One of my most prized worldly possessions is a complete set of the Journal of Discourses. I love these books. I love the way that they look. It probably has something to do with my fascination with law books, which they closely resemble. I also love the sermons. They are a wonderful mass of exhortation, speculation, advice, brow beating, and occasionally sublime testimony. They also have a wonderful ability to surprise you. A couple of Sundays ago, I pulled down a volume at random and started reading a sermon. (I do this from time to time.) While I was doing this, I came across the following attack by Brigham Young on New Testament religious communism. No joke:
- In the days of the Apostles it was written, “And all that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need. And they continued daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, &c.” This was all right in the Apostles, to show a certain principle that was hereafter to be acted upon. It does not require more than common enlightenment to discover that such an order of things, if persisted in, would result in poverty, hunger, nakedness and destitution. (JD 10:6)
Brigham is a favorite prophet of lefty Mormons, largely because of his economics. He seems so wonderfully collectivist and anti-market that the cockles of many a progressive heart get a nice little glow thinking about him. In part, I think that Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom is responsible for this. Arrington presented Brigham as a kind of proto-New Dealer. Indeed, I think that Arrington’s book was really just a scholarly version of a common Mormon apologetic trope, namely that we-discovered-by-revelation-before-the-world-knew. (See, e.g., Widstoe, The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation) Only in Arrington’s case it was planned economics not the evils of caffine and demon liquor that the Mormons purportedly discovered early. The image of Brigham as anti-commercial, collectivist zealot was further cemented in the progressive Mormon imagination by Hugh Nibley, especially Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints.
The wonderful thing about Brigham, however, is his capacity to surprise you, and the tremendous difficulty of pinning him down or neatly pigeon holing him. Hence, in the midst of the railing against “trading with the enemy” and the need for more home manufacturing and the United Orders, you get wonderfully hard-headed little gems like the one above.
Nice post. I, too, have always chuckled at how some members like to recruit Brigham Young to socialism; I have to wonder if they have really read very much of what he had to say (Hugh Nibley’s excuse is that he just likes to pull quotes out of context anyway, in six different languages).
Brigham Young’s philosophy of political economy (which is what it was called in those days, our forefathers correctly understanding that politics and economics ultimately really cannot be separated) was genuinely conservative, closer to that of an Edmund Burke or a John Adams, in the sense that he recognized that human beings are not robots or machines for which some pet formula can be concocted that, if adhered to strictly, will insure man-made happiness. He was suspicious of such philosophies wherever he saw them, condemning both Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill, etc. Brigham seems to have believed that there were some divinely revealed principles and constants that a people should adhere to, but otherwise felt that how those were applied would very widely according to place and circumstances, and this really is classic Burkean thought (which is rarely seen today). Brigham would have rightly condemned the “there’s nothing wrong with this country that endless tax cuts and spending cuts can’t solve” school of thought, but also the socialistic mindset of using governmental force to make everyone be good and redistribute wealth (enforcing the fast offering at the point of the sword). The reason for the seeming discrepanacy here is the Brigham rejected materialism, in all its forms, and was smart enough to see it on both “sides” of the political spectrum.
The reason I think some members mistake Brigham for a “New Dealer” is the same reason many of these same members somehow think the Welfare State is some version of the United Order. Namely, they forget that all of the communal projects of Brigham were desgined for a society that was completely voluntary–if the saints didn’t want to participate, they were welcome to leave. Brigham properly understood that group cooperation simply cannot be very effective if it is coerced, something God Himself will not do. He also recognized that when Agency is forgotten, the results are often horrifying, no matter what the original motivation was.
As a genuine Burkean conservative, I have always found Brigham Young’s practical wisdom very gratifying, especially compared to the twisted neo-liberalism of the “Left” and the twisted Classical Liberalism of the “Right” today, which Brigham would have rightly seen as two peas of a pod. If there is a LDS political economy that can be constructed, it appears that it would find itself in many ways opposed to key elements of the Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and “Green” parties. Ahh…the FRUSTRATION when I walk into a voting booth….
I simply am too ignorant of the political naunces to agree or disagree with Gary. I halfway wonder, however, if Brigham’s point isn’t more of a pragmatic one than an ideological one. He had lived through various church attempts to live communally. They generally didn’t fare too well.
