I’ve been listening to the Maxwell Institute’ Brief Theological Introduction Series on the Book of Mormon which is all available in audiobook form on Deseret Book’s Bookshelf Plus. I really wanted to read these books but could not justify spending the money for each one, so I am so grateful that I get the chance to listen to them all now. I have really enjoyed the series and I just finished Kimberly Matheson Berkey’s book on the Book of Helaman and hers is definitely one of my favorites so far.
Berkey offers a really poignant critique of the topic of secret combinations in the Book of Helaman. Berkey notes that so many modern readers approach the Book of Helaman trying to identify secret combinations that are external to us. And when we find them, we normally identify them in our political or social enemies. We therefore use the fear of secret combinations as a form of self-justification. We indulge in conspiracy theory thinking. And we therefore create division, partisanship, and fragmentation.
But that is not what the Book of Helaman is calling us to do. Rather, the prophets in the book are directing us to self-examine and probe our own weaknesses. We are to turn inward rather than outward in our examination.
Berkey points out one serious danger with the outward search for secret combinations. When the sign of the coming of Christ begin to be fulfilled, the people of Nephi are skeptical not towards the forces urging them to doubt, but towards the very prophets who God has placed as guardians on the watchtower.
This past year I have observed a very alarming trend among more conservative and formerly stalwart members of the Church. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic so many members embraced conspiracy theories regarding the evils of masking or the perils of vaccination. Accordingly, when our Prophet is vaccinated or apostles urge us to wear masks, people respond with hostility or skepticism. People are also so politically attuned to their own favorite pundits that when an Apostle of Christ declared Black Lives Matter, people respond with derision and a hard and skeptical heart. I have even seen people suggest that the Prophet is part of the “deep state” or has fallen pray to the ways of the world.
In the Book of Alma (in Alma 30) when Korihor argues that the servants of Christ are working to manipulate and trick the people into bondage, few people initially seem to embrace that idea. By the end of the Book of Helaman (in Helaman 16) roughly 70 years later, the greater part of the people rejects visible signs and angelic manifestations by concluding that the prophets of God are trying to keep them into ignorance. It is as if in this period of Gadianton Robbers and conspiracies the people have grown more skeptical not towards the wicked institutions that ensnare them, but against those called of God.
The Book of Helaman calls us to question the things that we hold certain in politics and social policy and instead to look to the Savior and to His Prophets as they reveal God’s will to us in our days. It is only if do so that we can truly be kept safe from the snares of the world.