The revelations about the federal government's attempts to protect citizens from terrorist attacks by engaging in unprecedented levels of surveillance have inspired many people to worry about their freedom and privacy.
It might seem odd to talk about a religious book in this context, but the Book of Mormon has a lot to say about this issue. It offers warnings about similar events that took place long ago and it provides answers to how we should react and resolve this situation.
An Ancient Warning
The Book of Mormon is a book of ancient scripture written by dozens of prophets in the Americas over the course of hundreds of years and then compiled and condensed by a man named Mormon during the 4th century A.D. The people described in this book came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C. After they arrived in the Americas they separated into two main bodies called the Nephites and Lamanites. The Nephites were generally righteous and wanted peace while the Lamanites were generally wicked and threatened the Nephites with war from time to time.
At one point in the history (as recorded in the Book of Mosiah beginning in chapter 9), a small group of Nephites separated from the main body of Nephites and went to dwell in a land ruled by the Lamanites. At first, these Nephites were treated kindly, but after several years the Lamanites tried to use their superior numbers to overwhelm them and bring them into subjugation. The Nephites were miraculously preserved and they vigilantly maintained their lands against their enemies.
Decades passed and the original leaders died, leaving their descendants to rule the kingdom. Unfortunately, the new king, named Noah, was wicked. He put a heavy tax on his people and encouraged them to be wicked, too. The citizens were quick to follow their king's bad example.
And then the record states in Mosiah 11:12:
And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook the land of Shilom, and also the land of Shemlon, which was possessed by the Lamanites; and he could even look over all the land round about.
At first the tower was justified as a necessary structure to help the people defend themselves. Being able to spy on their enemies gave them an advantage when it came to preparing for surprise attacks. But later, King Noah began to notice movements among his own people. A small group within his city was sneaking away to hold religious services and hear the word of God from a prophet.
King Noah sent his army to try to destroy those people, but God warned them about the attack, so they escaped safely. The record doesn't explicitly say that Noah discovered the movements of his people by looking from his tower, but it's implied.
Soon after that, despite having the tower for protection, Noah's people were brought into subjugation by the Lamanites and forced to pay an even greater tax than before.
Parallels to Modern Times
There are many similarities between this small group of Nephites and the American people. Our forefathers came to the Americas and established colonies. When contending with the superior might of the British army and navy during the Revolutionary War, the Americans were miraculously preserved and granted their freedom.
Generations after the Founding Fathers died, a number of things happened to threaten the country's liberty. The government established a national income tax in 1913, strayed from the founders' ideals of self-government with the New Deal, dramatically increased the rate of illegitimate births with changes to the welfare program in the 1960s, and has done many other things in recent years to undermine personal liberty and righteous living.
And now we learn that the government has set up its own version of King Noah's tower in the form of the Patriot Act, National Security Agency, and other tools supposedly designed with the sole intention to protect citizens. However, these agencies and laws could just as easily be used for destructive purposes against citizens.
The federal government has been targeting groups because of their beliefs through the Internal Revenue Service for several years. Could it eventually start targeting individuals, churches, and other groups that don't hold views it finds appropriate? That appears to be what the Book of Mormon is trying to warn us about.
It's Not Too Late to Change
The prophet Mormon was a visionary man, and he and his son saw our day. Thus, when he abridged the record of his people he knew what challenges we would face and what parts of the Nephites' history would be the most important to focus on in order to help us avoid serious problems.
King Noah's people were eventually freed from bondage to the Lamanites after humbling themselves and pleading for God's help to deliver them. They were incapable of doing it by themselves. They tried numerous times to no avail.
If we don't want to be compelled to be humble by the unpleasant circumstances that are certain to be around the corner on our current path, we must take steps to correct the problems in our country now. We should elect leaders who will do what is right, follow the Golden Rule in everything we do and say, encourage others to be good through our example, be true to our spouses and raise moral children, ask God what he would have us do, and much more.
If we learn from the past, we can build a brighter future. The best defense against enemies is living in such a way that you are on God's side. Then no power will be able to triumph against you. This has been true throughout the United States' history. Will it continue to hold true today? It's up to us to decide.