020: Book of Mormon Lesson 43: Mormon 1-6; Moroni 9

November 4, 2012

Engaging Gospel Doctrine

Poignantly placed after the description of the Lehite utopia, these are the darkest, most disturbing chapters in the Book of Mormon. It seems a fitting time to wrestle with the human potential for evil, the reality of the terrible things we do to each other, almost as a rule. And after reading his life’s work, we get to meet Mormon as a main character. He reluctantly leads the Nephites in battle, refuses, and then returns. This is the end of the Book of Mormon civilization. In addition, we also read a haunting letter that I don’t think Mormon actually intended to include in the Book of Mormon (If you notice, Mormoni has an inferiority complex and actually contributes very little to the Book of Mormon. Most of his content is letters from his dad and then he edits Ether because his dad said he would and never was able to). We will also look at what we learn from Mormon’s shining example in the midst of such terrible circumstances.

This is not going to be a pleasant lesson, but it should be an important one. What is the root of human evil? Why do we commit such sickening atrocities? What factors remove our native empathy? When is rehabilitation possible? Is there hope to become better as cultures and a species?

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Natasha, Emily, and Allen provide able discussion of an extremely difficult topic.

Continue the conversation here, in our facebook group, or email comments and questions to me at MormonSundaySchool at gmail.

You can access my Lesson Notes here.

Thanks as always to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for his hard work in postproduction.

7 Responses to “020: Book of Mormon Lesson 43: Mormon 1-6; Moroni 9”

  1. SteveS Says:

    1) Mormon 1:13-14: Why would the Lord take away the Three Nephites, all spiritual gifts, and the Holy Ghost right when the people needed it most? The verses claim it was because of the iniquity, wickedness, and unbelief of the people. Interestingly, though, God changes his M.O. this time around by NOT sending prophets to call people to repentance (unless Mormon simply forgot to report this for events occurring within his own lifetime). In fact, Mormon, who seems the only guy around who believes in God, has his mouth “shut”, and was “forbidden” to preach to the people (v.16). At what point in any scripture other than this do we find a people “ripe for destruction” but who have no outreach from God to encourage them from turning from their iniquities? Doesn’t this depiction make God out to be a pretty big jerk who withholds even as God should be trying God’s hardest to help the people return and repent? Also, in our own day and time, are we not seeing a retraction of legends and folklore about the Three Nephites (I hear stories about them less and less), and aren’t spiritual gifts (speaking in tongues (glossolalia), prophecy, visions, etc.) virtually non-existent in LDS worship? Has the Holy Ghost ceased to enliven our meetings and ministrations toward caring about God’s dream for humanity as we’re being distracted by silliness about hemlines and beverages and gender roles (a fascinating recent indictment of this very phenomenon can be found here: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2012/11/dont-talk-to-me-about-coffee-and-sex/)? Are we living in times similar to what Mormon describes, and is the Church itself in a period of apostasy?

    2) Mormon 1:15: Interesting that Mormon and Joseph Smith were about the same age when they were “visited of the Lord and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus.” Is this autobiographical projection? Might we be able to use this to bolster one account of the first vision (the first official account in 1832, see http://mit.irr.org/changing-first-vision-accounts-1832-first-vision-account-joseph-smith-jr), wherein 15-yr-old Joseph was preoccupied with receiving a forgiveness of sins by Jesus more than trying to figure out what church to join? I won’t go too much further with the parallel reading, only to say that in v.18 slippery treasures are referenced (a nod to Joseph’s quasi-profession as a money-digger), in v.19 folk magical powers are mentioned, consistent with an early nineteenth-century frontier American understanding of religion and the occult, and, like other first vision accounts, the people surrounding the hero (Mormon or Joseph) are described as having *all* rebelled against God and gone astray. The connection between Mormon and Joseph is that Mormon writes the account, and Joseph writes it in English in the modern era, the golden plates being a conduit linking the two boy wonders across the millennia. Would this reading lend credence to the 1832 version of the “first vision” of Joseph Smith over the “official” version from 1838? Thoughts?

    3) Mormon 2:10-15: Mormon rejoices when the people start to mourn and repent from all the carnage, but then despairs when he realizes that they aren’t turning back to the “goodness of God” (v.13), but are sorrowing like the damned, cursing God (v.14), wishing to die, and that the day of grace had passed both temporally and spiritually (v.15). After seeing nothing but a scene of war, carnage, chaos, and struggle throughout their lives, how could most people still call God “good” as Mormon does? Didn’t Mormon himself just mention that God withdrew his servants, spiritual gifts, and Holy Ghost, and had no more prophets warning the people? How could anyone see the goodness of God in this context?

