Thursday, April 15, 2021

Unexpected Warfare Verses in the Book of Mormon


    I continue to research just war theories. It has been richly rewarding, particularly regarding LDS scriptures. Just like I mentioned with Chinese theory, I find that the Book of Mormon answers questions that I didn’t know were being asked until I started studying important topics.

    What follows are a few scriptures that take on new meaning with a knowledge of Just War theory. One of the reasons for writing the book is not simply to show congruency with the just war “checklist.” (Just authority, just cause, proportionality, just peace.) But how the Book of Mormon interacts agrees, disagrees, or expands on the theory, and how those theories highlight verses we might not have thought applied to warfare. I list them in order of my discoveries of them so they might bounce around a bit, but they reveal a surprisingly robust and coherent theory that we didn’t know was there.

2 Nephi 28:7

Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us.

    This is a short summary of an interesting philosophy that touches upon Enlightenment thought increasingly seen in the modern age and relates to an important contrast of the people of Ammon and late Nephite soldiers.

    Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke increasingly focused on natural law and secular rights instead of Biblical proof texts. This accommodated the growing scientific belief and provided key ideas about the American right to revolt and basic rights found in the Declaration of Independence and applied across different ethnic and religious boundaries. But it presented some changes that contained a contradiction. The most important change had to do with human life. Religion presents the life as having something after. That made the spiritual state of the participants and potential deaths important. It is why, for example, the Nephites were so sad to send so many Lamanites to the afterworld (Alma 48:23).

    The movement away from a religious based belief in the afterlife makes those lives more important during their mortal frame and death more tragic. This makes human suffering and death more worthy of humanitarian intervention and makes those interventions and potential wars more causality averse at the same time.[1] This is clearly seen applied to American foreign policy. Public opinion supports various humanitarian interventions such as Somalia or Bosnia, but a handful of casualties and downed Blackhawk helicopters produce such angst among policy makers that the mission immediately ended.

    The lack of afterlife also undermines the idea of sacrifice. If there are no treasures in Heaven that demand duty and sacrifice of a soldier (Matthew 6:20), then there are fewer reasons to abandon the pleasures of life such as eating, drinking, and being merry. Plenty of reasons remain for the use of force, such as a natural right to self-defense and immediate dangers to family, community, and defense of other rights.  But the lack of idea that souls continue in the afterlife makes the potential conflict more costly and seemingly tragic.

    The people to whom Nephi refers seem to have a much narrower viewpoint. They don’t worry about the afterlife; they care about their immediate surroundings and pleasure. This could be a truly prophetic vision that at least hinted at future philosophies that focused more on mortal life at the expense of sacrifice and duty (to God but also to a country), and that abandoned the afterlife.  

    The second way it applies to just warfare is seen in the contrasting attitudes of the Anti-Nephi Lehis and late Nephite soldiers. The former praised God in the very act of being killed (Alma 24:21). The late Nephite soldiers in contrast, cursed God, wished to die, but kept on fighting anyway (Mormon 2: 14). The first difference is listed by Mormon. It should be uprising that he began the verse by saying they did not have a broken heart and contrite spirit. As I’ve found, the heart problems are an important part of just warfare. And having a bad heart leads to bad attitudes. The Anti Nephi Lehis praised God, thanked his mercy, and were too afraid of sinning to take up their swords. Showing a longer-range view of their mortal life than the eat, drink and be merry crowd Nephi saw, and modern enlightenment influenced thinkers, the Anti Nephi Lehis were convinced they would be saved with God in direct contrast to their imminent deaths (Alma 24:15). The late Nephite soldiers cursed God, their eating, drinking, and being merry apparently brought them no value, they wanted to die, but kept fighting anyway. They didn’t have faith in, or didn’t care about the afterlife and their attitudes towards God’s grace, and fighting reflected that. They were hopeless and didn’t turn to a source for that hope. That represents Nephi’s discussion of those that try to eat, drink, and be merry, and fear death but still try to squeeze as much debauchery in that life.

2 Nephi 28:24

Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!

    This section is a bit shorter because it refers to those that are at ease in the heart of their security (Alma 60:19.)  Captain Moroni referenced the same idea, though Zion was an abstract concept more than physical capital of Nephite lands. Alma 60:22: Moroni said, Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness, while there are thousands round about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword, yea, wounded and bleeding?

2 Nephi 31:20

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the capstone of Nephi’s teachings regards the heart. The chapter in my future book about heart problems will be the most important. Even though I will mostly discuss it in relation to 3rd Nephi, I think I will put it first. After describing modern philosophies that discount the afterlife try to rob God’s justice, Nephi tells you the antidote which is appropriately focused on the heart. Having a brightness of hope and love of God. I’ll admit as a military historian and not a theologian I don’t think or talk about love that much, though I hope (no pun intended) that I show it.  But regarding just warfare it is really the key to just intent. And a major message in the Book of Mormon.

    After writing and reflecting on this piece it turned out that this cohesive because the elements of just war logically flow into each other, and the ancient writers of the Book of Mormon were devoted, dutiful, and thoughtful writers of their sacred history. Of course, their words integrate themselves rather well into Christian just war thinkers.  I hope you enjoyed this piece and I look forward to more writing that shows how the Book of Mormon engages Just War ideas beyond the shallow proof texts currently cited. This post was originally much longer, but I spun off a section of it that will hopefully be presented later this year or part of the book. Thanks for reading!

I work as a freelance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below, or buy one of my books using the link in the top left. 


[1] David D. Corey, and J. Daryl Charles. Just War Tradition : An Introduction, (Princeton University Press: 2012), 159.

No comments: