Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The Military Mental Model of Mormonism

August 31st, 2015 by MC

While once trying to explain to a non-Mormon friend why missionaries had such a strict dress code, I talked about showing respect for others, about norms of economic equality between rich and poor missionaries, but none of it seemed to register. Finally I said, “Look, becoming a missionary is like joining the Army. They have a collective goal, and everything is focused on that goal, to the point where things that you might otherwise find bothersome really don’t matter. If you are so concerned about individuality that you resent having to wear a uniform, then you are probably out of place there.” That made sense to him.

That sparked a years-long reflection on my part about how many aspects of Christianity in general, and Mormonism in particular, make more sense if you remember the words of the hymn, “We are all enlisted ’til the conflict is o’er.” As I’ll explain in more detail below, points of doctrine or Church history that might be troubling and confusing become less so when one realizes that we are in a spiritual war.

This post was originally going to be titled “The Military Metaphor of Mormonism,” but it dawned on me that our ancient and latter-day prophets, when they speak of spiritual war, or battle, or of “hosts” or angels, never intended it as a metaphor. We ARE in a war, with real combatants and real stakes. The fact that it is a spiritual war rather than a physical one does not make it any less real. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matt. 10:28. So it’s really a “military mental model,” by which I mean that if you are in a war, you must think of it as such. War introduces contingencies and complications that result in a different moral calculus than that of peacetime.

There is a competing mental model of Mormonism, which has its own legitimate reasons for existing, and which is probably more popular than the military model. I’ll refer to it as the “schoolhouse model.” This is the mental model in which mortality is sort of like a giant high school where we are primarily here for self-improvement, and where the ultimate goal is to get good grades and hopefully be one of 50 million or so people tied for valedictorian. Follow instructions properly, and failure is basically impossible.

I’ll briefly summarize some differences between the military and schoolhouse models.

In the military model:

  • there is one overarching goal (“Win the war”), and all other goals are subservient to the first
  • what we are commanded to do can change on a dime depending on shifting circumstances, even from one action to its exact opposite
  • we have a duty to subordinate individual needs and desires to our mission
  • the actions of others, whether enemies or allies, can frustrate our accomplishment of our war aims without regard to fairness
  • that goes double for dumb luck, good or bad
  • principal question: “What is our mission and how do we accomplish it?”

In the schoolhouse model:

  • we are taught many things, but only tested on the really important ones
  • goals are highly specific and spelled out years in advance, and it’s very unlikely that they will change between matriculation and graduation
  • grades are individual, everyone has an equal opportunity to get an A
  • we are graded only on our individual merits, and in fact “effort” often plays a bigger role in our grades than does our actual learning
  • “bad luck” barely even exists; if you’ve put in the effort, the teacher will allow you to make up that test you missed when your bus was late, and grades can be minutely finessed student-by-student for reasons of fairness
  • principal question: “Will this be on the test?”

Yes, I’m stacking the deck here against the schoolhouse model. I concede that it exists because there is some truth to it. We are here on Earth partly to learn and to be “tested.” All of us depend on a merciful Teacher to bump us up one or two or seventy letter grades in the final judgment. And the two mental models are not entirely mutually exclusive. Even the military has schools, after all.

But the schoolhouse model is inadequate on its own. As I noted above, there are lots of aspects of Mormonism that simply make more sense in the military model. I will list some below, and where necessary I’ll point out where the schoolhouse model comes up short.

1) Why would the commandments change over time?

The military model differentiates between commandments that are essential to the Gospel, like loving your neighbor, and those that are based on contingent circumstances that vary over time. Let’s take the Word of Wisdom as an example. Should it trouble us that temple attendance depends on adherence to the Word of Wisdom, while at the same time the scriptures contain multiple references to Christ and his disciples drinking wine?

A Mormon adhering to the schoolhouse model might say that, you know, based on this one Greek translation that I can’t possibly understand because I don’t read Ancient Greek, it was really just fresh grape juice that Christ was drinking (surely you’ve heard that one before, right?). After all, it would be unfair to give a poor grade to a Latter-Day Saint for failing to follow a commandment that Christ Himself did not follow, given that He got straight A’s. The other extreme (schoolhouse dropout?) would be to say that obviously the WofW can’t be very important if Christ didn’t follow it.

