Awful End Scenes (Mormon 1-6)

Monday, October 26, 2020


Channing: Hi, I'm Channing 

Elise: and I'm Elise

C: and this is The Faithful Feminists podcast. 

E: But this is not just any Come Follow Me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the Come Follow Me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures in a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood. We are here to show you all the really good ways that faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience.

C: We've saved you see on the soft chairs so join us today for a conversation about Mormon 1-6 for the dates October 26th - November 1st. We're so glad you're here today.

E: Welcome back everyone.  Its so good to have you here. And I'm feeling a lot of comfort knowing that there are listeners on the other side of this podcast, because this episode is going to be a tough one. This set of scriptures is incredibly difficult and incredibly violent. This episode is going to be a bit more somber because that's what we were given in the text. Some of the topics we'll be talking about are boundaries, trauma, war, and genocide.

C: These six chapters in the book of Mormon cover the majority of Mormon's life. They start when he was 11 years old and end well into his more aged years in his lifetime. He tells stories of how he led the Nephite army, of all  of the wars that they had with the Lamanites, all of the people who died, and the wickedness and the unrepentant attitude of the people.

E: A quick warning: by the end of these chapters, 99.9% of the Nephite people have been destroyed. They've been killed and exterminated, and there's only 24 and Nephites left. That's the end of the Nephite people, just in these six chapters. So every chapter takes a turn for the worse. And just when you think it doesn't get any worse, it does. And it ends with a really sorrowful lament from Mormon as he looks out on all of the thousands and thousands of people that have died. It's just, it's absolutely horrendous. And so tragic.

C: Elise mentioned earlier that we would be doing some readings through the lens of trauma. And that's what we're going to start with. But before we do that, I just wanted to break down what trauma is, why it's relevant here in the text, and why it's important for us to read through that lens when we come to these incredibly violent war chapters. 

Trauma is what happens to an individual or to an entire community when something horrific happens and the body is unable to process it. It turns into trauma. And most of the time we can understand trauma in the context of post-traumatic stress disorder from war veterans or from our emergency response personnel. But there has been increasing research released that everyday people also experience trauma as  well. There's something called complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and complex trauma shows up for people who have experienced sexual abuse and assault, who live in war and conflict zones, again for our veterans and for our emergency responders, and a myriad of other [situations.] Natural disasters also cause complex trauma.

Trauma is a natural response to events in a person's life that are overwhelming and difficult to process. And it's likely that all of us know at least one person, if not multiple in our lives, who suffer from trauma. It's technically classified as a brain injury and not a mental illness because trauma can be healed and recovered from. It's amazing and it's so cool to learn about. 

I personally feel that reading the scriptures through a lens of trauma allows us to see a more humanizing and equalizing interpretation of what's going on in the text rather than just saying, Oh, this person made this mistake because they're bad people. Usually it's a lot more complex than that. So I'm excited to break that down. 

Today we're going to be covering both the trauma of Mormon as an individual and the trauma of the community in the Nephites, because I think both influenced the way that the text is written and how everyone shows up for each other inside the story.

E: When we think about Mormon's personal experience, his entire life, it's not that he just has one traumatic experience, but he lives a lifetime full of trauma and traumatic experiences that are incredibly complex. He goes to Zarahemla when he's 11 and when he gets there, there's a really bloody war that's going on between the Nephites and the Lamanites.

He experiences the wickedness and an unbelief of the people. He writes that "there are no gifts from the Lord" during this time. When he's 15 years old, he is visited by the Lord and he writes that he "tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus". So he has his own personal relationship and understanding with God and Jesus. Because of that, he wants to preach to the people, but his mouth is shut. He's actually forbidden to preach to them because they had willfully rebelled against God.

These people have hard hearts. Their land is cursed. The Gadianton robbers infest the land and they hide up their treasures and become "slippery" is what the text says. Mormon writes that "the power of the evil one is upon all the face of the land." We start seeing this sense here that this wickedness and unbelief and abomination is markedly different than the wickedness that we may have seen previously. This is a deep sense of evilness and people who don't treat people like people, but who are out for power and blood and body count. 

