Posts Tagged ‘Avraham Gileadi’

As I was sitting in the library today their internet connection went down.  And it wasn’t one of those “down for 2 minutes” kind of down.  It ended up down for several hours.  As I was sitting there wondering what to do – go home or study – I flipped open a copy of Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion.  A book which I had only plucked off the library shelf a mere hour or so earlier.  Not sure I was wanting to delve into Nibley’s writings, I semi-randomly flipped the book open to page 52 and began reading.  Paragraph after paragraph seemed to roll off the pages relating precisely to topics I have studied only weeks prior, both echoing sentiments I have felt as well as answering questions I was myself posing.  Therefore, in spite of myself, it was with great interest that I read what was being shared about Zion.

In that vein, I shall transcribe and share what Nibley so aptly shared (spans pages 50-63 of Approaching Zion). I thought about mixing this post together with my words, but really don’t think that it does much justice to what Nibley so eloquently wrote.  The problems he decried those many years ago remain even more prevalent today, if not more so.  We are so far from Zion, the view so distant, that it scarcely seems imaginable.  The teachings on Zion have been, if only mildly, corrupted to the point where we no longer believe in a physical gathering where we can live the laws of a Zion, instead placating ourselves with a Zion that’s but a mere shell of what we yearn for.  We’re told that Zion is wherever you are, it’s where you live, it’s in your heart.  This is true, to a degree.  Zion does begin in the heart, where you live.  However, I see this as a means to an end.  At some point we will have to leave Babylon – fully and completely – and exit stage right if we’re to ever advance as we simply must to attain what others have looked forward to for so long…but alas, I’m left alone with these thoughts, pondering, myself, the next step.  It’s in this spirit that I share these words from Hugh Nibley:


In Zion, all are “of one heart and one mind … and there [are] no poor among them” (Moses 7:18), thus showing that equality extends into all fields, as it must also be in the preparation for Zion: “For if ye are not equal in earthly things, ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.  For if you will that I give you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves” (D&C 76:6-7).  “And you are to be equal … to have equal claims … every man according to his wants and his needs … every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all the things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:17, 19).  Well, there is a great deal of this.  In the words of the Prophet Joseph, “The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always come from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise”[1] (a statement I do not recall having heard from the stand for some time).  This was a hard lesson to learn: to come down to earth.  “The Latter-day Saints, in their conduct and acts with regard to financial matters, are like the rest of the world.  The course pursued by men of business in the world has a tendency to make a few rich, and to sink the masses of the people in poverty and degradation.  Too many of the Elders of Israel take this course.  No matter what comes they are for gain – for gathering around them riches; and when they get rich, how are those riches used?  Spent on the lusts of the flesh.”[2] As to the idler eating the bread of the laborer, “I have seen many cases …,” says Brigham, “when the young lady would have to take her clothing on a Saturday night and wash it, in order that she might go to meeting on the Sunday with a clean dress on.  Who is she laboring for?  For those who, many of them, are living in luxury.  And, to serve the classes that are living on them, the poor, laboring men and women are toiling, working their lives out to earn that which will keep a little life within them.  Is this equality?  No! What is going to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on this earth.”[3] “The earth is here, and the fullness thereof is here.  It was made for man; and one man was not made to trample his fellowman under his feet, and enjoy all his hearts desires, while the thousands suffer.”[4] Regardless of who works and who doesn’t, no just father is going to order one son clothed in robes and another in rags (D&C 38:26).

Of course, the man who devotes himself to the tiring routines of business should be rewarded, but should all others be penalized who do not engage in that particular line of work?  “Where, then, is your great ability?  In your pockets – in the god so much adored,” says Brigham with contempt; there is other work to be done and far greater:  “But take the men that can travel the earth over, preach the Gospel without purse or scrip, and then go to and lay their plans to gather the saints.  That looks like the work of angels.”[5] Granted that those who acquire wealth are sometimes people of superior talent (though for every real artist, or poet, or composer in America, there are at least ten thousand millionaires), “those who are blessed with superior abilities,” even in business, “should use those blessings … to administer to others less favored.”  Our gifts and talents are to be put at the disposal of the human race, not used to put the race at our disposal.  “Instead of this,” Brigham notes, “man has become so perverted as to debar his fellows as much as possible from those blessings, and constrain them by physical force or circumstances to contribute of the proceeds of their labour to sustain the favoured few.”[6] That is not Zion, but that is what we have.  Should we settle for it?

