My earliest recollection of reading the Book of Mormon comes from early-morning seminary in California. Since I was 15, and it was very early morning, little of the lessons made much of an impression.
I vaguely recall one morning thinking that Nephi — the guy who started the BoM saga — was a jerk. He stole property that wasn’t his, murdered an unconscious drunk in an alley and then kidnapped someone.
That’s one way of describing what happened. It’s the way I put it to the seminary teacher.
Me • “Wait a minute. If I did that stuff, I’d get the electric chair.”
Teacher • “Well, Robert. Nephi was a prophet, and Heavenly Father told him to do those things. Are you a prophet?”
There was no arguing with that. I definitely wasn’t a prophet. Hell, I was barely awake. Still, Nephi and I got off to a bad start.
I didn’t read the entire Book of Mormon, the signature scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, until I was on my mission and, in a moment of idiot trust, I asked my senior companion about the irony of a loving God commanding one of his children to kill another.
Elder Lekker • “You must not have a true testimony or you wouldn’t be asking such stupid questions. Where’s your faith, Elder?”
By then, I knew that lots of prophets — both in the BoM and the Bible — had definite human rights issues and weren’t above twisting the narrative to serve a pressing personal agenda.
Everything came to a head years later when, in an elders quorum class, the instructor was teaching a lesson on obedience. To illustrate his point, he asked what we would do if we were with Nephi in that Jerusalem alley the night he was commanded to slay Laban.
Me • “I’d shoot him.”
Him • “Laban? Well, they didn’t have guns back … ”
Me • “Not Laban. Nephi. Public intoxication is a misdemeanor. You can’t go around chopping the heads off drunks.”
It didn’t help that I was a cop at the time and knew enough about the law to recognize a major felony in progress if I saw one. So there would have been some serious laying on of lead in that alley.
That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is the hacking to death of a defenseless drunk as a testament of faith, a willingness to do what God supposedly commands even if it’s something awful.
I’ve had a lot of years to rethink what happened in that Jerusalem alley. I’ve concluded that if God wants someone dead, he should kill that person himself. After all, he isn’t the one who has to hide from the law, or wrestle with PTSD for the rest of eternity.
This isn’t just the BoM, people. The Old Testament and Quran are full of murder, rape and robbery supposedly commanded by God. An omnipotent being wouldn’t need to test the faith of a creature on an intellectual par with a fish.
Maybe we’re missing the real lesson or test. Maybe the right answer was “I’m not doing that” instead of, “Well, OK, if you say so.”
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.