Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Alma 52: The Mulek Stratagem

Amalickiah is dead, thanks to Teancum, but cutting the head off this snake doesn't seem to kill it.  Amalickiah's brother Ammoron takes over as king of the Lamanites, and he shares his late brother's penchant for conquering stuff.

Moroni Outwits Jacob
Captain Moroni wants to retake the city of Mulek, which has fallen into the possession of the Lamanite army.  He hatches a brilliant scheme to lure the Lamanites out from behind their defenses (verse 20):
And it came to pass they sent embassies to the army of the Lamanites, which protected the city of Mulek, to their leader, whose name was Jacob, desiring him that he would come out with his armies to meet them upon the plains between the two cities.  But behold, Jacob, who was a Zoramite, would not come out with his army to meet them upon the plains.
Who would seriously have expected that to work anyway?  He basically asks Jacob to leave the well-defended city so that the two armies can fight out in the open to determine who wins Mulek.  Jacob, not being an idiot (at least...not yet), realizes that he already has complete control of Mulek and has no obligation to give Moroni a fair chance at it.  Unsurprisingly, he declines to leave the safety of his entrenchments.  Moroni seems crushed by the news, however, and he's forced to get a bit more creative.

He sends Teancum out with a little squad to get accidentally-on-purpose discovered by Lamanite patrols.  Jacob sends a whole bunch of guys out to destroy Teancum's men, thinking it's an easy victory.  I have no idea why he'd do this, considering Moroni has made it very clear he's trying to lure the Lamanites out of the city.  Jacob's men have encountered a small force that immediately scurries away...doesn't that make him suspicious that Moroni is still trying to draw him out?  Apparently that rather obvious thought never crosses Jacob's mind, and he throws a whole bunch of troops in Teancum's direction.

Teancum leads them on a chase northward, to where Lehi's men are defending the city of Bountiful.  Meanwhile, Moroni retakes the city of Mulek with ease because Jacob was too stupid to leave enough guys to defend it.  Then Moroni heads north as well, so that when the Lamanites reach Bountiful and they're hit by a bunch of Lehi's well-rested troops they're immediately driven back southward toward Moroni's army until they're completely surrounded and utterly routed.

Brilliant.  But, yet again, Moroni's masterful victory depends on the opposing general making a very bad decision.

Captain Ultimatum
I've claimed that Captain Moroni is bloodthirsty before, but this chapter offers some more evidence to that effect.  This is the second time Moroni has beaten an opponent by completely surrounding him (remember Zerahemnah?) and the third time he's delivered an ultimatum that's basically to the effect of, "surrender or we'll kill you all."  (Remember the Amalickiahites?)

If he's a righteous man of God, why is he surrounding his enemies?  Shouldn't he be trying to win wars with the least amount of death possible?  Shouldn't he be executing brilliant maneuvers that create advantageous conditions for his forces that are so obvious and insurmountable that the bad guys generally throw in the towel and leave in peace?  Shouldn't he be leaving at least one direction on the battlefield by which his adversaries can retreat?  Shouldn't he be showing mercy?

And why would he tell Zerahemnah's army that he'll only stop killing them if they make an absurd promise never to come to war against the Nephites?  Why would he execute any Amalickiahite who refused to "support the cause of freedom?"  And why would he tell the clearly defeated Lamanites in this chapter that he would "forbear shedding [their] blood" if they surrendered their weapons?  He had them completely surrounded!  Their leader was dead!  Their only option was to fight their way out.  He should either have left them an avenue for retreat or just started taking prisoners until the rest of them gave up.  What he did was mercilessmaybe not on its face, but when combined with his previous actions, it speaks to a murderous, violent pattern of behavior.

More Racism?
Jacob, the leader of the Lamanite armies in Mulek, is referred to twice in this chapter as a Zoramite.  The Zoramites, you may recall, used to be Nephites until they sided with the Lamanites.  Now they live among the Lamanites, except they're of white and delightsome Nephite descent.

The first time Jacob's heritage is mentioned is verse 20, when he's smart enough not to fall for Moroni's first trick:  "But behold, Jacob, who was a Zoramite, would not come out with his army to meet them upon the plains."  Why discuss his lineage there, in the middle of the sentence?  It seems like the Book of Mormon is implying that if he'd been a Lamanite instead of a Zoramite, he might have fallen for Moroni's idiotic ploy.

