The universal peace of 4th Nephi sounds beautiful:
“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
“And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.”
“There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
“And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings (4 Nephi1:15-18).
This utopia was possible because everyone believed in Christ and kept the commandments. Chapters 11-30 of 3rd Nephi contain Christ’s teachings once he appeared to the Nephites who had gathered at the temple in the land Bountiful. The conclusion is that the peace and harmony of 4th Nephi came about because everyone obeyed all those teachings of Christ. Therefore, we should strive to be faithful to the commandments because then we can live peaceably too.
There’s another reason for that utopia though, and it’s not a nice reason.
Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control. Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend, societal norm, or political system.
The other reason everyone obeyed Christ’s teachings is because he killed everyone who wouldn’t. 3 Nephi 9 is written in the first person, with Christ as the speaker. “Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof” (3 Nephi 9:3). Then it continues for the next nine verses, with Christ claiming credit for the destruction of 14 more cities and all their inhabitants. He finishes by pleading, “O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?” (3 Nephi 9:13).
The reason the Nephites got to live in a utopia and the Jews in Israel didn’t is because Christ didn’t wipe out most of Israel’s population. Destroying the wicked results in a righteous society for a couple of generations. The first hint of cracks in the utopia come 84 years after Christ’s coming, when “a small part of the people … revolted from the church” (4 Nephi 1:20). In the second century after Christ’s coming, the contention and divisions are pretty intense. At the 300 year mark, “both the people of Nephi and the Lamanites had become exceedingly wicked one like unto another” (4 Nephi 1:45). The wars of mutual destruction take over and Moroni buries the golden plates about a century later. After that one glorious time of total righteousness, the sin-and-repent cycle of the Book of Mormon ends and it’s all downhill. They hit the highest high and that led into the lowest low.
Wiping out everyone who disagrees with you in order to create peace and unity is only a temporary solution. Eventually, people will be born who disagree and disobey. Protecting the utopia by killing the disobedient is the very definition of a dystopia.
Christ’s Second Coming ushers in a time of peace, when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ. Again, mass death paves the way for this universal belief in Christ. The promise is that the proud and the wicked shall be burned; they shall be as stubble. See 3 Nephi 25:1, D&C 29:9, D&C 64:24, D&C 133:64. That joke about tithing being fire insurance comes from this description: “for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming” (D&C 64:23). It’s a rather grotesque image.
[Oddly, I find it a bit comforting that it’s Christ who does the mass killing and destruction. At least he isn’t commanding his followers to do it (still feel kinda bad for Nephi – Christ couldn’t have arranged for Laban to have a heart attack?). Did you understand that, any White Christian Nationalists who might be reading this post? You are NOT to do anything to bring about the destruction of the wicked. Christ takes care of that himself.]
Some feel there’s a difference between the Jehovah of the Old Testament, with his threats of fiery damnation, and the Jesus Christ of the New Testament, with his compassion and healing miracles. Jesus apparently doesn’t see a gap between those two personalities. He rains down Old Testament destruction on those Nephite cities, and then arrives to heal everyone and teach the Sermon on the Mount a couple chapters later.
Christianity is a violent, genocidal religion. That’s … bad.
I remember after 9/11, when the United States was grappling to understand the threat posed by Islamic extremists. Some commentators insisted that Islam was a peaceful religion, and the terrorists were a radical fringe. I remember privately disagreeing with that – after all, the Q’uran contains teachings about jihad and forcible conversion. The Q’uran also contains many teachings about living peacefully, doing good works and respecting other beliefs. But — I thought 20 years ago when I hadn’t yet had to confront the reality of Christian extremists — those violent teachings are in their scripture.
Christianity has violent scriptures too, and yet we want to say that real Christians focus on peace, love and acceptance.
I don’t have a solution or a recommendation to wind up this post. The presence of violence in scripture and religion is a difficult issue. Scriptures are full of what we would call war crimes today. We have to acknowledge it’s there before we can take steps to reject that heritage and find a way to live peaceably.
What do you think about the violent scripture stories?
Do you believe God has ever commanded mass murder? Or that people wanted to make war and made up revelations as an excuse?
Do you think religion can ever really overcome its violent heritage?
What a great way to turn a text upside down! I have never looked at it from this perspective, so thank you. No matter where you may ultimately land with a story (and you may feel in the end that God is justified to do these things) we need to be aware of and grapple with the other side(s) to an accepted narrative. One of my points of contention in this particular case is where exactly is the cut off point in 3 Nephi between personal righteousness/wickedness where you get to live or die? God knows, I guess.
It reminds me of the quote from Tacitus on the nature of the Roman Empire (put into the mouth of someone on the receiving end of Roman power): ‘They make a desert and call it peace’.
Violent scripture stories with God or Jesus as the perpetrator really bother me especially since the birth of my three children. I can no longer see it in the black and white- choose the right and you’ll be fine paradigm from my childhood and seminary youth experiences. Pete Enn’s discussion related to this topic on episode 227 “Pete Ruins Joshua” of The Bible for Normal People podcast has been really helpful as I reconstruct the role of scripture and my understanding of deity.
Thank you Janey for reminding us that one cost of peace can be pretty horrible.
What do you think about violent scripture stories?
I think Israel was the victor and they wrote the story. They wanted to believe their war was a good cause so they wrote it that way. The last time I attended SS I shared this very thought (forget when that was, maybe in July) along with the thought that from Israel’s perspective the only reason other people even exist is merely for God to teach Israel lessons, which I find gross. A few members agreed with me, a few didn’t, it was slightly awkward, so I haven’t gone back. We can’t have real discussions in SS.
Do you think religion can ever really overcome its violent heritage?
While I may not agree with Elder Bednar that we choose to be offended, I do believe that a violent response is a choice. The religious can choose not to be violent. The ball is in their court.
Wow, well, I will never be able to unsee this now. Incredibly insightful.
Don’t wreck the NT Jesus (at least the four gospels) for me Janey, it’s my only hope :-).
