Friday, November 13, 2015

Helaman 8: On Proof and Prophets

Nephi discovers firsthand that there can be negative consequences of self-righteous anti-establishment demagoguery.

Good Guys and Bad Logic
As the evil government officials on Gadianton's payroll try to whip the crowd into a frenzy of hatred toward Nephi, a few of the bystanders speak in his defense (verses 8 and 9):
Yea, behold, all the judgments will come upon us which he has testified unto us; for we know that he has testified aright unto us concerning our iniquities. And behold they are many, and he knoweth as well all things which shall befall us as he knoweth of our iniquities; 
Yea, and behold, if he had not been a prophet he could not have testified concerning those things.
This is a terrible means for determining whether this guy is a prophet.  If they're talking about the iniquities Nephi discussed, all he did was share his observations.  By that metric, Jerry Seinfeld is a prophet.  If the society is as wicked and corrupt as it sounds, the things Nephi condemned everyone for are hardly secrets.  And if they're talking about the judgments Nephi foretold, it seems premature—just because you agree with the guy doesn't mean he's a prophet.

A coworker told me the other day that if Hillary Clinton is elected President of the United States, the country is going to fall apart.  If she wins the election, we'll have an opportunity to see if that's true.  But at this point, proclaiming him a prophet just because his prediction supports my political opinions (which, to be clear, it doesn't) would be absurd.  These guys in the crowd who are decent enough to oppose the hatred and the violence are foolish enough to declare someone a prophet merely for speaking prophetically, regardless of whether events have proven anything he's foretold to be accurate.

Bad Prophets and Bad Logic
Nephi's allies keep the crowd from arresting him, and, spurred by his success, he begins to admonish the unfaithful for not believing in prophets.  What examples does he use to demonstrate that God's servants speak truth about the future?

He points out that many prophets have foretold of the coming of Christ, which hasn't happened yet.  Why would anyone be impressed by a prophecy that has yet to be fulfilled?

He explains that many prophets predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened after the founders of this civilization escaped.  There's no evidence or cultural understanding about the matter except for the prophecies themselves (he cites Lehi and Nephi to support his point).  No one in the crowd has visited Jerusalem to confirm that it was ransacked.  Who's going to be swayed by a prophecy whose fulfillment is unverifiable?

But, despite the flimsiness of his arguments, Nephi rips his audience a new one, proclaiming in verse 24 that anyone who rejects these prophecies "not withstanding so many evidences which ye have received," is a liar and has sinned.

That's really not fair.  If you want to make such bold indictments against those who do not share your beliefs, make sure you provide them with unassailable evidence instead of some five-hundred-year-old predictions that can't be fact-checked.

Why Didn't You Lead With That??
Nephi concludes this chapter by actually making a prophecy.  He announces in verse 27 that yet another chief judge has been murdered and that if the multitude goes to the judgment seat they will find the judge laying in a pool of his own blood.

This is exactly what we needed—a verifiable prediction.  At least if Nephi winds up being right, that narrows down the conclusions to be drawn from the situation.  Either he's a prophet, he's somehow involved in the murder as a witness or an accomplice, or he just got insanely lucky.  Before, he could have been delusional or just talking out his ass or any number of other things.  But now, he finally gives his audience something they can use to better gauge his prophetic credentials.

Which begs the question, why the hell wasn't this one of the first things he said?  Why waste all that time bloviating about Jerusalem and the Messiah when he could have simply told them about their latest political assassination and gotten instant attention?  If the people discover their dead chief judge, they might think Nephi is a prophet and immediately approach him for help.

Or maybe they could have even prevented the murder.  Although considering both the victim and the perpetrator are, according to Nephi, members of the Gadianton Robbers, I guess we don't really care about stopping wicked people from killing or being killed.  Philip K. Dick and Tom Cruise are disappointed, I'm sure.

But I guess we can't be sure yet if Nephi's prophecies are the real deal because this chapter ends on a bit of a cliffhanger—we don't know if the judge is actually dead yet.

Dun dun dunnnnn...

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