The second instance is in verse 33, when Moroni has Jacob's forces trapped:
And it came to pass that Jacob, being their leader, being also a Zoramite, and having an unconquerable spirit, he led the Lamanites forth to battle with exceeding fury against Moroni.
Again, why does that need to be mentioned at that particular moment?  Maybe it's because Zoramites possess an unconquerable spirit that Lamanites don't have?

It's an odd quirk of this chapter that would definitely be interpreted as more overtly racist in a modern context, but I do think the wording in both cases is a little strange.  I guess the white and delightsome people have more intelligence and more tenacity than the dark and loathsome people?  I don't think it's blatant enough to be considered outright Book of Mormon racism, but it does come off as a little unsettling.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Religion is the Victim of LGBT Hate-Mongering!

Big news today.  The church made a statement about the gay rights movement and asserted that it will support legislation for...wait for discrimination against LGBT people in employment or housing.

What a magnanimous gesture.

What's really sad is that their little news conference wasn't really about that.

Elder Christofferson, who spoke first, started things off by introducing the theory that freedom of religion and gay rights are somehow mutually exclusive.  But then he made a very generous claim that "such basic human rights as securing a job or a place to live should not depend upon a person's sexual orientation."  Great.  But why not include marriage and the legal benefits of marriage in there?  That shouldn't depend on a person's sexual orientation either.

Then Sister Marriott, the token female speaker whose name sounds suspiciously like Mormon royalty, got up to basically remind everyone that Mormons still think gay sex is wrong.

Then Elder Oaks, a legal professional and former Utah Supreme Court justice, began to grace us all with his expertise.  "Since 1791," he said, "the guarantees of religious freedom embodied in the First Amendment have assured all citizens that they may hold whatever religious views they want and that they are free to express and act on those beliefs so long as they do not endanger public health or safety."

It's interesting that he would bring up the First Amendment.  Because the First Amendment guarantees that citizens have the right to "free exercise" of their religion.  That means that Oaks can believe Joseph Smith wasn't a horny con-man all he wants.  But it doesn't give him the right to deny some gay guy a marriage license just because what the gay guy is doing offends his religious sensibilities.  Gay people getting married despite the fact that some religious people think it's disgusting is not something that's prohibited in the Constitution of the United States.

"Accusations of bigotry toward people simply because they are motivated by their religious faith and conscience," Oaks continued, "have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and public debate.  When religious people are publicly intimidated, retaliated against, forced from employment, or made to suffer personal loss because they've raised their voice in a public square, donated to a cause or participated in an election, our democracy is the loser."

Really?  You make it sound like religious people have it worse in this country than LGBT people.  Besides, accusations of bigotry toward people simply because blah blah blah is free speech.  You can't complain that someone else is exercising a right to free speech while pretending to defend the right to free speech.  If we truly have the freedom of expression, you should be allowed to say hateful, bigoted stuff and I should be allow to call you on it.  That's exactly how it's supposed to work!

He continued:  "Such tactics are every bit as wrong as denying access to employment, housing or public services because of race or gender."  I think it's very telling that he doesn't include "sexual orientation" here.  In a press conference that seemed like it was supposed to address issues of LGBT rights, it sure seems like Oaks is making it all about religious rights.  While I agree that these are complex issues and that there are times when religious rights are infringed upon by individuals and government entities...let's not forget who can't even get married in 13 states.  It seems like such callous hypocrisy for four straight white people to publicly complain about the "erosion" of their rights while discussing LGBT subjects in the same breath.

Elder Holland was the cleanup hitter.  "Nothing is achieved," he reiterated, "if either side resorts to bullying, political point-scoring, or accusations of bigotry."  Yeah, you should totally tell your people to stop accusing gay rights supporters of bigotry, because I bet that happens a lot.  But seriously, maybe if you weren't a bigot you wouldn't be called one so much.  I think that word can achieve something in this case, because it's not just's telling it like it is.  If we can't get people to confront the realities of the situation (like how there's bigotry and stuff), how can we be expected to solve our problems?

