Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mosiah 23: Sucks to be Alma

Now we switch to the story of Alma following his people's escape from King Noah's attempt to quash their religious subculture.

Alma Institutes Doublethink
So because people are stupid, the first thing that Alma's followers do when they set up a little town eight days' journey away from King Noah is beg him to be their king.  Alma responds very self-righteously:
Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.
...I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.
But then, of course, Alma became their high priest instead.  He's too humble to be their king and possibly wield more power than one man should have, but he's not too humble to be their religious leader and wield more power than one man should have.  It's not like the head of a religion to which virtually everyone in a society belongs can influence the people or the politics of a region.  Right, Medieval Europe?

Alma makes a big show of turning down power and then, whether the people realize it or not, he accepts it in a different form.  Alma, you sly little worm, don't think we didn't notice.

Getting Toyed With by God
After Alma's people set up their little government of uncertain structure in the land of Helam, the Lamanite armies eventually find them.  This same Lamanite army had also discovered where the rogue priests of King Noah had been hiding.  By the time the Lamanites find Alma, they'd been convinced to assimilate Noah's old priests (and their stolen Lamanite wives) into Lamanite society.  When their massive armies descend upon the land of Helam, they decide to appoint Amulon, the leader of Noah's priests, as their puppet king over the easily conquered people of Alma.

Those events begin to unfold in verse 25 and continue to the end of the chapter.  But immediately before that story, in verses 23 and 24, we read:
For behold, I will show unto you that they [the Nephites] were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.
Yes, great were their rejoicings, and in a nonspecific time frame not exceeding the length of a generation, they were back in bondage again.  And their powerful god, who delivered them from bondage because they were his favored race and because they'd finally started getting righteous again, decided to let them be captured by Lamanites even though they hadn't even fallen into iniquity yet.  What a stand-up guy, letting them praise him and rejoice in their freedom only to sit idly by while it is forcibly wrested away a few years later.

Can you even consider the escape of Alma's people a faith-promoting story if everything goes to crap again right after the happy ending part?  Unless the moral of the story is trust in God and have a selective memory.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Conversation With Lucifer

So God says your plan sucked.

Yeah, I've heard.  All I wanted to do was make sure everybody got to be as happy as possible. 

God says you want to take away our free agency.

Sure, but just for your mortal lives.  That would be the blink of an eye followed by an eternity in exaltation.  Doesn't seem like a bad trade to me.

And when God kicked you out, you convinced a third of the host of heaven to go with you.

Everybody but God knew my plan made more sense.  But only a third of you had the guts to admit it.  It's okay, dude, I don't take it personally.  Rebelling against God is a pretty big deal, so I don't blame you for sticking with him back in the War in Heaven.

You mean the war you started?

It wasn't a war when I started it, pal.  And if there's any proof that God doesn't really care if his spirit children wind up eternally happy, it's what he did to me and my friends.  He casts a third of us out and denies us the right to gain a mortal body?  That's shooting one pretty epic torpedo at your own plan at the very beginning.  Right off the bat--BOOM!--maximum success rate drops to sixty-seven percent.  

But now that you can't have a mortal body, you want to stop us all from making the right choices so that we're all miserable like you, right?

What?  Who told you that?

I learned it in Sunday School.

Listen, that makes no sense.  Look, I was a good guy from the beginning--one of God's favorites.  My whole thing was the Everybody Wins Plan.  Sure, I'm a victim of God's Plan of Improbable Happiness, but I'm still running an underground resistance.  You think I'm really shallow enough to abandon the cause I supported from the beginning just because I've had to make some personal sacrifices?  God is a tyrant.  I still want as many people reaching exaltation as possible.  I'm working behind the scenes constantly to try and circumvent God's train wreck of a plan.  One of these days, I'm going to figure out how to save everybody.

So you don't tempt people?

No.  God gave you guys agency so you often choose a selfish or immoral course of action.  It has nothing to do with a knowledge of good an evil--it's the availability of limitless options.  You don't need anyone to tempt you to do wrong, because that implies that you wouldn't otherwise.  That's not how free agency works.  Free agency means that many choices are laid before you and you pick any of them for your own reasons.  

So you're saying that all the evil crap in the world is just human nature?  That we're naturally this horrible to each other?

