A Kick in the Gut

From one birthday to the next — there but for the grace of God go we all:

Civil War in London. Unimaginable?

From Foreign Policy,

“Today, over 5 million children [in Syria] are in need of assistance, including over 1 million children who have sought refuge in neighboring countries. These children are at risk of becoming a ‘lost generation’ and cannot be ignored.”

* * *

We think we’re immune to this in our currently stable Western democracies. This collapse of civil society and these nightmarish scenarios of civil war happen far away, “in those countries.”

I think it is far more possible than any of us realize for this to be in our future. From a scriptural perspective, The Book of Mormon suggests this is a possible, even probable, trajectory for a society that is “puffed up” with pride in which the people “seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world” (3 Ne. 6.15). Once such people begin putting the interests of their own particular tribes ahead of the good of society as a whole (by refusing to be beneficial participants in civil society), the scene is set for this kind of outcome.

Take the “thirtieth year” since the birth of Christ (see 3 Ne. 6:17 to 3 Ne. 7:13). By the beginning of 30 A.D. in the society depicted in 3 Nephi 6 & 7, the people had recently experienced several years of uninhibited peace, order, and prosperity (see 3 Ne. 6:3-9) — “there was great order in the land” because “they had formed their laws according to equity and justice” (3 Ne. 6:4). Although the text implies that this prosperity and peace had not yet disappeared at the beginning of 30 A.D., the society was no longer characterized by “great order” and “equity and justice”; rather, by the beginning of 30 A.D., their society had become characterized by a “great inequality in all the land” (3 Ne. 6:14) because “the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Ne. 6:12). By the end of that single year, the government had collapsed and civil society was in tatters (3 Ne. 7:2).

It is true that “all this was done, and there were no wars as yet among them” (3 Ne. 7:5) — in this example from the The Book of Mormon, the civil war depicted in this video hadn’t come about in the space “from one birthday to the next” simply because the tribes, though “they were enemies” (3 Ne. 7:11), had been able to reach a tenuous agreement “that one tribe should not trespass against another” (3 Ne. 7:14). Other similar episodes in The Book of Mormon, however, do end up in all-out societal warfare in such a short space of time.

In any event, their rejection of prophetic injunctions and political mandates relating to order, equity, and justice, specifically with relation to the poor and less fortunate, precipitated the collapse of their government (which had administered over a period of unprecedented prosperity) and the splintering of their society into tribes each seeking its own interest at the expense of or without regard to the interests of the community as a whole — a situation fundamentally opposed to the establishment and flourishing of Zion.


  1. Cordeiro says:

    The line separating civilization from civil war and anarchy is far thinner than any of us really want to talk about.

  2. Is anyone else concerned about this possibility in the US? We seem to relish in showing how we are separate from each other, from the federal government, etc,. How our reasonings are always better than theirs (whomever they may be). Are we really so much different than Syria or Crimea?

    What can we do to prevent it?

  3. The point of this post, drawing from The Book of Mormon as a guidebook “for our day”, is that this is definitely a possibility here in the US. The Book of Mormon describes the collapse of several civilizations, and the reasons for each such downfall are the same things recorded in the verses quoted from 3 Nephi 6 & 7 in the original post.

  4. MikeInWeHo says:

    Frank: Similar thoughts have occurred to me as well. We’re already basically two cultures, and states are becoming more blue (or red) with each passing election cycle. Is it only a matter of time before some states want to secede again? It’s already happened once in America.

  5. Actually, Mike, when I read The Book of Mormon and particularly 3 Nephi 6 & 7 and other specific sections dealing with the downfall of societies, I do not see it speaking to a red/blue division of that nature — something that would stem from a particular election. I think both Republicans and Democrats are both relatively equally guilty of the evils that The Book of Mormon identifies as primary contributing factors to this type of societal disintegration: grinding the face of the poor, laws that are not guided by equity and justice but whose purpose is to buttress the wealthy and powerful and to secure them in their power, the lack of equality and equal access to or opportunity for education, which solidifies people in their poverty, political corruption of entrenched interests, rampant conspiracies and conspiracy theories, etc. It’s all there in 3 Nephi 6 & 7, and unfortunately we Mormons have not distinguished ourselves above surrounding society on these factors, despite having The Book of Mormon as a warning and guidebook on these issues.

    This also manifests itself when we as a people seek to undermine the robust pluralism that is “indissociable from a democratic society” and “which has been dearly won over the centuries” (as argued by the Church in its 2008 brief (see para. 113) before the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Obst v. Germany, final judgment of Dec. 23, 2010). When we as a faction cease to see ourselves as participants in the project of civil society willing to play by the rules and compromise with other factions as envisioned in our political structures and institutions (in fact, to compromise as intentionally “forced” by those structures and institutions), then by quitting the game, so to speak, we are already inching closer to the disintegration observed in The Book of Mormon.

  6. Jason K. says:

    The title of this post is distressingly apt. Powerful stuff, John,

  7. Hedgehog says:

    john f,
    That’s a great paragraph in the brief. I wish we heard it preached from the pulpit.

  8. Interesting observations, John. Thanks. What came to my mind are the (overly summarized) words of Hyman Minsky: stability itself breeds instability.

  9. marginalizedmormon says:

    Thank you for this; how can we help the Syrian children?

  10. I am very concerned about the continuing division of our society into ranks (3 Ne. 6:12-14) and tribes (3 Ne. 7:2). I used to wonder if we were living in a similar time as what is described in Helaman. I’m becoming more and more convinced that 3 Ne. 6-7 is the more appropriate comparison. May the Lord’s coming be sooner rather than later, I pray!

  11. Whether the Lord come sooner or later, let’s work as a community to address these problems, not waiting for the Second Coming to fix everything. My understanding is that we need to actively build Zion. The D&C provides valuable insights into structuring our lives and communities in a way that can avoid a repeat of 3 Nephi 6 & 7. Broader society is trending away from that though as income inequality worsens with its implications for people’s access to education.


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