The doctrine of united together in our temporal labors, and all working for the good of all is from the beginning, from everlasting, and it will be for ever and ever.  No one supposes for one moment that in heaven the angels are speculating, that they are building railroads and factories, taking advantage one of another, gathering up the substance there is in heaven to aggrandize themselves, and that they live on the same principle that we are in the habit of doing.  No Christian, no sectarian Christian, in the world believes this; they believe that the inhabitants of heaven live as a family, that their faith, interests and pursuits have one end in view – the glory of God and their own salvation, that they may receive more and more … We all believe this, and suppose we go to work and imitate them as far as we can.”[7]

“There are men in this community who, through the force of the education they have received from their parents nad friends [i.e., this is an established ethic among us], would cheat a poor widow out of her last cow, and then go down upon their knees and thank God for the good fortune he had sent them and for his kind providences that enabled them to obtain a cow without becoming amenable to any law of the land, though the poor widow had actually been cheated.”[8] Here, please note, the defense of immorality is legality:  if it is legal, all is well, even though the law has been contrived under pressure of interest groups.

God recognizes only one justification for seeking wealth, and that is with the express intent of helping the poor (Jacob 2:19).  One of the disturbing things about Zion is that its appeal, according to the scriptures, is all to the poor:  “The Lord hat founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it” (Isaiah 14:32).  Of course, once in Zion, no one suffers from poverty, for they dwell in righteousness and there are no poor among them (Moses 7:18).  The law of consecration is a minimal requirement, for “if my people observe not this law, … it shall not be a land of Zion unto you” (D&C 119:6).  Here our rhetoric engages in a neat bit of sophistry that has always been popular:

Elders of Israel are greedy after the things of this world.  If you ask them if they are ready to build up the kingdom of God, their answer is prompt – “Why, to be sure we are, with our whole souls; but we want first to get so much gold, speculate and get rich, and then we can help the church considerably.  We will go to California and get gold, go and buy goods and get rich, trade with the emigrants, build a mill, make a farm, get a large herd of cattle, and then we can do a great deal for Israel.”[9]

I have heard this many times from friends and relatives, but it is hokum.  What they are saying is, “If God will give me a million dollars, I will let him have a generous cut of it.”  And so they pray and speculate and expect the Lord to come through for them.  He won’t do it:  “And, again, I command thee that thou shalt not covert thine own property” (D&C 19:26).  “Let them repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires, before me, saith the Lord, for what is property unto me? Saith the Lord” (D&C 117:4).  He does not need our property or our help.

Every rhetorician knows that his most effective weapons by far are labels.  He can demolish the opposition with simple and devastating labels such as communism, socialism, or atheism, popery, militarism, or Mormonism, or give his clients’ worst crimes a religious glow with noble labels such as integrity, old-fashioned honesty, tough-mindedness, or free competitive enterprise.  “You can get away with anything if you just wave the flag,” a business partner of my father once told me.  He called that patriotism.  But the label game reaches its all-time peak of skill and effrontery in the Madison Avenue master stroke of pasting the lovely label Zion on all the most typical institutions of Babylon:  Zion’s Loans, Zion’s Real Estate, Zion’s Used Cars, Zion’s Jewelry, Zion’s Supermarket, Zion’s Auto Wrecking, Zion’s Outdoor Advertising, Zion’s Land and Mining, Zion’s Development, Zion’s Securities, Zion’s Bank – all that is quintessentially Babylon now masquerades as Zion.

There is a precedent for the bit of faking – a most distinguished one.  Satan, being neither stupid nor inexperienced, knows the value of a pleasing appearance – there are times when it pays to appear even as an angel of light.  He goes farther than that, however, to assure that success of his masquerade (given out since the days of Adam) as a picturesquely repulsive figure – a four-star horror with claws, horns, or other obvious trimmings.  With that idea firmly established, he can operate with devastating effectiveness as a very proper gentleman, a handsome and persuasive salesman.  He “decoys” our minds (a favorite word of Brigham Young) with false words and appearances.  A favorite trick is to put the whole blame on sex.  Sex can be a pernicious appetite, but it runs a poor second to the other.  For example:  we are wont to think of Sodom as the original sexpot, but according to all accounts “this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom”: that great wealth made her people cruel and self-righteous.[10]

The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism.  Longhairs, beards, necklaces, LSD and rock, Big Sur and Woodstock come and go, but Babylon is always there:  rich, respectable, immovable, with its granite walls and steel vaults, its bronze gates, its onyx trimmings and marble floors (all borrowed from ancient temples, for these are our modern temples), and its bullet-proof glass – the awesome symbols of total security.  Keeping her orgies decently private, she presents a front of unalterable propriety to all.  As the early Christian writers observed, Babylon always wins:  in every showdown throughout history, Satan has remained in possession of the field, and he still holds it.  Its security and respectability exert a strong appeal:  “When I see this people grown and spread and prosper,” said Brigham Young, “I feel there is more danger than when they are in poverty.  Being driven from city to city … is nothing compared to the danger of becoming rich and being hailed by outsiders as a first class community.”[11]

Brigham Young had this to say on the Puritan ethic, which shifts the burden of guilt from wealth to sex:

When the books are opened, out of which the human family are to be judged, how disappointed the professedly sanctified, long-faced hypocrites and smooth toned Pharisees will be, when the publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of heaven before them; people that appeared to be full of evil, but the Lord says they never designed to do wrong; the Devil had power over them, and they suffered in their mortal state a thousand times more than you poor, miserable, canting, cheating, sniveling, hypocritical Pharisees; you were dressed in purple and fine linen, and bound burdens upon your weaker brethren that you would not so much as help to lift with your little fingers.  Did you ever go without food, suffer with tooth-ache, sore eyes, rheumatism, or the chills and fever?  You have fared sumptuously all your days and you condemned to an everlasting hell these poor harlots and publicans who never designed an evil.  Are you not guilty of committing an evil with that poor harlot?  Yes, and you will be damned while she will be saved.[12]

When the Saints were shocked by growing juvenile delinquency in their midst, who were the real criminals?  Brigham knows:  “I have not the least hesitation in saying that the loose conduct, and calculations, and manner of doing business, which have characterized men who have had property in their hands, have laid the foundation to bring our boys into the spirit of stealing.  You have caused them to do it, you have laid before them every inducement possible, to learn their hands and train their minds to take that which is not their own.”[13] But the respectable appearance will nearly always win, though the Lord has said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

Here are a few notes from Brigham on this clever campaign:  “The devil appears as a gentleman when he presents himself to the children of men.”[14] “The devil does not care how much religion there is on the earth; he is a great preacher, and to all appearance, a great gentleman. … It is popular now-a-days to be religious; it has become the seasoning to a great deal of rascality, hypocrisy and crime.”[15] “The adversary presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and hi sis very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind, uniting himself with popular parties, floating into offices of trust and emolument by pandering to popular feeling, though it should seriously wrong and oppress the innocent.”[16] No atheism here!  “The servants of sin should appear polished and pious … able to call to their assistance … the subtle, persuasive power of rhetoric.”[17] “The devil is an orator,” said Joseph Smith.  “He is powerful; … he can tempt all classes.”[18]

The sorriest thing about Babylon’s masquerade and the switched villains is that there is nothing the least bit clever or subtle about it.  It is all as crude, obvious, and heavy handed as it can be, and it only gets by because everybody wants it to.  We rather like the Godfather and the lively and competitive world he moves in: what would TV do without it?  What other world have our children ever known?  We want to be vindicated in our position and to know that the world is on our side as we all join in a chorus of righteous denunciation; the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearance.  The full-fledged citizen of Babylon is an organization man:  Daniel was thrown to the lions before he would give up his private devotions offensive to the administration to which he belonged; his three friends preferred being cast into a fiery furnace to the simple act of facing and saluting the image of the king of Babylon who had given them wealth, power, and position in his kingdom, to whom they owed all allegiance, when the band played in the Plain of Dura.  For Brigham Young, conformity is the danger signal:  “I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint,” he said, “and do not believe in the doctrine … Away with stereotyped ‘Mormons’!”[19] When, as a boy, he was asked by his father to sign a temperance pledge, he resolutely refused.[20] Youth rebelling against respectability?  No, honesty resisting social pressure and hypocrisy.