Not really.  Come on--cut off from your spirit parents and with no knowledge of your role or purpose or value?  No offense, but you guys are kind of like wounded animals in a cage.  You're scared and you don't understand what's happening so a lot of you lash out at those around you.  I don't blame you for that.  But it's not exactly an ideal environment for proving your goodness and loyalty to God, which is yet another reason why God's plan is so idiotic.  

Is it weird that you make more sense than God did when I talked to him?

Nah.  He's an out-of-touch, sadistic egomaniac.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mosiah 22: The Great Escape

So now that Limhi has learned from Ammon about the people of Mosiah, he becomes determined to free his people from the awful deal he struck with the Lamanite king.  The events that follow are ludicrous.

A Public Gathering is No Place to Formulate a Secret Plan
In one of the Book of Mormon's many references to the value of democracy, King Limhi decided that, in order to "have the voice of the people concerning the matter," he needed to call this big town meeting so everyone could brainstorm ideas for getting out from under Lamanite rule.

It's a nice idea, but you have to wonder how the Lamanite overseers failed to notice a huge meeting of Nephites—or, if they noticed, you have to wonder how they failed to realize that the meeting was about a mass prison break.  Large gatherings tend to spell trouble for oppressive regimes.  You'd think the Lamanites would have sent some soldiers in to break up the revolution before it gathered any momentum.  It seems a little weird that they didn't.

Alcohol Does Not Make Everyone Pass Out
The ingenious plan proposed by Gideon was to offer a totally-not-suspicious extra helping of wine in their payment of goods to their Lamanite masters.  Somehow, the Lamanite guards were actually dumb enough to get completely plastered.  It's implied (though not explicitly stated) that every last one of the guards passed out.  I find it really hard to believe that there weren't at least a decent portion of the guards that were smarter and less inebriated.  There should have at least been enough guards left to run for reinforcements to stop the entire city of Nephites "with their flocks and their herds...all their gold, and silver, and their precious things, which they could carry, and also their provisions."  Of course, considering the Nephite city was surrounded by Lamanite settlements, the Lamanite civilians must have been drunk too as Limhi's people walked past their homes in the middle of the night.

I suppose this is supposed to be interpreted as a miracle—that God caused an increased stupor of drunkenness to fall upon the Lamanites that their righteous captives might be freed from bondage.  But the Book of Mormon is usually pretty good about saying things like, "HEY, EVERYONE, AND THUS WE SEE THAT GOD DID SOMETHING MIRACULOUS."  Here, there's nothing.  There's no mention of God at all.   All the events of this chapter are attributed directly to the characters involved.  Limhi's people escaped on their own without the Lord's help.  Without that crucial divine plot device, the story becomes that much more absurd.  This is simply a bad chapter from a bad novel.

How Do You Lose Track of a Mass Exodus?
When the Lamanites realized that all their underlings had disappeared, they sent an army after them but failed to catch up after two days.  Not only did they fail to overtake them in that time, but they also lost the trail, gave up, and went home.

So an army, which is designed to be mobile, couldn't catch up to a slow-moving mass of civilians, livestock and children?  They were even so slow that they couldn't follow the tracks anymore—and the tracks of thousands of people and thousands of animals don't just disappear after a little rain.  I feel like the guy who was in charge of that army was probably executed by the Lamanite king for incompetence upon his return home.

Slowest.  Army.  Ever.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Brainwashing on Vinyl

I finally had a chance to search for that old record I mentioned a few weeks ago.  I found it in my parents' basement.  It was dusty and the cardboard sleeve was pretty worn, but it seemed intact.  But since my family was home I only had time to snap a few pictures on my phone for later analysis.

So here's the source of those vague musical memories I was having:
The Good Shepherd:  Children's Songs from the New Testament by Kristen 
It appears that I misjudged how old the record was, because the copyright on the back was 1983.  The record was attributed to Embryo Records, which doesn't seem to have a lot of internet presence.  After a little Google footwork, I determined that it wasn't a company owned by the church at the time but it was later acquired by Deseret Book.

