Rameumptom #BOM2016

Alma 31

“Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord, we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, that you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God.”—Pastor Mark Burns at the Republican National Convention, July 18, 2016

When Pastor Mark Burns gave the closing prayer at the Republican convention last night, he made it clear that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are enemies of God who must be destroyed. People were shocked by his directness; political parties usually dial down their martial rhetoric at conventions to appeal to swing voters who may still think fondly–or at least non-Satanically–about the other side. But we shouldn’t be that surprised: the good Reverend’s basic message–that God loves our side the best–is something close to a human universal.

Pretty much every human society that has ever worshiped a god has seen themselves as that god’s chosen people. Such beliefs are rooted in the development of our notions of divinity. Monotheism came fairly late in human history. Most early cultures were either polytheistic, like the Greeks and Romans, who believed in and worshiped multiple deities; or henotheistic, like the early Israelites who believed that every people had their own god charged with meeting their needs and fighting their battles.

As Hebrew henotheism evolved into Modern monotheism, a tribal god came to be seen as the only God in the universe, but He didn’t lose all of the characteristics of a tribal deity. Specifically, He still encouraged tribalism–or at least His followers still used Him to further the interests of their tribe. Monotheism was a difficult conceptual shift for the ancient people who made it, and they never really accepted its most important consequence: that God loves all of his children the same. Most people who believe in God still have a hard time accepting that this is true.

I have long believed that the single narrative that unites our Standard Works is the theme of a “chosen people” believing that their relationship to God makes them better than other people and learning—usually the hard way—that they are not. This theme cuts across time periods and continents. It includes the recalcitrant Israelites of the Old Testament, the Pharisees and Sadducees of the New Testament, the prideful Nephites of the Book of Mormon, and the early Latter-day Saints–who imagined that God was going to make their bank solvent and hand them Missouri just because they were his favorite kids. Chosen People Syndrome (CPS) is the common curse of the scriptures.

In Alma 31, Alma and his two younger sons head to Antionum, the land of the Zoramites—and the epicenter of the Chosen People Syndrome in the New World. The Zoramites have the most pronounced class differences of any people we encounter in the Book of Mormon. Only the wealthy are permitted to worship in the synagogue, where they climb a high tower called “Rameumptom,” or “the Holy Stand” (:21) and pray like this:

    16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
    17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
    18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.

This prayer makes the Zoramites’ belief system pretty clear: They believe that they are God’s favorite people, that he loves them more than the Nephites (and way more than the Lamanites), that they are predestined to salvation, and that they are entitled to the wealth that they possess at the expense of the poor. They are, in other words, firm believers in “Zoramite exceptionalism,” which convinces them they never need to think highly (or much at all) of anybody but themselves.

As readers, we are shocked by the plainness and directness of the Zoramite prayer, but we should not be shocked by the overall message, which pervades the Book of Mormon—and all of the other Standard Works—from beginning to end. The Zoramites say directly what the Nephites, Pharisees, and other CPS sufferers say slightly less directly.

And we say it too. We usually try to avoid the uncouth directness of the Zoramites, or of Pastor Burns. We have masks and code words that allows us to tell ourselves we are not THAT bad. But all of us are at least somewhat afflicted with the human belief that God likes us best. Sometimes, of course, we use other words for “God,” like “reason,” “science,” “hard work,” “fortune,” or “natural ability.” But the basic message is the same: we are better than other people, we deserve to have more stuff than other people, and it is only right that we protect our stuff from our inferiors

The Book of Mormon, like the Bible and all of the other Standard Works, exists to convince us that we are wrong.

Comments

  1. Trump is no longer the “presumptive nominee” but is officially “the nominee” IMO he’s as dangerous a man as has ever been nominated to the presidency.

    May he (nor his sycophants) never reign, rule, preside, or wield any governmental power.

    And same for Hilary.

  2. Honestly, you’ve got to see the whole thing.

  3. Rob Osborn says:

    Sad to say that this country is in dire straights no matter who gets elected. Party politics is nothing but a giant rameumpton for both sides.

  4. Reminds me of Mark Twain’s War Prayer:

    “Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shre’ds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead…”

  5. The irony, of course, is that we are so quick to fall into this kind of prosperity gospel-type thinking (we are rich therefore we are favored of God, therefore we are righteous, therefore we deserve our riches) when we have wealth, but when we’re the ones that are not doing well, we suddenly become more open to the truth that material prosperity is not proof of divine favor. The trick is hanging on to that truth when we are back on top of the wheel of fortune, not forgetting it.