I hope religion can overcome violent roots but only if we don’t insist on scriptural infallibility and recognize the very human fingerprints all over them and frankly any other account or teaching or theory about God, and directly confront and address and try to heal from the violence. But maybe that’s wishful thinking because I love progressive Christianity.
What do I think of violent scripture?
I think Chadwick has it right about the Old Testament violent God. It wasn’t God commanding anything. It was the Israelites justifying genocide to establish Israel.
But on the other hand, many of the stories seem false, because the archeological evidence is that many of the stories are just stories and there was no sudden change in the genetics of the people living there, in say Jericho. No evidence that some of the cities that burned in the Bible, were ever burned in the way the Bible claims. So, archeologically, it looks like the genocides never happened as described in the Bible. The walls never came tumbling down. The stories were just made up like the story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and then saying he could not tell a lie. Just made up, feel good cultural myths.
As to the genocide in the Book of Mormon, once again I am going to go with the archeological and scientific evidence. The whole Book of Mormon is made up. So, what we really have is Joseph Smith’s opinion of what God is like. Jesus didn’t do any of that burning because it didn’t happen.
And for more modern history, there is all kind of evidence that people are all too happy to kill in the name of their “god”. Scare quotes on god because their “god” is actually some human leader who is full of hate for those who are not like him, so he has some made up prophecy to kill the infidels. It happened in England when Christians killed pagans as witches. It happened in Spain when they went through and killed any who were not Christian in the Spanish Inquisition. It has happened in Moslem countries. If you look historically at wars, many are religious wars.
My opinion may not be orthodox Mormon or even Christian, but hey you asked for my opinion. Most wars and genocides are taking the name of God in vain. And one of the worst sins there is because it makes people hate God thinking He is responsible.
Wow! I never thought about that before, like others have said. I don’t think I’ll ever hear these stories the same.
I think you’re saying this somewhat tongue in cheek: “Did you understand that, any White Christian Nationalists who might be reading this post? You are NOT to do anything to bring about the destruction of the wicked. Christ takes care of that himself.”
Given human history, any number of groups will be more than willing to be the executive hand of the Lord and carry out what they interpret to be His wishes. I’m way more scared of that than Jesus actually murdering people, because I don’t think He ever will.
You’re right that in the BOM account, Jesus basically comes down to destroy all the “wicked” people and then meet with the “righteous.” I admit, I’m not a fan of the BOM Jesus. I’ll stick with the pacifist, turn-the-other-cheek Jesus of the NT.
“Christianity is a violent, genocidal religion”
Here I disagree. Christianity appropriated the OT largely because its early followers were Jews and it wanted to stake claim on Judaism and claim to be the real Judaism as opposed to the fake Judaism the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, and other Jewish groups in their environs. Christianity is the religion of the NT Jesus. And that religion is pacifist. The NT Jesus in Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s accounts didn’t claim to be a god, but a messenger showing the right path. The Johannite community who wrote the Book of John started making Jesus into a God, the “I am” reference to YHWH/Jehovah. Paul integrated Gentiles into the new religious movement thus leading to its detachment from Judaism. Even though Paul insisted that the movement was not a political movement and sought no earthly power, he helped make Christianity a mass-spread religion and instilled in converts the vision to convert en masse. Paul also was instrumental in turning Christianity into a Roman Empire religion. This caught the attention of Roman emperors, many of whom sought to suppress the religion, but eventually the Christian movement came to influence political leaders. By the time the Illyrian-descended emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire Constantine I converted to Christianity, the religion became fused with politics and completely transformed from its original state when Jesus was doing his ministry. With this fusion comes an adoption of Roman imperial tactics, which include forced conversions, and threats to pagans. Christian conversion becomes a means of subduing revolt and subjugation of the masses to clerics, who are often under heavy state influence and control. Charlemagne massacred Saxons in the name of Jesus. Crusaders massacred Muslims in the name of Jesus. These were perverted manifestations of Christianity indeed.
“Some commentators insisted that Islam was a peaceful religion, and the terrorists were a radical fringe”
The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful, seek peace, want nothing to do with violent jihadist, and consider them fake Muslims. I’ve met hundreds of Muslims. Every one I’ve met denounces violence, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and all violent groups. We should never make the ridiculous assumption that just because someone is a Muslim that they endorse violence. They are regular people who have different cultural practices from most Westerners. And these cultural practices are overwhelmingly harmless, and in many ways produce upstanding members of communities throughout the West and across the globe.
“What do you think about the violent scripture stories? ”
They are an embodiment of religious values at a given time. But clearly religious values of the present have drastically changed from what they were 2,500 years ago. The manifestations of Christian belief today have overwhelmingly shed violent interpretations that may have been prevalent in the past. At least, people interpret tend to interpret the stories as metaphors that don’t really endorse actual violence. At most, Christian believers claim that the violent passages aren’t true scripture and that Jesus’s pacifism is the truest form of scripture.
“Do you believe God has ever commanded mass murder? Or that people wanted to make war and made up revelations as an excuse?”
There are many different concepts of God even within Christianity and with Mormonism as well. The God I believe in is non-violent. People make up revelations as an excuse. Of course.
“Do you think religion can ever really overcome its violent heritage?”
The Christians who commit violence in the name of religion today, such as Ander Breivik, are deemed as extremist lunatics who don’t embody Christianity in the least, by a a veritable consensus of Christians. As for religions that do not have a violent past, look at Jainism. About the most pacifist religion I have ever heard of.
Interesting post Janey. I’ve got a book coming out on violence, ethics, and the Book of Mormon so this post definitely caught my eye.
Your post however paints with a broad brush when you simply say that Christianity is violent. Of course genocide is awful, at the same time not all violent acts are the same. For example, Jesus himself committed violent acts when clearing the temple. And as you point out, the same Jesus destroyed many in 3rd Nephi 9. And this isn’t even getting to clear verses that support the use of force like the Title of Liberty. (I actually find Alma 48:21-23 much better verses. Because “reluctantly” taking up arms, not delighting in the act, and being “sorry” to send so many to the after life better describe the loving heart that Christians should have and the reluctance to use the sword.)