Just as I remembered, however, the back cover did have all the lyrics for the songs, and I was surprised by how many I recognized and could even hum a few bars of.  The song in question was entitled "The Pharisees & Saducces":
my apologies for the clumsily-spliced-together-from-two-separate-shots-because-of-problems-with-horrible-glare look
Some points of irony about this song:
  • Many Mormons cannot see what doesn't fit their picture of the world.
  • Many Mormons like their "privileged places"--in the church they have divine nature and individual worth, but it's scary to think of leaving the church and stripping themselves of those comforting teachings.
  • Many Mormons do not think that a knowledge of the truth (that they are members of a cult, that Joseph Smith was a con man, that their donations fund extravagant lifestyles for the church leaders, etc) will set them free and will passionately resist any efforts to inform them of the truth.
  • Many Mormons resent the teachings or claims of ex-Mormons and uphold that ex-Mormons are bad, despite their "miracles" (being happy without the church, becoming financially successful, not becoming drug addicts, etc).  

So it exists--a relic of my childhood brainwashing, a testament to Mormon hypocrisy and a veritable snack tray of forced rhymes and rancid cold cuts.  It was kind of tempting to just light the thing on fire right there, but I thought that might attract a little too much attention.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mosiah 21: Limhi's Idiocy Knows No Bounds

Two of our plotlines converge in this chapter—the story of Ammon's search for his long lost kin and the People of Limhi's suffering under Lamanite rule.  It's also notable that the infamous Pride Cycle so prevalent in the Book of Mormon begins to take shape here.

Priority #1:  Don't Make God a Liar
The Lamanites, having defeated Limhi's Nephites, have reached a new low—not only are they godless savages, but now they're bullies.  The opening verses describe the way they boss the Nephites around and treat them like slaves.  Verse 4 mentions that all of this happened "that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled."

Apparently once a prophet of God (in this case, Abinadi) pronounces a horrible curse upon an iniquitous generation, it has to happen—not because the people should be punished of course.  It has to happen because we can't have God looking like a liar.

Although it is strange that many of the things that Abinadi promised the people would happen to them aren't mentioned (see Mosiah 12:2-7).  Sure, they were brought into bondage and stricken and driven and given heavy burdens...but what about the famine and pestilence?  What about the hail and the east wind?  What about the insects?

I guess God is only about sixty percent liar, but the rest of his words were fulfilled.

Sudden Shift of Power
Verse 5 claims that the Nephites had no hope of overcoming the Lamanite military because they were surrounded by them.  This is kind of strange, considering that the Nephites won several decisive victories against the Lamanites in the last few chapters.  In fact, just last chapter, Limhi set up an ambush which routed the Lamanite forces and nearly killed their king.  And when the Nephites came into bondage, it wasn't by war—it was by making peace with the Lamanites to avoid war simply because that Gideon guy suddenly claimed that their armies would be no match for the hordes of Lamanites.

This doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  What caused the change?  Why did the Nephites go from kicking Lamanite butt to wetting their pants in just a few verses?

Limhi:  Worst King or Worst King Ever?
Assuming Gideon's assessment of the Lamanite military strength was accurate, it seems foolish of Limhi to cave in to popular demand and sanction an assault on the Lamanite army.  But what seems even more foolish is that, after being brutally defeated, the people of Limhi attacked again.  But what seems abysmally incompetent is that, after being severely defeated a second time, Limhi allows his dwindling forces to attack the Lamanites a third time.

I think I can go so far as to call Limhi a murderer, because if he didn't know how great the cost of life would be sending his twice-butchered army against a numerous, ruthless enemy, then he's actually dumber than I thought.  And that's saying something.

Unsurprisingly, the Nephites get slaughtered again.  Limhi's an idiot.

God:  Stubborn and Petty
When the broken and humbled people of Limhi prayed for deliverance, God "was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities."  How does this not make God sound like a spoiled brat who has little interest in helping people who don't like him?  He loves you unconditionally—but if you don't do what he wants, when you call him for help, he'll huff and say, "oh, fine, all right."  And then he'll make himself a sandwich, finish watching his TV show, and stop to drop off his dry cleaning on the way over.

Imprison First, Ask Questions Later
In verse 23, Limhi and his guards discover Ammon and his friends outside the city.  Then, "supposing them to be priests of Noah therefore [Limhi] caused that [Ammon and his brethren] should be taken, bound, and cast into prison."  His plan was to kill them if they turned out to be the priests of Noah.

Except, if you remember back to chapter 7, Ammon was in prison for two days before he was brought before King Limhi.  Apparently, nobody bothered to ask Ammon who he was when he was arrested.  And Limhi was too busy with his kingly duties to talk to Ammon, even though he suspected him of being pretty much Public Enemy Number One (you know, what with Noah's priests being evil scumbags, escaping execution and then almost starting a huge war by stealing the Lamanite daughters).

