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We learn in Mosiah 9:1 that Zeniff (the father of King Noah) was originally a Nephite spy.

I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi [the Lamanite equivalent of Zarahemla] . . . and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùbut when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed.

I was particularly struck by this verse last night; particularly all that followed the em dash. It made me ponder how society often leads to a group of people being labelled a bad or evil or less righteous than everyone else. When this does happen, it seems to get to the point where it is inconceivable that anyone from this group could be capable of anything redemptive. One only has to go so far as colonialism or slavery to see this.

That being said, I wonder though if society does the same things to criminals. Not long ago, for example, two individuals were charged with fraud here in Lethbridge. The local daily newspaper wrote an editorial on how these guys were inherently bad. One of them I knew personally, and this sort of statement was incorrect. Did this person do something bad? Certainly? Was he absolutely bad? No. I don’t think (especially in this case) that anyone who commits a crime is automatically bad.

A couple of years ago, the Baron of Deseret posted about the definition of evil and its relationship to Hitler. One of the readers left a comment saying that Hitler was less than human. I responded as follows:

I am not so quick to say he absolutely acted in a way that made him less than human.

Was he less than human when he created beautiful drawings? Was he less than human when he managed to win two Iron Cross medals? Was he less than human when he kissed Eva?

I acknowledge that Hitler did many atrocious things, but I am very wary of labelling him as being inherently evil or even less than a human. Such a sentiment was the foundation of slavery and colonialism three hundred years ago.

I am glad the saviour is at the head of the judgement seat and not me.

Do others agree? Can we become so indoctrinated that we forget or are blind to the fact that those we commonly label as evil or subhuman are capable of good? On the flip-side, is it possible that someone can ever get to the point where they are incapable of doing any good?

45 thoughts on “Evil

  1. I’m often frustrated by dramatic portrayals of figures such as Hitler, because they all tend to show a monster rather than a man. Perhaps we find comfort in this idea, because it helps us to believe that unless we suffered from some bizarre deformity of the mind, we would never choose to do gross evil. I think the reality is quite different. People who do incredibly wicked things are people just like us, and the only thing that diffrentiates them is how they choose to exercise their agency. We’re mostly just as capable of such wickedness as they are; we just don’t choose it.

  2. How do you feel about the attitude we have toward Cain as compared to that of Hitler?

    Is it wrong of me to question, who was worse?

  3. People want things to be black and white, which is understandable. But I’m with you, Kim, in that I don’t see it that way. Maybe because I’ve had so many family members and loved ones make really bad choices.

    I do think, though, that at some point people can cross a line there’s no coming back from. As in serial killers.

  4. No, I think they’re capable of good actions. But I think most if not all are incapable of stopping their deviant, evil behaviors.

    BTW, nice feature with the email notification of comment replies.

  5. ltbugaf: Next time you’re at church (and anybody else that cares to play) ask about Cain.

    Then ask what people think about Hitler as compared to Cain. I’m curious to hear how real people respond. I don’t necessarily know what they will say but I think they will hold Cain to just as high of a degree of “evilness” because he was the world’s first killer and the father of all murder.

    While it’s not my place to condemn even the most obviously horrific of people, I’d say Hitler was a lot worse than Cain.

  6. Without knowing for certain, I’m guessing that most people will hold Hitler in greater contempt than Cain, for exactly the reason you mention–that he killed more people.

    Of course, Cain is shown in scripture to have made a direct covenant with Satan. While Hitler apparently did more Satanic things, I don’t know whether he actually made a direct covenant with him.

  7. Cain,Hitler, Columbus, President Andrew Jackson…for me that is a list that gets progressively more depraved in how they value humanity. The things I’m learning in Native American Studies…I have yet to come across anything more evil than the planned extermination of the First People by Europeans from 1492 on. Apparantly Hitler actually got inspiration from the way the Spanish invaded South America and mutilated, tortured, burned, and destroyed the land and the lives of the people living there.
    I think, for our own peace of mind, we fixate on evil that is far away. They don’t study the Jewish Holocaust in Germany – they study the American Holocaust. They have lots of organizations whose goal is to cherish and restore the Native American culture and people. (Something like our Remembrance Day essay contests on how Hitler killed 6 million Jews.) They learn how Early Americans planfully exterminated 100 million Natives. So I like how Kim is showing that regular people with both good and bad in them can be labelled by others as evil call it a closed case. More often than not, people who we celebrate in history books as Great because of the good they have done, can also be despised for the abuses they have inacted against fellow humans.
    Non-binary dualism. It means we have opposite attributes existing together. I have a capacity for doing a lot of good in the world. I have the same capacity for doing harm. That seems to be the more important subject to address in regards to Cain and Hitler. I think life on earth would be so much sweeter if people “took a fearless moral inventory” on whether they cause any harm other humans – rather than label someone distant person as straight-up evil in an attempt to show themselves as nothing but good.