But getting back to Jesus your points raises important questions. Jesus commits violence, and he is the perfect Son of God, what does that say about YOUR view of violence? (Is it aligned with Christ’s view of violence? You essentially punt all of the tough questions (but find time for a swipe at supposed Christian nationalists). You think Christians should be loving and peaceful, but really have no answers for divine violence except that you don’t like it. But if you hate violence but claim to love Jesus, how can you pick and choose which parts of him to believe? Do you somehow know more than Him or are you just creating a God in your own image? (D&C 1:16)
Christian thinkers have wrestled with ideas like this in relation to the story of Noah’s ark. (How could God kill the whole world?) I tend to think that since God is the giver of life, he has divine authority to take it. But we can go farther than that. If we believe God endowed us with alienable rights, and those rights are being violated, we also have a God given right to defend them. This gets into a whole host of other issues and objections, which is why I wrote a book about it. But its important to mention here since I get a bit annoyed at a blanket, and honestly, lazy condemnation of all violence, as though genocide is the same thing as pulling your gun on a meth head that invaded your home. And statements like yours imply there is no possible justification for the latter.
I’d encourage you to think through the implications of your post beyond God is a dystopic murderer and some vague notions that God is (or should only be) love. There are some great Christian thinkers throughout the years that showed how God’s violence can be based in love. Good luck and best wishes!
For me the thing that caught my attention was the transactional God depicted when basically the evil are specifically killed and the righteous preserved. It’s a section of scripture I haven’t confronted since I have been through my faith transition.
I love Christ’s visit to America. But I no longer believe God specifically punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous in these physical ways.
I believe the world is an opportunity for us to experience, with all that is good and bad. I do not believe we are protected physically by our righteousness. I believe many righteous people suffer horrible circumstances and many misguided, or even evil people have cushy situations.
So the idea that Christ specifically made a dystopia by killing off the wicked doesn’t feel right to me.
I think it’s a simplistic black and white way of presenting a more complicated reality. To me the more complicated reality is that the world we live in at times has earthquakes, fires, destruction, etc.
Does God make those things happen? I do not believe God directly causes those things but that they are a part of the essential experience God has provided on earth for us, which includes all the difficulties of our physical world. I believe we can grow and learn from our experiences in this life, but God isn’t punishing us with these experiences… we chose to risk them when we chose to come to earth. They certainly can humble us and bring us closer to God or harden our hearts. Ultimately, the people that survived had the opportunity to become more righteous. The people that died had the same opportunity in the spirit world.
I will have to ponder more on your thoughts about the years of peace that disintegrated. Again, I expect it’s a simplistic black and white view presented.
I don’t believe God tells us specifically to commit violence against certain people. Since prophets are fallible, it would seem very risky to simply follow a man who says God told you to go to war.
At least Nephi depended on his own personal revelation in choosing to kill Laban. Obviously there are times killing is right. I am not going to judge Nephi’s situation. That’s between him and God. Hopefully he got it right.
Those are my thoughts. Thank you for the very thought provoking post.
Chadwick and Anna, that ideas of “It wasn’t God commanding anything. It was the Israelites justifying genocide to establish Israel” is one that I’ve thought about a lot lately.
This idea, that the God of the Old Testament is a God that people are mostly attributing things to in hindsight instead of witnessing that God doing in real-time (like the text suggests) has helped so many stories make so much more sense to me. Like us, these people were taught to look for God’s hand in things, and that seems to be what they’re doing more often than not. Was that famine that killed so many people caused by God because of David not trusting him? Or were people looking for some reason or explanation for the famine and decided that the only cause could have been David not trusting God?
Appreciate both of your insights!
How did Jesus commit violence, meaning physical harm, by carrying out people from the temple?
“But if you hate violence but claim to love Jesus, how can you pick and choose which parts of him to believe?”
The Gospels are probably mostly fables. Jesus is a general idea and character. And at the end of the day all Christian denominations pick and choose what parts of Jesus to accept. Mormons don’t like what Jesus has to say about divorce. And sorry, Jesus wasn’t violent. Ever.
“God’s violence can be based in love”
Uh, no it can’t. God’s violence as depicted in the OT shows an evil God. Those “great” Christian thinkers aren’t great at all. They are loons through and through. Good luck selling your book justifying violence in the name of God. Don’t be surprised if you spend the rest of your life having a tarnished reputation for publishing such a horrific thesis.
“If we believe God endowed us with alienable rights, and those rights are being violated, we also have a God given right to defend them”
No we have no such right, let alone “God-given.” We call people such people who undertake violence because they feel their religious beliefs were disrespected terrorists. In fact just a couple of days ago, one of these folks who had such beliefs was convicted of seditious conspiracy for such actions.
“Title of Liberty”
Captain Moroni was evil.
Yep. Can’t unsee that. Amazing observation.
I think the depiction of Jesus in the BoM as having both OT and NT characteristics only further demonstrates the influence of the Bible on its composition. This is just as much a time stamp of its modern origin as its anti-Catholicism or American exceptionalism.
Morgan D., “You think Christians should be loving and peaceful, but really have no answers for divine violence except that you don’t like it. But if you hate violence but claim to love Jesus, how can you pick and choose which parts of him to believe? Do you somehow know more than Him or are you just creating a God in your own image?”
As has been pointed out by others, there is no evidence that a literal God has ever actually commanded violence. Everyone makes God in their own image, even those who believe in Biblical inerrancy and prophetic infallibility. So the answer to “divine violence” can absolutely be, “I don’t like it.” That’s just as valid as any proof-texting of scriptures (perhaps moreso since it’s honest). And no amount of junkie home-invader analogies is going to make a true pacifist feel better about genocide, whether a god supposedly committed it or not.
Plus, if Jesus was so violent and we are allowed to defend our so-called “inalienable” religious rights through violence if we feel these so-called rights have been violated, why did Jesus allow himself to be crucified, even so much as forgiving the Roman soldiers who crucified him, and did not stir up his followers to violence? Jesus is an embodiment of ultimate pacifism. He knew that violence begat violence and that there was more power and dignity in pacifism than violence.
Methinks that this Morgan D. guy is some sort of John Bircher radical who thinks that the Crusades (which resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million) were some sort of noble cause.
I think there are two things to keep in mind when considering this theme: First, that God can and does — on rare occasions — punish his children. And second, that he only does so when they are fully ripe in iniquity–and his patience far exceeds that of the angels as he gives them every opportunity to repent.
That said, I think the scriptures make it clear (in 3rd Nephi) that only the very worst sorts are separated from those who are spared. Those who survive the destruction are *not* what we might think of as “the righteous.” The Lord says they are spared be cause they are *better* than the worst–not the highest compliment. And then he pleads with them to come to him so that he might heal them. So these are people who still need to repent and turn to God.
As to the worst of the worst: what is it that makes them so bad? The Savior spells it out in no uncertain terms as he goes through the list of cities that he has destroyed by one means or another. As Janey mentions–there are about 14-15 cities–and as he goes through the list he pauses about five times to mention his reason for destroying them–and it’s always pretty-much the same: “that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.”
And so that seems to be a marker of sorts as to where the Lord draws the line between the worst and those who might repent given the chance. While the “worst” are typically embroiled in serious sin of one kind or another–the one clear sign that they may not make the cut is their fierce enmity towards the Lord’s servants.
The genocidal Jesus of the 3rd Nephi always bothered me, particularly when I was a literal-believing member and actually had to square that Jesus with the NT Jesus. I once asked Terryl and Fiona Givens about the weeping God of Moses 7, who, according to their book, reveals a loving personal God who weeps and suffers with us in our suffering, but in the very same verses (which their book ignores), shows that same God saying this about the people he is weeping over: “And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.” So how is the weeping God of Moses 7 also the wrathful vengeful God who wipes out all the people of the Earth except Noah’s family? The Givens’ response was that while Joseph’s revelations channeled many truths about God’s character, he was still influenced by the Western Christianity, Calvinism and the Protestantism he was raised in – which couldn’t help but creep into his revelations. I believe this is a sound explanation and similarly explains how such influences crept into the Book of Mormon (e.g., genocidal Jesus of 3rd Nephi, 19th-century racist views of native Americans, colonialism, prosperity gospel, invisibility of women, etc.), which of course tends to cut against a literal, historical Book of Mormon.
So for me, the 3rd Nephi genocidal Jesus imagined by Joseph Smith is no different than the wrathful genocidal Jehovah imagined by the authors of the OT. He is a god of their making based on their worldviews, experiences, and beliefs about deity. We all tend to do that – make god in our own image – I think because we only have our human experience to go by. So we get things like he’s a mighty king, a vengeful ruler, a jealous god, a mighty warrior, a loving father, a stern father, etc. That’s one reason why I like apophatic theology, which basically says we are incapable of defining or understanding god and therefore should not even try to do so.
“Humans are apes (superfamily Hominoidea). The lineage of apes that eventually gave rise to humans first split from gibbons (family Hylobatidae) and orangutans (genus Pongo), then gorillas (genus Gorilla), and finally, chimpanzees and bonobos (genus Pan). The last split, between the human and chimpanzee–bonobo lineages, took place around 8–4 million years ago, in the late Miocene epoch. During this split, chromosome 2 was formed from the joining of two other chromosomes, leaving humans with only 23 pairs of chromosomes, compared to 24 for the other apes. Following their split with chimpanzees and bonobos, the hominins diversified into many species and at least two distinct genera. All but one of these lineages—representing the genus Homo and its sole extant species Homo sapiens—are now extinct.”
First things first – I deeply apologize for ruining the happy, peaceful scripture story of 4th Nephi for so many of you. I feel like the kindergartener who blabbed to the whole class about [redacted Christmas secret]. For the record, I was NOT that kindergartener.
My personal beliefs about the violent scripture stories track what several commenters said, particularly Anna and Chadwick. The scriptures are fables, not literal truths. People write down how they believe they’ve interacted with God. What they write says more about them than it says about God. I, too, wish we could realize the scriptures have some wisdom to offer, but they shouldn’t be slavishly and literally obeyed. We each have our own story about how we interact with God and faith. None of us should be bound by what one person thousands of years ago said his experience was.
John W – I agree with you that the teachings of Jesus are peaceful. I’m glad you added in the history about how Christianity was eventually co-opted as a means to power. Many Christians have used their faith to go to war, to kill ethnic groups (I’m thinking specifically of the Christian schools in the US and Canada that took indigenous children away from their families and then buried them in mass graves). I hope it was clear enough from the context, but my comment about Islam was my recollection of my uneducated opinion more than 20 years ago and I’ve definitely learned since then and no longer hold that opinion.
Also, a second thumbs up for your response to Morgan D.
Morgan D. – I don’t think Jesus was violent. Twice in his life, he turned over some tables and yelled at people. That’s hardly murder or genocide. Your question about if God can command violence jumps over the more important question. The real question is what do I think of people who believe God has commanded them to kill? I think those people are hate-filled and dangerous, and I would immediately report any knowledge of them to law enforcement. Anyone who believes God told them to kill is listening to the devil. Full stop. And no, I don’t give Nephi a pass on this one. Abraham was wrong to try and kill his son, too. God can say they did the right thing; but I’m still not going to admire either of them.
Also this line: “But its important to mention here since I get a bit annoyed at a blanket, and honestly, lazy condemnation of all violence, as though genocide is the same thing as pulling your gun on a meth head that invaded your home.”
I’ve never had a meth head invade my home, nor have I spent even two seconds worrying about that happening. Furthermore, I would not pull a gun on a meth head who invaded my home. My belief is that people who are looking to God to justify their violent desires are a danger to society and you need to stop.
Bryce Cook – that was well-stated. Agreed. People project their own values into their ideas about God. Again, taking the scriptures literally can lead to some awful thinking, as Morgan D. has so clearly demonstrated here.
Thanks for a great discussion, all!
I am visiting this post because Morgan also shared in on Facebook, so I kinda want to engage from that perspective.
It seems that a lot of people in the comments section generally want to minimize the distastefulness of divine violence through an appeal to scriptural fallibility — that wasn’t really God/Jesus, that was just people attributing their own worst sentiments to God.