And when Ammon gets brought in for questioning after a completely unjust imprisonment (due process, anyone?) he's just like, "Oh, hey, I'm from the Motherland," and everything is totally fine.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but Limhi is an idiot. I guess he's a bit of a tyrant, too.

Authority Really Isn't That Hard to Come By
Verse 33 is...well, I shake my head sadly when I read it.
And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God.  And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself to be an unworthy servant.
Oh, no.  We have no one with authority to baptize us.  If only God could make up some ridiculous solution.  It's not like he could pick some random guy who was actually kind of evil to begin with and spontaneously grant him the authority to baptize himself and everybody else.  It's not like that's what happened with Alma three chapters ago.  And since Ammon is too much of a wimp to do it, I guess we'll just sit here and be unbaptized.

What's so great about the people of Alma that God gives them saving ordinances when they convert to the gospel but not to the people of Limhi when they do?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Conversation With Elohim

Why am I here?

I sent you to Earth from my presence.

Why did you send me to Earth?  Why couldn't I stay with you?

You had to gain a mortal body otherwise you'd never receive your fullness of joy.

So why didn't you just give me a body and let that be the end of it?

You needed to prove yourself in your second estate so that you can be found worthy to enter the Celestial Kingdom.

So I have to prove myself worthy of the simple privilege of residing with the father of my spirit?

But if it were up to Lucifer, you wouldn't be able to return and live with me forever.  You should focus all of your fear, anxiety, paranoia and latent aggression on him instead.

Why?  What did Lucifer want?

He wanted to force everyone to be obedient during their mortal lives.

What's so bad about that?

Because then you wouldn't be able to prove your worthiness.

I think I'd be totally fine with sacrificing seventy years or so of zero free will if it meant I was assured an eternity of happiness.

But you need to prove yourself.  That's why I made sure you have no memory of your pre-mortal life--so you could make your own decisions and demonstrate your worthiness.

But what if I can't?  Why design a test in which your students don't know they're being graded?  That seems like a terrible way to generate positive results.

That's why I sent my son to die for your sins.  You're not going to be perfect, but if you take advantage of the atonement, you can satisfy the demands of justice and be judged with greater mercy.

So now, since your students are going to slack off because they are unaware that they're being administered an impossible test, you've introduced a way for some of them to cheat their way to a passing grade?  How do you pick which ones get to use the cheat?

Anyone can utilize the atonement.

But to utilize it, you have to know about it, right?

Of course.  You can't just get by on good works and dumb luck.

I don't think very many people know about it.

Everyone in my church knows about it.

So that means that anyone born to members of your church has kind of an unfair advantage, doesn't it?  I mean, they know how to cheat the system almost from birth.  What about the rest of us?  Why weren't we all born into an environment that taught us about the atonement?

That's why I have a missionary force of more than sixty thousand working tirelessly to share my gospel with the world.  

You can't possibly expect sixty thousand missionaries to convince six billion people worshiping a bunch of other, sometimes similar gods to drop everything, join your church and take advantage of your master plan.  What about the billions of people who fall through the cracks?

That's why my church performs baptisms for the dead in the temples.  Anyone can have their baptism performed for them and all they need to do in the post-mortal life is accept the ordinance.

What if they don't accept the ordinance?

Then they will go to a lesser degree of eternal glory than those who do.

What if someone who was a really good person and spent a lifetime working tirelessly to improve the living conditions and the happiness of everyone in the world around him doesn't accept the ordinance?

Then he will go to a lesser degree of eternal glory than those who did.

What about all the people who didn't have temple work done for them?

Everyone will have temple work done for them.  That is why I stress the importance of genealogical work among my followers.

But what about the people for whom there is no genealogical record?

That will all be sorted out in the Millennium, when the righteous will, through inspiration, complete the ordinance work for everyone who still needs it.

