Monday, June 17, 2013

Mosiah 2: The Curious Case of Benjamin's Oration

Mosiah has dutifully announced that his aging father, King Benjamin, wants to talk to every single person in the land of Zarahemla.  So Zarahemla excitedly prepares for their king's epic sermon.

Location, Location, Location
People come from all over the land of Zarahemla (verse 1) and each family sets up a tent near the temple (verse 5) so that they can listen to King Benjamin speak from their tents (verse 6).  They even bring animals with them for sacrificial purposes (verse 3).

How is that possible unless the people of Zarahemla were dumb enough to build their temple several miles outside of town?  How could there be that much space around the temple that thousands of people could bring their tents and their families their animals and just kind of chill there?

If these people expected to hear Benjamin talk, why did they just face their tents toward them instead of grouping together in a more spatially efficient arrangement?  And was anybody really surprised when they couldn't hear King Benjamin's voice?  When they were setting up camp, why didn't one guy turn to his wife and say, "You know, we're twenty-six tents back from the front row.  I don't think the old guy can shout that far."

The story has kind of an epic feel to it.  But it doesn't make much sense.

A Quote Worth Embroidering
My mom has had an embroidery of part of verse 17 hanging on the wall in her living room for as long as I can remember:
When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.
It always seemed like a nice sentiment.  But from a post-Mormon perspective, it's kind of sickening.  Why the word "only?"  Wouldn't "also" have been more appropriate?  It sounds like Benjamin expects us to discount the positive impact we can make on other people's lives and instead focus on the fact that we did God a solid.  Isn't it purer and more honorable to do good things just because you know it helps somebody else out?  Isn't it better to do good things just to do good things and not because you're worried about how you'll measure up in the sight of God?  Isn't it more responsible to preach good works instead of preaching about how good works cozy you up with the big man upstairs?

I mean, I guess if that's the only way you can get your people to be nice to each other, then that's what you have to do, but it sure doesn't seem very inspired.

King Benjamin Lies
In verse 22, Benjamin assures his people that God "never doth vary from that which he hath said."  This, of course, is completely false.  God has most notably vacillated on racism, waffled on polygamy, and flip-flopped about eternal progression.  So I'm not sure that God's word is something anyone should be trusting.

God Says You All Suck
Benjamin sure knows how to sweet-talk his people:
I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments. 
Translation:  no matter how hard you try, you'll never be good enough, but make sure to do everything you're supposed to.  That scripture did a number on me as a kid.  I learned that I had to run as fast as I could just to stay in the same place.  And if I stopped trying my best for one second, I'd backslide and I'd never even come close to measuring up to God's requirements. That's pretty depressing.

To revisit the God-as-a-parent analogy, this is the equivalent of one of us telling our kids:  "I brought you in to this world, I fed you, clothed you, and put a roof over your head.  At best you're a liability.  So you better do exactly as I tell you because if you mess up even once, you're a complete waste of my time."

That's healthy parenting, right?  It gets better in verse 24, when any blessings you receive from God are compared to payments from someone who owes you nothing.  This way, every time you are blessed for keeping a commandment, you go further and further into spiritual debt to God and you are less and less worthy of the mercy he can grant you.  And in the next verse, Benjamin informs us that we're so worthless that we were created from the dust of the Earth—which is God's dust, so we owe him for that too.

No wonder so many of us grew up feeling like we'd never be good enough.


  1. One thing I always hated at church was people mentioning that they needed to keep this or that commandment or help this or that person, because they needed the "blessings." Then, my old bishop would get us and say how you need to do something in order to lay claim to the blessings associated with it.

    1. That particular teaching struck me as kind of sour, too. It seems like if it's just a payment for services rendered to God, there needs to be a different word for it than "blessings." Your dog doesn't stop barking because he's a good dog at heart, he stops barking because he wants the treat and he's scared you'll kick him out in the yard.

  2. "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are ONLY in the service of your God."

    So what I get from this is that if a mormon does something for you, it's not really for you. It's for god, and they want/expect the reward or "blessings."

    However, if an Atheist does something for you, it's possibly because they care about you and genuinely want to help you out. God has nothing to do with their motive.

    Which of the two is showing the greater love?

    1. You'd think that a perfect god who loves all of his children would want us to do stuff for each other instead of for him.