Understanding our violent past

May 10, 2005 | 53 comments
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I watched the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ last night. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it is a chilling and accurate account of heroism in the face of the genocide that ravaged the country in 1994, resulting in an inconceivable number of deaths. For me, the most impressive aspect of this movie was that the movie effectively conveyed the horror, the despair, and the terror of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people, but didn’t focus on grisly scenes of Rwandans being tortured and hacked to death by the side of the roads (putting aside the question of whether we should have had to watch people being hacked to death by the side of the roads, since this is what actually happened, while the world looked the other way).

On a much smaller scale, Mormons share a violent past replete with massacres and martyrs. A Primary lesson I taught a few weeks ago made this violence more real to me than ever before, and left me wondering how I should understand and teach the violent stories found in the scriptures and in the lesson manuals.

As part of the lesson on Joseph Smith’s Childhood (Lesson #4 in Choose the Right B), I brought in an illustrated copy of the Book of Mormon (published by the Church) to tell the story of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. The kids loved the pictures in the book, and started asking questions about why the Book of Mormon was named the Book of Mormon. So we started flipping through the illustrated stories in the book to find the pictures and stories of Mormon and Moroni. Somewhere along the way, we got lost in the story of Ammon and his fellow servants of the King fighting and cutting off the arms of the robbers stealing the King’s sheep. The book showed pictures of Ammon and his fellow servants fighting the robbers with swords, cutting off their arms, and then bringing the severed bloody arm stumps triumphantly back to the King.

The reactions of the kids in my class to this story made me laugh – one girl shrieked out loud, horrified that they were cutting people’s arms off (that’s so gross!!), but the boys loved the story, and were particularly fixated on the picture of the bloody arm stumps.

After I told this story, I wondered are five year old children able to distinguish between ‘good’ violence and ‘bad’ violence? I know that a number of parents in our ward do not allow their young children to play with guns, and they monitor television programs, video games and other media to screen out violence. I wondered how these parents would distinguish violent Book of Mormon stories from violence on TV and in movies. How should we deal with violence in the scriptures and in the history of the Church, particularly as we tell these stories to young children?

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53 Responses to Understanding our violent past

  1. Travis on May 10, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    If you really think about stories in the scriptures that involve violence, for the most part they are painful, ugly things. I think that sometimes in the “Church” we have a tendency to not think of them as painful and ugly since they are part of the scriptures. But, with a close reading of the story and a little imagination, it’s easy to get to an “R-rated” version of the scriptures.

    I’ve also seen Hotel Rwanda and was similarly grateful for the director’s decision to avoid showing the killing/torture. I think there are ways of our editing in the same way with how we tell and discuss stories from the scriptures. Depending on the age/maturity of the audience, we can try to tone down the level of detail or disucussion about a story or even skip it altogether if the children are too young.

  2. Elisabeth on May 10, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    I agree with Travis, but it seems like a lot of the Church materials aren’t edited very well for violence (or provide guidance to teachers for editing purposes). This Book of Mormon picture book with the bloody arm stumps (and published by the Church) was geared directly to young children.

    As an aside, I think I’m a good Primary teacher, but it sometimes makes me nervous that parents (especially ones who are visiting our ward) drop their kids off in my class without knowing who I am or what I’m going to be teaching that day…

  3. Tim on May 10, 2005 at 1:53 pm

    In some ways, I think the question is easier to deal with the younger the children are. Seems to me we shouldn’t discuss violence (whether in the scriptures or otherwise) with young children at all–or only when we are forced to by real life situations.

    The tougher question, I think, is with “more mature audiences”. In some places, I think that violence is a very real and important part of the story. Part of Nephi’s anguish–and a witness to the strenght of his faith–was his willingness to do a very violent act with a sword and the neck of Bro. Laban. So, I recognize that truly understanding the gruesome nature of these events is necessary to appeciating the characters in the stories and the lessons we can draw. What I worry about, though, is that we go too far in the direction of gloryifying or condoning violence.

    It has always bothered me that there are so many warrier or soldier images in the scriptures, hymns, how we speak about the Church and the Gospel, etc.. I’m NOT saying that I’m not a fan of the scriptures, but I wish we could get away from the fundamentally violent image of the warrier-saint a la “onward Christian soldier”.

    I love that Jesus was so anti-tough guy. True, he took a whip to the money changers in the temple. But he was a model of restraint and passive strength. I think it is striking that he was so clearly against violence as a course of action–even in the face of threats to his physical safety.

  4. Eric Russell on May 10, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    As soon as I saw the title I thought this was going to be a ‘blame the church for Mountain Meadows’ post and whipped out my six-shooter. After reading it I then calmed down and put my pistol back in its holster.

    Interesting ideas. Perhaps the best way to approach the topic with children is as you suggest with Hotel Rwanda – talk about the violence without focusing on it.

