Monday, May 26, 2014

Alma 23: Mormon Mania

The Run-On:  Part II
It turns out that the ridiculous run-on sentence in the previous chapter was actually supposed to be some sloppily-constructed cliffhanger.  Nine verses and a chapter break later, we finally learn the contents of the decree made by the king of the Lamanites:  "Don't hurt Ammon or his brothers, just let them do their jobs."

Of course, it took three verses to say that because Book of Mormon diction is suspiciously similar to Old Entish.

Freedom's Just Another Word For...Wait, What?
The chapter heading begins by stating that "religious freedom is proclaimed" in the Lamanite kingdom.  But let's look at the king's reasoning for his license-to-proselytize decree (verse 3):
...that the word of God might have no obstruction, but that it might go forth throughout all the land, that his people might be convinced concerning the wicked traditions of their fathers, and that they might be convinced that they were all brethren, and that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness.
To be fair, this is closer to an official state church than it is to actual religious freedom.  The Lamanite king, in the hopes of converting his people to his new religion is not only ordering his people not to persecute God's missionaries, but he's also going so far as to tell them that the missionaries "should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries."  It's a government-sponsored Mormon invasion.

And beyond that, there isn't much to indicate that the Lamanite nation didn't already have a decent amount of religious freedom.  Chapter 21 mentions the inclusion of Amalekites and Amulonites in the Lamanite city of Jerusalem.  In verse 4 of that chapter it is stated that "many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors."  Many, but not all.  Nehor taught "that which he termed to be the word of God" in Alma Chapter 1, but when Ammon talks to Lamoni about God, Lamoni is unfamiliar with the concept (Alma 18:24-25).  That means that Lamoni, with his belief in the Great Spirit, is not after the order of Nehor.  Which means we have at least two separate religious beliefs in the land of the Lamanites. 

That, combined with the fact that the followers of Nehor in Jerusalem built "synagogues" and the king's orders that Ammon and his brothers be welcomed into Lamanite "temples" and "sanctuaries" seems to imply that there were already a number of varying religious groups in Lamanite society.  

Which means that the king's bold, forceful support of Ammon's religion is actually affording his country less religious freedom.  Not more.

Talk About Groupthink
This chapter summarizes the results of the subsequent missionary effort among the Lamanites.  None of the Amulonites joined the church.  None of the Amalekites joined, either, "save only one."  But half a dozen cities are listed in which the Lamanites "did repent and come to the knowledge of the truth, and were converted."

Entire cities converted.  Entire ethnic groups refused.  This is absurd.  People don't act like that.  Even the Mormon church can't manage to vote as a completely unified bloc, so why do they expect us to believe that conversions of the Lamanites break down into such distinct groups?

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies
The name is so silly-sounding, it serves as a sarcastic section header all by itself.

The newly converted Lamanites decide on a new name for themselves to distinguish them from the cousins they're so much better than now.  They decide on "Anti-Nephi-Lehies," which is totally confusing, because that makes it sound like they're against the good guys.  My seminary teacher explained to us that "anti" means "facing," but in retrospect I'm pretty sure she just made that one up.

Anyway, these people instantly become awesome and totally unlike the lazy, bloodthirsty savages they used to be:
And they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them.
The curse of God that no more follows them couldn't be referring to the color of their skin.  Not only would that be incredibly racist of God, but it's also not supported by the famous painting of them that every Mormon kid has seen in Sunday School:
See?  Still dark-skinned.
Ironically, if they were joining the supposedly not cursed Nephites, they were taking part in the Nephite double-or-nothing gamble:  sure, they could be God's favorites, but if they ever screwed up, they'd be in worse shape than if they were just evil godless Lamanites in the first place.  

Although they seem to hold up their end of the bargain later, so I guess the gamble pays off.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Alma 22: Here We Go Again

Now Aaron sets his sights on the big boss battlehe decides to convert Lamoni's father, king of all the Lamanites.

Aaron Exposes God's Cons
Aaron outlines the Plan of Salvation for the king, laying out life, the universe and everything:
And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king.
So Aaron explains that because of the fall of manwhich was part of God's plan from the beginningwe are unable to earn our own salvation.  And he also points out that Christ's atonement will give us victory over deathwhich we're prone to only because of the fall of man, which (again) was part of God's plan from the beginning.  Which means that Aaron is praising God for his wonderful solutions to problems he created intentionally.

This is reminiscent of Professor Harold Hill going into River City, convincing the people that there's some imaginary behavioral problem with their children, and then selling them a product to remedy the situation. That's how a con man acts, not how a perfected deity acts.

Haven't We Been Here Before?
Lamoni's father believes Aaron and heeds his call to repentance.  As soon as Lamoni has finished begging the Lord for forgiveness, unfortunately, he falls unconscious and everybody thinks he's dead.

Joseph is recycling an already-recycled plot device.  This happened to Lamoni and his entire household a few chapters ago and it happened to Alma the Younger in Mosiah chapter 27.  Although this phenomenon keeps cropping up in the Book of Mormon, I'm struggling to think of an example of it in modern church history.  Which makes sense, I guess, because church history actually happened and the events of the Book of Mormon didn't.

Miracle Precedes the Faith?
There's a slightly different spin on this version of the new-convert-goes-catatonic story this time, however.  The queen thinks that Aaron and his brothers have killed her husband, so she orders the servants of her household to kill them.  The servants are scared of the sons of Mosiah, however, and are hesitant to obey.  So in a bizarre moment of desperation, the queen orders them in verse 21 to go out and rile up the citizens so that they can kill the missionaries as a mob.

Aaron solves the problem by miraculously bringing the king back from the not-quite-dead.  The entire household promptly converts to the gospel based on this one experience.

Ask a Mormon why Laman and Lemuel remained wicked after being visited by an angel and the response will probably be something along the lines of "miracles can strengthen testimonies, but they can't form the basis of a strong testimony."  Then ask a Mormon why all of Lamoni's father's household converted after his miraculous recovery.  

Unnecessary Detail, Five Yard Penalty
It appears that Mormon butts in for a while at the end of this chapter to explain the geographical relationships between the Nephite and Lamanite nations.  For eight verses, from 27 to 34, nothing of doctrinal significance is discussed.  It's only vague descriptions of topography and climate and a little bit about military borders.  I see no reason why those verses were required to be preserved for our day.

Everyone Loves a Run-On!
And we also have another unresolved thought (similar to Witnessing a Convoluted Sentence).  Check out verse 27:
And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the westand thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.
That's all one sentence.  It starts off talking about the king's proclamation and ends up talking about the borders between Lamanite-land and Nephite-topia.  And we never find out what this important proclamation is about.  But for some reason we needed to know that there was a proclamation.

The Book of Mormon is terribly written.  Anyone who says otherwise hasn't read it closely enough.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Alma 21: Aaron's Side Quest

Mosiah's son Aaron travels to a city named Jerusalem, which is populated by Lamanites, Amalekites and Amulonites.

Aaron is One Classy Guy
For one reason or another, Aaron decides to preach to the Amalekites first.  Verses 3 describes the Amalekites as even more hardhearted than the Lamanites and verse 4 mentions that many of the Amalekites were still followers of Nehor.  So what does Aaron do?
Therefore, as Aaron entered into one of their synagogues to preach unto the people, and as he was speaking unto them, behold, there arose an Amalekite and began to contend with him...
It doesn't matter what religion you're targetingif you walk into their place of worship and start preaching your own religion to them, you can count on not getting a warm reception.  What was Aaron thinking?  This is an insensitive invasion of privacy.

Nehor's Followers Are Pretty Chill
Not only did the Amalekites in the synagogue not beat Aaron to death for his audacity, but they actually have a pretty cool relationship with their god.  The man who argued with Aaron represented the Nehor sect's beliefs like this:
Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God.  We do believe that God will save all men.
They believe that God will save everybody...but they still opt to spend their time building synagogues in his honor for the purpose of worshiping him?  That's pretty commendable.  Instead of taking God's love for granted, they express regular, non-mandated gratitude.  They don't serve God out of fear or out of desire to become eligible for an eternal reward.  They worship because they want to.  How many modern Christians are really that pure of heart?

Lamoni's Enlightenment
So eventually Aaron gives up in Jerusalem, hooks up with this brothers in Ani-Anti, and then gets thrown into prison with them in Middoni, which is where they're rescued by Lamoni and Ammon.  With Lamoni's influence, however, the missionary work continues and starts to see success.

This chapter ends with several verses describing how awesome everything is.  The Lamanites built synagogues, they were free from the "oppressions" of Lamoni's father, Ammon and Lamoni remained best buds, et cetera, et cetera.  But this is my favorite part (verse 22):
And [Lamoni] also declared unto them that they might have the liberty of worshipping the Lord their God according to their desires, in whatsoever place they were in, if it were in the land which was under the reign of king Lamoni.
Two things jump out at me here:
  • King Lamoni feels the need to point out that his decree only applies to his kingdom.  That's like telling an American citizen that his freedom of the press will not be valid in Cuba.  Who needs that reminder?
  • Lamoni also tells his people that they're free to worship "the Lord their God."  That doesn't really sound like true freedom of religion.  He's being pretty specific about what can be worshiped.  Sounds like a no-paganism, no-atheism stance to me.  So he's pretty much saying, "You have the freedom to do exactly what I tell you," which of course, isn't freedom.
Other than that, though, Lamoni's kingdom is undergoing a cultural revolution, so good for them.