I’ve thought very seriously about different forms of government. Communism has its bright points but too often human corruption at the top degrades its potential. The other more serious drawback is that people are, well people. They cannot handle the daily living required when so many freedoms are taken away. Especially with no incentive to do well.
I love reading Plato, and ‘The Republic’ offers some great ideas for an idealized society. I think that if we could somehow formulate an ‘law of concecration’ (communism) hybrid with Plato’s Republic, I think we would fair pretty well as a society. We would also have to give incentives to those who put forth the greater effort and remove all incentives for those who put forth none. I believe this hybrid would work well.
Charles: You have got communism wrong. It doesn’t fail because of a lack of virtue but because of a lack of information. The central planning of national economies simply requires more information than it is humanly possible to assimilate. Without decentralized decision making (read markets) you are doomed to failure. Unless, of course, you are omniscient.
You are dead on right that Brigham Young was not ideological, but practical. This is one of the many reasons I admire the man, and why I find his poltical/economic musings more in line with Burkean thought (which rejects the very word ideology as an attempt to pigeonhole the human race into some nice, neat formula). His great respect for the lessons of experience, too, puts him more in line with men like Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk, rather than others who tended to “try something new” (a’ la Satan?) and rejected the lessons of history.
Not to quibble, but it is a common misunderstanding to think of the Law of Consecration as some type of communism or socialism. Marion G. Romney gave a wonderful talk on this entitled “Is Socialism the United Order?”. This talk was delivered, I believe, in the preisthood session of general conference in 1965 or 1966, but I don’t recall if it was April or October. President Romney does an excellent job of explaining that the similarities between the two systems are superficial, but the differences are quite deep, especially as regards Agency. he points out that Agency simply can’t be gotten around–either people freely give of their substance for the poor, or they don’t give at all, and attempts to force them to do so are worse than the poverty they are attempting to alleviate.
Some thoughts on this thread:
(1) Brigham must not have read fourth Nephi. There, it seems a communal economy was very prosperous. Also, we should not forget that Brigham was the same guy who denounced the “false political economy of the world,” by which he seems to mean the capitalism of late 19th century America/England.
(2)Communism isn’t a monolithic thing. There is NO necessary conceptual link between communism and centralized control (see, for example, Andrew Feenberg’s book _Critical Theory of Techology_ for a non-centralized model). Nor is communism in and of itself linked to a denial of agency. After all, one could have a voluntary communist society. So it seems quite proper to equate the economic systems practiced in 4th Nephi, the New Testament, and the United Order as types of communism.
I was happy to see Nate Owen’s observations about Brigham Young’s thoughts at JD 10:2. If he and others would like to read many more of the same type of comments, they could try JD 4:29; 12:61; 12:65; 13:303; 17:52-53; 18:353-7; 19:46-7. The JD 10:2 comment is not a fluke. Brigham Young was very consistent in rejecting any kind of leveling or socialism. My views on Brigham Young’s brilliance in adapting to the practical circumstances of Utah are spelled out in detail in my book “Brigham Young’s United Order: A Contextual Interpretation” (Springville, Utah: Bonneville Books, 1998). Chapter 11 is entitled “Brigham Young Rejected the Acts ‘All Things Common’ Tradition.”
The critical legal fact is that the saints were deliberately deprived of any kind of laws or government in Utah until 1869. Until that time no one could own any kind of property, there was no way to legally organize any business larger than a small unstable common law partnership, and there was no criminal laws or criminal law enforcement. How would you cope with that temporary legal disaster? There are at least a dozen strange “doctrines” that came out of that bizarre period, including the “united order” and “blood atonement.” All were tightly linked to the practical situation. Actually, from 1845 to 1869, the only practical source of law of any kind for the saints was the prophet’s pronouncements.
Similarly, in “Joseph Smith’s United Order: A Non-Communalistic Interpretation” (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, Inc, 1988), I show that Joseph was also unalterably opposed to any of the socialist nonsense (of his time or ours). The so-called “united order” of his day was nothing more than a temporary quorum of the twelve and central church business unit, forerunner of today’s corporation of the president. It was organized in 1832. See D&C 82, 92, and 96. It was in an unstable partnership form because there was no alternative. It was finally able to adopt a corporate form in 1841. That was also not long after the real Twelve (not chosen until 1835) were back from missions and finally ready to govern the church. After 1838 the functions of the “united order” were gradually passed on to the permanent organizations we know of today and the united order was dissolved.
