Friday, November 8, 2013

Alma 1. Nehor the Horrible

Alma the Elder is now dead.  King Mosiah II is now dead.  A new government of elected judges is ushered in across the land of Zarahemla.  Welcome to the Book of Alma.

A Little Proofreading Goes a Long Way
The Book of Alma starts off...poorly:
Now it came to pass that in the first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, from this time forward, king Mosiah having gone the way of all the earth, having warred a good warfare, walking uprightly before God, leaving none to reign in his stead; nevertheless he had established laws, and they were acknowledged by the people; therefore they were obliged to abide by the laws which he had made.
That is one looooong sentence fragment.  It never explains what came to pass in the first year of the judges.  Instead, this verse goes off on this long tangential review of Mosiah's life and his arrangements for the government following his death.  The basis upon which the sentence begins is never resolved.

If this is, according to Joseph Smith, the most correct book on the planet, then why does it seem to have such a loose grasp on the language of its first publication?

What if I Plead to Priestcraft in the Second Degree and Serve 25 to Life?
This guy named Nehor starts preaching stuff that doesn't jive with God's Zarahemlatopian church. He tells the people that church leaders should become "popular" and make their living from their followers instead of from their own vocations.  This, which of course is common practice for the top leaders of the modern church, is later condemned by Chief Judge Alma the Younger as "priestcraft."  In fact, when Nehor is brought to be judged after he kills Gideon during a religious argument, Alma seems more miffed about the priestcraft than about the murder:
But Alma said unto [Nehor]:  Behold, this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among this people.  And behold, thou art not only guilty of priestcraft, but has endeavored to enforce it by the sword; and were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction.
Yeah, but murder doesn't destroy people, right?  Just make sure those priests keep their jobs and don't rely on the church and their celebrity to make money!

Black and White—or Black and Red
The remainder of the chapter paints a starkly contrasting picture of the divergent factors of Zarahemlan society.  There are the faithful members of God's approved church, who are peaceful, who don't persecute those of other faiths, and are humble and altruistic.  Because of their righteousness, they are blessed with financial success.  Then there are those who do not belong to God's church, who are into idolatry, the occult, conflict and pride.  They persecute members of the true church and do all kinds of other no-nos, including theft, whoredoms, and murder. And they did not prosper nearly so much as the members of God's congregations.

This paints a false picture of reality for modern Mormons.  It makes things out to be black and white—members are good people and will be wealthy but non-members are bad people and will be poor.  Of course, the text doesn't explicitly promise this scenario, but it explains how it worked out for Zarahemla and implies that it was because of the same God that modern Mormons now worship.  So why wouldn't it be the case in the Latter Days, right?

But church membership, goodness, and tax brackets don't break down that simply.  There's plenty of church members who are terrible people and commit terrible sins.  There's plenty of non-Mormons who are wonderful people and accomplish a lot of good for the human race.  And I'd like to see statistics on the economic situation on members versus non-members, because I have hunch that a claim that Mormons are more financially prosperous than their non-Mormon counterparts would have no statistical backing whatsoever.

But despite reality, this chapter tells faithful Mormons that they'll be rich and all those evil adult filmmakers are going to live in cardboard boxes and wear rags.  Which seems pretty absurd to me.


  1. The entire goal of the BOM is supposed to teach that the righteous will prevail. The problem is that the ones who continually prosper in the land are the evil Lamanites. Seriously, when do the Nephites ever really have it better? They are so restricted by the rules of the church that they rarely thrive, while on the other hand, the unrestricted Lamanites seem to always do extremely well. I've never heard anyone bring that up in Sunday School or Priesthood.

  2. I have, but not quite so directly. I've hears the phenomenon you described used as an exampke of "unto whom much is given much is required." The problem for the Nephites is that God really liked their common ancestor and so he made the Nephites his favorites...only to then expect them to live up to long forgotten expectations placed on their forefathers. But since they were SUPPOSED to have the gospel they were held to a higher standard than their "savage" neighbors.

    Which is totally unfair, of course.

    1. I have heard it in that context, actually, and you're right, it isn't fair.

      "We believe the descendants of a righteous man will be punished for his righteousness if they fail to live up to his standards."

      So why Nephi's descendants and not those of Lehi?

      Once again, you did a great job of pointing out the ridiculousness of this poorly written "perfect" book.

    2. Sometimes, it's a little depressing to go through a chapter and TRY to point out the ridiculousness...because it seems so easy. Plenty of the absurdities practically point themselves out. Which makes me wonder how the hell I never noticed it before.

      I'm not saying it was brainwashing, but...brainwashing.