Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Alma 50: Morianton-Gate

Amalickiah and the Lamanites manage to keep their hands off of Nephite land for an entire chapter here, but that doesn't stop the Nephites from worrying about them the whole time.  Moroni puts his people to work refortifying every single one of their cities against the inevitable attack of those rascally savages every Mormon loves to hate.

More Meaningless Detail
This is supposed to be scripture.  Why do the first few verses of this chapter read like an ancient American military version of "There's A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea"?  (There's a tower by the pickets on the timbers on the mounds of the earth all around Zarahemla...)

Simply telling us that Moroni was some kind of legendary defensive military strategist wouldn't have been testimony-building enough, I guess.  Which is why, like so many other times, these poor prophets had to etch these extraneous wartime details into the holy records so that millions of modern-day Mormons could skim over these verses and get to the good stuff or the "useful" stuff.

Let's Build a City!
There's an interesting phenomenon of Nephite culture that building a city was an objective to be completed as ordered instead of a result of organic population growth.  In this chapter, they basically decide to build cities in specific locations for the fun of it.  In Nephite territory, population centers don't emerge based on where people settle, where there's access to natural resources or where economy and culture prosperit's mostly a function of whether or not Captain Moroni has enough wheat cards.
Yes, there's a licensed Mormon version of Settlers of Catan.
Not only that, but it seems like a strategic misstep and a massive waste of time, effort, and raw materials.  Moroni has just made sure that every single city in the kingdom is well-defended.  And then he turns around and lets people build new cities, which instantly creates weaknesses for the Lamanite army to attack.  But he can only build those cities if he has enough manpower and natural resources left after his people toiled to build walls and watchtowers around all the other settlements.

Rated R for Stylized Violence

One of these brand spankin' new towns that sprung up was called Lehi, and it was apparently built pretty close to another city called Morianton.  After some kind of border dispute between the two communities, the people of Morianton (led by a guy who goes by the imaginative moniker of...Morianton) decide that they should start killing the inhabitants of Lehi.  When the entire town of Lehi basically moves out and runs crying to Big Daddy Moroni, Morianton gets worried that the army is going to come destroy them all for their troublemaking.

For being a supposedly righteous people, there's a lot of violence among these guys.  And a high expectation for more violence.  Morianton isn't worried about being jailed, exiled, or stripped of his civil position.  He thinks Captain Moroni is going to lay the smack down and go nuclear on his whole town.  Knowing how bloodthirsty Moroni has been in the past, I don't blame him.  But stillthese are supposed to be civilized people.  Why is there such an emphasis on physical confrontations and military conflicts in their society?

Hell Hath no Fury Like a Maid Servant Scorned
Fearful of Moroni's reprisal, Morianton decides that he should evacuate his settlement too (so that now we have two empty cities "on the borders by the seashore") and flee to the north.  But because Morianton is a terrible person who likes to smack women around, one of his abused servants runs away and spills the beans to Captain Moroni.  He reacts (verse 32):
Moroni...feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty.

I don't understand this verse at all.  Who's going to unite with Morianton's people?  The people who live in the north?  Why would they do that?  This is a border dispute between the cities of Lehi and Morianton.  Why would a town further north care enough to pick a side and then secede from the Nephite nation with Morianton?

And what exactly is the danger to the people's liberty here?  Even if Morianton does try to set up a separate government in the north, who's to say it will be an oppressive regime without freedoms for its citizens?  If Moroni's concerns are military, Morianton's new nation in a northern corner of the land could never gather enough soldiers to challenge the might of the main Nephite army.  And the Lamanites live to the south of the Nephite borders, so it's not like Morianton's people are a weak point for the Lamanites to attack and get a foothold in Nephite territory.

But whatever Moroni's concerns were, he was convinced of their urgency enough to dispatch an army led by Teancum to stop Morianton.  Because Morianton is an idiot, he engaged the Nephite army in battle and got himself killed.  Then, in an eerily familiar ultimatum, his followers are taken prisoner and only returned to their homes after making a promise to keep the peace.  Somehow, this wraps things up in a nice little bow and the twin cities of Lehi and Morianton get along famously from here on out.

This whole story is just a mess.

Wickedness Never Was Prosperity
With peace reestablished in the land, the Nephites get to enjoy the blessings of prosperity.  And the reader gets to enjoy a lot of preaching about how God is awesome (verses 19-22):
And thus we see how merciful and just are all the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words unto the children of men; yea, we can behold that his words are verified, even at this time, which he spake unto Lehi, saying:
Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land.  But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
And we see that these promises have been verified to the people of Nephi; for it has been their quarrelings, and their contentions, yea, their murderings, and their plunderings, their idolatry, their whoredoms, and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions.
And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times, whilst thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage, or to perish by the sword, or to dwindle in unbelief, and mingle with the Lamanites. 
There is so, soooo much in here that I don't like that it's honestly difficult to figure out where to start.

I guess I'll start with the most blatant lie, which is the assertion that God is always merciful to his loyal followers.   These verses claim that the faithful will prosper in the land and be delivered at all times.  I think that myth can be safely dispelled with the example of Ammonihah.  Because you can't prosper in the land if you're dead, and if you're dead you clearly haven't been delivered by a merciful god.

The next issue is the assertion that righteousness and prosperity are directly proportional (and it's not the first time that assertion has been made).  Though you won't hear this taught from the pulpit in General Conference, it's a commonly recurring theme throughout the Book of Mormon.  The "pride cycle" relies on righteousness bringing about material wealth.  It happens so much in Mormon holy writ that even if it's not being explicitly taught in church, any scripture-reading member with financial problems is going to wonder, at some point, are my struggles my own fault because I'm not keeping the commandments?  And if you're not even righteous enough to be wealthy, what do you think your chances are at attaining Celestial glory?  Way to make poor people feel like crap, Joe.

And lastly, we have yet another occurrence of not-so-subtle Book of Mormon racism.  "Mingling with the Lamanites" is tacked at the end of a list of bad stuff that happens to unrighteous people, which means it's in the company of imprisonment, death, and apostasy.  Even if you can separate the stigma of a Nephite associating with a Lamanite from the Lamanites' curse of dark skin, this is still a case of awful moral elitism.  A truly loving god would champion those who embrace diversity.  He wouldn't spurn those who step outside of their moral, religious, or ethnic comfort zones.  He wouldn't list associating (or intermarrying) with a different group of people among the harshest symptoms of unbelief.  But, then again, he never would have produced Mormonism, either.

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