I typically read the Book of Mormon cover to cover every one to two years, I try to take my time and digest little bits. I was intrigued by his challenge, and decided to give it a go. There really is something about compressing the timeline - you see things differently. I guess it is sort of like the difference between walking through the trees and flying over the forest. A very different perspective allows you to see things in an entirely different light.
For me, the rapid read called greater attention to the infamous 'pride cycle'. I noticed several details I had not really caught before.
For those not familiar the pride cycle is a repeating pattern of behavior documented in the Book of Mormon. The people would be righteous for a time. God would bless them and they would become very prosperous. Then the people would become prideful, and would turn to sin, and Then there were wars, famines, pestilence, etc... This would cause the people to become humble, they would turn to God again, and would become righteous again, And then the cycle would repeat. righteous -> prosperous -> prideful -> wicked -> "cursed" -> repeat.
People tend to treat this as a purely religious thing, that God directly, actively blessed the people when they were attentive to God, and then he directly, actively cursed the people when they weren't attentive. This cycle does't really require a deity in order for it to hold. In Christianity we call it the "Law of the Harvest", or "you reap what you sow", Ironically, the secular world tends to favor the less pragmatic, more spiritually rooted term "Karma". But the fact is, this cycle is quite natural. Plant corn seed and you will get corn. Not apples, not peas, not oats... corn. It is so common sense. It works that way in human endeavor as well, though not quite so quickly, nor always so easily observed. But those who pay attention can see it.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
In other words, God doesn't have to be nearly as directly involved in the process as some suggest. It is simply the nature of the world. Why does this matter? It changes how we perceive God. He is not a meddler, he is not arbitrarily doling out blessings and punishments for our every act, like an overly diligent dog trainer. God is our Father. Our Father who loves us unconditionally, who wants us to be happy, who wants us to have blessings, who is eager to bless us, who has given us direction how to live "after the manner of happiness" (2 Nephi 5:27). And who then lets us live as we choose.
Okay hang onto those two framework ideas (pride cycle, nature of God's relation to people,). And pressing forward...
What really stood out to me with the rapid reading was the consistent thread which represented the starting point of the downfall of the Church.
The key elements which repeated every time were:
Focusing on the "fine things of the world"
Abandoning/neglecting the poor
Here are a few verses for reference...
2 Nephi 28
13 They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.
13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it?
22 Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.
55 Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?
16 Yea, had it not been for the war which broke out among ourselves; yea, were it not for these king-men, who caused so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, at the time we were contending among ourselves, if we had united our strength as we hitherto have done; yea, had it not been for the desire of power and authority which those king-men had over us; had they been true to the cause of our freedom, and united with us, and gone forth against our enemies, instead of taking up their swords against us, which was the cause of so much bloodshed among ourselves; yea, if we had gone forth against them in the strength of the Lord, we should have dispersed our enemies, for it would have been done, according to the fulfilling of his word.
12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—
39 And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.
40 And thus we see that they were in an awful state, and ripening for an everlasting destruction.
3 Nephi 6
10 But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;
11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.
13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.
14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up...
4 Nephi 1
24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.
25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
26 And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.
Nonmembers weren't a significant threat to the periods of prosperity. 3 Nephi 28 speaks of the disciples - after Christ's visit to the Americas - baptizing people (clearly there were nonmembers to be baptized), and being thrown into pits and furnaces, clearly there were nonmembers who didn't like the church. Earlier there were cases where the wicked kingdoms attacked, were soundly defeated and then the people enjoyed years of peace.
The Gadianton robbers weren't a significant threat. For those who aren't Mormons this referred to criminal groups comparable to everything today from Drug cartels to Mafia to Illuminatii-esque groups who manipulated governments, assassinated political leaders, etc... The Gadianton robbers were only able to gain power when the people were prideful and contentious.
The times when the church was at risk, when prosperity was lost, always started with the members withholding help from the poor. Turing their back on those who needed help. Getting in verbally abusive arguments or physical fights with those who held different views. Excluding those who look different, dress different...
I direct this toward Mormonism because, well... I am drawing form the book of Mormon, but in reality this applies to any belief, any society actually (refer back to my framework comments).
The problem with pride.. it is so easy to miss it in ourselves. I find I can slip from self-reliant to selfish in the mere blink of an eye.
And it is so easy to look to Book of Mormon heroes like Captain Moroni, want to emulate their stalwart, direct action against evil... And it is easy to forget Captain Moroni fought Invaders, not immigrants. He fought against usurpers who overthrew the government, not the government (and at a time when they were already fighting a war against an attacking force. It is also easy to forget hw never fought for longer or took more lives than was necessary, and was always ready to let go any who would throw down their weapons and promise never to attack again). It is easy to get "caught up in the moment", not even realize you've taken a step sideways...
“Most of the bad guys in the real world don't know that they are bad guys. You don't get a flashing warning sign that you're about to damn yourself. It sneaks up on you when you aren't looking.”
― Jim Butcher
It is hard to consistently remember to look inward and ask "is it I?" (Matthew 26:22)
And yet, that is always where it starts...