Sunday, March 14, 2010

Of Columbus, Pilgrims, and Patriots

We were reading in the Book of Mormon last night with our extended family, and something that I had taken for granted was something that many of my family members did not know.  That is that Book of Mormon prophets had prophesied about Columbus, the Pilgrims and Puritans, and the success of the American colonists in the war for independence.

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When I was in third grade, I remember singing with my school class "America the Beautiful" and being touched to the verge of tears when I pondered the words describing how God had shed his grace on America and how patriot dreams would be undimmed by human tears.  From any early age, I seem to have been keyed into the importance of America as a beacon of freedom (which is why I am so dismayed currently by the rise of both American Empire and the United States of Welfarica).

One of the things I remember noticing in my early readings of the Book of Mormon was this vignette:
12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, 1 Nephi 13:12

I thought as a boy that it was pretty cool when my mom and dad taught me that the scriptures talked about Columbus. That was before I found out all of the lies that James Michener and others told about Columbus, so Columbus is still a great man in my book!

I was surprised, however, when we were reading this same chapter of scripture last night for family scripture study, that several of my family members said, "I've never heard that before!"

1st Nephi Chapter 13 in the Book of Mormon turns out to be a very interesting historical summary of the early years of America, but the United States was yet centuries in the future when it was prophesied about by ancient American prophets. This chapter doesn't just teach that Columbus was inspired by God to discover America. It also talks about how the Pilgrims, Puritans, and others, came to America so that they could worship God freely according to their consciences.
13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and they were exceedingly fair and beautiful.
16 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.

The Book of Mormon also teaches that the hand of God was upon the founding of America. It is difficult to imagine how George Washington's rabble of soldiers won even some of the major battles in the Revolutionary War, let alone the entire War for Independence--unless we believe that they were protected by God in their efforts. In this regard, the Book of Mormon says:
17 And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.
18 And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.
19 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.

I don't think that America as a whole is doing a very good job these days of being deserving of the protections of God, but it is interesting that the discovery and founding of America were in God's plans, and that it was such an important series of events that ancient American prophets were allowed to see and prophesy about it.

Did you know that?


10 comments:

  1. Another plausible explanation is that Joseph Smith used his knowledge of American History to create those stories when he wrote the Book of Mormon.

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  2. Joseph made all those details up with only a third grade education, and he waited until almost 30 before translating it? I defy you to do better with your education to create a manuscript that has more pure truths in it than this book does.

    This country is blessed from before its founding and will only be blessed as long as there are people who honor God and abide by his precepts, if we fail then His blessings will leave, and we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

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  3. The lies about Columbus? I'm not sure what you mean. You don't believe Columbus plundered the native societies he found (or "convinced" them to "pay tribute") and that he took some as slaves back to Europe? The historical record seems to show pretty categorically that he did. Even if he did so "for the glory of God," that doesn't seem to justify his reputation as a great man.

    And the traditional account in US history that the Puritans came to the New World so that "they could worship God freely according to their consciences" is just flat out wrong. The Puritans came so that they could establish their own religious autocracy, perfectly willing to enforce that autocracy by force. The King of England sent word to the Puritans to stop killing his subjects, they were so eager to put "heretics" to death. I find it sad that, in their desire to set up the idea of a strictly Christian US, conservatives glorify the Puritan Pilgrims, and tend to gloss the deist tradition which became such a powerful force in the Founding Era, and other, more tolerant and respectful religious groups the the Quakers who founded Pennsylvania. They much more than the Pilgrims truly believed in freely worshiping according to one's conscience.

    It saddens me that our historical understanding is still so distorted by the propaganda of traditional "patriotic" perceptions.

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  4. JBT: I agree with Anonymous.

    aliberalmormon: So is the Book of Mormon false in that regard, or did I misinterpret it?

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  5. When it comes to historical judgement, I prefer to base my opinion on the historical record than on preconceived notions about scriptural prophecy. If Columbus engaged in those activities (and I think the historical record supports that contention), then either A) the BofM prophecy is inaccurate, or B) we misapply that prophecy.

    Do you think that plundering and the taking of slaves--not just buying slaves, but actively enslaving free people--are actions of a "great" or a noble man in a moral sense?

    As to the pilgrims, do you think that a people who enthusiastically pursued capital punishment for free speech fits the definition of those who seek freedom of religion?

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  6. I don't see the contradiction. Someone can be inspired and not be perfect, or even good most of the time. It's plainly stated that the Spirit inspired Columbus in order to fulfill God's purposes. It doesn't say he was a completely good man or didn't view the natives as inferior beings just like most/all Europeans did at the time.

    I've heard Pres. Monson give a talk about the inspired Protestant reformers. Doesn't mean they had all true doctrine to say they were inspired. Martin Luther was in many ways a good man and definitely inspired, but also complicit or approving in slaughters of anabaptist reformers whom he viewed as heretical because they were practicing doctrines that were in many ways closer to LDS beliefs than his.

    I don't think LDS people need to be defensive about Christopher Columbus' morality. I think it's just misinterpretation of "inspired." I saw a poster on the recent Alpine District articles in the Herald saying her student heard Columbus was bad at school, and that was her proof that Alpine is part of an America-hating, socialist conspiracy. I think that is poor thinking. The Jewish and Nephite nations were "inspired" and established by God, but lived in sin and apostasy as often as righteousness. Recognizing blemishes in America's past such as racism, Indian slaughter, and governmental corruption, let alone the sins of a Spanish guy who discovered the islands below the country over a century before religious English settlers arrived, isn't anti-patriotic I think.

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  7. (2 Nephi 1:5-7.)


    5 But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord.
    6 Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.
    7 Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever. It took me a good number of years of questioning the book of Mormon to find it's truthfulness. I read this book continually ,completing it in about every two months,The main question I have had is ,what does Joseph Smith have to gain from making this up and why would he tamper with something so great that it could be his demise? If anybody reads this book with the intent of proving it wrong,they cannot.I believe that it is as easy for one to rely on the philosophies of man to misinterpret that which is to be another testament of Jesus Christ.Why would this to so many be a bad thing? This could be opened up for debate, but don't come into a debate armed with the philosophies of man,My Grandfather once told me you can't debate with total ignorance.Get your facts from the source and then we can debate.And If by chance you are right(which your not!) then I have been mislead into a blessed life that I wouldn't trade for any other.

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  8. Utah Teacher, I mostly agree. God can use deeply flawed people to accomplish his plan. Unfortunately, I think many Mormons (and the conventional Christians who believe that Columbus was inspired) err in labeling those given individuals or groups are necessarily "great" people--if not outright canonizing them.

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  9. I did know about Nephi's prophecies of the "New World". Isaiah 29 is another great prophetic proof of the Book of Mormon.

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  10. What Truths are in the book? I don't have a hard on for the Mormon. I just have a problem with religions relying on what they consider empirical truth. Faith requires a gap and not "facts" let alone the facts claimed by Mormons.

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