I think the church felt that their news conference was some badass display of political muscle in furtherance of their objectives.

But what these four speakers were really doing was trying to appease the seemingly inevitable advances of LGBT rights and complaining that the church isn't getting its way.

They took a statement about LGBT rights and they made it all about themselves and their own perceived problems.  And they argued in favor of their own free expression at the expense of others'.  

Awesome.  Despicable.  Hilariously pathetic.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Alma 51: A Political Diversion

The Nephites have a new chief judge by the name of Pahoran.  Pahoran doesn't seem to like listening to a group of citizens who want to alter the system of government, and this generates some political discord.

In Defense of Democracy
The people who oppose Pahoran want him to step down so that a monarchy can be put in place.  They decide to call themselves "king-men."  This is how Pahoran's supporters react (verse 6):
And those who were desirous that Pahoran should remain chief judge over the land took upon them the name of freemen; and thus was the division among them, for the freemen had sworn or covenanted to maintain their rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government.
So apparently, to these people, monarchy and the free exercise of religion are mutually exclusive.  Hello?  Nobody remembers Mosiah?  The benevolent ruler dude who died just twenty-five years ago and set up this system of judges?

The Nephites have had a long tradition of monarchs ever since Nephi took command of the righteous half of his family back in the day.  Religious freedom wasn't really a problem, with a few exceptions (King Noah, for example).  It's only in the last few decades that the people have lived under any kind of government that wasn't headed by a king.  Why would they hear the king-men talking about bringing the monarchy back and immediately cry out that their freedom of religion is going to be infringed upon?

Moroni Makes No Sense
Amalackiah is back and badder than ever, planning to again invade the Nephite lands with a massive army.  The king-men throw a little temper tantrum and decide that, because they don't support Pahorah, they won't fight to defend their country. Moroni responds in exactly the way we've come to expect from this self-assured, self-righteous, bloodthirsty maniac (verses 15-16):
And it came to pass that he [Moroni] sent a petition, with the voice of the people, unto the governor of the land, desiring that he should read it, and give him (Moroni) power to compel those dissenters to defend their country or put them to death.
For it was his first care to put an end to such contentions and dissensions among the people; for behold, this had been hitherto a cause of all their destruction. 
Moroni is threatening to execute anyone who doesn't fight for the country?  Looks like we already have a king, and not a merciful one either.  It sounds to me like Moroni is telling the governor what to do.  Keep in mind, Moroni is supposed to be a military official, not a legislator or a ruler.  He should be operating the army within the constraints that the governor places on him.  Instead, the governor is making decisions based on what Moroni wants.

Our favorite Nephite captain is also worried that all this infighting and internal political strife will be the Nephites' downfall, so he decides that the best way to put an end to the ideological disagreement is to turn it into a full-blown military disagreement.  Because quashing a different opinion among the masses with lots and lots of troops never creates any kind of resentment, contention, or lingering desire for revolution.

And keep in mind that while Moroni is off trying to prove a very bloody point about cultural togetherness, he's not defending his country from Amalickiah's invasion...which, of course, is exactly what the king-men did to incur his violent wrath in the first place.  Verse 22 all but comes out and says that Moroni was an idiot for wasting so much effort on suppressing the king-men's stubborn pacifism:
Behold, it came to pass that while Moroni was thus breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, and subjecting them to peace and civilization, and making regulations to prepare for war against the Lamanites, behold, the Lamanites had come into the land of Moroni, which was in the borders by the seashore.
Oh, look!  The Lamanites got in!  I wonder how that happened!

Beyond that, Moroni's political reasoning for his actions is just...mind-boggling.  Though he pretends to be doing this for the cause of freedom, the syntax used to describe his behavior doesn't really jive with that claim.  The rebellious king-men "yielded to the standard of liberty" and were later "compelled to hoist the title of liberty upon their towers" all because Moroni was "subjecting them to peace."  These are not phrases that smell of liberty.  These are phrases that reek of tyranny.
If the Nephites lived in Gotham, Moroni would be Commissioner Gordon and the Joker at the same time.