And like, yes, this might be a strategy, but does it work in every case? It’s a lot easier to take 3rd party statements (e.g., what Paul wrote) and dismiss them as the philosophies of men, but when we are getting to direct quotes of Jesus, things get a little dicier. (I mean, we can say, “they misquoted him,” but then how much really stands up at the end).
Who was it who said, “I came not to bring peace but a sword”? Is that just a metaphor?
That being said, I do want to address some things from Morgan’s comment because I think that there are inconsistent views of God going on here. Morgan wrote:
To me, this is something that can more be squared away with the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who created the universe ex nihilo of, say, Calvinism.
But Mormonism *doesn’t have such a God*.
I think referencing the Givenses’ “The God Who Weeps” is illustrative of the stark difference in approaches, and so I like Bryce’s comment. I agree with Bryce that the scriptures are at tension. This is *why* different denominations have come up with very different views of God. (And that’s why the Givenses’ strategy is to basically say that any incompatibility is the “philosophies of men” mingling in…exactly as Bryce summarizes).
I think the whole “A potter can fit some vessels for glory and others for destruction” makes more sense in a creatio ex nihilo construct. Mormonism doesn’t by that, so it needs a different explanation as to why we should attribute those things to God.
I think the better proposal is in Morgan’s follow up lines:
But with some modifications. It’s not about God. After all, in Mormonism, we are co-eternal. God didn’t give us life. God didn’t endow us with (in)alienable rights. That’s ex nihilo baggage.
Rather, built into the framework of a coeternal universe brimming of intelligences are these building blocks. And some of these building blocks lead to progression, community, etc., and others to decline, separation, diminishment.
And then we can have a discussion about whether and when violence can be used in the sense of progression and community.
However…I will say it’s not so easy. Although we have quotes from Jesus about not bringing peace but a sword, do we not also have quotes that while we have heard, “eye for eye and tooth for tooth,” Jesus has said: do not resist an evil person. Turn the other cheek.
What does it mean when Jesus says it is better for someone to deny himself and lose his life for Jesus’s sake? Does this extend even to denying self-defense for the sake of nonresistance?
Again, I’m not saying everything is clear cut. That’s why I think over the millenia there have been different views of God. The same scriptures have created “just war doctrine” as well as Christian pacifism.
I saw a meme today that said, “forget putting Christ back into Christmas. It is more important to put Christ back into Christians.” And of course the point being there are two many people today whose “Christianity” is so unlike Christ. I really liked John W’s point about how the followers of Christ had a very different religion than today’s people who call themselves Christians.
This is why Morgan D’s book will find plenty of people who agree with him. Those who doubt that, just remember that the majority in Utah voted for tRump. They liked tRump’s rallies where he promoted violence against illegal border crossers, anyone with Mexican ancestors, reporters, blacks, women, the disabled, and most especially anyone who crossed him. He encouraged violence toward anyone he disliked, and “good” Mormons just ate it up, all justified in the ways Morgan D talks about. They fail to see the danger in thinking that, “Democrats are all pedophiles, so they must be eliminated.” And while he dressed it up in a bunch of lies, his message was, “If you don’t like how the election turned out, then you have the right to use violence to overthrow the government you don’t like and put in one you do.” And there were Mor(m)ons there, one even dressed as Capt Moroni. So, unfortunately, I think Morgan D’s book just might find an audience among some Mormons. And that kind of Mormon actually outnumber us Wheat and Tares type pacifists.
Andrew S. – you bring up excellent points about the tension between peaceful teachings and teachings that allow for violence. It’s a fascinating discussion. When does God justify violence? When does God command violence?
As long as the discussion stays in words, people can discuss all they want and come to any conclusion they want.
However. When people then progress to, “well, we’ve decided God thinks violence is okay in some situations, me and my friends have decided that situation exists today, so we’re going to use violence and say God wants us to be violent,” then that is not defensible at all. I do not trust anyone who believes that God wants them to kill, or be violent, or beat people. The alt-right tries to hook their hatred and bigotry to faith. No matter how you read the scriptural stories and teachings about violence, any calls to violence and murder are wrong and will lead to arrest and imprisonment.
That tracks with the scriptures. In speaking of Korihor, Alma says that “there was no law against a man’s belief … but if he murdered he was punished unto death” (Alma 30:7, 10). When Nehor was going around teaching priestcraft, no one arrested him, but as soon as he killed Gideon, he was condemned to death for committing that murder (Alma 1:1-15).
Joseph Smith, together with other Church leaders, wrote D&C Section 134, which talks about the interplay between government and religion. It claims the right to free exercise of religion and decries laws that would restrict religious freedom, and also says “We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according tot he nature of the offense, that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men” (D&C 134:8).
Joseph Smith further says, “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government” (D&Ce 134:9).
My take on this discussion is that you can believe whatever you want about whether God justifies or commands violence. But if you try to bring that violence into the real world, then you should be arrested and imprisoned, and your story should be told as a warning against other religious wackos and zealots who can’t figure out how to live peaceably with people who are different from them.
Is arrest and imprisonment not also violent?
Why wouldn’t your anti-violence view also extend to prison abolition?
Basically, you’re saying that *some* violence is OK. But there’s just a disagreement on when it is OK and when it is not. Morgan’s statement, that when “rights are being violated, we also have a God given right to defend them” seems to be the same justification as locking someone up for murder.
why should the state get more of a say on violence than God?
As a thought experiment, try to recall an instance where God actually commanded violence through revelation. Can it pass the following tests?
– Can the person receiving the revelation be shown to have actually existed? (This disqualifies Moses and Nephi)
– Is the person receiving revelation trustworthy? (Did they ever lie under oath? Get caught in a hoax? Destroy a printing press to cover their sins?)
– Does said violence fit the cultural biases and dispositions of the time and place? (Were people already committing this type of violence without receiving revelation about it?)
– Has God confirmed to other prophets that He commanded said violence? Can those prophets pass the other tests as well?
I submit that no instances of God commanding violence can pass those tests. They always turn out to be either legends or humans simply doing violence the human way and calling it God.