  5. Lamonte on May 10, 2005 at 2:13 pm

    This raises a question about “Passion of the Christ”. I don’t begrudge those who felt it necessary to view that film with all of it’s grim depictions of the Savior’s suffering. But I just felt it was certainly possible to tell that story without seeing the blood and gore first hand. I think the depiction found in “The Testaments” is a great example of how to portray the tragedy of that event without gratuitious violence.

  6. Tim on May 10, 2005 at 2:19 pm

    I chose not to see “The Passion” primarily because of the depiction of violence. But I don’t think the Church is always that good on this one, either. I can’t remember much about “The Testaments” because the person behind me was too busy throwing up on me and my brother. (I don’t think that was a commentary on the film, but can’t be sure). But taking another example, the Church’s film “Lamb of God” is actually a very violent film in the way it depicts the crucifixion. I definitely don’t put that film in the same category as “The Passion”, but I really felt like it went to far.

  7. Jared on May 10, 2005 at 2:20 pm

    I think kids have a natural curiosity that includes violence. I remember when I was less than 5 years old, asking my parents to show me a picture of the crucifixion–I wanted to see one that showed blood. I also remember loving the story of Ammon and the associated illustrations.

    Movies and TV violence can be too real, and I agree that there is much that kids, and even adults, should not see. But trying to protect kids, esp boys, from all kinds of violence, not letting them play with toy guns, etc is not the way I would go. I see it as part of a trend that emasculates boys.

  8. Jonathan Max Wilson on May 10, 2005 at 2:40 pm

    I think that some degree of violence is important for children, even the youngest of children. Narrtives involving violence help children develop a correct view of life, morality, and decision making, and consequences. I have discussed this view previously here, and more recently, violence plays an important role in my recently posted speculations on the garment.

    Clearly we should be worried, to a reasonable degree, about imitatable bad behavior. And extremely graphic visual representations of violence are inappropriate for children and often adults too.

    Above all, I think that the violence in the scriptures is often related to important moral truth and important to the message of the scriptures. I think that we do our children a disservice when we avoid these stories or edit them from church materials.

    When we remove all violence we present a false reality to our children.

  9. Jonathan Max Wilson on May 10, 2005 at 2:41 pm

    My violent speculations on the garment are here.

  10. The Only True and Living Nathan on May 10, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    I would highly recommend a book called Killing Monsters by Gerard Jones. His thesis is that children benefit from being allowed to play out violent fantasies.

  11. Elisabeth on May 10, 2005 at 2:48 pm

    I agree that children have a natural curiosity about violence, especially boys. Is this innate or social? Who knows. Children probably do not have the capacity to distinguish the “good” violence from the “bad” violence, which is why we teach small children not to hit each other and use violence when they are frustrated or want to take something away from another child.

    In contrast, at church, we teach children that it was okay for Nephi to cut off Laban’s head, and that Ammon justifiably smote off the arms of the robbers. Isn’t this sending an inconsistent message to kids?

  12. Elisabeth on May 10, 2005 at 2:53 pm

    TOTAL Nathan –

    Thanks for the link to the book – it looks really interesting. And if you read some of the original Grimm’s fairy tales, you’ll find some shocking violence involving children.

    Isn’t it strange that Amazon.com chose to pair the “Killing Monsters” book with a book called “Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill” ?! Talk about mixed messages…

  13. Travis on May 10, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    Jonathan (#8) – – I really don’t see how discussions of chopping off arms and heads add to an understand of an “accurate reality”, at least not at the level a child needs to understand. When it gets to teenagers, maybe it is important to gradually help them to understand how scary a place this world can be and that sometimes violent acts are necessary. As for young children, I certainly think they need to learn appropriate use of violence (i.e., when to defend yourself, when not to hit others). But I don’t see any way in which the violence we see in the scriptures is necessary for the healthy development of our younger children.

  14. Cordeiro on May 10, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    I personally believe children are far smarter than we give them credit for being. When it came time in our family BoM reading to go over the Ammon section, my primary age son suprised me with his understanding of the overall issues. He understood that Ammon was doing the Lord’s work, as was Nephi in the case of Laban. He was very grateful that swordplay is no longer part of the Missionary Training Center program.

    We may not like it, but violence specifically, and war in general do ocassionally serve the purposes of the Lord. The Book of Mormon illustrates both sides of this issue very graphically.

  15. Jared on May 10, 2005 at 3:30 pm

    Re #11, I don’t think it is an inconsistant message–not any more than teaching your child to not hit and to respect adults, but not to talk to strangers and kick, scream, and bite if grabbed by a stranger.

    I think we routinely underestimate our children’s ability to understand context.

  16. danithew on May 10, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    As others have stated in their own words, I think kids are completely intrigued by the violence in the Book of Mormon. It’s a little bit harder for them to get into the Isaiah chapters.

  17. The Only True and Living Nathan on May 10, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    Yeah, Isaiah needs a little more extreme butt-kicking.

  18. danithew on May 10, 2005 at 4:25 pm

    TOTAL Nathan, too bad those Assyrian chapters with Rabshakeh didn’t make it into the Book of Mormon. That would have been fun stuff for those early morning family devotionals.

  19. Seth Rogers on May 10, 2005 at 5:20 pm

    One thing I think that we forget with our modern American values is that life is a relative value in the eternal scheme. It is not an absolute.

    There are times when the Lord’s faithful have been commanded to kill in the past, and I’m unwilling to say that there won’t be times in the future when we are asked to take up the “sword of righteousness” again.

    One of my religion teachers at BYU related an interesting story about a Book of Mormon course he taught which was attended by a devout Muslim. He was giving the story of Nephi slaying Laban and as he related the story, he noticed that the Muslim young man was growing more and more agitated. Finally the student raised his hand. The instructor was expecting some comment on the permissibility of killing. But instead the Muslim demanded: “Why did Nephi hesitate?!”

    The Muslim was not disturbed by the idea of killing Laban. He was irritated with Nephi’s hesitation to carry out a commandment of God.

    If you read the scriptural accounts of killing in the scriptures they fall into a few categories:
    1. Wars among wicked people and murders committed by the same.
    2. Killing in defense of “wives, children, liberty, and religion.”
    3. Outright commandments from God to slay Laban or kill the Ammonites (which may or may not have anything to do with the rationale behind #2).

    The scriptures fairly clearly condemn the first category. They clearly approve of the third, but only because it represents obedience to God, not because it exemplifies military virtues.

    The second category is treated somewhat ambiguously. On the one hand, the book of Alma takes great pains to assure us that the Nephite wars of defense were justified before God, and points to Captain Moroni as a role model of civic virtue.
    But the treatment of the wars in Alma is still rather ambiguous. While the Nephites were authorized by God to war with the Lamanites, we have no indication that God actually approved of these wars. We also have no indication of disapproval either.
    The Nephites were allowed to fight in self-defense. But the focus remained on their faith in God. The moment they started glorifying in the might of their military and other exhibitions of national pride, the spirit of the Lord withdrew and they began to lose the war. Furthermore, they were not permitted, once they repelled the invaders, to take the fight to their enemies’ home soil although some dearly wanted to. The theme of the wars of Alma is that God was at the helm of the conflict and the Nephites died or prospered by His will. The virtue of defending liberty is clearly stated. But such virtues are clearly subordinated to the will of God.
    Then you get the story of the People of Ammon who who covenanted with God never to kill again. Lamoni’s reasoning was particularly interesting. He felt that if they were to kill again, that they’d be dragged back into the howling barbarism of the old days, glorying in bloodshed. So while the Nephites rallied to the flag of a “just war,” the Anti-Nephi-Lehis preferred to let their homes, wives, children and religion be destroyed rather than fight back.

    You can read two conflicting paradigms here:
    1. The stories of Mosiah, Alma and Helaman teach us to defend our homeland and our liberty. Essentially, you can read this as a treatise on the virtue of democratic wars and whip it out for some good inspirational reading every 4th of July.
    2. You can focus on the people of Ammon and put together a paradigm advocating Gandhi-style pacifism.

    Both of these paradigms miss the point of the middle portion of the Book of Mormon. It isn’t primarily about pacifism, patriotism, self-defense, etc. The story is about OBEYING GOD. Throughout the narrative, God’s express will never takes a back seat.

    Pacifism was secondary to the covenant the converted Lamanites made with God. This is quickly apparent when their children are allowed to join the army of Helaman (having not covenanted never to kill).

    Patriotism and self-defense were not the order of the day because of their inherent goodness or rightness. Patriotic self-defense was PERMITTED by God. If God had not expressly permitted self-defense, the Nephites would not have been justified in fighting Amalikiah. They would have been expected to submit to captivity just as the people of Limhi and the group of refugees led by Alma the elder were required to submit to the Lamanites.

    Patriotism, pacifism, the value of human life … all were clearly subordinate to God’s will. We have bought into Western philosophy too much. We keep thinking that there are absolute values floating around out there that can never be violated, no matter what. More importantly, we presume that we know what these values are. In this case, we think the preservation of human life is one of those values. If forced to kill, we go to great pains to justify the need for the killing – such as the preservation of a greater number of lives in the long run.

    But human life is not an absolute because of artificial justifications manufactured by the human mind. It is an absolute because GOD SAID SO. And if he says otherwise, the prohibition on killing loses its force.

  20. Jonathan Green on May 10, 2005 at 6:13 pm

    Seth, your religion teacher was repeating a story of Nibley’s. And about that story: it didn’t work out so well for me in practice. During Gulf War I, I was helping to teach a roomful of of Egyptian men, all Muslims. We had given them copies of the Book of Mormon, and they had read them. They were quite agitated by the slaying of Laban, but for the opposite reason you and Nibley mention: they couldn’t believe that God would command Nephi to commit such a crime. I had already read Nibley, so I knew that’s not how they were supposed to react. I’ve become a more skeptical reader since then.