Yes He Didn't
When Amalickiah conquers the city of Moroni, the refugees flee to the nearby metropolis of Nephihah, which bristles in expectation of an attack.  Amalickiah, however, seems to have other plans (verse 25):
But it came to pass that Amalickiah would not suffer the Lamanites to go against the city of Nephihah to battle, but kept them down by the seashore, leaving men in every city to maintain and defend it.
Ah, so cunning ol' Amalickiah faked 'em out!  Let's keep reading (verse 26):
And thus he went on, taking possession of many cities, the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek, all of which were on the east borders by the seashore.
So instead of attacking the city of Nephihah, Amalickiah decided to attack the city of...Nephihah.  I suppose it's possible that Amalickiah took all of these cities, but not necessarily in this exact order.  Maybe he doubled back after taking Lehi and Morianton and that's when Nephihah fell.  But it seems pretty stupid to use the city that you just said Amalickiah didn't attack as the first in a subsequent list of cities that he did attack.  I mean, this is literally the next sentence.

Who wrote this thing, anyway?

Black Ops:  Teancum
After some grueling battles against the armies of the Lamanites, Teancum decides he's had enough of this Amalickiah character.  So he sneaks into the Lamanite camp late at night, creeps into Amalickiah's tent, and skewers him through the heart with a well-placed javelin.  To complete his feat of badassery, he escapes without being caught and returns safely to his men.

What's interesting to me is that, when things ramp up to the point of assassination, who's the one to do it?  Is it the Lamanites?  The wicked, murderous savages?  Nope.  It's a Nephite.  One of the righteous.  One of God's chosen people.

War is horrible enough as it is.  If you're going to pretend like you have the moral high ground, you probably shouldn't be the first one to escalate the conflict by assassinating enemy kings.  Amalickiah didn't have Captain Moroni killed, but maybe that's because, despite all his flaws, Amalickiah still has a more developed sense of honor than our current protagonist.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Alma 50: Morianton-Gate

Amalickiah and the Lamanites manage to keep their hands off of Nephite land for an entire chapter here, but that doesn't stop the Nephites from worrying about them the whole time.  Moroni puts his people to work refortifying every single one of their cities against the inevitable attack of those rascally savages every Mormon loves to hate.

More Meaningless Detail
This is supposed to be scripture.  Why do the first few verses of this chapter read like an ancient American military version of "There's A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea"?  (There's a tower by the pickets on the timbers on the mounds of the earth all around Zarahemla...)

Simply telling us that Moroni was some kind of legendary defensive military strategist wouldn't have been testimony-building enough, I guess.  Which is why, like so many other times, these poor prophets had to etch these extraneous wartime details into the holy records so that millions of modern-day Mormons could skim over these verses and get to the good stuff or the "useful" stuff.

Let's Build a City!
There's an interesting phenomenon of Nephite culture that building a city was an objective to be completed as ordered instead of a result of organic population growth.  In this chapter, they basically decide to build cities in specific locations for the fun of it.  In Nephite territory, population centers don't emerge based on where people settle, where there's access to natural resources or where economy and culture prosperit's mostly a function of whether or not Captain Moroni has enough wheat cards.
Yes, there's a licensed Mormon version of Settlers of Catan.
Not only that, but it seems like a strategic misstep and a massive waste of time, effort, and raw materials.  Moroni has just made sure that every single city in the kingdom is well-defended.  And then he turns around and lets people build new cities, which instantly creates weaknesses for the Lamanite army to attack.  But he can only build those cities if he has enough manpower and natural resources left after his people toiled to build walls and watchtowers around all the other settlements.

Rated R for Stylized Violence

One of these brand spankin' new towns that sprung up was called Lehi, and it was apparently built pretty close to another city called Morianton.  After some kind of border dispute between the two communities, the people of Morianton (led by a guy who goes by the imaginative moniker of...Morianton) decide that they should start killing the inhabitants of Lehi.  When the entire town of Lehi basically moves out and runs crying to Big Daddy Moroni, Morianton gets worried that the army is going to come destroy them all for their troublemaking.