  6. JKC… that’s a valid point. Though can I suggest that the real trick concerning riches is learning how to never get back on top of the wheel? The real trick is to learn to live communally where there are no rich and poor (Zionism)

    Does anyone disagree that a Zion community would support neither of the two major parties or their candidates? Both parties have platform planks that are requirements for Zion and yet others that would make Zion impossible. IMO that is why the church is always neutral in this matter – because there is no party whose platform mirrors the objectives of the church.

  7. That’s a good way of putting it, Jax. Maybe the real trick is to move from the rim of the wheel to the center.

  8. God does and always has had a chosen people: those who obey His commandments. Doesn’t matter what kind of -ite you are. God loves those who keep His commandments.

  9. I think God loves all his children. We are taught that some blessings are given to all ,with the sun shining on the just and unjust. However, some blessings are reserved for those who keep the commandments. I do not think God loves one group over another, but He can be closer to one because they are moving toward Him. And I do believe the blessings He provides often go unrecognized by those who do not value them because they are focused on wealth or position or educational degrees or athletic prowess or physical beauty.
    Unfortunately, I have seen a great increase in members parading their material blessings, even at Church. One woman in my ward has twice now told me about the expensive home she owns in a very wealthy community. I have just agreed with her that I knew about it. How could I possibly let her know that her pride and ostentation is so off putting in the Chapel after Sacrament meeting. Others want you to admire their cars on the parking lot after Church. I have had the misfortune to work with both bishops and high councilors who compared the small amount of money the ward I was living in at the time, filled with single parents, was able to raise at a charitable auction to what the wards they had been associated with had raised in the past. By the time they finished, I was sorry we ever held the auction. And extremely sorry to know them.

  10. Clark Goble says:

    I’ve been trying to avoid talking politics here, but I’ll fully agree that prayer was egregiously inappropriate and (in my opinion) fully taking the name of the Lord in vain. For traditional conservatives what’s happened to the GOP is tragic and discouraging.

    As for how God views us as a group. Most people I know worry about Nephite disease and pay close attention to the “where much is given much is required.” Maybe I’m just hanging out in the wrong circles but I see more self-reflection than a kind of arrogance pride like we’ve seen at the GOP convention.

  11. This reminded me so much of David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water.” I find myself needing to read and think about that one frequently. I think the kind of exceptionalism I’m most guilty of is the kind that begins and ends with me, the most important person in my universe. It’s an ugly thing to say.

    Yet in practice and in fact, my kid, my husband, Jesus all take a back seat to numero uno, despite my best efforts to be a selfless mom, a good wife, and a true disciple.

    All of the times I pray for things that are utterly self-serving and may inherently come at the cost of inconveniencing (or worse) others, my unshakable belief that I and the people I love deserve good things, the condescending things I think about people with whom I disagree, and a multitude of other things I do/think/say, things I can’t even consciously identify, all loudly announce, “-I- am most special. God and I enjoy a uniquely superior bond.”

    Is there a way out? Could a mighty change of heart be so completely transformative? I am trying to be like Jesus, but oh, I have so impossibly far to go.

    What an outstanding post. What important things to think about. Thank you.

  12. Actually, Clark Goble, I think you are hanging out in the right kind of crowd. The area I live in has become extremely affluent in recent years. The on paper wealth of all the homeowners has gone through the roof. One would hope this would not have become the major topic of conversation at every church party. One would hope in vain.
    I was unfortunate enough to be included in a conversation at church where members were discussing how lucky the new mission president was to be called to such a well educated, cultured, wealthy mission. As everyone basked in their self admiration, I pointed out what a difficult mission this was. Only the Spanish Ward has any converts. The other wards are too busy getting rich to have time to share the gospel.

  13. Leona, from a long life of experience, I can almost guarantee a life changing experience to help you become more truly charitable. Mortality has a way of changing anyone willing to be changed. Unfortunately, the cost is generally loss and great pain, either physical or emotional. I do not believe God lets anyone off the hook.
    That said, charity is a spiritual gift we are taught to pray for. Only in that way can we put off the natural man and actually become like Christ. I have always been afraid to truly seek it. Afraid of giving up attitudes I am quite attached to, despite realizing they are wrong. Afraid of seeing myself as the one in the wrong, with great personal need for forgiveness. Afraid of being inconvenienced or having demands made on my time.
    Thank you for the thought provoking essay.

  14. Thanks, Michael. This is very needed. As I study LDS Church history, it occurs to me again and again that almost all of the persecution our forebears faced were the direct result of the Chosen People Syndrome. Nobody—let me repeat that—nobody likes to be told that they are inferior.

