The Prophetic Book of Mormon
Hugh W. Nibley
Reprinted with permission from The Prophetic Book of Mormon, vol. 8 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1989), 435—68.
There are many prophecies in the Book of Mormon, far more that the casual reader would suspect. Some have been fulfilled; some have yet to be. I want to talk about one dominant prophetic theme, which is for us here and now the most important of them all. The editors of the Book of Mormon, Mormon and Moroni, give this theme top priority and bring it to our attention as a matter of life and death. The whole Book of Mormon from beginning to end gives it maximum emphasis. As we all know, that strange and powerful book is a voice from the dust, a message from a departed people, a step-by-step account of how all their deeds and accomplishments came to be expunged from the memory of man while other far older civilizations in the Old World have survived to this day.
At the center of ancient American studies today lies that overriding question, “Why did the major civilizations collapse so suddenly, so completely, and so mysteriously?” The answer now given by the overwhelming majority of those scholars as contained, for example, in T. P. Culbert’s valuable collection of studies on the subject, is that society as a whole suffered a process of polarization into two separate and opposing ways of life, an increased distance between peasant and noble, as W. T. Sanders puts it, that went along with growing hostility between cities and nations as resource margins declined.1 The polarizing syndrome is a habit of thought and action that operates at all levels, from family feuds like Lehi’s to the battle of galaxies. It is the pervasive polarization described in the Book of Mormon and sources from other cultures which I wish now to discuss briefly, ever bearing in mind that the Book of Mormon account is addressed to future generations, not to “harrow up their souls,” but to tell them how to get out of the type of dire impasse which it describes. Moroni is explicit: “And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, . . . that ye may repent, . . . that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done” (Ether 2:11). And again Moroni says: “Give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Mormon 9:31).
What we are to avoid in particular is that polarizing process that begins on the first page of the Book of Mormon and continues to the last. In the opening scene it is Egypt versus Babylon, West versus East, with Lehi’s people caught in the middle; and the book ends with the climactic confrontation at Cumorah, with Moroni caught between two wicked and warring peoples in a battle of annihilation. The Book of Mormon is the story of the fearful passage that led from one situation to the other. Every Latter-day Saint knows that it is a tale of Nephites versus Lamanites, conveniently classified as the Good Guys versus the Bad Guys. In a book called Since Cumorah, I pointed out that a line drawn between the two peoples does not automatically separate the righteous from the wicked at all.2 Far from it—the Lamanites were often the good guys and the Nephites the bad guys; and they had a way of shifting back and forth from one category to the other with disturbing frequency. In the end, as Mormon sadly observes in letters to his son, it is a toss-up as to which of the two is the worse. Cumorah was no showdown between good and evil; it was not even a contest to pick the winner, for while the Nephites did get wiped out, the Lamanites went right on wiping each other out, “and no one knoweth the end of the war” (Mormon 8:8). Speaking of another final showdown, which ended in the extermination of both nations, Moroni turns to address us directly: “And thus we see that the Lord did visit them” when “their wickedness and abominations [not their enemies!] had prepared a way for their everlasting destruction” (Ether 14:25). He wants to make sure we do not miss the point.
The often dangerous polarization between Nephites and Lamanites was no imaginary thing. It was very real, from beginning to end. Right at the outside God explained to Nephi that it was going to be both real and permanent. He wanted it that way for a definite purpose: “Inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord . . . I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also”; then “they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance” (1 Nephi 2:21—24). The Nephites would never be able to remove the Lamanite threat by knocking them out. Every time the Nephites tried that solution they suffered severe losses, and in the end, when after a series of brilliant victories they determined to “cut them off the face of the land” (Mormon 3:10) and end the Lamanite menace once and for all, the Nephites got themselves exterminated.
The process of polarization works like the elimination in a tennis tournament that begins with a large number of contestants for the prize, and by pairing them off two by two ends up with a final pair and winds up with a single Numero Uno. Thus Amalickiah, the most competent of a long line of ambitious and unscrupulous men in the Book of Mormon, removes all competitors one by one, uniting ever growing numbers of his opponents’ followers into a political party and then into a mighty conglomerate army. All this he does in preparation for a showdown with his archenemy, Moroni, whose blood he swore to drink. Moroni was the intolerable obstacle between Amalickiah and his goal, which was to be Number One. It is the age-old story of the three rivals for the kingdom, the treasure, and the inheritance, in which two combine in secret to surprise and kill the third, after which they must fight it out between themselves, each of them having prepared a trap ahead of time that destroys the other.
How it works in history may be viewed in a terrible account of conditions in the Christian churches of the fourth century given by St. Basil. In the confused political situation at the beginning of the century, he says, everyone wanted to give orders and no one wanted to take them; men were willing to cooperate on anything only as the most effective means of crippling the common enemy, after which they would turn against each other. The final survivor and undisputed Number One was Constantine the Great. But, to quote our own study of the subject: “No sooner had Constantine removed his last civil and military opponents then the issue between his Christian and pagan subjects became acute.” No sooner had he put the pagans in their place, than “the churchmen started accusing each other of heresy with a wild abandon that surpassed—as the emperor himself observed—any performance of the heathen. No sooner had his successors removed the last heretic and received the undying thanks of the church, than the true believers were at each others’ throats.”3 The problem was never solved, for in this life we can expect opposition in all things.
The Jaredite Experience
Nowhere is the process brought into sharper analytical focus than in a history that Moroni inserted between his father’s book and his own as the supreme example of the polarizing mania that destroyed his own people. That history is the story of the Jaredites, “who were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country” (Ether 1:1). While the Nephite epic is told with all the depth and power of a Thucydides, the case of the Jaredites, whom Moroni never knew, is set forth as a clinical study. In reading it we seem to be watching some organism through a microscope, first undergoing a process of fission, after which one part attacks and compulsively consumes part or all of the other, and then after a pause begins to show signs of splitting to start the process all over again.
It will be necessary to run through this dismal tale at some length to bring out the full flavor of its insanity. A grand cycle running from unity of the nation to division, conflict, and hence to paralysis or extinction is repeated at least a dozen times, with significant variations over which we cannot linger here.
The sorry round begins when one Corihor, the great-grandson of the original Jared, rebelled against his father the king, moved out of the land, and “drew away many people after him” (Ether 7:4), until he had an army that was able to beat the king and take him captive. Corihor was now what he wanted to be—Number One—until his brother Shule beat him and restored the kingdom to their father, again Number One. Then Corihor does a surprising thing—he repents—and Shule gives him a share of the kingdoms; that is the first time around. Each cycle ends with repentance; it is repentance alone that saves the people from total extinction as they move from period to the next.
Later Corihor’s son rebelled “and drew away . . . all his brethren and many of the people” (Ether 7:15), whereupon he captured Shule and became Number One, until the sons of Shule conspired and murdered him, and Shule became Number One for the third time. Under his rule there came prophets telling the people to repent or be destroyed. The people did repent—and prospered: Second cycle.
Years later one Jared “did flatter many people . . . until he had gained the half of the kingdom” (Ether 8:2) from his father Omer, whose other sons beat Jared and re-instated Omer as Number One. To get back the kingdom, Jared formed secret combinations bound by oaths: “The oaths . . . were given by them of old who also sought power . . . to help such as sought to gain power” (Ether 8:15—16). The secret of the operation was “to keep [the people] in darkness” (Ether 8:16). We shall have something to say of power hereafter—the word occurs some 386 times in the Book of Mormon. Jared was killed by his son-in-law Akish; then Akish, wary of his own son, starved him to death, whereupon another son left the country and joined the deposed king Omer with his followers. Akish was a hard man to beat because he had “won the hearts of the people” by knowing just what they wanted: “The people of Akish were desirous for gain, even as Akish was desirous for power” (Ether 9:11). The war that ensued encompassed “the destruction of nearly all the people of the kingdom” (Ether 9:12), only thirty having the good sense to leave the scene instead of standing up to be counted.
With things thus sadly set to rights, the Lord took the curse off the land, until one Heth “began to embrace the secret plans again of old, to destroy his father” (Ether 9:26), and (need we add?) to become Number One: he “slew him with his own sword; and he did reign in his stead” (Ether 9:27). Enter the prophets again, announcing that the people “should be destroyed if they did not repent” (Ether 9:28). It was a terrible drought and famine that brought repentance and better conditions until one “Morianton . . . gathered together an army of outcasts,” and after a long war “he did gain power over all the land, and did establish himself king over all the land” (Ether 10:9). And Morianton was a very good king; his son and successor Kim was captured by his brother, who became Number One, but Kim’s son Levi made war against him and thus became Number One. Levi was also a good king. One Com, whose father had lost the kingdom and had been imprisoned for twenty-four years, “drew away half of the kingdom,” and after forty years challenged the king of the other half, Amgid. Following a long war, Com “obtained power over the remainder of the kingdom” (Ether 10:32). His son Shiblom slew the prophets, who had again stated the proposition that the people must repent or be utterly destroyed (Ether 11:15). Yet later the people began to repent and were blessed.
After yet another killer came “many prophets” with the usual message: “The Lord would utterly destroy them . . . except they repented of their iniquities” (Ether 11:12). This time there was no repentance, for the people “hardened their hearts, . . . and the prophets mourned and withdrew from among the people” (Ether 11:13). From that time on it was all downhill. A mighty man led a revolt against the king and kept half the kingdom for many years until the king overcame him and became Number One again. Then another mighty man took him captive. Again many prophets came with the usual warning and the assurance that “God would send or bring forth another people to possess the land” (Ether 11:21), while Ether himself preached from sunrise to sunset, exhorting the people “unto repentance lest they should be destroyed” (Ether 12:3). Then the thing became a free-for-all, with “many who rose up, who were mighty men” (Ether 13:15), all zeroing in on King Coriantumr. But he was a great survivor—he knew all the tricks, and he kept afloat while people around him died like flies. Bad as the king was, Ether told him that “the Lord would give unto him his kingdom and spare the people” (Ether 13:20) if they would repent. But the polarizing process had gone too far—nobody could afford to repent (in war, one has only one thought in mind), “and the wars ceased not” (Ether 13:22). Shared put Coriantumr in captivity and became Number One, until Coriantumr’s son freed and restored Coriantumr to that glorious position. By then there was a complete breakdown of all government, with “every man with his band fighting for that which he desired” (ether 13:25). Coriantumr and Shared became obsessed with the necessity of ridding the world of each other and chased each other back and forth as the land went to pot—nothing was secure anywhere, everything would get ripped off—it was as bad as a modern city. This insecurity led to a gun-and-shelter mania, as “every man did cleave unto that which was his own, . . . and every man kept the hilt of his sword in his right hand [to get it you would have to pry it from his cold, dead fingers], in the defense of his property and his own life and of his wives and children” (Ether 14:2). When Shared defeated one of Coriantumr’s armies, he raced to the capital and put himself on the man’s throne—Number One at any price.
Then the process of polarization began in earnest: Coriantumr gathered “great strength to his army” (Ether 14:7) for the space of two years, while Gilead, the brother and successor of Shared, was doing the same, assisted by secret combinations. They were dangerous associates, however, for they soon murdered Gilead and then liquidated his murderer, while a Giant by the name of Lib became king. He was killed fighting Coriantumr, but his brother continued the feud—he was Shiz. As he “[swept] the earth before him,” the “people began to flock together in armies, throughout all the face of the land. And they were divided; and a part of them fled to the army of Shiz, and a part of them fled to the army of Coriantumr” (Ether 14:18—20). Now polarization had reached the critical stage: “And thus we see that the Lord . . . had prepared a way for their everlasting destruction” (Ether 14:25), says Moroni, looking straight at us. As the people of Shiz retreated, they “swept off the inhabitants before them, all that would not join them” (Ether 14:27). Meanwhile, “Coriantumr did gather his armies together upon the hill Comner, and did sound a trumpet unto the armies of Shiz to invite them forth to battle” (Ether 14:28), suggesting the formal set battles of epic literature and the Middle Ages, as “polarized” as a chess game.
After losing millions of people in battles, Coriantumr “began to repent” and wrote to Shiz, “desiring him that he would spare the people, and he would give up the kingdom for the sake of the lives of the people” (Ether 15:3—4). It was of course a personal feud—the world polarizes around over-rated individuals—and Shiz agreed, “if [Coriantumr] would give himself up, that [Shiz] might slay him with his own sword” (Ether 15:15). That was going too far—nobody repented, and both sides “were stirred up to anger” (Ether 15:6) and would have nothing but total victory. Now comes the last act: “They did gather together all the people upon all the face of the land, . . . the people who were for Coriantumr were gathered together to the army of Coriantumr; and the people who were for Shiz were gathered together to the army of Shiz. . . . For the space of four years [they were] gathering together the people,” total mobilization including women and children, “every one to the army which he would” (Ether 15:12—15). Everybody had to stand up and be counted. Coriantumr, sizing up the situation, repeated his offer of coexistence to Shiz, but nobody would have it, “for they were given up unto the hardness of their hearts, and the blindness of their minds that they might be destroyed; wherefore they went again to battle” (Ether 15:19). But the insanity could have been halted even if they would have thought of repenting. Not a chance: “They were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their swords” (Ether 15:22). Then “Shiz arose, and also his men, and he swore in his wrath that he would slay Coriantumr or he would perish by the sword” (Ether 15:28), which he did. Coriantumr enjoyed the advantage of being a little less bad (he had suggested peace talks) and was allowed to live a little longer, alone in utter misery. Thus the polar tension was dissolved, the wicked destroyed the wicked, and Coriantumr remained all alone, the undisputed Number One. In The World of the Jaredites, we showed that the Jaredite scenario is not at all as fantastic as it sounds to us: it was the normal perennial Asiatic madness of the great Khans and War-Lords of the Steppes.4 But now, thirty years after, it does not sound fantastic at all, this picture of two halves of humanity destroying each other—it is alarmingly prophetic.
The Roman Experience
Thirty years ago I wrote another study of polarization in the ancient world—the situation at the time of Constantine. It is such an opposite illustration of what we are talking about that I may be forgiven for quoting from it at some length. Here the Romans and the new Super-States of the East were facing each other in a fatal showdown that exhausted both civilizations. At that time, I wrote, “the concept of the Romanitas [was] . . . very close indeed to that ‘Western Civilization’ by which one conjures in our own day.” “Rome [citing Aelius Aristides and Prudentius, for this was a well-documented article] . . . is civilization itself, the free world of free men, a new race sprung from the mixed blood of all the nations.”5 Its way of life was the only one for civilized men and was bound to become that of all mankind, and so on. The Romans were the Good Guys: “Hic est Ausonia, the Western World of clean, fresh, simple, unspoiled pioneers . . . . Rome was great because Rome was good. The emperors who . . . took the names of Pius and Felix were giving expression to the old Roman belief in the close association between piety and success . . . . Teachers and orators drilled the essentials of Western goodness into their pupils and auditors until, by the fourth century, when hardly a speck of ancient virtue remained, men could talk of nothing else but that virtue.”6 Again I cannot resist quoting what I wrote thirty years ago because it seems so prophetic, too. The principle exponents of the doctrine from the beginning had been the Roman Patres, “aristocratic, senatorial, traditionalist, anti-oriental.” “No word was dearer to them than libertas [freedom], . . . but ‘the nobiles conceived of this popular catch-word as meaning freedom for them to exercise their dignitas,’ and not for people without money. In the fourth century they ‘had plenty to say about their humanitas, philanthropia, . . . their mercy, their pious serenity . . . . But such self-praise carries no weight; the choice words are mere empty form.’ In the Senate they called loudly for arms to defend civilization—when no personal sacrifice was involved; and when the barbarians were at the gates they spent their time not in meeting the foe but in hysterical attacks on possible subversives.”7
Scholars have marveled that the magnificent military equipment and huge armies of professional soldiers “‘were not more effective than they were, and that the closely knit network of skillfully deployed fortresses let the invaders pass through it many times.’ This grim defect is attributed first to the economics of the government, which, while giving away enormous wealth to individuals, so reduced and neglected the personnel of the border forces that ‘the strong places, badly manned, were simply forgotten, often without garrisons,’ and second to the low morale and frequent desertions of the underpaid soldiers who remained [especially in Germany]. Nobody who could pay for defense was willing to do it.”8 “The great land-owners, who were also the industrialists of the times, ‘appreciated civilization and culture very highly,’ says Rostovtzeff, ‘their political outlook was narrow, their servility was unbounded. But their external appearance was majestic, and their grand air impressed even the barbarians.'”9 “‘The earth is the mother of all of us,’ said the starving field-hands and factory workers, ‘for she gives equally; but you pretend that she is your mother only.'”10 “Skimming the cream of the world’s natural resources on their vast, tax-free estates, these men thought of themselves as natural-born leaders of men . . . . Under the early emperors ‘the state’s sphere of activity had been curtailed to an astonishing degree; the state simply secured peace and law in the world and then turned it over to private exploitation.'”11
“But when in the fourth century the Imperial government went after a larger share of the income in order to support costly wars of defense,” of which they approved so loudly, the great landowners were not among the contributors. “They quickly became experts in evading taxation and shifting the expenses of war and government to others.” Their speculations in grain drove the Emperor Julian to threaten publicly “‘to have all gentlemen arrested’ for sabotaging his attempts at price control. They in reply accused . . . [him] of low demagoguery in trying to fix minimum grain prices in the face of drought and an artificial boom market created by the army; and they not only refused to sell at government prices, but bought up what grain they could at those prices to resell on the black market or outside the price-control zone. Small wonder that bishops, government officials, and the common people blamed ‘the rich’ for deliberately engineering famines that were profitable to themselves.”12
We have much more to say in the article on the same subject. What had kept a society, split down the middle from the earliest times between Patres and Plebes, from falling apart was practiced application of the maxim Externus timor, maximum concordiae vinculum, or, the secret of unity is to find an external foe. “Since Republican times Parthia had been ‘the type and representative of the untamed Orient,’ the Eastern peril, the symbol of Asiatic barbarism; but when the Parthians were absorbed by the revived and highly centralized Persian empire, . . . or under a superman such as Attila, conditions were present for a true world-polarization, with the East replying in kind to Western charges of barbarism or aggression.”13 Each side described itself as the “free world and its rival as a slave-state” in one of those ideological debates in which neither side is ever beaten. “On both sides the ancient propaganda of freedom has a singularly hollow ring,” because each was being torn and flattered by internal bits of polarization, that factio, the restless, narrow, angry and violent defense of special interests which, according to the ancient observers, was what really destroyed the Empire. Each half of the world “was in itself a world of factions and parties, of rival ideologies and rival cultures pitted against each other in deadly conflict, yet so exactly alike in everything but label [and usually the rivals were contending for the same world-commanding label—the same label] as to give the impression that one antagonist is simply a mirror-image of the other.”14
This is a very important principle. As the two poles conceive an ever-greater antipathy to each other, they become more and more alike. Everyone knows that it is like poles that repel each other. As each recognizes itself in the other, it resents the incriminating resemblance. “It was the custom of the emperors of Rome and Asia to describe themselves in identical terms, while each accused his rival of being a base forgery and depraved imitation of himself.”15 “We have not here a real clash of ideologies at all, but only the rivalry of parties animated by identical principles and racing for the same objectives.”16 What they were both after was, to use the Book of Mormon formula, “power and gain.” And the secret of commanding loyalty on both sides was, of course, to play up the wickedness of the other. In the fourth century, this was done systematically in church and school.
