Monthly Archives: July 2021

Is There One Among You?

“And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!” – Alma 5:20-21

We often think that if we do not personally mock or persecute that we are innocent of such accusations. We think that if we are constantly and consistently polite and careful with our personal interactions, we are free of the charges of mocking and heaping persecutions on others. But we must look beyond the personal experience if we wish to be judged correctly.

The first place to look is in the minds of the persons we interact with – we cannot read those minds, but we know that they are not our own. How do we know that what we think of as polite and proper is interpreted to be the same way in the minds of our neighbors, the people we meet and work with directly? How often did politeness give an appearance of kindness as it papered over apartheid, segregation, and antisemitism? Even as I speak of those things as national policies, they had impacts on the personal level to where the persecutors were unaware of how hurtful they were because, in their minds, they were always polite and proper.

When we use words that are pointed out to us as having a negative implication to an audience, we should seek to stop using those words. Accusing the audience of overreacting or taking us the wrong way is not a defense – it is not a rethinking, a repentance. When we rethink, we repent. When we repent, we not only become aware of how to keep peace on earth, but also how better to approach God.

And when we look at the larger picture, we must be sure and certain in not supporting legal regimes that “heapeth persecutions” on one or more groups. Mockery may or may not be in the legal wording: older American laws specifically stated that Blacks, Latinx, Asians, First Nations, and other cultural minorities were to be restricted vis-a-vis their White counterparts – mockery and persecution, combined. Modern American laws may remove the direct mockery, but preserve the persecution by creating use cases defined by factors common to those cultural minorities.

Gender and sexual preference are also targets of laws that create persecution. Again, they can be directly called out with mockery directly included with the persecution; or, they can be indirectly implied, with the mockery buried under cleaned-up words. But, with or without the mockery, the persecution remains as an indictment against the godliness of the people that put it into place.

“And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yeah, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting you hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?
“Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God… and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” – Alma 5:53-55

Alma makes it very clear that he is speaking to a society, not each person as an individual. This is a collective sermon that targets inequality in the society. As above, the supposition of being better than another person can be masked by politeness and protocol. If I say I am the same as everyone else but then expect to be treated differently due to my status, wealth, profession, or some other irrational criteria, then I am quite likely a hypocrite. I should strongly note that differentiated treatment to overcome disability or poverty is justice, not discrimination. Preserving one’s power through denial of justice is discrimination, is persecution, is mockery of one’s own brother in the most ungodlike way possible – the building up of a kingdom rooted in cruelty, injustice, and the violence necessary to support such a thing.

The door is not yet closed on those who persecute – as long as we have thoughts, we can rethink them. We can repent and choose instead to treat one another as equals not only in our personal relations, but in how we frame the laws of our nations. It means we must think harder and produce solutions that may not seem intuitive, but if we wish to attain the pearl of great price, those efforts are part of the price we pay for the treasure of Eternal Life.

The Ancient Origins of Mategosan Banking

Mategosan archaeology indicates the earliest formal settlements began around the 9th Century BCE. A few fishing settlements of the Delmatae tribe, identified by their burial methods and a shrine to Vidasus, bear witness to the earliest permanent inhabitants of the Mategosan islands. Later, as a result of the Great Illyrian Revolt, the Romans sent in colonists from Latium to settle and pacify the islands as part of a larger move to incorporate the province of Illyricum.

Mategosa was seen as a strategic hold in the Adriatic on the main route for shipping Dalmatian gold back to Rome. Cassius Dio noted that Mategosa provided a watchful eye over the ships carrying the gold. In his typical cynicism, Cassius Dio also commented on how Mategosa also seemed to have an outstretched hand to collect any parts of those shipments that went astray.

There was no overt brigandage or piracy in these transactions: although the ancient records are sparse on these matters, what records we do have either hint or directly accuse the Mategosans of being part of a greater chain of financial arrangements, always with the implication that imperial treasuries were involved as partial beneficiaries of these diversions of gold, the Mategosan middle-men being the other party that answered the question, “cui bono?”

All of the Claudian emperors enjoyed the secrecy and creative accounting provided by their Mategosan citizens. The island itself, while ostensibly part of the province of Illyricum, had a special governor appointed to oversee the special administrative arrangements performed on the island. The nummularios (money-changers) of Mategosa would register the inbound shipments of gold by “reviewing” the cargo manifest of the ships. In reality, the Mategosans were making an identical copy of the manifest, bar a change on the amount of gold in the shipment. The doctored manifest would be returned to the ship after an appropriate amount of gold had been removed to true-up the figures.

