Wednesday, February 8, 2017

4 Nephi 1: Social Decline Montage

After the ascension of Jesus, the American continent is transformed into an absurdly fictional utopia.  

Somebody Call Guinness
Verse 2 lays it out for us:
And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
How the dickens is this even remotely possible?  Didn't these people have free agency?  Did they really have no disputes, whatsoever for any reason at any time?  I mean, even Captain Moroni, who was so righteous that if all men were like him the devil would have no power (see My Heart Swoons for Moroni), stirred up contention with Pahoran.  How could an entire society experience a 100% conversion to the gospel and then behave with 100% compliance with the commandments?

That's not how people behave.  That's not how long spiritual ecstasy lasts.  That's not something that could have happened.

Three Cheers for Racism
Verse 17 intimates an unprecedented unity among the descendants of Lehi to the point that there was not "any manner of -ites".  But of course this was too good to last (verse 20):
...and there was still peace in the land, save it were a small part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.
Great, so not only is the term Lamanite applied to a lineage-turned-ethnic-group-because-of-God's-curse-for-their-wickedness, but now it's also the name apostates choose for themselves, legitimized by the narrator's unnecessary editorial comment at the end.

Is anyone still contending that this book is not racist?

The Gospel of Communism
During the Utopian phase of their history, the people had "all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor" (verse 3).  But after a while, a few started to spoil everything by becoming prideful and indulging themselves in the most abhorrent of Book of Mormon evils:  the wearing of costly apparel.  This leads to an inevitable result in verse 25:
And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
So, it seems pretty damn clear here that in the perfect, conflict-free society pretty much initiated by Jesus Christ himself, the prevailing economic theory was...communism.  It sounds like it was essentially a theocratic communist government.

Tell that to Ezra Taft Benson and other leaders of the 20th century church who railed against the evils of communism.  Tell that to faithful members who were vehemently opposed to Bernie Sanders's primary run and his desire to narrow the gaps between rich and poor. Of course, I suppose the theocratic angle also means that Mormons shouldn't necessarily be too keen on things like the First Amendment and its recently re-emphasized freedom of religion. 

Basically nothing about this perfect society in this chapter should make any sense to a believing Mormon in 2017.

The Old False-Narrative Trick
As things fall apart, rival religions sprout up—because diversity is pretty much always bad news in the Book of Mormon.  4th Nephi has some nasty things to say about some of these churches, but I'd like to focus on verse 29:
And again, there was another church which denied the Christ; and they did persecute the true church of Christ, because of their humility and their belief in Christ; and they did despise them because of the many miracles which were wrought among them.
I think this verse might be something modern-day Mormons who labor under the delusion that their beliefs and their way of life are constantly assailed by the wicked world might latch on to a little too hard.  And that's disheartening, because this verse has no actual correlation to today's LDS church.
By and large, Mormons are not persecuted.  And when they are, it's not because of their humility or their faith in Christ.  It's for the way they treat LGBT people and their attempts to push their beliefs on others and even legislate according to their beliefs.  It's when their creeds begin to negatively affect those outside of their own sphere that people get angry and push back and behave in ways that can be easily interpreted as persecution.

And even more absurd (and more insidious) is this verse's final implication that other religions are merely jealous of Mormonism for its miracles.  Listen—I was a Mormon in an overwhelmingly non-Mormon location for eighteen years.  I had plenty of discussions with my friends about religion and not once did any of them express jealousy or even acknowledge a miracle of Mormon origins.

The world is not jealous of Mormons.  Most of the world ignores them.  A small part of the population despises what they stand for, but most of us keep pretty quiet about it.  But nevertheless, I get the sense that this verse is discussed in many Gospel Doctrine classes as a portent of the modern church's social standing.  I fear that it's used to reinforce the persecution complex and to encourage members' further entrenchments into flawed and ultimately damaging ideologies.

Gadianton Returns
As things go from bad to worse, what should crop up again but our favorite recurring cabal of iniquity (verse 42):
And it came to pass that the wicked part of the people began again to build up the secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton.

How is this possible? 

Okay, so there was this massive cataclysmic event during which entire cities were flooded or earthquaked into oblivion.  Two hundred years later, how exactly is someone going to find a preserved copy of the ancient American Anarchist's Cookbook and begin learning all the signs and oaths of the old Gadianton Robbers?  Surely if the Robbers kept written records, they were long gone by this point.

And if they weren't, that means that the records of this evil organization sat around for two centuries in a righteous, near-perfect society and nobody said, "hey, let's burn this parchment or melt down these plates so that nobody ever decides to resurrect Satan's pet terrorist cell."

How is this possible?  This should not have been possible.

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