008: Book of Mormon Lesson 31: Alma 43-52

August 8, 2012

Engaging Gospel Doctrine

“Firm in the Faith of Christ”

With this lesson we march into the “War chapters” of Alma. Sometimes it seems readers of the Book of Mormon don’t know quite what to do with these twenty odd chapters, but there are many important lessons and intriguing details we can glean.

Highlights of this lesson include:

  • Important themes about motivation (which are not always so simple as they seem)
  • Observations about covenants and honor.
  • We spend time with amazing people (Teancum and above all Moroni)
  • and one pretty terrible one, Amalickiah
  • Look for some interesting details about Alma’s family, a reward of close reading “connecting the dots”
  • Preparation is a key theme
  • Reflections on coercion and freedom, and the ethics of war

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Look forward to an engaging discussion with EmilyGeoffDorothy and Ryan.

After you listen to the lesson and class discussion, please post your comments and questions here on the blog and continue the conversation!

You can access my Lesson Notes here.

Thanks again to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for postproduction.

3 Responses to “008: Book of Mormon Lesson 31: Alma 43-52”

  1. SteveS Says:

    Questions for Alma 43-52:

    1) It is said that history is written by the victors. What alternative perspectives might we be able to tease from the text in regard to the great war of chapters 43-52 of Alma? It’s clear from the story that thousands didn’t support Moroni’s enforcement of a military state during wartime, or the Nephites’ periodic program of cultural and religious imperialism (note that every missionary effort to the Lamanites in Mosiah through Alma ends in major bloodshed). Zerahemnah’s refusal to take the oath Moroni requires of him feels a lot like a rebel leader’s refusal to comply with imperial demands to stop fighting against an institution that is fundamentally corrupt and destructive of civil rights and alternative cultural values and perspectives, even at great personal peril and possibly the jeopardy of the safety of the community he or she wishes to defend. Thoughts?

    2) Could the story of the great war in these chapters be read as a mirror of the American Revolutionary War (Nephites = colonists; Lamanites = British; Moroni = George Washington; Amalickiah = Benedict Arnold) AND a romanticization of white American perceptions of Native Americans (seen as wild, ferocious, savage, nearly naked, hunter/gatherers instead of farmers, chaotic systems of government with frequent rebellion, also, stupid, dimwitted, inferior, etc.), which stood at tension with “civilized” Western culture (with more democratic system of government, walled city concentration of power and resources, more advanced religion with a more powerful God, armor, military stratagem, etc.)?

    3) Is the Title of Liberty a manipulative symbol? To me it feels like the announcer guy at the July 4th parade I went to this year who, as the military passed by, quoted Father O’Brien of the USMC: “It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.” The crowd cheered, of course, even if they were repulsed by the words spoken. In both cases, Moroni and the parade announcer put patriotic people in a bind by giving them only one socially-appropriate way to express their patriotism: war. It’s acts and words like these that divide people rather than bring them together. And yet, by the account we’re given, Amalickiah seems to have been one bad dude. Was Moroni’s manipulative act (c.f. Alma 46:35) in creating the Title of Liberty and encouraging everyone to enter into a covenant to defend the country against haters without and within justified somehow? In reading the account of Moroni’s character and actions, one cannot claim that Moroni was undedicated to the safety and well-being of his people, but do the ends justify the means?

    4) Is Mormon’s commentary about apostates in Alma 47:36 one of the sources of a widespread LDS cultural practice of exclusion of those who leave the Church? How can we combat the perception that all apostates become wild, wicked, and ferocious people just like Amalickiah?

    5) I’m no military expert, but are the ethics of Teancum’s sneak attacks like those of unmanned drone strikes or the raid on the compound in Afghanistan that bagged Osama bin Laden?

    Reply

    • michael Says:

      This is partly addresses question #5 I think.

