Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Lehite Culture

August 11th, 2011 by G.

I read from Donald Kagan’s On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace last night. Nothing cheers you up quite like reading about hideous wars that could have been easily prevented with a mote of resolution and a troy ounce of planning.

In the Hannibal section, Kagan discurses a little bit on Rome’s foreign policy tendencies. Specifically he argues that the Roman patron-client relationship deeply influenced how Rome understood foreign affairs. They thought of their allies as their “clients” and often acted accordingly, both in bossing them around but also in feeling morally bound to protect them even if the clients were at fault. This insight illuminated aspects of Roman history for me that had been previously been dark. For instance, until later in its history, the Roman Empire was not technically one state. Instead, it was formally and juridically a system of alliances in which Rome took the leading role (hence all the confusing stuff in the bible about Pilate and Herod Whatshisnamia and all that). In other words, Rome made the whole Mediterranean world its clients.

The West has cultural tendencies in war and diplomacy too, most of which we probably take for granted. Victor Davis Hanson has made the argument about the Western way of war. Multiple scholars have pointed out how unique the Westphalian system is. There is even a good argument that the Anglosphere culture includes a distinctly traceable Anglosphere approach to warmaking and grand strategy that the United States and Britain have both shared. Think how odd it would be for a stranger to read about Western demands for unconditional surrender followed by deliberate efforts to remake and free the surrendered society. Even the actions of the totalitarian USSR in forming the Warsaw Pact out of its puppet states are hard to understand outside the Western context.

I’ve read some decent scholarship about Lehite (Book of Mormon warfare and diplomacy) in light of Meso-American culture and internal clues from the Book of Mormon. You can’t just assume that the Book of Mormon peoples in war and peace were up to exactly the same thing we’re up to when our countries fight and when our countries negotiate.

This morning I read chapter 2 of Mormon. The last two verses are about a treaty between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The details of the treaty stick out.

And in the three hundred and fiftieth year we made a treaty with the Lamanites and the robbers of Gadianton, in which we did get the lands of our inheritance divided.

And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward. And we did give unto the Lamanites all the land southward.

How odd. I can easily imagine a treaty in which the powers recognize each others claims to certain territory, or in which a defeated power gives the victor some land. But what to make of a treaty where the victor “gives” the defeated power the land the defeated power continues to occupy? One could conceive of a power so arrogant that it claimed that everything already belonged to it, but then why would the power allow other nations to give it land that it believed it already owned? Imagine a Versailles Treaty where the Allies graciously donate the German territory to the Weimar Republic and in return the Weimar Republic cedes the North American landmass to the United States. Imagine that, and you’ll see how odd this treaty is. Cultural assumptions and practices that we don’t share are clearly at play. Wherever we may be in the Book of Mormon, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Comments (2)
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August 11th, 2011 11:41:03

August 11, 2011

I find curious how the people of Zeniff were subjected to odious taxes and other indignities by the Lamanites, but it seemed not to have occurred to the Lamanites to disarm them.

August 11, 2011

Vader: maybe the Lamanites did disarm the people of Zeniff, and it just took a while to construct new weapons.

Adam: the past few years have been a great awakening for me in terms of the mostly invisible but pervasive and deep nature of “cultural assumptions” as I’ve interacted with my elderly African friend who joined the church.

He’s educated in Western culture, but still somehow lives and thinks a primitive (to us) African culture. He’s college-educated, well-spoken, multi-lingual, and participates very well in church classes.

But the lenses through which he views the world, and his cultural assumptions that I’ve observed or figured out, are not Western. The cultural gulf is wider and deeper than I had imagined any such gulf could be.

It’s an amazing, shocking, but sometimes beautiful contrast to observe how people can be so different, yet at some level, possess the qualities of humanity (both divine qualities, and those of fallen man) that all children of God have in common.

I served a mission in Ecuador, and the mission covered the whole gamut of socio-economic classes including an almost subsistence level. Since I had served among the poorest-of-the-poor, I thought I understood or was at least exposed to all “levels” or “areas” of humanity.

But now I realize that I didn’t, and still don’t. Even the poorest-of-the-poor in Ecuador have a _Western_ culture mindset.

Getting to know my African friend has given me a new understanding of the BoM phrase “traditions of their fathers”.

I forget if it was here, or on another blog, something about how the human mind can’t conceive of that which it has neither experienced or considered on it’s own. If there is no cubby-hole to put a new piece of information, the information is just not received or processed at all. Different cultures have different cubby-holes, different systems of cubby-holes, and different methodologies of using cubby-holes.

The Lord commands us in the D&C to become familiar with “nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.” I now have a little better understanding that that covers a wider scope than I had previously thought.

The gospel is indeed universal. It transcends our Western culture. In fact, the gospel was not introduced to a “Western” culture in any of the previous dispensations. It is only in this dispensation in which Western culture sort of became the repository or custodian of it, tasked with taking it to other cultures, ie., nations, kindreds, tongues and people.

The learning process to take the gospel to non-Western cultures has been a long one. The church only made a small dent in Asian cultures. We’re just a speck in the culture of India so far, with much more learning to go. We’ve been in Africa since 1978, more or less. But even there, we’ve relied on the work of European missionaries (and in essence European colonizers who brought the missionaries) to prepare or “Westernize” Africa to the point where they could receive us and understand us, and grasp the paradigm of a Christian religion.

Up until “Preach My Gospel” was issued, the standard missionary lessons assumed a basic Western-culture understanding of Christianity. In my opinion, even PMG has farther to go in order to make a better penetration into the cultures of the Middle East, South Asia (India), and the Far East (China.)

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