“Preserve Their Rights and Their Privileges”

Brant Gardner

There are two aspects of the social underpinnings of the Nephite cause of defense. The first is very understandable. They were fighting for their lands and way of life. The second is more interesting because it suggests a religious intolerance that is foreign to historical understandings of Mesoamerican warfare. While the role of the gods in warfare was to show the superiority of the god of the people who conquered, there was not known to be a destruction of the belief-ways of the conquered people. Why do the Nephites fear the destruction of their religion?

We must continually remember the unique linkages between religion and society in the ancient world. In particular, the Nephite socio-religious world is holding out for its egalitarian ideal amidst a world that is increasingly hierarchical, and whose hierarchical society is becoming more and more attractive. With the political domination of the Lamanites, the ruling clans of the Nephites would be deposed, and the religious pressures for egalitarianism would be removed and placed in disfavor. The already present desires of the people in Zarahemla to adopt the hierarchical lifestyle would be allowed to grow, and the adoption of kings and classes would rapidly follow. This process would be the one that destroyed the Nephite religion.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon