)

Near the end of the penultimate episode of the Hulu miniseries, Jeb (Andrew Garfield) sits down to read church history. As he did so, he gets really emotional in what undoubtedly is a dark experience for him. His wife was there as trauma takes hold of him.

Each of those details of Jeb’s experience was mine as well. Also, my experience was the darkest experience of my life and I imagine it will stay that way. If Jeb was a real person, his experience in his belief in the church shattering may have been the darkest of his life as well. My experience seven years ago also remains the most significant moment of my life, easily. Perhaps Jeb’s would have been the same for him and maybe would have stayed that way until he died.

He also may not have known up from down. That was my experience and Sally Osborne’s, as she described it in the Hulu docuseries Mormon No More. I have no doubt that was the experience of so many others as well.

The experience of losing belief in the church can be that way partially because adherents don’t have any doubt about the church being “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth,” as it says in church scripture. In church culture, believers even literally use the word “know” to express their belief about the church. Once per month in a sacrament meeting (a worship service), adherents take to the stand and say, “I’d like to bear my testimony that I know the church is true” and “I know that (church founder) Joseph Smith was a prophet.”

2) Language in church culture contrasts with views of the Dan Lafferty actor

Wyatt Russell (photo credit: Derek Storm)

Using the word “know” beyond the assumption about church claims is certainly distinct from viewpoints of Wyatt Russell. Russell played Dan Lafferty. Along with his brother Ron Lafferty (Sam Worthington), Dan murdered their sister-in-law and 15-month-old niece, Brenda (Daisy Edgar-Jones), and Erica Lafferty. In the show, the crux of which is largely based on true events, the brothers justified it through their beliefs in teaching early in the Latter-day Saint movement (blood atonement) and one that still exists today (revelation).

Talking with The Hollywood Reporter on his initial thoughts of Dan, Russell said, “It’s sort of unbelievable how someone can get to that sense of this being the only way. My brain went to, ‘How can someone be so sure of something they don’t know, and what leads you down that road?’”

Russell was asked what he thinks is the biggest takeaway from the show. He said, “What I came away with, having done it, was that when you think you know the answer and you are 100 percent sure, and you feel that seed of doubt creep into your life or that seed of doubt creep into your thought process about whatever it is that you’re thinking about, let it creep in. It’s OK to doubt yourself. It’s what you should do. Look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Am I really going down the right road? Am I really sure about this?’ We’ve all done it. We’ve all been like, ‘I know I’m 100 percent sure I fucking know.’ And then you look it up 10 seconds later and you’re like, ‘I was wrong.’ Right when you think you know, just double-check.”

I often think I unnecessarily double-check things when working, but often enough, it pays off. I wouldn’t do that nearly as much had I not lost my belief in the church.

3) Dan Lafferty’s reasoning rooted in assumptions about Joseph Smith’s trustworthiness

I was greatly humored by seeing Dan be so sure of fundamentalist, extremist, scary things and I’ve been humored by it several times since, thinking about it. That’s because Russell played it as Dan being like, “Obviously this is true because Joseph Smith said it,” or something like that. (From his “revelations” to public statements he made, Smith left a record of suspect statements.)

4) Acting in Under the Banner of Heaven required learning lingo

Russell played how Dan reasoned so well despite having not been familiar with terms he was saying not relatively long before. He told THR, “I’m not Mormon. I don’t know anything about it. So, I had to do a little bit more research than I normally would, and be like, ‘What the hell do I actually mean here? What am I really fucking saying?’”

5) The final four episodes of Under the Banner of Heaven were riveting

Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) with his wife Rebecca Pyre (Adelaide Clemens) in Under the Banner of Heaven. (photo credit: Michelle Faye)

The scene where Jeb’s faith in the church breaks comes near the end of the fourth through sixth episodes. They made me and a fellow viewer have audible reactions to developments in them. Jeb also goes into a car to read his book with church history. It was an informed touch. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Black thought to do this, though he worked with consultants as well.) Reading about church history was so taboo in 1984, when the story takes place, that a church believer would have done something like that. (They may do something like that even today.) It’s also beyond sad to see Jeb’s wife Rebecca Pyre say she will leave him for another man if he leaves the church after she is told things that could make her feel cognitive dissonance. The finale is great as well.

As great as the depiction of the church’s cult ritual was in the third episode, great moments are found over and over in the last four episodes.

6) Awful actions by a church leader are consistent with church behavior

Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) gets a blessing from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Under the Banner of Heaven. (photo credit: FX)

A man described only as a “general authority” (a church leader, played by Frank Moore) gave Brenda a blessing where he said that Brenda had a “calling” to help keep her husband Allen Lafferty (Billy Howle) in the church and help bring Dan and Ron back into the fold. The general authority was giving a blessing through the priesthood, which adherents believe is the power of God. Thus, i have no doubt Brenda believed God was speaking to her. Brenda asked the general authority and other church leaders to grant her a divorce from Allen, who abused her. The general authority also asked Jeb to sweep the Lafferty case under the rug to help the church’s reputation.

I know that church leaders have given blessings that are as shocking as blessings like the one Brenda gets in the series. The church also cares greatly about its reputation. One example is the church even excommunicates folks for “Repeatedly acting in clear and deliberate public opposition to the church, its doctrine, its policies, or its leaders.” And this has happened more than once in high-profile fashion in recent years.

7) Claims as to who ‘the one mighty and strong’ is are rampant

Smith said that God “will send one mighty and strong … to set in order the house of God.” As Under the Banner of Heaven shows, the claimed prophecy has resulted in many believers saying they are “the one mighty and strong” or proclaiming that they know who is. And new religions have resulted from that as well. I’m glad the series pointed this out. Many people with a lot of knowledge of church history probably know about Smith’s claim. However, I wonder how many individuals knew of the rampancy of people claiming who “the one mighty and strong” is. I didn’t, at least.

8) Dustin Lance Black speaks truth when talking about the repercussions of someone fully turning from the church in the Salt Lake valley

Dustin Lance Black, director of Under the Banner of Heaven (photo credit: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)

I hope that anyone who hears remarks like these from Black will deeply consider them:

“I knew that this was going to be a show about how curiosity challenges faith. To completely disavow one’s faith in the Salt Lake valley is not just about no longer going to church on Sundays. You risk your place in the community. You risk your eternal family, which means that perhaps your spouse will divorce you – and divorce is allowed in the Mormon faith. So you lose family, you lose community, which means you probably lose your job. You’re risking a lot when you start asking questions. And here was an investigator who had to (ask questions) in order to win justice for this young woman and her daughter.”

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