Link: Berlin authorities placed children with pedophiles for 30 years

Die Welt reports an utterly horrifying case, awful in itself, and also an illustration about the dangers of reposing unlimited trust in anyone, including state institutions. It turns out that for about three decades, the social care system in West Berlin was effectively run for and in behalf of paedophiles, with a connected network into academia, educational institutions and government:

Starting in the 1970s psychology professor Helmut Kentler conducted his “experiment.” Homeless children in West Berlin were intentionally placed with pedophile men. These men would make especially loving foster parents, Kentler argued.

A study conducted by the university of Hildesheim has found that authorities in Berlin condoned this practice for almost 30 years. The pedophile foster fathers even received a regular care allowance.

Source: Berlin authorities placed children with pedophiles for 30 years | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 15.06.2020

More on this case here too: https://www.dw.com/en/germany-allowed-pedophiles-to-foster-children/a-53839291

Alma 9

And so Alma (and Amulek’s) sermon at Ammonihah begins! My eye caught upon the first few verses:

Who art thou? Suppose ye that we shall believe the testimony of one man, although he should preach unto us that the earth should pass away?

Now they understood not the words which they spake; for they knew not that the earth should pass away.

And they said also: We will not believe thy words if thou shouldst prophesy that this great city should be destroyed in one day.

Now they knew not that God could do such marvelous works, for they were a hard-hearted and a stiffnecked people.

And they said: Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man among this people, to declare unto them the truth of such great and marvelous things?

(Alma 9:2-6)

What I find interesting about this is how they reject Alma on the basis that he is just offering the testimony of one man, and equate that to believing that the Earth should “pass away” and that Ammonihah should be destroyed in one day, which they apparently believe are also ludicrous ideas. And yet the funny thing is that they are completely wrong, about everything. Amulek is here to offer additional testimony, Ammonihah will (spoiler) be destroyed in one day, and indeed like all mortal things the Earth will one day “pass away”. What’s particularly fascinating is that they reject one truth on the basis of something they think they know, but do not, and compare it to other things they know to not be true, but which actually are true.

I’m reminded of some of the dismissive attitudes and statements that have been made about the Book of Mormon – by academics and journalists – that I came across while working on my thesis (some of which are briefly mentioned in The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, particularly in chapter one). Quite often, such assessments were made on the basis on things that weren’t true and were easily falsifiable, in some cases simply by opening up the book for five minutes. But apparently some of them couldn’t be bothered to do that; they knew it wasn’t true or worthwhile, so why spend any time checking what they assumed must be true, even though it wasn’t. Perhaps an important realisation from this is if both academia and journalism can get things so wrong even when it is easily corrected in an area we can spot their mistake, what mistakes do they make in areas we know less?

But – as I think we must always do when it comes to that which we learn from scripture – I think this is also worth turning upon ourselves. To what extent do we dismiss things because we think we know things, but which actually we may not? To what extent do the things we don’t know that we don’t know cause us to close our eyes to something new we might learn?

A verse I think I may have commented on before (possibly in chapter four of The Book of Mormon and…) is verse 20:

Yea, after having been such a highly favored people of the Lord; yea, after having been favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people; after having had all things made known unto them, according to their desires, and their faith, and prayers, of that which has been, and which is, and which is to come;

I think this verse is significant in and of itself for what it tells us (along with passages in Jacob 4 and Alma 13) for the position of the Nephites in terms of the revelations they had received. The Book of Mormon, quite plainly, teaches far more clearly about the coming of Christ that the Old Testament does. I think a lot of members of the church, and certainly several apologists (see, for instance, my many posts responding to claims about the “Deuteronomists”), assume that the Old Testament must have been more like the Book of Mormon, but such references were somehow edited out. However, as I mentioned when discussing 1 Nephi 13 (and in chapter four of The Book of Mormon and…), the text doesn’t actually support this case as much as some might think. If anything, 1 Nephi 13 implies it was material that we’d place in the New Testament that was omitted, and Jacob 4 (and 2 Nephi 25 for that matter) speaks of God giving things that weren’t plain. What a number of references – the aforementioned Jacob 4, Alma 13, and here – actually suggest is that the Nephites were a special case, blessed with a uniquely clear revelatory view of things that were to come, and especially of the coming redemption through Christ.

However, such blessings also come at a price:

For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people. I say unto you, Nay; he would rather suffer that the Lamanites might destroy all his people who are called the people of Nephi, if it were possible that they could fall into sins and transgressions, after having had so much light and so much knowledge given unto them of the Lord their God;

(Alma 9:9)

The Lamanites have promises extended to them, because they are in a state of ignorance due to the traditions they’ve inherited from their forebears (v. 16), but the Nephites have no such excuse:

And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.

For behold, the promises of the Lord are extended to the Lamanites, but they are not unto you if ye transgress; for has not the Lord expressly promised and firmly decreed, that if ye will rebel against him that ye shall utterly be destroyed from off the face of the earth?

(Alma 9:23-24)

Because of the blessings of light and knowledge they have received, if the Nephites turn away from it they will be destroyed. And they were. What we have here is a demonstration of the concept that “where much is given, much is required”, and knowledge is certainly a part of that. A greater endowment of knowledge means a greater responsibility to live according to that light, and a greater measure of accountability. Knowledge alone does not save: it is as we heed divine knowledge and live according to it that we are fully blessed. Otherwise such knowledge can easily turn to our condemnation.

This concept is, of course, easily applicable on a personal level (and it is one that has long given me much thought and reflection). However, I also can’t help but wonder of the wider application, like the case of the Nephites. There are peoples in this world who haven’t had much exposure to the gospel, whether taught by anyone confessing Christ or specifically by the restored Church. There are others, however, who have had centuries of exposure and opportunity to learn. And I wonder how God will measure that, and act accordingly.

Mosiah 29

Mosiah 29 is where a lot of the transformations we’ve been talking about in previous chapters come to a head, and the Nephite government, under the urging of its last king, Mosiah, changes from a Monarchy to a system of Judges.

I comment on some of the political issues in this chapter in my article “The Daughters of the Lamanites and the Daughters of Shiloh“. However, to recap some of the overall big issues here, it’s worth pointing out and bearing in mind that the debate – particularly as Mosiah lays it out – isn’t a straightforward one between democracy and monarchy. Rather, Mosiah’s criticisms of monarchy focus on the degree to which it follows the commandments of God:

Therefore I will be your king the remainder of my days; nevertheless, let us appoint judges, to judge this people according to our law; and we will newly arrange the affairs of this people, for we will appoint wise men to be judges, that will judge this people according to the commandments of God.

Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just.

(Mosiah 29:11-12)

Indeed, if a king could always be trusted to implement and follow God’s laws, it would be preferable to have a king:

Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.

(Mosiah 29:13)

However, the problem is is that they can’t, as their recent example of King Noah demonstrates. And a wicked king can rewrite the laws to his heart’s content and impose them on the people:

For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;

And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.

(Mosiah 29:22-23)

And fixing such a situation usually cannot be achieved by any steps short of civil war:

And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.

(Mosiah 29:21)

Thus Mosiah proposes a system of judges instead, chosen “by the voice of this people” (v. 25). The term judges is significant: it calls back to the pre-monarchical government of Israel (and indeed, I believe episodes like Mosiah 20 are meant to do likewise), but it also points to the principal duty of these new governors. Mosiah isn’t proposing outright democracy, where the laws are to be made by the people. Rather, the judges are to judge “according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.” (v. 25); that is according to the laws of God that have been handed down, not to make and implement new laws.

Of course, Mosiah is proposing that the people have significant say in selecting the judges, though this isn’t necessarily a new feature (notice that – much like previous Nephite monarchs – he consults the people as to their choice for a king at the beginning of the chapter, vv. 1-2. This appears to be in keeping with Northern Israelite traditions of kingship, which included popular acclamation & prophetic endorsement, as compared to Judah’s stricter following of a hereditary principle). However, Mosiah’s justification for this is interesting, as he argues that it is less likely for the majority of the people to “go bad” than for a minority (or presumably, an individual), in what seems to be an early argument for the wisdom of crowds:

Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

(Mosiah 29:26)

However, it should be noted that while it may be less likely for them to go wrong, the majority is not infallible, and when they do the consequences are correspondingly more severe than if simply misled by an iniquitous leader:

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

(Mosiah 29:27)

I’ve long found that last point quite thought-provoking. On one hand, this may be part of the reason that the consequences for the Nephites going astray (namely, extermination), were far more severe than for their old world counterparts. But I also think of its application to us. On which side of Mosiah’s scale does our system principally fall, and if so, what level of consequences are we likely to incur as we choose iniquity?

There’s several other things this chapter that stuck out to me upon reading this time around. One was the fortuitousness that Mosiah’s sons had both been converted and then left on a mission to the Lamanites prior to this point being reached. Could Mosiah even have proposed the judges otherwise (one also wonders why Mosiah asked first, knowing his sons were unavailable. Perhaps he wanted to make sure there wasn’t another – more available – leading candidate before proposing his alternative)?

Secondly, it’s interesting that a lot of the justification for the new system, versus the old, also centres on the issue of moral accountability. Mosiah argues, in verses 30-32 (my emphasis):

And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.

For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.

And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.

And indeed when the people accept his proposal (v. 38, my emphasis):

Therefore they relinquished their desires for a king, and became exceedingly anxious that every man should have an equal chance throughout all the land; yea, and every man expressed a willingness to answer for his own sins.

I find it interesting that both equality and liberty are considered to be so closely tied to this sense of moral accountability: that in order to be equal and free we need to be responsible, and suffer the consequences for, our own sins and iniquities. It’s interesting to think of the ways in which this moral accountability is seen not just as a duty or responsibility, but as part of ones “rights and privileges” as well.

Finally, the chapter closes with the selection of the first chief judge, namely Alma the younger (again, events two chapters previously seem very fortuitous!). Last chapter he was also chosen by Mosiah to look after the records, and in this chapter he also becomes high priest over the Church (v. 42). It’s thus interesting that even though we’ve had a stage in which church and state have developed as separate institutions, that all three of these offices (record-keeper, high-priest and chief judge) are once again combined in one person. However, as we shall see in the next few chapters, the different needs of some of these institutions will mean that this isn’t viable for long.

 

Mosiah 3

This is a very well known and oft quoted chapter, particularly the portions relating to the prophecy of  Christ’s mortal ministry and atoning sacrifice (vv. 5-10) and the famous passage that really encapsulates the core of the Gospel:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

That really covers almost everything important: the fallenness of man, guidance through the Holy Ghost, repentance and sanctification through the Atonement of Christ and how we should be as disciples and God’s children.

Perhaps one bit of that verse that catches a little less attention is that whole bit about being ‘willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him’. I think it’s easy to read the verse, and see it as being willing to submit to everything God may ask of us and in addition what he permits may happen to us. But the word inflict is rather more active than that, in that it requires us to accept and submit to what God may do to us, even if unpleasant. An interesting article I’ve already linked to in this blog which discusses the concept of an Abrahamic Test quotes this verse in that context, noting that the scriptures teach that God both chastens us (which is correction or punishment upon those that have disobedient) and tries us, in which the refiners fire falls upon the righteous. It is interesting that a crucial part of our discipleship is the degree to which we accept both of these processes.

I don’t know whether I can say I’m grateful for any of the trials I’ve experienced, and in many respects I’m quite fortunate, so I don’t know how others may feel about that either. But I’ve certainly found with some unpleasant experiences that – often given time and opportunity to reflect – I’ve been able to perceive some of the positive results of them too. I don’t know that we’re actually being asked to be glad about unpleasant things (though perhaps with sufficient perspective we can be; thinking about it there are a couple of things I think I can now say I am appreciative for). But perhaps what this is really getting at is the core measure of our trust and loyalty towards him, the capacity to say “not my will, but thine be done”, no matter what that appears to entail for us.

Linked to this verse, but really catching my attention today, was verse 16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

It’s an interesting point in general that the Atonement establishes both justice and mercy (for instance, see v. 10-11 and 2 Nephi 9:26). But what attracted my eye today was the whole phrase about ‘in Adam, or by nature, they fall’. When we talk of the fall, we often talk of Adam and Eve, but really in a sense each of us falls as we grow up. We are born innocent before God (D&C 93:38), and we are not held responsible for the sins of our forebears (Moses 6:54). But as a consequence of the fall, human nature is opposed to God, and our natures mean that as we grow ‘sin conceive[s] in [our] hearts’ (Moses 6:55) and we yield to our unrighteous instincts (‘the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein’, 2 Nephi 2:29) and become fallen people. We each experience the fall individually; I guess in a similar manner to the way in which while Christ atoned once for sins in an infinite and eternal offering, we must experience the power of that redemption individually too.