The removed gold would then go on to the treasuries of both the Emperor and the nummularios of Mategosa. Over time, each of the family groups on Mategosa became involved in the gold traffic. The proceeds of their operations did not go to just one person, but were considered to be assets for each family as a whole. The Claudian period is where we see the development of the familial/clan social structure in Mategosa that persists to this day.

After the Claudians, there was a gap in imperial usage of the Mategosan connection. Dalmatian cargo was interrupted during the chaos of The Year of the Four Emperors and the Flavians did not renew the system favored by the Claudians. Trajan, however, revived the old gold route, along with the diversion on the docks of Mategosa harbor. Commodus neglected the arrangements and the lack of private finances is considered to be a contributing factor to the instability of his regime. Septimus Severus worked with the Mategosans, but is an exception in the regnal list for many years, as the Empire became more chaotic and the Crisis of the Third Century commenced.

The reign of Gallienus was a period of governmental stability in the 3rd Century, even if the frontiers of the Empire were fraying and regional governors were often rebelling. Gallienus visited Illyricum several times between 253 and 258 and stopped at Mategosa more than once: it is unclear if the islanders were able to convince the Emperor to take advantage of their services. Given that the economy collapsed during the later years of his reign, it is unlikely that he did. Or, if he did, he did not make effective use of such services.

What we do know is that the gold began arriving again at Mategosa during the 260s. From the transactional records we have, we can determine that once again the Mategosans were changing manifests, but they do not seem to have included the Emperor in their arrangements. In the turmoil of the next 20 years, the Emperors forgot completely about Mategosa. By the time of Julius Nepos in 474-480, the Dalmatian coast was accountable to the Emperor only because he lived there. After the fall of Julius Nepos, Mategosa fades from history with the rest of the Dalmatian coast. But the gold, hidden away in the underground cavern systems of Mategosa, never lost its luster. As trade and banking returned to the region following the establishment of the Byzantine theme of Dalmatia and the Kingdom of Croatia, Mategosa was ready to provide the secrecy and special arrangements that are often attached to that industry.

The Implication of “Skins”

Racism is any thought, law, action, custom, or practice that provides treatment or outcomes that are different based upon race. Nationalism is the same, but for culture. Sexism for gender, and so on. All of these can be gathered under the umbrella of “irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes.” And while it is very easy to say “I am not a racist” as a smokescreen that exempts one from deep self-examination, it is much harder to say “I am an antiracist” and then work the difficult work of removing one’s own prejudices – conscious and unconscious – that result in irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes. These treatments and outcomes are not only as a result of one’s own personal interactions, but also because of the public policies one supports or opposes, based on these lurking biases.

To say, “I am an antiracist” means that we are actively re-thinking our thoughts and changing our ways – in a word, repenting. We do not just ask for forgiveness, but we must make real and meaningful changes in coming to accept all people as equals. The word of God has in the past been used to justify irrationally discriminatory treatments and/or outcomes – but such usage is the word of God, perverted. When I read the scriptures, I read that God provides a path of salvation to all humanity. Male and female, black and white, bond and free, young and old, warm and cold, wet and dry – make up your opposite pair and God provides a path of salvation to the extremes and the folks in the middle. All of them.

To be an antiracist, therefore, is to accept the equality mandated by God and to unravel it from toxic ideas of people who created misleading and damnably incorrect ideas to rationalize their own unjust concentrations of wealth and power, relative to other groups. To be an antiracist is to accept that one’s own mind has been infected with any number of these ideas and that removing those ideas is going to be a lifelong process.

And that brings me to Chapter 4 of Alma in the Book of Mormon.

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them…” – Alma 4:6

Even with context, it’s a harsh assessment. While modern readers are frequently quick to assume that the skins in question are the human epidermis, it’s more likely that the author was referring to how the Lamanites “were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins”. Animal skins, in other words. And that this is in a discussion about how their allies the Amlicites marked themselves with red paint in their foreheads indicates that the markings are elective, not markings from birth.

Even so, this is a discrimination: the verses that follow talk about the incorrect traditions of the Lamanites and how those who intermarry with them joins with them in their curse. Those who leave the Lamanites to join with the Nephites are noted by their change in dress style, are numbered among the Nephites, share in their customs, and are otherwise indistinguishable from the Lamanites. So if this is not racism, it is still nationalism or tribalism, is it not?