The military model resolves the problem by noting that just because a commandment is specific to our time and place does not mean it isn’t vitally important. Terrain changes, enemies change tactics, and what was vitally important to the mission yesterday becomes detrimental today. In the case of the WofW, it seems to me that the advent of the Industrial Revolution made it far, far easier for the average person to indulge his addictions. How much Bud Light could an Ancient Israelite produce with only an hour’s labor? The fact is, none of us know precisely why the WofW is emphasized in the latter days, but there’s no reason to assume that because it hasn’t always been thus emphasized, it isn’t a “real” commandment.

2) What is the value of obedience to priesthood leaders, when we all know they make mistakes? If I disagree with them, and I’m pretty sure I’m right based on the scriptures, etc., why am I expected to obey?

Take an unquestionably great military leader, such as George Washington. Did he make mistakes? Of course. Did that in any way reduce his authority to command his troops? Of course not. Now, a priesthood leader may act in a manner so completely out of line with the Gospel that it becomes sinful to obey him. The same is true of military leaders, who may be acting outside their lawful authority. In either case, mere disagreement is not a sufficient grounds for insubordination. By all means counsel with leaders, but the mistakes are theirs to make unless they violate God’s law.

3) Am I really going to be kept out of heaven for drinking coffee/wearing a bikini/watching vulgar movies? Is God really that uptight?

In the schoolhouse model, this is a coherent complaint, because in the schoolhouse model the requirements (i.e., commandments), exist essentially for the purpose of grading (i.e., judging) one student against the rest. “Come on, I did every other assignment and got A’s all the way across. You’re going to fail me for this?”

But in the military model it’s a silly question. “I’m really going to get killed for not wearing my helmet during our transport to the base?” Maybe you will, maybe you won’t; depends whether you get attacked along the way or hit a roadside bomb. The rule is there to protect you, not to evaluate you. There will likely be many bikini-wearers in the Kingdom of Heaven (well, former bikini-wearers). But not everyone who makes the choice to dress immodestly will find that decision to be so free of spiritual consequences, as “way leads on to way.”

It’s not fair. One guy never wears his helmet and never gets hit. The other takes it off just for a second to wipe his sweat and takes a bullet. That’s war.


I have many more examples, but they’ll have to wait for a part two because it’s late and I have a job. Feel free to offer your own in the comments. Just one note in conclusion:

Maybe the biggest strength of the military model is how it explains aspects of the gospel that in a non-martial context might be unjust. War justifies all kinds of uncomfortable accommodations with reality. A perceived weakness of the military model could be that it justifies too much, that everything becomes permissible so long as you justify it as part of the war effort. I’ll only point out that no serious moral philosopher contends that everything is permissible in war, and of course the same goes for spiritual warfare. War complicates the moral calculus, it does not obviate it. In fact, it is the schoolhouse model that attempts to remove complicated moral calculus by reducing salvation to instruction-following; just follow the syllabus, complete the reading assignments, come to the voluntary review sessions, and you’ll pass.

And if all of this talk of “contingencies” has you wondering if I think we could lose our spiritual war in the end, let me say, with apologies to Hilaire Belloc,

Whatever happens, we have got
The Holy Ghost, and they have not.

Comments (35)
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August 31st, 2015 06:15:41

August 31, 2015

Wonderful throughout.

I’ve always likened missionary work to being a monastic, which has also made sense to people.

Another key distinction between the models: in the schoolhouse, you can afford to leave no child behind. Create special classes for the slow or disruptive or whatever. But in the military, you can’t. You have to cut people and expel people because the unit can’t afford to much deadweight. Triage comes to the fore.

August 31, 2015

It seems like this applies to Christianity in general, not just the LDS.

The military model can’t be followed by a lot of people. Demanding people who can’t follow it, to follow it, is cruel and destructive. Anyone who can, should, to whatever extent they can.

The school house model degenerates pretty quickly though into “satisfactory” and “needs improvement” but nobody fails, nobody even gets a C.