    4) Mormon 3:2: It took the Lord 33 years to tell Mormon to cry repentance to the Nephites? Mormon begins leading the armies of the Nephites at age sixteen in the year 327. The Lord tells Mormon to call the people to repentance in 360. Somehow, 23 years of terrible wars and 10 years of cautious peace didn’t make the people receptive to hearing the message. Later in vv.9-16, Mormon refuses to lead the armies after the people swear vengeance upon their enemies (who have launched what sounds like pre-emptive war against them (see v.4), and who have been the cause of so much pain, suffering, and loss among them in the previous 23-year-long war). Up to this point, the Nephites have been successful at holding off the Lamanite armies under the leadership of Mormon. When Mormon refuses to lead them, things go very badly indeed for the Nephites. The text doesn’t claim that the Lord commanded Mormon to stop being the leader, only that vengeance(!) was the Lord’s that the he would repay (the wording actually comes from Paul in Romans 12:19 as Paul importunes the Romans to return good for evil even in the face of injustice, but that’s another discussion). Mormon sees the losses inflicted upon the Nephites after he quits as evidence of God’s punishment. But isn’t Mormon somewhat responsible for this unhappy turn in the history of his people, all because he decided he would no longer lead?

    5) Mormon 3:21: It seems Mormon thinks that the Jews are responsible for killing Jesus. This continues a tradition going all the way back to Nephi (see 1 Nephi 10:11) that the Jews would reject and slay the Messiah. But history has shown that the Jews did not, in fact, slay Jesus, but that Rome slew Jesus. He may have been rejected by the Jewish leaders and recommended for execution as a dangerous revolutionary, but authority to execute came from Rome and Rome alone. According to this and other Book of Mormon scripture verses, however, do the Jews bear complete responsibility for Jesus’ execution? What bearing does this claim have on Mormon attitudes and perspectives about Jews and the Jewish people? Finally, even as Mormon talks about judgment and witnesses for Christ in the final verses of chapter 3, isn’t it a bit ironic that Mormon tells the Gentile reader that they will get additional witnesses, and that the covenant people the Jews will get additional witnesses even after they “slew the very Christ, the very God”, but not realize that his very own people the Nephites and Lamanites will get no such additional chance in his lifetime?

    6) Mormon attributes the destruction and sufferings of his people to the people’s denial of God in their lives. Could there be another explanation, though, one that we miss because Mormon keeps hammering upon this one point over and over again in these chapters? This approach relies on functionalism and a “hermeneutic of suspicion”, two methodologies that focus on the various ways religions function in society. Nations we might consider “godless” in our day and age (think some Scandinavian countries) tend to be pretty peaceful, and have found astonishing ways to take care of virtually everyone in their society and prosper economically. And although China has a history of human rights violations and a lack of freedom of speech or press, their culture thrives and their economy literally saved the world from depression recently. Might the downfall of the Nephites been the result of poor governance, excessive self-interest and lack of community spirit rather than a lack of prayers to God for forgiveness of sins, paid for by a guy who came to Earth long ago and far, far away? Sure, theology can help foster good social behaviors and inform good government policy, but doesn’t Mormon overstate his case a bit? Of course, if I had been witness the utter genocide of my people, I might be asking the question “Why?” as well, and I might have a cynical or defeatist answer like Mormon did. But godlessness doesn’t necessarily create chaos and destruction, does it? What other social, economic, or political factors might have been responsible? Is atheism a straw boogeyman?

    7) There is a rhetorical shift in Mormon 5:12-24, where Mormon begins speaking to a “remnant of the House of Jacob”, but ends by preaching to the “Gentiles” that will one day possess the land. The destruction of the Nephites is framed more as a cautionary tale for the (white, fair, delightsome) future Gentiles against the power of the (dark, filthy, loathsome) Lamanites who have been victorious than a plea for Mormon’s own people to turn back to God and be blessed. Mormon seems to be offering the Gentiles of future generations a key for success at routing the Lamanites who have rejected God and Jesus in generations past. Could this chapter be read as a colonialist document that gives whites the manifest destiny to rule, as long as they recognize the right God and claim humility?