I think it’s also important to remember this self-sabotaging nature that we all inevitably have. We can become ground down trying to perfect ourselves, or we might try to persuade ourselves that some inner tendencies can’t possibly be wrong, or why would we have them? But human nature as it is is morally flawed, and is not perfectible by our efforts alone. But there’s two crucial caveats there, which again verse 19 addresses: our current nature is not the nature God wishes for us to carry into the eternities, and we can put off that nature and become something else – a saint, that is holy – as we “yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” and accept the power of Christ’s atonement into our lives. God wants us to change, and through Christ’s power we can.

2020 edit:

I’m beginning to think there’s some kind of weird joke: once again when reading there’s certain verses that leap out at me, and once again I find it’s exactly the same verses I’ve already written about. Admittedly, this seems to be particularly the case in posts like this, where the first part was written not that long ago (less than a year). Furthermore, while it’s the same verses that have stood out on this occasion, there’s somewhat different aspects.

So back to Mosiah 3:16:

And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.

What caught my attention this time was the notion that “the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins” – that is, the sins of little children. I would partly credit Elder James Rasband’s talk this past general conference for this, in which – citing this very verse – he stated that “[a] righteous judgment also required, he taught, that “the blood of Christ atoneth for” the sins of little children.” That phrase stood out to me because I’ve never heard it put as bluntly as that. Indeed I suspect there might be some who’d recoil from that phrase. But it’s quite clearly there in Mosiah 3:16, although perhaps we may pass over it all too easily by not enquiring as to who “their” refers to. But there is only one possible referent.

How do we square this with what Mormon writes in Moroni 8, which states that “little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin” (Mormon 8:8)? Some points are worth considering.

Firstly, Mormon is speaking of the world in which the atonement of Christ is a given fact, while King Benjamin is speaking of what would have happened if the atonement had never taken place, and what the atonement does. Mormon concurs with the role of the atonement in this, as he continues in verse 8 to relay the Lord’s statement that “wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it have no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me”. It is through the Lord’s atonement that little children have become whole. Indeed, even the condition of innocence in infancy is through the atonement of Christ, as stated in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38, bold is my emphasis – it should also be remembered that innocent is not the same thing as good).

Secondly, we must refer back to the fall, and how pervasive and powerful it is. Without the atonement, its influence would be so powerful no human being could possibly escape it. Would that be just? No, but that’s just the point: the atonement of Christ is not just a means of mercy, but also establishes justice, as is taught by Jacob in 2 Nephi 9:26 and by Elder Rasband in his talk.

Thirdly, the principle of accountability is important to understand why the effects of the atonement vary in their application. Little children (and presumably others such as the mentally handicapped) have limited accountability. Their “sins” are not sins of their own volition, in the same way ours are, and they have limited capacity to repent: thus their sins are atoned for automatically. Those who “died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11), who did not know enough to be considered fully accountable, likewise have their sins atoned for. However, the time of such ignorance is limited:

And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.

(Mosiah 3:20-21)

As for those who are accountable and have a necessary level of knowledge, and so have committed sin of our own volition, then atonement for sin is conditional, “for salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and Faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 3:12). Thus Mormon instructs Moroni to teach “repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin” (Moroni 8:10), surely meaning in this case, those capable of choosing to sin and knowing that it is wrong.

It is perhaps not always entirely necessary to know more that what Mormon teaches in this case. And yet, perhaps it may help some to appreciate even more what Christ has done for all of us, to realise that the salvation of little children was not “free”, but was likewise brought with the blood of Christ.

The forgotten fall

As might be inferred from my statement at the beginning of this edit, the other verse which caught my attention this time around was indeed verse 19 again. In this case, it was particularly the first few clauses:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless…

Obviously there’s a pretty big “unless” there – indeed the whole heart of the gospel, the “good news”, is contained and followed by that “unless”. And yet we cannot truly appreciate that “unless”, and indeed the very choices we face on a day to day basis, unless we truly understand and keep in mind those first few clauses.

Over the last decade, I have come to the conclusion that the Fall has become somewhat of a forgotten doctrine in Christianity at large. One can see this in various discussions which hinge on claims of “God made me this way”, or in which it is assumed that what is natural must be good. Even some Latter-day Saint scholars appear to misunderstand the fall, if for different reasons: it seems some get caught up so much in understanding that the fall was a necessary part of God’s plan that they forget the negative effects of the fall (negative effects which, if anything, Latter-day scripture is even more explicit about). Likewise, in their desire to defend Adam and (especially) Eve, they appear to conflate the perspective they both enjoyed at a later date after a great revelation (Moses 5:9-11), with the far more limited perspective they would have had at the time.

The fall is the necessary counterpoint to the atonement of Christ. Without understanding the fall, we cannot understand the atonement. If we negate the importance of the fall, and its negative effects, we negate the importance of the atonement, and its positive effects. Moreover understanding the fall is crucial to understanding ourselves and the situation we face right now, in our mortal lives, and the choice that has been provided to us by Christ. Understanding the fall answers so many of the questions the modern age seems otherwise confused by.

Because of the fall, none of us is as God eventually intends us, nor is this earth. Nature I’ve already written about, if in a rather speculative tone. The facts of non-human “nature”, however, should surely establish that an awful lot of it isn’t presently good: the naturalistic fallacy (the idea what if something is “natural”, it is therefore “good”) should fall apart in the face of things like infanticide amongst lions, never mind those wasps that lay their larvae in other creatures and which eat their way out.

Likewise, amongst human beings, understanding the fall means understanding that due to the fall, we must all contend against “the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein” (2 Nephi 2:29), that “because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2), and that as King Benjamin points out “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Each of us has a part of us that doesn’t want to do good. It thus should not disturb us, should there be any who appear to have inherent tendencies that lead away from obedience to God’s commandments, because we all have such inherent tendencies. Such tendencies may be in areas that aren’t obsessed about or approved by our culture: we may have tendencies towards alcoholism, or kleptomania, or greed, or road-rage, or wanting to crush our enemies and see them driven before us. But whichever direction our fallen part would propel us, we all may have such a fallen part.

Now, the great and glorious and wonderful good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to give in to that part: we all have a choice. Due to the atonement of Christ, we are free to “choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit; And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein”. It’s not necessarily an easy choice, indeed it’s a choice I think we have to make over and over again until it sticks. But as Mosiah 3:19 teaches, we can “[put] off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord”. That fallen nature need not be who we eternally are, it need not be the inherent part of ourselves, but can be shed. The body can become subject to the spirit, and become sanctified so that when we stand before God we might be entirely holy. We cannot do this alone, it is true, but we do not have to: Christ purchased this choice for us, with his own life; he atones for our sins and anything in which we err; and he can give us grace and strength and power to choose his will whatever the natural man would have us do, until the glorious day when it can be kicked off entire, “that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).

