021: Book of Mormon Lesson 44: Mormon 7-9

November 12, 2012

Engaging Gospel Doctrine

After Mormon’s final plea to the House of Israel, Moroni takes over the record. His despair and loneliness is palpable and touching in the beginning of Mormon 8. There are several thought provoking gems in these chapters about weakness, pride, caring for the needy, and theological points about the nature of God and judgment.

Moroni’s main points present more of a challenge however. These chapters are filled with judgments and warnings. He condemns latter day Churches and those who do not believe in Christ or miracles. Who makes up the audience for these warnings? What can lessons can we learn from the final Book of Mormon prophet’s inaugural words?

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AmandaDerek, and Laura join the class discussion.

You can continue the conversation by posting your comments and questions here, in the facebook group, or email them 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.

3 Responses to “021: Book of Mormon Lesson 44: Mormon 7-9”

  1. SteveS Says:

    1) Mormon 7: This chapter represents a mandate to convert the Native Americans to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the version of the Gospel about believing propositional truths in return for post-mortal blessings) so that they might also know of their genealogy which shows their connection to the covenant people of the world, God’s most favored people. What’s most interesting to me in this chapter is v.4, which along with Mormon’s other imperative conditions of repentance, belief in statements about Jesus, being baptized, and coming to a knowledge of their ancestry, that Native Americans must “lay down [their] weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you.” It would be nice if this was an injunction to all who would come unto Christ, or simply a reminder against the terrible potential for harm against our fellow human beings we all carry within us, which had caused the genocide of the Nephites. Rather this injunction reads as a colonialist manipulation that goes something like this: tell the native peoples that they are special, “enlighten” them with culture, civilization, and religion from the superior Western Way, and then tell them to stop fighting against their Gentile conquerors! Sure, this verse may be read from an individual standpoint that one purpose of life might be to overcome anger and frustration about things we cannot control (disability, chronic disease, poverty, injustice, etc.). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory would certainly see anger as an impediment to self-actualization. But this verse is part of an appeal to a group: the “remnant of the people who are spared” (v.1), not to individuals within that group. Also the “gospel” Mormon wishes to introduce to this remnant is one of obedience for fear of losing eternal blessings, which speaks nothing about letting go of anger as a means of self-actualization (Interesting aside: one criticism of Maslow’s hierarchy is that it is based on an American ethnocentric perspective that values individuality over community identity, something that would be inherently challenged by many (most?) Native American cultures, which tended to espouse collectivism). Additionally, other people (including the Gentiles) aren’t given the same commandment to lay down their weapons in order to be saved. Sadly, this verse fits right in with the perspective that the natives of the American continents had become dark, filthy, and loathsome people who needed the (white) Gentiles to (re)enlighten them, for which they should be thankful and docile forevermore as the Gentiles realize their destiny to inherit the land. In this I see so much of an early white American perspective of Native Americans, even though it is somewhat more compassionate toward them than others who would rather just kill them all for the nuisance they had become to the white folk. Even more maddening is that Mormon, their distant ancestor, in his final words he wrote on the golden plates, is the one asking them to roll over and take it! Broadening these points a bit to perhaps apply to us all, I would ask: are the benefits of living the Gospel worth the price of one’s sense of autonomy and identity within one’s own culture? Should we make decisions in our lives based on fears of negative consequences in some future form of existence that cannot be substantiated? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ really what Mormon claims it is in this chapter (it seems as succinct an outline of the gospel as preached in the Book of Mormon as any)?

    2) Mormon 8:12, 17; 9:31: I condemn the imperfections of the Book of Mormon, but it’s not the punctuation problems or the repetitive, stale diction, or even the lack of complete coverage of the most important moments in their civilization’s history (ex.: original stuff Jesus taught unique from the things found in the New Testament) that matter very much; I condemn the rather glaring lack of historicity and the complete dearth of archeological evidence to support the historical claims of the Book of Mormon, and the rather blatant anachronistic plagiarism of the KJV Bible. These problems aren’t the problems of imperfect men doing their best to tell the story of their people in ways that were meaningful to them in connection with a transcendent, never-changing God who knows it all and gives the people exactly what they need. Rather, they are the problems of a modern man inventing/imaging a story about an ancient group of people that he had neither a real concept of, nor ability to foresee how experts would one day discredit the claims made therein. Therefore, what “greater things” am I missing out upon? The sweet life of living within a community of belief focused on the Book of Mormon, complete with a rather limited interpretation of Christology, soteriology, and eschatology based on nineteenth-century Protestantism somehow understood by Nephites even before Christ came to earth? Or maybe I’m missing out on the evidence of God’s concern and universal message of hope for all people everywhere (*caveat: only through Christ, and maybe even only through one true Church)? Or maybe I’m ignoring the warning that the end is near, as evidenced by the appearance of this Book in the last days, the risk of ignoring which will certainly bring upon me calamity, destruction, despair, and hell fire? But if the book isn’t historical, can these “imperfections” be forgiven? Are the blessings of “greater things” even possibly true if the foundation for them is not just flawed, but fraud (or perhaps delusion or vivid imagination)?

    3) Mormon 8:26-41; 9:1-7: The day when the Book of Mormon shall come forth when: a) people say that miracles have ceased, b) the blood of the saints will cry up to the Lord, c) secret combinations and works of darkness will be present, d) the power of God will be denied, e) churches will defiled and prideful, f) the leaders of churches will be prideful, g) natural disasters will abound in foreign lands, h) wars everywhere, i) pollutions and abominations abound, j) moral relativism will be preached, k) churches will proclaim the forgiveness of sins in exchange for money (aside: hello TR tithing requirement!), l) churches will be established to enrich their founders, m) people will deny Christ’s atonement, and n) people will deny the revelations of God. What features were present in the religious landscape of the “burnt-over district” of upstate New York in Joseph Smith’s time during the Second Great Awakening? This list functions as a “Signs of the Times” list in the tradition of 2 Tim 3:1-5, or of Christian reinterpretation of Isaiah prophecy to fit in an end-times scenario, but with more specificity (sale of indulgences, moral relativism, etc.). The specificity of this list toward actions of actual churches in Joseph Smith’s time seems to indicate or suggest late authorship. As such, what cultural biases of Joseph Smith are revealed in these critiques of American Christian religions of the 1820s?

