Saturday, February 18, 2006

What's in a Name? Lamanite Redux

All this talk of Lamanites and DNA is not only old, it is really meaningless. Because of a major news "story" in the LA Times, a completely irrelavant discussion has been resurrected. The more informed treatments can be found here, and this place, and finally here with plenty of counter arguments. Personally, I don't think DNA and what it tells us about the Book of Mormon is the correct question. What is really at issue is what does "Lamanite" and "Nephite" mean? How much of the identification is familial and how much is rhetorical? It might be a little of both and far from mainly one.

The Book of Mormon started out classifying the Lamanites as Lehi's decendants; mostly the brothers of Nephi. That is true enough. Something, however, happened that quickly made that identification muddled. Almost from the start the Lamanites consisted of at least two groups of unrelated peoples. There was Laman and Lemual and then sons of Ishmael. The Nephites had Sam and daughters (perhaps with some sons) of Ishmael. Soon, other groups start popping up everywhere. Some don't even seem to have a cursory relationship to Lehi. In fact, and this is what most Mormons miss and Hugh Nibley constantly pointed out, the primary ancestors of the Book of Mormon peoples were Jaredites! Nephites and Lamanites are meeting the Jaredites everywhere according to name patterns. I think the Mulekites might have been Nephites who ran into a large population of Jaredites and incorporated themselves into the political structure. Both the Mulekite Nephites and Jaredites lost their original cultural connections. The point is, there were other groups living and mingling with each other.

Along with the above diversified populations, there was an event that totally and completely destroyed the very concept of Lamanite and Nephite as family relationships. It was the coming of Jesus Christ. During his ministry both the Lamanites and Nephites, and all other peoples, became one community. It lasted at least a hundred years. After this short era of unity, Lamanite and Nephite became a religio-social designation.

4 Ne. 1: 20
20 And he kept it eighty and four years, and there was still peace in the land, save it were a small part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.

It was a self-identy more than family lineage; although some sense of relationships might have inspired the usage. Even then, the designations became fragmented into other sub-groups. One of the most major writers/editors of the Book of Mormon seemed aware that his literally a Nephite was important enough to mention. There were plenty of other groups who weren't.

Mormon 1: 5-10
5 And I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi, (and my father’s name was Mormon) I remembered the things which Ammaron commanded me.

6 And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.

7 The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.

8 And it came to pass in this year there began to be a war between the Nephites, who consisted of the Nephites and the Jacobites and the Josephites and the Zoramites; and this war was between the Nephites, and the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites.

9 Now the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites were called Lamanites, and the two parties were Nephites and Lamanites.

10 And it came to pass that the war began to be among them in the borders of Zarahemla, by the waters of Sidon.

Criticism has been made that early and many modern LDS Church authorities have said that all Native Americans are Lamanites. It is claimed this make it official doctrine. The one place that should set the tone for official doctrine, the Doctrine and Covenants, is not as clear on the subject as first supposed. The Doctrine and Covenants follows the Book of Mormon in catagorizing and then qualifying the names.

D&C 3: 16-20
16 Nevertheless, my work shall go forth, for inasmuch as the knowledge of a Savior has come unto the world, through the testimony of the Jews, even so shall the knowledge of a Savior come unto my people—

17 And to the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, through the testimony of their fathers—

18 And this testimony shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites, who dwindled in unbelief because of the iniquity of their fathers, whom the Lord has suffered to destroy their brethren the Nephites, because of their iniquities and their abominations.

19 And for this very purpose are these plates preserved, which contain these records—that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people;

20 And that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved. Amen.

Even in the Doctrine and Covenants there is a hint of a political, as much as lineal, meaning behind the names when it comes to teaching the gospel. A rejection of the gospel seems to be one of the ways to gain the designation "Lamanite" beyond who were your ancestors.

D&C 10:48
48 Yea, and this was their faith—that my gospel, which I gave unto them that they might preach in their days, might come unto their brethren the Lamanites, and also all that had become Lamanites because of their dissensions.

It would be nice to know what percent is "brotheren" and "dissenters" in the makeup. As it is, that could be anyone's guess. There is no doubt that the names Nephite and Lamanite still hold very specific family meaning. When you speak of Lamanite, it can very well be understood as having a relation to Lehi. However, the relationship is thin. It is more like saying Latter-day Saints are of the House of Israel. True enough from a spiritual standpoint. If we are to believe the Scriptures that is true from actual fact; as long as we understand the dilution of the original Israelite blood in our Gentile genes. So, from that perspective the Lamanites are the main progenators of Native Americans. Problem is, that isn't saying much. The original gene pool was mixed up, changed, scattered, and redefined long before Columbus. The answer to the DNA question is in the Book of Mormon. It just takes some paying attention.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Morality of Technology

I was listening to a Sunday School lesson and a comment by the teacher made me pause. He said, to paraphrase, technology is not good or evil only by how it is used. This isn't the first time the statement has been made. For example:

In contrast, as we look at the media today from any vantage point, I think we would have to say that Lucifer’s influence is far more prevalent than the Lord’s. We are in a war. This war is the same war that raged in the premortal world. Lucifer and his followers are committed to an evil direction. . .

. . . As we consider the importance of nourishing our intellects with the promising potential of superhighway resources, we must be ever cautious about our choices of programs and the impact of media upon our lives. Those who understand our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan for the joy and happiness of His children will be better prepared to not only make good choices but also provide good choices as the information superhighway rolls across the world. The computer, television, satellite, microchip, and even the telephone all can bless and enhance our lives, or can make them miserable.