Under both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young the temporary solutions were brilliant and effective, the exact opposite of the “failures” some have imagined them to be.
It pains me to have to criticize many of Hugh Nibley’s social writings, such as those in “Approaching Zion,” but I see them as sometimes advocating a leveling kind of socialism, and sometimes going beyond that leveling socialism to a kind of nihilism. If we followed all his explicit and implied recommendations to the letter, we would manage to mostly depopulate the earth, and the remaining few people would be living at an isolated Stone Age subsistence level. If there can be no money, no trade, and no technology, where else could society be? Instead of enforced cooperation, as in socialism, you would have enforced non-cooperation, something probably even more destructive. He advocates that we do more thinking, but it is hard to think much if you are in abject poverty. He speaks of “free lunches,” but who besides the people of Moses have ever seen any? Wasn’t there some kind of “sweat of brow” curse?
D. Michael Martindale did a thoughtful job of reviewing my two books on the Association of Mormon Letters website in his articles entitled “The United Order Will Never Be the Same, Part One” and “. . . Part Two.”
Kent, I seem to recall that one or both of your books received (unsurprisingly, I suppose) a very negative review from Dean L. May in the pages of Sunstone, years back. (I can’t find the article on-line; I believe I have a copy at the office.) As a self-described communitarian and social democrat, I’m basically a fan of Arrington’s and May’s (and Nibley’s!) readings of Smith, Young and the United Order(s). Care to elaborate further one what you think those guys all got wrong?
In the past, I haven’t done much to defend my views in public, but maybe now is a good time to have some fun with it. I would appreciate getting the May citation, so I can react. I didn’t know it existed. I mentioned the Martindale reviews, and BYU Studies published reviews by Warner Woodworth. The Woodworth reviews were not very complementary, perhaps for the same reasons as May. I would be surprised at any other result. Many church historians have too much invested in the socialist model to give it up easily. B. H. Roberts did his part to perpetuate that twist.
The most fascinating thing I discovered in my historical studies was that, in the beginning, it was the church’s enemies who made the claim, obviously intended to be damaging, that the church was a socialist organization. That gave Joseph Smith plenty of opportunities to speak to the topic. As can be easily demonstrated even today, those enemies had far more effective and longer lasting PR that did the early church leaders. Thus, without being fully aware of it, many of today’s LDS church members accept the claims of their historical enemies more than the statements of their leaders on this point.
Except for their strong personal predilection for the socialist view, prior to and totally outside the realm of church history, I don’t know how to explain the reactions of some church history writers. I visited Arrington at his home in SLC once. I thought his written views so troubling that I wanted to see for myself if I had misunderstood him. I hadn’t. We had a very short interview. I spoke with a few of his associates in church history organizations to see if Arrington’s socialist views were ubiquitous. They were not. At least one scholar of arguably equal competence was as unwilling as I was to accept Arrington’s conclusions, but found it impolitic to say so in public. I know very little about May, except that he collaborated with Arrington on some writing projects. Presumably they were in rough political agreement.
I noticed that B. H. Roberts, in the face of potential historical ambiguity, would normally prefer to present the socialist interpretation. Some ambiguities even seemed to be invented. I decided to investigate Arrington’s background a little by looking up such things as his early writings in college, etc., and was intrigued to discover, as I recall, that he and his dad had been avowed and active socialists. Was his dad a labor organizer? His favorite interpretation of history could thus be predicted in advance. Isn’t there a little bit of Marxian dialectic in every socialist?
The best answer I can offer is that I believe I have shown beyond a quibble that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were implacably against socialism. And it only took me three volumes to do it, totaling 1,130 pages. At first I just wanted to understand for myself. When I finally did, the point of this extreme, nearly lifelong research and writing effort became to remove any hint of a claim that LDS prophets and history could be used to support anyone’s current personal preferences for socialist politics and government, in the church or out.
There is really no substitute for just looking at the mountain of unequivocal evidence that supports my argument. The quotes from the official histories and Journal of Discourses are voluminous and pretty much definitive. One can certainly dislike the results, and bemoan my lack of artfulness, but I think a direct point by point rebuttal would be a nearly hopeless task. One well known and extremely able editor helped me polish up an article on the topic. That person very reluctantly admitted at the time that I had the history right at least on Joseph Smith.
There are a host of other things I would like to say about this issue, but the one I think has the most current relevance might be called Kantian in nature — the categorical imperative as it relates to church policy.
I fear that if the church as a society or movement cannot get its political and economic beliefs straightened out, and perfectly synchronized with its scriptures and correct history, then it will never be allowed to have a much larger influence on the world. We would just mess it up. My personal concern is that the church members have such inconsistent and incompatible (or inchoate) beliefs on critical social issues, that we are approaching paralysis as far as any further growth and influence.
If we have not understood and applied the freedom principles of the constitution to the Nth degree in every aspect of our lives and thinking, then we will not go anywhere, and we ought not to. For example, if we secretly hope for some eventual worldly power over other societies on the basis of our religion, then we do not understand our religion. Not many people caught the fact that the total number of church stakes went down by 5 last year. Now there is a situation that needs some good theories quick.
Socialism is all about who has the power, the governmental force, to control whom. It is all about class warfare. How can that ever be justified within the gospel?
The socialist tendency is to make everybody be “good” and fit a centrally desired political profile — the New Soviet Man, etc. This is Satanic and un-American at its base, so at what level of dilution does it become so rarified that it is not dangerous any more? I consider the book “The World in the Grip of an Idea” by Clarence Carson to be the definitive intellectual history of socialism and its many variations.
Nearly all academics, apparently including Nibley, Arrington, May, etc., seem to think they ought to have great powers based on their great wisdom — the philosopher-king logic. It is an occupational disease. The educational elites against the “know-nothing” workers, etc.
My latest (as yet unpublished) book entitled “Creating the Millennium: Social Forces and Church Growth in the 21st Century” struggles with what it would take for the church to break out of its fairly static cocoon. One important issue is: What is the exact twist on politics – the practical application of religion — that we would want to export to the world if we could? We may sit here until we do solve that problem.
It is one thing to feel a sense of community and sharing within a family or voluntary community. These are tribal-sized groups with their own internal means of accounting for favors and other means of social “capital allocation” mechanisms. It is when an attempt is made to make this natural and limited community into a larger, de-personalized entity (with force elements added) that the troubles start. Socialism — that is, centralized government control of property and labor through actual or threatened force — either precedes or is the product of tyranny and tyrants. We have fought all our wars to defend against such overreaching. That ought to tell us something about how right it is in smaller doses.
Author’s short bio: computer consultant, attorney, author.
I was reading along and hit this comment about Nibley:
“Large portions of it are an exercise in economic and political criticism by a man who, as near as I can tell, had no real interest in the modern study of politics or economics.” (BTW, it would be nice if I could use HTML to create italics or something).
Nibley’s life has several themes. One of those is the conflict between his mother/grandmother and his father/grandfather over logging off the old growth forest of the West Coast. The ladies felt it was wrong, the men thought that it was the gift of God for them to consume a thousand years or more of stored value, by hook or crook.
That conflict of concepts of stewardship and purpose really affected him, as did a visit with his grandfather when the latter was a general authority. The grandfather told him that if an angel were to walk in the door of the room of the Hotel Utah where they were talking the grandfather would throw himself out the window, so heavily did his wrongs against nature weigh on his soul.
That had a powerful effect as did Nibley’s travels around war and post war Europe and his discovery that many elements of the gospel could be found in older Christian writing.
Put those three elements together and you have Nibley’s formative moments in a nutshell, not to mention the later observation that anti-mormon writing is generally shoddy scholarship and lies and his final belief that he needs to preach one last sermon against sellng out to mammon and his life work will close.
In that context to say that Nibley had “no real interest” in the modern study of economics is to miss a good part of the heart of the man and what drove him through most of his productive academic life.
Side note, I think I’m going to change over to posting as “Ethesis” rather than Stephen or Stephen M. Ethesis is how I posted for years before the blogosphere and Stephen seems to be in use by others.
You’ve presented a new take (at least for me) on the Church’s growth dilemma. I’ll have to toss it over in my mind; but so far, I like where you’re going with the idea that “practical religion” aka “politics” should be more streamlined in the Church. But it seems like there would be many unintended consequences if a move like this were to happen. The trick would be knowing what they are in advance. I’m generalizing here, of course, but would you mind giving us a pros and cons list? That might help me understand the idea more.
I found the article. It’s “The Economics of Zion,” by Dean L. May, in the August 1990 issue of Sunstone, pgs. 15-23. It’s not a review of your book, but rather a general essay on the viability of (what May understands to be) the communal ideal of Zion in contemporary society; his thesis is pretty well summed up by his rhetorical question “Is it possible in a largely secular world to keep levels of commitment high enough to provide an alternative to self-interest as the engine of our economic systems?” (He answers with a qualified affirmative.) Regarding your book, he lumps it in with Lyndon Cook’s “Joseph Smith and the Law of Consecration,” and writes in a footnote: “Both books dwell at length on the minor point that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young used the term ‘United Order’ differently…Both authors ignore the Brigham Young United Orders in their effort to argue either that there was nothing essentially communal about the economic programs begun under Smith or that by the time of his death he had permanently and appropriately abandoned efforts to build a communal economy among his people. Young unquestionably saw the matter otherwise.”
Mine is an old copy, but I’d be happy to fax you a copy of it, it you’d like.
Thanks so much for expressing what appears to be a very imformed view on this subject. Your ideads are very similar to my own, but’s obvious you’ve doen far more research. As soon as I can I intend to find copies of your books so I can fully read your research.
Your point is extremely well taken that our inability as members to offer the world a coherent and unified voice on political/social policy at the very least does not help us. Increasingly, with the growth of “democratic” authoritarianism, the number of important human issues that do not have a political dimension is ever shrinking. We need to come together on this, pronto, but I fear that we are simply not ready. If the Brethren have to spend so much of general conference to tell us to stop reading pornography, stop beating our wives and children, and to get on the ball with prayer and scripture study, how well received would a call to resist authoritarianism and stand for the Constitution and Agency go over? I fear it would it be like a lead ballon. So sad—our brothers and sisters in the world need us to be salt and light, but we’re too wrapped up in ourselves to do it. The Lord will have a people who serve Him, and if He can’t get His people to move, He has ways of “shaking us up.” Perhaps it could be this very kind of issue, coming from the prophet’s lips, that could have that dividing effect. “Who’s on the Lord’s side? Who?”
The entire issue of growth is one charged with importance. Jacob aside (will the branches outstrip the roots?), it has troubled the church in every era.
You have to chose between slowing down the gathering of Israel and coping with inadequate leaders. There is very little pity from those who feel any inadequacy, real or imagined, is too much for those who do not receive the gospel because we do not have the strength to receive them.
In addition, there is little understanding of the real growth of the Church, in terms of %tage actives, from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Anyway, I think that Nibley is much more aware of the economics than people give him credit for, but he was shaped by dynamics and debates that are replaying themselves today.
Consider how many people truly believe (and bring it up in Fast & Testimony meetings) that if they follow God they’ll get money. They worship God to achieve Mammon.
Does that mean that we reject everything for some socialist failure? No, but perhaps we don’t need storebought pants.
Nate picked a hot topic to write on. I appreciate all the reactions to my comments. I will try to keep up.
I would be pleased to see the Dean L. May article. My fax number is 801-798-2133.
My fax setup is brand new, and has never actually received a transmission. It is set so that it requires about 10 rings before it switches from telephone to fax. I hope it works on this significant transmission. I guess the last resort is snail-mail to 1748 West 900 South, Spanish Fork, Utah 84660.
Based on your excellent summary of the article, I have a few comments. First, I didnâ€™t get my Brigham Young book published until 1998, while his article was in 1990, with only my Joseph Smith book in print. I believe I got the Joseph Smith period right, but my advance speculations in the Joseph Smith book about Brigham Young were far off the reality, still affected by myths. I had to do a lot more work to finally get the Brigham Young period right. I ended up starting the book three times before the pieces fit together in a consistent pattern. Mayâ€™s â€œminor pointâ€? comes from the wrong picture, a complete misreading of that critical history. With so many historians, May says â€œYoung unquestionably saw the matter otherwise.â€? But both men were perfectly agreed on the underlying principles. One just has dig down to those principles.
On his â€œalternative to self-interestâ€? I want to quote a wise manâ€™s inspired treatment of this subject:
“There are three prongs to the idea which has the world in its grip. The first has already been told: To achieve human felicity on this earth by concerting all efforts to its realization. The second is now before us, and can be stated in this way: To root out, discredit, and discard all aspects of culture which cannot otherwise be altered to divest them of any role in inducing or supporting the individual’s pursuit of his own self-interest. The corollary of this is to develop an ethos which focuses attention on what is supposed to be the common good of humanity. . . .
By what instrument is this transformation to be made? This brings us to the third prong of the idea. It is this: Government is the instrument to be used to concert all efforts behind the realization of human felicity and the necessary destruction or alteration of culture.” Clarence B. Carson, The World in the Grip of an Idea (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979)
I say â€œself interestâ€? and agency are one and the same. Crush self interest and you crush agency. Cooperation could certainly be widespread, if the payoffs to individuals were always compelling. If they ever ceased to be individually compelling, perhaps because of policy changes from the various leadership groups, the cooperation would lessen to that exact degree or even stop. That is as it should be.
Many people today fear the rise of the LDS Church. (A repeat of Missouri?) They cannot tell what it might mean to have the church membership be large enough to seriously affect national politics. Note the success of the shameless (and mindless) lies and scare tactics of the recent Jon Krakauer book. The fact that he could get away with that sensationalist yellow journalism and make millions while he was at it, means we are doing a really poor job of getting out that part of our message. It would be nice to convince people we really are Christians, but a big part of that same â€œwe-are-OKâ€? effort needs to be to convince them we are like them in all other important ways. We really do share their best values. We are not some incomprehensible, unpredictable, and possibly dangerous group as Krakauer tries to portray for dramatic effect: â€œThe Taliban of the West, etc.â€? Why was he not â€œlaughed out of town,â€? nationwide, for spewing such nonsense about the worldâ€™s most peaceful people?
To me the ideal situation would be for the church, or its members, to make it perfectly clear what a larger church membership would mean, all of which would be benefits to the nation and the world. It could even read like a political platform, outlining the future we would work to create, encouraging others to join us in the effort. The Proclamation on the Family was a great place to start. But it does not cover enough ground to make all the important points to put peoplesâ€™ minds at rest. Perhaps someone needs to devise a current restatement, something like D&C 134 written to an earlier generation. And then keep refreshing it.
As in Missouri long ago, the slavers today would still be against us, but the abolitionists would love us. Note that the abolitionists finally won by a tiny margin last time, with the Mormons helping even more than they meant to.
I perfectly agree with your every point. It is upsetting that we cannot get past the internal kindergarten basics of â€œbeing goodâ€? to take on some big external projects. Now would be a good time to invest a few $billions in spreading the word and doing good before we lose the option. THAT would be a significant â€œunited orderâ€? project in the sense used by the prophets in the 1800s â€“ acting in concert to deal with current difficult problems. My hope is that enough of us WOULD rise to the challenge of doing something more to accomplish our own cheerful and pleasant â€œshaking upâ€? of the world. That is the topic of my third book (still unpublished.)
Many libraries in Utah have one or both of my books. Last time I checked, Deseret Book was still offering the Joseph Smith book. Other book stores can order it. Cedar Fort, 925 North Main, Springville, Utah 84663, 801-489-4084, is the distributor and had both books in stock a few months ago. And I have a few copies to sell as well. I think my costs for both, including shipping, would be about $25.00. Also, I can send a few of the more important chapters from the three books by email, if anyone wants. I think Bob got that small set? Maybe more than one chapter is needed to understand the third book?
[Restoring Comments Inadvertently Lost in the WP transfer] :
This may be a little off-topic, but your statement made me think:
“Consider how many people truly believe (and bring it up in Fast & Testimony meetings) that if they follow God they’ll get money. They worship God to achieve Mammon.”
I certainly don’t deny that this attitude can and does exist with some members of the church. However, there is no denying that many of the principles that have been taught by our leaders and prophets DO lead us to financial and temporal prosperity (e.g. Avoiding consumer debt, having a “rainy day” fund, hard work, value of education).
I recently read “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas Stanley. It is an analysys of the wealthy in the United States. An interesting thing I noticed as I read, was that the truly wealthy, those with high net worth, not just high income, are generally good, pricipled people. They contribute heavily to charitable and religious organizations. They volunteer their time for service. They enjoy spending time with their children. The divorce rate is half that of the population at large.
Granted, praying and doing your home teaching will not increase your financial well-being, but following the wise advise of our leaders in matters relating to things financial CAN lead us to an increased prosperity. And when were are more prosperous, we have more to give.
(As a side-note to my tangent remarks: I am still saddened when I see a member of the church whipping out a credit card after Pres. Hinckley’s 1998 councel to “avoid consumer debt,” but how can I be surprised? He has also told us to “avoid pornography,” and I’ve seen that advise go unheeded as well.)
