As I saw troubling reports and videos this week of students at the once-great Harvard University and other major universities harassing Jewish students for being Jewish or chanting in support of intifada, I wondered how could our society have fallen so fast from the principles of toleration and respect for different religions and cultures to one in which calls for hate and violence were treated by many elites as virtuous.
For many years, one of the strangest things in the Book of Mormon, an arguable weakness that was hard to justify, is the rapidity in which Nephite society could switch from being penitent and righteous to being wicked and prideful. Could a devout, faithful society really fall that quickly? It’s a problem others have discussed. See, for example, a “KnowWhy #189” at Book of Mormon Central on a question about why the Nephites could forget the convincing signs about the coming of Christ so quickly. The Book of Mormon has subtle hints that help explain this phenomenon, but first I have to say the rapid changes I’ve seen in US society resolves many of my questions about the phenomenon.
We have seen our society seem to turn on a dime. In a handful of years, we have gone from a largely Juedo-Christian tradition mingled with classical liberalism and tolerance in which most people could get along, respect one another, generally support freedom and many family values, to something radically different in which a large fraction of our university students and many others can openly endorse hatred and violence against Jews or political enemies, and can also insist that anyone who thinks that a man walking into a women’s locker room is wrong must be a hateful fascist worthy of cancellation or worse.
In a rapid inversion of values, we have seen government ignore crime in the streets and obvious corruption in high places, tolerate if not support the import of deadly addictive drugs across our open border that is killing many tens of thousands of our citizens, and ignore the threat of terrorists coming across that border. We have seen a society in which both Democrats and Republics largely agreed that abortion was an ugly act (the pro-abortion crowd just a few years ago generally agreed abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”) to now having many citizens openly celebrate abortion as some kind of noble virtue that empowers women (though not necessarily the unborn or not-quite-born girls it terminates), with a majority of citizens in many parts of the country whipped into a frenzy about the need to remove common-sense restrictions on abortion to the point that an innocent child’s life can be unnecessarily terminated for any reason up to the moment of birth. Abortion has become such a lofty right that it can be done without parental consent in places where parental approval is required for minor to get tattoos or ear piercings. Then people who just a couple of years ago were shouting “my body, my choice” began insisting that anyone who believed in personal body sovereignty was a threat to society who needed to be punished for not allowing the government to inject them with an experimental and potentially harmful medication. Media messages across the spectrum, ranging from the New York Times to the Salt Lake Tribune, supported hate against fellow citizens who weren’t sure they trusted the government about the need to get experimental medications for which safety testing was woefully inadequate. All this points to a divisiveness and stirring up of society that has undermine who were were as a nation. With all this in mind, the Book of Mormon seems more reasonable than ever.
In discussing these phenomenon with a fellow members of my ward today, we both felt that the seeming rapidity of these changes is not so much because many people suddenly switched from good to evil or from sanity to insanity in, for example, once thinking that only women can have babies to now thinking that there’s really no definition for what a women is and that anybody can have babies or be a woman if he/she/they/ze feels like it. Rather, there have always been rebels and those without strong traditional moral grounding who tend to go along with the views of their peers and influencers, some choosing a rebellious path knowingly and others just being led along. Without realizing it, some in these groups can be easily manipulated into thinking they are just “following the science” and doing what they are told by authority figures or seemingly authoritative media, without sensing the broken moral compass behind the tide. The appearance of sudden widespread moral decay may simply reflect long-standing divisions that have allowed parts of society — and sometimes both sides of some debates — to be stirred up quickly into intense emotion and hate rather than just quietly pursuing their own paths as in the past.
It may be less innocent than that description might sound, though, for there surely are organized forces and corruption behind the stirring up as well as the rise of criminal gangs, violent unpunished protests in the streets, and the multi-billion dollar gains being provided to drug cartels, violent gangs, and human traffickers with an open border. There is much nuance and much ugliness behind the dramatic changes in our society, but the end result is the apparent of swift moral reversal much like what we have see in the Book of Mormon.
As always, there is much more to the Book of Mormon than meets the eye. What readers often perceive as a puzzling sudden fall os Nephite society actually may have the same kind of nuance that needs to be considered when unpacking the dramatic changes we see in America today. Book of Mormon scholarship shows that the internal schisms that seem to quickly rise and threaten Nephite society at various times do not suddenly arise in a vacuum. The Book of Mormon gives hints of a diverse society in which significant groups go along with the Nephite while not really buying into Nephite society. We see this in hints of tension between descendants of Mulekite people, with their claims to royalty (Mulek being a son of Zedekiah, the last Jewish king before the Exile), a factor apparently in the civil war led by Amlici and the later King-men that nearly overthrew Nephite sociey. We see the persistence of Jaredite names like Korihor/Corihor among the Nephite, suggesting that surviving Jaredite groups had become part of Nephite society but weren’t fully integrated into Nephite religion. We see great corruption among the upper class as greedy people engage in corruption and conspiracy to gain more power and wealth. These currents seem to persist, even when the people as a whole repent and seem religious. like burning embers, they can be quick to flare up suddenly later and to exploit those who dislike mainstream Nephite society or consider themselves as victims of injustice. These embers persist for generations and when the right conditions and the right fuel are present, can flare up rapidly with sweeping momentum.
The Book of Mormon is more relevant than ever.