- M. Russell Ballard, “Filling the World with Goodness and Truth,” Ensign, July 1996, 10

There is little question that technology has its advantages. The New Testament is full of Paul complaining of his inability to teach to various congregations because of the time it took for words or persons to travel. Today a modern Apostle can be heard almost instantaneously or travel to the far reaches of the world in only days. Problem areas are easily accessable and organization a simple click on the keyboard. Through the marvel of television and satallites the words of Apostles and Prophets cannot be mistaken. Faces can become as familiar as if they had visited in person.

Despite all that, one must look at technology with the criterion of "use" to see if it is more good or evil. My conclusion is that technology is mostly evil. Television, radio, and the Internet are largely filled with pornography, hatred, violence, and "satanic" ideology. Most other inventions have complicated our lives at the same time it has made them easier - as recent disasters have proven such complete lack of survival skills without vast amounts of outside help. Even though we now have controlled or eradicated ancient deseases or physical problems, weapons have become deadlier to the point of easily destroying humanity off the face of the Earth. Technology has even created greater gaps between the rich and the poor, with more toys available and less things the poor can do without.

One possible solution is to seriously limit the amount of radio, television, and Internet within our lives. Become more aquanted with making things by hand and interacting face to face as friends and neighbors. Humanity has become a vast network, but not a commmunity. Often Mormons are mistaken for Amish who reject most modern inventions. Perhaps that isn't a bad group to be associated. It is time for Latter-day Saints to become less willing to take technology for granted. We are too lazy with important things, too busy with superficial things, and too distracted from spritual things. Indications are that both our physical and spiritual health is at risk.

I would recommend reading Find Your Own Grove, although I disagree with its conclusions. The problem is not our inability to interact with nature, but to find silence that is important to contemplation. Too many voices are shouting for our attention and we allow them too much space. Lets share some ideas how to declutter the techno-jungle and pop-culture pandering.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Era of Religious Respect?

The use of "respect" rather than "tolerance" in the title is very important. They are not the same words, and can have very specific meanings. Toleration is often used as a blunt instrument that silences voices and forces acceptance with tyrannical consiquences. To respect something doesn't always mean accepting as of equal importance. Respect is why I feel it is right for the cartoons to run and it is right for the Mulsims to demostrate against them. At the same time, intolerance is the reason why I feel it is wrong for the cartoons to run and it is wrong for the Muslims to demonstrate. Respect is about accepting the existance and important of viewpoints. Tolerance is simply intolerance of particular viewpoints that aren't within the accepted norm of permissable discussion.

The Muslim outcry over blasphemous cartoons has created a discussion between freedom of expression and decourum, democracy and religious passion. It is a discussion that secularists have thought unworthy of consideration when it comes to Christians. For too long Western secularism, especially of the Hollywood kind, has treated Christian beliefs as childish at best and dangerous at worst. What has the Christian reaction been? A stimied, but gradually louder, voice of dissent.

Hopefully the demonstrations by vocal Muslims will energize religious people in the West to resist their own beliefs getting brutalized. The problem is that Muslim demonstrators should not be role models for the future war against secularized society. Militantism is considered both unChristian and an exchange of one bad thing for another. It is, however, the resistance that Christians should emulate as they contend for the faith. But, there is something about taking actions that speak louder than words as long as it isn't violent. As examples:

NBC pulls the plug
on 'Book of Daniel'

Nashville's WSMV-TV General Manager Elden Hale, Jr. said: "Based on a review of the first three episodes and the clearly voiced concerns from our viewers, we have determined that the program 'The Book of Daniel' is not appropriate for broadcast television in this community."

After the first three episodes, only Burlington Coat Factory was left as a national sponsor.

The heat began to generate for the show following WND's first story. Shortly afterward, the American Family Association launched a national boycott, citing WND's story.

AFA Chairman Donald E. Wildmon said NBC's decision to cancel the program is instructive.

"This shows the average American that he doesn't have to simply sit back and take the trash being offered on TV, but he can get involved and fight back with his pocketbook," he said.

The network had to absorb millions of dollars in losses each time it aired the program, Wildmon pointed out, because the show's sponsors bailed out.

"We want to thank the 678,394 individuals who sent e-mails to NBC and the thousands who called and e-mailed their local affiliates," he added.

Besides Nashville, other NBC affiliates across the nation either never aired the show or stopped broadcasting it. They included Hattiesburg, Miss.; Meridian, Miss.; Jackson, Miss.; Amarillo, Texas; Wichita, Kan.; Beaumont, Texas; and Terre Haute, Ind.

Only six episodes of the "Book of Daniel" were shot. Kevin Reilly, NBC Entertainment president, said the network's reluctance to order more episodes had more to do with the series' sluggish ratings performance than controversy.

NBC halts Britney's
crucifixion mockery

Reacting to pressure from Christian groups, NBC canceled an episode of "Will & Grace" that featured Britney Spears as a conservative who hosts a cooking segment called "Cruci-fixin's" on a Christian TV network.

NBC last week was forced to pull its highly touted new show "The Book of Daniel" because of charges its portrayal of Jesus was blasphemous.

The point is that Western society should learn how to be more respectful of faith. It shouldn't take a Fawtwa like stance in the decision to show respect. On the other hand, all religious people should understand enough of how Muslims feel about the sacred to reject the violence without throwing out the message.

It still leaves a question of how Mormons should respond to disrespect for the sacred. After all, there are some things in the LDS religion that have the same "don't touch" policy (although for different reasons) that Muslims do about their prophet. Should we take a stronger stand or ignore it as immature posturing?