Saturday, May 31, 2008

Nephi Finishes the Ship (1 Nephi 18, Part I)

Listen now!"It is good, brother. It is very good."

Those are words we might imagine Laman or Lemuel saying to Nephi as the ship was completed. For a brief time, it seems, the family is unified in humility and faith. They loaded provisions, made ready, and launched into the ocean in the few verses that Nephi records of this momentous event.

He also mentions the births of two brothers, Jacob and Joseph. Their ages at the ship's launch are not known since it states that they were born at some point "in the wilderness". We do know, however, that Jacob was the eldest and that Joseph was younger and the wilderness journey was about eight years. Therefore both of them were between one and eight years of age.

Unfortunately, after many days on the ocean, everyone seems to have settled into their regular roles and rhythm. We again see Laman and Lemuel becoming spiritually slothful. Nephi describes them as beginning to "dance, and to sing". Not that there is anything wrong with dancing and singing. That has always been approved by the Lord as a form of worship. However, he also states that they began to "speak with much rudeness", which corresponded more to the rioting and revelling of the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai than to worship. This conclusion is borne out when we read that they again "did forget by what power they had been brought thither".

Nephi, hoping to correct them and bring them back to a more gentle and worshipful way of life, speaks up, only to be verbally and physically assaulted once again. In their minds, Nephi opening his mouth meant that he was trying to take away from them their birthright as being eldest sons and they lived in constant fear that he might be trying to make himself a king over them.

It is worth pausing here to further analyze how we can compare their attitudes to those found in the world today. Certainly there is a great amount of rhetoric coming from those who profess that there is no God, or that those who believe in God are trying to "shove religion down others' throats". It has become a common complaint by a loud minority in an increasingly vocal and connected society.

Considering that those who revile today against people who openly confess faith in a higher power are living under the same fear as Laman and Lemuel is not much of a stretch. One of the most common epithets hurled at believers is that they are trying to set up a theocracy (a form of government based on divine law), which is a word that holds a negative connotation after the Taliban reared its ugly head in post-Soviet Afghanistan. Suddenly, anyone who believes in God is in danger of persecution from secularists as if all believers are foot soldiers for the dictator of some kind of new world order.

Was Nephi trying to set up a theocracy? Reading further on in the Book of Mormon, we find that he was not, at least not by today's definition of the word. Nephi was simply trying to teach his people to live "after the manner of happiness." The prophets of all ages have taught that there is no lasting happiness in sin, and Nephi's cause was no different.

Upon further analysis based on simple observation, we find that the opposite is actually becoming more true. Secularism is becoming the dominant religion and tyrannical government all its own.

Look around you. When you turn on the television, open a newspaper, search the Internet, or read a magazine, what comprises the bulk of the content you see? Count how many are trying to lure you into accepting adultery and fornication as normal behavior between consenting adults. Tally the number of messages that are about buying a new car early and often. Add up the propaganda with the subtext of "you're never going to be beautiful enough", "you'll never have enough gadgets and toys", and "you'll never be thin until you try this new drug". Happiness, apparently, comes packaged as a standard GPS system in your automobile, a makeover, or some new weight loss pill. It is clear that a gospel is being preached here...just a different kind--the gospel of secularism.

I like what the late LDS presidency 1st Counselor James E. Faust said in a general conference at the turn of the millennium.
"In our time the belief that science and technology can solve all of mankind’s problems has become a theocracy. I would despair if I thought our eternal salvation depended on scientific, technical, or secular knowledge separate from righteousness and the word of God. The word of God as spoken by His prophets through the centuries justifies no other conclusion. Many believe that the transcendent answers to life’s questions lie in the test tube, in the laboratories, in the equations, and in the telescopes. This theocracy of science leaves out the ultimate answer to the overarching question, “Why?” Knowing cause and effect is fascinating but does not explain why we are here, where we came from, and where we are going. As Albert Einstein said, “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” 5

"President Harold B. Lee once said: “No matter what his progress in science, man must always be subject to the will and direction of Divine Providence. Man has never discovered anything that God has not already known.” 6

"I do not believe that this great outpouring of knowledge happened by chance. All of this secular knowledge did not come solely from the creative minds of men and women. Mankind has been on the earth a long time. Over the centuries, knowledge came at a snail’s pace.

"I believe that the appearance of God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in 1820 to Joseph Smith unlocked the heavens not only to the great spiritual knowledge revealed in this dispensation but also to secular knowledge. “Anthropologists inform us that for thousands of years the average human being could expect to live about 25 to 30 years.” 7 But since the late 19th century, life expectancy worldwide has risen to 64 years. 8 New ideas, including scientific inventions and discoveries of better ways of doing things, were being produced annually at 39 a year from 4,000 b.c. to a.d. 1, contrasted to 3,840 new ideas a year in the 19th century, while today they are created at the rate of 110,000 a year. 9

"Now comes the challenge to prevent the scientific, technical, and intellectual from stifling the spiritual enlightenment in our lives. As someone once said, “The greatest of undeveloped resources [in our country] is faith; the greatest of unused power is prayer.” 10 Technology may help us communicate with each other and the world, but not with God."

What do members of the LDS church think about theocracy? We view it in a much different way than the standard definition pushed by the mainstream media today. It certainly is not a system of government headed by a heavy-handed dictator who crushes everyone who opposes him. The word "theocracy" doesn't even appear in our books of scripture. We prefer to call it, simply, the kingdom of God on the earth.

In this kingdom, God (the King) teaches us right ways of living and we proceed to govern ourselves according to that law. If sin is committed, the law allows for repentance ("turning away") from sin and punishment is deferred until the afterlife, when all possible other options to bring us back to Him have been exhausted. People choose to be governed by this law by voluntarily becoming members of God's kingdom by their own free will and choice. If they later disagree with the Gospel's teachings, they are free to leave and no longer be governed by it. Likewise, they are also free to leave behind the blessings that they had been committed to receiving and would have retained had they remained faithful.

King Mosiah, in Mosiah chapter 29 of the Book of Mormon, set up the kingdom of God among his people in much this same way.

Considering all the evil that has come about in the modern world as a result of secularist agendas, not the least of which being the push by elitists for eugenics in the early 1930s that gave rise to the modern abortionist and anti-semitism movements which have killed millions upon millions, which "theocracy" is to be feared the most?