  21. Tim on May 10, 2005 at 7:58 pm

    I’d echo Jonathan G’s comments. Also, “God told me to kill him” is a pretty weak justification for killing another human being. How can you be absolutely, 100% sure you’re hearing God’s will to kill someone, and not your own rationalizations? In this day and age, I doubt we need to worry about God telling someone to take the life of another person to take back or to protect personal property (i.e., the gold plates and the king’s sheep).

    I’m not sure how I feel about kids learning violent stories like Laban’s and Ammon’s. I’m no expert on sociology or child development, but doesn’t exposure to violent stories mean that the kids are more likely to commit violent acts?

  22. RoAnn on May 10, 2005 at 9:47 pm

    Many years ago, when we were reading the entire Book of Mormon aloud straight through as a family with young children for the first time (rather than selecting passages to read), I became very concerned when we were approaching the end, because of all the violence which we would be reading about. Including cannabilism!
    I asked the opinion of a good friend who I knew had read the Scriptures many times with her growing children over the years. She essentially said, “Don’t worry about it! These are the Scriptures, and since the Spirit will be with you as you read, everything will be fine. The youngest ones won’t understand the details, and the older ones will be O.K. because the Spirit will help them to get whatever message will be useful to them.” And that’s what happened.
    I agree with Cordiero (#14) and Jared (#15). Children can understand complex situations and different contexts. And an excellent way for them to learn the kind of discernment that is crucial for them to have in their everyday lives is through reading and discussing the Scriptures. To me, there is a vast difference between reading about violence in the Scriptures, and watching non-scriptorial violent acts on television or in a movie. After all, the kind and gentle Jesus we teach our children about is also the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and the Lord who will direct the unleashing of the violence preceeding His Second Coming.
    Parents need to decide how they will approach teaching their children about violence, but I stand by that good advice given me long ago about the power of the Spirit to enlighten their understanding when we are reading the actual words of the Scriptures.
    When we teaching other people’s children I see that there could be problems! Let’s hope the Spirit is present in the room, and both teacher and students can be in tune, right?

  23. Ann on May 10, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    My old friend Raymond told once of subbing for the Primary Chorister. He made a bunch of cutout robbers, with songs written on the backs of their arms. The kids came up and ripped off the arms, and then they sang the song on the back. He said it was a big hit.

  24. Soyde River on May 11, 2005 at 6:43 am

    We live our lives in a civilized world where we rarely see blood and the real animal world. I remember teaching an Old Testament Sunday School class some years ago, and having those in the class express disdain and disgust at the thought of putting lamb’s blood on the lintel of the door.

    But I spent much of my youth on a farm, where we butchered our own animals. Blood and entrails were a part of life. For most of man’s existence, that has been the case. To be excessively squeamish about those things is a very recent aspect of civilization.

    Does this argue for brutality? Of course not. But our children may be much more able to distinguish between the necessary use of violence as sanctioned by the Lord, and the gratuitous violence of those that are an enemy to God. They can see the difference quite clearly, even though in our squeamishness we don’t.

  25. Elisabeth on May 11, 2005 at 9:07 am

    Soyde – you raise a great point. You say that we live in a “civilized” world, so, as part of our social progression, shouldn’t we be moving towards even less tolerance and more squeamishness about violence, blood and gore?

    In any event, I think more people might become vegetarians if they personally witnessed the process of how their meat gets into the nice neat packages at the grocery store. Maybe not.

  26. Peter Asplund on May 11, 2005 at 9:11 am

    Though these days I’m so anti-violence I am troubled by singing great old chestnuts like “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” I have to confess to two things:

    One. The single most popular presentation I did on my mission was a recreation for the primary kids on Nephi getting the brass plates. My companion — menacingly dressed in a bathrobe, Burger King crown and Ray-bans — was the wicked King. We feigned his beheading behind the pulpit and when I, as the most un-Frieberg like Nephi imaginable, held up a soccer ball with the Burger King crown and Ray-bans, I was greeted with the longest sustained laughter of my entire church meeting career.

    Two. The single strongest witness I have had of the Book of Mormon’s veracity was received following a prayer offered after my reading about Ammon and the dis-arming of the would-be sheep stealers. This occurred when I was fourteen.

    So even though these days, considerably older if not wiser, I’m most impressed by the Lamanite converts who buried their weapons of war, I have a big soft-spot in my heart for Ammon who got them to see the light in the first place.

    As far as kids go, reading the scriptures is far preferable, and somehow seems less violent, than even “good” childrens’ fair like, say, “Finding Nemo.” Of course, I am not the best parent in this regard. After months of begging, I took my son to see “Spider Man” when he was five and for two years he loudly told anyone who would listen — co-workers, in-laws, bishops — that no matter what your dad says, kids should not go to PG-13 movies because they are too “wiolent.”

  27. Elisabeth on May 11, 2005 at 9:28 am

    Peter, that’s a great Primary story! Most of my kids were delighted with the story of Ammon and the severed arms. I, on the other hand, found it bit gruesome. But it seems that most people, at least on this thread, aren’t too concerned about the violence in the scriptures spilling out into violence in the home – or into a general confusion about “good” violence and “bad” violence.

    This makes me feel better about teaching these kinds of stories in class, but I still do feel uncomfortable with the violence.

  28. Kaimi on May 11, 2005 at 10:01 am

    Peter,

    That’s a very nice story. And if you’re not Friebergian, well, that’s his loss. I think his work could have used a few more slightly-built, baby-faced, blond-haired-blue-eyed fellows here and there.

    (And such characters are certainly capable of wiolence, I might add. I recall one particular time when Erik slapped Kace upside the head, loud enough to echo across the cultural hall.)

    So anyway, welcome to the unofficial Columbia J Reub reunion. Greg’s here too, and Steve Evans drops by from time to time. Plus we get occasional comments from Wendy, Steve S, and Adam. It’s just like old times. All we need now is some roach-infested student housing, and a weekly meeting where we eat bagels and talk about same-sex marriage.

  29. Trenden on May 11, 2005 at 10:11 am

    In my experience it isn’t the kids that get squeamish and can’t handle a little violence, it’s the parents. That makes me wonder if it isn’t a learned behavior. For example, when I taught my six year old son and four year old daughter to clean a fish they were fascinated, but my wife thought it was gross. Same with slaughtering the family pig.

    If you’re so squeamish you are bothered by the scriptures, certain hymns or even church movies you probably need to spend a little time on a farm.

  30. ed on May 11, 2005 at 10:12 am

    Does anyone else find the Ammon story a little hard to picture? I mean, isn’t it kind of hard to actually sever a man’s arm from his body? What kind of sword was Ammon using? Did he use some kind of chopping block? Maybe I could use the illustrated BOM to help me out here.

  31. Peter Asplund on May 11, 2005 at 10:25 am

    Kaime,

    Well, I can’t help it if I my children were being raised in a gritty, urban neighborhood at the time. (Plus, maybe he was modelling my wife’s behavior — certainly not my own.) I am certain, however, that my son’s alleged assault happened before he learned the way of peace from a viewing of “Karate Kid” just this past weekend (and before he had two-sisters that could beat the pulp out of him).

    In addition, I will leave it to the collective conscience of those who have met your kids to decide whether toddler “wiolence” against them could ever be considered justifiable. :)

    By the way, you have a great site here (and great kids–just kidding above).

  32. Elisabeth on May 11, 2005 at 10:32 am

    Ed – check out this illustration of Ammon chopping off arms:

    http://www.cs.utah.edu/~draperg/stories/ammon/ammon_18.html

  33. Justin on May 11, 2005 at 10:54 am
  34. Kaimi on May 11, 2005 at 10:57 am

    Here’s a wacky alternative reading:

    Perhaps he was just chopping off their clubs.

    The Book of Mormon uses the term “arms” in numerous instances to mean “weapons,” including later in Ammon’s own story. (See Alma 24 & 26).

    Wouldn’t that make everyone go “ooh” just like the story?

    Just a thought.

    (Also, my wife is primary chorister. I think we may have to steal the arms idea. That will certainly get the kids singing).

  35. N Miller on May 11, 2005 at 11:10 am

    Along with other posters, I attribute my reading of the Book of Mormon to Ammon. I had never got into the book until we took my older brother to the MTC. On the way, we listened to the Book of Mormon tapes (I am from Colorado, so we had about ten hours each way to listen to it). When I was about to fall asleep in the van, the story of Ammon came along, I thought it was the coolest thing. I didn’t know the Book of Mormon could be so interesting. So I decided to read it. The rest is history.

    For bedtime stories to my young ones (ages two and four), the most memorable is the one I acted out of Nephi listening to the spirit. Although they know what happened to Laban, it was the principle of listening to the spirit that was emphasized. When I teach them of Ammon, I won’t focus so much on the arms being cut off, rather it will be the service to others that will be taught. My son (the four year old) wants me to tell more stories in the book of mormon based on the events of Nephi. I am grateful that he wants to, even if it is becuase he wants to see more violence.

    I don’t think those stories were meant to be the causal reason to reading the scriptures. I know there are many teaching points to take from the violent sections of the scriptures, maybe even more than the other sections. I think it accurately describes how we are to fight against satan and his warriors. How else are we to teach our children this art of war against the evil one except it be through the scriptures?

  36. Elisabeth on May 11, 2005 at 11:18 am

    “When I teach them of Ammon, I won’t focus so much on the arms being cut off, rather it will be the service to others that will be taught.”

    Hopefully, Ammon’s acts of service will not be confused with the cutting off of arms :)

    I wonder what non-religious people would think about this thread. I think non-religious people (or anti-religious people) might be nervous that children were read such violent stories. Especially as religious zealots are responsible for so much terrorism and violence in this day and age. This seemed to be the unfortunate conclusion in Jon Krakauer’s screed “Under the Banner of Heaven” – i.e., that deeply religious people have the capacity to be horribly violent and destructive.

