STQ: Material Prosperity

My Seminary class is just finishing the book of Deuteronomy and moving into Joshua. This is an important moment in the history of Israel, as the Children of Israel are finally allowed to enter the Promised Land. Of course, Moses is deprived of the right to accompany them, and before he leaves he offers a blessing.

In Deuteronomy 28:2-8, we read some of the blessings of materials prosperity:

And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store. Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out. The LORD shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face: they shall come out against thee one way, and flee before thee seven ways. The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

In the verses that follow, Moses tells the people that they will be cursed materially if they “wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day.” We see a similar linking of righteousness to material prosperity in the Book of Mormon. We even hear about it in modern times. How many times have I heard in Gospel Doctrine class that the Lord blessed Jon Huntsman with great wealth? (Many) On the other hand, we are told that inferences about righteousness from a person’s material wealth are inappropriate.

Now, I understand that there is no necessary contradiction here. Some rich people might be rich because they are righteous, while others are rich because they are wicked. From a distance, it might be difficult to distinguish the two. As for the poor, well, I suppose that the promised blessings might come after this life? That seems kind of lame. Perhaps the link between righteousness and material prosperity is not universal, but a special blessing given only to some people.

Which leads me to the Seminary Thought Question: What lesson do we learn from scriptures that link righteousness with material wealth?

91 comments for “STQ: Material Prosperity

  1. Ben
    December 17, 2003 at 2:59 pm

    The Deuteronomic emphasis on righteousness=prosperity and wickedness=death,destruction, and famine, I think, causes some problems- It raises the questions of the problem of evil. Job’s friends seem to voice the Deut. idea. If Job were really righteous, God wouldn’t have killed his kids, afflicted him with boils, made him drive a ’78 Dodge, etc. In Church lessons, these scriptures seem to be used to justify ourselves. Our whole John Taylor lesson on tithing (in a ward of mostly MBA and Law students) quickly turned into a justification of wealth.

    What *should* we learn from them? I’m not sure. IMHO, they have little bearing on reality, if taken as absolutes. Not everyone who is wealthy is righteous, nor can we impute evil to everyone under the poverty line…

  2. Adam Greenwood
    December 17, 2003 at 3:25 pm

    1) The scriptures clearly equate righteousness with material wealth

    2) Our own experience, and examples from the scriptures, show that “God sendeth rain to the good and evil alike.” Mafiosi are as rich as anybody.

    I have to conclude that the blessing of material wealth is a collective blessing, not a personal one. Societies that, on the whole, are more righteous will recieve more blessings, with perhaps a lag time either way? I do but speculate, of course.

  3. Jeremiah John
    December 17, 2003 at 5:20 pm

    The Old Testament clearly connects righteousness with wealth e.g. Isa. 1:19. The New Testament, in contrast, proclaims that Chirst is sent to the poor and that the rich are only saved with great difficulty. The Book of Mormon seems to combine the two teachings: righteousnes brings peace and material prosperity, but wealth in turn creates a temptation to sin that has historically been irresistible for God’s people as a whole.

    We can better understand the Old Testment teaching by realizing that the connection between righteousness and wealth was addressed to the Israelites as a whole. If the people as a whole were righteous they would be prosperous. But this shouldn’t surprise even an atheist–a system of law that punishes wrongdoing, regulates property and inculcates a sense of social responsibility, if followed, should produce prosperity. Moreover, Job notwithstanding, there are several examples of the righteous poor *individuals* in the Old Testament. The provisions for the poor in the Mosaic Law also would also seem to contradict a vulgar version of the connection between rigtheousness and wealth.

    On the other side of the coin, one can see even in the New Testament an earthy appeal to the modest desire for gain that must have been common to farmers, fishermen and shepherds among Jesus’s disciples. Though Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of God is important above all, and that the love of riches is a prime obstacle to discipleship, the blessings of heaven are called “treasures”, and the kindgom is compared to a pearl of great price. Successful missionary work is compared to a fruitful planting season. Discipleship is compared to financial stewardship (the parable of the talents).

    The point of some of these parables and metaphors is precisely that the kindgom of God is a treasure of a qualitatively different and higher sort. But the choice of figures and types in Christ’s teaching seems to suggest that for him material wealth is not nothing; material blessings are indeed blessings. At least in his teaching style, Christ is much more earthy and ‘worldly’ (a wine-bibber and friend of publicans) than those who criticize Christianity as otherworldly would admit.

  4. December 17, 2003 at 5:20 pm

    Perhaps it is a collective blessing, but I think it also should be seen as an individual promise. Jacob taught that we should first seek for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness before seeking for riches. Once we do that “IF” we seek for riches we shall find them. He then goes on to say that we will seek them to do good. I think too often we think that riches will suddenly rain down upon us. Many think “I am righteous” and then wait for Publishing Clearinghouse to declare them a winner. There has to be work on our part and we must obey the law of the harvest. John Huntsman is not “blessed” solely because he is a good man, but also because he is a smart man and a good business man. Having served in various leadership capacities in the church and being privy to various individual situations, I am often struck by how many good, righteous people know nothing about money management and/or have no concept about how to improve their financial situation. If you ever hear John Hunstman’s story he tells people that the Lord blessed him with wealth because the Lord could trust him with wealth. Again, I think many people forget that although the Lord has promised blessings, we have been relegated to a mortal world with mortal weakness and if some of that weakness includes a lack of skills or knowledge to financially prosper then we need to strenghten that weakness before the Lord can truly bless us.

  5. Matt Evans
    December 17, 2003 at 6:16 pm


    Did Huntsman really claim that “the Lord trusts me with wealth”? That is an outrageous statement, one that I hope he didn’t say. If he he did portray himself as a shining example of how we are to use our wealth, I would kindly dissent.

    Sure, he’s given a lot of money to worthwhile causes and has lent his private jet to President Hinckley. But I have to wonder what Christ, who owned everything yet possessed nothing, thinks of those who have second and third homes of 25,000 square feet (per a spread in the Deseret News about their Deer Valley retreat), while there are people in his city unable to pay the rent.

    It’s hard for someone to say he loves his neighbor as himself while seated in the cozy den of his second million dollar mansion while his neighbor is losing his two-bedroom apartment.

    It’s not hard to see why Huntsman would offer himself as the personification of God’s benchmark to measure the use of our talents, but Christ has set the standard much higher. Christ has commanded us to work for the benefit of our neighbor. Looking around, it’s easy to see that most of us don’t meet that standard.

  6. Jedd
    December 17, 2003 at 7:23 pm

    Jacob 2:19 is the most commonly-used scriptural reference for justifying wealth, but it is tossed around too freely. Note the exact wording: “And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good. . .” Jacob is describing how a repentant, heart-changed, born-again son or daughter of God WILL view the pursuit of riches. You won’t think about it the same way you did before. The spiritually reborn person views physical things from a spiritual perspective, including wealth. So, if we haven’t experienced the “mighty” change of heart, we can’t invoke that scripture to justify our actions.

    We tend to interpret–even WANT to interpret–Jacob’s words as, “I’ll work really hard for the Lord (i.e. it will be a great sacrifice) and afterwards he’ll reward me with some of the really good things in life (i.e. I’ll finally have some fun, and be righteous, too).” A literal reading of the chapter doesn’t agree with that perspective.

    One more thing: Brent’s comments touch on Jacob’s qualifying “IF.” Clearly, not everyone who has a change of heart will desire riches in order to do good. There are plenty of other ways to serve your fellow men that don’t require money. It’s when we see “obtaining a hope in Christ” as a means to an end (riches) that we get ourselves in trouble.

  7. cooper
    December 17, 2003 at 9:55 pm

    Funny, we have always looked at this discussion from the other side. Being on the poor side of the fence (mostly by choice) we have interpreted wealth as a trial. Especially for Mormons. We have the scriptures as our guide and the Lord has said time and again to impart your substance to others. Makes me think about a talk at women’s conference. The three levels of giving: Obligatory, generosity and sacrifice. This discussion begs the question: Who are the poor? Who are the rich?

  8. December 18, 2003 at 12:51 am


    I did not hear Huntsman say it himself, so I guess I am repeating hearsay. However, my source was pretty good. Hunstman’s brother-in-law was my priest quorum adviser. I think you raise some valid points about use of wealth. He also has a multi-million dollar car collection.

    Let me go back to my main point. What I was trying to say is that righteousness can lead to material prosperity (1) if it is desired, and (2) if it is pursued in an intelligent manner. This is available to each one of us. However, as noted by Jacob (Nephi’s brother) and from many other scriptural references and from some of the above commentators, we are stewards of our material possessions. We are to use what we are given to bless the lives of others.

  9. December 21, 2003 at 8:36 pm

    The blessings mentioned in Deuteronomy seem to me to indicate wealth in things needed to sustain them… livestock, food, etc.

    You know the scripture about the sparrows being cared for so how much more will we be taken care of? That’s what I think we gain the wealth in through obedience and faith. We are fed and sustained. I don’t equate material wealth with righteous living.

    Does anyone think we have an obligation to impart our material wealth and to what degree? I find it somewhat odd that members have Lexus SUVs and 4000 square foot homes, regardless of how much they donate to charity and tithe. Personally, I find it a contradiction of scriptures, though I’m sure not intentional. That’s why I canceled my subscription to “LDS Living”. All the ads supporting it were for cruises and resorts, real estate for “exclusive” coummunities and so on.

  10. December 21, 2003 at 9:14 pm

    Renee, Nice comments. You reminded me of the funniest ad I ever saw in one of those Mormon magazines. A company was selling “distinctive temple dresses”! Talk about missing the point!

  11. Adam Greenwood
    December 21, 2003 at 10:43 pm

    -There’s a Catholic concept that teaches that a person should consume no more than is fitting to their station. I’m still working through that one, but it might be OK for Huntsman to do things that would profligate waste for me.

    -In my own personal experience, when we’ve come across hard times we’ve made big fast offering donations and recieved unexpected sums of money far beyond our donations. I think material wealth for some might be a route to faith, or a chance to test it.

  12. December 22, 2003 at 1:32 am

    I’m intrigued by the comment of Gordon criticizing the very notion of “distinctive temple dresses.”

    It intrigues me for two reasons. For one it seems to suggest that *all* individuality is to be repressed in the temple. Or, put in a related way, that style is to be distrusted over substance. A rather interesting comment in a rite that is highly stylized and symbolic.

    The other is that it seems to suggest style is somehow related to wealth. Or, worse yet, that somehow spending $500 on a suit or dress for the temple is inappropriate. I wonder if they feel similarly to those who dress in suits of $500 – $1000 to church. (I say this while having little by way of disposable income yet owning a Versace suite I saved $1500 for but which is now starting to get long in tooth) Is it more important to dress worse for the temple than for sacrament? Once again it is an odd juxtaposition for a building filled with rather nice furnishings and $50,000 chandeliers.

    I’ll take no position on this, except to throw myself on the mercies of the court regarding my suit and admit a secret desire despite my married financial situation to own an other nice suit…

  13. December 22, 2003 at 1:34 am

    I should add, in addition, that I always rent the $5 clothing pack made up of overwashed cheap polyester pants and temple robes. Yet, deep in my heart, I’ve often wondered if spending a hundred dollars or so for something a little nicer is that bad an investment. (Beyond the fact that the clothing in the temple always seems shrunk well below its stated size – an the shoes often “stretched”)

  14. Nate
    December 22, 2003 at 11:12 am

    When my wife and I were ordinance workers in the DC temple, it was interesting to see what sorts of things we got instructed on. The female workers were specifically told that they were not to comment on the clothing or appearal of any of the patrons. Interestingly, the emphasis was on not complimenting people on a nice dress, etc.

  15. December 22, 2003 at 11:20 am

    No, one doesn’t need to look exactly like everyone else. One can have their own style and be presentable to the Lord without an overpriced suit or dress. I think that’s the point to be made. Does it show more respect to the Lord to show up to the temple in a $200 dress or spend $70 on a dress and give $130 to a mission fund or charity outside the church?

  16. December 22, 2003 at 1:11 pm

    But Renee, doesn’t that apply to all aspects of the temple? That was the direction I was heading.