“Just as all obedient subjects are embraced in a single shining community, so all outsiders are necessarily members of a single evil conspiracy of evil . . . . It can be shown by a most convenient syllogism that since God is on our side, we cannot show any degree of toleration for any opposition without incurring infinite guilt. . . . One does not need to quibble; there is no such thing as being partly wrong or mistaken; the painful virtue of forbearance and the labor of investigation no longer embarrass the champions of one-package loyalty. No matter how nobly and austerely the heretics may live, for St. Augustine they are still Anti-Christ—all of them, equally and indiscriminately; their virtues are really vices, their virginity carnality, their reason unreason, their patience in persecution mere insolence; any cruelty shown to them is really not cruelty but kindness . . . [For] heresy in any degree is a crime against God, and is not a crime against God an infinite sin?” As Alföldi points out, the logic of polarization is irrefutable—and utterly without conscience, but it is also inevitable.17
The empire of the fourth century was a world of displaced persons, inevitably drawn toward the big city. To take the place of the old, lost loyalty to hearth and homeland—the prisca fides—strong measures had to be taken; a new super-loyalty was needed in order to guarantee the permanence of social order: men were taught to declare allegiance to a super-thing, a noble abstraction loosely designated as Romania or Romanitas, whose binding cement was a carefully cultivated hostility to Barbaria, the threatening world of the steppes of Asia. The idea of the two worlds was moreover no mere fiction of government propaganda; it was an intimate reality. It was “the age-long struggle to repel, check, or annihilate the perennial enemy,” described by J.B. Bury as “the eternal question . . . the strife between Europe and Asian between Aryan and non-Aryan.”18 All around the civilized periphery of Asia, “the hordes of the heartland” had for centuries been dealt with in the same ways: “By subtle and disruptive diplomacy, by the long and costly limes, by punitive and deterrent expeditions, and, when all else failed, by the recalcitrant absorption of their barbarian conquerors.”19
To command loyalty and secure their own power, the rulers of Rome made the most of this confrontation. “To the lessons of the schools, carefully supervised by the government, was added a more aggressive policy of deliberately widening the gulf between the Two Worlds”—Planned Polarization. “For centuries barbarian and Roman, East and West, had been mingling on terms of greatest intimacy, producing a borderline culture in which it was quite impossible to draw the line between one culture and another. Priscus mentions quite casually the presence of people from the West, visiting relatives in the camps of the Asiatics; he notes the busy coming and going of merchants between the Two Worlds, and he describes the kind hospitality shown him, a complete stranger, in the homes of the Easterners. But with this he gives us the other side of the picture—the official side: the ubiquitous activity of spies and agents in Roman pay, the infusion into the very court of Attila of large sums of Roman money to corrupt and divide, the insane and mounting conviction of the rulers of the two halves of the world (both barbarians!), each [believing] that his way was the divine calling to liberate the human race from the intolerable ambition of the other.”20
Two Contemporary Cases of Dangerous Polarization
With the Jaredite and Roman examples before us, let us turn to the two most notable exponents of world-polarization in the land today. Both accept the drastic splitting of the globe into mutually antithetical halves; but their own interpretations are poles apart. The position of the first, Richard Nixon, is supremely simple and straightforward: It is the Good Guys on one side and the Bad Guys on the other, and that explains everything: “It may seem melodramatic,” he writes in the conclusion of his book, “to treat the twin poles of human experience represented by the United States and the Soviet Union as the equivalent of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, God and the Devil; yet if we allow ourselves to think of them that way, even hypothetically, it can help clarify our perspective of the world struggle.”21 If it hardly clarifies the picture, it certainly simplifies it, as the writer continues, “The U.S. represents hope, freedom, security, and peace. The Soviet Union stands for fear, tyranny, aggression, and war. If these are not the poles of good and evil in human affairs, then the concepts of good and evil have no meaning. Those who cannot see the distinction have little claim to lecture on conscience.”22
So there you have it: There are just two poles, and we are all at one pole and they are all at the other. Their evil deeds repel us, yet, strange to say, we do everything they do—because they force us to! “Soviet strategy is not defensive; it is designed to secure victory. The only answer to a strategy of victory on the Soviet side is [a] strategy of victory for the West.”23 If they play dirty, “we too can fight the twilight war . . . in the hazardous mufti of the CIA.” In another shrewd move, “the Russians have been giving their clients guns, while we have been giving ours lectures on human rights.”24 No more of that—now we do everything they do. We must fight them because they do all those bad things—and to fight them, we too must do all those same bad things. Thus, just like them, we must give up desirable social goals to attain military aims.25
“We have no choice but to . . . counterpose our military strength to that of the Soviet Union,” which, of course, leaves them no choice but to counter ours. “This is the way to avoid defeat,”26 he tells us. Finding ourselves constantly threatened, in reply we should be as much a threat to them as they are to us. We should “knock down the ‘no trespassing signs'” and “declare ourselves as free to forage on the Soviet’s side as they have been to forage on ours.”27 “The Soviet leaders can be utterly ruthless in their use of power,” which we can counter “only if the West develops a sense of purpose equal to theirs—though different from theirs.”28 How different? To the Soviets anyone who stands in the way of their supremacy—of their hegemony—is an adversary—and what else is anyone who stands in Mr. Nixon’s way but an adversary on his enemy list? We can never have peace with them because “the Soviet leadership has no concept of ‘peace’ as we understand it, or of coexistence as we would define it. They do not believe in the concept of equals. An equal is, by their definition, a rival, to be eliminated before he eliminates you.”29 Mr. Nixon’s sentiments exactly: No reconciliation, no coexistence, no avoidance of war is to be thought—because they will not allow it. The thesis of Mr. Nixon’s book, if not of his life, is that we are constantly being threatened; and there is only one way to meet the threat, coming as it does from a source of irredeemable evil, and that is by power—the enemy understands no other argument: “To meet the challenge of our own survival . . . we must drastically increase our military power, shore up our economic power, reinvigorate our will power, strengthen the power of our Presidents, and develop of strategy aimed not just at avoiding defeat [that would leaving us still feeling threatened] but at attaining victory.”30 “Victory requires knowing when to use power.” He quotes James M. Burns: “Presidents must have a will to power; . . . they must constantly search for power, building it, if necessary, out of every scrap of formal authority and personal influence they can locate. They must constantly guard whatever power they have achieved. They must hoard power so that it will be available in the future.”31 One man alone has “the specific responsibility” to ensure “the nation’s survival and the free world’s future,” through the “effective use of power” that “only experience can teach,” and so on.32
At this point we cannot but call to mind the situation in the days of Enoch: “In those days Satan had great dominion among men, and raged in their hearts; and from thenceforth came wars and bloodshed . . . because of secret works, seeking for power” (Moses 6:15). This also brings up Moroni’s statement referred to above about “oaths . . . given by them of old who also sought power . . . . And they were kept up by the power of the devil to administer . . . unto the people, to keep them in darkness, to help such as sought power to gain power” (Ether 8:15—16). Granted that such power-seeking bad on their side, what else can it be in those who imitate them? To be sure, “secrecy is the sine qua non in the conduct of international relations, whether dealing with allies or adversaries.”33
The Enoch situation recalls another quotation, far more recent, from Spencer W. Kimball in his great bicentennial address: “We must commit vast resources to the fabrication of . . . ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God . . . . What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? Can we not take the Lord at his word and exercise a particle of faith in him? . . . We must leave off the worship of modern-day idols and a reliance on the ‘arm of the flesh.'”34 Mr. Nixon has an answer to that one: Faith without strength is futile.35 What a revealing statement! Faith is the source of strength, the very power by which the worlds were created. To say it is helpless without military backing recalls an ancient saw: “I trust God but I feel better with money in the bank.” In the spirit of the times we preach that to expect security without a four-man bodyguard is futile, when security is not to need a bodyguard; that charity without a guaranteed profit is futile, when charity means asking no profit; that free agency without strict supervision is futile, and so on. Mr. Nixon rejects Napoleon’s dictum that in the end it is the spirit that always wins—Napoleon should know, but Nixon will have none of that: that goes only for the long run, he says, but “in that short run in which we all live, the sword is the essential shield for the spirit,”36 and “in the final analysis victory will go to the side . . . [with the] power.” “Power is the ability to make things happen, . . . to set the course of history.”37 “The uses of power cannot be divorced from the purposes of power.”38 In Mr. Nixon’s book, God is indeed on the side of the big battalions.
Mr. Nixon insists that there can be no thought of avoiding World War III (because it is already begun) and that we can win it. “If we win World War III, all peoples can survive . . . with the chance to advance toward freedom and prosperity. If the Soviets win, all will become slaves and satellites.”39 He cannot resist an ethnic racial slur—anything to widen the breach—when he remarks, quite incorrectly, the “the word ‘Slav” is itself related to the word ‘slave.'”
All peoples can survive? Never once does he mention the suicidal—Jaredite—nature of the war he heralds. “The American people want to win [who doesn’t?] . . . . The first necessity is to recognize that we can win, and that we should win. The next is to insist that we must win, and . . . that we will do whatever is necessary to ensure victory.”40 Does that mean that the end justifies the means? That immoral doctrine Mr. Nixon finds to be “meaningless in the abstract,” but a particular end does justify a particular means: “Some ends . . . do justify the means that would not be justified in other circumstances.” “Failure to [act on this principle] . . . would be an act of moral abdication.”41 In such circumstances the Ten Commandments apply to only half the human race, and it not the voice of God from Sinai that lays down the rules but our own interest and convenience, as we choose to interpret them. Thus, thou shalt not lie—to your friends, that is. After all, the dictionary definition of strategy is “Deception,” in particular, with the intention of “killing others, practiced on an enemy,” an enemy being anyone who stands in your way, and whether in business or in war, strategy is the name of the game. Thou shalt not kill—people on your side only, of course; for killing others you get medals. Thou shalt not steal—from your friends, naturally. I seem to recall that the Lord said that if you love only your friends you have no reward, because sinners and publicans do that much (Matthew 5: 46—47).
To end his book with a resounding peroration in the best manner of the high-school debater, Mr. Nixon coins some new scripture to take the place of all those unpleasant things about “who takes up the sword,” “cursed is he who puts his trust in the arm of flesh,” “man shall not smite, neither shall he judge,” and so on. “If we determine to win,” he cries, “then the spirit gives edge to the sword, the sword preserves the spirit, and freedom will prevail.”42 He identifies “the spirit” with that determination to win and to be Number One at all cost, which was the spirit that annihilated the Jaredites and, according to Milton and the Bible, which motivated the indomitable Lucifer and got him thrown out of heaven.
Such a cleanly polarized world gives us supremely simple solutions and supremely confident leaders, whose decisions are quick and spontaneous as a knee-jerk and as irrevocable as the Ten Commandments—men like Hitler, Stalin, Arafat, Khadafi, Khomeni, Somoza, and others—who reduce all troubles to one cause and all problems to just one enemy. What could be more unhealthy than to have all one’s thoughts and actions dictated and conditioned by the policy of another, waiting for him to act so that we can react, noting what he does so that we can do the same, watching his career so we can know how to plan and direct our own? Well is Satan called the Adversary, the Destroyer, the Accuser, the Contender. All of his titles describe one who must wait for another to act before he can move. Nothing is more crippling to creative thinking than obsession with an enemy. The person who can think of only one solution to a given problem in mentally bankrupt; the person who can only think of one solution to every problem is doomed.