So all of this war and bloodshed happens within the first four years, right? When he's from 11 years old, to 15 years old. And then when he's 16 years old, he gets appointed to be the leader of the Nephite army, to be the one planning and strategizing and inspiring and rallying and leading the people out to war.  A 16 year old is leading an army and gets to know the intimate atrocities of warfare.

And over the next few years, there's wars and battles and great destruction that comes to both the Nephites and the Lamanites. He writes that there was "blood and carnage spread throughout all of the face of the land." He makes an account of the people's wickedness, writing that "for behold, a continual scene of wickedness and abominations have been before mine eyes ever since I have been sufficient to behold the ways of man" and "woe is me because of their wickedness, for my heart has been filled with sorrow because of their wickedness all of my days."

C: That versus really striking to me. I actually had that one in my notes too. I think when I came across it part of me felt a lot of grief for Mormon too, because can you imagine? "A continual scene of wickedness and abominations has been before my eyes ever since I have been sufficient to be hold the ways of man?"

E: Right. Ever since I can remember is what he's saying.

C: That's a whole lifetime to be exposed to this. And I can't imagine how difficult it would be. Over the time that we've been doing this podcast, we've talked a lot about having a soft heart and remaining open to God and being vulnerable and being humble and teachable. And I can't imagine the immense pain that Mormon feels because he does, at least from what we see in the text, have a kind of relationship like that with God. And I am amazed at his ability to stay open to that while simultaneously experiencing the "wickedness and abominations ever since I have been sufficient to behold, the ways of man." That would be horrifying. It's a trauma in and of itself to have that be the only life you've ever known. It'd be so sad. 

In chapter four verse 11 and 12, I think this is pretty striking. He says, "It is impossible for the tongue to describe or for a man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage, which was among the people, both of the Lamanites and the Nephites. And every heart was hardened so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually. And there had never been so great wickedness among all of the children of Lehi, nor even among all the house of Israel, according to the words of the Lord, as was among this people." That's very striking.

E: According to Mormon, this is the most evil the people have been. This is the most violent and vengeful the people have been. And this is the time that has the most long-lasting and severe consequences. Not that the other consequences from previous wars have been any lighter, but all of the Nephites are destroyed here.

C: We hope that this demonstrates sufficiently just how difficult these chapters are and how difficult the entirety of Mormon's life is. And we're grateful to him for being willing to write his story and share what he experienced so that we can gain some kind of understanding of what happened to these people.

Despite all of the horrific things that are happening in Mormon's life, he does have a moment in the texts that I feel so super proud of. The text says that after the Nephites had won a really great battle, they "began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens, that they would avenged themselves of the blood of their brethren, who had been slain by their enemies. And they did swear by the heavens and also by the throne of God that they would go up to battle against their enemies and would cut them off from the face of the land." 

The text continues and says "It came to pass that I Mormon did utterly refuse from this time forth to be commander and leader of this people. Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them according to the love of God, which was in me with all my heart, and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them. Thrice have I delivered them out of the hands of their enemies and they have repented not of their sins."

I'm really proud of Mormon for setting boundaries. That's difficult for anyone to do, let alone someone who has lived a lifetime of trauma. But it shows in the text just how much of himself he's given to these people, just how much he's tried to love them and serve them with what he says "the love of God that is in my heart."

And what I also find striking here is a couple of verses later in this same chapter, this is in chapter three, that the Lord basically commands him to not lead the people. The Lord says, "Vengeance is mine and I will repay. And because this people repented not after I had delivered them behold, they shall be cut off from the face of the earth."

And it's at this point that Mormon says "it came to pass that I utterly refused to go up against my enemies. And I did, even as the Lord had commanded me." And I think this is just a striking example of the strength and the faith that is often required for people to set boundaries that are healthy for them and that aligned with their values when a community is not living within a value system.

E: And for all of Mormon's individual traumatic experiences, his lifetime of trauma. There are also hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people around him that also experienced trauma and violence because they're experiencing community trauma.

You see this escalation of war and violence between the Nephites and the Lamanites. Resources are stripped. The land is trampled upon and made desolate. People are displaced from their homes. They lose their sense of security. They're living always at risk. The Lamanites take prisoners, both women and children, and they offer them as sacrifices unto their idol gods. There's war and so much more war.

