Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Token of Peace and Some Thoughts on Culture

In the story of Amalickiah’s rise to prominence among the Lamanites, there’s the incident just before the Lamanite king got assassinated that caught my attention.

And it came to pass that the king put forth his hand to raise them, as was the custom with the Lamanites, as a token of peace, which custom they had taken from the Nephites.” (Alma 47:23)

Raising bowing people as a token of peace is a nice thing for a king to do, since underlings would be anxious to know they were in the king’s good graces and hadn’t displeased him. And a token of peace is a beautiful idea. It makes me ponder how Heavenly Father might bestow tokens of peace on us. Having the Holy Ghost to be with us is one token of peace we can look for and enjoy. Also, spiritual gifts would be other tokens of peace. It seems to me that we don’t have to just wait for tokens of peace; we can seek for them and ask for them. We can repent and qualify ourselves for them.

On a different note, it is interesting to me that Mormon calls attention to the fact that the Lamanites took this tradition from the Nephites. Even though the Lamanites so often wanted to destroy the Nephites, and though they considered Nephites “sons of a liar” (like King Lamoni’s father thought), they were aware of this old court custom. Who knows how, since they separated way before the Nephites started to have kings. But they liked it enough to adopt it themselves. Interesting how a culture they hated could still influence and affect them at such a high level as court etiquette.   I can’t help but wonder who they would have answered if someone had asked them about it. (“If you hate the Nephites, why do you imitate their practices?”)  But maybe they would have said, “We don’t care; it’s useful.”

This makes me think about the practice of adopting customs from other people. Is it purist or is it prejudice to refrain from adopting customs of peoples who are considered the enemy?  Bad customs are easily avoided (theoretically), but what if their good practices are useful and helpful and do great social good? Should they be avoided too?  Surely not.

I know there are people who get all offended and make accusations of cultural appropriation when other cultural practices are adopted, but it seems to me that customs usually have a social function. If it is good, then I don’t see why it shouldn’t be allowed to spread.  Or maybe it could be that “cultural appropriation” really means using a cultural sign for aggrandizement and status with little to no knowledge of the meaning, values, connotations and historical baggage that goes along with it. (I find myself wondering, “What would we Mormons say if we saw something LDS that had been “culturally appropriated?”)

Eh, this could turn into a can of worms…

At bottom, I think bits of culture have a social function. We like to preserve bits from the past sometimes because of nostalgia, but functionality helps determine if it endures through changes of technology and fashion and so on. 

I think Zion culture is meant to take the good from everywhere and leave the bad alone. (But sometimes it takes a lot of open-mindedness to be able to tell whether something is good or bad, when a blind spot in our home culture might initially prejudice us.)