  37. N Miller on May 11, 2005 at 11:56 am

    When you pull it out like that I see my mistake. I could have crafted that sentance to not make it sound like the service was the cutting of the arms. I hope you caught my intention.

    Concerning the thoughts of non-religious people: They have a right to be concerned. I am a religious person and I too am concerned. After David Koresh (sp), the cult in California, “Mormon Polygamists”, and even the attackers on 9/11, there are often people who use heaven as the basis of their actions. It can be a little scary. However, If non-religious people read this post about violence our children learn in the scriptures and are upset by it, they shouldn’t be. There are a ton more crimes that are derived off of non-religous video games, movies and TV shows, than Nephi cutting off Laban’s head!

  38. Elisabeth on May 11, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    N- I certainly did catch your intention about the Ammon story – I was just joking.

    As to the second point, I think non-religious people would answer that they don’t allow their children to watch violent movies or play violent video games, and that they (the non-religious parents) would say that teaching children violent stories in a church context is especially harmful and confusing to a child, because then we’re presenting the violence as a good solution to a problem (i.e., Ammon cutting off arms was a good solution to saving the King’s sheep). I think a lot of parents would find this objectionable.

  39. N Miller on May 11, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    I think you are correct for someone who is against violence and doesn’t have religion, but I believe in reality, if you don’t have religion in you life, you are less inclined to be objectionable to violent video games and movies. I am sure there are a few, but my experience is that without religion, there is little tension on your conscience telling you that violence is wrong.

  40. Jonathan Max Wilson on May 11, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    I think that it is pretty clear that Ammon cutting off arms WAS a good solution to saving the King’s sheep. We’re talking about brigands here, not good willed people with a misunderstanding.

    Our modern culture often teaches the falsehood that all wars and violence are the results of misunderstanding. The fact is that while some of our strife is the result of misunderstanding, there are plenty of conflicts in which the intentions of the opposing party are all too clear. There is no misunderstanding, they have evil intentions and trying to talk your way to an agreeable solution is only going to work to their advantage.

    That is why I am so opposed to the sanitation of children’s stories where the conflict between the snake and the frog, or the alligator and the monkeys turns out to be a big misunderstanding and once they talk it out, they all become friends. That is a false reality. The objective of the alligator or the snake really is in unavoidable conflict with the interests of its prey.

    Incidentally, a Disney production of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is coming out this December. I am very excited about it. The costumes, special effects, sets, etc are being done by WETA (the same group that did The Lord of the Rings movies), and it is being directed by Andrew Adamson, who directed Shrek and Shrek 2.

    From the looks of the movie trailer, it will, thank goodness, be true to the book in showing children engaged in violent, physical and emotional battle with the forces of evil.

    Watch the trailer here (high bandwidth).

    Visit the official movie website.

  41. Elisabeth on May 11, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    I generally agree with Jonathan’s comment (#40), but have to disagree with N Miller’s comment (#39) that non-religious people don’t believe violence is wrong.

    I would venture a guess that, in a historical context, people championing religious causes have been just as violent, if not more violent, than people championing non-religious causes. Maybe religion is just a pretext for economic or racist reasons for violence, but I can’t agree that religious people are less likely to view violence as wrong.

  42. RoAnn on May 11, 2005 at 12:41 pm

    Re Ammon and service. I think the point of the arm-cutting was that it truly was a service–to the servants whose lives were saved, to King Lamoni who would then listen to Ammon’s message, and to all those who were subsequently converted to the truth. This was far more than saving sheep! Who knows how many servants had been executed for dereliction of duty previously. The king would never have listened to Alma with a willing heart until he was convinced that 1) Alma was extremely powerful, and 2) Alma had the king’s best interests at heart. A few wicked people lost their arms (these were men who persisted in their thieving, knowing that every time they stole, men would be executed); but thousands were brought to a knowledge of the truth.

    “. . .deeply religious people have the capacity to be horribly violent and destructive.” Does Krakauer mention that non-religious or anti-religious people have clearly demonstrated that same capacity? As far as I know, Stalin, and many Communist leaders of countries in Asia who are responsible for the deaths of millions, were (and are) not “religious.”

    “Our modern culture often teaches the falsehood that all wars and violence are the results of misunderstanding. The fact is that while some of our strife is the result of misunderstanding, there are plenty of conflicts in which the intentions of the opposing party are all too clear.” Jonathan, I’m with you all the way on this. There was war in heaven. Do we think that if Heavenly Father had only explained His plan better, there would have been no war?

    Parents can teach their children to avoid violence whenever possible in their personal lives. They can also read them scriptural stories of violence, and the Spirit can help them learn the correct lessons from those stories.

  43. N Miller on May 11, 2005 at 12:48 pm

    I would agree with Elisabeth that in religious causes, they are greater in violence per incident and noticed more when they happen. However, its the non-religious crimes that make the daily and weekly news. Sure, you have the David Koresh (sp) that happens once every few years, but how often we hear about the killing of people every week, or every day, that don’t show signs of religious ferver. These daily crimes may be committed by religious people, but not in the name of heaven.

  44. Elisabeth on May 11, 2005 at 1:01 pm

    RoAnn and Jonathan, I see what you are saying about the need to present violence realistically to children, but I have to say that I think this may be a pretty unique perspective probably informed by our own experiences in Primary and dealing with violence in our religious history.

    In the broader society, we are moving towards denouncing most all violence and torture, even in cases when we might gain from it (note the Abu Graib (sp) scandal). Although violence is still glorfied in the media, many religious and non-religious groups continue to speak out against the portrayal of violence, and lobby for things like the “V” chip to protect children from violent images.

    We might be able to fashion a compromise so that children understand the underlying message of the stories of Ammon, but most kids just want to hear about the bloody arm stumps and the fighting. Hopefully, they’ll pay attention to the real story behind the violence, which is why we keep telling these stories to them in the first place. But sometimes I do wonder if it’s necessary to tell them these stories at all – if they can learn the same principles in less violent ways. For example, Nephi building the boat.

  45. Daniel on May 11, 2005 at 1:25 pm

    “Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” -George Orwell

    ’nuff said. Just b/c we are insulated from violence in our cushy, little, present-day worlds doesn’t meant that violence isn’t the undercurrent of life. We are free and here speaking (typing) because Revolutionary War soldiers, some of them mine and your ancestors, were ready, willing, and actually did run their long bayonets through the innards of a British soldier, perhaps a father and certainly a son, for the sake of an ideal, namely, freedom. Violence is not what God would choose, but is nonetheless a consequence of this telestial world we live in. Just because we are insulated from it here in America (and that is a good thing) by our F-16s, stealth bombers, and Hellfire missiles, doesn’t mean that violence is any less of an omnipresent force in the lives of the vast majority of humans who’ve lived on this planet and who now live on this planet (in my mission it was certainly the case). We are civilized to the extent that we can avoid violence and resolve our problems peaceably, and, indeed, that is one of the boons of Western Civilization, but that does not mean that violence backs all of those things up. There are worse alternatives than violence, one of which is the prospect that my sons will live in a land that is not free, and that does not allow them to make choices such that they might exercise agency in such a way as to return to live with God. For that privilege, I teach them that they must be willing to run someone through if no other alternative works and if God commands that as the manifestation of our faith (there is a whole Moroni v. Enoch argument here that I won’t get into). We should not kid ourselves that children do not know what evil is and how it is to be resisted. The stories in the scriptures are fine for children. Children already know that there is evil in the world. We can make them aware of that without rubbing their face in evil — matter of fact, the scriptures do that quite nicely.

  46. Jonathan Max Wilson on May 11, 2005 at 1:32 pm

    Elisabeth, I don’t think that you are giving children enough credit. They are not mindless creatures that simply imitate what they see. Children are quite adept at identifying the villian and the hero in stories, even when they both employ violence. They are not nearly as easy to confuse as you seem to think. And, at a young age, the world has not yet had enough time to squelch the influence of the light of Christ within them.

    I read the Lord of the Rings at age 10. My siblings, cousins, friends, and I would make toy weapons and armor out of sticks, broom handles, PVC, or whatever else we could think of and re-enact bloody battles against the orc forces of Sauron or Morgoth. I was a wonderful time and none of us came out of it as violent murderers.

    The crusade against violence in our modern culture started out as a movement against gratuitous and senseless violence. It recognized a distinction between senseless violence and those who glory in violence and lamentable, necessary violence. It has now evolved into a movement does not recognize the distinction and is against all depictions of violence. That is wrong.

    Which reminds me of a Deep Thought, by Jack Handy:

    I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.

  47. Daniel on May 11, 2005 at 1:51 pm

    Children have the light of Christ. That is why they are just fine with the scriptural stories. I liken this to sex-ed. Better that they learn it at home than in the wrong light out in the world.

    Seth, I disagree with your characterization. The Ammonites were only pacifists because to not do so would return them to their sins, much like taking a former porn addict and making him live the law of polygamy would likely return him to his sins. A very wise seminary teacher explained once that the Ammonites were obliged not to go to war because they had made a covenant with God — not because the war was wrong. Moroni very clearly explains that the war was justified — and that he was even justified in killing those of his countrymen who opposed the war or impeded its progress. They sent their sons to fight the same war without moral scruples because their sons did not have a checkered past of bloodthirsty deeds and had not made the attending covenant to avoid those very same sins primarily for which they had to repent of on conversion. I believe there is a D&C chapter that very clearly explains this. Joseph Smith said that a man that would not defend his wife and children was a coward.

    Finally, Moroni threatens to take the war right into Lamanite lands and end it once and for all in his letter to the Lamanites. Was he bluffing? I don’t think that is consistent with what we know of his character. Would Moroni have hesitated to take the war to the Lamanites if the Lamanites had had intercontinental ballistic missiles (which the power-hungry Amalickiah would certainly not have hesitated to use)? (any comments are welcome. I still can’t figure the answer to that question out). There is definitely an argument to be made that we should be like the people of Enoch and prepare ourselves with faith so we can move mountains and depend on God, yet my experience is that generally the Lord requires that we not sit upon our thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor without making use of the means which God has provided for us to defend ourselves. Moroni certainly would agree, I think, especially when we see that while Amalickiah was exercising his designs for power by killing the Lamanite king and conquering his wife, Moroni was strengthening the minds of the people to be faithful to the Lord their God AND strengthening their cities against any attacks and making armaments.

    Violence is the way this little telestial world of ours works — and God will even help us in violent acts if they are done in the right spirit — witness the Nephites being strengthened by the Lord in their warfare (i.e., read in maiming and piercing the innards of the Lamanites here). Sure, the Celestial world’s wars are fought using argument, persuasion, etc., but we are not living in a Celestial world. I am grateful that some people were willing to shed blood and maim others (who might have just been enlisted soldiers and didn’t understand this whole idea of freedom) so that we can have this conversation today. May God grant that my children understand this necessity.

  48. Kingsley on May 11, 2005 at 3:43 pm

    Ah, yes, the illustrated Book of Mormon series. I well remember the grisly delighted feeling I got when I first saw Ammon’s bloody arm sack. Perhaps this explains my love affair with Kill Bill. Then again, maybes it’s Uma.

  49. Kaimi on May 11, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    Thanks, Peter, I’m glad you like the place. And I wasn’t by any means trying to imply that Kace didn’t deserve it. He seems to think it’s a fun game to torment other kids until they hit him. His favorite co-participants in this activity are his own siblings.

    So, are you still pross-scouring? (I thought I had heard that you jumped ship, but I get mixed up between who’s at what firm anymore).

    We got the CD and enjoyed it; Evie is shaping up to have a great voice, just like her mom.

    Just the other day Mardell and I were reminiscing and laughed for a minute about the firm summer-associate activity (dinner and show) that I took Sarah to, when Mardell was out of town. Mardell’s mom was horrified when she heard about it, and the tale has since entered family lore as another example of how apostate we New York Mormons are . . .

  50. Seth Rogers on May 11, 2005 at 7:41 pm

    Daniel, read my comment closer. That was exactly my point.

    Jonathan, you’re right. That was Nibley, I’m confusing my life history.

    I’m sticking to my guns though. Divine direction is the best reason for the use of violence. The trouble is (as you pointed out) knowing when the directions are legit.

    So for now, you’re probably right that we’re better off sticking with the conventional justifications for violence. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the reality of divine guidance either.

  51. Peter on May 11, 2005 at 11:35 pm

    Kaimi,

    I’m at K&E these days (and nights).

    And, for the record, I believe nearly everyone, religious or not, prefers peace over violence (except maybe at the Cineplex); that U.S. torture and rendition of quasi-suspected terrorists will yield little useful information and will likely have a negative net effect on our country’s security; that other Orwellian quotes than the one previously proffered in this thread best describe the dissembling of our current (U.S.) administration; and that the Book of Mormon ultimately teaches the futility of war (even when it is occasionally, and I mean occasionally, justified or unavoidable).

    Then again, I also believe in global warming after reading three convincing, well-written, and terrifying articles in the New Yorker the past few weeks, so maybe there’s something to your NY apostate thesis. :)

  52. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 12, 2005 at 5:15 am

    Egyptians are not arabs for the most part, and not all arabic peoples are the same.

    I’ll note that after studying labor unrest in the econ department we had some arab students who were very concerned about safe travel in the United States and who were amazed that the grudges from the labor wars had not left the Pacific Northwest still unsafe for travel.

    Others did not have that perspective.

  53. JKS on May 12, 2005 at 11:30 am

    Society has defined the meaning of “Christian” to mean “Love thy neighbor.” But there is a greater commandment, according to Christ. “Love thy God” comes before love thy neighbor.
    Doing what is right in the eyes of God does not always mean caring for the comfort of those around us.
    God has caused floods to kill people (innocent children too) and plagues of Egypt to kill firstborn’s all in the name of his will. Christ also let himself be betrayed and killed without stopping it, and with forgiveness.
    Many have stood to fight evil violently as Helamen’s young warriors did (police officers for example?). And many have buried their weapons or turned the other cheek and fight evil in other ways.
    There is no one size fits all when it comes to the will of God. Our job is to submit to his will and be his servants. He has given us the Holy Ghost so we may know right from wrong and act as his servants.
    There are many stories in the scriptures. It is impossible to teach primary kids all of them. Unless someone concentrated solely on the violent ones, I don’t see a problem. For every arm chopping story there are more than enough boat building stories to balance them out.