And the text makes it explicit that there is a connection between war and violence and violence against women. I was doing some research in trying to find language to better understand the relationship between patriarchy, war, militarism and violence against women. And really it is patriarchy that underlies rape and war, domestic violence and sexual harassment. Because we have patriarchy that defines masculinity and male roles, what society values, and then demands men to accomplish those things.

Both patriarchy and militarism share very similar values. They value hierarchy, violence, obedience, exclusion, control, domination, and we see these same themes and values appear in these chapters. When talking about war, author Mary Daly calls this "the most unholy Trinity: rape, genocide, and war." That's the most unholy Trinity. And so men's violence against women in these chapters, yes, stem from war, but they also stem from a system that teaches male dominance, male violence, and male control over and against women.

In my research I also found some interesting articles that made a connection between many of the men who commit mass shootings. Other than access to powerful firearms, there is a history of hating women, assaulting wives, girlfriends, female, family members, or sharing misogynistic views online. In her book "Texts of Terror", feminist theologian Phyllis Trible writes that "Misogyny, or the hatred of women, belongs to every age, including our own. Violence and vengeance are not just characteristics of a distant pre-Christian past. They infect the community of the elect to this day. Woman as object is still captured, betrayed, raped, tortured, murdered, dismembered, and scattered. To take to heart this ancient story then is to confess it's present reality. The story is alive and all is not well."

C: Elise I really appreciate you sharing what you found in your research.

I think they highlight really well what the modern implications of the story are that violence against women is not something that is just stuck in the past, and that we can see a repeating pattern not just from scripture, but in our day-to-day lives as well. And I always love when we use that quote, you know, the book of Mormon is meant to be a text interpreted for our time and our day. Even in this way. We don't get to interpret the book of Mormon as meant for our day just through fourth Nephi. We also need to examine the later chapters for their implications on our modern time as well. That includes these really difficult and really horrific texts. 

One final thing that I wanted to discuss about the violence against these women in the text is maybe taking a step back out of the scriptures and examining what the effect is on women who are reading these stories in the text. I just called this in my notes "trauma of the reader" because at least for me-- and I don't know about you Elise, I would love to hear -- reading these scriptures, especially the chapters of the women and children sacrificed at Ammonihah, were incredibly difficult and these chapters were no different. It brought up a lot of stuff for me. So I do think that women who read the text and read about violence against women in the scriptures kind of experience a secondary trauma when they come across these texts. I don't know. What do you think, Elise?

E:Yeah, I absolutely agree because it's not just that these scriptures are kind of isolated and disconnected from our lived reality right now. That's not the case. So when I read these scriptures about violence and bloodshed and men's violence against women, that also reminds me of the ever present reality of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment that are happening today. And so you're doing both; you're living in this really difficult place of reading a story about something that happened in the past that's also calling you to remember all of the ways it happens today. 

C: And I think too, especially when we're talking about the implications within our religious communities, when we come across these scriptures in a context of sin or a context of righteousness, it kind of compounds the trauma because it then kind of asks us to make a moral judgment on the victims of the silence and to both read inside and outside of the text. 

I think, you know, we're winding up toward the end of the book of Mormon now and at this point,  I understand why, at a deeper level, why reading the text as a woman is so painful sometimes. There are stories that I just want to avoid or cross out or cut out or burn and want to just pretend like, not even just pretend [aren't there.] I hate that some of these texts that glorify violence against women are included and talked about at length in our religion. And I'm not saying that we're doing that with these chapters, but I think that sometimes there is a tendency to do that. And I think going forward, when we get to next year's readings and in the Bible as well that we'll probably see this be a recurring theme. 
But a couple of questions that I wanted to ask as we're focusing on this trauma of the reader as it relates to violence against women are the following:

Is the perspective of women readers taken into account in the way that we present these stories in our manuals and our videos and our classroom discussions? I personally feel like they're not most of the time. I know this is not the Ammonihah episode, but I can't stop thinking about the Book of Mormon videos that they did for that section of text and just how horrifying it was for me as a woman and as a mother of two children to watch that happen. It was horrifying for me. I had nightmares about it. I had a nightmare about it last night. It was the worst experience. And so I think in some ways our manuals and our study guides and our classroom discussions could be more beneficial to women if we were able to prepare them in a way that honored them. And I think part of that is having more women creating the manuals and videos. That would be a really easy fix.

