photo credit: uma konappalli

The Book of Mormon is a compendium of ancient scripture written specifically for our day. Those whose writings it contains prophesied and warned of what would later come, and their words “cry from the dust” regarding what we should learn from what they witnessed and lived through. President Hinckley once spoke directly about the relevance of this book, prophetically declaring:

The Book of Mormon narrative is a chronicle of nations long since gone. But in its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions of those problems. (Gordon B. Hinckley, via Quoty)

The problems of today’s society it touches upon are not relegated only to the basic ideas we commonly discuss (e.g. pride, morality, love, obedience, etc.). Having reviewed the entire record prepared specifically for us, Moroni discussed a problem of our society that is the largest threat to the integrity of our nation and Church:

And they [the secret combinations] have caused the destruction of this people of whom I am now speaking [the Jaredites], and also the destruction of the people of Nephi. (Ether 8:21)

A few verses later, Moroni issues a bold and direct admonition from the Lord, warning us in very plain language that when (not if) we see secret combinations rising in power among us, we are expressly commanded by the Lord to “awake to a sense of [our] awful situation”—in other words, become aware and informed of the threats around us so as to not be deceitfully led down a path we should not travel.

Moroni’s observation of the destructive nature of such combinations was not a simple reflection at the end of a long historical summary. Instead, it was intentional, and sheds important light on why the stories we read were selected from the vast annals available to him and his father. Indeed, Mormon had previously declared his intent of illustrating with these selected passages how this threat caused the destruction of his people. No other teaching in the Book of Mormon has been so completely sidestepped by the Latter-day Saints as this one. We ignore its modern-day implications and warnings at our own peril.

You see, the inward vessel has always been our achilles heel. Whether referring to our once-great nation or our Church, the only possible threat of destruction has always been from within. A strong, united group is more easily defeated through a rotting core than an outward assault. Captain Moroni recognized this, and a quote attributed to Cicero puts it this way:

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.

For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.

Or, to paraphrase Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the problem is not in the stars, but in ourselves. We hold the keys both to our success and our demise, and it is we who decide our fate. No enemy can overtake a righteous people.

Missing the key indicators of this situation, many people seem to suffer through what are called the “war chapters” in the Book of Mormon. These stories, however, are part of a larger lesson about what threats we face in our day, conveyed through one example after another. King Mosiah, after a series of righteous kings (”benevolent dictators”, if you will), terminated the monarchy and organized a decentralized system of government comprised of judges chosen locally by the people of Nephi. This new government was a sort of theocratic judiciary, where judges were elected and/or confirmed by referendum, and the law was established through revelation and religious precedent. What matters, though, is that the people were finally allowed to govern themselves.

Now in control of their political destiny, things really start to heat up. What was before a relatively peaceful existence under a monarchy turned into a story of turbulence and violence. From the time that the reign of the judges was established to Christ’s post-resurrection arrival, there are fifteen major war campaigns recorded in the Book of Mormon. There may have been other wars either not recorded by the original authors or not preserved in Mormon’s historical compendium, but we are presented with fifteen examples of Nephite warfare.

Why are these wars important? What are we to learn from the continual conflict presented in what is otherwise an enjoyable, spiritually uplifting piece of literature? The answer lies in the common thread among all fifteen of these wars. Disproving the misguided myth that the wicked Lamanites were always attacking the innocent Nephites, the historical record offered in the Book of Mormon clearly shows that all fifteen of the major wars during this time were instigated and incited by dissenting Nephites.

The following list details each of the wars and who was to blame for starting them (research credit and my thanks go to J. Crawford Smith):

  1. Instigated by Amlici in the 5th year of the judges (YofJ) (Alma 2)
  2. People of Ammonihah, 10th YofJ (Alma 8:3, 9, 16; Alma 10:27-32; Alma 16:1-11; Alma 25:1-8; Alma 49:3)
  3. Amalekites, 14th YofJ (Alma 21:3-6; Alma 23:7-14; Alma 24; Alma 27:1-3)
  4. Zoramites, 18th YofJ (Alma 31:8; Alma 43:3-17)
  5. Amalickiah, 19th-25th YofJ (Alma 46, 47, 48, 49; Alma 51:9-12, 22-37)
  6. Morianton, 24th YofJ (Alma 50:25-35)
  7. Kingmen, 25th YofJ (Alma 51:8, 15-21; Alma 60:14-18)
  8. Ammoron, 28th-30th YofJ (Alma 52:19-20, 33-36; Alma 59:7; Alma 62:33-36)
  9. Pachus (Alma 61:3-20; Alma 62:1-11)
  10. Nephite dissenters, 39th YofJ (Alma 63:10-15)
  11. Coriantumr and Tubaloth, 41st YofJ (Helaman 1)
  12. Wealthy Nephites, 54th-61st YofJ (Helaman 4)
  13. Gadianton Robbers, 71st-73rd YofJ, (Helaman 10:18-19; Helaman 11:1-10)
  14. Dissenters and Gadianton Robbers, 80th YofJ (Helaman 11:21-26)
  15. Giddianhi, 93rd-110th YofJ (3 Nephi 1:27; 3 Nephi 2, 3, 4)

Time and time again, individuals and groups from within the Nephite nation aspired for power, and when they couldn’t obtain it by force or persuasion, broke away from the group and through various means incited the Lamanites to riot and war against them. In light of the view these details present, the reader soon learns that the Lamanites in many cases were mere pawns in a war of propaganda, corralled and controlled by power-seeking authoritarians. Many of the examples above explain in specific detail the deceit and propaganda used to sway an otherwise neutral Lamanite populace. In one story, the reader is shown how the Lamanites actively resisted an attempt to be used as tools in a war they did not want to fight. Fear for their lives and more deceit finally turned them into willing accomplices.

If the descriptions of these events truly are “as current as the morning newspaper,” then we better pay closer attention to the details and lessons that literally leap from the page once you fixate on them. The propaganda of our day is a masterful sleight of hand—painting cave-dwellers as boogie men and greedy investors as financial terrorists. But the story to be told from Mormon’s inclusion of these wars is that our threats are no different than those his country faced. He and his son tell us in no uncertain terms that the conspirators tied together with their common philosophy caused the destruction of two entire societies, and issue a clarion call at the end of their record nearly begging us to pay attention and learn from past mistakes.

But given the public’s acceptance of a constant and massive media campaign to heighten our alarm and saturate our lives with fear, it would seem that the propaganda has been successful. The Book of Mormon points the finger at the real threats to our country and Church, yet it seems that the majority of Sunday School teachers try their very hardest to find a way to ignore the issue of secret combinations and treason altogether.

This then begs the question: what’s the point of having a guidebook if we don’t follow its instructions? For all the effort that Mormon and Moroni put into their magnum opus, their most direct and fervent exhortations seem to fall on deaf ears. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana. Perhaps that explains why the Lord says we’re still under condemnation for not paying attention to what’s in the Book of Mormon.

Propaganda and deceit are powerful tools of misdirection. Where successful, they distract their target from reality and distort perceived truth. Our future both as a nation and as a Church depends in large measure upon knowing what our real threats are. The Book of Mormon tells us in plain language—and through repeated examples—that our biggest threats are amongst us.

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