Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Alma 24: The Anti-Nephi-Lehies' Last Stand

Lots of stuff happens in this chapter.  The Lamanites decide they hate the Nephite-loving, righteous-living Anti-Nephi-Lehies, so the only obvious choice for them is to send an army to kill them.  Meanwhile, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies have pledged pacifism and buried all their weapons underground.

When the Lamanites attack, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies just sit there praying while their enemies brutally slaughter them.  Some of the Lamanites, however, realize that killing people who are praying instead of fighting back might be morally wrong, instantly repent, throw down their swords, and join the pacifists.

Yeah, it's kind of a weird book.

It's a Numbers Game
Verse 22 mentions that the Lamanites killed one thousand and five of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.  But it's totally fine because verse 26 explains that "the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain."  Because it doesn't matter how many innocent people were slaughtered just so long as the membership has a net gain, right?  Surely this bloody spectacle is a cause for celebration.

Martyrdom is Not a Virtue
Verse 26 highlights a particularly dangerous quality of some religions (and lots of cults).
And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those who had been slain were righteous people, therefore we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved.
This tries to spin the senseless violence as a victory for the victims, which kind of devalues their lives...and condones reckless self-sacrifice.  Sacrificing yourself to push your daughter out of the way of an oncoming car is one thing.  Letting yourself be stabbed to death because you have faith in God and you were silly enough to make a covenant with him that precludes you from defending yourself doesn't really strike me as responsible decision-making.

And beyond that, why can we assume that just because someone has the conviction to die for their beliefs it follows that they were righteous enough to achieve salvation?  Dying for what you believe in doesn't mean you led a virtuous life.

Also, "but what they were saved"?  I take it that's an ancient Reformed Egyptian syntax?

Less Racist, but Only Just
This chapter, shockingly, depicts Lamanites manning up and doing the right thing (after doing something horrible).  But before we celebrate the Book of Mormon correcting a bit of its own racism, let's check with verses 28 and 29:
Now the greatest number of those of the Lamanites who slew so many of their brethren were Amalekites and Amulonites, the greatest number of whom were after the order of the Nehors.
Now, among those who joined the people of the Lord, there were none who were Amalekites or Amulonites, or who were of the order of Nehor, but they were actual descendants of Laman and Lemuel.
Oh, okay.  So two groups of the cursed descendants of some bad guys finally get their chance to shine by abandoning their murderous ways, but the actions described still break down pretty simply along ethnic or ancestral lines.  The Anti-Nephi-Lehies formerly known as Lamanites?  They're all good.  The Amalekites?  All bad.  The Amulonites?  All bad.  At least the Lamanites get split between the good and evil camps, but they're still slaughtering each other, so I don't know that this really counts as a nuanced (read:  not racist) depiction of their people.


  1. Wow! The teachings in this chapter are really messed up.

  2. This chapter brought back memories of reading scriptures with my family as a child. I remember when teachings from this chapter and others didn’t make sense to me. I would say something about that and with tears and a burning testimony my parents would explain the wonderfulness of faith and suffering for what you know is right. I remember the shock that they would just lay down and be slaughtered, along with their children. I wondered if a child who didn’t believe as their parents did, had any choice to get up and run, hide, or fight. Did they just lay down to be slaughtered peacefully with their parents knowing it was right?
    I can’t say I liked it them, but as a mother it makes me sick. As hard as it is to imagine me laying down peacefully to be slaughtered, and remaining so as my friends, family, and neighbors are killed before me. I can’t imagine experiencing others being brutally slaughtered and knowing that it would soon be my little sweethearts being impaled by a sword.
    A few years ago my young son and I were watching the news. They were discussing a decision to let violent criminals out of prison earlier to save money. My son said, “But if they let them out, they’ll just hurt people again.” I told him that at 8 years old, he was smarter than the well-educated politicians. As I read this post, I thought about how as children we can see things as being wrong, weird, or not making sense. As we grow up, rational thought is lovingly washed from our brain. When our brain is screaming “No that’s not right! It doesn’t make sense!” We can rationalize it away, knowing that it is not us it has to make sense to, the Lord is in charge. Sweet is the Peace the Gospel Brings.

    1. Well said. I remember thinking how courageous the Anti-Nephi-Lehies were when I was a kid. I was kind of envious of their conviction. Didn't seem weird or wrong at all. But then I spent a lot of time rationalizing things like this away when I got older, despite my brain screaming that it didn't make any sense.

      Sweet is the Peace. Deep is the Self-Delusion.

  3. I've always been disgusted by this chapter. If you step back and look at it objectively, it's nothing more or less than cult behavior. It's a mass suicide, and the survivors rejoice when that suicide is successful in bringing in more followers. In my lifetime, there have been many cult suicides like Jonestown and Heaven's Gate. The pictures printed in Time and Newsweek of the Jonestown suicide are horrifying as is the story told of how many followers were forced to drink the Flavor Aid. I really don't see much of a difference between those suicides and the ones illustrated in this chapter, except that in Jonestown they weren't chopped into pieces. Crazy sick!!!

    As with Abinadi, these deaths will stand as a witness against the murderers so God can justify sending them to the Telestial Kingdom. Oh, unless they decided to switch sides and join the church. Then they can be saved with the best of them.

    1. And this cult suicide is presented as a victory because so many Lamanites joined the cause. It actually glorifies the behavior we all find so horrifying, which adds an extra little layer of ewww on top.

  4. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies were so devoted it was nothing to give up their lives because they had so much love for the gospel and unlimited faith. Mormons love this story of ultimate righteousness. They strive for that level of faith and use this story to impart the need for it to their children. In fact, stories of strict devotion like this one probably contributed to the horrible phrases used in the past to get kids to tow the line morally. The commonly used saying by several past presidents of the church and "apostles" that come to my mind are: "better dead clean than alive unclean" and "better dead than defiled." Both are destructive and disgusting.

    1. Yeah. I just read on Reddit a few days ago that some ex-Mormon guy actually got his mom to admit that she would prefer that he was dead. Better dead than disaffected? Horrible. Faith should not be more important than family relationships.