Why I am voting leave

I am voting for the UK to leave the European Union in Thursday’s referendum. This will be of little surprise to anyone who’s spoken to me on the subject at any time over the last twenty years. However, as the referendum approached I wanted to elaborate on my decision, particularly as I’ve seen some people express some confusion over the whole topic. There seems to be some sort of belief in some quarters that if we had all the “facts”, that there would be a single obvious correct decision. But that’s not how human beings or politics work. The issues at stake in the referendum are not simply a matter of empirical facts, they’re about principles. I happen to believe that some principles are more correct than others, but it’s not the sort of thing one can establish by simple numbers.

 

First principles

It’s worth establishing some basic principles that go into my thinking:

  1. The worth of the individual human soul is supernal. As a Christian and a Latter-day Saint, I believe human beings to be eternal, and and that the exercise of our agency plays a crucial part in fulfilling the purpose of our life here on earth (D&C 101:77-78). By political conviction, I believe that freedom under a just law is essential to allowing human beings the opportunity to express their full potential.
  2. In contrast, all governments, nations and political institutions will have an eventual end. No state lasts forever. For this reason I am patriot, not a nationalist, as there are principles that are more important and longer significance than national aggrandizement. In the long run both the EU and UK will cease to exist. Combining that with the above leads to:
  3. The legitimacy of government depends upon the extent to which it protects liberty (especially of conscience) and life. Government was made for man, not man for government. Any government that does not serve these purposes is not legitimate, no matter what it is based upon or how it is selected. Democracy, after all, is not the same as liberty; where those conflict, I come down squarely in favour of the latter.

It’s entirely possibly, of course, for people to share the same principles but disagree about the means, and for people of good faith to disagree about what political policies would best meet good principles. However, I believe that there are several principles connected with the above that would be best served by leaving the European Union.

 

Why leave the European Union

 

Accountability

I believe the ability to hold governments and their officials accountable is an essential part of their being able to serve their purposes as outlined above. I see, however, little evidence of any such accountability where the European Union is concerned.

Accountability is not precisely the same as democracy: it’s possible for a system to be democratic, and yet not accountable. It’s the downside of at least some proportional representation systems, such as the closed-list system we use for MEPs in this country (though that’s our fault, not the EU’s). MEPs are allotted according to the party vote, and then individuals become MEPs according to their position on a list by their respective parties. Of course, that makes it nearly impossible for the public to remove any particular individual from their position so long as they’re in good standing with their party. Similar difficulties can be seen on the continent, where the coincidence of PR and a tendency towards grand coalitions in some countries mean that the same governing coalition can be perpetuated for decades, no matter the election results.

On to the EU. The primary role in proposing, initiating and executing EU legislation resides with the European Commission, an unelected body who combine the role of the Executive (think the Prime Minister, or the US President) and the civil service. The idea that they somehow count as elected because they are selected by national governments should be immediately fallacious to anyone considering similar such nominated posts (such as in Quangos) in this country. Our commissioners in particular often end up being politicians who have been rejected by the electorate at home: a near perfect demonstration of unaccountability, where their accountability to the electorate at home has been rewarded with new powers abroad. The Commission is theoretically accountable to the EU Parliament, but the Commission enjoys broad powers in shaping how legislation is implemented, while the Parliament itself is also a subject of concerning between the party groupings and turn out figures for its elections.

Another example of how this lack of accountability manifests itself can be seen in responses to other referendums. The Republic of Ireland voted no via referendum for both the treaty of Nice and Lisbon; in both cases a second referendum was held shortly thereafter that provided a yes result. The French and Dutch referendums on the EU constitution were effectively rendered null and void when said constitution was largely incorporated via the treaty of Lisbon. And of course both the Brown government and Cameron reneged on pledges regarding referendums on the EU constitution and Lisbon treaty respectively. Such unaccountability makes it more likely that government can serve its own interests, not those of the people it is supposedly serving, and more likely that it can become corrupt.

As I shall elaborate on below, however, I do not think this unaccountability can be corrected. It’s an inevitable part of such a system.

 

Self-government

A second major reason I believe it is important to leave the European Union is the principle of self-government. In order to preserve freedom, to help ensure local government and to encourage people to make the fullest use of their potential, government decisions should be made as close to the people affecting them, and ideally by them, as possible. It’s good for people to govern themselves, rather than have solutions imposed upon individuals, families or communities. This is also a matter of efficiency: it is impossible to micromanage everything from the centre, since such efforts cannot respond to local situations, or even obtain good enough information to properly be aware of them. Attempts to fix problems inevitably become bureaucratic exercises in reporting, which consume time and energy and make things even worse. We see that happen in the UK  as it is.

Theoretically, the EU subscribes to the principle of “subsidiarity”, which embraces this idea that decisions should be made closest to the people affected by them. However, in practice the EU sees no problem in legally imposing uniform regulations, often involving the smallest matters, across the EU. In practice, then, regulations and rules are often made at an even higher layer of administration than they otherwise would be. The logic of “ever closer union” (as coined in the 1957 treaty of Rome, establishing the EEC) leaves no stopping point for efforts to try and enforce uniformity. Decisions that should be the remit of the national government, or lower still, are deemed to require uniform rules across an entire continent.

This lack of self-government can be seen in other areas. Remain campaigners sometimes mention EU spending projects. Yet – since the UK is net contributor – what these represent is the UK providing funds to the EU, of which the EU provides a portion back to spend in a fashion authorised by EU officials. Any such projects could have easily been paid for without sending the money to Brussels, and without the conditions and strings that get attached. Do those mentioning these projects feel that EU officials are the people best placed to determine the priorities for the people of the UK? Likewise there is mention from the political left of labour laws and so on. But not a single one of those laws could not be made at home. The implicit concession in such statements is that they feel they are unable to persuade the British electorate of the advantages of these laws, and so they must be imposed from abroad. I’m not sure that’s a political argument to boast of: “we can’t get British citizens to agree with us, so we must stay in the EU so our political preferences can be enforced by foreign officials.” It’s rank hypocrisy when it comes from the SNP, who campaign for Scottish self-government, but feel the English must not have it as they’re not left-wing enough (and yes, if the Scottish people wanted to exercise self-government outside of association with the UK, I think that would be perfectly proper, provided it’s their own choice).