Why this highly unoriginal talk?  Because if this is a very important and cosmic part of the gospel, it is also a much neglected one.

All of my life I have shied away from these disturbing and highly unpopular – even offensive – themes.  But I cannot do so any longer, because in my old age I have taken to reading the scriptures and there have had it forced upon my reluctant attention, that from the time of Adam to the present day, Zion has been pitted against Babylon, and the name of the game has always been money – “power and gain.”

It has been supposed that wealth gives power.  In a depraved state of society, in a certain sense it does, if opening a wide field for unrighteous monopolies, by which the poor are robbed and oppressed and the wealthy are more enriched, is power.  In a depraved state of society money can buy positions and titles, can cover up a multitude of incapabilities, can open wide the gates of fashionable society to the lowest and most depraved of human beings; it divides society into castes without any reference to goodness, virtue or truth.  It is made to pander to the most brutal passions of the human soul; it is made to subvert every wholesome law of God and man, and to trample down every sacred bond that should tie society together in a national, municipal, domestic and every other relationship.[21]

Cain slew “his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain” (Moses 5:50).  For Satan had taught him “this great secret, that I may murder and get gain” (Moses 5:31).  He excused himself to God:  “Satan tempted me because of my brother’s flocks” (Moses 5:38), and having gotten the best of his brother in competition, Cain “gloried in that which he had done,” rejoicing in the rhetoric of wealth: “I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands” (Moses 5:33).

He felt no guilt, since this was fair competition.  Abel could take care of himself:  “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Moses 5:34).

It was all free competitive enterprise where “every man prospered according to his genius, and … every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime” (Alma 30:17).  This is no mere red thread running through the scriptures, but the broad highway of history.

Commenting on the astonishingly short time in which the Nephites turned from a righteous to a wicked nation, Nephi puts his finger on the spot:  “Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this – Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity … tempting them to seek [in other words, work] for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world” (3 Nephi 6:15).

I pray that there may be some Latter-day Saints who do not succumb to the last and most determined onslaught of Babylon, which I believe may be coming.

[1] TPJS 183

[2] JD 11:348

[3] Ibid., 19:47

[4] Ibid., 19:46

[5] Ibid., 8:353

[6] MS 17:673-74

[7] JD 17:117-18

[8] Ibid., 6:71

[9] Ibid., 1:164

[10] Hugh W. Nibley, “Setting the Stage – The World of Abraham, (Part 9, continued),” Improvement Era (November 1969): 118, citing references

[11] JD 12:272

[12] Ibid., 10:176

[13] Ibid.,  11:255

[14] Ibid., 11:236

[15] Ibid., 11:251

[16] Ibid., 11:238

[17] Ibid., 11:234

[18] TPJS 162

[19] JD 8:185

[20] Ibid., 14:225

[21] Ibid., 10:3

Post 1:  Originally written for

I have been pondering a few things over the past couple of days related to several Book of Mormon characters, prominent characters in some of the stories contained therein.  I’ve been wondering what it would be like if we could transplant them into our modern day world and church.  Take them, and all their experiences, and thrust them into today and see the reaction.  Not so much their reaction as ours.  Would they be the wellspring of faith they were then, or would we cast them aside because of our traditions and cultural assumptions?  It’s a question I feel is worth discussion.

Alma the Younger

The first character that’s been occupying my thoughts is Alma the Younger and, more specifically, his experiences in and around his father establishing a new church after being the only priest in King Noah’s court who both heard and felt the message of Abinadi.  This blog’s original six-part series on Abinadi has helped immensely in my thoughts and is worth reading.  From part I of that series I borrow the following statement, which is basically where I pick up at:

“Zeniff calls and consecrates, with proper priesthood, twelve high priests and serves as the president of that high priesthood, as evidenced by Noah removing all of his father’s high priests (Mos. 11:5).”

That is the opening salvo of this entry.  Alma the Younger and his father present an intriguing idea.  Alma the Younger’s father was a member of King Noah’s court, though possibly the youngest member of that court.  He was described as being a “young man” (Mosiah 17:2) and was personally selected to serve as a priest over the church in their day, Alma himself apparently “lifted up in the pride of [his] heart”, “idolatrous”, and more than willing to be supported in his “laziness” and “whoredoms” (Mosiah 11:5-6).  As this story plays out, it truly becomes a “like father, like son” event, the father and son playing quite similar roles and experiencing quite similar conversions over the span of a few dozen years.  Abinadi comes and preaches the words the Lord tells him (Mosiah 11), and then disappears for a space of two full years.  After this two year window, he returns.  There’s little doubt that Alma, the father, knew of Abinadi and what he was preaching.  Being a member of the twelve priests set to watch over the church, he was likely privy to many discussions on what to do with and to this man, prior to his disappearance, who was claiming to speak on an errand from the Lord.  Actions like Abinadi’s, which directly undermined the both church’s and the priests authority, simply couldn’t be tolerated and Alma would have been part of those who would be judge, jury and executioner of this “false prophet” among their mainstream church.

Two years later, and under a cloak of disguise, Abinadi returns on command from the Lord to preach to the same people, with the same leaders in place, the same message – that of repentance.  It appears (Mosiah 12:9) that the people do not recognize or remember Abinadi, calling him merely “a man.”  This time, however, he’s not delivered and is taken before King Noah’s court and his priests.  At that point, both the people and priests pander to King Noah, as they hold a “council” (Mosiah 12:17) to determine Abinadi’s fate.

Rather than belabor that part of the story and what happened, Abinadi is brought before the council, questioned, cross-examined and ridiculed.  King Noah decides it’s time to slay him, but all of the priests and King Noah are witnesses to a divine intervention where they cannot seize hold of Abinadi and he is protected by God (Mosiah 13:1-3).  Alma would obviously have been a witness to this event and one begins to wonder where his thoughts are at, especially if he remembers anything from the previous encounter with Abinadai.  Alma was no doubt prepared for this event during the previous two years while Abinadi was away.  During that lag in time, he seems to have changed from an “idolatrous” man, to one who “knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi had testified of” (Mosiah 17:2).  Perhaps during that two year window Alma had tried to speak up about some of the things going on, though with likely much difficulty because he was but a “young man” amongst older priests.  Perhaps he had spoken on other occasions to King Noah and the priests about the things they were doing – if only because he, as a priest of the church, was thrown out upon having said those words.  Alma’s moments of preparation brought him to where he was, and provided him with a jumping off point…

Now we fast forward a few years.  Alma’s remnant group broke off from the main church body taking, baptizing and re-baptizing all those who wanted to come (204 souls in total – a very small minority no doubt, see Mosiah 18:16), was forced to hide in the wilderness and move from place to place due to the persecutions at the hands of the remaining priests of King Noah and King Noah himself.  The group grows, is described as a “movement” which King Noah both discovered and knew all about (Mosiah 18:32) and reaches a total of 450 members.  In the space of a few short days/months, the church more than doubles in size, though still, no doubt, miniscule in comparison to the larger, “mainstream” church.  For sake of length, there is a lot that happens between this point and Mosiah 23, where the story of Alma picks up again.

Then, once the story resumes, in a strange twist of fate, Alma and his followers get persecuted by a man named Amulon, who was the leader of King Noah’s priests who had fled into the wilderness, seduced the Lamanites and now found themselves, once again, in power over Alma’s remnant group (Mosiah 24:8).  Interestingly enough, it appears that Amulon was the priest who either replaced Alma when his spot was vacated, or another spot shortly thereafter.  Mosiah 24:8-9 reads:

8 And now it came to pass that aAmulon began to exercise bauthority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children.

9 For Amulon knew Alma, that he had been aone of the king’s priests, and that it was he that believed the words of Abinadi and was driven out before the king, and therefore he was wroth with him; for he was subject to king Laman, yet he exercised authority over them, and put btasks upon them, and put ctask-masters over them.