    Now, a comment about the two political parties and Zion. I disagree with Jax. Yes, neither political party is a “Zion” party. But if you had to choose the one that comes closest to embracing principles in harmony with Zion, there is no contest. The Democrats come out way on top. Nothing about the GOP, especially as Trump has shaped it, is in the same universe as our concept of Zion. Of course, our concept of Zion is also rather vague. Most people don’t bother to work out the logistics of how to actually create a Zion society. They just assume that when everyone gets really righteous, Zion will magically happen. Keep dreaming. There will still need to be a strong government to enact fundamental laws that ensure equality, probably in ways that most conservatives would abhor.

  15. Wally, the D&C outlines the fundamentals of Zion fairly well. Well enough anyway that our temple covenants bind us to building it up according to the teachings therein. Neither party is “closest” to being in line with Zion principles. They both have items that would make building it an impossibility. You say the DNC is closest… but how do I build Zion if all my excess income is going to the state? Zion demands that I labor to build Zion, but the ideal socialistic DNC state demands that I work to provide goods for the distribution by the state.

    The individual freedom required to build zion is found only in the principles mainly put up by the GOP. The level of gov’t intrusion in our lives that he DNC promotes make it impossible. But the GOP has built in impossibilities as well. I’d summarize their entire governing philosophy as a belief that “there is no free lunch”… but entire point of King Benjamin’s speech is to destroy that false idea.

    IMO the GOP advocates better for the freedom we’d need to build Zion, but the DNC advocates better for the ruling principles and level of compassion we’d need to build Zion. And since Zion can’t be built without both…

    The only other option is if you think that the entire US is what we are trying to turn into Zion, rather than a community of Saints; that the state will build it instead of us as individuals. I reject this idea. Does anyone think the gov’t should be pushing us toward “one heart and one mind”? This would also mean that nobody in the country would have the choice to NOT live a zion-like life… it’d be mandated by law. Pretty sure the ACLU exists to oppose this idea, right? I’m not sure gov’t mandates are how Zion is brought to pass, I think its a result of righteous choices instead of compulsion.

  16. Let me summarize the above like this. We don’t need a strong gov’t enacting Zion-like laws, we need absolute freedom to choice, and then we need to choose to bind ourselves to a communistic society. If we don’t choose it of our own free will and choice then there is no righteousness there. We can’t compel others into Zion, and they can’t compel us into it either, so gov’t CANNOT be involved.

  17. I read today that an LDS man also gave one of the prayers at the RNC convention. He prayed f.or our enemies as well as us. It made the news. I was very proud

  18. Kristine N says:

    I’m always curious who, exactly, is supposed to administer Zion if not a government. You know, of the people, by the people and whatnot.

  19. A govt is correct. There is the Federal gov’t, state gov’t, county gov’t and every town has a mayor/government. And the every corporation has a reasonable approximation of gov’t. Sporting associations have a gov’t. Families have a degree of gov’t. Zion would have a gov’t too but that doesn’t mean that the Federal or State gov’t would administer it . Having any level of gov’t that you can’t opt out of attempt to implement Zion (requiring people live by a certain set of religious principles) would be completely contrary to every form of freedom we claim to cherish/desire in this country.

  20. I am afraid my enthusiasm for Zion has waned a lot in recent years. I tried for decades to give my excess to the Church but discovered when I got into financial difficulties at one point, the leaders’ only concern was in preaching self-reliance and attempting to shame me for needing help. Now, my thoughts are only to concern myself with taking care of my own needs, including any that might possibly occur during the rest of my life. Does not really allow any sharing there.
    I do not know what the Lord expects of us. From what I have read (glad to be corrected) neither Brigham Young nor Heber C Kimball placed their assets in the United Order even as BY preached to others that they should. I do not understand this but I feel like I have been foolish, naive to actually practice what was preached.

  21. Matthew 3:9 and many ither of Christ’s teachings seem to be fighting against this ppwerful idea rooted in the Old Testament within the judeochristian tradition. God he says can turn “rocks into the children of Abraham”. I think you can also argue with some validity that the overall BoM narrative subverts the idea. I particularly like Jared Hickman’s extended argument along these lines.

    The more we embrace the chosen people rhetoric the farther I think we get from the core message of Christ. It is darn effective though in creating identity and community boundaries. One of my biggest fears for the church is that ultimately it will choose the “small hand of persecuted righteous” narrative where the more marginalized we become the more that proves how right we are. Lots of religions die that way.