  8. Good comment Julie.

    Life is about choices. No one is inherently bad or good. It is the choices they make that define who they are.

  9. Julie, do you believe Columbus came to the New World with the intention of killing the native people? Do you think Columbus himself ever formed the intent to slaughter them? Or do you impute those evils to others?

  10. The book I’m studying, American Holocaust, has Columbus’s written records and the notes kept by one of his crewmen. He was looking for gold to bring back to Spain. And however many he had to kill and torture was needful the eyes of God , (see also “the great and abominable church.”) Check out 1 Nephi 13 for the gory details. The burnings, massacres, and oppression is a trademark of how Satan inspires people to treat God’s people.
    On Columbus’s second trip to the America’s he came prepared with a declaration (in Spanish) that was read to the Native people saying essentially that they either they become Christian and under Spanish rule or be treated “with all the harm and mischief” the Spaniards could invent. What happened for the next 500 years makes me weep.
    So yes, according to his records he planned a massacre. And he felt justified. For non-psycopaths to do this work of destruction, they have to believe they have moral obligation and that the people they are mistreating aren’t as human as themselves. Those elements were inplace for Columbus and his men.

  11. The Book of Mormon makes no pronouncements about him; although it makes a pronouncement about some man who many American-centric Mormons have interpreted to mean Columbus.

  12. Yes, I’m interested in Julie’s views about that as well. While we’re at it, I suppose it would be interesting to learn what Kim’s opinion is: Who is this man that the “American-centric” Apostles have identified as Columbus?

  13. Somewhat interestingly, one of the “American-centric” General Authorities in question was a Canadian named N. Eldon Tanner. See the First Presidency Message, “Pioneers Are Still Needed,” Ensign, July 1976, p 2.

  14. Kim, when did I say that Canadians can’t have “American-centric” views?

  15. Kim, I read the prior post you referred me to. I find it interesting that while you refer to “popular” interpretations, you fail to mention that these are the interpretations given by the Prophets and Apostles who are authorized to interpret scripture. That’s a little bit different from “popular.”

    Here’s a brief and only very partial list of some who have given that interpretation to the Church:

    Gordon B. Hinckley (see “Building Your Tabernacle,” General Conference October 1992.

    Marion G. Romney (see “America’s Destiny,” General Conference, October 1975)

    N. Eldon Tanner (see “If They Will But Serve the God of the Land,” General Conference, April 1976)

    George Q. Cannon (see “Preparing for the Restoration, Ensign June 1999. Or, see Gospel Truth, comp. Jerreld L. Newquist (1987), 240.)

    Robert D. Hales (see “Preparations for the Restoration and the Second Coming: ‘My Hand Shall Be over Thee’,” Ensign, November 2005.)

    Ezra Taft Benson (while President of the Church) (see “Our Divine Constitution,” General Conference, October 1987.)

    Bruce R. McConkie (see “God Foreordains His Prophets and His People,” General Conference, April 1974.)

    Jeffrey R. Holland (see “A Promised Land,” Ensign, June 1976)

    L. Tom Perry (see “God’s Hand in the Founding of America,” New Era, July 1976)

    Wilford Woodruff (see Jay M. Todd, “A Standard of Freedom for This Dispensation,” Ensign, Sept 1987. Or, see The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946, 51:801, pp. 188–89.)

  16. And you might consider revising your phrase “many American-centric Mormons” to read “many Apostles who hold authority to interpret the Book of Mormon for the Church.”

  17. I’m also wondering about “American-centrism.” How do you define it? How do you identify it? Are those who suffer from “American-centrism” misguided? Are they deluded? Are they bigoted? Are they wicked? Are they oppressive?

