Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Alma 46: The Title of Gliberty

This chapter sees the rise of Amalickiah, who ambitiously wants to destroy the church and become a king at the same time.

Hatred Transcending Reason
Amalickiah emerges as the leader of the faction of wicked Nephites, and he's somehow managed to lead away a decent chunk of Helaman's appointed priests during his rise to prominence.  What I find amusing, however, is the insanely fast, insanely irrational escalation depicted in the opening verses of the chapter:
And it came to pass that as many as would not hearken to the words of Helaman and his brethren were gathered together against their brethren.
And now behold, they were exceedingly wroth, insomuch that they were determined to slay them. 
Slow down, there, champ!  It hasn't even been a year yet!  This is still the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges (or approximately 73 BC for normal people).  You guys have just barely split into two factions, so there's no need to be getting all murderous just yet.  Seriously, shouldn't it have taken a little more time for Amalickiah to win over so many people and then whip them into a Helaman-hating frenzy?

Nephites Must be Excellent Speed-Readers
Captain Moroni is so distraught over the apostasy and appetite for violence that seem to be gaining so much traction among his countrymen that he tears his coat and writes some epic words on it:  "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children."  Because family comes last.  (Well, second-to-last, because parallel structure is even less of a priority.)
And when Moroni had said these words, he went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, and crying with a loud voice...
If a decorated war hero starts tearing his clothes off, tying some of it to a pole, writing stuff on it, running around in public screaming and waving his shirt like people are actually going to be able to read the entire sentence before the flag flaps back on itself, wouldn't you think...nervous breakdown?  Post-traumatic stress disorder?  Too much strong drink?

But somehow Moroni makes it work and his coat becomes a called the Title of Liberty, which stands as an ensign and a rallying cry among the righteous Nephites.

What Kind of an Idiot Makes That Deal?

People love Moroni's stripping antics so much that they follow suit, tearing their own clothes off as some kind of weird symbolic gesture of agreement.  And, as a group (because groups of people in the Book of Mormon often speak with one voice), they declare their loyalty:
Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression.
Okay.  Um, why?

First of all, thanks to the previous chapter's prophecy, we know that the Nephites are eventually going to be destroyed because of their transgressions.  I really doubt Joseph Smith was going for dramatic irony here, but it's a decent example nonetheless.  Looks like there is a little literary value to the Book of Mormon after all.

Secondly, who does that?  "Hey, God, listen, I just want to say, if I ever start being wicked, you should totally send the Lamanites to beat us to a bloody pulp until we all die."  Not only is that a pretty one-sided covenant, but it's basically what God's been saying he's going to do for the last few hundred pages anyway.  You might as well just say, "Hey, God, you remember all that horrible stuff you were going to do to us because you love us so much?  Don't forget to do it later when we wind up totally deserving it."
It's also odd that the covenant mentions being destroyed "even as our brethren in the land northward." That's clearly referring to the Lamanites.  But when have the Lamanites ever been destroyed by God because of their iniquity?  The Nephites are the ones who get destroyed.  The Lamanites merely get proselytized into unconsciousness.

What Kind of an Idiot Doesn't Make that Deal?

Amalickiah chickens out of his plan to kill all the religious people because he realizes he's outnumbered.  So he takes his followers and tries to flee northward, hoping that the Lamanites are stupid enough and bloodthirsty enough that he can just manipulate them into doing the heavy lifting.  Captain Moroni intervenes with his army to stop the Amalickiahites from adding to the already overwhelming ranks of the Lamanites, but Amalickiah himself and a few of his closest friends escape.  What does Moroni do with the ones he captures?
Now, Moroni being a man who was appointed by the chief judges and the voice of the people, therefore he had power according to his will with the armies of the Nephites, to establish and to exercise authority over them.
And it came to pass that whomsoever of the Amalickiahites that would not enter into a covenant to support the cause of freedom, that they might maintain a free government, he caused to be put to death; and there were but a few who denied the covenant of freedom.
There is so much wrong with this.

First, who appointed Moroni?  The chief judges and the people?  Or is this another part of the Book of Mormon's love affair with American-style representative democracy?  (Because he was appointed by officials who were elected by the people, then he must have been appointed by the people!)

Second, his authority is over the army.  Why would anyone think it's a good idea for him to also have the unadulterated power to kill prisoners whose only crime so far is disliking the current form of government?  If anything, that sounds like sedition, which should fall under the purview of one of the judges, not the military.

Third, Moroni has once again delivered an unfair ultimatum to coerce people into doing what he wants.  It's completely unwarranted to execute all these people, but he decides to do it because then he'll scare the rest of them into rejoining society as upstanding citizens who believe in freedom.  But come on...look at all the hypocrisy involved in his threat:  "Say you love freedom or I'll kill you!  Except the freedom to live, we don't care about that in our free government!"

Fourth, how stupid is this Moroni dude?  If the only other option is death, how many hearts and minds is he really winning over to this whole freedom-and-liberty obsession of his?  He clearly can't practice what he preaches, and the ones who are smart enough to take the deal and pledge themselves to a free government are bound to be left with some deep-seated resentment over murdered comrades and abuse of military power and being stiff-armed with political dogma.

And lastly..."there were but a few who denied the covenant of freedom."  Who the hell wouldn't take the deal?  I mean, I guess it's noble to die for a cause you truly believe in or whatever, but come on.  Have some sense, Amalickiahites!  Claim to love freedom and then secretly plan to overthrow the government later.  Is it really that hard to come up with that idea?

Death and the God-given Herbal Cures

The chapter concludes with a strange little footnote about death and disease:
And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land—but not so much so with fevers, because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were subjected by the nature of the climate—
Okay, that's fascinating.  This is yet one more thing that really didn't need to be carefully etched into metal a few times and preserved for the modern era.  But I guess it's nice that the Nephites had some kind of rudimentary understanding of medicine.  Good for them.

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