And it’s really the principle of self-government that I see affecting things like immigration. I’m in favour of restricting immigration, but I could see circumstances where it’d be better to open it up. But such a decision, which can significantly affect the social and cultural make up of a nation, should be made by those affected by it. Whether we want to increase or decrease immigration isn’t really the key point; the key point is that whatever we want to do, that decision should be made by the British people

 

Identity

There’s a third reason I personally am favour of leaving the EU, which comes down to a simple matter of identity.

Identities can overlap, of course. The Scottish referendum two years back hinged on how people weighed their identities as British and Scottish, and whether they saw them as compatible. I myself, after personally seeing myself as “me”, have identities as a follower of Christ, as a Latter-day Saint, as English, as a Westerner and as British. Some of those take priority over others – I see myself as English more than I see myself as British – but those don’t cancel each other out.

What I don’t see myself as is “European”.

I’m sure some people do, and I won’t speak for them. But I don’t feel “European” in any more than a geographical and ethnic sense, which isn’t much in my book. I find myself largely agreeing with Bismark, that Europe is a “geographical expression”. Culturally I find more in common with my coreligionists, or my fellow English speakers, than people who simply share the same continent as myself. And whenever attempts are made to codify “European values”, I can’t help but find I don’t fit in (though that might be because said values tend to be less “European” values, than “Guardian readers” values). I can’t think of anything other than geographical location that I share with other Europeans, but not with an inhabitant of North America or Australia or wherever. And that’s not going to change: we’re voting to leave the European Union, not to tow the UK further into the Atlantic.

As said, I’m sure others feel differently. But I don’t believe there’s a huge majority of such people. And that’s a problem that ties into the above concerns with accountability and self-government. The EU is structured as a (rather deficient) democracy. But there is no European demos (people). Rather there are lots of different peoples with very different interests. Thus there is no single “public” to hold EU leaders to account, no single public to debate issues (just think of how media is divided, even just by linguistic issues). In practice, the EU can’t function as a democracy; the bureaucracy is simply an inevitable consequence. Likewise any decision made at the EU level will smack of undermining self-government, and any decision will be one national interest prevailing over another. No EU leader is in a position to try and persuade the European people, because there is no unified European people to persuade. And as I am not a European, I reject the notion of any “European” government presuming to rule over me.

 

Other matters

There’s a couple of things that I haven’t addressed above, mainly because I don’t see them as the most important issues, but I’ll briefly mention them here.

Firstly, there’s concerns that voting to leave is an expression of xenophobia. It’s aggravating when those accusations come from people less acquainted with foreign affairs than oneself, and from people on the internet who seem to lack the ability to spell in English, let alone other languages (Boris Johnson seems to express similar frustration here, pointing out amongst other things that his family “are the genetic equivelent of a UN peacekeeping force”). Are there likely to be xenophobes supporting the Leave campaign? Yes. Then again, there’s unreconstructed Stalinists supporting the Remain campaign, but I’m not accusing Cameron of wanting to finish off the Kulaks.

There’s also suggestions, spread by our Prime Minister alas, that the European Union has kept the peace since World War 2, and that leaving the EU presents security risks and could even lead to a world war. Which is nonsense. Setting aside the 3rd World War for the moment (which alas is likely to happen at some point in the future, though will probably not be affected one way or the other by Brexit), the peace in Europe was secured by the military standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, and particularly the threat of escalation to nuclear warfare. It was MAD (mutually assured destruction), not the EEC, which stopped a shooting war from happening in Europe. Notice that when the Cold War ended shooting wars did start up again in Europe (Yugoslavia, anyone?), and it was US military intervention, not European treaties, that ended them. The United States and Russia (though the latter is much diminished) are still the major military players on the European scene, and the EU has benefited from relying on the former’s security umbrella. That security umbrella is now looking rather leaky, but due to political developments in the United States rather than anywhere else, and in or out, the UK will likely need new security policies.

Thirdly, some speak of us losing influence, by losing our vote on European forums. This seems postulated on two doubtful assertions: 1) That seeking to exert influence over our neighbours at the price of our own self-government is beneficial to the British people. 2) That we get our way in these arguments. One look at our track record in attempting to secure reform of the Common Agricultural Policy – or for that matter one look at Cameron’s attempts to secure a deal to keep Britain in the EU – should show we rarely secure such influence. There is no great influence to be found in joining a club to be consistently outvoted. And some of those making this argument – such as the US government – don’t really have our interests at heart. They simply want us to be the American trade delegate in the EU, a position they feel we should be honoured with. I disagree.

Finally I have not commented on economic issues. That’s partly because things here are more balanced. Leaving the EU will not lead to economic utopia, and will probably require hard work. On the other hand, staying in the EU won’t lead to economic utopia either. The EU is a major destination for our exports, and potential new trade barriers could cause problems with that. On the other hand, the EU exports more to us than we send to them, so punitive restrictions would punish them more than us (and if our fellow EU members are petty and nasty enough to punish us even if it hurts them, that’s another reason to leave). On the Remain side of the ledger, however, is the risks posed by the Euro and economic troubles in Southern Europe dragging the whole thing down. It should be remembered that many of the so-called “experts” (some of whom were not experts at all: there are few job qualifications for a politician) who are claiming leaving the EU will lead to ruin are the same people who argued back in the 1990s and early 2000s that staying out of the Euro would also be disastrous. Their judgment is self-evidently faulty, and a number of nations have paid the price.

There are economic risks either side, and those who are hoping to have an option without economic risk will be forever disappointed. Moreover, “man shall not live by bread alone”: even if only leaving posed economic risks, they would be worth taking because the principles of self-government and accountable government are worth far more. We have a unique opportunity to exercise that self-government for ourselves, and hopefully use it to secure a freer and more accountable government for the future.

 

2 Nephi 30

And now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be. For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed.

For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel.

(2 Nephi 30:1-2)

I’ve mentioned before that a key theme of the Book of Mormon – including 2 Nephi 25-30 – is the restoration of Israel and conversely judgment upon the Gentiles who have oppressed them. Yet these verses help correct any misapprehension we may have of that: Israel will be restored, collectively. On an individual scale, however, it is personal repentance and faith that make the difference. We will not be saved based on who our ancestors were, nor on what our nationality is, nor on nominal membership of the Church; we cannot be complacent and think everything is okay because we belong to the “right” group. We are all going to be held accountable, for God is just. Likewise He mercifully extends his salvation to all, on the same conditions.

2020 edit:

A significant part of this chapter starts quoting, without citation markers from Isaiah 11 (quoted earlier explicitly in 2 Nephi 21). Yet we see here how it all ties in, both with what Nephi is saying in this chapter and in capping what has been taught in previous chapters. Thus after speaking of God restoring Israel and beginning his work, Nephi moves onto quoting – with some interpolations – those parts of Isaiah 11 speaking of the Lord coming in judgment, and then the paradisical state of the millennium (2 Nephi 30:9-14//Isaiah 11:4-8). And then he continues by quoting Isaiah 11:9, which is likewise speaking of this paradise:

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Wherefore, the things of all nations shall be made known; yea, all things shall be made known unto the children of men.

There is nothing which is secret save it shall be revealed; there is no work of darkness save it shall be made manifest in the light; and there is nothing which is sealed upon the earth save it shall be loosed.

Wherefore, all things which have been revealed unto the children of men shall at that day be revealed; and Satan shall have power over the hearts of the children of men no more, for a long time. And now, my beloved brethren, I make an end of my sayings.

(2 Nephi 30:15-18)

Notice how verse 15 (quoting Isaiah 11:9) introduces this idea that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord”, and then Nephi riffs on that theme: thus all things shall be made known, all secrets shall be revealed, and all things which have been revealed will be revealed. In 2 Nephi 25-30 generally, there’s been this thread of knowledge, and a tension between the learning of men and the knowledge that comes from revelation from God. Thus Isaiah is difficult to understand, but plain to those filled with the spirit of prophecy. There is the sealed book that the learned man cannot read, but which the unlearned can by the will of God. Then there’s been the problem of men relying on their own learning, and teaching it as doctrine, rather than the knowledge that comes through the Holy Ghost. Here, however, he points to this promised paradise as being an age in which revealed knowledge will fill the earth, in which all things can and will be made known, and which will be so freely available it is compared to the oceans. If mankind rejecting revelation and relying on their own learning has been amongst the causes of the spiritual ills besetting the last days, one of the conditions of the millennial age is that revealed knowledge will flow like water.

2 Nephi 20

For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return; the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

For the Lord God of Hosts shall make a consumption, even determined in all the land.

Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of Hosts: O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian; he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt.

For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.

(2 Nephi 20:22-25//Isaiah 10:22-25)

This passage reminds me of the passages in 1 Peter 4:17 and D&C 112:25:

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?

(1 Peter 4:17)

And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord;

(D&C 112:25)

Ancient Israel, because of her pride, idolatry and complacency, came under judgment, often by the means of the wicked nations surrounding it before they in turn received a reckoning. But I do not think Isaiah’s words apply only to ancient Israel, and likewise Peter warns and we’re told in the latter-days that God’s judgment will fall upon us (“the house of God”) first. Mere membership of his kingdom will not spare us from this process; indeed it makes us more accountable. But God’s judgment also serves as a cleansing and a sifting process, and the remnant who are left will be far more faithful. The question, I guess, is how we respond to that process and which direction we are sifted in.

2020 Edit:

Here in 2 Nephi 20//Isaiah 10, the Lord speaks about how he will use “Assyria” (literally Assyria the first time around, but a type of other such rulers and regimes in the future) as a means of bringing judgment upon his own people, for a time:

O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is their indignation.

I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

(2 Nephi 20:5-6//Isaiah 10:5-6)

However, this wasn’t and will not be the “Assyrian’s” intention:

Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but in his heart it is to destroy and cut off nations not a few.

(2 Nephi 20:7//Isaiah 10:7)

Thus the Lord can make use of the wicked and the unwitting, those who think they are fulfilling their own desires, to accomplish his work, which reminds me of this statement by Mormon in Mormon 4:5:

But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.

Yet while the “Assyrian” will prevail for a while, the fact he has unwittingly been used as an instrument of God will not spare him punishment for his own misdeeds:

Wherefore it shall come to pass that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and upon Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.

Shall the ax boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as if it were no wood!

Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, send among his fat ones, leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.

And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame, and shall burn and shall devour his thorns and his briers in one day;

And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body; and they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth.

And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.

(2 Nephi 20:12, 15-19//Isaiah 10:12, 15-19)

The closing verses of this chapter are interesting too:

He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages.

They are gone over the passage; they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramath is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled.

Lift up the voice, O daughter of Gallim; cause it to be heard unto Laish, O poor Anathoth.

Madmenah is removed; the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee.

As yet shall he remain at Nob that day; he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.

Behold, the Lord, the Lord of Hosts shall lop the bough with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down; and the haughty shall be humbled.

And he shall cut down the thickets of the forests with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.

(2 Nephi 20:28-34//Isaiah 10:28-34)

This list of places is a list of places approaching Jerusalem, representing the approach of the Assyrian army in its attempt to conquer Jerusalem, Nob presumably being the closest point and perhaps within sight (its site is uncertain, although one Major Wilson proposed Mount Scopus as a possible location; the latter was certainly used as a vantage point by the Romans in their successful conquest of Jerusalem in AD 70). The Assyrians approached close enough to put the city under siege, until they were miraculously delivered:

Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.

And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esar-haddon his son reigned in his stead.

(Isaiah 37:36-38, reproduced with little change in 2 Kings 19:35-37)

And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.

(2 Chronicles 32:21)

What’s striking, and perhaps applicable for later (and yet future?) fulfilments, reading the original invasion as a type of such trials, is that the Lord’s deliverance only came after the Assyrians had successfully made their way close to the city. Only at what might have been the last possible point before they were in the city itself, at the point where to many all may have already seemed lost, did God step in.

 

1 Nephi 17

And it came to pass that according to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them; and according to his word he did do all things for them; and there was not any thing done save it were by his word.

1 Nephi 17:31

Nephi’s speaking here of the children of Israel in the wilderness, and how as they followed God or rebelled against him they were led or punished accordingly. But, particularly as I was reading it today, the line ‘there was not any thing done save it were by his word’ seemed to have broader import. Lots of stuff happens to us – some stuff happens to me – that we/I would rather not. Sometimes those things get in the way of our righteous efforts. Now on occasion it may indeed be the case that – like the children in Israel – we’re meeting the consequence of our misdeeds. But there are also plenty of scriptural examples of trials and difficulties hindering or afflicting the faithful. And God either permits these to happen, or in some cases ordains them for reasons that – at least at the time – we are unable to perceive.

Just thinking about this now, I’m reminded of the example of Joseph in Egypt. It would have been very understandable for him to be frustrated and even angry at what happened to him; indeed I’m sure there times he probably was. It would have been easy to feel that one was almost being punished for doing the right thing: check his brothers are well for his father, and get sold into slavery by his brothers; serve faithfully as a slave, get falsely accused and thrown into jail for years; correctly interpret the dream of Pharaoh’s chief butler, get forgotten about and left in jail for even more years. Every righteous effort appears rewarded with failure. It certainly be understandable if he held a grudge against his brothers.