    8) Mormon 6: Silly question, maybe, but why has there been no archaeological excavation of the hill Cumorah in upstate New York? There should be evidences of large populations living in the vicinity, as well as metal artifacts from a great battle, or in the very least the stone box where the golden plates were laid, as well as perhaps an entire cave room full of records placed there by Mormon (or Ammaron).

    9) Mormon 5, Moroni 9: Are stories of human sacrifices to idols, cannibalism, rape, torture, etc. intentionally salacious as a means of morbidly regaling the faithful? We know that early Christians were purported to be accused of eating human flesh (the sacrament), sacrificing babies, having all things in common (including “free love” access to anyone in the community), and were subjected to torture and horrific means of execution at the hands of their persecutors (fed to lions, crucifixion, impaled, drawn and quartered, etc.). These early Christian era stories from the Old World reinforced the faith of those persecuted, perhaps giving the faithful the gumption to survive and thrive as a new religion in competition with many older ones, including the state cult of Caesar. By contrast, the Book of Mormon narratives of these atrocities aren’t shared to give courage to the contemporaries of Mormon, but are written to the future faithful to serve as cautionary reminders of the ferociousness of the wicked who reject God. These stories encourage people to believe that others who don’t believe in God the same way they do are to be held in suspicion and ideally kept apart. I’m not sure if the frontier American reader in Joseph Smith’s day was supposed to draw immediate parallels between the behaviors of the Lamanites in these chapters and the stories they had heard about the Native Americans who inhabited the region, but if the Book of Mormon was meant to serve as an explanation for the existence of the Native Americans, it would seem that these chapters function as explanation for how these peoples fell into an “uncivilized” and “loathsome” state. Mormon’s answer is simple: they forgot God and became heathens. But isn’t that a trope found throughout history in all cultures? Here I fear that Mormon is showing his own cultural biases and judgments, projecting them onto God as a judger and agonized passive observer who won’t prevent great evil upon the earth. Ironically, after harrowing Moroni with dark tales of death, mayhem, and destruction, he writes “may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death”, but then follows that phrase up with “but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death…rest in your mind forever” (Moroni 9:25)! IOW, Moroni, don’t think about suffering and death of your friends and family and neighbors and countrymen, but remember Jesus’ suffering and death, because that’s what will give you hope and patience and mercy. Violence assuaged by another story of violence (but with purpose!)? Dark times indeed. Thoughts?

    Reply

    • diligentdave Says:

      SteveS,

      Wow! The first thought that came to my mind in reading what you wrote brought to mind the OT example of he who attempted to steady the ark. Is not your implication that the brethren are not doing their job?

      1) You ask, “Are we living in times similar to what Mormon describes, and is the Church itself in a period of apostasy?” What else you write in your comment #1 makes me think that what you write should evoke what one might call a “mirror moment”; or, as Nephi counseled us, to “liken the scriptures unto (our)selves”.

      2) SteveS, it seems here that you are trying to disprove both Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Are you not?

      3) How could anyone see the goodness of God? Mormon had witnessed what his people had done. He knew God and his works. Mormon didn’t have an issue with God, but with his people, and Mormon was THERE! YOU have an issue with both God and Mormon, and you were NOT THERE. Wow, SteveS!

      4) You know better than God when to do things? Wow! You have a vaunted view of your own opinion!

      5) And King David didn’t (personally or directly) kill Uriah. However, God viewed things as if he had cut Uriah down himself, since David set things up for Uriah to be killed by their enemies, by having his troops withdraw in the heat of battle from Uriah, allowing their enemies to do the job for them.

      Likewise, if the Jews could have directly kill Jesus, they would have (and, prior to this time, they had many times, as the gospels list them, tried). The Jews had a chance to have Jesus released, instead of a guilty murderer, Barabas. They chose the guilty to go free, and the innocent to die. They chanted for Jesus to be killed.

      The Romans actually did the deed. But it was also accounted to the Jews of that generation as if they themselves had done it. They had captured Jesus, “tried” him, and turned him over to their enemies, the Romans, just as David had done to Uriah.

      6) Here, I can picture in my mind’s eye, Judas Iscariot giving similar arguments as you give. He argued that the money “wasted” on the expensive ointment Mary used to wash Jesus’ feet might have been sold to feed the poor. But, as Jesus correctly pointed out, the poor (we) have always with (us). Jesus was there but briefly. (Also, the scripture pointed out that Judas didn’t care for the poor, but for the money in the bag. He was a thief. And the full implication is that he was stealing church funds).