August 31, 2015

This is great, Matthias. My only critique of the military model is that if it follows the way we fight wars in real life, it can lead us to dehumanize those we esteem to be the enemy, which really may not be a weakness if we are clear that our enemy is Satan, not our fellow travelers in this life. To the extent that we esteem our brothers and sisters to be our enemies in the spiritual warfare that wages, we must temper that military model with a healthy does of “love your enemies” and have frequent moments like Sam’s moment in LOTR when he sees the dead soldier from Harad and is reminded of his humanity and essential kinship with all men, regardless of how circumstances have made them enemies. Or maybe we could say that there are many, many, non-combatants in this fight that are used by the enemy. In any case, the military model has many strengths, but we should not allow it to let us become more comfortable with the idea of bloodshed, even solely as metaphor. There are enough examples in the scriptures of men like Moroni who are successful in military exploits, but who nevertheless do not delight in bloodshed that we should be able to use this model without it degenerating into something worse.

August 31, 2015

Also, your explanation of changing rules under the military model–didn’t Elder Maxwell used to use that same analogy to talk about the difference between strategic revelation, and tactical revelation?

August 31, 2015

“All models are wrong, but some are useful”

The problem is, both models are true and to a degree, we are some blind wise men examining an elephant. We just don’t want to mistake the model for the real thing.

August 31, 2015

@JKC, it looks like there was an interview with Hugh Hewitt where Elder Maxwell discussed the concept. There is also this quote directed at teachers preparing for a class:

“Staying close to the strategic scriptures does not diminish the role of tactical revelation which can guide the teacher”


Good contribution to the thread.

August 31, 2015

The Word of Wisdom is an interesting example. It was originally given not by way of commandment, and the revelation specifically cites conditions in our day as a reason for it.

Of course, we are now like the Prince of Dol Amroth, who regarded Aragorn as his king whether he claimed the crown or not, and who regarded his counsel as command.

I wonder if the caravan model is a suitable fusion of the correct elements of the military model and the schoolhouse model. The caravan protects its women, old men, and children, teaches the latter, does not look for a fight, but does not ignore that there are bandits about.

August 31, 2015

Nice, Vader. Nice. I actually think Tolkien’s writings are collectively, one of the better, more balanced, statements about war and the proper response to it that we have in English.

August 31, 2015

Of course, I guess this also just begs the further question of what kind of military, right? I mean, are we retainers to a medieval lord, are we conscripts, are we the highly regulated U.S. army of the early 20th century, are we crusader knights, are we members of a citizen militia, or are we independent warriors who just decide to join with a particular commander for a given battle or campaign? None of the above? Some of the above?

Bruce Charlton
August 31, 2015

I think that the war metaphor is not-wrong but nonetheless problematic for Mormons, since it fits better a win-lose type of Christianity corresponding to salvation-damnation (eg Evangelical Protestantism) – whereas Mormonism regards salvation as mostly ‘done’ (because most people are assumed to go to Heaven, in one of its degrees) and the real business of life is focused upon spiritual progression.

But spiritual progression does not really fit the schoolroom metaphor either – because life is not like a curriculum with exams, not least because each human life is unique and meant to be unique; and because we are clearly ‘set up to fail’ (due to a combination of innate weaknesses, bad luck and bad environments) in much of life. Repentance, not will power, is our one absolutely indispensable tool.

Indeed, I don’t think that spiritual progression, theosis, divinization fits closely with anything in our earthly experience – rather it requires imagination (‘subcreation’ in Tolkien’s term) to know what we are aiming for; what we should be trying to do.

Bruce Charlton
August 31, 2015

BTW I do consider we are at war, in the sense that Christians are having war waged upon us (by Satan etc); so perhaps this can be conceptualized as a defensive war with the aim of survival – to win is to survive, with fewest possible casualties and minimal damage etc.

August 31, 2015

G and Thrasymachus,

Both of your initial comments raise points that were already on my list for Part 2, so you clearly grasp the overall concept that I am trying to convey.

August 31, 2015


Thanks for the tip about Elder Maxwell’s talk, I wasn’t familiar with it. “Strategic” and “Tactical” commandments is a good shorthand for the point I was trying to make in # 1.

As far as “what kind of military,” it may vary based on the context. We have one hymn for “crusader knights” (“Onward, Christian Soldiers”), and one for a “citizen militia” (“Up, Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion”). One may be more appropriate for missionaries going on “offense” to save souls, and another for those of us defending our homes from evil influence.

August 31, 2015


In a future installment I’m going to discuss how the military model influences our views about non-Mormons or backsliders, etc., which is bound up in the concept of eternal progression and degrees of glory.

