And Thus We Make Unfounded Assertions
This chapter begins by reminding us how crappy people are and how unassailably wonderful God is. But the phrase "and thus we see" is used more than once to introduce an idea that has had no contextual support. Verse 2 claims God spares the lives of those who trust in him and delivers them out of the hands of their enemies. Considering that God rather notably refused to spare the lives of his followers in Ammonihah, for example, I don't think it's fair to say that these traits are immutable aspects of his character. But then the same verse makes the even wilder claim that God has been responsible for "softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare war against them."
Keep in mind this is in the middle of a long list of God's self-evident magnanimous deeds. When has the Book of Mormon claimed that God has softened the heart of an enemy of the righteous, thereby avoiding a declaration of war?
This chapter has lots of awful things to say about human beings.
Apparently, people are just too darn false, unsteady of heart, prone to trampling under their feet the Holy One, foolish, vain, evil, delivish, quick to do iniquity, slow to do good, quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, quick to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world, quick to be lifted up in pride, quick to boast, quick to do all manner of that which is iniquity (again), slow to remember the Lord their God and give ear to his counsels, and slow to walk in wisdom's paths to be of any use to anybody. And the icing on the cake is that we are less than the dust of the earth.
Now, I can sympathize with this litany of complaints. People are scum. But not all people are scum and pretty much no person is all scum all the time. There's a lot of good stuff to balance out the bad stuff we do. Yeah, humanity is to blame for homophobia and the atomic bomb and country music, but we're also responsible for Habitat for Humanity and pacemakers and Jason Bourne. The only remotely positive thing this chapter has to say about homo sapiens is that those of us who repent and listen to God will be blessed and saved. That's kind of a skewed vision of our species.
Generally, people who refuse to present a balanced argument are usually trying to get their audience to believe what they're being told and trying to keep them from making individual judgments. And this chapter seems to be pretty blatantly trying to get its readers to feel like worthless pieces of crap so they'll believe that they desperately need God. But people aren't worthless pieces of crap. And if people need a god, I don't think they need one who's decided they need to be told how worthless they are in order to amount to anything good...which brings me to my next point.
God is Brutal by Design
Immediately after the many virtues of our Father in Heaven have been extolled, this awkward claim bubbles to the surface (verse 3):
And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.
God created us and he created the world in which we reside. So why the hell would he set everything up so that we'd be so stubborn as to completely ignore him unless he's making us suffer? Why would he design a system like that unless he actually wants to visit us with death and terror and famine and pestilence? Maybe he could try being a little more visible in our lives so that it's not easy for us to forget he exists. That might help.
But instead God sits up there on his throne pretending to whine about how he has to torture us for our own good. He should be in control of the universe. He should be able to devise a plan for our redemption that doesn't involve putting us under a magnifying glass and watching as we burn up in the glare of focused sunlight.
The Science Checks Out
In its hyperbolic discussion of God's power, this chapter makes an unnecessary and scientifically modern comment (verses 14-15):
Yea, if he say unto the earth—Thou shalt go back, that it lengthen out the day for many hours—it is done;
And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun.Yes, that is correct: the earth circles the sun as opposed to the other way around. But why is this little aside even necessary? I realize that the following theory is wild and largely unsubstantiated, but this is what it sounds like to me:
As Joseph was dictating this chapter, he got a little carried away with his descriptions of God's theoretical omnipotence. Suddenly, after he'd already spoken verse 14, he realized that he'd made a mistake—the Europeans wouldn't come up with a heliocentric model of the universe until almost sixteen hundred years after this chapter takes place...or at best twelve hundred years as this chapter appears to be an editorial commentary. Joseph couldn't tell his scribe to scratch out the previous verse without risking the credibility of his supposedly divine inspiration, so instead, he made sure that the next verse explained that, apparently, the Nephites were more than a millennium ahead of the rest of the world, at least in the field of astronomy.
Because if nobody was worried about looking anachronistic, why bother mentioning that "surely" the earth goes around the sun?
That's my guess anyway.