The next questions are: How is our theology shaped and influenced by violence against women? How are our religious communities influenced by texts of violence? And how can we better address and condemn the violence in a way that liberates and empowers women, instead of re-traumatizing them every time they read the text? These are just questions that I hope that we can  mull over and consider over the next coming weeks, or forever. There's really no time limit on it. But I think they're important to sit with so that we can see the way that violence against women is sometimes woven into our theology and our religious practices in really subtle and sometimes almost invisible ways.

E: The next thing that we wanted to do in this episode is track the ways that the violence becomes more and more bloody. And the body count increases throughout all of these chapters, not just against the women and children, but, but against groups of people, particularly the Nephites.

And there's research and work done by Dr. Gregory H. Stanton about the eight stages of genocide. And today we're going to focus on stage three, which is dehumanization, and then also talk about what genocide is and how it links up with war in these chapters. 

C: I really appreciate the research done by Dr. Stanton on the eight stages of genocide. I think it gives a really clear understanding of how communities progress from peace and mutually beneficial relationships and governmental structures into a place of dehumanization in genocide. Dehumanization is stage three of the stages of genocide. David Smith offers this definition. He explains that 
"Dehumanization is a response to conflicting motives. We want to harm a group of people, but it goes against our wiring as members of a social species to actually harm, kill, torture, or degrade other humans. He further explains that there are very deep and natural inhibitions that prevent us from treating other people like animals, game, or dangerous predators. Dehumanization is a way of subverting those inhibitions." 

This quote comes from a Brene Brown article on her blog. We'll make sure to link that in our show notes, but in case the definition itself wasn't clear, dehumanization is a process in which people and a community go through in order to make it seem like a group of people are less-than humans, subhuman, not deserving of moral treatment, not deserving of being treated like a human. And we see this process kind of play out throughout history. In the Holocaust, the Jews were referred to as [rats.] In Rwanda, the Tutsis were referred to as cockroaches. 

We see this process of dehumanization working through language, in the way that people talk about people who are seen as "other." We see it in propaganda and art. We see it in a lot of different ways. And so it's important to recognize dehumanization for what it is. It's interesting to look at the book of Mormon as a whole now that we're kind of toward the end of it and see some instances of potential dehumanization in the text.

E: I'm glad you brought up dehumanization because really the roots of genocide lie in, or some of the roots of genocide lie in our human capacity to be able to dehumanize and negate the humanity of others. And if we think about these chapters, what starts out as war soon becomes a genocide against the Nephites. Hundreds of thousands of Nephites. All of the Nephite people are slaughtered except for 24 of them. 

In chapter 26, we have this really harrowing event where the Nephites gathered together for this kind of final battle and they see all of the Lamanite people just coming towards them. They have this kind of pit in their stomach and a sinking in their heart because they know that they won't make it.

The definition of genocide, according to the United Nations, is defined as "acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such, by means that include killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

And that's what happens in these chapters. We have two groups set up against each other and things get to a point where the Lamanites continue to hunt the Nephites. But as soon as the Nephites win a battle, or kind of feel like they have the upper hand, you have this deep seated vengeance and this absolute promise that they're going to turn around and do the same things to the Lamanites that the Lamanites were doing to them.

And this phenomenon of the oppressed group getting the upper hand, gaining the power and then wanting to do the same thing to the oppressors that was done to them, is often referred to as the "rabbits got the gun." Usually the rabbits are the ones that are hunted, but the tables have turned and now the rabbit has the gun. There's this violent retribution that follows because the people have been exterminated and murdered and violated. And so while this is understandable, war and genocide are both unethical. They're also described as crimes against humanity, suggesting that they are an affront to all human beings, not just those directly affected. 

Sometimes we see groups move toward genocide for instrumental purposes, like the desire to build group solidarity and cohesion in the face of "an outside world" or an outside threat that's deemed unpredictable and violent; others times it's to satisfy greed for riches, hunger, and prestige; or to bolster a communal sense of purity and ethical spiritual superiority. 