Furthermore, can you think of any instances of God taking credit for violence he committed? (Burning whole cities alive, striking down evil-doers, etc) Can the prophets receiving these revelations pass the aforementioned tests?
Imagine RMN saying, “Thus saith the Lord, the city of Paradise, CA have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, for there was not one righteous soul counted among them.” Would that happen today? Of course not. Because you know as well as RMN does that in the real world there is no such thing as a city full of wicked people with no innocent among them. That’s the stuff of fables.
So to answer your question, Andrew S, “why should the state get more of a say on violence than God?” Because the state is objectively real and God is only subjectively real. If no one can agree about God in an objective way, no one should be invoking him as a justification for violence.
@Anna “Most wars and genocides are taking the name of God in vain.”
This makes so much more sense than telling people not to say “Jesus” or “God” in out-of-context sentences. Thank you.
Once you start seeing the White Christian Nationalism in the BOM, it’s hard to unsee. Especially when contemporary Mormon White Christian Nationalists are citing it authoritatively in Gospel Doctrine and on Twitter. I have always been wary of the idea that we should strive to live in a society with no conflict because everyone believes the same thing. To me, that an autocracy, not a pluralistic democracy. Since I grew up Mormon it seemed obvious to me what happens when you are in the minority. Only when I first experienced Utah (as an adult) did I see what happens when the Church is in the majority and has political power to throw its weight around.
Andrew S., I defer to Kirkstall’s excellent comment to answer your question.
All of those questions would seem to disqualify the state from being able to perpetrate violence as well (although I guess you can say our politicians are confirmed to be real…), and yet I’m not sending everyone calling for police and prison abolition.
Andrew S, I think the question of when violence is justified vs whether God commands/condones it are two separate questions.
I don’t believe the state is always justified in its use of violence and I don’t believe violent revolutions against autocratic governments are necessarily evil. I just don’t believe people should use God’s purported use of violence in scripture to rationalize away any of it.
On Monday, the county board where I live, Maricopa County AZ, certified the November election, in a 4-hour meeting, 2 hours of which was public comment, most of it acrimonious. Yesterday I skimmed the public comment from the county website. I had seen reports and snippets of video, but wanted to see an unfiltered version as if I had been attending.
I really don’t want to discuss the disputed minutiae of the election or the board meeting itself, but to just illuminate how the apparent sanctioning of violence in scripture renders into real threats of violence in present time.
The overarching theme of the commenters was that the board members were evil and complicit in stealing yet another election, and would end up in hell. Or, in some commenters’ vernacular, would be accountable to God for their evil action in that meeting. Several commenters pointed fingers and named names at the perceived evildoers. One commenter warned listeners to get up every morning and put on the armor of God, ticking off his fingers as he listed the symbolic shield, breastplate, shoes and whatnot that one needs to fight this “enemy.” The threats were implicit, and explicit threats had already been deployed anonymously; so much that the board chairman wasn’t;t living at his place of residence. I could continue with more examples. It was sobering to watch good people among the elected officials keep their wits cool as they indulged other good people in exercising their democratic rights.
I’ve observed this divide for a few years now, but it scares me as I witness the sheer numbers of people who value the ideology of White Christian (and Chjristian-Mormon) Nationalism more than goodwill, compromise, and good faith in their fellow citizens, to the point that their opponents are demonized as evil incarnate who deserve to be defeated by any means necessary, legal or not. They will vote for a blatantly unqualified candidate rather than support to any degree what they perceive as Evil. (Looking at you Georgia) Included in their blind spot is seeing the actual violence that takes place now by our government institutions, and accepting any accountability for what’s done in our name. I agree with many of the comments here that deconstruct how and where the scriptural justifications can be found for people to believe God sanctions their battle, and what it all means, but I am alarmed. As a real-world patriot said back in 2020, somebody’s gonna get hurt. Unfortunately, that has already happened, and barely a peep out of church leaders denouncing the violent rhetoric in our politics.
As well, count me among those who never saw the destruction of the “bad” people in 4th Nephi as the dystopian factor that enabled the peaceful period enjoyed by the Righteous ones. You may also count me among those who are skeptical that this represents the Christ of the NT Gospel. But what do we know, really? All I know to do is to keep my wits cool so that they don’t lead me or anyone else to rhetorical or literal violence, and hope (and work for) that mindset in our elected officials. And also competence, if that’s not too much to ask. But at the same time, somehow, we need to contain white supremacy as a great and shameful blight . It’s a huge challenge that so many see it as something God wants.
The easiest way to understand the violence in the OT is to delete it as a scripture. It’s bad history and in many cases bad doctrine. You can justify anything using the OT. Slavery, war, war crimes, existentialism, polygamy, etc.
The NT is the way to go. Maybe study a couple of the books in the OT as literature. Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs, etc. Forget a talking ass, swallowed by a big fish, great flood, garden of Eden, walls of Jericho, parting the Red Sea, pillar of salt, drunken orgies, etc.
Love God, love your neighbor. Maybe even love God by loving your neighbor.
The Book of Mormon works against the spiritualizing of these themes. On the one hand, it speaks of the destruction of the wicked in ways that are familiar to us–in a sort of eschatological end of days vernacular. But on the other, it records the actual destruction of the wicked at various times during Nephite history. Even so, with the exception of Laban’s death, the Lord never commands his people to destroy the wicked. He prophesies of it–and then either allows the wicked to destroy the wicked or destroys them himself.
That said, there’s that nagging story near the beginning of the BoM–as already mentioned–wherein the Lord commands Nephi to take Laban’s life. I’m of the opinion that Nephi probably had enough justification according to the Law of the time to dispatch Laban for his crimes against him and his family. Even so, there it is–the one explicit example in the BoM where God tells his servant tp punish the wicked. Why is it there? IMO it’s Deity’s way of keeping his foot in the door. It’s a way of keeping the reader on alert. Just when we think we’ve got heaven and earth all figured out–the Lord comes out of his hiding place and surprises us with something we’ve never considered before.