      Well, I think that, that passage in isolation (Alma 46:12) certainly suggests the principle of just war. But, I think to understand the Book of Mormon in its totality, one has to see that the issue is more complex. I think that the Book of Mormon does directly address the subject of war and pasificm and I think it gives us an answer that really satisfies neither sides in the debate. I begin here with a theological premise that I think should underlie all LDS discussions of war in the Book of Mormon or in the contemporary world. And, that is, I think death is both vastly more and vastly less important than we make it out to be. It is vastly more important because no single principle is a more important gage of the Christly life than compassion. Going to its etymological root, we find that compassion is identical with the root meaning of empathy. It means the ability to vicariosly feel the pain of another human being and act accordingly.

      So, to make any decision about going to war with anything other than the suffering that it will entail at the human level as our paramount concern, is the essence of un-Godly behavior. Our ability to concretly and feelingly entertain the imeasurable pain and suffering inflected by even one death is the measure of how close we are in our progress to acquiring a divine nature. That is why I think any celebration of war under any circumstances is a travisty.

      But, in the same time if we take our theology seriously, and view mortality as the briefest of weigh stations, on our way to a continuing progression towards Godliness, then death is as necessary and relatively pedestrian a step as birth itself. It is a passage that is inevitable. And, it’s always going to represent a progression to a better place and condition. So, from that percpective, death is barely a coma in the long book of spiritual existence. And, the suffering that it entails, both individually and by its ripples, comprises just a passing moment in our long spiritual journey.

      So, obviously given this master narrative, death on a scale, either minor or immense, can’t be considered in itself to be an absolute evil and the Lord apparantely recognizes this fact by apparently sanctioning, if the scriptures are to be believed, wars that are entered into in defense of principles consistent with the best interests of the human race – freedom being the prime example, at least in the Book of Mormon. It seems to me that the only way to recognize the twin claims that war makes upon us – to our pacifist instincts as compassionate beings and to our principled selves as defenders of what is good and true and expedient to God’s purposes – is to honor both of them. And, that’s precisely what the Book of Mormon does. It holds up the pacifist Anti-Nephi-Lehis as examples of the purist devotion and comitment – these absolutely compassion filled specimens of piety. And, it holds up their warrior-sons as models of courage, faith, and strict obedience.

      So, to my mind this portrait that we get in the Book of Mormon, is a typical Hegelian tragedy. We have two sets if competing demands and choosing either one is a correct choice, but denying the legitamacy of either one is wrong. That subtle point is also made in the Book of Mormon, I think, in the contrasting motives and fortunes of Moroni and Teancum. Both were warriors, but Moroni, who is essentially a mass-killer, as a commanding general of a powerful army, he simultaneoulsy affirms his humanity and compassion mourning the necessity of war. Wheras Teancum allows his rage to obliterate his compassion. And, in killing the Lamanite king in a fit of anger, he steps outside this protective umbrella that I think is represented by the iner-confict that is the mark of true discipleship. So, in killing without remorse, he denies his own humanity. And, that’s why I think the Book of Mormon ultimately affirms both pacifism and just war.

      …There should always be a conflict that we feel about going to war no matter how just because the motives that impel us towards war, in of themselves, can be righteous. But, those never should completly extinquish another set of demands that our humanity makes upon us -to do whatever we can to avoid human suffering.

      …..To my knowledge that’s never been the case [not dehumanizing the enemy] with any war of which we have any historical record – whether it’s America fighting its enemies or the Japanese fighting the Chinese, everybody always engages in a process of dehumanization in order to try to obliterate that humanitarian instinct that tends towards pacifism….I think Moroni is the model to hold up for any Latter-day Saint who’s in the armed services. Which is, that we should always be engaged in the military with a sense of sadness that such a thing is even necessary. (Dr. Teryl Givens, The John Adams Center, Founding Principles and Todays Politics podcast, November 20, 2011, 2:08-8:23)

      Reply

  2. SteveS Says:

    one more question:

    How does the treatment of themes of war and external and internal threats to peace and stability of “God’s people” correspond/contrast to biblical texts? Are stories of conflict, war, governmental intrigue, etc. used in the same ways rhetorically? What are their narrative functions within the texts?

    Reply

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