“That They Might Worship God According to Their Desires”

Brant Gardner

The Nephites are unquestionably motivated by defending their lives, their property, and their way of life. But they also desire to preserve their right to “worship God” as they wish. This second reason is more interesting because religious intolerance is foreign to anthropological reconstructions of Mesoamerican warfare. While it went without saying that the winning army had demonstrated the superiority of its god over the god of the conquered people, there is no firm evidence that the conquerors tried to destroy their subjects’ belief-ways. Why, then, did the Nephites fear the destruction of their religion?

The Nephite socio-religious world was defending its egalitarian ideal in an increasingly hierarchical (and increasing attractive) world. If the Lamanites won, the Nephite ruling clans would be deposed. Religious pressures for egalitarianism would be actively discouraged. The Zarahemlaites’ persistent desire to adopt a hierarchical lifestyle would grow; kings and a class of nobles were only a step away. This process would destroy the egalitarian Nephite religion. And in fact, not long before the Messiah’s arrival, this process destroyed the Nephite nation.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4