A few weeks ago, Meridian published my article on Captain Moroni. A reader suggested that I delve into the motivations of his enemy, Amalickiah,the apostate Nephite, as a contrast. Rereading the verses that discuss the man, surely one of the worst villains in the Book of Mormon, I was forcefully reminded of President Benson’s talk “Beware of Pride” given at Spring Conference in 1989. It described many facets of pride, some of which I identified in myself, but all of which are present in Amalikiah’s personality as he employed his “scorched earth” path through the pages of the Book of Mormon.
We first meet Amalickiah when Helaman is engaged in the familiar task of preaching to staunch the growth of pride in the church. As usual, this pride has arisen as a result of prosperity, during which a certain segment of the Nephite population have come to believe themselves better than their less prosperous brethren. They wish all to acknowledge their “giftedness” and superiority, for they must feed their swollen egos with the praise of men. That is at least half the reason they have sought this form of “success.” This attitude results in a rise of a would-be “upper class” who feel they should have special privileges and deference paid to them.
(It is worth noting, that after two hundred years of living the law of consecration in a millenial type of peace, it is this same tendency of some Nephites to consider themselves better than their brothers, and refusing to live the law of consecration, that brings about the end of the reign of righteousness and glory following Christ’s advent among the Nephites. This little word “pride” was to bring about the entire destruction of the Nephite nation.) In a footnote to Alma 45:24, the words “walking in darkness,” describe those who “grew rich in their own eyes.”
In Chapter 46, verse 3, Mormon, the compiler of this record, introduces Amalickiah with these words: “Now the leader of those who were wroth against their brethren was a large and strong man: and his name was Amalickiah.” Why did growing rich make this group “wroth against their brethren”? Because that little word had crept into their lives: pride. President Benson sheds a great beacon of light on what this word really means: “Most people think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or hautiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.
“The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.” (“Beware of Pride,” President Ezra Taft Benson, April 1989 Conference Address. Empasis added). This connection was a revelation to me when I heard it. I knew that it was true. But I still question, “Why?” Why should our feeling of superiority to one person or a group of people lead to actual hatred? Isn’t it enough for prideful people to feel themselves above others without hating them? We only have to look at the history of our own church to see that this is so. Those apostates who left the church in its early days for reasons of pride, were never content to go their own way. They always turned against the church, joining its persecutors, hating those they formerly loved. A psychologist could possibly give us an answer to this question, perhaps having something to do with self-justification, but it is probably sufficient for us to know that President Benson tells us that “It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us. Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s” (Ibid.) Of course, in taking such a rash stance we, like Satan in the pre-exitence, lose the Spirit of the Holy Ghost and attempt to forge our own path.
Back to Amalickiah. It is easy to see that he saw it his “destiny” to thrust down those who led the people in humility and righteousness, and to transform his nation into a class society led by “they that are learned think they are wise” (2 Nephi 9:28). He desires a society where those who had the wit and substance to become materially rich would rise to be the “natural leaders” with himself first among this class. What does he do? He uses the Satanic trick that almost never fails: flattery. He flatters away the greater part of the lower judges of the land, telling them that if they make him their king, he will make them, not just lower judges, but rulers of the people. With much cunning, he selected the “lower” judges: those who might aspire to or feel they deserve a higher calling, possibly having been passed over by the humble and the meek. Amalickiah allows them to think that if they follow him, they will rise in importance and influence.
This quickly leads to dissension in the land, in spite of the recent victories over the Lamanites which had been made possible by the turning of the people to their God. Now many turned away, wanting more. They wanted power, even at the cost of peace. Mormon says about this time: “And thus we see how quick the children of men do forget their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one.” (Alma 46:8).
Of people who would fall victim to this creed, President Benson said, “Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled.” (Ibid.) In today’s parlance, such people come to believe that they are “entitled” because of their “stature” to have whatever they desire. President Benson continues: “The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works . . . the proud wish God would agree with them. They aren’t interested in changing their opinions to agree with God’s.” (Ibid.) This condition, Nephi tells us, is brought about by “false teachers.” (2 Nephi: 28:12) of which Amalickiah certainly was one.
This step into mass secularism was the seed that led to all of the wickedness and bloodshed that followed because of Amalickiah’s desire to rule the land—not just the Nephites, but all who dwelt in the land. When he was unsuccessful among the Nephites, he changed direction, but not strategy. Going over to the Lamanites, he used the same tactics, approaching those who, ironically, were against war with the Nephites. Again, through flattery and treachery, he gained their trust insomuch that this group rebelled against the war-mongering Lamanites and their King. Using stealth, Amalickiah caused this King to be murdered, and step by step put himself in his place—never using force as much as flattery and subtlety. He appealed to the pride of the Lamanites, to the point that he stirred them up into hatred against the Nephites once again, and used them and their armies, and the blood of and loyalty of men he truly despised to go after the prize he most wanted—to seize control of the Nephite kingdom as well.
At this point he used brute force, as flattery and subtlety had failed.
We know that Captain Moroni, spared his men as much as possible. He used strategy to win most of his skirmishes. At times, thousands of Lamanites would die, whereas not one Nephite would suffer the shedding of his own blood. Captain Moroni, at one time, faced rebellion at home (by those who took for granted their peace and prosperity and chose to overthrow the government), as well as on the Lamanite battlefront. But because Moroni kept his priorities straight, using God as his counselor, the inner rebellion was put down, and he once again turned himself to the defense of his country’s borders.
And what was the fate of Amalickiah, that man who thought his own power and wisdom made him superior to those beings who worshiped a “God”? Motivated by hatred and rage brought about by the rejection of the Nephites, he led the troops he saw only as the means to an end, winning just enough to keep their hearts whetted for blood and battle. Then, completely without ceremony, Teancum (a Nephite commander) murdered Amalickiah as he lay exhausted in his tent after a great battle. The devil deserts his own in the end, and did not preserve this servant of his from death in his sins.
“Thus we see” how such a little word as “pride” led to the destruction of many people. Eventual Nephite victory came, in this instance, because the people submitted themselves to their leaders whom they loved. As the Nephites gained victory after victory, often through miraculous means, dissenters from the word of God saw His power and retreated before him.
In order to get as far as he did in obtaining his unrighteous goal, we must assume that Amalickiah was both cunning and brilliant, reminding one of 20th century totalitarian dictators, such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Even though Amalickiah’s army was larger, Captain Moroni had the advantange. Why? Because God was his leader, inspiration his strategist, and righteousness his cause. As King Arthur is reputed to have said, “Right makes might.”
In reviewing this history, I am reminded forcefully of a modern-day parallel. Many of my generation (those who came of age in the Sixties) were educated in the “elect” schools of this country. My Western Civilization teacher stated that the aim of my university (Stanford) was to take us from Plato through all the philosophies of men until the present, with the express goal of breaking down any “preconceived belief system” we might have. A “false teacher,” he felt that because “he was learned, he was wise.” He appealed to us using flattery, and the supposedly unspoken understanding that surely when we had been exposed to all the philosophies of men from Plato down to the present day, we would be stripped of any belief system we had formerly been taught, and use our own “wisdom” to choose for ourselves what beliefs we would keep, and which, in our new knowledge, we would discard.
Not being privy to the doctrine of the Great Apostasy, professors saw true Christianity as a “brief phenomenon,” not regarded as a belief that shone forth a light so strong that it put all other “philosophies” in the right persepective. Instead, false teachers leapt to the apostate form of Christianity, regarding it, as it had become– a vicelike grip that kept people from seeking knowledge on their own. Thus, the medieval world (when ”God” supposedly ruled) became the darkest milllenium in history. During the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment “man” came upon truths that wrenched him free of this power-hungry “God” (who was in reality the Devil who had wrenched true Christianity into one of the most oppressive governments ever known).
As hungry students rejected the Judeo-Christian tradition, forming a neophyte philosophy embracing only those ideas that allowed them to sin without license, America was thrown into a confusion from which it has never recovered. The “baby was thrown out with the bath water.” Judeo-Christian values were somehow equated with the Vietnam War and the sins of the “Establishment.” Religious values were viewed as worthless, offering no explanation or palliative for the human condition. Moral values disappeared almost overnight.
The decay of a great portion of our society into a life of sybaritic secularism has resulted in puzzlement and anger now that the “boomers” have reached “senior” status. And what have they bequeathed to the world? The complete desecration of the sexual act resulting not only in the pandemic of Aids, but the almost total destruction of the family as we know it. Nearly every one of my collegues from Stanford is divorced.
But, as with Amalickiah, the Devil does not takes steps to uphold the transgressor. The generation of “entitlements” are now, to their great astonishment, growing OLD! Their fear and denial of this natural process indicate how far they have been led astray by Satan who led them to believe that if they lived by “reason” and not by “blind faith” they would be invulnerable. Puzzled, many look back on a life devoid of satisfaction or the experience of having been truly loved. They are frightened of death, not knowing what awaits them. On the other hand, they may believe in the continuation of their privileged status in the afterlife. But Satan will desert them, and left alone, these “wise ones” now show hatred towards those whose beliefs in a Savior and an afterlife have given them peace through submission to the laws of heaven. The afflicted seek to destroy the devout through mockery and legislation. We hope, of couse, this group will “return to their roots,” discovering, probably with surprise, that simple virtues work.
President Benson showed great inspirations when he said, “When pride has a hold on our hearts,, we lose our independence of the world and deliver our freedoms to the bondage of men’s judgement.”
Would you rather be judged by the pride of men, “who think because they are learned they are wise,” or by a loving God, who made the most difficult sacrifice of all—His perfect, only begotten Son, so that we could repent of praise of false Gods and return to Him through repentance?
Would you be a brilliant Amalickiah with thousands under your command, praising an honoring you, or would you be a Captain Moroni, aided at all times by God, and guaranteed ultimate victory in reward for your devotion and subservience to his values?
A measure of which path we have chosen is surely our modern-day “Title of Liberty,” or the “Proclamation on the Family.” Do we uphold it or are we too ashamed of Satan’s modern-day tool of derision: political correctness? This is certainly a matter worth pondering as we look ahead into the year 2012.
G.G. Vandagriff graduated with mult-displinary degrees in economics, political science, and history from Stanford University and George Washington University. She has devoted her professional life to propounding the Savior’s answers to the “hard questions” about religious matters through her writing, particularly in the books The Last Waltz: A Novel of Love and War (Whitney Award Winner), Pieces of Paris, and, most recently, The Only Way to Paradise.
Read more about her and her writing at http://ggvandagriff.com. Her books are available on Amazon. See her author page at