Monday, September 2, 2013

Mosiah 17: When God Kills One Prophet, He Taps Another

Finally, we meet Alma, our biggest spiritual badass since Nephi.  Alma is among Noah's evil priests but is somehow affected by Abinadi's absurd sermonizing.  Alma entreats the wicked king to spare Abinadi's life.

Worst Justice System Ever
How does the king react?  He banishes Alma and then sends his guards to chase him down and kill him.  Because it would have been too simple to, you know, kill him on the spot.  And killing him on the spot would create the additional problem of not giving him a chance to escape.  And if Alma doesn't escape, where are the next few dozen chapters of the Book of Mormon supposed to come from?

This is bad writing.  This is the same kind of thing as making your villain monologue before he kills the hero.

To compound the horrible writing and the idiocy of King Noah's patented Justice-on-a-Whim legal system, King Noah then spares Abinadi's life for a few days.  In the first verse, he ordered his men to kill Abinadi, but somehow this whole deal with Alma makes him decide to wait and "counsel with his priests" before killing him.

A Classic Ultimatum
Then King Noah delivers a challenge to Abinadi that allows the prophet to fulfill all the criteria of glorious Christian martyrdom:
And he [King Noah] said unto him [Abinadi]:  Abinadi, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death.
For thou has said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou has spoken evil concerning me and my people. 
Okay, I have a few issues with this:
  1. King Noah is fighting Abinadi on his own terms.  He's arguing doctrine.  Noah's a wicked king with a hair trigger.  Seems to me he'd be more likely to have Abinadi beheaded on the spot and not deign to cross verbal swords with him.
  2. Noah just ordered his men to kill Alma simply because Alma agreed with Abinadi.  Why does he need a more specific reason to kill the guy who started this whole mess?
  3. "I'm going to kill you unless you take back what you said."  Come on.  Abinadi's words are out there.  The damage is already done.  Noah knows that Abinadi thinks he's an evil creep and threatening to kill him isn't going to make him stop thinking he's an evil creep.  Sure, this ultimatum is interesting from Abinadi's perspective, but from Noah's it makes absolutely no sense.  King Noah gains nothing from this.

That's Stupidity, Not Heroism
Abinadi gives a very noble speech in which he refuses to recant the words he's spoken.  It's all very dramatic and, dare I say, masturbatory.  And although I totally agree that Abinadi was very brave to stand his ground, I don't think he should be lauded as a hero.  He's an idiot.

If some guy puts a gun to my head and tells me that he'll kill me if I don't tell my mother that I don't love her...I'm going to tell my mother that I don't love her.  Sure, it's a horrible thing to say, but life is a horrible thing to lose.  My mother would understand that such a hurtful thing was said under duress and she wouldn't hold it against me.  I'm pretty sure God would be able to do the same thing. I find it kind of disturbing that God and a lot of his followers are so excited to see people die for him, especially when it can be so easily avoided.

Abinadi is not a paragon of Mormon heroism.  He's a poster child for what happens when you let your idealism get out of hand.

Revenge is Best Served Extremely Hot
King Noah, egged on by his priests, decides to kill Abinadi (surprise, surprise).  So they tie him up and set him on fire, because that's so much easier than stabbing him or suffocating him or beheading him or letting him starve in a dungeon.

But Abinadi, loquacious to the end, gives another speech as he's being engulfed in flames.  He makes a deliciously ironic prophecy that his murderers' descendants will suffer death by fire because they will believe in the truth that Noah and his priests refuse to accept.  He seems to find a sick peace in the fact that God "executeth vengeance on those that destroy his people."  God pretty much gave Abinadi the job of suicide-by-being-as-obnoxious-and-confrontational-and-uncompromising-as-possible but at least Abinadi can take comfort in the fact that God is going to let a whole bunch of believers die in a fire to avenge his death.

What?  How is that comforting?  How is that even a good thing?

Martyrdom Complete
And so Abinadi finally dies.  And the chapter closes with this little gem:
And now, when Abinadi had said these words, he fell, having suffered death by fire; yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.
Um, no.  Dying for something does not make it true.  By that logic, just about every religion is true.


  1. I have a couple observations:

    1) So according to Abinadi, if you're a descendent of Noah, and you become a believer in Abinadi's teachings, you risk suffering death by fire. That's not much of an incentive to convert. "We believe that man will be punished for his own sins..."

    2) I hate the false teaching that sometimes you have to let bad things happen to you as a testimony against evil people. Isn't god omniscient? He knows if you're good or bad. Does he really have to let a person be burned on earth so bad people can be burned in hell? Does he have to allow little children to be raped as a witness against rapists? Hell no! It destroys the children's lives.

    1. When I was a believing teenager, I remember thinking that the reasoning behind your second point was along the lines of "if God lets all these people die because of what you're doing, then you'll have no way to deny what you did when you're judged."

      But that's not good enough. You're right--an omniscient God doesn't need that icing on the cake. If he condemns you for your actions, he doesn't need to trot out witnesses. Because you'll both know what you did, whether you admit it or not.

      Which makes the Mormon god a cruel, bloodthirsty god.