    On my mission I remember several people criticizing us because we built expensive temples. Why not have cheap temples (the architectural equivalent of the $70 dress) and give the rest of the money to the poor?

    I don’t dispute your point. I just find it interesting that in real life things are so much more complex. Why is it that temple clothes are the focus and not other clothes? What if I spent $20 instead of $35 on my year’s jeans and shirts and put *that* money towards the poor instead of cheapening my temple clothes. Doesn’t that have the same effect?

  17. Jeremiah John
    December 22, 2003 at 3:33 pm

    The history of God’s people, and the scriptures, testify that it is common for God’s people to be prosperous, even in contrast to their peers in a prosperous society. I think that challenge is understanding how to use this surplus. Since almost all of us in America have enough to meet our basic physical needs and provide the conditions for church activity and spiritual life, we tend to view the rest of the money as free for our whims; e.g. boats, expensive cars, fine apparel.

    Securing the basic needs, for ourselves and others, make take priority *in time*, over justifiable uses of surplus, but not necessarily in importance. It is not clear to me that all of my surplus must be spent on securing the necessities for everyone until there is no one in want. It seems that actualizing the good life for myself and others is of similar importance as providing the basic necessities for others.

    Of course, when I say ‘the good life’ I do not mean what many people mean, a life of slothful comfort and expensive amusement. Indeed, if having a $35 pair of jeans does not allow me to live better (in the truest sense) than having a $20 pair of jeans, then by all means, the money *would* be better spent on providing the basic needs for someone else. But I submit that the $35 pair of jeans might in some sense help you live better.

    This kind of distinction between conditions for the good life and living well is related to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition which Adam refers to. But this normative judgement spelling out in this way seems to require an understanding of the moral value of socioeconomic ‘station’. This could be provided by a normative science of economics, but this seems to have been all but killed in neoclassical economics as it is studied today.

  18. Nate
    December 22, 2003 at 4:00 pm

    Is this meant as a moral critique of neoclassical economics? One can use neoclassical economics to make strong moral claims a la Milton Friedmen. On the other hand, one can understand neoclassical economics as an attempt to find robust causal explanations of economic phenomena that allow us to make some kind of prediction about the economic effects of particular social arrangments. Thus, one might not be able to use the theory to provide an account of the good life, or of socio-economic status. On the other hand, if it generates useful and reasonably robust predictions about adopting reliance vs. expectation damages for contracts or suggesting the likely distributive effects of price controls, more power to it…

  19. December 22, 2003 at 4:02 pm

    I suspect that most of those who frequent this site do not have trouble with an overabundance of material wealth (except perhaps the high-powered lawyers?). It is therefore easy for us to rebuke the rich for not giving away their resources. I do not think we would be so bold if we thought of our talents in similar fashion. I do not have a dollar to my name, but I do have a big primate brain that I am perfectly happy to use primarily to pursue my own career and interests. I have no delusion that my studies will really benefit people. This is the same as the rich hoarding their wealth–except I covet ideas not money.

    We spoke before about why Mormons have not developed Miltons and Shakespeares of their own. Perhaps it is because we (should?) consecrate our intellectual talents to the building up of the kingdom rather than the pursuit of academic glory. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

  20. December 22, 2003 at 4:34 pm

    The aspect I was hinting at no one seems to have focused on. I think the Scientist hints at it, however.

    Our discussion seems to implicitly devalue the value of art. That’s why I brought up the beauty of the temple. We try to make our temples beautiful (to varying degrees of success as the Provo temple shows) as an act of worship towards God.

    For all its flaws, one thing I love about Japanese culture is that sense that all aspects of our life ought to be artful and beautiful.

    Yet the comments about clothing truly seems to suggest in a manner than a pair of cheap ill fitting worn out polyester pants are somehow *superior* to a nicer pair. It is almost as if we look upon beautiful things with fear.

    As I said, I certainly understand the point Renee was making and largely agree. But there is an other pole in an essential tension with her point that I feel is being neglected.

    I have often said that I do not fault the rich for their money so long as they support beautiful things the rest of us could not afford. That is true of the cars, architecture, clothing and art they enable to be made. Yes there is a lot of silliness by silly rich people with no taste. But the principle is there I think. Perhaps we ought all take a vow of poverty and give all our wealth away. But I simply note that the very nature of temples as beautiful, expensive works of art to *God* argues against this position.

  21. December 22, 2003 at 4:47 pm

    >Why is it that temple clothes are the focus and not other clothes?
    All clothes SHOULD be the focus. As should our choices in vehicle, entertainment, food, etc. We have an obligation not only to others but to the environment as well. Many an atheist will agree to the point that we are not the best stewards of the planet. As Christians, the element of imparting is relevent as well.

    >Why not have cheap temples (the architectural equivalent of the $70 dress) and give the rest of the money to the poor?
    The short answer is the temple is the house of the Lord. The temple dress draws attention to me. The long answer is, well, too long to be a mere comment and if the short answer doesn’t convey the gist of my point, a longer explanation won’t validate it further.

    >Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
    I wish people would consider what that really means before throwing it out there whenever someone dares to suggest people should or shouldn’t do something. If it means no one can express an opinion, then this website might as well be shut down. The lesson I take from that scripture is if you’re commiting adultery (or any other assorted negative behavior) yourself, you probably shouldn’t be beating the h-e-double hockey sticks out of someone else who’s commiting adultery (or any other assorted negative behavior) which you are doing yourself.

    The scriptures which follow, and I’m paraphrasing: “Who’s here to condemn you? No one. I don’t judge you either. Now go and sin no more.” People seem to forget that last part. We have to make judgements all the time. We have a court system that punishes people. We have disciplinary councils. Anyone can comment on someone else’s actions. (Surely a comment is a lot different, too, than stoning someone to death.) However, we are hypocrites if we actively commit the same action we criticize. Can the reformed prostitute not counsel other women to stop doing the same? Of course, she can, and she should.

  22. December 22, 2003 at 5:32 pm

    “Let him who is without sin” was not meant to shut down discussion at all. Rather I hoped to broaden it into another topic we previously were discussing, namely that of what pressures talented Mormons feel that may keep them from achieving Milton/Shakespeare status. I am poor, so pondering what to do with millions is largely irrelevant to me. What to do with my time and talents is a constant problem.

    I do believe that pride from the bottom up, as Pres. Benson described it, is much more widespread and damaging that we expect. I grew up surrounded by very wealthy Mormons who had to decide what to do with their multimillions. I have heard many find fault with these people, but in my experience they were some of the best Christians, with the strongest families, I have ever seen.

    Many have suggested Approaching Zion by Nibley as one of the essential Mormon studies books. I was deeply inspired by this book and I think it contains great truths. One must wonder, however, why business and money are portrayed so evilly, when academic pursuits can equally monopolize our resources, time with family, and consecration. Why are Huntsman’s choices questioned and not Nibley’s? Because we are like-minded. [Please do not misunderstand me. I love Nibley. His consecrated life is his own affair and consecration may look different for each of us.] My question is then how do we view excellence in relationship to consecration? I think other areas besides material wealth can be considered profitably to answer this question.

    I wrote “let him who is without sin” to draw attention to the fact that this is in fact the same problem, of hoarding our talents for ourselves to flatter our pride and not consecrate them for the glory of God. And to provoke us into searching our hearts to see how we ourselves are doing. I mean to provoke thought, not to offend.

  23. December 22, 2003 at 6:14 pm

    “Pride cometh before the fall”. ;)

    Time and talents should not be hoarded either, definitely. Sometimes people have the opposite problem – not one of sharing but sharing to the detriment of themselves and/or their families. It’s a hard line to draw, for me anyway. Stake presidents, ward mission leaders, those who work in shelters, etc. perform service well but at what point is it unreasonable for the lack of time with family?

  24. Nate
    December 22, 2003 at 6:36 pm

    I think that this mysterious, anonymous scientist guy has a point. Thinking in terms of money consecration is fairly easy and in some sense misses the point. (Or perhaps it is better to say, that it is an incomplete focus. Obviously, what you do with money matters . . . a great deal.)

    It seems that this discussion high lights a moral divide that I find facinating, the one between Mormon “intellectuals” and Mormon “business types.” Generally, I think that those whose professional lives take them into the humanities and the social sciences seem to entertain a kind of spiritual disdain for those who enter business or the professions. There is always the faint air of self-congratulation of not having “sold out,” and of having a finer appreciation of what really matters. At the same time, “business types” tend to entertain two interlocking perceptions of intellectuals. The first is that they are largely self-absorbed and socially useless. Their scholastic debates are seen as a kind of self-indulgence funded by the productive labors of others. In contrast, the business types congratulate themselves on “doing something.” They affirmatively contribute to the well being of society by solving “real” problems. The second criticism — explicit or implicit — that I think many Mormon “business types” have of “intellectuals” is that the “intellectuals” are mired in pride and are too haughty to accept counsel for those with spiritual authority, preferring instead to follow the philosophies of men.

    Obviously, both of these portraits are over drawn. Furthermore, I think that each side of the divide in some real sense misunderstands the both the motivation and the work of the other.

    I am not sure which side of this camp I belong to. I am a lawyer, which puts me squarely in the middle of a profession. On the other hand, I want to be an academic, and I spend most of my free time (and free intellectual energy) studying theoretical issues. I suppose the result is that I tend to feel defensive regardless of who is talking…

  25. December 22, 2003 at 6:54 pm

    Regarding Nibley’s view on wealth. I think he was dramatically affected by his grandfather’s life who was a rather prosperous businessman. I also think what I perceive as a rather strong platonism and anti-materialism causes some of Nibley’s views. Which isn’t to say that his words aren’t valuable. However they represent what we might term one pole in the tension characterizing the issue.

  26. December 23, 2003 at 12:53 am

    Interesting thoughts by all. I am especially intrigued by the recent comments of the “humble scientist” and Nate. As a prelude to my remarks, consider the promise of the Word of Wisom in D&C 89:18-19: “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments … shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” I understand this verse to be making a connection between righteousness and intellectual prosperity, just as the scriptures that began this thread made a connection between righteousness and material prosperity.

    As I understand the scientist, he (she?) is concerned that “academic pursuits can equally monopolize our resources, time with family, and consecration.” While this strikes me as unassailable, I cannot buy into the notion that the pursuit of material prosperity and the pursuit of intellectual prosperity are moral equivalents. Certainly, in some instances, the pursuit of wealth may have a significant spiritual dimension (those instances described by Jacob: “And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good. . .”), but I believe these to be exceptional situations. On the other hand, the pursuit of knowledge is inherently spiritual. While this pursuit is open to abuse, my sense is that such abuses are exceptional.

  27. Matt Evans
    December 23, 2003 at 10:42 am

    Another important distinction between the ‘businessmen’ and the ‘intellectuals’ is that wealth is perfectly fungible, whereas talents aren’t.

    I have no gripe against businessmen making the world better by manufacturing foam containers for McDonald’s hamburgers; having captains of industry that are talented and intelligent is good for everyone. It’s his consuming the fruits of his labor that demonstrates he is not working for the benefit of his neighbor. It shows that helping other people was *incidental* to his goal of caring for himself.

    It’s harder to plumb the motivations behind those committed to the intellectual life because most of them are teachers. It’s not obvious to me that there’s a better way for someone gifted in the liberal arts to work for the benefit of their neighbor than by teaching.

  28. lyle
    December 23, 2003 at 11:25 am

    My thanks to all for their comments. Very interesting. The BoM is replete (12 mentions last time I counted, throughout the entire book)with the promise of if obey, then prosperity; of which the logical inverse is if no prosperity, then no obedience. And my apologies for sharing my opinion, which prob. just restates the unstated.

    I relate to what Nate says, as I will be practicing a profession as a lawyer (after the bar this summer), yet would like to work in academia also (yet unlike Nate, lack the raw intelligence/discipline to do so).

    So…why can’t we all be happy with what we are doing and with what others are doing? From Huntsman to Oman to Greenwood to…everyone else here, I don’t think that ANY objective judgment can be made re: the use of time /wealth (inherited) / money(earned) / talents / connections, etc. What can be said is that if you are striving towards discipleship, you will struggle (as we are here in this blog and in our indiv. conscience), seek and follow inspiration, and consecrate your life to building up the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. We all have different ways to do that, some only one…some many. Some of us contribute articulate prose, theoretical articles, agency enhancing laws, new time saving products, new inventions, etc.