Our second preacher of world dichotomy is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. No one hates the Soviet regime and what it stands for more than he, or with better reason. In an address delivered at Harvard, entitled A World Split Apart, he asks us to view “two world powers, each of them already capable of destroying the other.” The West as he describes it is in exactly the same position and mood of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, everyone being convinced that those without the Empire “are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments, or by . . . their own barbarity, . . . from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life.”43 Like the Romans, the West also displays, according to Solzhenitsyn, “a decline in courage among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite,” revealed in “anger and inflexibility . . . when dealing with weak governments and weak countries,” in other words, the tendency to bully characteristic of spoiled children, motivated by “the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life,” which “imprints many Western faces with worry and anxiety,” indicative of “active and intense competition.” Though they have “almost unlimited enjoyment of freedom,” they insist on preserving it not by teaching self-control, but by making laws to take care of everything: “The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws”—everything must be settled in court, “any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law.” “One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of legal frames.”44
On the one hand “a Communist regime . . . without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.” Thus “an oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention for a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food-product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his food to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.”45 Within the past ten days we have seen even more shocking examples in the cases of the eight major oil companies and the three dominant cereal processors. Which is good and which is bad in these two extremes? Solzhenitsyn will relegate neither society to either pole: “But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively; No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours.” In other words, we need repentance—and who would deny it? Over against “an abyss of lawlessness,” in the Soviet Union, “it is also demeaning to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have,” which is far more dehumanizing. There is a “weakening of human beings in the West, while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger.”46
This enervating “mechanical legalistic smoothness” is nowhere more in evidence than here in our midst, where for years short skirts were modest and long slacks immodest—because the rules said so; mustaches and beards, mandatory among our grandfathers, became by degree carnal, sensual, and devilish. Last week students enrolling in my classes had just one question to ask: How do we get grades? Grades are acquisitive, competitive, and phony; but they are the official legal certificates that everyone must have, issued in fixed denominations on a mathematically graduated scale, to be converted it is hoped hereafter into legal tender of the land—and that is the only thing that interests these young people in the study of religion, of all things! This is no trifling thing; the seeds of such corruption are all-pervasive.
Poles apart in some things, it is where they are weakest that the two societies described by Solzhenitsyn are most alike. Like poles repel each other, and it is when as in Roman times the two halves of the world are playing for the same stakes and using exactly the same methods that they most resent each other. They are rivals; for many years each has announced that it intends and expects to convert the world. The two great principles of action that dominate both communities are the same. First, the belief that the economy is the most important thing in the world—they are by profession “dialectical materialists,” while we rest our case in all human affairs on the bottom line. Both sides fancy themselves before everything as realists. The second principle is that man is “the center of everything that exists,” having no “higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth.” Success is what we are both after, and success means here and now; no “pie in the sky” for either party. “Everything beyond physical well-being and the accumulation of material goods is . . . left outside the range of attention of the state and the social system.” As both “state systems were becoming increasingly materialistic,” it was all “endless materialism; freedom from religion, . . . concentration on social structures.” Solzhenitsyn insists that in describing the West he has also been describing the East: “At first glance it seems an ugly parallel,” he writes, “common traits in the thinking and way of life of today’s West and today’s East? But such is the logic of materialistic development.” Nevertheless, “in our Eastern countries, Communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero.” What is the danger, then? It is not miserable Marxism. On both sides “we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility,” lacking which we are “deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split world is less terrible than the fact that the same disease is plaguing the two main sections.”47 In Since Cumorah we called it “The Nephite disease.”48 But note well, Mr. Nixon names his book “The Real War,” and he explains it by the total and irreconcilable differences between two societies; Mr. Solzhenitsyn on the other hand sees the exact opposite, that what he calls “the real crisis” is not caused by the two being so different, but by their being so much alike in the things they believe most strongly. Marx and Manchester both take their moral and rational standard four-square on the foundation that Darwin laid for them. “On the whole,” said President Kimball, “we are an idolatrous people, a condition most repugnant to the Lord.”49
The Real Polarity
The polarized condition of the world today, however silly, is not to be denied. But is it consistent with the real polarity of good and evil? If God and Satan stand each surrounded by his host, they are not human hosts. The human race is placed not at either pole but squarely between the two. In that position each individual is free to gravitate in either direction; that is the testing to which all are subjected during this time of probation, every day of their lives. As long as they are living here they are subject to being tried and tested. This is how Mormon puts it. First, the polar situation: “A man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil. Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy to God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. But behold, that which is of God inviteth to do good continually; wherefore every good thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:11—13).
Note the “broken symmetry.” There is no mention of God’s being an enemy to the devil, or of fighting against him. He could crush him in an instant if he chose. There is no mention of his followers fighting; their only invitation is to love God and serve him by doing good continually. There are two powers, “inviting and enticing” us in opposite directions—but not forcing anyone—the devil cannot do that, said the Prophet Joseph, and God will not. No one is forced in either direction, and everyone makes his own choice as an individual. This is carefully explained by Moroni in the verses that immediately follow. No one in this life reaches either pole or can consider himself safely home in either camp—for the whole purpose of this life, designed at the creation to be “a time of probation,” is to subject each individual to the test by allowing him to choose for himself, as long as he lives, which way he shall go.
But if evil is by definition that of which one does not approve, you ask, then what danger is there of anyone’s deliberately choosing it? One does not; one follows “the desires of his heart”—the ultimate choice, as Alma explains, and all the time insists that he is choosing what is good and in so doing puts the stamp of righteousness on his life (cf. Alma 41:3—5). Thus Satan enticeth and inviteth men to go his way by “puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world” (3 Nephi 6:15), having taken which course men invariably justify it by depicting it as the very path of virtue. “Wherefore,” says Mormon, “take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil” (Moroni 7:14), from which it is apparent that such neat perversions of value are not only possible but common—something to be earnestly warned against. And then comes the important principle: “For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night” (Moroni 7:15). We cannot plead ignorance in yielding to temptation. “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” Mormon repeats then that everything which “inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God,” while “whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, . . . then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil” (Moroni 7:16—17). Again, there is no mention of force or compulsion on either side. Again the admonition: “See that ye do not judge wrongfully, . . . search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil” (Moroni 7:18—19). The only deception here is self-deception, since every individual can know perfectly which is right and which is wrong. It is against self-deception that Moroni passionately warns us.