And when we think about the relationship between war and genocide, we might think of war as the breeding ground for a genocidal mindset. We have these group tensions that flare up and escalate really quickly. The government becomes more secretive and powerful. I think we see this in the chapters with the insurgence of the Gadianton robbers. Because war is already so violent, it can be easier to plan and conduct genocide because the military is already mobilized for war. The victim groups tend to become isolated from the world and they're also quickly weakened as more of their people are killed. And so this total warfare might be something that breeds or enables genocide, or we might think of genocide in mass occurs as a strategy of warfare. 

And even speaking about more in genocide right now, while it might be difficult, I want us to remember that these large topics have actual implications for people. When we talk about war and genocide, we're talking about people and people's lives and their wellbeing. 

C: We're also talking about people today. We're talking about people in our country. We're talking about people in our world. We're talking about people who are alive right now. Even though technically this is a Come Follow Me podcast, and this episode is about people in the scriptures, it's unignorable to see the similarities between what's happening in the text and what's happening in the outside world. 

As Elise and I were doing research for this episode, specifically the portion on genocide, I came across a website for Genocide Watch. Genocide Watch is the coordinator of the Alliance Against Genocide. It was founded in 1999, and this alliance is made up of over 75 organizations from around the world and was the first coalition of organizations focused completely on preventing genocide. So this is the website for a legit organization that watches what the political climates are of every nation and region in the world and gives a report on what the genocidal status is within each of those regions and countries.

Out of pure curiosity I went through and found the United States just to see what our status was. And I was kind of surprised to see what they said. They assign stages to the country that are relevant to what is happening in their current political climate. And right now today, the date is October 24th, 2020 on their website they list for the United States of America genocide stages are Classification and Symbolization, which are the first two, Discrimination and Dehumanization, which are three and four, and then finally Polarization and Denial. The website goes further and gives justifications for why they assign each of these stages. 

Right now in the United States of America, Genocide Watch lists these current situations as qualifiers: one: threatened elites; two: growing white supremacist activity and speech against women, people of color and minority, religious groups; three: growing hostility towards undocumented and immigrant populations; four: discriminatory state policies towards sexual and gender minorities; five: violence at public rallies; six: racial disparities in policing; and seven: unacknowledged genocides in the past against Native Americans and African enslaved peoples. 

Especially alarming to me was the genocide stage of Polarization. In Stanton's work, Polarization is stage five. And it's the stage before crap hits the fan because immediately following Polarization is Preparation and Extermination. Those two words should cause us great alarm. And I think it's striking, especially as we look at our political climate and what our social climate is right now and just how divided we are as a country, it's really alarming to see that if we continue down the path that we're currently walking, there is a potential for great sorrow and great harm and inexplicable community and interpersonal trauma. And so I did think that that was important to bring up for our listeners.

And it's not meant to scare anyone. It's not meant to do anything except for bringing awareness to say, Hey, look, this is where we are. And we still have a chance to turn back. We still have a chance to make a different choice. Like we are not past the point of no return yet. There's always time. And there's always a different choice to make and part, and the main reason why I want to bring this up is because I want us to make a different choice. 

I want to end with a quote from the Brene Brown article that we mentioned earlier. Brene Brown writes, "I know it's hard to believe that we ourselves could ever get to a place where we would exclude people from equal moral treatment, or from our basic moral values, but we're fighting biology here. We're hard wired to believe what we see and to attach meaning to the words that we hear. We can't pretend that every citizen who participated in or was a bystander to human atrocities was a violent psychopath. That's not possible, it's not true, and it misses the point. The point is that we are all vulnerable to the slow and insidious practice of dehumanizing. Therefore, we are all responsible for recognizing it and stopping it."

E: Friends, thank you so much for listening to this episode. We know it's heavy and we know that it's difficult to come to the scriptures and read these stories and move throughout the world, trying to make things different and trying to make things better. But I think one of the best things about the scriptures is that it gives us a place to start. It gives us a place to start practicing, listening to people's pain, listening to their trauma. And acknowledging their suffering. 

C: We're really grateful that you joined us for this episode and for this discussion and for your willingness to stay open to these stories. And we love you so much, and we can't wait to talk to you again next week. .
Powered by Blogger.