Friday, December 1, 2023

Straightening the Warped Wood: A Confucian Reading of 2 Nephi 2:25

The following is my application to the Mormon Theology Seminar. They asked for a creative and close reading of 2 Nephi 2:25. 

Lehi begins his blessing by telling his son Jacob that he was born in the wilderness and “suffered afflictions and much sorrow.” V.1 But, Lehi promised, those afflictions would be “consecrated for his gain.’ V2 because he was redeemed by his Savior. V.3 This blessing and explanation of Jesus’ role culminates in the famous couplet: Adam fell that man might be and men are that they might have joy.

The joy of mankind’s purpose immediately contrasts with Biblical verses who emphasize the conditions of the lone and dreary world that would be cursed. Adam would eat by the “sweat of his brow” (Gen 3:17) and women would bring forth children in sorrow (Gen. 3:16).

But when viewed through Confucian teachings, that sorrow is what leads to joy. This Confucian lens bridges the gap between the Biblical account of the fall that emphasizes tribulation, and Lehi’s version, which quickly pivots from tribulation to joy and omits the tribulation all together in his famous couplet.

One of the leading Confucian thinkers Xunzi, often called the Chinese Aristotle for his command of a wide range of topics over a similar time period as the Greek thinker, discussed fallen human nature and its relation to self-improvement and joy.

In contrast to other Confucian thinkers like Mencius (whom Xunzi names in his rebuttal), Xunzi believed that human nature was fallen. Sounding much King Benjamin about the carnal, sensual and devilish “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19), Xunzi wrote: People’s nature is bad…goodness is a matter of deliberate effort. They are born with feelings of hate and dislike in them. If they follow along with these, then cruelty and villainy will arise.[1] (Xunzi also believed that a sage ruler would supplant a mere hegemon by recognizing his people’s nature, teaching them what is right, and guiding them on the way, again sounding like King Benjamin’s role in Mosiah chapters 1-3.)

This sounds negative at first glance, but his message is positive because this fallen or sinful nature can lead to great joy. Xunzi explained that recognizing man’s fallen nature is like a craftsman that sees a crooked piece of word, potter adding water to raw clay, or a smith that sees unrefined metal.[2] “Crooked wood must await streaming and straightening…only then does it become straight. Blunt metal must await honing and grinding, and only then does it become sharp.”[3] The people, honed by Confucian rituals and behavior, find themselves living in a blessed and happy state as gentlemen, being able to overcome the vicissitudes of life.

The most applicable part of being a gentleman is maintaining composure during toil, such as those experienced by Jacob, Adam, and everyone living in a fallen world. Xunzi thought that even people “on the streets” or in the lowliest gutter of fallen life could apply these principles.[4]  Once perfected, the Confucian gentlemen retains peace and happiness no matter the situation. “Even if living in poverty, the gentlemen’s intentions are still grand. Even if wealthy and honored, his demeanor is reverent. Even if living at easy, his blood and qi are not lazy. Even if weary from toil, his countenance is not disagreeable. When angry he is not excessively harsh, and when happy he is not excessively indulgent.”[5]

The Confucian lens thus makes an explicit connection between man’s fallen nature, and their capacity for joy. It not only shows some congruency with Lehi’s teachings, but adds much more, filling in the blanks of what specific actions within life leads to joy, as simply as a crooked piece of wood being straightened by a craftsman. The fall leads to trial, which in turn leads to joy because of the perfecting actions prescribed by rituals and proper conduct.

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[1] Eric Hutton, trans., Xunzi: The Complete Text, (Princeton University Press, 2014,) 248.

[2] Ibid., 65, 201, 204, 209, 210, 250.

[3] Ibid., 248.

[4] Ibid., 254.

[5] Ibid., 15.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Sidelining Jesus: Appraising Mason's Thoughts on Peace and Ukraine


        Patrick Mason didn’t attend the LDS National Security Professionals earlier this year but his planned remarks have been published in Public Square. As with his very poorly argued book, he thanks a prodigious amount of people for providing feedback and guidance, but still produced an extremely flawed argument. Mason sidelines Jesus in favor of his own deeply flawed interpretations and misquotes while showing a shallow knowledge (and rejection of) just war.

Sidelining Jesus

        You might think that “side lining Jesus” is a rather harsh thing to say to a fellow Latter Day Saint but that line is used by Mason to denigrate the theories and people who disagree with him. Other people might have different theories than him, but they don’t follow Jesus any less.

        For example, Mason quotes President Nelson as saying, “Any war is a horrifying violation of everything the Lord Jesus Christ stands for and teaches.” But it was actually President Hinckley who gave the most comprehensive discussion of warfare to date. Unlike Presidents Nelson and McKay he recognized and respected other points of view. Moreover, President Hinckley quoted Alma 43:46-46 before saying, “there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression.” According to Mason, we have to believe that President Hinckley “sidelined” Jesus by quoting the war chapters and recognizing the just causes to use force.


Mason thinks that Jesus should be the center of nonviolent theology, yet Mason shows himself to be a mercenary by using (and often misusing) a variety of quotes. For example, he quoted Tertullian when he said, “In disarming Peter, Jesus unbelted every soldier.” But the problem is that Mason has never read Tertullian![1]

         Tertullian isn’t that hard to read. I found a translation online in a matter of seconds and spontaneously read it in a single sitting. If Mason had bothered to read Tertullian, or any other Christian fathers instead of out of context proof texts in pacifist volumes he would have been more cautious in quoting him. Tertullian rejected the danger of idolatrous military ceremonies and clothing. But many Christians still fought as Roman soldiers and many other Christian fathers like Clement supported the state’s right to use force and Clement prayed for the success of the emperor’s army. The summary of the dominant positions was to that a “vengeful spirit is denounced” not force itself.[2]

In summary, Mason admits he hasn’t read his source, applies it in isolation from Christian fathers, and then uses it to provide a veneer of classical education and the respectability of church fathers to his theories. But he shows the same slipshod style with all of his quotes. For example, in some places he quotes Martin Luther King and the liberal, Catholic Pope in a more privileged position than most of scripture. But in other places, when their words are no longer useful to him, Mason implies that non-LDS thinkers are less than restoration texts. At one point he quotes a Catholic and then says: “On the other hand…most authoritative scripture.”

Mason not only fails to read many seminal thinkers and selectively use others, but he also demotes restoration scriptures! He sidelines most prophets in the Book of Mormon by focusing on the anti-Nephi Lehi’s and Ammon. He redefines words to ignore explicit scripture like DC 134:11.” We believe that all men are justified in defending themselves.” He reinterprets Doctrine and Covenants 98, particularly verse 32 that says this law was given to Nephi and Abraham as a way to ignore the example of the Nephites and Abraham. The latter of whom, didn’t follow the Lords law of war but was blessed as a prince of peace and as the father of the faithful!

Thus his argument boils down to his thesis statement with my edits in italics: “Both incredibly selective and cherry-picked scripture and history, therefore, attest that self-defense can effectively take nonviolent forms.”

Just Read It

Most annoyingly, when he does discuss just war Mason uses “the list” or “the menu.” Its use here is ironic because I remember sitting at the 2011 conference on war and peace, and listening to presenters complain about the use of the “list.” This is what I call a rote listing of the just war criteria and its use here seems more like a straw man than engagement. My gut feeling is reinforced because he already listed a secondhand veneer of church fathers.

If he did have a good understanding of Just War he would realize the foundation is the heart. The heart of the Israeli baby about to be beheaded. The breaking heart of the parent that cries for justice as their soul is ripped in two. The heart of the soldier that wishes he could have been there to stop it, and the heart of the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ story, who would have intervened if he had the chance. And Mason ignores that heart filled with love and pain and denies it’s just expression in the form of wielding the sword to stop those abuses.

Failing to understand this is what allows him to ignore just war so easily. But he tries to conflate nonviolent resistance in Ukraine while piggy packing on those who wielded the sword to defend their country. Just like he tries in his piece to piggyback off millions of allied soldiers during Second World War to give Danish nonresistance credit. (He also uses a false cause fallacy; Denmark was likely least damaged because it was the less strategically important for the allies to target. The narrow peninsula made it incredibly unsuited to military operations and the Germans would not relocate key industries CLOSER to allied airbases.) Nor does Mason recognize how many Ukrainians disappeared in the night only for their broken and raped bodies to be found in basement torture chambers. And he doesn’t understand how impotent his theories are in stopping those atrocities in the first place or rescuing them.

As I wrote here, the list or menu given in perfunctory fashion represents how just war theories have been watered down for the masses, to the point that many of their positive aspects of the theory, such as the protections for women and children are assumed, without giving credit to just war theorists. But the abuses of the theory by tyrants like Putin are attributed to just war theorists and the entire theory is dismissed as too basic or unhelpful. So just war theory gets blamed for the bad and given little credit for the good, and blithely dismissed by people like Mason.

Moreover, what’s left out of the discussion of just war theory are very specific prohibitions and guardrails designed to stop abuses of espoused principles. For example, while the principle of just war is recognized, every discussion of it in theory is followed by a lengthy series of warnings about the chaos, bloodshed, and factionalism that can happen when it is applied and a suggestion to pursue alternatives. The interaction of just war theories with the Book of Mormon provides the very kind of discussion and insights that are often lost in rote proof-texting and goes deeper than “partisan allegiances and the urgency of battle” that still permeate the discourse among Americans and Latter-day Saints 20 years after the start of the most infamous preemptive war in American history.[3] Mason doesn’t recognize any of the above nuances of theory. How could he when the closest he got to actually reading the theory was a second hand quote of Tertullian and straw men “list” of just war?

Bring Me a Higher Love

        Duane Boyce once talked about the need to clear away weeds so the seeds can grow. It serves an important function to dispatch Mason’s bad arguments. But there is an argument in favor of force that accounts for all scriptures and not one series of (pacifist or just war) scriptures.

        There are two significant impulses, I would call natural rights, and both are correct. The first is that war is wrong. No man should be killed. Laozi said that even victorious warfare should be treated like a funeral.[4] If Adam and Even hadn’t fallen, or Nephi and Laman kept the family together, there would be no evil and no war. But we don’t live in a perfect world and because people are in danger of losing their fight right, they have an obligation to fight for the second right.

        Good-hearted people everywhere have the impulse to wield the sword to stop injustice. And while Mason gives lip service to the second impulse, he prioritizes the first. In his tortured word games of “justified” he splits the two. But they are connected. Moreover, he denigrates the second by calling it a “sin.”

        His argument is constructed by boiling the frog. The urban myth says the frog will jump out of boiling water, but if you put him in water and gradually raise the temperature he’ll stay in the pot and get boiled. He starts with something broadly agreeable, just war in Ukraine, stopping murderous bad guys and praising the World War II allies as partners of nonviolent Dutch resisters. He then does some word games about the term justified to make just war something sinful that God needs to justify. He builds upon those ideas to then suppress all sorts of clear scripture that justifies warfare. All the time he is including tons of caveats and exceptions to try and appear sensible, he then concludes by calling war a corruption and sin that should be avoided. At one point he even said we need to “[invite soldiers] into a space of repentance and reconciliation.” In other words, he calls them unjustified sinners. He seals it with a proof text from a single modern, non-doctrinal source in President Nelson’s Ukraine war talk.

        In the real world his theories indicate his sympathy and praise for Tank Man, (the Tiananmen Square protestor that stood in front of the tank) but offers impotent solutions to an authoritarian state that sends him to a concentration camp before killing him. He even contends that if Tank Man picked up a rifle in revolt against his authoritarian regime he would need to repent. Or to use a more recent example, he condemns the defenders of Israeli women and children. Those defenders tried to stop the beheading of their children and similarly depraved acts of terror. And for their troubles, Mason calls them to repentance.

        He does this in such conciliatory language that you don’t notice it. But his rhetoric spits on the military service of every good-hearted soldier that fought for freedom. I don’t need to repent for defending my family nor do Israeli soldiers for defending theirs. Natural rights are those that are not dependent on the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and are therefore universal and inalienable, despite Mason’s wrangling of scriptures.

        So Mason complains that just war feels right but isn’t right. But I’d counter that it feels right because the defense of liberty comes from an innate or natural sense of right of wrong. And Jesus agrees. Assuming the Good Samaritan came upon the beaten traveler in the middle of the attack, no reasonable person would turn the other cheek of the beaten traveler, renounce war, proclaim peace and stand idly by, wait until the traveler was attacked three times, or question the legitimacy of action by citing long-standing ethnic tension in the region or perhaps the culpability of the traveler. The love of the Good Samaritan for his neighbor, and the love that we should have, would compel violent intervention! That is why I agree with all the scriptures that Mason cites. You should love your enemies (Matthew 5:44), but can defend, or love, even unto bloodshed (Alma 43:14). We overcome evil through righteousness (Romans 12:14-21), but also by resisting it with the sword (Alma 61:14.) As the many church fathers that Mason ignored would argue, wielding the sword is an expression of love not a corruption of it.

        At the end of his piece he calls for us to love our neighbor. I agree, the problem is he spent thousands of words ignoring dozens of scriptures and people explaining the fundamental role of love in taking up arms. If he wants to be seen as less, in his words, “smug, self-assured, arrogant, and judgmental in the supposed righteousness of my near-absolute nonviolent position,” he should start by not accusing his opponents of “sidelining Jesus.” He might also stop laughing and snickering at his opponents while among fellow peace proponents. Take it from someone who was bombed with a gotcha question from Mason at a war and peace conference in 2011, and believes the loving heart is the foundation of just war, recognizing his smugness is a good step, but he has a long way to go.

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[1]His footnote reads: Idolatry 19, p. 73, quoted in Lisa Sowle Cahill, Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Pacifism, Just War, and Peacebuilding (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019), 77. Updated: See also: fns. 6-10 in Patrick Mason, "Zionic Non Violence as Christian Worship and Practice," in How and What you Worship: Christology and Praxis in the Revelations of Joseph Smith, Rachel Cope, Carter Charles, Jordan T. Watkins eds., (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book), 2020. In fact, every footnote in that piece referencing Christian fathers refers to a secondary source. 

[2] David Corey, J. Daryl Charles, Just War Tradition: An Introduction (ISI Institute, 2012), 47.

[3] Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, (New York, Basic Books, 2015,) xxix.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Publishing My Book, One Piece at a Time



Most of my regular readers will note that I have a manuscript on just warfare in the Book of Mormon for which I'm trying to find a publisher. I don't have a publisher yet, but I'm proud to say that I have published or presented most of the book already. Only like Johnny Cash, I have done it one piece at a time. Here is the master list of where you can find them. I will update with links as they become available:

Chapter 1: Greater Portion of the Word: The Decisive Book of Mormon in the Debates on War and Peace, FAIR LDS, Defending the Book of Mormon Conference.*

Chapter 4: Loving Neighbors by Standing up to Their Slaughter, Public Square Magazine.

Parts of Chapters 5-7:Updated 4/19/24: The Unspoken Debates in Moroni's Letter.  Interpreter.

Chapter 8: Kishkumen's Dagger: First Strike in the Book of Mormon, Square Two. (Note: Publishing with two different organizations that have "square" in the title leads to hilarity.)

Chapter 11: Renounce Peace and Proclaim War: Love, Hate, Intervention, and Section 98, LDS National Security Professionals Conference.*

Chapter 12: From Laban to the Laffertys: Nephi, Mormon, and Utilitarianism in the Book of Mormon, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, (under consideration).

So you can see that most of the book is in some stage of publication anyway. It is very good to know my ideas are wanted and because its mostly published already I'm considering self publication. I want to make my way through the journal process first and then I'll reassess. Make sure to follow my author page on Amazon to receive any potential updates about the book.

*Conference proceedings will be printed as well.

Thanks for reading! I work as a free lance writer and publishing quality, ad free research takes a great deal of time and effort. If you liked this research please consider supporting more of it by using the paypal button at the bottom of the page or by purchasing one of my other books linked in the top left.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Defending the Book of Mormon Conference

 I was all ready to do a big build up and advertisement for this. And I thought about doing a nice follow up similar to the other conferences I went to. But I've been working so hard I forgot to do the first and probably won't do the second. So it might just be best to give the link here and you can watch it live for yourself. Its the anniversary of Moroni first visiting Joseph Smith and there are lots of good presentations today (and mine too.) 

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Moral Clarity on the Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings


    August 6th marks the dubious day in 1945 where America became the only power to use a nuclear bomb. This continues to spark controversy. From 1945 to 2005 American approval of the bombings has dropped from 85 to 57 percent. And a record low number of Americans are proud of their country. This is somewhat understandable as societal attitudes change and there is a great deal to critique over the decision. But it might also be what the editors at the National Review recently pointed out is part of the crisis of self-doubt gaining traction in America and what Wilfred McClay called a deeply unserious country that doesn’t believe in itself. Yet a proper study of the history surrounding the decision to drop the bombs and an examination of ethics finds the bombing was both justified and necessary.

    During the war both sides held a great deal of racial animus towards one another, which suggests the bomb might have been more willingly used because of racism.[1] Though, the bomb wasn’t ready in time to end the war against Germany so that is hard to gauge. Using an area effect weapon that didn’t distinguish between civilians and military targets invites condemnation.[2] The lack of military targets in Hiroshima and the dubious effectiveness of the bomb makes some people say this was terrorism.[3] After all, the Strategic Bombing survey revealed that the trains ran normally a mere two days later and this was often considered a way to stun the Japanese into surrendering and impress the Russians with the viability of the program.[4] (Though it should be noted that both cities had important military components. Nagasaki for example, was home to one of the most important military garrisons and was a foremost military shipping depot, and thus remained a valid military target.) Plus, there were supposedly peace feelers from the Japanese that made this completely unnecessary.

    As I will show below, these are all extremely flawed arguments that don’t accurately reflect the historical context and seem like excuses to blame American and undermine moral confidence today, instead of understanding the tragic but justified decisions of the past.

    The strongest criticism seems to be the peace overtures. Who doesn’t want the war to end early? This theory argues that the Japanese were ready for peace and only block headed, blood thirsty, and maybe even racist generals kept the war going. These were detailed by a revisionist historian, Gar Alperovitz and thus come long after the fact when it became more fashionable to search and promulgate these theories.[5] More importantly, this theory cherry picks some information and leave out much more important events that shows these peace feelers were completely impotent and U.S. officials were correct when they disregarded them.

    The best evidence against this theory comes after the Japanese emperor’s decision to surrender. After the bombs dropped and the emperor wanted peace army leaders challenged and almost reversed the decision through a military coup. It’s incredibly unlikely that minor officials would have produced peace when the atomically convinced emperor almost didn’t. Let me stress, even AFTER the atomic bombs were dropped there were significant factions in Japan that wanted to keep fighting. Peace was not possible before the bombs were dropped. Plus, American willingness to negotiate before the bombs dropped would have emboldened the Japanese and aggressive army generals to think that more fighting would have gotten them more concessions.

    Other critics quote leaders who sound authoritative but really aren’t. Many of these quotes also ignore historical context. One example comes from Eisenhower who said: [I believe] that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary…[6]

    With all due respect to Eisenhower and other generals cherry picked for opposing nuclear weapons, he was thousands of miles and away and was not privy to the intelligence and decision-making councils that led to it. It would be like Admiral Nimitz second guessing Eisenhower’s decision to stop at the Elbe. Eisenhower is a particularly odd choice for opposing nuclear weapons since his New Look military relied so heavily on nukes and spooks.[7] Those that blanche at the use of nuclear weapons and hate the national security state should probably avoid quoting a general that as president, threatened to use nuclear weapons in the Taiwan Strait crises, and unleashed CIA sponsored coups on democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala that still reverberate today.

    Other military critics were vocal against nuclear weapons not because of moral principles, but because of parochial rivalries. The bombs were delivered by bombers, and this helped Curtis LeMay argue for the creation of an independent Airforce. In turn, this would take resources and prestige away from the Navy and Army chiefs, who were incredibly territorial, had differing strategies and demands, and wanted the air corps assets divided between them.[8] Thus it isn’t surprising to find that admirals would elevate the role of commerce raiding in the defeat of Japan and minimize the “barbaric” “toy” dropped by the budding air corps. Their opposition had little to do with the moral concerns of the time and are especially dissimilar from modern antiwar sentiments. In fact, the admirals preferred a blockade of the Japan that would have slowly killed millions, and the army preferred an invasion that would have also killed millions (see below.)

    The sad truth is that the Japanese would not surrender without the atomic bomb dropping or millions (of Americans, Japanese, and Chinese) dying from an invasion. The East Asian victims of Japanese aggression are often forgotten in Western centric debates over the war. But the Japanese launched the Ichigo offensive in late 1944 which was comparable in size and scope to the German invasion of the Soviet Union.[9] Nationalist Chinese leader Kiang Chai Shek had seen a great deal of bloodshed, but called this period the worst of his entire life. An estimated two hundred thousand Chinese a month were dying at this point in the war. An invasion by American forces on the Japanese homeland would have skyrocketed those figures. Secretary of War Stimson estimated that 400,000 to 800,000 Americans would have died, (including 100,000 prisoners of war that were set to be executed upon invasion), and 5 to 10 million Japanese would have died from an invasion.[10]

    There was the option not to fight which would have left China and much of Asia in the hands of a regime as bad as Hitler’s. Yet one has to wonder how long the imperial Japanese would have felt comfortable with the U.S. in Hawaii so they would probably have attacked America again anyway. The U.S. could have continued to bomb them. The firebombing of Tokyo and conventional attacks actually caused more deaths than the nuclear bombs so that couldn’t have been a better option.

    The U.S. could have blockaded the country. The admirals at the time and later scholars argued that the U.S. had already destroyed much of Japanese shipping and merchant marine by August 1945,[11] and this may have been what Eisenhower meant by already defeating Japan, but then America would have to wait for the country to starve to death. That would have caused more deaths and in a slow manner arguably worse than two nuclear bombings. Its effects would have been unevenly felt across the population. With the elites that caused the war suffering far less than the population that fought it. It also would have given the Japanese army in China more time in their genocidal war against China. So between deaths from famine and deaths from the Greater East Asian War that option would have killed millions more than the bombings. Even then, any peace offering from the emperor would have likely faced a coup just like the surrender after the atomic bombings. Keep in mind that the admirals who argued for this possibly unjust and criminal course are the same admirals being quoted out of context today for entirely different reasons than the military leaders originally intended.  

    Dropping the atomic bomb quickly ended the war which prevented the Soviets from invading as well. The first atomic bomb was dropped literally the day after Stalin finalized plans to invade Japan and he invaded a day after the second bombing. The Soviets treated Eastern Europeans to show trials, mass deportations to the gulags, the Soviet army’s refusal to help the free Poles in the Battle of Warsaw etc., so it was a good option to end the war quickly and prevent the negative effects of Communist rule seen in East Germany and Eastern Europe even today. You can easily argue that the Japanese Constitution and rebuilding under MacArthur was far preferable to Soviet occupation.