The point is that all men find themselves between the two poles. In this life no one has yet arrived at a point of complete perfection or of complete depravity. Ezekiel devotes a whole chapter to this theme: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, . . . shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: . . . and in his sin . . . he shall die” (Ezekiel 18:23—24). While we remain alive, it is never too late for the wicked to choose righteousness and vice versa; the pressure is always on—”the devil . . . inviteth and enticeth to sin . . . continually. But . . . God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually” (Moroni 7:12—13). To imagine the wicked as already gathered at one pole, and all the righteous at another is to reject the whole plan of probation; it renders the gospel of repentance null and void, the wicked beyond repentance, the righteous not needing it; whereas God keeps the door open to both as long as they are in this time of testing. This life is “a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (Alma 42:4). Nay, the life of man is lengthened long beyond his prime to give him the full benefit of the doubt: “And we see that death comes upon mankind; . . . nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state” (Alma 12:24). The door is left open, says Nephi, “until the end of the day of probation” (2 Nephi 33:9).
“The devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually” (Moroni 7:12), and God permits it! He has expressly allowed Satan, the common enemy, to try men and to tempt them—that is the whole point of the thing; men must be exposed to both influences so each can make his own choice. None has gone so far in one direction that he may not still repent and turn back; and none has gone so far in the other that he does not need to repent and improve his ways. What, then, could be more retrograde to God’s purpose than to see all mankind as the churchmen did in the fourth century, as solidly compacted and congealed at two opposite poles, with nothing between them; each animated and absorbed by one thought—implacable hatred of the other? The gospel of repentance is a constant reminder that the most righteous are still being tested and may yet fall, and that the most wicked are not yet beyond redemption and may still be saved. And that is what God wants: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” (Ezekiel 18:23). There are poles for all to see, but in this life no one has reached and few have ever approached either pole, and no one has any idea at what point between his neighbor stands. Only God knows that.
When the early church began to grow in power and influence and worldliness, the ancient doctrine of the Two Ways was quickly replaced by that of the Two Parties. The former specified that there lies before every mortal, at every moment of his life, a choice between the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness; but the latter doctrine taught that righteousness consisted in belonging to one party (ours), and wickedness in belonging to the other (theirs).
The doctrine of probation is the inescapable choice between Two Ways, everyone having a perfect knowledge of the way he should go. None may commit his decision to the judgement of a faction, a party, a leader, or a nation; none can delegate his free agency to another. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2). We cannot protest innocence on the grounds of having been given bad advice, doing what we did for the best interests of a country, doing only what others were doing, or being forced to do it by the need to check and frustrate a nefarious enemy. Those who make those pleas, which have become popular in our day, dismiss any thought of repentance for themselves. Has even one of the many convicted of great crimes in high places of recent years ever admitted moral wrongdoing? Has any ever even hinted at a need for repentance?
It is easy to imagine absolutes, and to think and argue in terms of absolutes, as the theologians have always done: Good and evil, light and darkness, hot and cold, black and white—we know exactly what they are; but in the real world we have rarely experienced the pure thing—our own experience lies between. Yet standing in the middle ground, we are faced with absolute decisions. It is not where we stand, says Ezekiel, that makes us good or evil in God’s eyes—no one has reached the top or bottom in this short life—but the direction in which we are facing. There we have only two choices. The road up and the road down are the same, says Heracleitus.50 It all depends on the way you are facing. You are taking either the up-road or the down-road; there is no third way, for if you try to compromise and go off at an angle, you will never reach either goal. You are either repenting or not repenting, and that is, according to the scriptures, the whole difference between being righteous or being wicked.
So it is indeed the Way of Light or the Way of Darkness, but when two ways were identified by the churchmen with the two parties by the churchmen—ours and yours—the doctrine was exploited with inexorable logic: Since there are only two sides, one totally evil and the other absolutely good, and I am not totally evil, I must be on God’s side, and that puts you on the other side. This doctrine has been worked for many years in Utah as a political ploy. With withering contempt, Isaiah denounces the comfortable logic: It is not for you to say who is on the Lord’s side, says the Lord; that is for me to say, and those who most loudly offer their support and cry “Lord! Lord!” are those of whom I must disapprove (Matthew 7:21). “See the foe in countless numbers, marshalled in the ranks of sin,” we sing, as if we have already chosen sides and know who the bad people are, because we are on the Lord’s side. “Fight for Zion, down with error, flash the sword above the foe, every stroke disarms a foeman,” and so on. No error on our side? The point of all such hymns is that it is sin and error that we are fighting, not people guilty of sin and error—for we are all such people, and each one can only confront and overcome sin and error in himself. You cannot tell the righteous from the wicked, the Lord told Joseph Smith, you cannot tell your friends from your enemies. Be still and let me decide the issue! (D&C 10:37).
In his last letter to his son, Mormon considers the battle already lost (Moroni 9:20); sometime before, he had decided that his people had passed the point of no return: “I saw that the day of grace was passed with them, both temporally and spiritually” (Mormon 2:15). Yet he insists that he must go right on struggling as long as he is alive: “For if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God” (Moroni 9:6). Only after this life are we safe in home. And what was the “labor” he had to perform? Who was this “enemy of all righteousness”? Not the Lamanites! “Notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people” (Moroni 9:9). No, the call was to “labor diligently” with his own people, “notwithstanding their hardness” (Moroni 9:6), even though ‘[he] fear[s] lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them. For . . . they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually” (Moroni 9:4—5). Earlier, though, the leader of the army, Mormon, had laid down his arms and “utterly refused” to march against the Lamanitesbecause his own people were going to battle seeking revenge for the blood of their brethren. And what was wrong with the “Green Beret” scenario? The Lord had strictly forbidden it. And now, in the letter, he tells Moroni that he is actually praying for the “utter destruction” of the Nephites “except the repent” (Moroni 9:22). And they had not repented, and he had given up hope. And yet Mormon died fighting the Lamanites, who were not as wicked as his own people!
Is there no solution to the cruel dilemma? There is, and the Book of Mormon gives it to us in a number of powerful examples. Perhaps the foremost is Ammon, the mightiest man in battle of all the Nephites. He became wholly convinced that there was a better way of handling even the most vicious and determined enemy than by killing them. The Nephites laughed at him, but he went right ahead: he would go on a mission and preach to the Lamanites. You are crazy, they said, there is only one sermon those wretches understand: “Now ye do remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn? For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth, . . . as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language” (Alma 26:23—24). And what could be more sensible? There is only one possible solution. “And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us” (Alma 26:25). But not for Ammon: “We came . . . not with the intent to destroy our brethren, but with the intent that perhaps we might save some few of their souls” (Alma 26:26). Nothing guaranteed, you understand, but anything was better than the other solution. So Ammon recalls how he and his friends went “forth amongst [the people], . . . patient in our sufferings,” going “from house to house . . . . We have entered into their houses and taught them . . . in their streets, . . . and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks, . . . stoned, . . . bound, . . . and cast into prison” (Alma 26:28—29). What could have been worth paying such a price in inconvenience and humiliation? “We have suffered . . . all this, that perhaps we might be the means of saving some soul” (Alma 26:30). This alone could break the vicious circle of provocation and revenge that was destroying both people.
And Ammon brought thousands to his way of thinking. A whole nation of great warriors laid down their arms and refused to take them up again even at the cost of their lives. When they were moved by great compassion to come to the aid of Helaman and Alma, who had given them protection and who were being desperately sore-pressed by their enemies, those two heroes intervened with powerful preaching that persuaded them not to change their wise decision. The Ammonites became the most righteous, the most saintly people in the Book of Mormon, after a period of agonizing repentance, in which they refer to their former deeds of valor on the battlefield as pure murder, and wonder whether God will ever forgive them. They utterly rejected taking up arms under any circumstances and turned the tide of affairs of both Nephites and Lamanites.
Alma learned the same lesson. After holding the highest and most influential positions in the land, which enabled him to bring pressure to bear on all decisive issues—commander of the armies, chief judge, head of the church—he laid aside all his high offices and did “go forth among his people, . . . that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way,” after all his experience, “that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony” (Alma 4:19). With all his vast experience Alma was convinced that he could do more good and actually have more influence as a simple missionary than as head of the state, head of the army, or head of the church! And so he takes his leave, disappearing all alone over the horizon into the midst of hostile and unbelieving people, never to be heard of again. Once the people saw that the great man had lost his official clout, they treated him almost as badly as they did Ammon.
We freely grant that this is an unlikely solution in the present world, as the Book of Mormon more than hints in God’s reply to Moroni when, being shown by Jesus Christ the dangers in which the present inhabitants of the land and the church now find themselves, he “prayed unto the Lord that he would give the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity” (Ether 12:36). For the Lord had told him that the only hope of the Gentiles was to have charity (Ether 12:34—35), the one toward which the present world is least inclined. In reply to his request, the Lord gave Moroni no firm promise. His only answer was: “If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful” (Ether 12:37). God will not force and man to have charity, which must be spontaneous and unsolicited, as Paul says, seeking nothing for itself (1 Corinthians 13:5). Charity is the one thing a person must have in himself and of himself. And so there Moroni leaves it: will we have charity, or will we not?
We can end on a cheery note in spite of everything. The mere fact that we have the Book of Mormon is reassuring. On this night of the Autumnal Equinox, the angel Moroni took the trouble to appear to Joseph Smith—four times on the first night, and on the same night in four successive years. Moroni has told us of the pains he took to compile, edit, preserve, and conceal the record, and he had made it clear that he did it all with the express understanding that someone in the future, reading it, might decide to repent; that some people might just be wiser than the Nephites, Lamanites, and Jaredites. As to the rest, those who will not listen and repent, “as it was in the days of Noah,” they have been given fair warning “so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Either way, Moroni’s efforts were not to be in vain.
After reading this over, I thought, So what else is new? Can’t I say something a bit more original? Must we always deal in truisms and platitudes? What is new is this: that only a few years ago this little spiel would have sounded like the most extravagant science-fiction or futuristic horror-fantasy; it would have been quite unthinkable. In my youth I thought the Book of Mormon was much too occupied with extreme situations, situations that had little bearing on the real world of everyday life and ordinary human affairs. What on earth could the total extermination of nations have to do with life in the enlightened modern world? Today no comment on that is necessary. Moroni gives it to us straight: This is the way it was before, and this is the way it is going to be again, unless there is a great repentance.
1. W.T. Sanders, in T. P. Culbert, ed., The Classic Maya Collapse (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), 345—46.
2. Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1967), 373—409; reprinted in CWHN 7:337—72.
3. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Unsolved Loyalty Problem: Our Western Heritage,” Western Political Quarterly 6 (1953):648.
4. Hugh W. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), 231—38; reprinted in CWHN 5:231—37.
5. Nibley, “The Unsolved Loyalty Problem,” 663.
6. Ibid., 638.
7. Ibid., 649.
8. C. Diehl, as quoted in Ibid., 649.
9. M. Rostovtzeff, as quoted in Ibid., 649.
10. Philostratus, as quoted in Ibid., 649.
11. J. Vogt, as quoted in Ibid., 650.
12. Ibid., 650—51.
13. Ibid., 633—34.
14. Ibid., 635.
15. Ibid., 636.
16. Ibid., 637.
17. Ibid., 645—46.
18. J. B. Bury, as quoted in Ibid., 637.
19. Ibid., 637.
20. Ibid., 638—39.
21. Richard Nixon, The Real War (New York: Warner, 1980), 314.
23. Ibid., 297.
24. Ibid., 298.
25. Ibid., 199—201.
26. Ibid., 300.
27. Ibid., 299.
28. Ibid., 309.
29. Ibid., 20—21.
30. Ibid., 15—16.
31. James M. Burns, as quoted in ibid., 248.
32. Ibid., 249.
33. Ibid., 257.
34. Spencer W. Kimball, “The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign 6 (1976): 6.
35. Nixon, The Real War, 310.
37. Ibid., 312.
38. Ibid., 313.
39. Ibid., 299.
40. Ibid., 280, 296.
41. Ibid., 313.
42. Ibid., 315.
43. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “A World Split Apart,” National Review 30 (1978): 836.
44. Ibid., 837.
46. Ibid., 839.
47. Ibid., 840—41.
48. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 390—405; in CWHN 7:354—68.
49. Kimball, “The False Gods We Worship,” 6.
50. Fragment 60, in Hermann Diels and Wlather Kranz, Die Fragmenter der Vorsokratiker, 3 vols. (Berlin: Weidmann, 1951), 1:164.