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! 

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