Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Happy 15th Anniversary to Warfare in the Book of Mormon

    Take yourself back to January 2009. The fallout from the housing crisis was ongoing. Barrack Obama was inaugurated. The people loved the movies Taken and Paul Blart Mall Cop. This new singer, Lady Gaga, topped the charts. Personally, I was serving in the Virginia National Guard. In fact, my unit was activated for Obama’s inauguration. That Christmas I got dragged to my in-laws for what was the worst break ever. (The journey from my wife to ex-wife was filled with lows actually.) Most importantly, in January of 2009 I finished my last official semester of grad school. I thought I would soon be attending my PhD program, and full of excitement, I figured I should finally start that Book of Mormon warfare blog I always wanted to when I had the chance.

    Here we are 15 years later and I’m still blogging. When I first started, I had lots of ideas, but I didn’t know it would be enough to talk about over a decade and a half. My steady and lengthy progress remind me of a story from the Chinese philosopher Xunzi. He was a major Confucian thinker often called the Chinese Aristotle. He wrote that not everyone can be a mythical war horse that travels 10,000 miles in a day. But if you measure its pace an old nag can go 10,000 miles.[1] So like any good anniversary I suppose I’ll buy myself some crystal, enjoy how far I’ve come, and then give you some highlights during a retrospective look at my blog:

Early Posts:

    My early posts were rough. I had lots of good ideas, but they were all over the place and unrefined. I saw one spot where I didn’t capitalize the Bible! But there are also many jewels. For example, compare my desire to look at the average soldier in this post, with my journal article about the experience of battle within the Book of Mormon. I couldn’t find it, but early on I discussed the danger that nuclear weapons pose and the need for preemptive war as a result. That line of thought has blossomed into articles like this. One of my very first posts, responded to a website, Mormon Mesoamerica, that no longer exists! (The link is safe; it just doesn’t go to Mormon Mesoamerica.) I guess that means my arguments win by simply outlasting the critical website. Seriously though, in the age of 30 second viral videos and auto erasing texts, I’m proud of having something like this blog that has the extra credibility of being around for 15 years.

Purpose and Place of Blog:

    The best description of my blog past that early stage was this post about being an insurgent. I know it’s strange to call myself an insurgent but the term is neutral. I thought it was an accurate example of using my blog to share ideas that bypass gate keepers like editors. You’ll notice on my author page that I prefer self-publishing. I like to control the pace, pick the picture, set the price, and most importantly, keep the royalties. The added prestige of a publisher would be nice, but in most cases, it doesn’t seem worth the hassle.

    Looking back, I would have also described how my blog is often a feeder for more serious publications. The toughest part of writing for me is going from my mind to paper. And with a blog post I already have the preliminary thoughts written down and some kind of draft to polish pieces for conferences and journal articles. I also put a good deal of work into the footnotes, which saves me time in the final product. The lengthy footnotes work to show that I have a command of a wide range of material. In some cases the extensive sources also combat misinformation.


    Even casual readers should notice that this isn’t a fluff blog. I have good ideas, and I’ve put in years of study and lots of thought going 10,000 miles in my career. I’ve encountered lots of people, mainly libertarians for some reason, who haven’t put in that thought. For example, one author literally said that he skipped school (because its “establishment pap”) and put in just a few months writing his (lousy) book.

    I learned two important lessons from these engagements. The first lesson can be compared to an experience from General Grant. During his first engagement he unexpectedly bumped into an opposing officer leading his men into battle. When Grant saw the look of fear in that commander’s eyes, he realized that the enemy wasn’t monolithic and all powerful. In fact, they are just like him, but since Grant came prepared and trusted his leadership skills and strategic acumen, he had no reason to fear. In short, I’m not intimidated by someone that has lots of degrees and titles and smugly assumes they are the smartest person in every room. I am well read, academically trained, and thoughtful, so I often find people like Patrick Mason, who are big name scholars that haven’t read critical texts and make poor arguments.

    The other lesson I learn from rebutting random trolls is how even the saddest internet poser still apes the language and methods of academia. They’ll begin by talking about the danger of academics or with insults. But then they offer their own thesis statements, (or mislabel my thesis statements), provide very short bibliographies filled with specious texts, and somehow talk about research. Yet their posts aren’t really scholarship because they mostly rely on dogma, catch phrases, cliches, and shallow thought. Without rigorous thought, sound methods, and a spirit of free inquiry, they deny themselves the power of scholarship and only have the appearance of it. In short, they hate academics, still have an intuitive need to look like one, but fail because they misunderstand the underlying methods that makes a real scholar.


    I like the comments I made on this post more than a decade ago. As I’ve studied just war, the primacy of the heart has been solidified for me. It resolves the tension between how a Christian can have a peaceful heart and wield the sword. Ten years before I did that research in the comments of that blog, I already noticed how love can be manipulated. So I simply continued that thinking: If its loving to not fight, how can it be loving to not fight and then accept the consequences of a Nazi victory. Even before my official study I had an instinctive knowledge of that fact.

    Beyond my comments, the post itself is quite ironic in more ways. I’m clearly better read than Geoff B. He claims to have read the authors I cited, but if he did, he would have addressed them instead of repeating shallow isolationist cliches. (They’ll say “war is a racket”, but haven’t even read the Smedley Butler piece from which the phrase derives.)

    Years later Geoff has run the conservative Millennial Star into the ground. He purged most of the perma-bloggers for being insufficiently orthodox. As he bullied those that disagreed with him, he bragged about how many unique visitors the site used to get but now I think my solo blog outproduces and gets more unique visitors than him.

    The second irony comes from the “diplomat” that invited the post. I audibly guffaw every time I hear that term, because my only memory of Scott was him sending a series of flaming emails in the middle of my divorce. I was only going through the worst event of my life, and he claimed to be my friend (and again, a diplomat), but somehow, he thought it was a good time to vomit outrage and unfair insults over an alleged faux pas of mine. He’s so bad at diplomacy he reminded me of that scene from Office Space where the guy yells, “I’m good at dealing with people…what the hell is wrong with you!!!”

    Sadly, his behavior is fairly typical of my experience with people from By Common Consent and the Mormon blogging world in general. If you are liberal or critical of the church, they love you and they all need rotator cuff surgery from patting themselves on the back over how amazing, smart, and nuanced they are. As I found during my time with Wheat and Tares, if you are conservative and orthodox you are met with disdain and condescension. But the best revenge against the super sophisticates of the bloggernacle is to continue my great career. After every success I’ll admit I indulge in a little chuckle at the haters. Reading 15 years’ worth of insults, I know I’ve earned it.


    If this were a tv special at this point the music would swell, and the highlight clips would flow a little faster but I’m not that cool. I can say that I don’t see anything that would end my blogging. My divorce and brief homelessness didn’t even stop my blogging. I still have ideas. My latest book on just warfare in the Book of Mormon has essentially been published. There is always another idea, another conference, another paper. Publishing one post a month, in the first week, if possible, is a steady groove and easily achievable. Maybe someday I’ll look at my creations, feel proud, and then rest. But I can’t say when that is coming.

    Thanks for reading. I joke that I only have about ten readers. But I appreciate every one of you. Thanks for being with me for any part of the last 15 years, and I look forward to linking to this blog post in my 30th anniversary post.

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[1] Eric Hutton trans., Xunzi: The Complete Text, (Princeton University Press, 2014,) 13.