Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Alma 3. Curses, Works, and Eternal Fates

In the aftermath of the battle, the Nephites return to their homes to size up the extent of the devastation that war has wrought on their society.

Questionable Mark
For some ill-explained reason, the Amlicites, having joined with the Lamanites, decide to mark their foreheads with a red color.  I guess they got their hands on some magenta permanent markers and went to town on themselves.  I suppose it could have been a tattoo of some kind.  But it seems pretty strange to me that every person in this splinter group (implying men, women and children) would mark themselves.  Of course, this was all done, apparently, to fulfill the word of God, who cursed the Lamanites with a darker skin and extended this curse to any who allied with them (assuming that the alliance included some kind of skin marking).

The most delicious irony of this chapter is contained in its explanation of how the Amlicites, by marking themselves and joining up with the Lamanites, effectively cursed themselves:
Now I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation.
Whoa, whoa, back up there.  Every man that is cursed has brought it upon himself?  That must mean that all Lamanite children were born white and received their dark skin some time after reaching the age of accountability.  Surely they could have done nothing in their infancies to deserve their curse.  After all, the curse was originally placed on their distant ancestors.  Their ancestors may have brought it on themselves. The adult Amlicites may have brought it on themselves.  But baby Lamanites were innocent of any wrongdoing.  So, according to verse 19 (quoted above), how could they have been born bearing the curse of dark skin?

Rough Concept Rolling
Verse 26 is a little peculiar:
And in one year were thousands and tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world, that they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one.
First of all, it seems kind of weird to mention works and the eternal destinations of souls in the same breath without mentioning grace or the atonement in some way.  But what really caught my eye was the implication that the afterlife is a binary affair.  Happiness or misery.  Heaven or Hell.  Exaltation or damnation.

But the Mormon concept of the afterlife is far from binary.  There are three degrees of glory, the highest of which is subdivided into three sections of its own.  In addition, there is Outer Darkness for Lucifer's original followers and the Sons of Perdition.  In Mormon doctrine it's not so cut-and-dry as "bad people go to hell and good people go to heaven."

So...if the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel, why is it that its purported authors didn't know the details about the afterlife?  The most logical answer, of course, is that the book was written by Joseph Smith, who hadn't finished constructing his personal conception of postmortal existence (or many other aspects of his religion) at the time of the book's publication.

The Book of Mormon was published in 1830.  Doctrine and Covenants Section 76, which outlines the degrees of glory, was written in 1832.  The King Follett sermon, in which Joseph Smith introduced the doctrine of eternal progression, was delivered in 1844.  The Book of Mormon's simplistic treatment of the afterlife is indicative of its status at the beginning of Smith's doctrinal evolution.

And if the doctrine evolves, how can it be said to be the doctrine of a god who is the same yesterday, today and forever?


  1. Well, now you're just stealing candy from a baby!

    How have I read this so many times without noticing all these flaws, so many in every chapter?

    Oh and my wife wants to know how much she has to sin, and which sins to commit, in order to get about halfway to a nice Lamanites tan.

    1. Haha! Somebody needs to open Amlici's Tanning Salon in Provo! Patrons will commit gray area sins like drink herbal tea and watch PG-13 movies containing partial nudity.