Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Alma 17: Defender of the Sheep

Now we'll step out of the action for a while and go back to the record of the sons of Mosiah, who bump into our hero (Alma, in case you forgot) while they're returning home from their fourteen years of gospel-preaching among the Lamanites.

Lamanites:  God's True Favorites?
The sons of Mosiah decide to split up and work their missionary magic in separate corners of the Lamanite realm.  This is how they describe the people of their new home:
Thus they were a very indolent people, many of whom did worship idols, and the curse of God had fallen upon them because of the traditions of their fathers; notwithstanding the promises of the Lord were extended unto them on the conditions of repentance.
This makes it sound like the Lamanites have things way better than the Nephites.  The Nephite's are God's favorites, because they're descended from righteous people, except that he constantly threatens them with destruction if they become wicked.  How will God destroy the Nephites?  By siccing the Lamaniteswho have been wicked the whole timeon them.

Not only that, but the Lamanites are promised the Lord's blessings if they become righteous.  So the Nephites are usually righteous but will be destroyed if they turn to the dark side.  The Lamanites are usually wicked but are eligible for the "promises of the Lord" if they repent.  Who has the better deal?  Probably the group that's allowed to be wicked without being destroyed.

For all Nephi's righteousness, his God sure gave his descendants the short end of the stick.

Lamoni:  As Dumb as Limhi?
Ammon, one of Mosiah's sons, ventures into the land of Ishmael, where he is captured by Lamanite guards and brought before King Lamoni.  Because Lamoni apparently likes to play with his food before he kills it or sentences it to a lifetime in prison, he asks Ammon a question:
And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
And Ammon said unto him:  Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.
And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife. 
Lamoni's men uncover a trespasser in his land and bring him to be judged. Lamoni asks a simple question to which the answer is obvious if you're looking to not piss off a powerful king who is holding you captive.  Ammon says, "Yes, of course, I want to live here!  In fact, I could live here the rest of my life!" Lamoni is so impressed by the answer that anyone without a death wish would give that he decides to set Ammon free.  To top it off, he even decides that Ammon should marry his daughter.

What an idiot.

Does this story sound familiar?  It should.  A very similar thing happened to another guy named Ammon in Mosiah 7 (see Limhi Gets Himself Conned).  So either ancient American kings weren't very bright or Joseph Smith ran out of story ideas and recycled them.  I'll add that to the list of reused plot devices in the Book of Mormon:
  • Righteous escapees from the Old World build ships to start afresh in America
  • An entire society escapes from their oppressive overseers overnight
  • An angel visits a non-believer and scares him straight
  • A visitor in a foreign land is brought before a stupid king and talks his way out of an execution
I realize this book is more than five hundred pages long, but I'm not even halfway through it yet and there's all these bad recurring storylines.

That Escalated Quickly
Now we come to one of those Book of Mormon stories that every Mormon kid grows up hearing many times.

Ammon somehow refuses to marry Lamoni's daughter without offending him and instead offers his services as a servant.  Lamoni sends Ammon to work with his shepherds.  While Ammon and his new coworkers are tending to the sheep, some punk Lamanites scare their sheep to intentionally scatter their flock.  Ammon's coworkers are devastated because Lamoni will surely kill them (which you'd think would have been enough deterrent for the punks to leave the king's sheep alone) but Ammon convinces them to go find all the sheep.  They collect all the sheep, stand around the flock ready to preempt another scattering, and Ammon goes to "contend" with the jerks that messed with the royal livestock.

Ammon, however, decides to act in a manner very unfit to teach small children about.  He makes no attempt at conflict resolution.  There's no talk.  There's no, "Hey, guys, not cool, cut it out."  He didn't negotiate or even argue.  He just pulled out his sling and started chucking stones at them.  He actually kills some of them.

Then, surprise surprise, the guys are so pissed off that Ammon had murdered their friends that they decide to attack him.  Ammon responds with one of the most memorable moments of badassery in the Book of Mormonhe cuts off their arms until they give up and run away.

And verse 38 nicely encapsulates what a great guy Ammon is:
Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.
Wow!  Look at that moral restraint Ammon exercised!  He didn't kill any of them except for their leader!  Oh, and except for the six guys he took out with his sling.  What a stand-up guy!  Instead of killing more than seven people in a fight that he started, he only cut off their arms and maimed them for life!

This is not admirable behavior.  This is bloodthirsty, hair-trigger violence.  It's a powerful story, sure. But it does not deliver a positive message.  Maybe if Ammon's sheep had been scattered a few more times.  Maybe if Ammon had tried to talk things out first.  Maybe if Ammon and his coworkers had been physically assaulted. But none of that happened.  Ammon just opened fire, kicked some Lamanite ass, and then goes down in Mormon history as some kind of awesome missionary instead of some kind of senseless murderer.

Don't teach your children this crap!

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