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Saturday, October 15, 2005 

I'm not the man you think I am...

We live in a decidedly unheroic age. We know too much. Our political leaders lead uninspiring lives; our sports stars abuse drugs and women nonchalantly. Not only are no new heroes emerging, all our old heroes are quickly falling to Earth. Your personal hero may have been a racist or a womanizer. We have more information than ever, and can share it with the click of a mouse. Gone are the days when we could live in comfortable ignorance about the personal life of, say, Thomas Jefferson.

I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. If anything, it's more healthy to have a realistic view of other human beings and their short-comings. Some people may be inspiring, but if we idolize them too much, they become unreal and remote. This is why I think we need to have a more balanced view of our church leaders, both past and present.

I'm encouraged by the reports I've read of the recent books which have come out on the lives of Joseph Smith, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball. We need to learn about all aspects of the prophets' lives, and not just the faith-promoting stories. I don't think it's healthy for us or the Church to try to elide the parts of our history that make us uncomfortable. Getting this stuff out in the open is enormously helpful in both understanding the past and identifying with the prophets as real people.

Contrast this with the man who I consider to be the least interesting prophet of all time, Nephi. Nephi is boring, two-dimensional, and unreal. He never doubts, never wavers, and never makes a mistake except breaking his bow. I'm sure he had a lot of personal problems that Laman and Lemuel could tell us about, but they didn't get to add a "Republican Response" to the end of 2nd Nephi. Nephi can't be my hero; I can't identify with him. He is a victim of his own propaganda.

I guess I'd rather read about a rough stone rolling than the unremittingly righteous.

Ned, great post! Can I point out how wonderful it is that you identify Laman and Lemuel with the Republicans? Although, in all fairness, the Republicans are much better at the propaganda thing than the Democrats--so, in your account, Nephi should perhaps be the Republican.

While I certainly do appreciate the "kill your idols" thing you're doing, I wonder if perhaps the message is more exactly that we need to have more tempered expectations of our heroes?

On the other hand, many of Nephi's character quirks do come out through his writing. He seems to get angry quickly, to have almost impossible demands of others, and to be a bit #####. You are right that he comes off as a bit of a self-righteous prig. It leads one to wonder why God would have chosen to work through such a man.

I think Nephi was a great guy (he might even be one of my heroes), but it certainly seems like he could be unpleasant. I think that the scriptures are the originators of the warts-and-all approach to religious history.

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Read 2 Nephi 4 lately? The picture Nephi records of himself there is anything but perfect and two-dimensional.

I think Nephi is worthy of being looked to as a hero because he didn't give a rat's, um, tail about being popular with anyone but God. By 2 Nephi 4 though he realizes (at least in retrospect) that his zeal is only acceptable to God up to a point... Overzealousness is a sin of its own and he seems to realize that and feel genuine remorse for it in the "psalm of Nephi".

Ned, I recently posted similar feelings here. I understand that you're not putting Nephi down, per se, just that he's really hard to relate to and that you are more inspired by others. I agree.

Where did I read this:

"Nephi was of such exceedingly good report that perhaps it would have been best if the report has been written by someone else."

Wayne & Garth did "We're not worthy!" more convincingly than Nephi did...

I should have linked to Rusty's blog in the original post as he was inspiration for my musings on Nephi.

Geoff, you're right that I had forgotten about 2 Nephi 4. That chapter does make him more human, but in my book it's still too little, too late. I'm sure he was a great guy, but it is just too hard to make yourself the hero of your own story.

Ann-- Hilarious. I love it.

John-- I like your idea that Nephi's faults are disguised as virtues; maybe I should be reading more critically.

RT-- I agree completely with your summary: "we need to have more tempered expectations of our heroes."


If you end up in the Celestial Kingdom, like me, I am going to kick your ass! Call me boring will you? I got your boring right here! Boom, POW!

I agree that Nephi is boring. But at least for me it's not because he is without exception righteous. Enos Abinadi and John the Baptist don't really show weakness at all and yet they always seemed say and do the right things in the scriptures. Jesus himself never sinned and yet is the most fascinating figure I've ever read about.

Rather Nephi has no, as we might say, personality. Jesus had ten times the personality that Nephi had. In Nephi you get the ending before the story, the ultimate resolution before you can really feel the conflict. The bow is broken. Murmuring ensues, which is a perfect indication that some miracle involving Nephi is going to make everything right! Nephi said God would provide and lo and behold God provides. Great human being, boring story.

Abinadi? When you're cunning enough to make 'master-of-disguise' a part of the prophetic calling, you've got enough spark to make a great story. The story of Abinadi is one of multiple conflicts flying in all different directions--Abinadi and Noah; Noah and his priests; Alma and Alma's life as Noah's stooge; Abinadi and the threat of death. That's a great prophet and a great story.

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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