Verse 9, by itself is especially enlightening in this context.  Amulon knew Alma, knew that Alma was that priest who “believed the words of Abinadi” and the priest who was driven out from “before the king”, though it’s important to point out that there’s no reference to them knowing each other as priests.  Verse 8 seems to indicate the likely seeds of the eventual tension between Alma and his son, Alma the Younger.  It seems that Alma the Younger was singled out and persecuted by Amulon’s children, singled out for being Alma’s son, the son of that priest who ruined the perfect, flourishing society of King Noah.  It was Alma who brought the great problems onto the people – not knowing who else to blame and already having killed Abinadi – and so it begins with Alma the Younger.  It is at this point or sometime near this point that I believe that Alma the Younger begins to instructed and taught about what his father did, though with a decidedly negative twist.  It is at this point no doubt that Alma the Younger begins to hear of the “true, mainstream church” from a different perspective, one which was likely apologetic to both King Noah, his priests and their deeds.  The seeds of doubt are planted in a young Alma’s mind, seeds which sprout in apparently fertile ground.

It is also at this point that the people of Alma are forbidden from any sort of prayer, except those which cannot be seen (from the heart) – Amulon exercising his authority over them.  It is also likely that this is the point when Alma the Younger is being persecuted, a point when he is most vulnerable (being young and forbidden from praying).  Alma the Younger also grew up in a period of unbelief generally, not just because of the prayer issue though that certainly played a dominant role in the time period.  There were some, likely contemporaries of Alma the Younger, who were present for King Benjamin’s discourse, but too young, at the time, to understand and now old enough to choose not follow the traditions of their fathers.  (Mosiah 26:1-4).  These unbelievers were gifted with some of the same gifts Alma the Younger possessed, namely flattery and the ability to flatter (Mosiah 26:6).  These unbelievers did “deceive many” because of their flattering words.

The link we see here, is that later these are the very same descriptions used to describe Alma the Younger as he sought to destroy the church.  Alma, the father, apparently “did not know concerning [these unbelievers]” (Mosiah 26:9), but nevertheless petitioned both King Mosiah and the Lord to find out what to do with them, not wanting to “do wrong in the sight of God” (Mosiah 26:13).  He receives a miraculous answer which includes his calling and election, as well as a revelation to do nothing to the unbelievers other than “blot” out the names of these unbelievers from the records of the church (Mosiah 26:15-32), a purging of the records of the church if you will.

We don’t read it here in chapter 26, but what I find even more enlightening and thought provoking about this purging of the records of the church is that it almost certainly included the purging of the records of four of the sons of Mosiah, as well as at least one of the sons of Alma, Alma the Younger.  Alma most certainly didn’t want to do wrong “in the sight of the Lord” with respect to his immediate family any more than he did the general populous, though he was undoubtedly more afflicted by what he’d eventually do to his son.  Mosiah 27:8 describes the sons of Mosiah and Alma the Younger as being “numbered among the unbelievers”, numbered among the “idolatrous” and among those who deceived members of the church using “flattery”, numbered among the “unbelievers” because their names had been removed from the Church’s records and rolls.  In this same revelation, Alma learns of his calling and election and assurance of eternal life.  The dichotomy is striking.  On the one hand, Alma the elder is assured of eternal life, while on the other he’s expressly told to excommunicate and blot out the names of the unbelievers, his son being one of them.  This blotting out has definite application to the possibility of eternal life for those unbelievers.  Having their names “blotted” out was no doubt painful for Alma, he having risked his life, occupation and all means for providing his family to establish the very church his son was now not only kicked out of, but also seeking to destroy.

Returning, if only briefly, to the description of Alma the Younger, we do know is that he was an “idolatrous” man (Mosiah 27:8), a definition that very easily could be interpreted as a man very taken by materialism (both Hugh Nibley’s and Avraham Gileadi’s interpretations of Idolatry fits here), as he was an “unbeliever”, this seems the most likely application of the word.  Hugh Nibley’s definition of idolatry was not that “things” were gods in the sense they were literally worshiped, but rather in the sense that their manufacture, promotion and sale provided the people with a living an d a means of sustenance.

As Avraham Gileadi put it:

“Economic factors determined social behavior – the law of supply. Manufacturing the works of men’s hands yielded income but constituted idolatry, because what so many people worked at, oriented their lives to, was ultimately unproductive. … It enslaved to a false idea not merely those directly involved with it but also those who produced foodstuffs and raw materials. The latter labored to provide for all the rest. … In short, the works of men’s hands on which people set their hearts, on which they spend Natural and human resources, are by definition “idols” (Isa. 2:8, Jer. 10:1-5). As the prophets describe them, these are idols that people invent, design, sketch, carve, forge, molten, cast, weld, plate, fit, hammer, rivet, and mass produce.  Manufactured, promoted, and sold for gold and silver (Isa. 44:9; 46:6), the idols are the fruits of technology of well-nigh magical dimensions (Isa. 47:10, 12). They follow trends and engage the whole of society (Isa. 44:11,47:13). Depending on the kinds of idols, people both carry them about and set them in place in their homes (Isa. 45:20; 46:7).  The entire production of idols, however, is erroneous and vain (Jer. 51:17-18).  It causes people to become like the idols themselves, sightless and mindless of things spiritual, unaware and insensible to impending disaster (Isa. 42:17-20; 44:9, 45:16).  It constitutes a “wine” that Makes people drunk and made the wine of Babylon (Jer. 51:7 and Rev. 18:3).” (Last Days Types and Shadows).

King Noah, during his reign, established a very materialistic society and church…preferring the works of their hands (temples, buildings, etc) over the works of the spirit (probably because they couldn’t feel or recognize the spirit).  Soon after taking his position at the head of the church, he instituted a flat tax of one-fifth of everything (a likely combination of tithing to the church and taxes to the government (10% for each)).  The reason for instituting this “flat tax” was to create a superficial feeling of growth amongst the people, to create a superficial feeling of righteousness.  The taxes and tithing funded the growth and expansion from both a spiritual (renovation of the temple) and secular (palaces, buildings, etc).

He then, with the help of the yes-men priests he selected, including Alma, set about to complete a work of construction and building which may have been unrivaled in Nephite history up to that point.  Mosiah 11:6-15 discusses the work that was completed, namely elegant and spacious buildings, ornamentations of all kinds, a spacious palace, a renovation of the temple, new seats for the high priests, a new pulpit, new towers to look out for danger, as well as vineyards and winepresses.  In short, a mass stimulus plan was passed, thanks to the new flat tithing tax, which funded the building of a society. Truly they were a “prosperous” people – an immense period of building, progress and growth – and they took their prosperity to be a direct indication of their righteousness (Mosiah 12:15).  This prosperity, no doubt, created a feeling of “all is well in Zion” and a feeling, no doubt, that people like Amulon and the other “idolatrous” unbelievers were trying to recreate the best they could.  Amulon then passed that belief down to his children and followers.

Under these circumstances it’s very likely, almost certain, that Alma the Younger knew of the “prosperity”, the growth, the construction, the work, the lifestyle that was happened in and around King Noah’s people even though he was likely born in the wilderness, and it’s likely he too yearned for that lifestyle after finding the sons of Mosiah.

Thus, amidst a convergence of events, Alma the Younger seeks to destroy the church his father was inspired to establish, a church which he was excommunicated and blotted out from.  He may have viewed his father’s church as “apostate”, given that it was a remnant of the mainstream church and likely persecuted the members of the church based on this information and he may have even meant well, and he may have been upset given the ease with which the other people lived (riches, etc).  We read he, along with the sons of Mosiah, caused much “dissension” (Mosiah 27:9) as they went about secretly teaching the members of the church what they believed, and it isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest that the dissension may well have come from one comparing the two churches and explaining why the one was wrong and the other right.  If Alma the Younger believed they were all wrong, I see no reason for him going about secretly to members houses.  There is a plethora of examples of people who believe nothing and who are more than willing to stand up on their soap box and claim that there’s no Messiah, no God, no church to which one must go.

And these “flatterers” likely would have had a compelling case…especially if there were statements and writings at the time (and there probably were) saying that the authority remained with King Noah and/or the priests after Zeniff passed it on to King Noah and after King Noah died, and to reject that authority was to reject the word of God.  I can see the persuasiveness in that argument, we see it today, and it’s certainly a type and shadow of today.  Alma the Younger was probably very much attracted to the tradition and history of the “mainstream” church of his day, yearning for the materialism, success and ease and freedom from the persecution he felt as a child.  He, in that respect, was a mirror image of his father sitting among the priests of King Noah.

The only reason he was converted was due to a vision, a miraculous divine intervention, an intervention that mirrors his father’s “about face” as he sat watching and listening to Abinadi.  Both of them were spending their lives as idolatrous, lazy and participating in all sorts of wickedness, only to change due to a miraculous intervention in their lives, witnesses to intense and divine pivot points.  It was probably quite the experience for Alma the Younger, just as it was for his father.  His whole world and belief system tipped upside down.  The angel of the Lord told him that the church he was trying to destroy was His church (perhaps because Alma the Younger very much thought that it was an apostate form of the “true” church, thus worthy of destruction) (Mosiah 27:13).

Then, after Alma the Younger was dumbfounded, on question comes to mind, that of why would his father bring his son before the body of the remnant church in an effort to show them the power of God?  Perhaps, just perhaps, it was to show the remnant (who may have been wavering because of the persecution they were receiving) that their prayers were answered and that they were on the track God wanted them to be on, they weren’t just some “apostate” branch which had wrongfully broken off from the mainstream church.  Mosiah 27:33 speaks of how, after the vision and after their change of hearts, Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah went about preaching to the unbelievers – the very people they spent their time with prior to their conversion – and how their preaching and miraculous conversion “confirm[ed] their [the remnants] faith” and brought “much consolation” to the new church.  It appears that this fledgling church was experiencing a significant identity crisis.

The verses immediately before and after verse 33 read as follows:

32 And now it came to pass that Alma began from this time forward to teach the people, and those who were with Alma at the time the angel appeared unto them, traveling round about through all the land, publishing to all the people the things which they had heard and seen, and preaching the word of God in much tribulation, being greatly persecuted by those who were unbelievers, being smitten by many of them.

33 But notwithstanding all this, they did impart much consolation to the church, confirming their faith, and exhorting them with long-suffering and much travail to keep the commandments of God.

34 And four of them were the asons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.

35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the apeople who were under the reign of king Mosiah, bzealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, cconfessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.

36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.

It is interesting to note, in this particular light, that these four sons of Mosiah and Alma the Younger went about “zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church” (Mosiah 27:35), striving to teach the same “unbelievers” who they themselves were building up and supporting only a few days/weeks prior.  Is it plausible that they were striving to repair injuries associated within the context of a fallen, worldly church (whose members were numbered among the “unbelievers” the scriptures mention, and as Abinadi testified, see Mosiah 11-16) versus a remnant branch, they having ridiculed the remnant branch prior to their conversion?  Now, those who had heard these men ridicule the remnants, were now hearing a new story that they had a miraculous change of heart, a conversion.  That would be a tough sell for even the softest of unbelievers.

This ended up being a lot longer than I imagined, so I apologize, but each verse led to more thoughts and more insights into (a) how Alma the Younger came to persecute his father’s remnant branch, (b) the similarities between Alma the Younger and his father, and (c) the incredible depth of this story as it teaches lessons for our day.

So, in conclusion, how would Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah be viewed in our Church today?  Would they be “forgiven” by men who witnessed their attacks on the church, among both the believers and unbelievers?  Would they be allowed to re-enter the church and hold callings?  Would they be allowed to even stand up at the pulpit and preach of their conversion?  Or, because of their “visibility” within the church and the destruction they had caused, would they be ridiculed, mocked and ostracized?  Clearly the people of that time were relieved and welcomed the conversion, undoubtedly giving thanks for their preaching to the “unbelievers”, but would we as a church today grant the same forgiveness and grace?  Would their priesthood leaders be as willing to forgive, let alone believe their account of an angel appearing to them?