So let me get this straight--I'm here on earth because I need to prove myself worthy to be in your presence, and I just have to accept that simply because you said so, with no corroboration.  And even though you love me unconditionally as your spirit offspring, you wiped my memory so that I would have no knowledge of being tested unless I was born in a Mormon family, which allows me to make my own choices.  The choices I make determine my worthiness for exaltation, but it's impossible to make all the right choices.  If I'm born Mormon or am lucky enough to believe a couple of twenty-year-old preachers who might knock on my door, then I'll be able to take advantage of a cheat code you've provided, which, if used properly and repeatedly, can allow me to pass the test even though I'm going to have a whole bunch of wrong answers.  But if I never learn about the cheat code, then people who have the cheat code can perform the saving ordinances I need on my behalf and I can choose to either accept or reject those ordinances, effectively picking my own degree of glory.  And if I lived a long time ago and there's no written record of my ever having existed, then I'll be lumped in at the end of the world when your devotees will spend a thousand years playing catch-up with their temple ordinances.  Overall, my chances of reaching the Celestial Kingdom as an average guy are kind of slim. Did I get that all right?

Yes, that's correct.

Remind me again what Lucifer's plan was?

He wanted to institute forced obedience during your mortal life so that all of you could receive exaltation.

And how, exactly, is his plan so much worse than yours? in mysterious ways.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mosiah 20: Eagle Eye Limhi

Wicked King Noah may be dead, but his wicked priests are still out there in the wilderness, lurking wickedly.  And in the course of their wicked lurking, they come across some Lamanite women having some kind of pre-Columbian rave.  And they capture a few dozen of the women because that's what wicked people do.

Super Tower
The Lamanites decide that the most appropriate solution to the problem of their missing women is to assume that Limhi's people did it and initiate all-out war without warning.  But Limhi happens to notice every single thing the Lamanites are doing to prepare their invasion from his vantage point in the tower that King Noah had built.  He even has time to set up an ambush for the Lamanite armies.

How high is this tower?  Is there an anachronistic sniper scope in it?  Because it's pretty impressive how much Limhi is able to learn from peering out of this tower, especially considering that a lot of the stuff that he sees should be taking place at least a few miles away.

War:  A Numbers Game
After the Nephites defeat the Lamanites in battle and capture their king, they bring the king of the Lamanites to King Limhi for a little king-to-king heart-to-heart.  The king of the Lamanites explains why they attacked.  Limhi insists he has no knowledge of the kidnappings, but vows to conduct an investigation and punish any of his people who were involved.  Then Limhi lets Gideon, the guy who almost killed his father, give him some weird advice.

Gideon correctly suggests that it was Noah's priests who committed the crime.  But then he urges that Limhi hurry up and let the Lamanite king know because any second now the "numerous hosts" of the Lamanites would come destroy them all unless they convince their king that it's all a misunderstanding.

Are the Lamanites really that much more numerous?  Because Limhi didn't see them making preparations for a reconnaissance mission, he saw them making preparations for war.
Therefore they sent their armies forth; yea, even the king himself went before his people; and they went up unto the land of Nephi to destroy the people of Limhi.
When the king is leading the attack, it's usually not the second stringers and the bench warmers.  And if you're sending "armies" (plural) to "destroy" an entire people, you're not just throwing a few skirmishers out there to test your enemy's strength.  It's a proper invasion carrying the full weight of your nation's military power.  It's not like you're just going to leave a massive amount of crack troops in their barracks for that kind of thing.

I'm pretty sure the Lamanites hit Limhi with the best they had the first time.  So why does Gideon think that there's like a million other Lamanite soldiers ready to kill them?

Not to Beat a Dead Horse, But...
The Nephites just kicked some serious Lamanite military butt.  And yet they return to their original agreement of paying fifty percent taxes to the king of the Lamanites.  Why?  How is "you just tried to slaughter us all and failed miserably, so take your fifty percent tribute and shove it up the back of your loincloth" so difficult for Limhi to say?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mosiah 19: Things Fall Apart

Now King Noah has discovered the religious movement gaining traction under his nose.  Alma and his four hundred and fifty followers have fled the area to avoid the army Noah sent to destroy them.

A Sudden Revolution
Somehow, in the wake of Alma's departure, civil unrest in Noah's kingdom spikes unexpectedly.  There was "a division" among the people and some of the people started to "breathe out threatenings against the king."  (Because apparently "threats" wasn't the precise word God intended for Joseph to write.)  Then this guy named Gideon "[swears] in his wrath that he would slay the king."

Why now?

According to the chapter headings, King Noah may have ruled anywhere from five years to almost forty years.  What took the people so long to whip themselves into a blinding rage?  It doesn't even say what the reasons for the movement against the king were—just that the movement happened.  Sure, I accept that it could have happened but it would be nice if we could understand why.  This chapter makes it sound like the Anti-Noah Party was spontaneously generated.