    So what if Huntsman fails the widow’s might test? Maybe that is your test, not his…maybe he does have wealth because God does trust him, cuz he is trustworthy on monetary issues, yet is working to become like Christ in others. So what if the intellectual is given academic acclaim and fame? Why do we have to privilege that which we do, or wish we could do, etc., rather than focusing on what we can and should do, per personal revelation/restored gospel and our own individual agency? Maybe the Glory of God is intelligence, but the academy doesn’t last long, nor professors publish much, or with as much esteem if their endowments are huge (see recent article about the rise of the novo-elite Washington University-St. Louis).

    So, we are left with a personal covenant relationship with God and each other. Am I doing my best? Do I pray for guidance/inspiration/strength, etc? Do I give grudingly, not at all, too much, or everything with which I have been blest. Only the individual can know this, for which I am personally grateful, as it is hard (yet comforting) enough knowing that God knows the truths, good and bad, about my intentions/efforts/desires w/o everyone else deciding for me.

    So…thanks to all for magnifying their talents, as best they and the Lord can, and sharing that abundance as best they and the Lord can. With that, I’ll quit…as writing isn’t one of mine. Soapbox/knee-jerk apologies to all :)

  29. Kaimi
    December 23, 2003 at 2:38 pm

    I once taught Sunday School in Manhattan 1st Ward (home to some very wealthy members). We had some of the New Testament scriptures on wealth.

    I asked if church members were permitted by the scriptures to eat at Le Cirque, or wear Versace suits. Many of the answers were quite defensive in tone — it was really interesting. (I don’t recall if Greg was there for that lesson, but if so he may recall how the tone of comments suddenly got very prickly).

  30. Matt Evans
    December 23, 2003 at 2:47 pm

    Hi Lyle,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree that none of us can know the inner struggles and demons that others face, and also that none of us are able to objectively measure the proper use of one’s wealth or talents. We must all be merciful unto others despite their failings.

    But I disagree that this means we should throw our hands in the air. I don’t have an objective standard for determining which parents that yell at their children, or use vulgar language in front of them, have struggled mightily just to get to the position they are; for someone born with a predisposition toward abuse and violence, limiting their behavior to cursing and mean language would be a triumph.

    Nevertheless, I would steer my kids away from the home of someone who uses vulgar language and speaks harshly to his kids.

    To make this judgment I’m not referencing an objective standard, just the spectrum with ‘Christlike’ on one end, and ‘Evil’ on the other. In our interactions with our children, my wife and I are far enough from the Christ end of the spectrum that our kids don’t need examples of behaviors or attitudes further down the line.

    In the same way, I’m reluctant to let my son play with those who have their hearts set on the vain things of the world. Some people are willing to spend exobitant sums on themselves rather than give it to their neighbor. I don’t have an objective standard here, either, but I know I’m far enough from the mark that my kids don’t need worse examples.

    Maybe Huntsman’s natural disposition is undiluted greed, so his having only a $1 million car collection, and only a 25,000 square foot second home, while his neighbors have none, is evidence of spiritual progress. But even if it’s a triumph for him, I don’t want my kids to hang around those who have, and teach their kids to have, their hearts set on the vain things of the world.

    None of this is to suggest that people who curse or yell at their kids, or fail to work for the benefit of their neighbor, are ‘bad’ people. They’re people, just like I am. But just because we can all be placed on a spectrum doesn’t mean I should be indifferent to which people my kids hang out with, or which ones I encourage them to emulate.

    Most importantly, I believe the main reason people buy expensive things isn’t for pleasure, but for social signaling — people want the attention and respect that attend expensive things. Because of this, I deliberately try to counterbalance the *coolness* of having fancy stuff. If everyone recognized that Huntsman’s 25,000 square foot second home were simply tangible evidence of his failure to live the Second Greatest Commandment, he would be as less willing to invite the newspapers to view it. We should all try to change materialism from a social asset to a social liability, along the lines of vulgar language, or the stench of cigarette smoke.

  31. Greg
    December 23, 2003 at 3:57 pm

    I don’t specifically recall Kaimi’s sunday school lesson, but the reaction he remembers does not surprise me in the least. In middle class (and up) wards, for good and bad, most lessons on wealth (it usually comes up in a lesson on King Benjamin’s sermon) end up with a discussion on all the ways in which acquiring and enjoying wealth are compatible with the gospel.

    Matt, isn’t the idea of turning the ownership of nice things into a “social liability” the type of bottom-up pride that Clark and the Scientist discuss above? I bought my Mies barcelona chair for the same reason Clark bought his Versace suit — its beauty and quality, not to signal to people (the vast majority of whom will never see the inside of my apartment anyway).

  32. December 23, 2003 at 4:29 pm

    Greg, speaking for myself only, I have to put a question on what is a *reasonable* price tag of beauty and quality.

    If Mercedes was the only company making cars with decent repair rates, then I believe I would be justified in spending that kind of $$$ to get a vehicle. However, when Ford and Dodge make some vehicles with comparable records for half the cost and less which look and drive the same, I personally don’t believe in the justification of a Mercedes when the money can go to so many more worthy causes.

    The sticky issue for me is how far to take it. A Dodge may be a better buy than a Mercedes but having no car and riding a bike has even more benefits monetarily and environmentwise. But it *is* inconvenient and as such, I haven’t taken that step. Nonetheless I feel it is important for me to evaluate where I *can* make changes to contribute to the greater good.

  33. lyle
    December 23, 2003 at 4:58 pm

    social signalling. Good point. Yet, does that mean that a true saint should forgo wearing expensive clothing that signals to others their competence, with wealth as a rough proxy for competence? personally, i choose to not buy expensive stuff, usually, and if i’m judged a less competent attorney because i don’t wear expensive suits…i accept that risk/loss of oportunity (although if it affects my client’s best interests; perhaps i’ll have to rethink this after taking the legal ethics course this next semester). However, i do have, as a matter of quality/dependability, a bmw motorcycle when a cheaper one would have provided equivalent transportation w/o the extra debt i encurred. Maybe my bike ‘signals’ to others that i’m rich, or cool, or something…but i really don’t care. heck, i rip/cut out the brand name labels on most of the clothes i buy…cuz i dont’ want to be seen/known for my clothes. so, maybe creating a non-signalling norm would be good; and would shame/condition/encourage/incentivize others into more christian behavior/choics…but what about the good of those who are famous/rich, and use these talents/blessings to act as a role-model, a light to the world? Maybe Senator Hatch’s book on the gospel isn’t as good at teaching the gospel as helping your neighbor move into her new place, or other acts of the “non-rich/famous/powerful/well known, etc”, but…his work/talent magnification will reach souls that otherwise wouldn’t be reached; as do your contributions and Huntsmans. Maybe even mine.

    and i’m not saying i’m throwing my hands in the air; but that I respect Huntsman’s gift of jet usage in the same way that i respect your work with the iraqi charity program; although i probably admire yours more because i know you, and feel it is more widow’s mitish than his contribution to building the kingdom; even if his is seemingly more direct.

    Your philosophy on your kids is different than “i don’t let my kids play with non-members,” but has a similar impact, even if “non-members” is converted into “non-sufficiently acting Christians.” I just don’t see how having an expensive item(s)/lifestyle is having your heart set on the things of the world; i.e. just giving money to the poor probably isn’t a great solution for a rich lds person; yet if they did, even if the poor person just used it for alcohol, they would have shown faith and love in that person and given them the opportunity to exercise their agency in a more self/other loving way.

    So..thanks to you also. I really am enjoying this dialogue…and hope that some of it, or similar discussions on many topics, would/could migrate their way into sunday school. i don’t think it will work with my valiant 10 class though.


  34. December 23, 2003 at 5:35 pm


    You wrote “While this strikes me as unassailable, I cannot buy into the notion that the pursuit of material prosperity and the pursuit of intellectual prosperity are moral equivalents. Certainly, in some instances, the pursuit of wealth may have a significant spiritual dimension… but I believe these to be exceptional situations. On the other hand, the pursuit of knowledge is inherently spiritual.”

    This is exactly the argument that Nibley makes in Approaching Zion. While I find that my preferences are in agreement, I do not see the basis for your argument, perhaps you would be willing to make it explicit for me. In my view, business can be a perfectly spiritual activity and is often not simply the result of a carnal lust for material wealth. Doing a good day’s work is spiritually rewarding. Business provides services and commodities for to meet the wants and needs of the public. As Mormons we still have some sense the ‘all things are spiritual’ unto God, who gives no temporal commandments.

    On the other hand, in my experience most academics are motivated by peer recognition, publication, and tenure. We want to be thought smart. Yes, there is also the curiousity of wanting to know how things work. It feels great to learn the laws of physics. Yet it is not clear to me that this feeling or curiousity is a moral good or spiritual good. Much of the time these insights have no use for the outside world and are merely our keeping ourselves entertained. And remember that if there is another group who are maligned in scripture next to the rich, it is always the wise. The rich and the wise are often attacked… not just the unrighteous rich and those who think they are wise.

    Now you will undoubtedly quote back to me that “the glory of God is intelligence” or that we can take whatever principle of knowledge we gain with us into the hereafter. I do not think that the kind of intelligence talked about in the D&C is the kind measured by IQ tests, and the kind of knowledge spoken of the propositional knowledge of quantum mechanics or legal theory. Our kind of knowledge has little salvific or soteriological value. Rather, saving knowledge is of truths of the Gospel and relational knowledge, ie our personal knowledge of the Savior and relationships to other human beings. It all comes down to loving God and man, and academia with its stratifications and pride is equally challenging to those goals as is the business world.

  35. Matt Evans
    December 23, 2003 at 5:54 pm

    Hi Greg,

    You’re right about pride — everytime I see someone falling short, whether by cursing, smoking, yelling at their kids, or failing to love their neighbor as themselves, I run the risk of thinking that I’m better than they are. It is troubling. The only remedy is to remember that we’re all on a spectrum, that many people are on the right side of me, that we’re all sinners, and that only through the atonement can any of us be made whole.

    Expensive possessions should be a social liability like cursing, yelling at your kids, or treating your wife as an inferior are liabilities now. (One rejoinder, of course, is to say that the gospel doesn’t tolerate social liabilities of any kind — that there should be no mortal consequences for sin. I reject that position, but won’t elaborate unless asked.)

    As for justifications for our possessions, like Mies chairs or Versace suits — most of them fail.

    The issue isn’t the quality of your chair, the beauty of Clark’s suit, or the family relationships Huntsman fosters at his Deer Valley retreat. The issue is why you get the quality chair, Clark the beautiful suit, and Huntsman the precious family memories. If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, we’d be as anxious for our neighbors to have quality, beauty and choice relationships as we are for us to have them.

  36. December 23, 2003 at 8:41 pm

    To the Scientist: Very thoughtful comments. After reading them several times, then re-reading my own comments, I think we may have grounds for substantial agreement. Try this out …

    My main points: the “pursuit of knowledge” is inherently spiritual, while the “pursuit of wealth” is spiritual only in exceptional circumstances.

    Your main points: business may be spiritual, and academics may be carnal.

    I concede your point, though I sense that we would differ in our appraisal of how often business people are engaged in a spiritual exercise and academics are engaged in carnal pursuits.

    I should add, however, that the “pursuit of knowledge” is not the unique domain of academics, and the “pursuit of wealth” (including the pursuit of fame) is not limited to business people. In my view, each of us, regardless of our chosen profession, should empasize the former and try to suppress the latter.

  37. December 23, 2003 at 9:26 pm

    “If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, we’d be as anxious for our neighbors to have quality, beauty and choice relationships as we are for us to have them.”

    But of course that begs the very large and looming question of how to let them have them…

    Further it begs the question I mentioned in the related thread of free will in determining ones wants and sacrifices.