That’s why, IMO, ethics in and of itself cannot finally win the day. A fulness of the Spirit of Truth resides in the man Jesus–he is the Law. And so, we have to be careful not to place any boundaries on his judgment. Otherwise we may end up placing a limit our own capacity to receive a fulness of truth.
Jack states that in the BoM, God “either allows the wicked to destroy the wicked or destroys them himself.” What about, just off the top of my head, the horrible destruction of the recently converted women and children of Ammonihah, who are thrown into the flames while Alma and Amulek watch? That’s a clear example of the wicked destroying the righteous, and God and his servants do NOTHING. Do you have an explanation for the righteous being unfairly punished and destroyed (without quoting Alma’s wimpy words)? How do you explain Nephite armies wreaking havoc on Nephite dissenters and Lamanites and killing thousands of them? That’s the righteous destroying the wicked, isn’t it? And why, at the end of the BoM, do the (wicked) Lamanites survive while all believing Nephites except Moroni are captured and destroyed? It seems that God is very inconsistent.
To backtrack a couple of comments, one of the clearest indications that the Israelites failed to utterly destroy the Canaanites (as falsely recorded in Judges) is that in future OT books there always seem to be Canaanites or their descendants around–sometimes very large groups of them–to tempt the Israelites, battle with them, etc. Apparently very few communities can survive and flourish without an “enemy” or “other.”
Have you read “The Tombs of Atuan” by Ursula K. Le Guin? I read it when I was young. And the question that struck my barely adolescent mind was this–Are the Gods deserving of our worship.
Is God God because God is Good or because God is powerful and you better not cross ’em. We could debate ethics and moral theology, but I don’t have the interest.
So what I see is someone like me, average and ordinary and trying to be half way decent, skipping down the cobblestones. Then a monster comes out of it’s hiding place and surprises them with its cruelty and malignity.
We need a heck of lot more than boundaries.
God allowing the righteous to be persecuted and destroyed would be a different category. Yes he does allow that to happen at times for his own purposes. And, yes, the means he can seem rather inconsistent at times–as when he allowed Pharaoh’s priest to sacrifice three virgins on the altar but afterward delivered Abraham from that same altar. I don’t know how to answer these questions — these seeming inconsistencies — except to say that the scriptures are lightly peppered with reminders that Gods ways are not fully understood by us. And that one of the challenges of navigating this sphere is to trust in his judgment even though his counsel may seem rather counterintuitive at times.
“We need a heck of lot more than boundaries.”
Yes–and that’s really what I’m saying. Whatever it is that we throw up as “boundaries’ will invariably come up short.
“Is God God because God is Good or because God is powerful and you better not cross ’em.”
Thankfully, the fulness of the gospel enables us to come to know God. Of course, that’s something we typically learn over time–but as we come to know him we tend to get a sense of his lovingkindness before anything else. And with that in mind I’d say that God’s power is in some way contingent upon his goodness. Indeed, his primary motive for doing all that he does on our behalf must be love–IMO. Anything else comes up short–and the cosmos begins to unravel (theologically).
And so the trick is to somehow get the seemingly inconsistent aspects of God’s doings to fit within the rubric of his infinite capacity for love.
I wanted to add: it seems that in most instances — especially as per the Book of Mormon — when the Lord punishes the wicked it is only after they’ve resorted to high degree of violence. Of course, that’s not to say that we should take that as a cue for our own purposes. But for the Lord’s purposes–I think it brings some context to the discussion. People have to get really, really bad before he’ll punish them as a group. Remember, the earth was “filled with violence” before he sent the floods.
So what were the first three Nephi Dystopias?
“Thankfully, the fulness of the gospel enables us to come to know God”
But, Jack, does it really do that? I think the essence of this remarkable discussion we are having is that we really don’t know God. As He has been filtered down to us through ages past and by prophets remembered or forgotten, the clarity is simply not there on some of the most fundamental aspects of His/Their character. And that’s highly problematic, because the very nature of the First Vision that I taught as a missionary was supposed to make that all moot! We would now have Direct Communication With Deity. The heavens were now open and secrets of the past would be laid bare. The true nature of God would be in full view. All you had to do was ask. This discussion we’re having here would be superfluous if “A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld” (D&C 121:28) had already come. This, like so many things that at one time appeared to be promised to the “Restoration” are now classified for the millennium. What good will it do us then? Jesus is already here – we saw him on CNN. What we need is definitive answers now. That was to be the joy and gift of being a member of the True Church.
As it says in Jeremiah 31:
“34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord. . .”
This implies that, even though the time will come when everyone will know God, we are to be taught — in the mean time — that we must seek to know him. And so that’s what we’re in the process of doing at this time–learning to know God. And so we can look at both the restoration of the powers necessary to know God and the eventuality of all coming to know him as blessings of the restoration–though we’re still waiting for the completion of the latter.
I disagree with and condemn this post. To me it shows a complete lack of understanding of the principles of Justice and Mercy.
Unfortunately, W&T continues to aid and abed those who are in various stages of apostasy.
It is one thing to have doubts and concerns and go to sites that discuss difficulties in church history and doctrine, it is a whole different thing to accuse Jesus Christ and those who follow Him as being the ultimate evil doers. This is a new low. What comes next?
I think Anna has it right. I don’t believe any of those OT or BOM stories from scripture actually happened but are fabrications to illustrate the power of the god of Israel. Essentially saying “our god is stronger than your god.” I’ve often thought about these narratives in relation to church history and the Mormons moving into independence. I can only imagine how the people already there would have felt about the hint that they were on their proverbial chopping block. Mountain meadows also comes to mind. I feel mountain meadows was the result of a temple covenant to avenge the prophets. That also leads me to think about the way members responded to the Prop 8 fiasco. I think people in general are happy to discriminate to extreme measures when it fits the tribal narrative. It’s pretty clear to me this a human frailty and not the work of God.
How much collateral damage is allowed when a wicked city gets destroyed? Can righteous warriors indiscriminately lob artillery shells and take out kindergartners and maternity wards?
Suppose you live in city where God sends his righteous army to annihilate. But God sends you a dream to get out now. But you are captured as you escaped. Are you okay with them following through on God’s orders and execute you? How about killing your children?
