At times when reading the Book of Mormon its easy to interject modern conceptions of government and religious freedom onto the text. But at other moments a certain line reminds us that we are dealing with a very different people and culture.

 Yea, he sent a decree among them, that they should not lay their hands on them to bind them, or to cast them into prison; neither should they spit upon them, nor smite them, nor cast them out of their synagogues, nor scourge them; neither should they cast stones at them, but that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries.”

The king does not simply prohibit persecution. He gives Ammon and has brethren favorable status and commands his people to let them in to their homes to hear their message. It’s no wonder that so many of the people are converted.

This conception of “religious freedom” is very different than our own and far less individualistic. It is more similar in many ways to the conception of religious freedom that existed among the civil states in European after the protestant revolution.

But despite, or perhaps because, of this different understanding of religion, the people are deeply converted so that they never fall away. What can account for this dramatic conversion? Partially, it must be the spirit of prophecy and teaching that led to their conversion. But other factors can be pointed to. I think the collective nature of religion actually helped to create a closely knit religious community that shared common belief. While there was no compulsion, there certainly was strong social and perhaps political pressure. And in this community, it was easy to preserve faith.

This also explains conversely why there were communities where no one was converted at all. Social pressure and communal norms strongly rejected conversion. As we saw with Ammoniah, the cost of betraying the communal religious was banishment and disinheritance. And so we can understand more readily why no one is converted in these communities.

 

 



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