Saturday, December 21, 2013

Alma 5: Discretionary Agency

After abandoning his post as the chief judge, Alma the Younger goes on the lecture circuit in his capacity as high priest, delivering a similar speech to communities across the Nephite nation.

Forced Enlightenment
Alma urges the Nephites to remember the captivity of their ancestors and their deliverance by the hand of God.  But he makes some very peculiar statements in his commentary on God's intervention.  In verse seven, Alma claims that God "changed [the Nephites'] hearts" and "awakened them out of a deep sleep" so that they "awoke unto God."  The language is strong and direct, with no passivity implied on God's part.

Which begs the question—why does God do this?  The way he manipulate the people into rediscovering their faith seems to trample their free agency—which is something Lucifer was in favor of and God was opposed to.  God didn't allow the Nephites to remember him.  He took a hands-on approach, did what he cast Lucifer out for even suggesting, and directly "changed their hearts."

Which begs another question—if God could save the Nephites by making them believe in him, why can't he just do that for everyone?

The Good Shepherd
Alma makes numerous references to "the good shepherd" in this chapter.  Although mainstream Christianity believes that phrase was coined by John more than one hundred years later, apparently Alma beat him to it.

I think Joseph Smith may have included this to give himself more Christian credibility.  Alma's rant about the good shepherd (and about how you shouldn't let the devil be your shepherd) is less fleshed out and considerably less eloquent than Jesus's speech in the gospel of John.  But similar terminology is used and Alma predates John, which could be Smith's way of saying, "See?  Not only does my book talk about the same stuff as the Bible, but it happened first!  It has to be true!"

Childish Reasoning
Some gradeschool philosophy appears in verse 40:
For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
Not only is this black-and-white outlook naive, but it's also pretty useless.  Let's say a Mormon is considering taking a new job—one that will require him to work a lot more hours away from his family, but that will come with a sizeable pay bump, allowing him to more ably provide for his wife and children (and pay more tithes and fast offerings).  There are pros and cons to both of his options.  Neither is wholly evil or wholly good.  How does this scripture assist him in making a decision?  And how much would this scripture terrify him of making the "wrong" decision—the devil's decision?

Binary morality is profitless in a multifaceted universe.


  1. It is strange how the church teaches Free Agency but then they do everything they can to deny people that right. If you influence the government to pass so called "morality laws" that deny people freedom of choice, you are taking away their freedom to choose by force and coercion. Utah does that with very strict liqueur laws, recently overturned laws against gay marriage and cohabitation, etc. if they truly believed in free agency, they would allow their members to make choices on their own, good or bad, to prove that they act a certain way because they believe it not because they want to avoid a punishment.

    1. Now I'm wondering how many libertarian Mormons there are.

    2. I know that I have become one since coming to know the church isn't true. Life is too short to be dragged down by crazy requirements and very unreasonable feelings of inadequacy and guilt brought on by unattainable expectations the church places on us.

    3. Definitely. You could live to be a thousand and life would still be too short for all that crap.