Joseph Smith Doesn't Think Much of Women
Gideon manages to get close enough to King Noah for hand-to-hand combat, at which point the king happens to notice (from the epic tower that they're fighting in) that suddenly the Lamanites have decided to invade.  He uses the clear and present danger of invasion as a reason for Gideon to spare his life ("You think it's bad with me in charge?  Think how bad it will be when you're overrun by the Lamanites and nobody's in charge!").  Gideon decides not to kill Noah, and Noah promptly makes the bold decision for everyone to flee in terror.  And he also orders that the men "leave their wives and children, and flee before the Lamanites."

Okay, listen.  I understand that generally, women tend to have less muscle mass than men.  But there are some badass women out there.  I've known some mothers who could probably throw a child over each shoulder and keep up with the cowardly King with no problem.  But the way the Book of Mormon depicts it, the men ran off to safety while the women and children just sat there going, "What do we do now without all the men?"  Women have survival instincts too, Mr. Smith.  They're not all going to sit there weeping as the Lamanites come bearing down on them.

Even when the Nephites come up with a way to convince the Lamanites not to slaughter them, that solution is attributed to the men who stayed behind with their families (that's in verse 13 if you're curious).

Sex Sells
Verses 13 and 14:
And it came to pass that those who tarried with their wives and their children caused that their fair daughters should stand forth and plead with the Lamanites that they would not slay them.
And it came to pass that the Lamanites had compassion on them, for they were charmed with the beauty of their women. 
Oh, puh-leeze.  "Quick!  All the girls hike up their skirts a little and go do that pouty thing so the evil, bloodthirsty, abominable savages don't murder us all!  But not you, Helamanita, you're too ugly."

This also kind of implies that the Nephite women are more beautiful than the Lamanite women.  It's one of the subtler racist undertones, but I think it's in there.  You don't get "charmed" by a level of beauty that you see every day.  You get "charmed" by something spectacularly superior to what you usually see.

Limhi, You Lying Bastard
Let's uncover an uncomfortable truth laid out in verses 15 and 26:
Therefore the Lamanites did spare their lives, and took them captives and carried them back to the land of Nephi, and granted unto them that they might possess the land, under the conditions that they would...deliver up their property, even one half of all they possessed...and thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year.
And also Limhi, being the son of the king, having the kingdom conferred upon him by the people, made oath unto the king of the Lamanites that his people should pay tribute unto him, even one half of all they possessed.
Wait a minute...rewind back to what Limhi said in Mosiah 7:21-22...
And ye are all witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being overzealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yeilded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about—
And all this he did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage.  And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites...and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us, or our lives.
Limhi's blaming his granddaddy for this?  Now that I think about it, there has been no mention of the ridiculous fifty percent tax from the time Limhi said that in chapter 7 until the time Limhi became king in chapter 19.  That's why it was so confusing over the last dozen chapters when the Lamanites kept trying to conquer the Nephites.  Despite what Limhi implied, the Nephites weren't paying tribute.  The Nephites weren't under Lamanite rule until the death of King Noah.  Zeniff didn't sell his people into bondage—he got an awesome deal from King Laman.  Limhi sold his people into bondage.

I don't blame him, though, because he kind of had a gun to his head.  But he still tries to shift the blame to Zeniff like it was his fault that his son decided to rule in wickedness and get his civilization conquered and subjugated.

What a little weasel.

Also in this chapter, King Noah suffers a brutally ironic death by fire at the hands of his own subjects.  Apparently they didn't like being ordered not to go back and save their families.  It's interesting, though, that considering this is a fulfillment of Abinadi's prophecy about Noah's life being as a garment in a furnace, very little narrative fanfare accompanies this event:
And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.
And they were about to take the priests also and put them to death, and they fled before them. 
End of story.  A little anti-climactic for the fulfillment of a prophetic prediction, isn't it?  No preaching about the truth of Abinadi's prophecy.  No moralizing about how God punishes the wicked.  No "and thus we see that the tender mercies of the Lord are not quite so satisfying as his callous vengeance."  Just, "he died by fire."

I guess Joseph wasn't really on his A-Game the day he translated this bit.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mosiah 18: The Church of Alma

Previously on The Book of Mormon...

Abinadi struggles heroically against the two burly guards who are restraining him.  "I will never renounce the gospel of Jesus Christ!" he cries passionately.

"Then you will die," growls the morbidly obese King Noah from his shadowy throne.  The evil high priest Alma looks on with an expression that betrays his inner conflict.

"Please, spare his life!" Alma begs openly on the floor of King Noah's court.

"I don't even know who you are anymore," the king replies darkly.  "Get out of my sight."

Bound and helpless as his body is engulfed in flames, Abinadi shrieks, "The fruit of your loins will burn for this treachery!"


A Broken Line of Authority
Alma begins a campaign to undermine Noah by secretly preaching the gospel to his subjects.  Eventually, he welcomes his growing number of followers to the waters of Mormon to baptize them.  Then, as he and Helam are in the water getting ready for the baptismal ordinance, Alma prays for and is immediately given the authority to baptize.  Wirelessly.  No laying on of hands, no setting apart or ordaining.  Just bam—instant authority.

In a curious complication of events, two thousand years later, after the authority to baptize had again been lost, it required a long-deceased possessor of that power to appear to Joseph Smith and manually transmit the authority to him.

So either Alma's or Joseph's receipt of priesthood power was a lie or God works in very mysterious (by which I mean illogical) ways indeed. Although, my money is on Alma making his legitimacy up, because it's implied by verse 15 that he also baptized himself.  If that's not shady I don't know what is.

The First Home Teaching Program
Alma then began establishing a leadership structure for his church, ordaining one priest for every fifty members.  Not only does this chapter imply a more military hierarchical structure than the "organization that existed in the primitive church," but it also illustrates that priests were little more than church-sponsored naggers whose job it was to poke their fifty people in the arm every once in a while and remind them to repent.

Alma ordered that his priests were to preach to the people (verse 18).  But he also required that they only teach the things which Alma and the other prophets had taught (verse 19) and further clarified that they were expected to teach nothing other than repentance and faith (verse 20).  That sounds to me like the priests were simply home teachers.  Once a month, they'd knock on everybody's door and say, "Have you done your repenting today?" and "Don't forget to believe in God!"

Donation Without Coercion
Even if his priesthood organization was a little silly, Alma seemed to have a few good ideas about wealth.  Verses 24 and 26 stress the importance of the priests supporting themselves instead of relying on the members to pay their living expenses.  Even more interesting, however, are verses 27 and 28:
And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.
And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires toward God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul. 
I think this sounds like a far cry from the modern church's tithing system.  It seems like Alma is saying that donations are expected of the people, but how much each member offers is up to his discretion--with the understanding that the system is in place to help the less fortunate among the congregation.  This doesn't sound like a flat fee of ten percent regardless of financial difficulties.

I don't think Alma was holding tithing settlements to hound his members about whether they paid exactly how much they were supposed to.  I don't think he was building malls and temples.  I don't think he was using the donations to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself and his family.  I think he was just asking his followers to give whatever they could so that their excess wealth could be redistributed among the members of the church who needed help.  That strikes me as a much more harmonious, Christlike system than the system currently utilized by the LDS church.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mosiah 17: When God Kills One Prophet, He Taps Another

Finally, we meet Alma, our biggest spiritual badass since Nephi.  Alma is among Noah's evil priests but is somehow affected by Abinadi's absurd sermonizing.  Alma entreats the wicked king to spare Abinadi's life.

Worst Justice System Ever
How does the king react?  He banishes Alma and then sends his guards to chase him down and kill him.  Because it would have been too simple to, you know, kill him on the spot.  And killing him on the spot would create the additional problem of not giving him a chance to escape.  And if Alma doesn't escape, where are the next few dozen chapters of the Book of Mormon supposed to come from?

This is bad writing.  This is the same kind of thing as making your villain monologue before he kills the hero.

To compound the horrible writing and the idiocy of King Noah's patented Justice-on-a-Whim legal system, King Noah then spares Abinadi's life for a few days.  In the first verse, he ordered his men to kill Abinadi, but somehow this whole deal with Alma makes him decide to wait and "counsel with his priests" before killing him.

A Classic Ultimatum
Then King Noah delivers a challenge to Abinadi that allows the prophet to fulfill all the criteria of glorious Christian martyrdom:
And he [King Noah] said unto him [Abinadi]:  Abinadi, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death.
For thou has said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou has spoken evil concerning me and my people. 
Okay, I have a few issues with this:
  1. King Noah is fighting Abinadi on his own terms.  He's arguing doctrine.  Noah's a wicked king with a hair trigger.  Seems to me he'd be more likely to have Abinadi beheaded on the spot and not deign to cross verbal swords with him.
  2. Noah just ordered his men to kill Alma simply because Alma agreed with Abinadi.  Why does he need a more specific reason to kill the guy who started this whole mess?
  3. "I'm going to kill you unless you take back what you said."  Come on.  Abinadi's words are out there.  The damage is already done.  Noah knows that Abinadi thinks he's an evil creep and threatening to kill him isn't going to make him stop thinking he's an evil creep.  Sure, this ultimatum is interesting from Abinadi's perspective, but from Noah's it makes absolutely no sense.  King Noah gains nothing from this.

That's Stupidity, Not Heroism
Abinadi gives a very noble speech in which he refuses to recant the words he's spoken.  It's all very dramatic and, dare I say, masturbatory.  And although I totally agree that Abinadi was very brave to stand his ground, I don't think he should be lauded as a hero.  He's an idiot.

If some guy puts a gun to my head and tells me that he'll kill me if I don't tell my mother that I don't love her...I'm going to tell my mother that I don't love her.  Sure, it's a horrible thing to say, but life is a horrible thing to lose.  My mother would understand that such a hurtful thing was said under duress and she wouldn't hold it against me.  I'm pretty sure God would be able to do the same thing. I find it kind of disturbing that God and a lot of his followers are so excited to see people die for him, especially when it can be so easily avoided.

Abinadi is not a paragon of Mormon heroism.  He's a poster child for what happens when you let your idealism get out of hand.

Revenge is Best Served Extremely Hot
King Noah, egged on by his priests, decides to kill Abinadi (surprise, surprise).  So they tie him up and set him on fire, because that's so much easier than stabbing him or suffocating him or beheading him or letting him starve in a dungeon.

But Abinadi, loquacious to the end, gives another speech as he's being engulfed in flames.  He makes a deliciously ironic prophecy that his murderers' descendants will suffer death by fire because they will believe in the truth that Noah and his priests refuse to accept.  He seems to find a sick peace in the fact that God "executeth vengeance on those that destroy his people."  God pretty much gave Abinadi the job of suicide-by-being-as-obnoxious-and-confrontational-and-uncompromising-as-possible but at least Abinadi can take comfort in the fact that God is going to let a whole bunch of believers die in a fire to avenge his death.

What?  How is that comforting?  How is that even a good thing?

Martyrdom Complete
And so Abinadi finally dies.  And the chapter closes with this little gem:
And now, when Abinadi had said these words, he fell, having suffered death by fire; yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.
Um, no.  Dying for something does not make it true.  By that logic, just about every religion is true.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mosiah 16: Abinadi's Soapbox, Part V

Abinadi adds some closing remarks to his impromptu sermon.

What Tense is it, Anyway?
Our favorite doomed prophet loses a little bit of his rhythm in verse 6:
And now if Christ had not come into the world, speaking of things to come as though they had already come, there could have been no redemption.
Obviously the bolded part isn't actually bolded in the Book of Mormon.  But to the bolded part, I ask, "why?"  It's not difficult to say, "And now if Christ were not coming into the world, there could be no redemption."  In fact, it's shorter and easier to etch into metal plates for posterity.  Why all this talking about it like it already happened?  We can't all be Isaiah.

More likely, I think Joseph Smith may have briefly forgotten his character's timeline (especially with the Isaiah-fest going on) and had to throw in a quick explanation so that his scribe and his eventual readers wouldn't think something was wonky with the chronology and decide he was just making everything up.

Efficiency Deficiency
And speaking of the timeline for the Plan of Salvation, why did we need to wait so long for the atonement to take place?  Couldn't he have saved humanity a whole lot of headaches and confusion by skipping the Law of Moses and sending his son to die for us a whole lot earlier?  Doesn't four thousand years seem like a long time to wait?  The more I think about it, the more this supposedly glorious Plan of Happiness seems needlessly complicated.

I guess I'll just have to add this to my list of problems with the Mormon God.

Abinadi Gets to the Point
Finally, after five chapters on his soapbox, Abinadi comes out and says it:
And now, ought ye not to tremble and repent of your sins, and remember that only in and through Christ ye can be saved?
Why didn't you lead with that?!