When it comes to knowing God, I don’t think I want to know your God.
Jack, “it seems that in most instances — especially as per the Book of Mormon — when the Lord punishes the wicked it is only after they’ve resorted to high degree of violence”
And yet in the end, the Nephites died out and the supposedly more “wicked” Lamanites remained. Well, of course, for at least 1100 more years, for then Europeans started coming over and spreading microbes and using their advanced technology to kill off a good portion of the Native American (which Joseph Smith clearly means by Lamanite) population. So ha!, Native Americans, take that for your long-dead ancestors departing from Christianity well over a millennium ago. You deserved it. Now bask in the glory of the white man bringing Christianity back to you so you can be “white and delightsome” once again.
If it isn’t obvious that the Book of Mormon is one big old justification for Europeans inhabiting and colonizing the Americas and taking it from the Native Americans, I don’t know what is.
so, are you saying you agree that Jesus had nothing to do with genocide and destruction and that anyone who would try to attribute these scriptural events to him is hitting a new low?
Just want to make sure I’m tracking you…
I also would like to say that the racism of the Book of Mormon and of more contemporary LDS history is attributable to the failings of humanity, not something divine. But there are so many who want to accuse Jesus Christ of doing such evil.
Andrew S.-great to see you’re still coming by. I rarely come by and haven’t commented before yesterday for a very long time. All of my comments go to moderation because I am a TBM.
3 Nephi 9 is very clear. The Savior did as He said he would do if the Nephites killed the prophets that were sent (Helaman 15: 3, 17). In addition to killing the prophets they had been given many signs and miracles and been preserved by the Savior’s blessings because of their faith (3 Nephi 4, about A.D. 22). About 4 years later the Nephite’s turned to pride, wealth, and class distinctions arise. The church is rent with dissensions. Prophets cry repentance and are slain. The Government is destroyed, and the people divide into tribes (3 Nephi 6, about A.D 26-30).
In the premortal world those who were worthy to come to mortality agreed with the plan of Justice and Mercy as it was established by God the Father and the Savior. Heavenly Father’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of His children (Moses 3:19).
Remember, many were killed in the destruction outlined in 3 Nephi 9, however they continued to live as spirits and went to the Spirit world where they could continue to learn and repent. What happened to those who died in 3 Nephi 9 had the potential to bless them and prepare them for a Kingdom of Glory.
Regarding races. From what I understand, Heavenly Father created the races that we see in mortality for a purpose. Somehow it relates to his purpose of bringing about the immortality and eternal life of mankind. As far as racism in the LDS church’s early history the essay on racism explains what took place.
I am a TBM because of the answers to prayer I have received since I was a little boy. If it wasn’t for the manifestations of the Spirit I’ve received I would probably not be a TBM.
Thanks for your interest in my comment.
Jared: What do you make of the scriptures attributing the genocide to Christ, quoting him as claiming to have done it? That’s from the BOM. Janey didn’t invent it, and she says she finds that attribution more comforting than the alternative of believers claiming Jesus told them to commit violence. How is this anyone calling Christ or his followers “evildoers”? She’s quoting the BOM and asking a thought-provoking question. Your highly emotional response doesn’t make sense to me when I read through her post. Do you believe Christ killed non-believers as recorded in the BOM or do you believe something else? Instead of addressing the text and the post, you start hurling insults at the author and commenters. How is that productive?
UPDATED: I just saw your comment was pending and approved it. This didn’t happen because you are “TBM.” It happens to lots of people, and it’s hard to say why; there was not a deliberate decision. Akismet works in mysterious ways. It feels like you are very invested in feeling picked on for some reason. However, I wanted to note that you’ve answered my question on your viewpoint when you replied to Andrew S. I disagree completely about your comments regarding race, but thanks for clarifying your position. Personally, I believe that the BOM conflates Jesus with Jehovah/the God of the OT in unrealistic and inconsistent ways, but that’s just how I read it. Obviously YMMV.
“All of my comments go to moderation because I am a TBM”
I’m not a moderator here, but I am a frequent reader and commenter. And I can tell you that there are many, many believers who come on here and comment. Sometimes they say insightful things and sometimes they don’t. But their comments are never moderated unless they’re writing insults and profanity. Or they say something that is borderline or overtly racist (sadly typical of older TBMs).
“3 Nephi 9 is very clear. The Savior did as He said he would do if the Nephites killed the prophets that were sent ”
So you’re cool with the concept of a god that uses collective punishment in the form of murder on very large groups of innocent people because someone associated with that group does something bad. Not the god I believe in. But if that god does exist, then I proudly stand against that god and call that god’s actions pure evil.
“Remember, many were killed in the destruction outlined in 3 Nephi 9, however they continued to live as spirits”
Oh, so killing isn’t that bad after all. Who knew? We should tell the people in Ukraine. Make them feel better.
“Heavenly Father created the races that we see in mortality for a purpose. Somehow it relates to his purpose of bringing about the immortality and eternal life of mankind”
1) Not sure why god would have needed to create different “races” to bring about eternal life. Sounds like a tricky god. 2) Race is a social construct. What we’re seeing is genetic variations that arose in humans after tens of thousands of years of different groups, having all come from Africa, breeding in isolation and biologically adapting to different habitats. One’s physical appearance is most certainly not a curse. And a god who would curse some group of people as a form of collective punishment and sanction a “superior” race’s racism against that “inferior” race is an evil god indeed.
Since a healthy ecosystem is biologically diverse, maybe Heavenly Father needed “races” to create a Celestial World. That’s a theology I could get behind.
If we are talking skin pigmentation, I find it interesting that Early European modern humans(thanks to genetic analysis) were not light skin. And if we move on down to the Mesolithic, the Western Hunter-Gatherers (my ancestors) were dark skinned,with dark hair and Blue eyes.(see Cheddar man)
Anyway, the history of racial classification and examination of the fossil record is a history of pseudoscience and a made up justification to exploit “subraces” and should be given no credence in any modern scripture.
I recommend this article at Interpreter: