Another reprint from Mormon Matters.
Many of you may have heard about a man named Joseph Smith that recently claimed to have found some plates of gold, shown to him by an angel no less, and then to have translated those plates “by the gift and power of God” into The Book of Mormon. This Book of Mormon purports to be a story about an ancient people living millennia ago.
We at the New York Ages decided to do a review of this book with such an interesting back story. But we were disappointed to find the interesting stuff stops at the back story. We’d have at least expected a book that purports to be about an ancient people to not borrow so liberally from the front pages of your local newspaper.
In what is clearly a work of fiction oh-so-typical of the 21st century, this Book of Mormon only thinly veils its modern political agenda. The story begins with a single religious family led by the Abraham-like “father Lehi.” Lehi’s descendants soon splits into two tribes with vastly different religious beliefs. The “false” religious tribe, known as Lamanites, has a darker “Arabic-color” of skin while the “true and Christian” religious tribe, the Nephites, are all described as fair-skinned westerners.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our western-like Nephite tribe is highly productive and soon builds large cities, is productive in capitalistic trade, and gains superior technology while their more technologically primitive Islamic Fundamentalist brethren have to rely on their larger numbers to compete. Hmm… have I heard this story somewhere before?
The Islamic fundamentalist scare continues as we soon find that a band of (straight from your evening news) terrorists – called Gadianton Robbers – has infiltrated the Nephite nation. They could be anyone or anywhere and they are ready to kill for their cause. The goodly Nephites are forced to preach Jesus Christ to our misguided terrorists and convert them away from their nefarious deeds or else the nation itself shall be lost to the terrorists. These hidden-terrorists-amongst-us are founded by one named Osama Bin Laden – oh excuse me, I mean Osama Kish-kumen – who manages to get away with a serious act of terrorism against our westerner Nephites.
The terrorists finally succeed in forcing the entire Nephite nation out of their homes and into the wilderness where they are easy prey for the terrorists who “sally forth from the hills, and out of the mountains, and the wilderness, and their strongholds, and their secret places.” If this all reminds you a little too much of the hiding places of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, well, just look the other way and pretend you didn’t notice.
At last, a great war in Iraq – oh, excuse me, I meant to say “the land which was between the land Zarahemla [or is that Zarahem-erica?] and the land [of] Bountiful [oil]” – is required for the Nephite’s to put an end to this terrorism. So we are told by the good Nephite/Christian/Billy-Graham-like-televangelist narrator that we must “to take up arms against those Gadianton robbers, yea, and also to maintain their rights, and the privileges of their church and of their worship, and their freedom and their liberty” or else we’ll lose out to the Islamic Fundamentalists. Oh kill me now.
But the Islamic Fundamentalists aren’t the only ones on the list of concerns. We soon find that Fundamentalist Christians are indicted as well. Though Christians are, in general, considered to be good, Smith never lets us forget that the Christians Fundamentalists have led the nation astray. It would seem that one named Jim Baker – oh, I mean Jim Nehor – is going around the nation telling everyone that “declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.” I’m shocked Nehor wasn’t married to a woman named Tamy Faye.
Instead of Fundamentalist Christianity, a more traditional – and dare we say a more “liberal” – Christian point of view is advocated. Biblical inerrancy is attacked and the dangers of using only the Bible as one’s only creed are put down. Continuing in that theme, the evils of deterministic salvation are decried. It would seem Joseph Smith wants to keep reminding us that while Christianity is the one true way, extreme conservative Christianity isn’t.
We soon find other ills of our day represented. A Christian missionary named Corianton makes the mistake of hanging out with a prototypical porn-star named Isabel, so his prudish Christian father solemnly warns him “Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood.” Smith apparently worries a lot about the modern porn-culture and couldn’t figure out a more subtle way to work it in. You can almost imagine Isabel hanging out at a strip bar from the way the story reads.
Later, 60′s Southern racism is tackled and a re-enactment of the civil rights movement takes place. It would seem some of our dark-skinned Lamanites have accepted Jesus and now represent African Americans living in the segregated South – oh I meant to say segregated Jershon. At the same time, the Nephites have turned from Jesus and have now become secular atheists and/or marginal Christians.
Soon a Lamanite preacher is standing on a Texan-style fort wall (Smith must have recently watched the Alamo) and preaching to Nephites about how they need to accept Jesus and repent. Samuel’s “vision” (you know, sort of like a “dream”. Hint hint.) of their future looks bleak, unless they return to Jesus Christ and racially integrate.
Luckily for us readers, on the edge of our seats, many of the Nephites do accept Jesus and a full scale civil rights movement ensues, starting with racial integration for the sake of the army (“And he caused that armies, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites, or of all them who were numbered among the Nephites, should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers [i.e. terrorists] day and night.”) and then finally full racial integration of Nephite society: “Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites.” Inter-racial marriage is accepted now and the end result is a merging of the races – well, at least the ones that really believe in Jesus Christ. This continues without much problem until centuries later when the people reject Jesus again and racial tensions start anew.
Well, it’s obviously all a bit over the top and not very original. It’s hard to believe Smith would actually think anyone would believe this isn’t a 21st century work of fiction. But at least the Book of Mormon gave us a few good laughs.