For now, let me say that I agree with Zen that no mental model expresses the complete truth, and the military model is no exception. But I do think there are situations where it is just about the only one that works. The narrative of eternal progression is a true one, but with our limited human understanding can lead us to procrastinate the day of our repentance. This is the old tradeoff between speaking of mercy and justice, which does tend toward zero-sum thinking. Mormon doctrine of eternal progression squares the mercy/justice circle better than any other. But if someone had told me when I was in high school or college that the reason I needed to obey the law of chastity was because violating it would retard my spiritual progress by some indeterminate time period on an eternal timescale, well…let’s just say I was better off being warned that “Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” For young people, the will to follow the commandments requires some of the urgency and imminency that the military model provides.

Of course, young manhood is probably the time in life in which one is most responsive to martial values, hence my desire to name the hypothetical Mormon scouts after the Nauvoo Legion.

Hilaire Belloc
August 31, 2015

“Whatever happens, we have got
The Holy Ghost, and they have not.”

I’m Hilaire Belloc, and I approve this message.

September 1, 2015

MC, urgency is a huge strength of this way of thinking about the gospel.

September 1, 2015

You’re probably right that the kind of military friend on context. On further reflection, though, I think I would go with the retainers model, of only because I’ve concluded in the past that the only way to really make sense of the oath and covenant of the priesthood is to see it as an oath of fealty.

Jacob G.
September 3, 2015

Just because essentially everybody will be saved doesn’t mean that we do not take spiritual death (and degree of that death) seriously. Just like our belief in the resurrection does not make us ignore risks or consider health care to be a waste of effort. Coming alive again spiritually speaking is a very wrenching process – do not take this lightly.
Also, I hold that the assignations of the kingdom of glory are final upon the resurrection, so there is alive and then there is ALIVE. Otherwise we would either not be eternal beings, or not have meaningful ability to choose. IMHO in this life we have an amazing ability to learn (be ignorant), change course and grow, that just won’t be there in the hereafter. Our mortal bodies are optimized to that (and needing each other) whereas our eternal bodies are optimized to being perfect.

T. Greer
September 4, 2015

It is interesting to me to examine when military metaphors are and are not used in scriptural contexts.

I’ve noticed that those who use them are almost entirely men who never fought in war. The Pauline and especially the Deutero-Pauline epistles love soldiery metaphors. Likewise, Joseph Smith was also partial to them.

Mormon, on the other hand, rarely uses them. Of the hundreds of pages of text he has written you can count on two hands the number of explicit comparisons he draws between aspects of war and aspects of the gospel (ala the Pauline armor of God metaphor). Moroni likewise shies away from martial language. The author in the Book of Mormon most likely to use it is Nephi, who reputedly led his people in battle–though the scale of those battles could not have exceeded raids and counter raids seen in hunter-gatherer and primitive agricultural societies in modern times.

It is telling that those who experienced warfare on the largest, most horrid scales did not want to compare the gospel mission with anything like what they had experienced in war.

September 4, 2015

I don’t think its that clear cut. Mormon/Moroni may not have used many military metaphors, but they devoted a lot of text to Captain Moroni and his wars.

T. Greer
September 4, 2015

They did, but I do not think their intent was metaphorical–or at least no more than their descriptions of kingships and elections and secret combinations were. Mormon especially is keen to draw explicit lessons from history, and he quite frankly tell us things like “thus we see” wicked kings can corrupt their people, republican leaders will be no more righteous than the societies that elevate them to power, and so forth. Mormon was interested in how righteousness, charity, pride, and wickedness affected entire societies. While one work can map something like the ‘pride cycle’ onto individual lives, it is quite clear from context that it didn’t occur to Mormon to use it that way. So too with war–for Mormon a natural consequence of pride and unrighteous dominion, and something that will inevitably happen whenever society becomes too enamored with either.

This was Mormon’s project. He couldn’t do it honestly without examining what righteous political, military, and ecclesiastical leadership in times of crisis looked like. Moroni’s project was different, and he spends far less of his space on such topics.

September 4, 2015

That, but not just that. He certainly treated war as a venue for heroic and righteous action. He named his son after Captain Moroni, for pete’s sake.

Bottom line: military metaphors have a respected role in the scripture, and the military writers in scripture don’t seem to have an unequivocally negative reaction to warmaking.

September 5, 2015

According to Josephus, Moses successfully led the armies of Egypt in war, and he wasn’t exactly averse to military allusion:


T. Greer
September 6, 2015

Mormon treated life as a venue for heroic and righteous action. War was for him and his people was an unavoidable part of life. It was not chosen by them–and what is not chosen must be endured with perfect hope, charity, and faith. This is one of his great messages–that even in something as terrible as war virtue and faith can find its place and lead to the election of those who must, to defend their homes, their families, and their God, wage it. Contrariwise, those wretched souls who allow the manifest evil and cruelty of war to make them cruel and evil people have little hope for redemption.

This discussion has stirred within me the desire to reread the BoM and to see just what Mormon sees as the proper metaphor for our existence on this Earth. Nephi’s was a rod of iron and a gleaming tree. Alma’s was clearly slavery and redemption from it. Mormon is a bit harder. I am tempted to say that the experience he considered the most fitting parallel to our individual journey through mortality was the travails, triumphs, and mission of an evangelist. “The mission as a metaphor for life” is another common one in the Church, and of the three suggested here I think it is probably the one Mormon would be most comfortable with.

But I will have to read a bit more before to state this with strong conviction.

None of this detracts from the point–“military metaphors have a respected role in the scripture” is a true statement. The Doctrine and Covenants is full of martial language and military metaphors, and I believe Joseph Smith when he says the sentiments expressed there are the Lord’s. What higher authority can we get?

T. Greer
September 6, 2015


I concede that Moses is an example contrary to my point, and I don’t think you need cite Josephus to prove it. The Pentateuch is full of his successful battles. I’m inclined to interpret the Song of Moses quite literally though. Moses knew that “The Lord is a man of war” because, as he explains:

“Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone.

Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.

And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble.

And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.

The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.

Likewise, he could state in full confidence that [none] “is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods. Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” Because he knew that with the Lord’s help:

“The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.

Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.

Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be as still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over, which thou hast purchased.

And this is indeed exactly what happened. No metaphor needed–and certainly no metaphor about our individual role in this world, or the broader purpose of mortality and salvation.

T. Greer
September 6, 2015

The martial metaphor for the Plan of Salvation has some strong merits. As MC points out, quite convincingly, I think, it explains the role of commandments and their evolution through time perfectly. MC doesn’t emphasize this quite as much, but another strong merit of this model is its focus on the collective. A test score is an individual endeavor; a battle is a communal one. Christ paid for our sins individually, but he demands that we be exalted in communities. The scriptures ring with the sacred missions and shared salvation of entire peoples, cities, and brotherhoods. This conception of salvation and exaltation is not a part of the school yard model, but it is implicit in the martial one.

But the martial model also has several drawbacks, many of them severe. In no particular order:

1) War is an act of destruction. Those who wage war do all they can to kill, harm, maim, break, and destroy. This is not what we are commanded to do. We are commanded to heal, shelter, mend, and build. This last one is particularly important, because (like warfare) it is an inherently collective action. We are to build. Build families, build wards, build Zion. Neither the university nor the battlefield model adequately explains why this is so critical an imperative. And neither metaphor shines much light on how to go about doing it either.

2) War is not senseless, nor it is endless. War is the application of pain and violence to achieve specific political objectives. It is bargaining–communication through violent means. This is not at all what our human life is like. Satan cannot be bargained with. We cannot go on the offensive against him, we cannot destroy his angels nor conquer his realm. We cannot raise the costs of further action until fighting on his part is no longer worth it; he isn’t a political actor who can be coerced to do our will or defer to our wishes through any effort or intimidation on our part.

In this he and his servants are more like a flood or a rising tide than a hoard of armed men. You can strengthen the levies, build taller dikes, post guards to watch for signs of stress or breakdown with unceasing vigilance–but you cannot attack, coerce, or bargain with a wave. You can only protect and defend yourself–and your community–from it.

You can get around this by narrowing the scope of the metaphor from ‘war’ to ‘battle’, the aim of battle being victory, and other, higher aims often forgotten in the purely tactical maneuvers of the day’s actions. The drawback of this scaled down version of the martial metaphor is that it loses much of the explanatory power of the original: tactics (i.e. commandments) appropriate for one battle are often inappropriate tactics for another, but only rarely do they change between the start and end of any individual battle.

3) If life is a war, where is the battlefield? Is it all of society? Our wards? Our families? Individual souls? The trouble with the first option (and for similar reasons the next two) is that it easily obscures who the true enemy is. We know, of course, in our heads, that the enemy of Satan and his legions. But when society is the battlefield it seems that it is not they, but the humans they have deceived, who war against us. These men and women oppose us in the most literal sense of the word. Yet in a spiritual sense they oppose no one as much as themselves. The enemy is not them, but those who have ensnared them. Alma made this same point in his rebuke of Zeezrom:

his plan was a very subtle plan, as to the subtlety of the devil, for to lie and to deceive this people that thou mightest set them against us, to revile us and to cast us out—Now this was a plan of thine adversary, and he hath exercised his power in thee.

Zeezrom’s adversary was not Alma and Almulek, the men who opposed him in word and deed, but the devil who had corrupted and hardened his own soul. I’m inclined to adopt Alma’s view. The most important battlefield is within us. But here again the metaphor loses much of its explanatory power. The struggle for a soul is a battle fought within individuals. This is a battlefield that armies cannot march to. The communal vision that makes the martial metaphor so compelling in the first place is not applicable here.

I hope none of that sounds too harsh–I think the military model has its uses, and thank MC for writing such a thankful post. But I am rather fond of the university model. Its problems are no worse than the martial model’s when both are given equal scrutiny.

September 6, 2015

T. Greer,

I see some useful points of agreement here, and I appreciate you doing me the credit of taking these ideas seriously. Here are a few points in response:

1) As I mentioned in the original post, I don’t really think of the military model as primarily metaphorical, so when you say that Mormon and Moses’ writings focused more on actual rather than metaphorical war, I don’t draw the same conclusions that you do. It reminds me a bit of Martin Short’s speech from “The Three Amigos”:

“In a way, all of us has an El Guapo to face. For some, shyness might be their El Guapo. For others, a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us. But as sure as my name is Lucky Day, the people of Santa Poco can conquer their own personal El Guapo, who also happens to be *the actual* El Guapo!”

So we could say that all of us has a personal spiritual battle to fight. In Mormon and Moses’ case, their spiritual battles also happened to be **actual** battles. To me it seems like a seamless garment.

2) While I see the point about not being commanded to destroy, I don’t agree that “building” is incongruous with the military model. The more advanced and prosperous a civilization becomes, the more it has to lose, and the more measures it takes to defend itself against invasion. City walls and castles are *built* not by weak civilizations, but strong ones.

Even your citation of the command to “build Zion” fits right in with the military model. For example, in Isaiah 54, the command to “enlarge the place” of Zion’s tent, and “strengthen thy stakes,” is followed a few verses later by the promise that “whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake,” and “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” Building Zion means defending Zion.

And as distasteful as it might sound to modern ears, even building a family can have a military purpose: “The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me.” Isaiah 49:1-2. Our latter-day prophets urge us to have as many children as we can properly raise. They will become an army for good.

3) The fact that Satan cannot be bargained with does not make it any less of a war. The Book of Joshua is evidence enough that not every war ends with a treaty.

4) I agree that “The struggle for a soul is a battle fought within individuals,” but I completely disagree that “This is a battlefield that armies cannot march to.” The idea that our spiritual struggles are fought entirely within ourselves is one of the greatest weaknesses of the schoolhouse model.

Why do military leaders speak of winning “hearts and minds?” Don’t we do the same? Someday, when my kids are old enough, there will be a battle raging in the soul of each of them, but *they will not be fighting it alone*. I am a warrior in that battle. Their church leaders are combatants. The Holy Ghost is a combatant. And to the extent that there are people who do the bidding of Satan by bringing temptations to our doorstep, they are part of an enemy army.

You raise an important point about how the military model needs to account for those who are fighting against us because they are deceived, which is most of them. But I already intended to address that in a future installment, so I’ll leave it until then.

September 7, 2015

Another benefit of the military mental model: who cares about school? I mean, sure, learning is good, but is there an obligation to learn? If it’s really just for our own good, why can’t we opt out, no harm, no foul? And isn’t the Church just a study group?

Self-improvement is masturbation, etc.

September 8, 2015

Men and especially young men do find it invigorating to be part of the shield wall. And there is something immensely clarifying and relieving to look around at the wreckage of life, even of your own life, and realize that a lot of it is due to enemy action. There are also real spiritual dangers and narrowed perspectives that come from it.

On the subject of ‘building’ as opposed to ‘fighting.’ My general thought, which doesn’t really bear on the specific question of whether there should be a contemporary Mormon military metaphor mindset or not, is that destruction is always an element of order. It doesn’t appear just to be something solely derived from entropy and therefore from mortality either. Depending on how universalist you are, heaven is built on failure and damnation. At minimum, heaven is built on the vast suffering of Christ.

September 23, 2015

My apologies. I am a soldier and some of you might find my take too literal.

@BC, wrt a defensive war: at the tactical level, defenses are only conducted in order to disrupt the enemy’s tempo and regain the initiative; one conducts a defense only until he is ready to go back on the offense. I remember once discussing as a group what John meant when he said that Christ had overcome the world and how we might also overcome it. Many of the responses encouraged an insular approach, to protect one’s family from immoral influences, etc. I took it from a literal standpoint: if you and I were in physical combat, to overcome you would not mean to find a good place to hide, it would mean taking you by the throat and controlling you. Christ conquered death and hell, which means he didn’t just keep them out of Heaven, but actually subjugated them and gained the power to use them for his will. I think this has important implications for the culture wars. Christianity’s response to the encroachment of immorality in society’s institutions cannot be merely to opt out and find a better place to hide, it must be a withdrawl with a plan to find higher ground, and advance in surprising ways that exploit the enemy’s weaknesses.

@MC: The military metaphor provides an interesting corollary to the plenipotent God. I’ve always seen God’s (and Satan’s) greatest power being to influence men’s hearts. Sometimes I kind of imagined a sort of Foosball game between God and Satan with all of us exercising free will to decide which side to take orders from. The importance of the military metaphor is that since God cannot directly interfere with some or most of the affairs of men, he relies on his own perfect prescience to coordinate the actions of men and the effects are often only seen in the aggregate, in the same way that soldiers follow orders while not always seeing the tactical or strategic outcome.

Put another way, I see the plenipotent God inspiring a butterfly to flap its wings in South America, resulting in an increase of baptisms in Norway, all the result of various positive human interactions and heeding of the Spirit. If some events on this Earth lie outside God’s ability to influence them, then the necessity for man to heed the spirit and to do so as part of a team is not merely important for our own salvation (in which case it could be dismissed as a personal issue), but actually necessary to execute the Plan of Salvation at the collective level. It creates the inter-dependency of “We cannot be saved without them, nor they without us.”

The mililtary metaphor also better explains why it’s so important to identify the dissenters and turn-coats as such. In an academic setting, tolerance and open-mindedness are the pinnacle achievement, and the desire to not offend and to be inclusive are definitely being exploited by OW, By Common Consent, etc. The military metaphor explains exactly why allegiances must be made clear, “That he which hath no stomach for this fight, Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse: We would not die in that man’s company That fears his fellowship to die with us.”

September 24, 2015

No need to apologize, James. Your comments are always welcome, especially if of that caliber.

Meg Stout
November 6, 2015

As someone who works for the military, I have often thought that people who disagree with the Church just don’t get that it’s about a God who leads His people in an organization that resembles a military organization.

Great way to put this!

[…] of the most important bloggernacle posts I’ve ever read is “The Military Mental Model of Mormonism.” In it, MC contrasts two models of Mormonism, the military model and the school house model. […]

Spiritual Warfare
November 29, 2016

[…] about war? One of the best explanations of this comes from one of my all-time favorite blog posts: The Military Mental Model of Mormonism. In it, MC explains precisely why viewing the conflict as a war is practically relevant in our […]

November 29, 2016

Just re-read this excellent post and comments again, as I have done before.

“MC doesn’t emphasize this quite as much, but another strong merit of this model is its focus on the collective. A test score is an individual endeavor; a battle is a communal one. Christ paid for our sins individually, but he demands that we be exalted in communities. The scriptures ring with the sacred missions and shared salvation of entire peoples, cities, and brotherhoods. ”

Right on.

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