Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Helaman 5: Prison Charlie Foxtrot

The people grow wicked, they elect a wicked chief judge, they are ripe for destruction, blah blah blah, you know the drill.

Helaman Preaches Selfishness
When speaking to his sons, Helaman explains that he named them Lehi and Nephi because he wants them to accomplish great things just like those ancient guys they're named after.  And why does he want them to accomplish great things?  In verse 8, he explains:
And now my sons, behold I have somewhat more to desire of you, which desire is, that ye may not do these things that ye may boast, but that ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a treasure in heaven, yea, which is eternal, and which fadeth not away; yea, that ye may have that precious gift of eternal life, which we have reason to suppose hath been given to our fathers.
I'm with him all the way through the "don't be awesome just so you can brag about what you've done" stuff, but then Helaman completely misses the point.  Do good things so that you can have eternal life?  Lame.

Shouldn't he be telling his kids that the best reason to do good works is to help the people around them?  Shouldn't they be passionate about caring for their fellow human beings?  Isn't the best reason to do good works to just simply, purely, genuinely want to do them regardless of whether there's a reward?  Those who try to make the world a better place out of a sincere desire to alleviate the suffering of humankind strike me as being much better people than those who only behave like altruists because they want a pat on the head, a belly rub, and a doggy treat from a supreme deity.

Don't be selfish.  Help because help is needed, not because you want to be rewarded.

A Little Proofreading, Please?
After Lehi and Nephi make the mistake of preaching to the Lamanites, they get thrown in prison.  Here's what verse 22 shares about these events:
And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, they went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them.
Seriously?  You can't use the word "they" to refer to two distinct and opposing groups of people in the same sentence without giving any explicit delineation between the two.  The first time I read this verse, I thought it was saying that Lehi and Nephi were so hungry that they went and tapped the guards on the shoulder to beg for the sweet release of death.  Then I finished the sentence, got confused, and had to start over.  It seems that the second and third theys are referring to an unspecified group of Lamanites, while the thems indicate the original subjects (Lehi and Nephi).

And still we're expected to believe that this kind of clumsy prose was directly inspired of God?  This is the most correct book on the face of the earth?

(Too Many  Problems To Give Each One Its Own Title)
The basic story here is that Lehi and Nephi are protected from the murderous Lamanites by a ring of fire, which is followed by a cloud of darkness over the whole prison, a few earthquakes, and a heavenly voice telling the Lamanites to repent.  I have a lot of problems with this story.

First, this just happens to take place in the exact same prison where Ammon and his brothers were once held captive.  How often does that kind of narrative symmetry actually occur in real life?

Second, what exactly whipped the Lamanites into a lather?  Lehi and Nephi had been in prison for "many days" and suddenly this horde of three hundred bad guys marches into the jail all at the same time to murder them?

Then let's talk about fear.  After the would-be murderers are afraid to approach their flame-ringed targets, Lehi and Nephi tell them not to be afraid because it's just God showing them something cool.  But if God doesn't want them to be afraid, why does he follow up the fire with earthquakes and impenetrable darkness?  The Lamanites become so frightened that they can't even run for their lives.  Did God really think that by basically blinding them and making the ground shake he'd soothe their terror?

One guy, Aminadab, finally manages to see through the darkness to where Lehi and Nephi are glowing and apparently communicating with God.  He alerts everyone around him and provides them the solution to their problem:  repentance.  But, of course, the first thing we learn about Aminadab—before we even learn his name—is that he was born a Nephite and used to belong to the church.  So that's kind of a racist, believer-centric development.  Of all three hundred guys trapped in that dungeon, why couldn't the first one to figure out what's going on be an actual Lamanite or someone who had never subscribed to the "true" religion?

Fifth, the solution to this problem is completely different from the current practices of Mormonism.  Repent and God will lift the cloud of darkness!  See, I always thought that repentance was a pretty big process, especially for murderous, loathsome savages.  You know, you confess and forsake your sin, you fast, you pray, you read the scriptures, you check in with your bishop every week or so, and eventually you're granted absolution.  But these Lamanites practically flip a switch to repent.  They spend a few minutes praying from a place of fear—as opposed to having genuine remorse and a sincere desire to do good—and apparently that's good enough for God.  They've repented, God lifts the fog, everyone lives happily ever after.  That is not how things work in the modern church.

Next, the voice returns to congratulate the Lamanites for their faith.  What God doesn't seem to grasp is that they didn't really have much in the way of true faith.  They just didn't want to die and with all the crazy stuff they'd just seen, there wasn't another option that made more sense than praying for forgiveness, so they just went for it.  That's not strong faith, that's fear and desperation.  But they're blessed with the sight of the hosts of heaven anyway.

Seventh, this chapter is bold enough to use the word evidence.  After the murderous gang from the prison repent, they go out and share what they saw with their friends.  And their friends, apparently, are convinced about God and stuff "because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received."  Missionaries teach in spiritual, emotional terms, not by laying out a list of evidences and expecting their investigators to simply arrive at the logical conclusion that the church is true.  And any Mormon apologist worth his salt would remind you that a testimony is about faith, not evidence.  It's about personal confirmation, not big miracles and historical facts.  This is because most historical and sensory and logical evidences point to the church being a fraud.  The only way to supersede that is to focus on the spiritual, the emotional, and the unquantifiable—things that can be very meaningful to the people who experience them, but can't exactly be entered in as reliable evidence.

And lastly, this is the cheesiest cop-out ending I've seen in a while.  After these three hundred witnesses basically convert their entire civilization, the Lamanites decide to abandon their "hatred and the tradition of their fathers," so they give up their weapons and they give the Nephites back all the land they'd conquered.  Apparently, thanks to yet another miraculous event that scared the Lamanites into submission and triggered another hive-mind mass conversion, everybody lives happily ever after (until the next Seldon Crisis, anyway).  Lehi probably became filthy rich and Nephi probably got the girl.  It's like the end of a Disney cartoon.  It doesn't seem particularly reflective of human nature, human behavior, or non-fictional narration.

But hey, I guess that's just one guy's opinion.


  1. Thanks for another great installment Alex. You're analysis of the mangled grammar and nonsensical plot twists continue to entertain!

    1. Thanks! I'm glad you get a kick out of them. There really is a lot of great material for analytical mockery!

  2. Great post! Doing good works simply to earn the "blessings" or eternal reward doesn't seem like a very Christlike motivation.

    Also, your comments on evidence are excellent. Leaders of the church sure seem confused about how to handle this.

    1. Not that I blame the leaders for being confused. If you're dead set on people coming to the conclusion that the church is true, it makes teaching them how to come to that conclusion a logical and semantic minefield.