  38. Matt Evans
    December 24, 2003 at 10:00 am

    Hi Clark,

    We are surrounded by neighbors we’ve been commanded to love as ourselves; they’re everywhere. We should be as concerned with satisfying their needs and wants as we are our own. You probably didn’t know that Greg preferred a quality chair to a beautiful suit, but you would have learned that had you asked. One can also benefit their neighbors through fast offerings, Perpetual Education Fund, or CARE.

    It’s not necessary that we give to our neighbor who is in the greatest need, you rightly recognize the difficulties of trying to locate and distribute to them. But the commandment doesn’t say we have to give to the most needy, it says we have to consider our neighbor — all neighbors — as ourselves. It doesn’t matter which neighbor we give to, so long as we are motivated by love. The best examples we have of that love and motivation are in families, where spouses (ideally) give and sacrifice for one another joyfully. This does more than reallocate wealth, it fosters love between recipient and giver. As we give selflessly to our neighbors, love will flourish. Love begets generous service begets love. The culmination of that virtuous cycle is called Zion.

    To the issue of the poor college student who scrapes through school eating ramen noodles, the reason he was going to college and working so hard was (should have been) because he wanted to benefit his neighbor. He wasn’t living lean then so he could live large later. He was sacrificing in order to equip himself with the skills to serve humanity. (He should also remember how heavily his education was heavilly subsidized by unknown benefactors who generously gave him his education. That students often overlook the subsidies they receive highlights a drawback of placing a bureaucracy between recipient and donor.)

    Your loafing friends who turned 30 with the same skill set they had at 20 are probably not motivated by a desire to benefit their neighbor either. Their failure to live the commandments has no bearing on our duty to work for their benefit. (It does show that there is more to loving your neighbor than giving them things. Your friends need someone to teach and help them live the gospel.)

  39. December 24, 2003 at 10:50 am


    Forgive me for wanting to push this just a bit further. Yes, at the end of the day both business and academia have good and bad aspects. But I think we do fundamentally disagree about your main point, that the pursuit of knowledge is inherently spiritual. What I would like from you is some type of argument or reasoning that this is the case, because I do not understand it.

    As I wrote in my previous post, I think there are several types of knowledge and that the knowledge one has in academia is closer to the “ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth” kind than a type of knowledge that has salvific value. In my mind then this type of propositional knowledge is only a tool and the moral value comes from how we use it, not the gaining of it per se. As such it begins to look a lot like money (and indeed in today’s academy in the sciences ideas are quickly turned into a profit due to close ties to industry).

    As I wrote previously I think most positive scriptures about knowledge are about our knowledge of gospel truths and personal relational knowledge of Christ and those around us. This knowledge has eternal value. Quantum mechanics does not. Bohr and Fermi are not the more righteous for teasing apart atomic physics, as heroic as we may see them. Their knowledge is only moral in its application, to build either atomic bombs or nuclear reactors to power our cities. Please help me understand why it is that you (and many others) believe that gaining knowledge is inherently spiritual.

  40. December 24, 2003 at 12:15 pm

    Dear Scientist: OK, I am not trying to avoid the point; I just missed this in your earlier posts. Thanks for sticking with this because it is causing me to think more deeply on the topic.

    So the question is: why do I believe that the pursuit of knowledge is inherently spiritual? My views on this are rather simple, really. I start from the scriptural proposition that “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it…” (Alma 30:44) The truth of this scripture has been confirmed to me by my own experiences. For me, secular learning is a spiritual experience.

    Let me give you one quick example. I study and write about contractual relationships. The fundamental question that I try to resolve is, “How do we structure relationships to promote cooperative behavior?” In the course of pondering this question, I have had many Gospel insights, particularly regarding the importance of being “born again”(converted) as a precursor to the establishment of Zion (the ultimate cooperative relationship). While such insights may not be new to the world, they are new to me, and I have come to them through the pursuit of knowledge.

    You write that “knowledge of gospel truths and personal relational knowledge of Christ … [have] eternal value. Quantum mechanics does not.” I disagree. Even if quantum mechanics is not, itself, soteriological knowledge, the study of quantum mechanics can reveal truth.

    Furthermore, what you say about quantum mechanics could just as easily be said about other fields of secular learning. For example, horticulture, but then how do you account for Zenos’ allegory of the tame and wild olive trees? Or sheepherding, but then you lose the parable of the lost sheep. In my view, these are examples of how all things testify of God.

    Finally, I am not sure how you know that “Bohr and Fermi are not the more righteous for teasing apart atomic physics,” but that fact, even if true, is irrelevant. This is akin to observing that Laman and Lemuel were not more righteous for having seen an angel. Certainly, that was a spiritual experience, even if they rejected it.

  41. December 24, 2003 at 4:30 pm

    Lots of points. First I’d agree wholly with the idea that communication with our neighbors is key to knowing how to serve them. However that is also the great weakness. That level of communication is rather hard to achieve at the best of times. Frequently we don’t even know ourselves that well.

    I’d take this to the next level of learning how to serve. In my experience that has been very hard. For instance I once tried to find some charity work to fit into my schedule. Let me tell you. In Utah valley it is very, very hard to find! Typically there are huge waiting lists for most activities. I used to try shoveling driveways and the like but the past few years there hasn’t been enough snow to do that!

    So you are left to the mercies of whatever you are able to glean from your home teaching families (assuming they actually let you set an appointment) and your neighbors along with whatever service projects your ward has. (Which, being in nursery, I don’t hear about that often) Of course now that I’m married there are more opportunities within my family, which is nice. But when I was single it really was difficult to *know* what to do. And it wasn’t from lack of trying. At best you could try to help those around you.

    Regarding Matt’s other comments, I’m not sure I buy it totally. Recall that I wasn’t denying this “working for others.” However the “benefit of mankind” seems a tad difficult to accept. After all if we take that seriously, as you seem to assert, it would seem that many departments ought to be eliminated from BYU. Surely a civil engineer does more for others than a drama major. Shouldn’t the drama major change his major to make better use of what is given them so as to give back to society?

    That is the problem when we tie these issues to purely intents. As the old aphorism goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If the *goal* is *service* then intent is not enough. We ought to focus our efforts where they bring about the best *results*. If we can simply remove results and just focus on good intents then the whole thing seems difficult to swallow…

  42. December 24, 2003 at 4:36 pm

    Gordon, I understand where you are heading with knowledge of salvation vs. other knowledge. But let’s be frank. Knowledge of salvation doesn’t take long to learn. I’d suspect that most primary children have it.

    So, for most Mormons, the issue is less that saving knowledge than “what next?” Hopefully we can all agree that even most gospel knowledge isn’t necessary. Even take some of the important doctrines of the restoration like God’s embodiment or the three degrees of glory. Is that *necessary* for salvation? Of course not. You could have just as good a relationship with God without it. It is nice to have, but I’m not sure but what a lot of the gospel knowledge we have isn’t more on line with quantum mechanics. At best it gives us better motivation to learn of God and learning it *may* keep us Christ centered. (Although as gospel hobbyism shows, it often can have the opposite effect)

    As for science, I think that it often has a more practical effect on lives than even doctrinal knowledge. As I’ve said many times I think the discovery of germs as the cause of disease and the discovery of mechanics by Newton has have more beneficial impact on peoples lives than all the Bible commentaries ever written.

    I suppose it gets back to that point I made in my prior post. What is more important? Intents or results?

  43. Matt Evans
    December 28, 2003 at 11:16 pm

    Hi Clark,

    There are many, many ways you can love your neighbor as yourself, even in Utah county. Here are a few ideas:

    – pay for the auto repairs of someone who’s been in an accident

    – when someone is admitted to a university far away, buy him a plane ticket so he can find housing

    – pay $100 a month to support a missionary from a needy family you know

    – co-sign with a poor family to help them qualify for a mortgage

    – pay off the car of a poor family

    – pay the drivers ed, football, art or music fees of a high school student

    – give a poor family who never eats out a gift certificate to TGI Fridays

    – take the three poorest teenage boys in your ward to a Jazz game

    – take them golfing next summer

    – help them prepare top-notch applications to college or graduate school

    – let someone without a car borrow yours for a weekend

    – send a $500 money order to a poor family

    – give someone a “piano lesson” scholarship

    – take some youth to a new movie over Christmas break

    – take them camping to southern Utah in the spring

    – take a boy who’s just been called a mission shopping to buy things from his list

    Each item on this list was done for me or my family by someone who loved us. With imagination and concern, there would be many other things we could do for others, too. The love and generosity our family received was a powerful witness of Christian service and has had a tremendous impact on us. Knowing that someone wants to you to be happy, but doesn’t want you to attribute the gift to them, creates a strong feeling of the brotherhood of man. (In many instances we knew the donor, too, and in those cases we could put a face with the expression of love. Knowing the particular person who sacrified for you stirs strong emotions, too.)

  44. cooper
    December 28, 2003 at 11:47 pm

    Clark: one life lost to disease is better than a billion lives lost without understanding the gospel. While people could go their whole life without spiritual commentary, why should they? Spriritual commentary leads to study. If we first persue true knowledge and personal revaltion everything else will be added to it. I cannot condone a life spent looking for a cure for cancer (or some other horrible disease) while ignoring the “real life” available through personal revelation. For more understanding on this thought process look here:

    The speech is by Bruce R, and yes it is old. The concepts and teachings never age though. It is far more important to be prepared by the spirit than to be learned of men and not be prepared when it is most needed.

    Please don’t think me callous or untried with regard to the loss of a loved one. I have had death visit me more times than I wish to count in my life. Family and friends dear. Not one would I want back if I had to exchange their eternal life for the earthly one. It seems so simple to look at technological advances of man and see the miracles around us. People still starve everyday. What a wondrous world we live in! We haven’t been studying our scriptures nearly enough.

    Matt – thanks for the lesson in service. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of how best to go about touching the lives of others.

  45. December 29, 2003 at 2:00 am

    Cooper, I agree, but my point was that the gospel can be lived and understood better because of science. i.e. science has had a profound impact on how “good” society is.

    The issue isn’t death, but how the prospect of death affects people psychologically and especially their ability to be charitable caring people. Certainly those who can be caring in more callous times are more deserving of praise than we, but the fact is that the society you grow up in is dramatically affected by your environment and science has provided the way to control our environment.

    Matt, those are some good suggestions, and to be honest some of those things I have done to those I know of. One problem is, as someone said earlier, knowing who has need of what. I suspect that is something I’m still struggling with.

    However all that didn’t address the more theoretical point I was making regarding personal wants vs. charity. How do we reconcile them? I don’t find your solution to that more theoretical problem really satisfactory.

  46. December 29, 2003 at 11:54 am

    >regarding personal wants vs. charity. How do we reconcile them?

    I don’t know that we can. If you are loving the Lord your God with ALL you have, then you are sacrificing til it hurts. Bill Gates can give millions (billions?) to charity and it doesn’t impact his standard of living. When we give up something and actually feel the effect, perhaps that’s when we are approaching a standard for charity.

    That is the sticky point for me. How far to take things. We are looking at getting a house and would never consider anything over 140K because that is more than enough for a very comfortable home in our city. However, much of my ward is comprised of homes that cost well over 200K and up to over 1/2 a million. I am troubled that Christians would spend so much on a house. Many of these homes don’t even more more square footage than ones that cost 125K in neighboring subdivisions.

    But what about me? If I was really as charitable as I probably should be as a Christian, I should forego the house we’re considering, and move to a troubled neighborhood where I could A) save a heck of a lot of money and B) be a force for change and good in that neighborhood. I don’t know that I am ready to do that. But I do know that 140K is a sure sight more responsible than 200K. At least it’s a start.

  47. cooper
    December 29, 2003 at 12:37 pm

    Clark – I have found that in order to change some people that death is the only impetus that they respond to. I am not sure that I agree on the science controlling the environment idea. We have anthropological studies of indigenous peoples all over the globe that provide better for the “whole” than most “modern” societies. Science being what it is, makes one’s life more comfortable. It does not raise the standard of living for all. A perfect example is the uninsured middle America of today. Science, science everywhere, but no insurance to get required coverage. I have a friend who is currently in that situation. Her son was born with a cleft palate. He has undergone 8 surgeries to repair the problem with two remaining. They have just been notified, that even though they have paid all premiums and held their part of the agreement, that their son has used up his lifetime benefit and will not be able to receive coverage for the two remaining surgeries. So science will not help this young man. The only available option will be the “charitable” efforts of another to get this done. His parents will not be able to pay the total cost on thier own. So science can make life better, but without $$ it is not available to all equally.

