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?