The proscription on mingling with the “other” in this case is a religious one. The idea being that the children of such unions will have divergent guidance, at best, and will not be able to grow up with the proper knowledge and faith necessary for salvation. Given that the Nephites themselves were constantly dealing with rebellion, apostasy, and general unrighteousness, however, one cannot consider that being among the Nephites was a sufficient condition for living a good life, dedicated to God. The Nephites may not have dressed in dark animal pelts as the Lamanites did, but when they put on costly apparel, they generally embark upon the road to perdition.

Just as the Amlicites painted their foreheads red, just as the Lamanites wore the pelts of dark animals, the Nephites that chose to wear costly apparel marked themselves in their rebellion to God. So what is the solution for these problems? Is it Kurtz’ rage to “Exterminate the brutes”? While there are Nephites who believe that very thing, the righteous among the Nephites reject that solution.

When God provides a path to salvation for us all, it is not at the edge of a blade or the barrel of a gun. It is through kind invitation and patient teaching. The solution is not to curse the enemy, but to pray for them and to show them kindness and mercy. Here, therefore, is a rational discrimination. There are differences, yes, but they do not prevent a person from accepting God’s invitation to salvation. They may add interesting twists and turns in that path, but so it is with all of us and our personal journeys.

The rational discrimination is to not assume that they know everything that you know and that you do not know everything that they know. The rational discrimination is to await the learning opportunities for yourself as avidly as you do for them. Once the learning is underway, we are all prepared to be a “we” and not an “us and them”. And it is as a “we” that we approach God. An unconditional, loving, equal “we”.

That is not to say that the Nephites as a people were ready to drop their prejudices at this point in the narrative. There were two bodies of people in attendance at King Mosiah II’s farewell address and reform of the government. The Amlicites emerged as a rebellious faction from within the Nephites. Class divisions appear as the people choose to wear costly apparel – are any of these groups ready to see the Lamanites, the generationally-established “others” as anything but different?

I would say that the more righteous a person is, the easier it is to see beyond the differences defined by human thought and see the eternal equality that God sees. I would say that the more righteous a person is, the easier it is to ask for that equality before God to be made evident in law and society and church.

Prosperity Through Charity

The first chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon covers two rival approaches to prosperity: individualism and communalism. Those who follow God go with communalism – giving to those in need, without regard for race, gender, or whether or not the person in need is a fellow-believer. These are specified in the text, so the above are not inferences from context.

The wicked do not do as the righteous. They follow a path of individual, personal aggrandizement. They are called out on their “costly apparel” along with pride, persecuting, lying, thieving, robbing, whoredoms, and murdering.

As a group, it is the righteous who are collectively more prosperous. When we choose not to indulge ourselves in excesses, we have plenty of resources to support other people who are in need. When we do not insist “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours” – or variations on that – we can instead teach that what we have here is all God’s and we have no ownership, but stewardship. And, as stewards, we must follow our Lord’s instructions in handling those resources – and our Lord has told us to share freely one with another, that we all might prosper and live in peace.

What’s mine isn’t really mine, if I want to prosper. What’s God’s is for all of us to share equally and fairly. We cannot inherit His kingdom if we are not prepared to share it.

A Land of Liberty

“And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike, so long as the Lord sees fit that we may live and inherit the land, yea, even as long as any of our posterity remains upon the face of the land.” – Mosiah 29:32

With those words, King Mosiah began to dismantle the monarchy of his people and convert their rulership over to a system of judges, that his people be equals. While there were still social divisions as I noted previously, removing distinctions of wealth and nobility was a major step in the direction of become one with God, for one must first be one with other humans before being one with God – we don’t hop over each other on our eternal progression.

Now, the question arises, is this a land of liberty if not everyone enjoys rights and privileges alike? If there is nothing being done to change that situation, then no, this is not a land of liberty. If there are changes being made, but they are so slow or so small as to be of little impact relative to the remainder of injustices, then also no, this is not a land of liberty. But if the changes are such that we see a complete change for the better, where we as a people do not stand for having disproportionate impacts on any group that has been long oppressed, and we push together for changes so that laws are equal both in their writing and in their application, then and only then can we answer that, yes, we are a land of liberty.

If God does not yet walk amongst us, then we are not yet one with God. If we want to be one with God, we must be one with each other first. If we want to be one with each other, then we need to make changes in how there are rights and privileges that are not enjoyed alike among all the people.