Monday, November 24, 2014

Alma 48: Terrible Role Models

Here the Book of Mormon gives us a snapshot of both sides of the impending conflict between the Nephites and the Lamanites.  Amalickiah is whipping his men into a frenzy with the intent to conquer and enslave the Nephites while Moroni and Helaman look after the military and spiritual strength of their own society.

For Example, Let Me Talk About Something Completely Unrelated
This chapter clumsily tries to contrast Amalickiah with Moroni:
Now it came to pass that while Amalickiah had thus been obtaining power by fraud and deceit, Moroni, on the other hand, had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God.
Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites; and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.
Okay, first of all, that second verse is one sentence in which the word "round" is used three times and the word "about" is used four times.  Bad translation or bad writing?

But more importantly, Moroni is claimed to have been "preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God."  In support of this statement, we get to hear a lot of talk about exactly how he fortified Nephite settlements against the inevitable attack of the Lamanites.  What does that have to do with preparing the people to be faithful to God?

But even more importantly than that, why is this kind of detail even included?  This book is supposed to be a way to bring people in the modern era to a knowledge of Jesus Christ's gospel.  Assuming Moroni actually did help keep the Nephites faithful to avert their destruction, wouldn't it be more helpful for us to read about that stuff than about how he decided to place his troops according to the strength of the fortifications in a particular area?  The righteous army becoming victorious over the wicked army thing has been done to death in this book already, and there are still plenty more of these tales to come.

Even if this story is supposed to illustrate the triumph of good over evil, the rewards of piety and the punishments of iniquity, it's a theme that's already been introduced and reiterated.  Isn't it about time we stop discussing the military strategies and the particulars of bloodshed and start talking about the fullness of the gospel?  Couldn't we have used this space on the gold plates to discuss important doctrines that had to be filled in later?  Wouldn't it make sense to talk about the age of accountability and eternal marriage and baptism for the dead and all that good stuff?

My Heart Swoons for Moroni
Perhaps the most notable reason for the all-too-common Captain Moroni Mancrush is verse 17:
Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.
That's a bold statement to make.  But I think this can be safely disregarded, considering the narrator is totally unreliable.  I mean, look at this blatant lie in verse 11:
And Moroni was a strong and mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed...
A man who does not delight in bloodshed probably wouldn't execute people who don't want to be part of his preferred system of government or permit his men to slaughter an opposing army that's already surrendered simply because they can't promise there won't ever be another war.  We're expected to believe that the kind of person who did that stuff is the paragon of virtue?  Listen, Joseph, telling your audience that your character is awesome isn't going to amount to much if you keep having him do horrible stuff.  The guy's a monster.  You should go back and rethink some of your characterization.  What you shouldn't do is dig yourself in deeper:
Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah...
"Behold, he was a man like unto Walter White, and also Anakin Skywalker,
and verily, even like unto Tom Riddle, for behold, they were all men of God."
Okay, technically, this verse is perfectly accurate.  But not in the way Joseph Smith intended.  Because Ammon was a piece of work, too.  Remember the time he chopped off all those arms with hardly any provocation whatsoever and then later played it off like it wasn't a big deal?  And I can't leave out the time when Ammon threatened to kill the king of the Lamanites to get his idiot brothers out of prison and ensure that his buddy Lamoni got to keep his throne.

These men are not good role models.

Nephite Selfishness
Just to reiterate that the Nephites are good and the Lamanites are bad, verse 23 contains a general assessment of the Nephites' emotions concerning the coming war:
Now, they were sorry to take up arms against the Lamanites, because they did not delight in the shedding of blood; yea, and this was not allthey were sorry to be the means of sending so many of their brethren out of this world into an eternal world, unprepared to meet their God.
If you're so sorry to have to kill people, why is there no mention of diplomacy being attempted?  Sure, Amalickiah is a bloodlusting lunatic who wants to wipe you all out, but it doesn't speak much to your hesitancy for battle that no other alternatives are even discussed.  You could try assassinating Amalickiah, because at least that would only be one death.  Or you could just pick up your whole society and move somewhere far away on this huge continent where the Lamanites won't bother you.  (And don't act like huge groups of people haven't just wandered off at a moment's notice before.)

And there's also the rationale of whether or not the people dying are prepared for the afterlife.  If the Nephites are so righteous and the Lamanites are so wicked, shouldn't the Nephites be happy to die so that the Lamanites will have more time in the mortal realm to become converted to the gospel?  After all, it's better that a few good men should perish than that an entire nation of wicked people should perish in unbelief, right?  If these Nephites truly had the Lamanites' best interests at heart, they would be willing to submit to anything the Lamanites would do to them rather than cut short their opportunities to convert.  Or, at the very least, they should be making preparations for an intense wave of missionary work instead of making preparations for war.

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