For being a supposedly righteous people, there's a lot of violence among these guys.  And a high expectation for more violence.  Morianton isn't worried about being jailed, exiled, or stripped of his civil position.  He thinks Captain Moroni is going to lay the smack down and go nuclear on his whole town.  Knowing how bloodthirsty Moroni has been in the past, I don't blame him.  But stillthese are supposed to be civilized people.  Why is there such an emphasis on physical confrontations and military conflicts in their society?

Hell Hath no Fury Like a Maid Servant Scorned
Fearful of Moroni's reprisal, Morianton decides that he should evacuate his settlement too (so that now we have two empty cities "on the borders by the seashore") and flee to the north.  But because Morianton is a terrible person who likes to smack women around, one of his abused servants runs away and spills the beans to Captain Moroni.  He reacts (verse 32):
Moroni...feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty.

I don't understand this verse at all.  Who's going to unite with Morianton's people?  The people who live in the north?  Why would they do that?  This is a border dispute between the cities of Lehi and Morianton.  Why would a town further north care enough to pick a side and then secede from the Nephite nation with Morianton?

And what exactly is the danger to the people's liberty here?  Even if Morianton does try to set up a separate government in the north, who's to say it will be an oppressive regime without freedoms for its citizens?  If Moroni's concerns are military, Morianton's new nation in a northern corner of the land could never gather enough soldiers to challenge the might of the main Nephite army.  And the Lamanites live to the south of the Nephite borders, so it's not like Morianton's people are a weak point for the Lamanites to attack and get a foothold in Nephite territory.

But whatever Moroni's concerns were, he was convinced of their urgency enough to dispatch an army led by Teancum to stop Morianton.  Because Morianton is an idiot, he engaged the Nephite army in battle and got himself killed.  Then, in an eerily familiar ultimatum, his followers are taken prisoner and only returned to their homes after making a promise to keep the peace.  Somehow, this wraps things up in a nice little bow and the twin cities of Lehi and Morianton get along famously from here on out.

This whole story is just a mess.

Wickedness Never Was Prosperity
With peace reestablished in the land, the Nephites get to enjoy the blessings of prosperity.  And the reader gets to enjoy a lot of preaching about how God is awesome (verses 19-22):
And thus we see how merciful and just are all the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words unto the children of men; yea, we can behold that his words are verified, even at this time, which he spake unto Lehi, saying:
Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land.  But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
And we see that these promises have been verified to the people of Nephi; for it has been their quarrelings, and their contentions, yea, their murderings, and their plunderings, their idolatry, their whoredoms, and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions.
And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times, whilst thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage, or to perish by the sword, or to dwindle in unbelief, and mingle with the Lamanites. 
There is so, soooo much in here that I don't like that it's honestly difficult to figure out where to start.

I guess I'll start with the most blatant lie, which is the assertion that God is always merciful to his loyal followers.   These verses claim that the faithful will prosper in the land and be delivered at all times.  I think that myth can be safely dispelled with the example of Ammonihah.  Because you can't prosper in the land if you're dead, and if you're dead you clearly haven't been delivered by a merciful god.

The next issue is the assertion that righteousness and prosperity are directly proportional (and it's not the first time that assertion has been made).  Though you won't hear this taught from the pulpit in General Conference, it's a commonly recurring theme throughout the Book of Mormon.  The "pride cycle" relies on righteousness bringing about material wealth.  It happens so much in Mormon holy writ that even if it's not being explicitly taught in church, any scripture-reading member with financial problems is going to wonder, at some point, are my struggles my own fault because I'm not keeping the commandments?  And if you're not even righteous enough to be wealthy, what do you think your chances are at attaining Celestial glory?  Way to make poor people feel like crap, Joe.

And lastly, we have yet another occurrence of not-so-subtle Book of Mormon racism.  "Mingling with the Lamanites" is tacked at the end of a list of bad stuff that happens to unrighteous people, which means it's in the company of imprisonment, death, and apostasy.  Even if you can separate the stigma of a Nephite associating with a Lamanite from the Lamanites' curse of dark skin, this is still a case of awful moral elitism.  A truly loving god would champion those who embrace diversity.  He wouldn't spurn those who step outside of their moral, religious, or ethnic comfort zones.  He wouldn't list associating (or intermarrying) with a different group of people among the harshest symptoms of unbelief.  But, then again, he never would have produced Mormonism, either.