2 Nephi 28:1-3, 9, 13 – LeGrand Baker — false churches
1 And now, behold, my brethren, I have spoken unto you, according as the Spirit hath constrained me; wherefore, I know that they must surely come to pass.
2 And the things which shall be written out of the book shall be of great worth unto the children of men, and especially unto our seed, which is a remnant of the house of Israel.
3 For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the Lord’s; and the others shall say: I, I am the Lord’s; and thus shall every one say that hath built up churches, and not unto the Lord—
9 Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.
13 They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.
It is an axiom among historians that the primary function of religion has always been to help the rich control and exploit the poor. This assumption is the basic premise upon which is built most modern studies of ancient, as well as contemporary religions. And one doesn’t have to look very hard to discover that the argument appears to be very sound indeed.
I used to wonder what would have become of me if I had not been born into the LDS Church. I’m not sure I would have joined the church as a convert, and I can’t imagine where my attitudes would have taken me otherwise.
Throughout human history, religion has been the major power of enslavement used by governments against their own people. In the ancient world, kings were either gods or representatives of god. In more modern times, that same assertion (though colored by more “acceptable” political jargon) has been made by leaders as diverse in their philosophy as Hitler and Stalin; and as typical as Eva Peron. In our own country, the political deification of John Kennedy is an expose in miniature of American political principles and practices.
Religion and patriotism have almost always been synonymous. It is because of that union, or, by way of that mutual co-dependence, that throughout human history, religion has been the primary machine by which the political and economic elite have generated human hatred and human suffering. The promise of riches in the afterlife has been exploited to enforce and to justify poverty and wretchedness in this life. Governments use religion to manipulate the morality, emotions, and credulity – both the productive and the destructive powers – of the masses.
In medieval Europe, kings were almost entirely subservient to the Pope. Before Henry VIII, the Catholic Church owned one third of all real estate in England, and one third of English taxes were sent to Rome every year. Henry VIII broke the back of that subservience by confiscating the church’s property, keeping much of it, and distributing the remainder to the British aristocracy (After that, if the Catholics were to re-take their power in England, the English aristocracy would have to give back the confiscated property. So Protestantism became secure in England) But even so, the English king remained the final religious authority in his kingdom. Today, Queen Elizabeth is still head of the Church of England.
As recently as Victoria’s day, the power of the church was used to sustain a veneer of “morality” ( under which was hidden un-condemned white slavery) and a justification of Social Darwinism (under which was condoned the poverty and corruption decried by Charles Dickens). The religious veneer of “Victorian Morality” not only prevailed in England, but also in America. It was under the critical eye of American Protestant ministers that Jim Crow laws were passed in the South and Mormons were persecuted in the west.
Thanks to Thomas Jefferson and his understanding that personal, political, and economic freedom were absolutely impossible without the separation of church and state, to Americans, at least, the idea that the Queen is the head of the Church of England seems not to mean much nowadays. But in principle it has always meant a great deal. The spread of religion was the justification for the creation and ultimate power of the British empire (As it was for the Spanish, French, Dutch, and German empires), and it was the less overtly recognized rationale which supported America’s “Manifest Destiny.”
Modern social scientists have limited our use of the word “religion” to mean notions about god, but in terms of their function in modern society, ideas with different names are as powerful today, and in the same way, as the ancient religions used to be. The structural variants on the philosophy of Rousseau (Humanism, Fabianism, Liberalism, Socialism, Communism) which deny god as god, replace theocracy and the church with other philosophically imposed power structures which look like apostate religion in that they also exert moral, social, political and economic control. Thus religionists of all stripes (whether theologically or philosophically self-defined) still dictate the meaning of personal, public, political, and economic “morality.” And the “morality” they accept is sometimes more a-moral than the oldfashioned Protestant “immorality” used to be.
Nephi’s statement ( 2 Ne. 28:1-18 ) is a classic, in that it describes so accurately the powers and corruption of apostate religion. It also serves as a warning. I suspect one of the greatest challenges to Mormonism — and I stress: Not to Mormonism on its the Prophet and Quorum of the Twelve Apostle level, but on its bureaucratic sub-levels — as Mormonism becomes a world religion, will be to discover how to let its people remain free, and how not to use its powers of numbers, wealth, and prestege in the classic and perverse way that the powers of churches have almost always been used. [2 Ne. 28:1-18, 12 Apr 99, Dil Rust, ] In Mormon’s claim of being “a descendant of Nephi” (Mormon 1:5), which also applies to Moroni, Mormon is established as a representative of Nephi, just as Joseph Smith, likewise a direct blood descendant of a great prophet (Joseph the Patriarch), was a latter-day representative of Joseph. Both serve as second witnesses to the truths taught by their lineal ancestors. In the case of the Book of Mormon, Moroni can be twinned with his father, and in fact says that he finishes his father’s record and does so under his father’s direction.
With that said, I’d like to point out a connection between Nephi’s testimony and that of his direct descendant Moroni. This connection is also directly relevant to the basic character of the Book of Mormon.
Nephi prophetically says that a major characteristic of churches in the last days not built up unto the Lord is that they “deny the Holy Ghost” and “deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 28:4-5). They will declare that if someone says “there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles” (2 Nephi 28:6). Ten centuries later, Moroni prophetically sees that same day when “it shall be said that miracles are done away” and when “the power of God shall be denied, and churches become defiled and be lifted up in the pride of their hearts” (Mormon 8:26, 28). That day is not coincidentally linked with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. (The larger passage in Mormon 8:26 reads: “. . . and it [the Book of Mormon] shall come in a day when it shall be said that miracles are done away; and it shall come even as if one should speak from the dead.”) Moroni (and his father, teaching the same thing) thus stands as a second witness of a central truth of the Book of Mormon: that while churches generally will deny the power of God, the Book of Mormon itself will be (and, really, is, since Moroni speaks to us “as if ye were present”) a miracle. It will come forth miraculously by the agency of an angel; it will be brought forth through the instrumentality of a prophet of God; and it will testify that possession of gifts of the Spirit is an essential characteristic of the true church of God (see especially Moroni 10).