    Renee – Therein lies the rub. Where does one find the balance? I believe that the answer is found in the scriptures. Seek ye first… The Lord has given us the equation. This is an interesting discussion. I know a man that has more money than anyone I personally know. He is married and has not had the ability to have children. His wealth has been used for the betterment of all in our community. He has read his scriptures and understood fully seeking the Lord first. And the Lord has been proved. This brother has given away more of his wealth, lives in a modest home, and his front yard of this tract home is an orchard (small, but producing). He explains it is for the homeless in the area. That they know they can come and enjoy fresh fruit when they have a need. He drives an unassuming car. He wears ample clothing. Interestingly enough I am sure a portion of the other families medical costs will be born by this man also.

    He is also experiencing the Lord’s promise that “the windows of heaven will be opened so much that you will not be able to hold it all”. No matter how much he has given away it has been returned to him 10 fold. He is modest. His wife is modest. Every bum in town knows him. Every rich man in town knows him. He is respected. He gives all the glory to God. I think in his life is the lesson. The Lord is not asking us to wear sack-cloth and ashes. He is asking us to be willing to give our all to the building of the kingdom. All the blessings will folllow: not all being material wealth.

    Wow we, could go on forever with this conundrum. Let’s discuss some more.

  48. December 29, 2003 at 3:05 pm

    Cooper, I must disagree. The standard of living for *all* in America has been dramatically raised as compared to 100 years ago. And that is directly attributed to science – especially electricity and plumbing. Science can’t produce *equality* but it can improve conditions. We have to be careful of what we discuss. Equality is important (and a lot of dissatisfaction relates to inequality rather than ones actual state in life).

    Take the middle class. Yes some in the middle class have worse health care than those with more money. However they have considerably better health care than anyone did 60 years ago! So the comparison isn’t a fair one. What has happened is that even as science raises our standard of living we come to expect more. The issue is our expectations (which is related to equality in some ways).

  49. December 29, 2003 at 3:29 pm

    Clark, excellent point. I’ve often wondered how much we have a right to ask as far as health care goes.

    Equality to me means to have a roof over your head (even if it’s not your own roof) and not be starving (even if it’s just PB&J sandwiches)and access to education. Everyone, every single person in this country has access to these things if they are willing to play by some rules. The poorest of our poor are better off than the majority of dwellers on the planet.

    I read a book this year called “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic” by John De Graaf, Thomas H. Naylor, Scott Simon, and David Wann. It’s a real wake up call. One of the comments made in it is that the average 3 car garage today has the square footage of a house 50 years ago. However, study after study shows that people are less happy now. We are victims of our success.

  50. December 29, 2003 at 5:12 pm

    This whole issue of equality was what I was trying to raise earlier. What “extras” are we permitted to sacrifice for ourselves (or our loved ones). Health care is an interesting example as the only way to make health care work is by limiting health care. The way the US limits health care is different from other countries. For instance in Canada you can’t get extra health care just because you are willing to allocate resources to it. There is a lowest common denominator with health care. Canadians generally like this, but I personally think that if I want to take a portion of my income and allocate it towards extra health care rather than Tim Horton donuts, I ought to be allowed.

    The reason I originally brought up the issue of the Versace suit was related to this. Why, if I want to say skimp on jeans or perhaps pop, can’t I allocate that money towards Versace suits?

    Put more particularly, in a equitable society, what resources can I have for “selfish” purposes? To simply say that we ought to only use resources for charitable means seems to avoid the issue entirely. I think that the health care example highlights the issue fairly well though.

    I should add that I am in favor of some degree of universal coverage. But I feel it should be a rather *limited* universal coverage with people being free to purchase additional coverage based upon their wants and means.

  51. Matt Evans
    December 29, 2003 at 9:32 pm

    Hi Clark,

    I don’t believe the gospel allows us any “selfish” purposes. Selfishness and pride are features of the natural man that must be purged from us. They are the reason the early saints, despite their mighty attempts, never built Zion.

    Your dilemma would be more interesting (and compelling) if everyone had equal resources. Then you would know the reason your neighbor doesn’t have a Versace suit is due to his personal preference. But because we live in a world where people have very disparate resources and means to acquire them, this dilemma isn’t very interesting. Most of your global neighbors can’t afford a Versace suit, even if they did value it as much as you do.

    To cut through the information costs you find troubling, let’s focus solely on money, because it’s perfectly fungible.

    The gospel requires you and I to work for the benefit of our neighbors. People who are working for their neighbor’s benefit, or who love their neighbor as themselves, because they desire their neighbor to have the products and services (i.e., health care) that they want, will give their neighbor money.

    Christ set the standard that we’re to be as anxious to give something to our neighbor as to ourselves. Our goal is to strive toward that standard. There’s little chance you or I will reach that level in mortality, but we know the direction we’ve been commanded to move. Most importantly, we know this commandment is based on the Law of Happiness.

    Information costs are a very real issue however, in one important sense. We want to know that our sacrifice was worth it. People who give up their family vacation in order to buy toys for kids in Iraq are very aware of their sacrifice when they’re at home on the day they were planning to go on vacation. They don’t know anything about the Iraqi kids who get their donated toys. I trust the money I’ve donated to the Perpetual Education Fund has done some good, but I’ve never seen a photo of a recipient, let alone the recipient who benefited from *my* sacrifice.

    Overcoming this information gap would be a wonderful benefit that would help people give. It’s also a strong justification to give to people you know. With only a couple exceptions, the scores of people who generously gave to our family personally knew my mom, her parents, or our family. This allowed them to see the benefits of their generosity that they would have missed had they given to an administrative bureaucracy.

  52. December 29, 2003 at 9:37 pm

    That’s sort of where I thought you were going Matt. Your perception of the gospel is that the self is to be denied. I must confess that I reject that interpretation. I believe that we are to love others as our selves, but that the view of “hating the self” or “ignoring the self” is not appropriate. I’m sure you wouldn’t take it that far, but I think that is there resting in the background.

    That’s why I brought up items that are designed to be beneficial to the self. Those who adopt views like yours seem unable to explain how I could possibly do anything for *me*. Yet those who don’t take some time out for themselves quickly become exhausted in their service and often experience burnout. I had a very wise Bishop who counseled myself and others in that regard. Unfortunately, in my experience, those who don’t take time for self are quickly taken advantage of and often, when they reach the burnout stage, are far more prone to leaving the church.

    Put more simply, it looks nice on paper, but I’m not sure it deals with the realities of our human condition. I do not believe it is scriptural either, although I certainly understand the passages quoted in its defense.

  53. Matt Evans
    December 30, 2003 at 9:51 am

    Hi Clark,

    I don’t subscribe to the ideas you ascribe to me. I’ve repeatedly said that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Nothing in that phrase suggests self-loathing, self-neglect, or self-flagellation. To the contrary, it clearly indicates that we do, and should, love ourselves.

    You’ll have to give me a better example of “take some time out for themselves” so I know how to address your concern. Oprah loves that kind of talk, it helps her sponsors sell lots of stuff that doesn’t do anything for anyone. (Anyone interested in a water-bath foot massager?)

    After you’ve told me what it means, you’ll have to explain why you or I are more deserving of this rejuvenating experience than the poor immigrant in Provo who works two jobs while raising two kids.

    As you can probably guess, I don’t think you, I, or anyone reading this list is doing so much for our neighbors that we’ve neglected ourselves. Like most Mormons, we consume the vast majority of our resources ourselves. There just aren’t that many middle-class members who haven’t bought a dress, or been out to eat, in the past five years because they’ve spent so much on others.

  54. Grasshopper
    December 30, 2003 at 2:18 pm

    Matt, how should we take the counsel from our Church leaders that we should go on dates every week with our spouse? Should we understand it to mean, “Go only on free dates every week”?

    You asked “why you or I are more deserving of this rejuvenating experience than the poor immigrant in Provo”. But I don’t think it’s a question of who is more deserving. I think it’s more a question of whether it is just as good (or even essential) for us to rejuvenate ourselves as it is to provide rejuvenation for others.

    The Book of Mormon teaches that “it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength”. This is what I understand Clark to be saying: that the best way to make ourselves tools in the Lord’s hands is to make sure that we are sharpened and capable of being of great use. That means we need to take time, in Stephen Covey language, to “sharpen the saw”. This is achieved differently for different people.

    How do we determine whether something like a date with a spouse, or a suit, or an art print, or an evening with the phone unplugged, is a needed rest or a superflous selfish gratification of desire? Should the question “Have I done any good in the world today?” become “Have I done enough good in the world today?” Is it ever enough?

    Orson Scott Card has written an excellent piece on consecration here: . In it, he suggests that even the “information costs” you referred to in your previous post (“knowing that our sacrifice was worth it”) are superseded by consecration.

  55. December 30, 2003 at 3:31 pm

    Matt, “Grasshopper” pretty much made my point far better than I was able. My point is more a theoretical point. What place do I give my wants? When do I rest and how am I ethically allowed to rest? Is a trip to DisneyWorld unethical? Is a Versace suit unethical? I don’t think they are. Are they unequal? Definitely. But that’s what I’ve tried to raise in these threads: do we confuse equality for service?

    This is a real point that I haven’t yet seen addressed. More particularly, when am I ethically allowed to do something for myself? I can’t see how you can answer that. Your answers seem only to be “when you are serving others.” But how does that answer the question?

  56. Matt Evans
    December 30, 2003 at 4:02 pm

    Hi Grasshopper,

    Dates can’t be used as an excuse to spend money. Their purpose is to put spouses together to allow them to emotionally connect to one another. Watching a movie doesn’t do that very well. Because long walks, campfires, sledding, sight seeing, temple work, events at the visitor center and other free activities are just as effective at serving the purpose of dating, they don’t justify spending money on ourselves that we shouldn’t otherwise.

    We should rejuvenate ourselves and others. Physical exertion, sleep, and a healthy diet are all important; we haven’t been commanded to sacrifice any of them. If you mean something beyond activity, sleep, and food, please give me an example so I can respond directly. Most ideas about rejuvenation are simply sales-pitches disguised as saw sharpeners. (I saw a $700 recliner at Jordan’s Furniture in Boston — excellent free date destination — with a tag that said, “Lay back and relax. If you don’t deserve it, who does?” Realizing that some people fail to see how absurd that statement is made me ill.)

    We’re not asked to run faster than we have strength, but we are asked to move in the direction of Christ. We must work toward Zion even if we’re not able to get there today.

    The question is, “do I keep the commandment to love God with all my heart and to love my neighbor as myself?” The answer is no. It’s helpful to do good every day, and to recognize the strides we make in the right direction, but Christ expects, and Zion requires, much more than one good thing per day. Our attitudes, priorities and desires must be harnessed to build Zion.

  57. December 30, 2003 at 4:26 pm

    Matt, I suspect we’re going to have to agree to disagree. As I see what you are saying, it implies that I can’t do anything for myself if there is even one person out there who doesn’t have it. You demand total equality which in turn demands a lowest common denomenator. Perhaps you will acknowledge your own lack in this regards (living in the midst of plenty while people are dying in poverty of AIDS in Africa) as simply being a sinner. Yet, I wonder given the history of even the United Order, if there is any place where God gives any sign of an interpretation like yours.

    Further, if we turn to the scriptures and look at the paragon of righteousness, we must ask if Jesus’ life accords with your reading. Shouldn’t Jesus have castigated Mary for spending money on expensive oils and perfumes and giving him a massage? What about that wine at the wedding he was at? Was it just to have people there drink wine when those at the lepers colony had none?

    Can you reconcile your views with any actual state of affairs? I think not.

    The problem isn’t your returning to “do I love my neighbor as myself.” We all agree upon that. The question is what that means. You are taking it to imply that any inequality implies a lack of love. It is that point I find difficult to swallow…

  58. Greg
    December 30, 2003 at 4:35 pm

    Hi Matt,

    I still don’t see a satisfactory response to Clark’s and Grasshopper’s points. I can’t get on board a moral theory that does not allow me to eat dessert, or own a nice piece of art or workmanship (like a Mies chair or Versace suit).