    After looking at the other options and strategic context in late 1945, the decision to drop the bomb was moral and justified. In fact, ending the war for mere hundreds of thousands compared to the abject blood bath and millions of deaths that awaited all sides is the reason why the allied leaders considered this weapon a godsend. Even though Michael Walzer opposed nuclear weapons, he also said that ending a war swiftly with a minimum of causalities is the greatest kindness a leader could offer.[12]  Secretary of State Henry Stimson exemplified the latter idea when he said: My chief purpose was to end the war in victory with the least possible cost in the lives of the men in the armies which I had helped to raise. In the light of the alternatives which, on a fair estimate, were open to us I believe that no man, in our position and subject to our responsibilities, holding in his hands a weapon of such possibilities for accomplishing this purpose and saving those lives, could have failed to use it and afterwards looked his countrymen in the face.[13]

    In short, every other option than using nuclear weapons was worse. Taken in vacuum nuclear weapons are horrific, but that weapon wasn’t used in a vacuum and its incredibly unfair to blame America for being barbarians while ignoring the context that justified and compelled their use. This is probably because few have studied military ethics in depth, they simply think that some things are “bad.” But again, considering every option and the context of their war the dropping of atomic weapons was justified and necessary. The war was ended more quickly, saving lives, including millions of Asian lives.

    Americans and members of the church must rightly hope to avoid the tragedy of any having any conflict. But Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine sadly reminds us that the specter of war can never be vanquished with hopeful thoughts. Americans can recognize that war, particularly defending life against the most genocidal regimes of the 20th century, was necessary, and the atomic bombings were a necessary and justified choice in World War II.  And every American should strive to have the knowledge and tools to properly judge the morality of the past, which in turn provides the moral confidence to justly proceed in the present.

I work as a free lance writer. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below or buying one of my books linked in the top left. 


[1] For a good overview, see John Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture, (New York: Basic Books, 2009), chapter 7.

[2] Micheal Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, (New York, Basic Books, 2015), 250-260.

[3] Howard Zinn, “Breaking the Silence.” ND. ( Accessed August 6th, 2021.)

[4] The United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report: 24.  The United States Strategic Bombing Survey: The Effect of the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 6.

[5] Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb, (Vintage Books: 2010).

[6] Julian Borger, “Hiroshima at 75: Bitter Row Persists Over US Decision to Drop the Bomb, The Guardian, August 5th, 2020, ( (Accessed August 6th 2021.)

[7] Gordon H. Change, He Di, “Eisenhower’s Reckless Nuclear Gamble over the Taiwan Strait,” American Historical Review 98 (December 1993), 1502-1523.

[8] Keith McFarland, "The 1949 Revolt of the Admirals" Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College Quarterly. XI (2): 53–63.

[9] Morgan Deane, Decisive Battles in Chinese History, (Westholme Press, 2017), chapter 12.  

[10] Frank, Richard B. (1999). Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. New York: Random House, 340.

[11] Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report, 11.  

[12] Michael Walzer, Just Wars, quoting Moltke the Elder, 47.  

[13] Henry L. Stimson, as quoted in The Great Decision: The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb (1959) by Michael Amrine, p. 197.


Thursday, July 6, 2023

From Laban to the Lafferty Brothers: Nephi, Mormon, and Utilitarianism in the Book of Mormon


        Since I first wrote my manuscript on just warfare in the Book of Mormon, I've been intrigued by the apparent difference between the use of a utilitarian argument that the Lord made to Nephi, and the apparent rejection of the concept by Mormon. The following is the introduction and thesis statement to a draft of a journal article on which I'm working: 

        Nephi’s murder of Laban in the Book of Mormon is one of the most uncomfortable of the text as the event seemingly sets a precedent for murder, most famously exercised by the Ron and Dan Lafferty in their murder of Brenda Lafferty and her child. This was made famous by the book, Under the Banner of Heaven. While there are numerous implied justifications that one can find in the text, such as Laban’s attempts to murder Nephi, or the appeals to Biblical law, the primary defense comes from the spirit of the Lord to Nephi which said: Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief (1 Nephi 4:13).

        The command of God adds as many difficulties as it solves because Nephi’s holy inspiration sounds like a classic case of utilitarianism, and its related use in war, military necessity. The Lord’s explanation of the murder seemingly contrasts with Mormon’s rejection of the concept in his treatment of war time supply and starving widows. And relying on the word of God seems like a classic case of deontological ethics, or decision making that is based on a set of rules (like divine commandments written in stone.) But closely examining Nephi and Mormon’s decisions using utilitarianism strengthens Nephi’s decision, illuminates Mormon’s decision while harmonizing it with Nephi’s, provides guardrails for the invocation of God’s utilitarianism, and resolves some of the tension between utilitarian and deontological belief systems.

        Its an exciting project to add to a list of many chapters of the book that have been repackaged a bit and published elsewhere. Thanks for reading! 

I work as a free lance author and producing quality, ad free content takes time and effort. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below, or buy one of the books using the link in the top left. 