      Godless Scandinavia appears to do better. But they have far higher per capita debt than even the U.S. does (I believe that that statistic may still be true). Their suicide rate (was/and possibly still is) far higher (we might be catching up in trying to emulate their socialism under Obama. For suicide has this year [2012] exceeded auto accidents for cause of death in the U.S.), than ours. Child exploitation for purposes of pornographic video, etc, is rampant in Scandinavia & neighbors, like the Netherlands. So, better financially does not necessarily mean better, morally.

      The “if you keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land” evidence was also invoked by wicked King Noah’s also wicked priests (as you have for these countries) when Abinadi had called him and them on the carpet for their many sins—

      13 And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?
      14 And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain.
      15 And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also (yet) prosper.

      (Book of Mormon | Mosiah 12:13 – 15 – addition of (yet) is mine)

      7) The “remnant of Jacob” prophecy is perhaps the most significant one given in all the Book of Mormon (given essentially 3 times by Jesus [in 3 Nephi 16, 20 & 21], and once by Mormon [end of Mormon 5]). No, it is not a pro-colonialist justification. What Jesus said the gentiles would do to the “remnant of Jacob” in the Americas has happened, and yet may happen somewhat further. Christ is alluding to the time when the tables will be turned, and the “remnant of Jacob” (the descendants of the Nephites & Lamanites) will (yet) tread the gentiles down, as the Lamanites tread the Nephites down in Mormon’s and Moroni’s days.

      8) SteveS, are you not seeking for a sign? Would gold plates, or archaeological artifacts, etc, be truly stronger evidence than the testimony of the 3 witnesses? We can test the Book of Mormon. But we need to remember, we are not alone in our testing. WE are ALL being tested BY the Lord, and this through our belief (or not) in what the Book of Mormon tells us. Are we not failing that test when we doubt the Book of Mormon, it’s accuracy, and the POV given in it by God’s prophets who lived and wrote anciently?

      9) Tales of violence assuaged by a tale of violence? (and, you ask, to what purpose)?

      First of all, to respond to your charge of a passive God who allows all these bad things to happen, let me say this. More often than not he has and does allow bad things to happen. Truly, he gave man his agency. And man shall indeed be accountable for how he has exercised it.

      God can and does sometimes intervene. But he determines when and why that happens. Otherwise, he truly has given and allows men their full agency, including doing very bad things, so that He (God) is not unjust in his judgments on them (which included their mortal extinction, in this case)!

      Your misinterpretations are, to me, darker than those that either NT writers, or what Mormon or Moroni described or alluded to. I’ve never understood cannibalism to be equivalent to the sacrament (as far as prophecy being accomplished, but rather the ‘real deal’). Your “having all things in common” = “free love” parallel claim has Rasputin and/or a hippy justification for their own sin written all over it.

      SteveS, you understand worldly or secular interpretations of these things. But your projection of a humanist/secular POV on scriptures that do not begin or end on the sinful viewpoint you read into it, to me, shows a sympathy with, does it not, the ‘children of darkness’? Also, your condemnatory judgment for Mormon’s judgment of his own people is too presumptive, IMO.

      It very much appears to me that you apparently see yourself as being above the current (as well as ancient) ‘brethren’. If not, then please explain how and why what you said does not do this! Based upon your comments and their implications, you would do better than both those past and present, you seem to apparently suppose. If not, please tell me why my understanding of what you have written is in error!

      Reply

      • SteveS Says:

        With all due respect, diligentdave, you don’t know me at all, and based on your responses, I’m confident that there’s probably nothing I could write that would help you understand my positions better. And the ease and relish with which you apply serious scriptural epithets to me makes me more sad than angry, really.

        I’ll say only this: the truth should be able to withstand close scrutiny, and the responsible thing to do with extraordinary truth claims is to test them extraordinarily rigorously. You and I benefit greatly, daily, from the work of people who did just that: they weren’t satisfied with an incomplete and unscientific explanation of the nature of reality, and so they posed hypotheses, tested them, analyzed their results, formed other hypotheses, tested them, analysed results, eventually building frameworks to explain the phenomena they observed. They applied principles based on conclusions and theories developed through experimentation to the world around them, and important technologies have been produced that impact virtually every detail of our modern lives as a result.

        Are there limits to the scientific method? sure. It answers questions of what, where, when, who, why, and how particularly well, but wisely avoids asking questions it cannot answer, the questions about existential purpose or meaning. If you’re happy answering those particular why questions with Mormonism, then by all means, go ahead, and Godspeed. But I believe it the responsible thing to ask serious questions about your religion and to use your best faculties possible to answer them, including being willing to entertain alternative perspectives on their own terms, letting their arguments rise or fall on the basis of their own merits, and being willing to accept the consequences of disconfirming evidences. I know it’s hard to do, but it is healthy to consider whether your deepest-held beliefs may be wrong.

        See you down the rabbit hole, brother.

        Reply

      • Stan Says:

        diligentdave,

        I echo SteveS. Your rebuttal to him is just plain sad and represents more of a reactionary tirade than critical thinking. It looks like SteveS has stepped in to handily rebut your reasoning on religious and scientific matters, so I will only briefly rebut your fallacious reasoning on political issues. I checked around and cannot find that suicide rates in Scandinavia are not that much different than those in the US. As for the debt; you seem to be just cherry-picking statistics to paint an incorrect picture that Scandinavians are inherently more evil than Americans since they are godless. Not that I believe that there is a correlation between a nation’s public or external debt and the morality of its citizens, but the public debt to GDP ratio is far lower in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland than the US right now. As for child exploitation; all the Scandinavian countries have virtually the same laws and restrictions that the US does. What statistical evidence do you have that child exploitation is more “rampant” in Scandinavia than the US? I really think that you just pulled that one out of thin air. Lastly Obama is not trying to implement any policies that are even close to socialism. Even Bill Sammon, the managing editor of Fox News, admits that he just made up the idea that Obama was a socialist; an idea that even he found “far-fetched.”

        Reply

  2. diligentdave Says:

    Jared Anderson,

    You read more into things than is there (you go beyond the mark). While I think that appropriate analysis of scripture should be allowed. I find several of your comments read more into things than is there.

    For example, your comment, “(If you notice, Mor(m)oni has an inferiority complex and actually contributes very little to the Book of Mormon. Most of his content is letters from his dad and then he edits Ether because his dad said he would and never was able to), I find unsupported and flagrantly in error.

    Much of what Moroni writes at the end of his father’s book (Mormon), and his own words in his own book are every bit as important as lengthier writings of others.

    Remember, the “lesser prophets” in the Old Testament are not necessarily “less important” than those whose more extensive writings are incorporated there. Micah, relative to Isaiah, (an early contemporary of Isaiah) is both repeated in Isaiah, but whose prophecy of Bethlehem as the place the Messiah would be born was instrumental for the wise men. And, the Savior quotes Micah’s prophecy from the same chapter (Micah 5) as the Bethlehem prophecy is found in (cut off thy horses, and destroy thy chariots)3 Nephi. Micah’s prophecy of a “remnant of Jacob” being among the gentiles, “as a lion among the beasts of the forest” is essentially repeated thrice during the Savior’s ministry among the Nephite / Lamanite remnants, and is alluded to by Mormon at the end of Mormon 5.

    Is Micah LESS important than Isaiah? I wot not. A cotter pin may be smaller than other components of a wheel. But is no less vital than other parts. So it is with Micah vs Isaiah; as it is with Moroni vs Mormon; as it is with the Book of Mormon vs the Bible.

    And though Moroni defers to others’ writings, Ether, his father, Mormon’s, writings, etc, this is neither an indicator of an “inferiority complex”, nor of his own literary and doctrinal contributions.

    Reply

    • Jared Anderson Says:

      Thank you for commenting and pointing out where I could be more precise. I meant that Moroni contributes relatively little in content, not quality. As I noted, Moroni has long been one of my favorite if not my favorite Book of Mormon prophet. Ether 12 and other passages are sublime. If you doubt Moroni had a sense of inadequacy and struggled to fill his father’s role (at least in his own perception), just look up all the comments about weakness in his writings.

      Reply

      • diligentdave Says:

        Definitely Moroni had a correct perception of his weakness in writing, as he had a correct perception of the power of the Brother of Jared in writing. But I would not say that he had an “inferiority complex”, per sé, in regards to his father. Perhaps in regards to the Brother of Jared in writing. But, appropriate humility is not a bad thing, is it?

        Reply

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