  18. Kim, I think that saying the Book of Mormon never says anything about Columbus is akin to saying that Doctrine & Covenants Section 89 never says anything about coffee and tea. While, in one narrowly defined and technical sense, the statement may be true, it doesn’t really matter since we have Prophets to help us understand its meaning. Prophets going back at least to the time of Hyrum Smith have told us that “hot drinks” means coffee and tea. Prophets going back at least to Wilford Woodruff have told us that the man mentioned in the Book of Mormon is Columbus.

  19. Holy fighting you guys! The Book of Mormon tells us that God inspired (we’ll say Columbus) to come to the Americas. Yes, and it was because the promise about the land was that as long as they kept the commandments they would be protected from every other nation under heaven. Well, in my class every tribe, when they tell about the Europeans coming say that it is their punishment for not living the way they had been taught by the Creator. From the Iroquois to the Aztecs – the oral traditon is that they had been warned about the bloodshed and burnings and scattering that would happen if they strayed. They could no longer be helped and protected by the Creator. And that when they return to Him, the earth will be renewed, the Europeans will come to know the Way to Peace and peace will be in the whole world and they will re-inherit the land of their ancestors. (see also Articles of Faith 10 -recognizing Israel as Lehi’s great-great grandchildren – the Other Sheep.) God said nobody comes to America except they are led by Him. So, we were the natural consequence of God’s Covenant People turning away from Him. The Book of Mormon also says that the Gentiles will become a great nation and if they repent they will be adopted in with His People. If they don’t repent they will be destroyed through warring among themselves. I don’t know exactly what this will look like.
    The Columbus debate which became an American debate is, in my mind, irrelevant. God brought other nations to stir up His People to remember Him. And they are more and more. But in the meantime their has been the prophesies in 1 and 2 Nephi fullfilled about what would happen to them. If you want to know the truth about American history and God’s will it’s all there – skip the story parts and just read the prophecies. We are in the middle part and in the end – everything is going to be made right.

  20. Julie, I’ve read through your last comment and think I’m completely in agreement.

    I think some great evils resulted from Columbus’s coming, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t inspired to come. I think it’s also possible to believe that a person moved upon by the Spirit can have committed great evils himself. But on balance, based the Book of Mormon and some other history I’ve read, I think Columbus is more to be honored than reviled, and I attribute the evils committed against indigenous tribes more to others than to him.

  21. Very interesting. I’ve always had a hard time with the idea of Columbus et al. being “heroes” and inspired men judging from the genocide that occurred. I’m not saying it’s not true, I just struggle with it. The oral traditions that state that the Nations were being punished for not following their Creator is something I’ve never heard before in academia. I’ll have to look into that. Seems like that traditional belief that might be “buried” in the histories. I know many First Nations people and First Nations studies grad students that would take my head off for bringing up a theory like that.
    In my mind, that idea implies the Europeans were an instrument in the Creator’s hands to bring repentance via destruction to a wicked people. Does an “inspired instrument” have to be superior/more righteous than the subject of the punishment? Could one use the same logic to apply the Jewish Holocaust to prophecies conerning the House of Israel? Was Hilter and this army fulfilling prophecy? I’m not trying to be provocative or offensive, I’m just trying to work out these ideas. BTW, where do you go to school Julie?

  22. I think Mormon 4:5 may be very important in this matter:

    “But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed.”

  23. That’s what happens when I take to long to write a comment…my questions are answered before I ask them. Thanks ltbugaf for your insight. I can’t yet honor Columbus, but I agree with many of your other thoughts.

  24. I go to the University of Lethbridge and I’m taking a combined Arts and Science degree – Political Science and Native American Studies. My NAS prof is hard-core. She’s Cherokee and is active in the Native American church and she is trying to change and save humanity and her people through education. As well as writing editorials and so on. It is like taking a Native American Institute class. Part historical facts, part religious and part So What are you going to do about what you know.
    Moroni 4:5 was just the scripture I was thinking of but I didn’t remember the reference. Thanks!

  25. He can be wicked at some points in his life and righteous in others. To the extent he caused harm, he could be called wicked. Since we weren’t there we don’t know the whole story. But his journals suggest a story that would cause you and I to label him wicked – if we were into labelling.

  26. I’m suggesting that those who carried out the persecution and extermination of Indians (yes, I’m using the “I” word because it means what it means) were wicked. I’m further suggesting that those wicked people were, in part but not in whole, bringing about the punishment of other wicked people.

    As to Columbus himself, I assume that, like all men, he committed sins. Whether he was as wicked as Julie’s book suggests, I can’t say for certain, but I personally don’t think so, for the reasons I already gave.

    Anything on comments 23-24?

  27. Regarding 23 and 24 the exact details of how this all fits together I am still learning. My NAS class and studying books my sister gave me from her American Heritage class at BYUI – tell two really different versions of “the facts”. The Book of Mormon takes both versions and says that the Gentiles were originally a scourge – but they will be the means of restoring and blessing His people. So God, being amazing and powerful has been able to turn around a lot of the damage done. “Neither will the Lord God suffer that the Gentiles shall forever remain in the awful state of blindness, … I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel…Thou hast beheld that if the Gentiles repent it shall be well with them; and thou also knowest concerning the covenants of the Lord unto the House of Israel; and thou also hast heard that whoso repenteth not shall perish…that the Lord may show forth His power unto the Gentiles…And I spake unto them the words of Isaiah, who spake concerning the restoration of the House of Israel, and after they were restored they should no more be confounded, neither should they be scattered again.” (from 1 Nephi 14 and 15) So from that it seems clear that “Americanism” can mean – “Great we get to be helpful in the God’s work in Restoring truth and fullfilling covenants!” Also, in regards to what has and is happening that is oppressive and greed-based – there is a warning to admit that and change.

  28. Julie, what I’m mostly getting at in 23-24 is that Kim appears to believe that those who say the man identified in 1 Nephi is Columbus are doing so out of a pro-American bigotry and nothing else, and that there’s no reason to believe that the Book of Mormon is discussing Columbus. I’m disagreeing with him.

  29. ltbugaf,

    No you misunderstand. It isn’t pro-American bigotry. He’s just talking about American tradition. What many people also seem to forget is that Columbus didn’t discover North America, just South America. Sir Francis Drake discovered North America. At least if I am remembering grade 4 Social Studies correctly, that was the case.

  30. Also, he isn’t saying there is no reason to believe Columbus is being talked about, really, you need to read what he says more carefully. What he is SAYING is that the Book of Mormon doesn’t SAY that Columbus was the man they were talking about. But everyone ASSUMES he was the one. That said, there were more explorers.

    Oh and I forgot, there was a previous discoverer of North America. Settler too, from Wales. This was well before either Columbus or Drake. For the life of me I can’t remember his name right now though. Which is why many Mandans have blue eyes.

    At least that’s what I learned. Correct me if I am wrong. Sigh, I need to read more history again.

  31. “What many people also seem to forget is that Columbus didn’t discover North America, just South America.”

    Technically, he didn’t discover anything (except that he was wrong about China) since the people who were already living here would have discovered it before he had.

  32. The issue of Columbus being a “discoverer” of anything has nothing to do with whether he is the man identified in 1 Nephi. However, the words of the Prophets cited do have a great deal to do with that question, since they are authorized interpreters of the Book of Mormon for the whole Church.

  33. Kim, you’ve directed me to comments indicating that you’re confident none of the Prophets who identify Columbus was inspired. Are you similarly confident that their interpretations of the Word of Wisdom are inspired? Have we been wrong all this time? Should I be offering lattes at the next ward gathering? Or should I be throwing away my hot chocolate mix? Is there any reason I should believe your opinion that they’re all wrong? Is there any reason I should prefer your interpretation of the scriptures to President Hinckley’s?

  34. “Is there any reason I should prefer your interpretation of the scriptures to President Hinckley’s?”

    Kim is much more trustworthy.

    …and I’ve had lunch with him.

    That Hinckley guy? He’s never so much as dropped me a line or sent me an email.

  35. Kim, although I understand from comment 38 that you believe the Prophet’s interpretation of the Book of Mormon is uninspired and probably false (as to Columbus), there are still some gaps I’m trying to fill in:

    You say when the Prophet is inspired he will either back up his words with scripture or announce that he’s giving new revelation. But what if he’s giving interpretation of scripture? Isn’t that, by definition, backed by scripture? So how can one say that his interpretation of scripture has no scriptural support?

    Also, I would still like to understand (1) how you define the syndrome of “American-centrism” and to know (2) why you apparently believe that Gordon B. Hinckley, Ezra Taft Benson, Wilford Woodruff, Marion G. Romney, N. Eldon Tanner, George Q. Cannon, Robert D. Hales, Bruce R. McConkie, Jeffrey R. Holland, and L. Tom Perry have all suffered from it.

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