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Monday, June 17, 2013

Anti-

What really is an anti-Christ?  Are the Anti-Nephi-Lehies opposed to Nephi and Lehi?  And why is anti-Mormon material so destructive?

The Greek root for "anti" can mean not only "opposite of" and "against," but also "in place of."  A conglomeration of the two may suggest the definition, "opposed to, by being similar".  The Greek doesn't necessarily prove this definition, so instead of inductive, I'll use deductive reasoning to try to prove it.

Two quick examples:  First, anti-venom is created with actual venom from the poisonous animal.  That venom is injected into a big animal like a horse, which then creates antibodies for us to extract and use. Thus, the anti-venom is very similar to the actual venom, but has an opposite effect on the body.  Second, the star "Antares" is a red supergiant that got its name from the ancient Greeks.  The name means "anti-Ares" (Ares was the God of war, synonymous with the Roman Mars), so called because of it's very similar appearance to the planet Mars.

Let's apply this definition to "Antichrist.  I'd love to delve deeper into the ways the three antichrists in the Book of Mormon are opposed to Christ by being similar to Him (Sherem was a great leader who preached the law of Moses and sincerely tried to keep the people in the right way of God [Jacob 7:7].  Nehor taught that the Lord had created all men, had redeemed them, and that they should have eternal life [Alma 1:4].  Korihor's doctrine included empirical knowledge acquisition, and prospering according to your 'genius' [Alma 30: 15,17].  Much of their ideology was true, which made them enticing and popular, but they twisted key constituents that turned them against Christ), but that's for another day.


The ultimate Antichrist is Lucifer himself.  But even he doesn't approach us all with radical ideas that are diametrically opposed to Christ's doctrine.  If he did, he'd probably lose a lot of followers.  In the premortal councils, the "shining one" and "bringer of light" (makes me think of Abraham's metaphor for the noble and great ones as stars in the firmament) preached salvation for all, a guaranteed return to Heavenly Father.  The other option seemed to be the loss of billions of us, members of our family.  The ideas Lucifer taught sounded great, but we know of course that he always perverts pivotal points of the plan (the loss of agency renders us damned in the progression toward godhood).

One striking example of how Satan is opposite to Christ by being similar to Him is found in the Garden of Eden.  One may ask, why did Satan assume the image of a snake?  (I'm not going into the debate of whether he literally transformed into the configuration of a snake, took possession of an already created snake, or if there is some "form/sign of the snake" like the Holy Ghost's "form/sign of the dove." If you want a more informed opinion, read Genesis 3, Moses 4, and go to the temple...)

Many of us associate the snake with subtlety, craftiness, and deception.  Originally, however, I think the snake was a symbol for the Savior, a symbol of healing and renewing.  The snake's shedding of skin, for instance, is a great image of death & resurrection, leaving behind old ways, and renewed life.  Perhaps the most referenced event from the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon, Moses' brazen serpent is a powerful example of how the snake is a symbol of the Savior: "if we look, we shall live" (1 Ne. 17:41, 2 Ne. 25:20, Alma 33:19-22, Alma 37:46, Hel. 8:14-15).  Even John makes the connection for the symbol, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).  Some scholars think the serpent was outstretched perpendicular to the pole Moses lifted it on (in motion, as Nephi says, as a "fiery flying serpent"), and made a cross-like appearance.

The "brass serpent" atop Mt. Nebo.

If Satan wanted to deceive Eve, he probably wouldn't want to appear as a seven-headed, ten-horned beast. Instead, he chose an animal that Eve may have recognized, one she could have been taught about in the premortal realms as a symbol for the Savior.  How much more wretched and evil Satan becomes when we think of him this way - taking that which is sacred and treading it under his feet (he's a spirit so he doesn't have literal feet, but you get the point).  It is interesting to note that the snake has emerged as a dual symbol for good and evil, poison and medicine (Asclepius' staff, now the symbol for modern medicine), death and life, and has been an object of veneration by people all over the world.

So, what about the Anti-Nephi-Lehies?  One explanation is that the second little hyphen was used incorrectly.  The original manuscripts of the Book of Mormon had very little punctuation, and while John H. Gilbert did his best to punctuate as he thought the author intended, it may not have been as critically attended to as the translation itself.  So, one postulation is that it should be rendered "Anti-Nephi Lehies," as in "not of Nephi, but of Lehi."  They were Lamanites politically and culturally, but were still descendants of Lehi, and now recognized that lineage - and more importantly returned to his religion and faith.  These people of Lehi were opposite of Nephi in lineage (they were descendants of Laman), but similar to him in faith.  Even if the hyphen should be attached, we could say that they were opposite of Nephi and Lehi in culture and politics, but similar to them in religion and faith.

Mounds in Ohio built by people dated to Book of Mormon times.

A quick reflection on anti-Mormon material.  I was walking around Temple Square some time ago and was given a lovely newsletter from a picketer outside the gates (after desperately trying to get the attention of anyone I could as a missionary for two years, I've become a little more sympathetic to any sort of activist).  As I read it, I was surprised to see that its contents were almost entirely what I believed.  Most of the "anti-Mormon" material was true, but was presented as utterly preposterous and mixed with distortions.

The father of lies is deceptive.  He perverts and contorts all that is good into hollow deceit.  That's what makes his temptations so enticing.  They look so much like the truth, but leave us with feelings of guilt, depression, and loneliness.  They are similar to what's right in appearance, but opposite in effect.  As we cultivate our conception of God, we will develop the perception to see and overcome the devil's deception.  

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