Yet – and this is admittedly after the great turn around in his fortunes, although it’d also have been easy to let years of slavery and prison hold their mark – when he reveals himself to his brothers his perspective is quite different:

Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

… And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

Genesis 45:5, 7

While Joseph’s  brothers did sell him into slavery, Joseph ultimately attributes this to God. But he does not blame God, rather his acknowledges divine foresight and providence, that all this misfortune he has experienced ultimately has placed him in a position to save his family and indeed and entire nation. God’s ways are indeed higher than ours, and Joseph sees divine providence even in the ills he experienced at the hands of others.

It’s quite possible we may not quite get that perspective in this life, and may only see how the various events and circumstances fit together at that point when all things are revealed. But I think it’s important to hope for that. I myself have been experiencing quite a bit of frustration in areas of my life where it feels like the Lord would have me progress, and yet it often feels like one step forward and two (or many) back; that my righteous efforts are being rewarded with failure. But it’s important to acknowledge in all these things that God has his own purpose in these events, and that nothing happens without his foreknowledge and without his permission, and in many cases because he expressly wills it. And God can turn misfortune and even evil events to good purposes.

All that matters on our part is that we too seek to do all that we do ‘by his word’.

Edit 2020:

I think 1 Nephi 17 is one of my favourite chapters. Not the favourite chapter, but its up there. There’s just so much to it. The bulk of it is Nephi’s whole recap of the Exodus story, which isn’t just telling that story, but is also the culmination of 1 Nephi’s references and allusions to the Exodus account as a whole. I commented briefly upon that connection when writing about 1 Nephi 2, and its something that’s often been on my mind as I read this book since I wrote an essay on the relationship between the two as an undergraduate while studying in Israel. Both are accounts of a group of people, led through the wilderness and delivered from their enemies by divine power (Pharoah/Laban – 1 Nephi 4:2-3 makes the connection explicitly). These people travel to a new land of promise, but often struggle in their journey due to “murmuring” and rebelliousness on the part of the travellers. Despite this, the Lord provides food for them and points out the direction they should go, and is their “light in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:13). Both journeys likewise involve crossing a body of water (well two in the case of the Exodus, and one really big one in 1 Nephi), again with divine aid.

By recapping the story here, Nephi makes all these connections explicit, particularly placing his brothers – who again reject their father’s revelations as “foolish imaginations of his heart” (v. 20) – in the same position as those who “reviled against Moses and against the true and living God” (v. 30). Against Laman & Lemuel’s claims that the people of Jerusalem were a righteous people (v. 22), Nephi builds on the conquest of Canaan, pointing out that God in truth does not play favourites: “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favoured of God”. The Canaanites had “rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity, and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them” (v. 35). But by becoming wicked in turn, and rejecting the word of God by seeking to kill the prophets (such as Lehi), the people of Jerusalem have become just like them, and will likewise be destroyed, and because Laman and Lemuel have likewise “sought to take his life” Nephi declares: “ye are murderers in your hearts and ye are like unto them” (vv. 43-44).

It’s a brilliant sermon, as it builds to Nephi’s denunciation of Laman and Lemuel’s hardheartedness (v. 45):

Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.

That very last episode we just saw in 1 Nephi 16:38-39; Nephi is not just recapping the Exodus, but their own journey too, with its displays of divine power and aid and their rebelliousness. And after the brothers turn once more to murderous anger, which is quelled once more by a further display of God’s power, Nephi affirms once more that – contrary to their earlier claims – he can indeed build a ship, with a verse that is on one hand so simple in wording, and yet seems to me to have powerful import for us too (v. 51):

And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?

A ship – or whatever we’ve been asked to do – seem so paltry compared to that which God has already done, and which we may have already witnessed.

A couple of other points that stick out: I find it interesting that Nephi notes he’d been at Bountiful “for the space of many days” before he received further instruction. This suggests to me that likewise in our own journeys that there may be periods of pause, and comparative peace which the Lord allows us, particularly after periods of intense trial. However, such times our not our final destination, and we must press on. Likewise it’s interesting that the first command Nephi received in this chapter was simply the direction to go up the mountain, and it was up there he was commanded to build a ship; similarly divine instruction to us may sometimes simply be a small thing which directs us to a better position for us to receive further revelation.

On a final note, there’s the brothers’ complaint that Lehi had “judged” the people of Jerusalem, which couldn’t help but remind me of our own society, in which “judging” is likewise held in negative regard. It is true, of course, that the Saviour commanded us to “judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1), but it strikes me that there’s a difference between that and “don’t judge me!”. The first prompts us to humility, to remember our own sins and accountability before God rather than go round condemning everyone else. The latter sentiment, however, is prideful, an arrogant resentment that one might ever be disapproved of or held to account, including by God. It should be remembered that Christ not only also taught “judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24, because as I’ve noted before some judgment is unavoidable, like who you let look after your children), but the former restriction doesn’t apply to God, to whom we will very much be accountable. The resentful mode expressed by Laman and Lemuel also tends to break down under its own weight, as one is left holding that it is wrong to judge people, except for being “judgmental”. At which point things start looking quite silly.

1 Nephi 10

And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

Therefore remember, O man, for all thy doings thou shalt be brought into judgment.

1 Nephi 10:17-20

As my thoughts touch on these verses, I wonder if this is simultaneously one of the greatest blessings and greatest responsibilities of the gospel. God, the omnipotent creator of the universe, who gives life and light to all things, is willing to reveal himself to us. And while he may speak especially to chosen prophets and so on, he is willing to reveal himself by means of the Holy Ghost to “all those who diligently seek him”, no matter when or where they live. Each of us, however lowly, may be brought into supernatural communication with our creator.

At the same time, because that opportunity is available, we are accountable for whether we seek it or not. If we truly seek it ‘diligently’ (and from scripture and experience, I believe that must be a full-hearted and not a superficial effort – see James 1:6-7 and the conditions in Moroni 10:3-5), we will in time have that blessing. But if we choose not to seek it, or to seek it with sufficient diligence and faithfulness, we shall ‘be brought into judgment’.

2020 Edit:

I quote 1 Nephi 10:17-19 above, and that’s part of what always sticks out to me upon reading this chapter, because I think that’s an important part of the message of the Book of Mormon as a whole. Nephi also wants to see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost: and then we are reminded that this is the gift of God to all those who diligently seek him, both in the past as well as in the time that Christ shall appear. Nephi has confidence that if he seeks, he will find, which he does in 1 Nephi 11-14. This is really the turning point where this now becomes Nephi’s account, and not just that of his father, and so he states in verse 1 that ‘[a]nd now I, Nephi, proceed to give an account upon these plates of my proceedings, and my reign and ministry’ (my emphasis).

However, this is not just about Nephi. Just as Nephi had confidence that God could and would make things known to him by the power of the Holy Ghost, we are to have the same confidence on the same basis: that God had done so “as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come” (v. 17). We too can seek to learn and know things by the power of the Holy Ghost, and be confident that if we diligently seek him God will reveal himself to us. Many of the miracles in the Book of Mormon have counterparts in the Bible. This is particularly noticeable in 3 Nephi, where a number of events in Christ’s ministry there tie up with events in the Gospels, and are done in a way intended to draw attention to that fact. In part, this allows the Book of Mormon to act as a second witness – another testimony – of Jesus Christ, by testifying that the miracles he wrought were not confined to one narrow section of place and time, but took place elsewhere too. However, as I discuss in chapter 5 of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible (so this thing now stands out to me), the implied – and at times (like here) the explicit – message of the text is that such things are not just confined to the Book of Mormon either:

Mormon thus claims not only that he has witnessed them, but that these three Nephite disciples ‘will’ be among people in future times, and ‘can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good’. Mormon moves beyond speaking of the appearance and activities of these men as a past event to predicting that they will be a part of future events and can be a part of present experience. Here Given’s concept of iterability offers an important point, that ‘the proliferation of historical
iterations … collectively become[s] the ongoing substance rather than the shadow of God’s past dealings in the universe’ (By the Hand of Mormon, p. 50). Likewise Hardy suggests that the miracles described are intended to act as a ‘concrete demonstration’ that Christ could likewise be ‘present in the lives of believers’ (Understanding the Book of Mormon, p. 198). The repetition of miraculous events like those in the Gospels may therefore be offered not only as a confirmation of those Gospel events, but also as a suggestion that such events need not be limited to any particular time and place but are paradigmatic.

Thus at the end of Book of Mormon’s narrative in 3 Nephi, this account – which features a wide range of miraculous events similar to those seen in the Gospels –concludes not only by affirming that such events took place, but also by asserting that such miracles can and are meant to continue to occur. The ‘iterability’ of such events may be there to indicate that these miracles and manifestations of Christ are not confined to the pages of the Bible, nor the Book of Mormon either, but to suggest implicitly – and in the case of appearances of the three disciples, explicitly – that such occurrences can be a reality now, in the lives of its readers.

(The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, pp. 291-293)

What’s being offered here in this chapter is not just a story of how Nephi went on to have his vision, but a paradigm of how we can have such revelatory experiences too, and that is part of the point. Nephi could have them just as much as his father did and those before him, and we can experience them just as much as Nephi did and those before us.

Also worth noting is Lehi’s quoting from the future, by quoting the words of the yet unborn (by about six centuries) John the Baptist in 1 Nephi 10:8. I’ve written more about this (and the implications of this feat) elsewhere in this series, as well as in chapter four of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.

I also find it interesting how Lehi speaks of the scattering (and future gathering) of Israel here. There’s heavy use of olive tree imagery (which presages the extensive allegory found in Jacob 5), but what I find interesting is the almost positive description of the scattering. That is usually depicted as a punishment due to wickedness (see, for instance, 1 Nephi 22:4-5). Yet here Nephi records Lehi as saying:

Wherefore, he said it must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth.

(1 Nephi 10:13)

Here, the scattering not only has a pleasant destination (‘the land of promise’), but is done to fulfil the divine word. It seems that few of God’s acts have just one motivation, and crucial events in his plan appear to address multiple things at the same time. While punishment is part of the picture for the scattering, it is not the only thing, and while the future gathering fulfils God’s promises, the scattering was also a necessary part of the plan, one which provided for the word of God to go out to all the world, to (as Jacob 5 indicates) save more than one olive tree, and as Paul suggests in Romans 11 (also filled with olive tree imagery), a means by which ‘salvation is come unto the Gentiles’ (Romans 11:11).

 

 

Reading the Book of Mormon: Title Page

As I have done many times before, as part of my personal study I have started reading the Book of Mormon from the beginning once again. This time around, however, I thought I do something a little different and record something here – however small – that catches my attention in each chapter I read. I plan to read a chapter a day, so should have some small thing each day. Anyone who happens to have any observations on the same chapters is welcome to chime in on the comments.

Without further ado, today I read the Title Page and the Testimonies (as well as the introduction, though that isn’t part of the sacred text itself). I’ve commented to a lot of people on the importance of the Title Page in particular, especially once we understand that it is the actual beginning of the Book of Mormon (and not 1 Nephi 1:1!). This time around, however, my eye was caught on the wonderfully ambiguous phrase that the Book of Mormon was “written by way of commandment“. This doubtless refers principally to the fact that the various authors of the Book and its source documents were commanded to write it, but it also carries a potential meaning applying to us: that the Book of Mormon was not just written because of commandments, but is written as commandments, and that its writings carry the force of divine commandments for us.

EDIT (from additional reading for 2020 “Come Follow Me” schedule): Reading the Title Page again (I will make separate posts for the other front matter), I am struck once again by its tone. This was a big insight I got while preparing The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. I write in that about how much of the Book of Mormon’s use of the Bible is related to the key themes laid out on the Title Page (namely revelation & prophecy; the covenants with and the restoration of the house of Israel; and the divinity and messianic role of Christ), but one big thing to simply notice and bear in mind throughout the rest of reading the Book of Mormon is the difference it makes realising that this – which is part of the plates proper – is the beginning of the book, and not “I Nephi, having be born of goodly parents”. Reading through the lens of the latter, one is tempted to think of it as a story. Reading the book with this as the beginning means that it opens up with a declaration of where it came from, the divine inspiration and commandment that it was written and will be translated under, and a declaration of its essential aims. It makes the Book of Mormon as a whole read less as a story, and more of what it is: what one perceptive non-LDS scholar termed “a burning manifesto”. The Book of Mormon will recount history to serve its purposes, but it is not doing so merely to entertain or inform, but to convince and persuade its readers, and while it may disavow complete inerrancy (“if there are faults”), it also fiercely asserts divine authority, and that those who reject and condemn it will be held accountable before the judgment-seat of Christ.