    Further, money is not the only good we are commanded to share — we are commanded to share everything we’re blessed with. If we transfer your reasoning about money to the other things were blessed with, how would it work? For example, you can only go on a frugal date with your wife because you have the free time to do so. But on your reasoning, shouldn’t you consecrate that time and use it to free up time for your neighbor rather than go on a date with your wife?

  59. December 30, 2003 at 4:38 pm

    This is a great discussion, Matt, Clark, Grasshopper, et al. When I read Matt’s comments, I hear echoes of many things that I have thought or said. I love the idea of Zion, and it is obvious to me that Matt has thought a lot about how to get there. For myriad reasons, I have found that executing on these thoughts is more difficult than I would have imagined 20 years ago. Partly this is due to personal weakness (a desire to have at least some of the things of the world), partly it is due to subtle peer pressure (law firm and law professor colleagues expecting me to dress or act in certain ways), and partly due to a desire to “serve” my wife and children by making them comfortable. While I have made some decisions that seem downright noble (e.g., cutting my salary in half to move from a law firm to academia, partly so that I could spend more time with my family), I have made other decisions that I regret. Zion is still a work-in-progress at the Smith household.

  60. Kaimi
    December 30, 2003 at 5:01 pm

    Matt, you suggest that it is unlikely that someone is not feeding their own family because they are donating to others. Yet, that may not be such an unusual phenomenon.

    The idea was spoofed wonderfully by Dickens. (I don’t recall whether the woman is from Great Expectations or Bleak House — I vaguely think it was Great Expectations). An archetype ready for spoofing has, one assumes, at least some vegue correlation to real-life examples.

    (This idea is not unlike the Bishop or church member who is so busy in his church calling that he spends no time with his family).

  61. Greg
    December 30, 2003 at 5:15 pm

    Kaimi is referring to Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House. The portrayal is in the wonderfully titled chapter “Telescopic Philanthropy.” Read it online here:

  62. cooper
    December 30, 2003 at 5:48 pm

    I have to side with Matt. It is more the mindset that will take you to the proper place. When we keep in the forefront of our mind the concept of “love thy nieghbor” we can sacrifice for others and still have our own needs met. When I read statistics that say our third world members pay in far greater numbers fast offering (per capita wise) donations it gives me pause. We are members of the church in the richest nation in the world using justification to salve our conscience. I am not saying that those participating in this discussion do not pay their fair share. But what I am asking is how are we doing as teachers to those around us by example, and actually teaching opportunities? We have been told we are all teachers – not just by callings – but by the testimonies we bear.

    I don’t think this is an “agree to disagree” subject. The subject is just too important. Love thy nieghbor as thyself. Matt is trying to enlighten anothers thinking on the importance of this subject. The line about the chair is incredible. How many people think about this methodology? How many people’s burdens could be lightened just by knowing someone else was bothered by that thought process. It is uplifting to think that you are not alone in your battle against complete and utter materialism. Sometimes it can be very lonely. And maybe, just maybe, we haven’t “gone without” enough to really understand the message.

    Christ isn’t asking for complete sacrifice of all you have. He’s asking us to love others around us enough to know if they have a need that isn’t being met. And that we take action once we become aware of a problem. I guess that is where we must also nurture our ability to listen to the spirit. We will be guided and directed to assist others. It won’t always be temporal. Maybe the guy sitting next to you in church is spiritually starving to death.

  63. Grasshopper
    December 30, 2003 at 6:35 pm

    Cooper and Matt, would it be correct to say that you advocate that we should never satisfy any wants for ourselves (beyond what is absolutely necessary) until no one else is in need?

    Matt, you said, “Dates can’t be used as an excuse to spend money.”

    I wasn’t intending it to be an excuse for anything. Rather, I was intending it as an illustration of something that is an important want that may involve spending money that could otherwise have been spent on someone else. Yes, there are many things we can do on dates that are free. Are you saying that we should never go on a date that costs money?

    You also said, “Their purpose is to put spouses together to allow them to emotionally connect to one another. Watching a movie doesn’t do that very well.”

    I strongly disagree. Just the other night, my wife and I watched a movie together that allowed us to emotionally connect very powerfully, and that has been the catalyst for quite a bit of wonderful conversation since.

    I agree that we must move in the direction of Zion, and I also agree that we should be looking to do more than one good thing each day. However, in my experience, most people require more than physical exertion, food, and sleep in order to be mentally and emotionally healthy. We require music, social interaction, mental stimulation (aka wholesome entertainment). And mentally and emotionally healthy people are, IMO, better prepared to serve others as the Lord desires.

    What I question is the implication that anything beyond absolute essentials for physical survival is immoral as long as anyone else lacks. In a specific instance, this is probably true (that is, if I encounter a starving person, it would be immoral for me not to provide food for him so that I could go watch a movie); however, in the context of the world, I’m not sure. Does the gospel require me to live in the smallest and cheapest house that I can possibly squeeze my family of seven into, so that I can use my surplus to feed someone else? To live close enough to work that I can walk (or, if this is not economically optimal, close enough to bike instead of drive)?

  64. December 30, 2003 at 7:18 pm

    Cooper, I understand the basic thrust you are making, and agree that if we *love* our neighbor we needn’t worry. What I’m trying to get at is how to understand love. Love, after all, isn’t just a “mindset” but a collection of actions. We all know people who love others but who act on that love (the mental part) inappropriately. Repeating what I’d said earlier, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Intentions alone can’t explain what we are to do.

    While I definitely agree each of us can do more, the reality is that it is easy to get caught “running faster than we have strength.” I’ve seen far too many who catch the neighbor part of “love thy neighbor as thy self” but miss the self part.

    To put it in abrupt clarity, are we a sinner if we don’t go to Africa and help those in poverty there? After all they are far more needy than any poor here.

  65. December 30, 2003 at 7:32 pm

    The impression I get is that Matt is trying to convey what we should be STRIVING towards. I have said before, not sure if it’s on this thread or not, that we are commanded to love the Lord with ALL our heart, might, mind, strength, etc and love our neighbor as ourselves. I don’t know of anyone who has FULLY achieved this while in this mortal existence but Mother Teresa is probably up there in the running. The point is, we should be STRIVING for it. Some things we cannot fully achieve in this life. Does this mean that we should not try?

    It sounds like some of you are saying that since we aren’t sacrificing down to the bone, we are justified in having extras. We are not justified. But we’re not totally evil either. We are simply trying, or at least should be, to follow the commandments. There is a balance. Can we all agree that there is a balance that needs to be struck and disagree on where the fulcrum is?

  66. Grasshopper
    December 30, 2003 at 7:36 pm

    For my part, it’s not so much wanting to say that we’re justified in having extras as it is questioning whether some of the things Matt et al. think are extras are really extras. How do we determine whether something is an “extra”? Is it anything beyond our bare survival needs?

  67. Matt Evans
    December 30, 2003 at 8:10 pm

    Hi Clark,

    I don’t know that God _ever_ serves himself. I can’t think of a story, or implication, of Christ ever serving himself. He let others serve him, but that’s implicit in the fact that we’re all neighbors.

    Looking at the passages about the two succesful attempts to build Zion, it’s not clear how much latitude we should give ourselves, either. These are the standards we’re striving towards:

    “…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. And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them. And they began to be divided into classes…” 4 Nephi 1:24-26

    “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Moses 7:18

    Hi Grasshopper,

    I miswrote about the suitability of movies for dates. (I haven’t had time to edit my posts today — as I reread them I’ve found lots of errors). I should have said that movies are generally a poor way to emotionally connect with another person. You’re right that some movies prompt meaningful conversations afterwards.

    I don’t know that it’s immoral to have something beyond absolute essentials, but I do know you don’t love your neighbor as yourself if you treat yourself to two dinners out while your neighbor has none.

    The hypothetical of the starving person is one of my staples. If we agree that it would be wrong to see a movie if we encounter a starving person, are we relieved of the moral burden because we avoid encountering the starving people?

    Hi Everyone,

    I don’t want anyone to think that I am a paragon of simple living or christ-like love. I think about this issue a great deal but my victories are small: we bought the base-package minivan — I’ve sacrificed power locks and windows, tinted windows and cruise control; we bought a lot less house than we qualified for and gave our children a small Christmas (they loved it — they don’t know the difference).

    My point is only to show that we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. The only conclusion to this discussion is the admission and recognition that we fail to live the second commandment. If we were living the second commandment, we would build Zion. We would be Zion. I’ve just pointed out the obvious — we are not living in Zion. Once we acknowledge that we don’t live in Zion, it’s not hard to figure out why.

  68. cooper
    December 30, 2003 at 8:10 pm


    I am not saying we should not satisfy any of our wants. What I am saying is that we need to evaluate our wants. Is it truly a want? So many of us have “things” we don’t need. The Lord has said “There will always be poor among us”. It gives us a chance to be the conduit the Lord counts on to provide a needed benefit.

    This is a difficult. It is a HUGE concept for people to understand it seems. We can provide for ourselves. We can provide for the poor – not just temporally poor – but all the poor. It becomes an exercise in selflessness. Occasionally put off the natural man and step into the next realm. We cannot raise children and do all the things the Lord asks of us if we refuse to accept the burden of providing for ourselves and family. It is just as important though to give up something important to us and sacrifice for someone else. It is the act of “giving up” that brings us closer to understanding the atonement. It’s like the guy on the corner selling roses. I do not buy flowers from him everyday. I wait for the spirit to say “buy today”. I listen for the opportunity to serve. And it’s not always in the same way.

    I am not saying go without. I am not saying get it all. What I am saying is look inside. Ask the Lord to direct your life. Ask everyday for opportunities to help others – in work or in deed – and look for the opportunities to serve.

    We went to BYU. We chose professions that would allow us to serve others. We gave up the big pay off of big business. That was our choice. I am not saying it has to be yours. Find a place that’s right for you and when the day is done you can look your Father in the eye and say you did your best.

  69. December 30, 2003 at 10:01 pm

    “I don’t know that God _ever_ serves himself. ”

    You see, this is what I disagree with. I think what God does is see himself in others and others in himself. What I see is you leaving out half that part of the equation.

    I certainly recognize that perhaps this is a bit of a theoretical point. But it seems a very serious point since it is what consecration *means*. We repeat words such as “be willing to give all” but never analyze what that means.

    That’s why I think that looking at the implications of what we say is so pertinent. I personally don’t think what you say as an “ideal” is really that hard to live. I could do it easily tomorrow. My point is that I think what you are preaching as the ideal is something wrong. I don’t neglect to do it because I can’t, but because I think I would be in error to do so.

    Now clearly there are things I can do. I was rather upset yesterday when someone else shoveled all the neighborhood walks and drives. I was kind of hoping to do that. My disposable income isn’t what it once was, and admittedly I spent far too much of it on fun and games. (For instance did I really need to buy a new Pathfinder as my vehicle? Do I really need all the books I have? Did I need those climbing skins for my skis?)

    On the other hand I think that the reality, especially the economic reality of implementing things as you say ought to be the ideal would actually hurt more than it helps.

    So perhaps that’s why I’m unwilling to simply say that yeah, this is some unobtainable ideal for this life, shrug, and then go on with life. I think that what is within our power is actually more than we give ourselves credit for. To me the amazing thing about the gospel is that we *can* live it. The City of Enoch is a distinct possibility. Perhaps we don’t want it, but we could obtain it if we wanted.

    The question to me is what it consists of. I think that the “ideal” you outline isn’t an ideal at all because I don’t see it bringing *in this world* the City of Enoch. It seems a tad too much like Thomas Moore’s Utopia which had an etymology meaning “no place.” To me the amazing fact of the gospel is that it isn’t some metaphoric coming never realized…

  70. Matt Evans
    December 31, 2003 at 12:22 am

    Hi Clark,

    I’m uncertain whether you think my ideal is unattainable (Moore’s Utopia) or easy (“I could do it tomorrow”). Either way, the comments about my ideal being easy, yet wrong, missed my main point. I don’t believe people who give things away will create Zion, I believe people who love their neighbor as themselves will create Zion, a by-product of which is that they will give their things away. Though someone gives all their clothes to the poor, without charity they won’t build Zion.

    We aren’t capable of building Zion becaue we don’t truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Zion depends completely upon factors _internal_ to the individuals in the society. The United Orders didn’t fail because of the way they were structured, but because the people were spiritually immature. They had too little charity and were unable to work for the benefit of their neighbor, and to love their neighbor as themselves.

    The people of the city of Enoch and 4 Nephi, on the other had, because of their love, saw Zion created spontaneously. (This spontaneous idea is new to me, but it resonates. I’m mulling on it now.)

    “Building Zion” means nothing more or less than fostering christ-like love between our fellow men. Charity (in the full sense) is sufficient and necessary for the creation of Zion. The rest follows. They have all things in common and do not distinguish “mine” and “thine.”

    Or stated differently, “Zion” and “Society comprised of people who love their neighbor as themselves” are coterminous.

  71. December 31, 2003 at 1:57 am

    I’m uncertain whether you think my ideal is unattainable (Moore’s Utopia) or easy (“I could do it tomorrow”).

    I think the requirements are doable but I don’t think the City of Zion is attainable through those methods.

  72. December 31, 2003 at 3:08 am

    That last post got screwed up somewhat. (Although I did find that comments don’t allow html)

    My point is that yes, I could give up all I have and live the “lowest common denominator” without much trouble. It really wouldn’t bother me considering the stuff I do for fun. (My wife, on the other hand, might not appreciate it) I don’t think that doing this would bring about the City of Enoch nor do I think it would really improve the lives of others to that significant amount. Further I think that the long range consequences would end up being hurtful to me both spiritually and temporally. Thus I find the *consequences* bad which, given that what God commands is good, makes me wonder if the interpretation is correct.

  73. Matt Evans
    December 31, 2003 at 3:09 pm

    Hi Clark,

    That was the point I tried to clarify in my previous post. Giving your stuff away won’t bring about Zion; loving our neighbors as ourselves will both 1) cause Zion and 2) cause us to distribute our things to our neighbors. Zion and the distribution of resources are effects caused by perfect love.

  74. December 31, 2003 at 3:44 pm

    Matt, just to clarify, the issue isn’t whether we love our neighbors, but *how* we love our neighbor. To me it seems clear that many people who don’t give to their neighbors love them but what is missing is an understanding of what this ought to inspire. You seem to assume that if you have the love the proper acts will follow. But this, to me, is demonstrably false. Either love doesn’t *automatically* imply acts or else we redefine the meaning of love such that it is determined by a set of proper acts. In any case an analysis of proper action is essential. And it is there where I disagree. Your other comments I largely agree with. I just disagree with the implications you draw.

  75. Matt Evans
    January 1, 2004 at 9:37 am

    Hi Clark,

    If you love someone, you will share with them.

    Here’s a hypothetical to help clarify. After a shipwreck, a Mormon and a Catholic reach a deserted island. They do not know each other. From the wreckage that drifts to the island, the Mormon finds the freight container that had all of his possessions, including generators, appliances, beds, air conditioners and a year’s supply of food and water from Costco. He also finds a bunch of 55-gallon drums of fuel. The Catholic guy finds his 12 boxes of stale crackers.

    Even if one believes the Mormon guy has no moral duty to share his possessions with the Catholic, it’s impossible to argue that the Mormon could sit back and watch Castaway on his home theater system in air conditioned comfort while eating a hot roast beef sandwich and a bowl of cheese soup, look out his window and see the Catholic guy roasting in the sun with a mouthful of stale Triscuits for the sixtieth day, then flip open his leatherbound quad, read Matthew 22:37-39, and conclude, “That’s me! I love my new Catholic neighbor as much as I love myself.” It’s impossible because his acts and behaviors are antithetical to love. People who love share.

    Many, many acts automatically flow from loving someone as ourselves. Because we will be as anxious for our neighbor’s comfort, convenience and needs as we are for our own, we will share all of our talents and resources with them.

  76. January 1, 2004 at 2:47 pm

    But of course if you love someone you *don’t* always share with them. For instance a parent doesn’t always give their kids the car. The best example of love, God, involves a being with all power but who rarely gives us what we need for survival on this world. So it seems that statement is demonstrably false.

    Further we have all sorts of examples of “good deed” doing dastardly things. One example that has stuck with my mind since I was a teenager was the Italian army in the 40’s and 50’s digging wells in Ethiopia. It was good intentioned but caused a change in the largely nomadic lifestyle. This led to overgrazing and depletion of the plant life for areas around the wells. This in turn allowed top soil to blow away. It ended up, in part, contributing to the massive draughts they had in the 80’s. (I recognize there were other factors)

    A phrase that comes to mind is that love without knowledge is like ferver without wisdom.

  77. Matt Evans
    January 2, 2004 at 11:35 am

    Hi Clark,

    I don’t think you can refuse to share your talents and resources based on God’s failure to act. At judgment, when Christ says to the goats, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat;…a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not” and prepares to send them to everlasting punishment, they could say, “Well omnipotent God, I noticed _you_ didn’t do anything for the least of these, either. Too busy counting your planets to take care of the hungry and naked, eh? How can you punish me for following your example?” I doubt he’ll be persuaded.

    As for parents, parents don’t give their children cars for two reasons. First, there’s an unspoken appeal to equality. Parents don’t want to spoil their kids, which means they don’t want their kids to have too many things *relative to everyone else*. “Spoiling” is a relative term, so now giving your kids three pairs of shoes, one for school, church and sports, isn’t the extravagance it once was and is no longer spoiling. If everyone in the world needed and had a car, parents would give their kids cars. Because cars are distributed unequally now, parents are rightfully reluctant to give them to their kids for fear of spoiling them.

    The second reason parents don’t give their children cars is because they’re afraid their kids won’t learn to work if they’re given everything. Not wanting to raise loafs, they give their kids reason to work. This is a decent argument against subsidizing idle spendthrifts. It does not justify our refusal to share with people who are working hard or have no capacity to work (children, handicapped, elderly).

    Further, parents are excellent examples of how people who love each other as themselves _do_ share their talents and resources. Good parents lavish their children with their time and possessions. They work with them, they pay for their music and sports lessons, they take them swimming, they go camping at Yellowstone, they give them food, clothes and shelter. Parents give their children these things because they love them. Parents who fail to share their resources with their children do not love them. Christ has commanded us to love everyone the way good parents love their children. (More precisely, he said “love one another, as I have loved you.” His love for us exceeds even the love of good parents for their children.)

    Yes, there are unintended consequences to building wells, dams, cars, book presses, sewing machines, blogs, and everything else that’s ever been built or done. This has no bearing on the discussion of whether we should help ourselves or our neighbors. The negative effects of the wells in Ethiopia wasn’t due to their being financed with money of non-Ethiopians. If the Ethiopians had mortgaged their farms to pay for the wells, would you be blaming the unintended harms of the wells on farm mortgages? No. The consequences have nothing to do with how they were financed. This issue is just the inverse of the “quality chair, beautiful suit” argument. Once we decide that something is good (chairs, suits, farm technology) the only question is _who_ gets the good things.

    If you’re still unpersuaded that love requires us to share, please address my hypothetical of the shipwrecked Mormon and Catholic. How much of his resources must the Mormon share with the Catholic before he can say he loves his neighbor as himself?

  78. lyle
    January 2, 2004 at 12:21 pm


    thanks! this has been a fab conversations to read and ponder on. following Matt’s lead, i re-read a few of my posts and wanted to apologize, in general, for a few of my comments.

    i was inspired to try some of this out in practice, so, while knowing you can’t disprove theory, (however this is a law of God, theoretically at least, right?), i’ve been trying to (dis)prove that “money can’t buy happiness.” my initial observations are that the only joy i’ve gotten from money has been in giving presents; although my biggest concern has also been that the third standard deviations presents (compared to a normal bell curve of past presents) hasn’t changed any outward behavior in the receiving siblings…and may have even made it worse. at the risk of paraphrasing/quoting Paul H. Dunn, “oft when you help a person in the ‘worst’ way, you do exactly that…in the ‘worst way’.

    happy new year and thanks to all for allowing me to post. i appreciate those who help correct my absolute/extremism.

  79. January 2, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    “I don’t think you can refuse to share your talents and resources based on God’s failure to act.”

    I fully agree. I was more just pointing out a generalization your discussion was based on that seemed demonstrably false. The same with the comments about parents. Your explanation of “why” is exactly my point. There is a “why” and a “how” that determines how love is acted upon. Yet your earlier comments seem to neglect that all important set of considerations.

    “Yes, there are unintended consequences to building wells, dams, cars, book presses, sewing machines, blogs, and everything else that’s ever been built or done. This has no bearing on the discussion of whether we should help ourselves or our neighbors.”

    But it has *every* bearing on considering *how* we help them.

    “If you’re still unpersuaded that love requires us to share…”

    But from your own examples you clearly are unpersuaded as well since you defended cases where loving people didn’t share. At best we can say that loving people in certain circumstances share.

  80. Matt Evans
    January 2, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    Hi Clark,

    Thanks for all of the feedback, this has been a very good discussion. It’s motivated me to write a comprehensive approach to loving our neighbor as ourselves.

    I didn’t defend people not sharing. I defended not giving excessively to *particular people*. Parents can make good arguments that the neighbor who most needs or deserves their resources is not their children. I completely agree. I’m also open to arguments that we shouldn’t give much to the able-bodied who spend all day playing video games.

    But this doesn’t relieve the duty to share, nor does it mean they can consume the resources themselves. It simply means they should find a different neighbor to bless. Again, the question is _who_ benefits from our talents and resources.

    Concerns about *how* to share are usually offered as pretexts to avoid sharing and aleviate their conscience when they consume the resources themselves. If someone is really worried by How, here’s a good two-step guide: (1) Find something you or your family enjoy. (2) Provide it for someone else.

    If they find the two-step guide complicated, there are a bunch of one-step programs that work well, too: fast offerings, PEF, humanitarian program, CARE, Catholic Relief Charities.

    Jacob said it best, “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.” In other words, when you see an opportunity to share, share!

  81. cooper
    January 2, 2004 at 8:58 pm

    Speaking of simple and small charities that can really help immediately there is always

    After all the church donations are made, I try to make an effort to help this cause. It is good to know the $$ goes to someone (not unlike many of us were once – starving students etc.) who can really need instant help. It gets them over a current need and usually provides a way for them to “payback” when they’re able.

    This has been a good discussion. If for no other reason than to help me check my motivations in everyday wants. Thanks everyone.

  82. January 2, 2004 at 9:27 pm

    Just to clarify, I see this more as a theoretical discussion, albeit a very important one. I suspect that in most cases we’d be likely to agree – although I also suspect not in all. (Nor in charities – I don’t give the UN because I find their waste and abuse outrageous. But the Catholic relief funds are good but I prefer local charities to be honest as well as various PACs)

    If we agree that we can’t say loving X implies sharing with X (where X is any particular group or person) we are then left in an unusual place. If we reject the entire “love implies sharing” and apparently remove love from the discussion entirely (you now speak of duty), where does that leave us?

    Specifically your bringing up duty to replace the discussion of love is intriguing. I actually think that is a better approach, more in line with the way things are discussed in the scriptures. (Say Mosiah 27) The question still remains, what is our duty? More particularly, how do we decide how to allocate resources.

    As I said earlier, I actually don’t think giving up one’s resources is that difficult. I think the reason we don’t do it relates as much to thinking particulars are wrong as it does to our own innate selfishness. I recognize that it is here I disagree with you.

    What you seem to suggest is that we should simply take what we want and give it to someone (with the someone not really mattering that much). This gets back to the discussion earlier in the thread about equality. Apparently if there is an inequality it is our *duty* to equalize it.

    So once again, let me ask you, should all of us in America give up all our wealth so that we are on equal footing with people in Haiti or the poor in Africa? If not, why?

  83. Matt Evans
    January 4, 2004 at 12:26 pm

    Hi Clark,

    I didn’t deliberately substitute duty for love. But because we’re commanded to love, and we have a duty to keep the commandments, we therefore have a duty to love, and a corresponding duty to share, so it doesn’t really change my point. Love is the root of my argument.

    Love does lead to sharing. You’re right that this is only a general rule — like every other commandment. Generally we speak tenderly towards those we love, but we’ve been instructed to reprove with sharpness when moved by the Holy Ghost. In the same manner, generally we share with them, though there may be instances when, out of love, we decide we shouldn’t give a certain thing to certain person. Most of the time, however, love compels us to share with those we love, just as parents (should) give liberally of their time and possessions to their children. My fear is that people, anxious to justify working for themselves, will use the exception to swallow the rule. The rule is that we share with those we love, and we’ve been commanded to love all men.

    The citizens of Haiti and Africa are our neighbors and we should share our with them. There will be equality — all things in common; no poor among us; equality in temporal things — in Zion. This is because people will love their neighbor as themselves and will work for their benefit. (Just to clarify, I didn’t list any UN charities in my previous post, and wouldn’t give to any of them, either.)

    I’m struck by your statement that people’s refusal to give doesn’t stem from their desire to keep the thing for themselves. My kids have shown me that sharing is learned behavior. It is very, very hard for them to share. They both want the blue cup, the bigger slice of pizza, the last strawberry yogurt, the first turn with a new toy. At times when they’re overcome with love and compassion they will volunteer something precious, but for the most part their capacity to share has been learned. We praise them when they share, and when they don’t, we say, “Madeline, are you in our family? And what does our family do — our family shares!” We also try to be good examples. I tell Jefferson that the reason I’m letting him eat some of my ice cream is because I love him — and people who love each other share. Our kids have come a long way, but they, like me and everyone else I know, still struggles to share.

    Also, as I’ve counted tithing for our middle-class ward, I’ve been shocked by how little people contribute to anything besides tithing. Probably 60% of the envelopes only include tithing. 30% donate $10 to $20 for fast offerings. 8% add a $10 to $20 donation for one of the other categories like humanitarian assistance, Perpetual Education Fund, etc. At our ward, if your contributions to categories other than tithing is 10% of the amount of your tithing (in other words, your total donation is 11% of your declared income), you’re in the top 2% of donors. Lots of our ward members probably spend more on cable TV, DVDs or CDs every month than they voluntarily give to their neighbor. Americans are very generous compared to other nations of the world, and Mormons are generous among Americans, but I don’t believe most people find giving away their material comforts easy. The reason we don’t share more is because, like my kids, we want the bigger slice of pizza, the last strawberry yogurt and the first turn with the toy, not because we doubt that someone else would like them. We’re more concerned with getting what we want than with helping our neighbors get what they want. That’s why Zion is not found on the earth.

  84. January 4, 2004 at 11:07 pm

    Matt, a few brief points as I’m somewhat ill.

    I think we can’t speak of love in abstract since we never love in abstract. Rather we love individuals (or things). I think my prior points established that loving X does not imply sharing with X. That we often share with those we love seems certain. But you are attempting to make the general rule that which can not be the general rule.

    Now, if you were to change your approach somewhat and say, we serve those we love, I think you’d find it a much more satisfactory match. But the confusion of service with sharing is, I feel, unfortunate. Sometimes sharing is not service at all, as my prior examples attest.

    Why do I make this point (and duck the more Socratic form our discussion was taking)? Because service focuses in on the ends – what is achieved (or attempted to achieve). Sharing focuses in on what we have and, more or less, ignores results.

    The focus on sharing to the detriment of service is most unfortunate. If the 20th century taught us anything, it was that sharing and giving is not the same as serving.

  85. Matt Evans
    January 5, 2004 at 7:50 am

    Hi Clark,

    I don’t see the distinction between service and sharing that you do — they appear to be synonyms. Indeed, in what manner could the Good Samaritan have served him who fell among thieves except to share his time and possessions? I can’t think of any example of serving that isn’t sharing.

    If you intended ‘service’ to mean “share time” and ‘sharing’ to mean “share possessions”, I don’t know what this gets you, either. I don’t see why love requires Jon Huntsman to share his time, but not his money, to clothe and house his neighbors. There is some romantic appeal to having someone of Huntsman’s social position sewing clothes and plumbing toilets for his neighbor — the evidence of love would be obvious. But I’m not sure that the gospel requires us to oppose the division of labor, facilitated by money, that allows Huntsman to exchange his time doing things he’s good at (operating a large corporation) with the time of those who are good at sewing or plumbing.

    For this reason I don’t agree that it’s possible to love a person yet not share with them. I’m not certain which of your prior points you thought established it was possible to love yet not share. The example you provided of parents refusing to give a car to their teenager, I believe, only shows that we do not have to give so much to one person that this person has disproportionately more than others. Parents share many things with their children, so the question is only how much parents should share with their children relative to how much parents share with their other neighbors. Parents who think other people need cars more than their children do are probably right.

    As for able-bodied people who refuse to work, I think we may rightly refuse to share of our possessions with those who manifest no interest in acquiring possessions (though I admit that Jacob 2:17 makes no such distinction). Just as love doesn’t compel us to give cocaine to those who want it, love doesn’t require that we finance someone’s TV or video game habit. It is right of us to ensure that our gifts of time and money are used for good things.

    One fail-safe way to know what things are good for our neighbor is to look at how we consume our time and money ourselves. If it’s good for us, it’s good for our neighbor. And if it’s bad for our neighbor, it’s bad for us. Like with the wells in Ethiopa, the question isn’t whether the thing is good or bad — everyone agrees bad things shouldn’t be built by anyone. The question is _who_ gets the good things.

    As for the lessons of the 20th century, I don’t the lesson to be learned against sharing. If you said this as a critique of socialism and communism’s coerced “sharing,” I fully agree, and argued this point extensively on the Christian Taxation thread. Redistributing wealth by force is not sharing; sharing is voluntary and cannot be forced. (Maybe this is what you meant by service.) As for bona fide sharing (service), the 20th century was probably the *best* century in history. Lots of people voluntarily provided free immunizations, healthcare, disaster relief, and food to improve the lives of their neighbors around the world.

  86. January 5, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    “I don’t see the distinction between service and sharing that you do — they appear to be synonyms.”

    I recognize that. And I think that is unfortunate because it confuses means with ends in my opinion. i.e. it views “love” in terms of *me* rather than the *other* or the person I love. My love is defined in terms of me and my understanding rather than the person I claim of loving.

    That’s basically been my fundamental objection through this entire thread. I’ve simply seen too many people, especially within marriages, who think they are serving and sharing when in actuality they are simply assuming that the other person is the same as they are.

    That is the interesting thing about love in the gospel. In one sense love is extending the boundary of self. In a sense my spouse and I become one – one self. Consecration attempts to expand that movement in ever widening circles until we reach the stature of Christ. However within that unity we have to *know* the actual needs. To do otherwise is to confuse my idea of self/other with the self/other. And, to tie this into an other thread, that is a deep effect of pride.

    I don’t want to get too philosophical, but the nature of the “other” (the person I love) *must* be seen as different as well as same. To elevate one of those above the other is to fundamentally do violence to that other person.

    As you say again, “if it’s good for us, it’s good for our neighbor.” But that is so completely false I can’t emphasize it enough. Indeed I’ve seen that manifest just this week when people took advantage of some of my charity. What is good for others is unique for each and every person.

  87. cooper
    January 5, 2004 at 10:55 pm

    After reading this thread for days and noticing the circular discussion…

    I went to a favorite non-mormon blog I visit regularly. I doubt most of you have been there. I asked permission to reprint her thoughts because I thought they might help this discussion along. It will also illuminate the subject from a non-mormon point of view. Here is Superhero’s journal entry on blessings:

    I’ve been reading a book called My Grandfathers’ Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen. Every time I pick it up and read even a few pages, my eyes well up with tears. (I had to stop reading it in public because it just got too embarrassing.) This book moves me because it is kind. It’s like that moment when you feel blue and someone says something unbearably nice and you just break down. When someone blesses you.

    What is a blessing?

    When I was in Thailand a few years ago, Matt and I discovered a cultural exchange called “Monk Chat” at a temple in Chiang Mai. It gave foreigners an opportunity to talk to monks about monastic life, Buddhism and Thai culture, while giving these young men a chance to practice their english and learn about us.

    We asked one of the monks about meditation and he said, “It is about training the mind to be skilled in thought. When you are on the bus staring at the back of someone’s head, you can use that time to worry about money or all of the things you need to do, or you can use that time to bless the people around you. This is skilled thought. Thought that serves others.”

    Since then, I’ve tried this trick on the bus and I noticed that it did two important things:
    1.You get out of your head long enough to be present and actually see the people around you
    2.It stirs a compassion in you for those same people. It’s as if the act of blessing is what cultivates compassion and not the other way around. You don’t feel compassionate so you bless, you bless so that you are filled with compassion.

    I find that a lot of things work this way. For example, there is a romantic misconception that painters are struck with inspiration and dart to the canvas to create their masterpiece. Usually this is not how it happens, and if you wait until you are inspired to paint, you might never do it! But if you simply begin moving the brush around, dipping into the colors, you find inspiration (and even joy) in the process and want to continue.

    The same goes for meditation. If you wait until you feel peaceful enough to meditate, you might wait a lifetime. But if you simply stop and sit (out of a commitment to the practice) you begin to find that peaceful place within.

    Maybe we have it backwards. All of this waiting to feel ready, inspired, strong enough, smart enough. Maybe the writing of the book is in the end what will make us feel ready to write the book, and the blessing of others will make us feel blessed ourselves.

    So there we have another great point of view. Hope you don’t mind!

  88. January 6, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    Cooper, I fully agree. (And rather like Zen myself) At some point we must act. You will never become perfect without first acting. And you will fail many times (as all of us have in many aspects of our life) However the point is that sharing focuses in on us while service focuses in on the other. All too often we *must* be aware of what the consequences of our sharing would be. That’s why God doesn’t give us everything we ask. That’s why parents don’t.

    We must extend that line which characterizes the self. But in so doing we must also be true and just to those we encounter.

  89. Matt Evans
    January 6, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    Hi Clark,

    As for means and ends, I entirely agree. If we love someone we will want them to be happy, we will want to make them happy. Our objective — the *ends* — are to increase their joy and relieve their burdens. But there are no *means* to achieve the end of relieving someone’s burden or increasing their joy except by sharing.

    Granted, lots of ‘sharing’ isn’t done for the right reasons. It’s too frequently done to satisfy the needs of the giver, but that hasn’t been my point. I’ve insisted that ‘love’ inevitably leads to sharing, not the other way around. Sharing can be motivated by other, and ulterior, motives. We can know that someone who doesn’t share doesn’t love, but we can’t know that someone who shares does love.

    We are all different. Everyone has different personalities, different preferences, different tastes. However, I don’t believe this truth impedes us the way you suggest nor mean that things that are good for us aren’t good for our neighbors.

    In the relevant respects, people are all the same.

    People like having a shelter over their head, food, vacations, security, money, clothes, gift certificates, cars, good health care, free time, and college scholarships.

    People don’t like being evicted, being hungry, being lonely, paying bills, having untreated medical needs, having car trouble, or seeing their kids ridiculed because they don’t have the right stuff.

    If we are sharing out of love, we will learn what things our neighbor — the other, the *thou* — wants and likes so we can tailor our service. Our neighbor may even ask us not to share with them (usually out of pride — their ego can’t stomach to ‘owe’ someone — they want to preserve the fiction that they’re self-made). We should generally respect that preference, too, while at the same time ensuring that we’re acting out of love and not from a desire to manipulate or place them in our debt.

    Hi Cooper,

    Thank you for sharing those notes about blessings. I’ve experienced the phenomena she describes. Love leads to service leads to love leads to service. This virtuous cycle spirals to Zion.

  90. January 8, 2004 at 9:39 pm

    Interesting paper on community and service from a pragmatist point of view:

    I’d be interested in seeing how Matt or perhaps the sociologists in the group view it.

  91. lyle
    January 22, 2004 at 5:58 pm

    note, i just registered the site

    which i will probably run as my personal blog site…which will focus on discussion topics such as this thread…and highlight those individual saints who have projects going that are building zion.


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