The Nephites were a failure…but when?
Posted by BrianJ on August 16, 2012
Imagine reading the Book of Mormon backwards. Not literally of course, where nothing would make sense, but arranging all the “stories” or segments in reverse-chronological order. This way, instead of starting with a righteous and devoted prophet-king (Nephi), we begin the tale reading about a barbaric, rebellious people who are utterly destroyed. They are wicked and perverse—among the baddest of the bad in all of history—and it isn’t until much later that we find more than a handful of Nephites we would want to emulate.
The question is: At what point would you say, “Here is a model society”?
Or, put another way, knowing that Nephite society is ultimately a horrible failure, at what point did their politics, culture, leadership, etc. essentially doom them to that fate?
These were the questions running through my mind as I sat in Sunday School listening to the lesson on Alma 43-52, in which the instructor used the Nephites, under Moroni’s wartime leadership, as an example of success. But looking ahead of those chapters, I see that the wars with the Lamanites were followed by the battle with—and ultimate execution of—the kingmen, then a long struggle with the Gadianton Robbers, and finally a period in which the Nephites were considered far less righteous than the Lamanites. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it seemed like half their cities were destroyed by fire, earthquake, etc. when Christ died. Let me state the obvious: that is not what I want for my society!
So was this just a case of a good people doing the best they could in a trying time (i.e., a “good” example), or were the Nephites under Moroni already very much in decline—so much so that a) despite appearances, their efforts were entirely in vain (like the flailing of a drowning man) and b) they are not remotely a good example (as a society/leadership; I don’t care to question or judge the righteousness of individuals).
So when were the Nephites “model” and when were they not?
Caveat: Clearly one of the problems with my question is that any society can be looked at as a failure at some point. Even the efforts of Alma and the sons of Mosiah could be seen as fruitless: they taught peace, many Lamanites were converted, who then joined the Nephites, and supported the Nephites in their war efforts and were eventually subject to the same Gadianton Robbers. Taken too far, my questioning would show that any good effort is ultimately spoiled.