Monday, June 5, 2023

Debunking the Debunking of Rough Stone Rolling


The Stoddards trying to read Rough Stone Rolling

    The last time I discussed Rough Stone Rolling on social media I received many thoughtless drive by posts. I ignored them at the time because I don’t want to reward lazy thinking. But I suspected at the time that their link contained very poor reasoning and after a bit of examination I was correct. This post show the many flaws in the debunking site devoted to Rough Stone Rolling. The Stoddards, writing for the Joseph Smith Foundation misrepresent Bushman’s work by relying on sloppy and sometimes malicious editing to the point that we lose a true picture of Joseph Smith as a flawed but still impressive prophet. (All quotes from the debunking website unless otherwise noted.) 

    The first two complaints about RSR had no citations:

    They object that Bushman supposedly said Joseph was involved in ritual magic who used peep stones to find treasure.

    If they want to debunk a book and can’t do better than a social media post I see no need to respond. The next items had footnotes:

    They contend RSR says Joseph Smith suffered from “treasure-seeking greed,” “anger,” and “easily-bruised pride,”

    Greed is simply the implication of Moroni’s warning to Joseph, which is canonized in church history. Bushman cited Moroni’s words along with Oliver Cowdery and Lucy Mack Smith saying Joseph immediately thought of financial concerns when seeing the plates: [Moroni told] me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them. Js History 1:40, 53.

    Joseph’s anger is seen in his own letters such as the one Bushman quoted on page 187 of RSR and cited in fn 44. The Stoddards seem to be under the impression that Joseph never had any emotion. But we don’t feel Moroni is any less of a man that could shake the foundations of hell because he showed anger, and we shouldn’t be offended over Joseph’s.

    Bushman isn’t insulting Joseph by describing his personality. This is a common complaint in just about every criticism of Bushman, and I will give same answer. Studying everything about Joseph, and not the whitewashed sanitized version of him will lead to stronger testimonies that can withstand new and unexpected information, because it already fits in the paradigm of the awesome and imperfect prophet.

    Getting back to Smith’s anger, we have many accounts of Joseph’s anger because his admirers shared these stories to show how great he was despite his flaws. In the example the Stoddards cite on page 249 and 250 of RSR they make it seem like Bushman simply denigrates the prophet. But when you put the statement in context, Bushman discusses Josephs anger, but also his leadership skills, and how the high council sided with Joseph because “they sensed that their prophet had a right to rebuke his followers, fiercely if necessary. Their dismay at his anger was balanced by their love of his good nature.”

    There is an irony here, as quoting outrageous information out of context is an anti-Mormon method. I find it very sad and saying that the Stoddards have to do the same shady tactic to try and slam Bushman. That should tell you how much to trust their quotes and videos, and why you should read Bushman, and pour through his citations for yourself.

    “Easily bruised pride” is also taken out of context. It is even worse this time because they ignore, literally, half the sentence that describes Joseph’s desire for peace. To start with, it isn’t insulting Joseph to admit he struggled with the man he is, with the man he wants to be. Elder Uctdorf said that a hypocrite is someone who falls short of the person they want to be, and we are all hypocrites. As a former marine that came from a home with an angry and abusive father, I know how hard it is to break out of patterns and respond in a more Christlike fashion. The supposed insult from Bushman, when put back into context on page 295, actually endears us to Joseph:

Unfortunately for his peace of mind, Joseph’s angry responses conflicted with the harmony and brotherhood he prized…The culture of honor moved him to contend with the offending parties to protect his easily bruised pride, even though all the while he wanted peace. He hated contention and tried to make peace by mutual confessions and brotherly arbitration….By 1836, when he made peace with his antagonists, the meaning of Zion to a man of his temperament was clear. To live in harmony with his brothers and sisters, as the revelations required, was reason to rejoice.

Harmony was valued in all the church’s councils. The Kirtland High Council’s hearings examined the attitudes of offending parties as well as their actions. The minutes refer to “the spirit of meekness,” or “feelings of the heart,” or the “spirit of justification and pride.”

    Not only is the above based in primary sources, so Bushman is not simply making up insults to Joseph’s character, but in context, Joseph appears much like the rest of us. He is trying to rise above his nature to live in harmony. I find my testimony and even love for Joseph strengthened after reading this.

    Joseph possessed “outrageous confidence.” 

    I take that as a compliment to Joseph. The world and the restored church needed a prophet with unbounded confidence in his mission to restore the gospel, bring forth new scripture, and translate previously untouchable ones like the Bible all while gathering his people, building zion and temples and withstanding endless defections, legal attacks, persecution and dislocation. I argue that anyone without “outrageous confidence” wouldn’t have been as successful as Joseph.

    Joseph “[f]rom time to time drank too much,” 

    The footnotes for this source show a variety of conflicting sources. It’s about a paragraph long and I highly recommend you read it on page 43. But without getting off into the weeds, it can easily be among the sins Joseph himself alluded to in his history when he said: I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. JS History 1:28.

    Of course, even if he did drink, so what? The prophet Noah in the Bible was found drunk and naked! The Word of Wisdom wasn’t given until a decade later and wasn’t enforced strictly until about a century after that. Prophets aren’t perfect, especially when Joseph himself says, canonized in scripture, that he fell into various misdemeanor sins in his youth.

    Joseph grew up with an “oft-defeated, unmoored father”—a father who “partially abdicated family leadership.”

    It is pretty common knowledge that Joseph Sr. had a great deal of hardships during his life. Joseph. Sr. wasn’t the prophet and he admitted he made many mistakes in life. The second statement misquotes Bushman who says Joseph Sr. may have abdicated leadership. And Bushman says that after quoting Joseph Sr. himself: I have not always set the example before my family that I ought (pg. 42).

    As a parent I can appreciate the humble admission. Joseph Sr. did what most parents do, and he wondered if he was doing a good job and felt badly that he couldn’t be more for his children.

    This is another out of context misquote from the Joseph Smith Foundation and this one might be the worst. They took something that was equivocal, (“may have”) made it a definitive statement, and then failed to quote the primary source, straight from Joseph Sr’s mouth where he admitted his failings when it was literally quoted right next to the supposedly insulting sentence. That is so deliberately edited to give an impression the author didn’t intend it seems deceptive to me. They deliberately want you to hate RSR (so they can hawk their books a second later) and have to mangle their quotes of Bushman to do it.

    There are more quotes from various discussions of RSR from Bushman and anti-Mormons but I don’t feel the need to make this post any longer by quoting them. Probably because those quotes are selectively edited like their other quotes. But more importantly, they don’t change any of the points I made above. The common complaint from the Stoddards and the JSF is that a Joseph with flaws is damaging to testimonies and insulting to Joseph. As I demonstrated above, studying Joseph carefully, including his flaws, makes him more relatable and appealing. I felt this as I read RSR and compiled this post.

    More importantly, I’ve said many times the only testimonies damaged by a more realistic picture of Joseph are those who believe in a perfect Joseph Smith of their imagination. Some are so ensconced in their imaginations about Joseph Smith they can’t even read books like RSR. That is so astoundingly small minded, and refusing to learn is far more damaging attitude than anything Bushman can say or write. If your brittle testimony can’t handle new information, you’ll still get the new information eventually, but you’ll have no mechanisms for how to faithfully incorporate that new knowledge into a faithful view of the prophet. That’s why so many people are overthrown by a reddit complied, dumb big list of stale criticisms. (The CES letter.) If you’ve always studied the real (and still awesome) Joseph, you’ll have a much greater ability to accept new information. The mention of a peep stone or treasure digging won’t send you into a faithless spiral, or hyper aggressive defensive response that is built upon sand.

    Rough Stone Rolling is far superior to the “debunking RSR” website. The answer is obviously provided by Bushman’s superior primary source analysis, as the Joseph Smith Foundation has to do the opposite, rip quotes out of context with highly suspicious editing to strengthen the animosity against Bushman and support an inferior fantasy about Joseph.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Square Two Publication: Kishkumen's Dagger


    I'm very proud to present my new journal article published at Square Two. It uses the story of Kishkumen's attempted attack on the chief judge to discuss preemptive war. 

    The Iraq war started while I was in college. So I've been thinking about this topic for a long time. Even though its been 20 years, whenever the subject arises we still don't rise about what one theorist called partisan talking points or the emergencies of battle. 

    I've read various accounts of preemptive war throughout the years like the Theban general Epaminondas. But my research really took off when I read seminal thinkers that relied on natural rights. 

    The most important was the concept that no one has to accept an attack from a "charging assailant with sword in hand" because of some mistaken idea that they have to receive the attack (or three of them) first. 

    The idea of a sword in hand highlighted a phrase in Alma 48:14 that no one had ever noticed before. It says the Nephites were taught "never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives."  

    The text instead says, “raise the sword,” not smite, strike, slay, or any other word to denote that the sword had been swung and met flesh. That isn’t simply an evocative phrase but illustrates a fundamental truth. Mormon didn’t have to explain the distinction between a raised sword and a sword strike because the two concepts are so closely related that they are the same.

    Thus, while not explicitly stated in the Book of Mormon, if a Nephite attack is called “raising the sword,” Alma 48:14 seems to suggest the idea that righteous defense applies when a Lamanite soldier simply “raised his sword” to attack, and not after the first (or third) actualized attack. That means the Nephite standard for defense only requires an incipient attack, or someone that “raise[s] the sword.” The basic premise is that an individual who sees an attack in progress doesn’t have to wait for the first blow to assert their God-given right to defend themselves.

    I've got the above and so many other good ideas in this piece I hope you get a chance to read it! It is adapted from my manuscript on Just War. So if you like this, you should like my manuscript as well! 

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