17 For behold, the Lord had blessed them so long with the riches of the world that they had not been stirred up to anger, to wars, nor to bloodshed; therefore they began to set their hearts upon their riches; yea, they began to seek to get gain that they might be lifted up one above another; therefore they began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain.
18 And now behold, those murderers and plunderers were a band who had been formed by Kishkumen and Gadianton. And now it had come to pass that there were many, even among the Nephites, of Gadianton’s band. But behold, they were more numerous among the more wicked part of the Lamanites. And they were called Gadianton’s robbers and murderers.
A couple of observations about the Gadianton robbers:
- They grew strong during a time of prosperity. They weren’t desperate people trying to feed themselves; they were prideful people who had “set their hearts upon their riches” and who now wanted to have more than other people. “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 122).
- They colluded with each other to commit crimes and to protect one another from being caught or punished. They committed their crimes in secret and covered up for each other. Most of the time, they appeared to be ordinary people. (See Helaman 1:10-12.)
So the motivation of these robbers was pride and their tactic was deceit. By agreeing to protect each other, they were able to get away with many crimes and to recruit new members.
But ironically, even as these robbers deceived the people around them, they were themselves deceived. Their central goal—to “be lifted up one above another”—was fundamentally unachievable. They would never have enough. Someone else would always have more. They would be forever chasing a prize which was unattainable and which was unable to make them truly happy. They could not have truly loving relationships; the best they could hope for was the legalistic covenants which bound them to each other. They were loyal to each other, but it was a loyalty motivated by fear, not by love. In short, they must have been miserable.
Today, I will avoid the fallacies that motivated the Gadianton robbers. I will resist pride, and will seek instead to elevate the people around me. I will avoid dishonesty of all kinds. Above all, I will remember that a free society requires honesty, and that pervasive deceitfulness will corrupt and eventually destroy any organization.