    4) Moroni sees the distant future (Mormon 8:35) like Christians thought Isaiah saw the future. Moroni even references Isaiah (8:23) and encourages the modern reader to pay close attention to his prophecies, which he interprets as belonging to the end times. There is a strong tradition in Mormonism of perceiving prophets as having seen some divine filmstrip of the history and destiny of life on this planet, but is this tradition of modern or ancient date? Is this Joseph Smith’s theology of prophecy and revelation in a dispensationalist framework, where Adam, Enoch, Moses, Abraham, Isaiah, Jesus, John the Beloved, Nephi (600 B.C.), Nephi (34 A.D.), Mormon, Moroni, and perhaps even Joseph Smith himself have been privy to a grand narrative revelation of the world? Do other Christian faiths or Jewish traditions speak of anyone other than Jesus knowing all things from beginning to end? What purpose does such a vision provide, especially in the context of the end-times being constantly interpreted as imminent, and yet inexplicably and maddeningly forever delayed? Is Moroni’s authority (and by extension, Joseph Smith’s authority) challenged due to the fact that although his prophecies about the end-times and the state of the world when the Book of Mormon would come forth may have been descriptive of 1820s America, but not about the imminence of the Second Coming? If Moroni truly saw “our” day in the 2000s (and not just up to Joseph Smith’s day), why didn’t he include references to other atrocities committed by churches and groups that happened after Joseph wrote the Book of Mormon, or why doesn’t Moroni reference non-Christian religions such as Islam (second largest religion in the world), Hinduism, or Buddhism?

    5) Mormon 9:1-3: Can one reject Moroni’s conception of Christ and not “ever abuse” God’s laws in the process? These verses seem to address the “jack” religionist, who believes in God but chooses a life of self-interest, pride, and sin against that underlying faith, rather than an attack on atheists or agnostics or non-Christian religious faithful. The problem is that it is easily read as a binary, that if you reject or are agnostic about Christ as Savior, you are somehow akin to devils in hell in your depravity, and are worthy of the same fate as those devils. This gets commuted to a rather unhealthy view of humanity, imo, one that refuses to engage with people who see things differently than the so-called “truth”, but who nevertheless seek to live a moral, ethical life. Thoughts?

    6) Mormon 9:21,25: Herein we see prefigured the famous verses in Moroni 10:3-5, where Moroni claims/promises that if you ask God with complete faith in Christ, everything shall be made known unto you. Dan Wotherspoon, in the “137-138: Science and Mormonism” podcast from Mormon Matters (http://mormonmatters.org/2012/11/05/137-138-science-and-religion/), posits that religious experiences are indeed empirical in that if any seeker will apply the proper inputs, the spiritual outputs guaranteed by religions and faith traditions will be produced. This bold claim creates problems of competing/contradictory confirmation of truth claims between various religious traditions. It also absolves God of any culpability for the mixed messages or lack of message communicated, because the success of the reaction is based completely on the catalyst of the individual’s complete faith (doubting nothing). Signs are meant to be a form of “evidence” that follow those who have the truth, but in real life, even the signs that follow the believers (9:24) aren’t the sole privilege of Mormons, or even Christians at large in the marketplace of religions. The repetition of this concept so closely attached to “last-days” prophecies and rhetoric seems to me that Moroni is trying to provide a key of sorts for the modern reader, his summation of how the Nephite culture went wrong and how those who will have ears to hear in the final days can have a chance at redemption. But from personal experience and observation of many others, I suspect that religious experience is less “scientific” in its phenomena or exclusive to a single faith tradition than Moroni or the Mormon Church would purport. What gives?

    Reply

  2. Jonathan Cannon Says:

    Your 19th century focus leads to a variety of interpretations that I think are not well justified. Of course the Romans were the executioners. They were not the motivating force behind efforts to have Chist killed. Would you say, to pick a common name, Joe Smith killed my ancestor in the Battle of Bull Run, or the Union Army, or even President Lincoln and the Yankees did it? I don’t see the ‘obvious’ historical innacuracy, or how the Book of Mormon, which has Been read as pro-Jewish my entire life, has contributed to anti-Semitism. I also don’t see why Mormon’s ‘if’ about whether his descendants will read his words is anything more than an acknowledgement that it is unlikely that all of them will ever get the chance, or take it if they did get it. It seems worth thinking about your alternative interpretations, but I would need further reasons to give them as much weight as your lesson does.

    Reply

    • Jared Anderson Says:

      It is helpful to see how my comments are being understood; thank you. It is interesting that you sense a “19th century focus” since I only go there when I feel constrained by the text to do so. You are correct that the Jewish priests (the Sadducees) were the ones who incited Jesus’ execution. I feel the Book of Mormon reflects anti-Semitism rather than contributes to it if those two can be distinguished. Whether and the degree to which the Book of Mormon is “pro-Jewish” gets into the complicated issue of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. In short, the Book of Mormon is “pro-Jewish” the way that Christians love Jews–on their own terms, which is offensive to Jews.

      We don’t all need to give equal weight to different elements of any text; that is the great thing about close reading and personal interpretation. I am just trying to provide a model of close reading and some ideas to think about.

      Reply

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