Reading The Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene

The Book of Mormon was written for our time. The Anthropocene. Human influence dominates Earth’s biosphere. The name ‘Antropocene’ was proposed as a scientific geological era recently in Science Magazine because in the mid-20th Century striking differences appear in the lithosphere and ice core data that suggests that we have entered a different geological era from the Holocene, the previous era.

As an ecologist watching the effects of climate change on species redistribution, the spread of diseases and pathogens beyond their historical ranges, acidification of the oceans and the worldwide loss of coral reefs, the global loss of glaciers and attendant ecosystem changes in montane and tundra ecosystems as, among other things, forests die due to pests that survive winters that used to kill them, the loss of species due to changes in the timing of the arrival spring creating mistimed egg laying, and other numerous ecosystem changes, I find myself motivated to find new ways to understand what’s happening in the world. Should we read the Book of Mormon differently in this new regime? I think so. And so this is my new project. My aim is to attempt a contribution to the new Maxwell Institute’s venture Ground Work: Studies in Theory and Scripture. But, even if my idea ends up stumbling, I want to think out loud about this issue so invite you to join me.

For this project, I have no interest in debating Climate Change. The science is clear and those that disagree must make their arguments against this consensus within the auspices of science itself, in the peer reviewed literature, I will await any response they may have to make there. Since we will be using ecological, evolutionary, atmospheric, and geological sciences, for this reading we will assume the scientific story is correct as it has unfolded over the past 100 years of intense data gathering and attendant analyses that show that due to human activities the atmosphere is warming, becoming more energetic, and that this is and will affect the biosphere in unpredictable ways.

What can The Book of Mormon have to say about this? Much I think. In fact, I’ll be arguing along the way that it is a handbook for managing the greed and avarice that seems manifest as a symptom and cause of the Anthropocene. I believe its focus on wars and the cautionary tales that those sections offer may give insight into the resource wars that loom large due to water and airable land scarcity, and the refugee crises we already see due to the droughts of the Middle East and Africa (I remember one religion instructor I had as an undergraduate wondering out loud why so much of The Book of Mormon was given to war). I believe the book gives insight into our responsibility for caring for creation, a concern that runs as a central theme throughout the book.

I think it offers insight into the kind of conspiracy theories (used as always to cover secret combinations) that have so often diverted attention away from honest attempts at data-driven information to mask the theft of resources by rich and powerful concerns.

I believe it has much to say about our treatment of the world’s poor. The disenfranchised. The homeless and fatherless. And the deep income disparity we see by the ‘-ites’ who have and those ‘-ites’ that have not.

I’m going to read slowly. I’m going to skip parts (I’m leaving the Isaiah chapters to Joe Spencer for example). But I’m sincere in my claim that the Book of Mormon offers insights about this that will be invaluable.

The Book of Mormon was written for the Anthropocene. Exploring what that means is worth some careful consideration about humanity’s current situation and that of the creatures with which we share this world.



  1. Jason K. says:

    Cool beans, Steve!

  2. This is exciting!

  3. Looking forward to this.

  4. Clark Goble says:

    While I think scarcity in the Book of Mormon is there, I think the more common cause of war in the Book of Mormon is much more greed and laziness. I’m not saying that’s necessarily opposed to reading it in terms of climate change. Just that I think we miss something key about how easy the Book of Mormon wars are to have. It becomes a tad to easy to see it as a problem of the more politically uncivilized areas of Africa, Asia or South America rather than a warning for us here and now.

  5. It pays to enrich your word power.

  6. Awesome!

  7. Very exciting project Steve. Can’t wait to read your thoughts.

  8. I’m really looking forward to this. You might recall I made a fledgling start at a similar reading a couple of years ago, focusing more on the legal/political ramifications of the refugee crisis that was only just beginning:

    “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. . . .

    “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.”

  9. My training is in music. I intend to do a study of how principles of musical harmony and dissonance relate to Book of Mormon cycles of peace and conflict.


%d bloggers like this: