If I could ask them one question . . .
Come Follow Me, Lesson 25
For Come Follow Me, lesson 25, June 22-28, Alma 17-22
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Can faith be harmful or dangerous?”
Things to consider:
- In the incredible story of Ammon and king Lamoni, Ammon preached the gospel to the king, the king believed all of Ammon’s words, and the king prayed for the Lord’s mercy. At this point, the king fell as if he were dead like so many others in the Book of Mormon do (seriously, it’s like these people have a fainting goat gene.). Then the king was taken to his wife, the queen, who mourned him because she thought he was dead (Alma 18:42-43).
- The queen sent for Ammon and explained to him “The servants of my husband have made it known unto me that thou art a prophet of a holy God” (Alma 19:4). And, this is what happened.
- And he said unto the queen: He is not dead, but he sleepeth in God, and on the morrow he shall rise again; therefore bury him not.
- And Ammon said unto her: Believest thou this? And she said unto him: I have had no witness save thy word, and the word of our servants; nevertheless I believe that it shall be according as thou hast said.
- And Ammon said unto her: Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites.
- As a non-theist, I have a difficult time understanding the merit of faith as the word is generally used in religion, but I would think most theists would be troubled by the praise of this queen’s faith because it is about the queen’s belief in Ammon’s words. This has nothing to do with belief or trust in Christ or any specific God. Even if you make the most generous assumption, she might believe Ammon is “a prophet of a holy God” (Alma 19:4), emphasis added), but she apparently doesn’t even know what God Ammon serves. Ammon hasn’t even taught her about Christ yet, so it cannot be argued that it has anything to do with faith in Christ.
- This kind of faith is just as likely to lead someone to believe they have found “The Truth” as taught by the JWs, Scientologists, the Moonies, Islam, etc. The teachings of these religions contradict one another, so they can’t all be true. This kind of faith is also just as likely to be used by con men and other perpetrators to take advantage of the credulous. This kind of faith (credulity in the arm of flesh) is a faulty and harmful epistemology.
- Think about it. Would you praise the faith a person had in the words of someone like David Koresh, Jim Jones, or the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, simply because someone told that person one of these religious leaders was “a prophet of a holy God?”
- Look at these quotes regarding this characteristic of high-demand, or culty groups:
- Before anybody goes off on a straw man attack, none of this is to argue that each organization highly valuing unquestioning faith in the word of its leader is a cult or high-demand group. But, since such faith is a common characteristic of these groups, doesn’t it follow that such faith can be harmful and dangerous?
- Consider how you would feel and think about the follow quotes if they came from any other religion. How do they compare to the quotes above about high-demand or culty groups?
- “The prophet will never lead the Church astray” (Obedience to the Prophets).
- “When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over” (“The Debate Is Over” by President N. Eldon Tanner, ellipsis as found in source).
- “The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the first presidency—follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer” (Obedience to the Prophets).
- Then, consider this in light of a just a few quotes from such prophets.
- “President Brigham Young said: ‘Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God’” (First Presidency of the Church, Appendix, Neither White Nor Black). And, two paragraphs later the First Presidency explains the Church’s denial of temple ordinances and priesthood is due to the Church’s doctrine that blacks had been less valiant in the premortal existence. (For more about the racism of Brigham Young, see Black Lives Matter, Special Edition)
- “And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain [skin of blackness] was continued through Ham’s wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God” (President of the Church, John Taylor August 28, 1881 Journal of Discourses 22:304).
- “There is no true Latter-day Saint who would not rather bury a son or a daughter than to have him or her lose his or her chastity—realizing that chastity is of more value than anything else in all the world” (Heber J. Grant as quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 63).
- “Also far-reaching is the effect of loss of chastity. Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. Even in a forced contact such as rape or incest, the injured one is greatly outraged. If she has not cooperated and contributed to the foul deed, she is of course in a more favorable position. There is no condemnation where there is no voluntary participation. It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle” (Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 196).
- “The First Presidency recommends that only those who bear the Melchizedek Priesthood or Aaronic Priesthood be invited to offer the opening and closing prayers in sacrament meetings, including fast meetings” (“News of the Church,” Aug. 1975 Ensign), so for a time, women were not supposed to pray in the regular Sunday meeting of the entire congregation.
- “‘After consideration of the evil aspects, the ugliness and prevalence of … homosexuality,’ wrote Kimball, ‘the glorious thing to remember is that it is curable and forgivable. Certainly it can be overcome,’ he continued optimistically, ‘for there are numerous happy people who were once involved in its clutches and have since completely transformed their lives’” (Scientific American Blogs, “The Devil Makes You Gay”).
- This is only a tiny sampling of quotes from Mormon general authorities that I believe are harmful and dangerous. If you want a fuller sampling of wacky and harmful teachings from leaders who are not to be questioned, I suggest starting with the MormonThink “Mormon Quotes” page.
- Given that these men cannot refrain from “teaching the philosophy of men mingled with a few scriptures,” what could possibly justify faith in their arm of flesh?
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
- Swords seem to be anachronistic (Alma 17:7, 37-39, Alma 18:16, Alma 19:22, 24, Alma 20:14, 16, 22).
- A claim of descent from Ishmael more than 500 years after Lehi and Co. leave Jerusalem, so lack of DNA evidence is a challenge (Alma 17:21).
- It doesn’t seem likely that he could have cut off so many arms with a “sword” but only killed one by sword (Alma 17:38).
- Has there really been a national culture in which “they suppose that whatsoever they do is right”? (Alma 18:5).
- Horses and chariots are anachronistic (Alma 18:9-10, 12 and Alma 20:6, see also my If I Could Ask … Lesson 5).
- King Lamoni experiences some kind of time warp (Alma 18:14)?
- Abish, one of only three Book of Mormon women named enters the story (Alma 19:16).
- Being moved by the Spirit, the whole group, except Abish, falls to the earth (Alma 19:17).
- Another blow to the moral agency defense against the problem of evil (Alma 19:22, see also my If I Could Ask … Lesson 23).
- And finally, the king of all the Lamanites falls as if dead upon conversion (Alma 22:18).
- The manual for this lesson refers to Ammon protecting the sheep. This could only be the story of Ammon protecting king Lamoni’s flocks. The Book of Mormon never refers to the king’s flocks as sheep, and there were no domestic sheep in pre-Columbian America (If I Could Ask … Lesson 22).
If you could ask believers questions about the scriptures for this lesson, what would you ask?
Have fun studying!
If I could ask them one question, Lesson 25