Comment by: Joseph N at April 1, 2004 10:46 AM
This is a delayed response to Russellâ€™s comments.
I finally got to read the Dean L. May article in the August 1990 Sunstone magazine. As one might expect, he brings up all the usual arguments for the â€œunited orderâ€? in the article, most of which are simply not based on the facts. To get to the truth, people must be willing to forget most of what they have heard about the â€œunited order,â€? the urban legends, and just start over with the facts.
My books on Joseph Smith (1988) and Brigham Young (1998 â€“ long after Mayâ€™s 1990 article) were designed to take on every one of those oft-repeated points in historical detail, and to show that nearly all are incorrect. It is quite amazing to see the web of myths and distortions that have been accepted or created by historians, many with an axe to grind. Nothing short of a careful reading of my books will lay all those points to rest, but there are a few other, more general observations that can be made here.
May does attribute great wisdom and cleverness to me for having foreseen the fall of communism and being ready to capitalize on that fall. It is very flattering but not very true. The book had been in the works since about 1981 and was finally finished and published in 1988, just before the wall went down. 1988 just happened to be the year I returned from my first overseas posting in Saudi Arabia and could finish the publishing process. Perhaps he was right that there was a spirit moving that wished to rub out all the evil effects of the Evil Empire, even those within the church, but if so, it was certainly below my cognition level. I might mention that Cook wrote and published his book after reading a draft of mine, but before mine was published.
I WAS disturbed to read that May thought the Eastern European nations previously under the communist iron yoke ought not to hurry to give up all their forced communalism of the past, implying there was something worth saving. Having spent two years in Moscow not long after the wall went down, I certainly disagree with him. It will surely take two generations to undo the physical brutality and psychological trauma visited on those people, if it can be done at all. There is NOTHING there that should ever be emulated, or ever have the vaguest connection with the gospel. That he could even express such a terrible thought makes suspect everything else he says.
How can anyone support tyrants with their talk of the New Soviet Man, the New German/Aryan Man, etc., etc., etc., as part of their formula to crush and control the individual? Do we want a New Gospel Man, molded almost completely by external forces to meet a single rigid standard of thought and behavior? Isnâ€™t that rather easily recognized as Satanâ€™s plan? At bottom, Mormon socialists seem to be arguing that in order to be finally accepted by Christ, we must first prove that we can live Satanâ€™s plan perfectly. Or, that it is only by living Satanâ€™s plan perfectly that we can learn to live Christâ€™s plan. Does anyone see a logical problem here? Do mindlessly obedient (and therefore perfectly â€œcooperativeâ€?) robots make the best communitarians and therefore the best Mormonâ€™s? Cooperation does have its place, but we are saved as individuals, not as communes.
We also need to get our theology straight on the nature of man. Is he truly co-eternal with God, and thus intended and expected to be magnificently independent? Or is he merely Godâ€™s recent creation and therefore nothing more important than dirt to be molded to fit any desired form by transient outside forces? Every tyrant is intent on molding his subjects to meet his exact purposes, by any means necessary. That is the impetus for the many â€œwarlord religionsâ€? that surround us, teaching people they are nothing and therefore expendable.
The changing of the nature of man â€œfor his own goodâ€? or â€œfor the good of the nationâ€? by external social forces is a totalitarian concept, and has no place in the gospel.
A few examples of historical â€œoversightsâ€?:
1) May, like most writers, completely mischaracterizes the purpose and form of the economic arrangements during Joseph Smithâ€™s time. Doctrinally and practically, they were nothing more than the precursors of the Corporation of the President today. The patterns of standard partnership organization should be obvious to a lawyer reading the relevant sections of the church history volumes, but seem to escape everyone else. And the related â€œscripturezeâ€? rhetoric makes no sense unless it is interpreted in light of the exact events and context it was dealing with, not with someoneâ€™s vague generalizations about it. Moving 20,000 people to the western borders of the country was an intensely practical and even dangerous activity. The kind of abstract thinking that might go on in a remote monastery or an ivory tower university was not their style. Short term wagon train survival social logic or even military logic was more appropriate.
2) There appeared to be good reason to set up the centralized control of all church membersâ€™ land that Bp. Partridge was proposing with his â€œleaseâ€? deals (socialism) â€“ to minimize the real estate speculation at the churchâ€™s expense that was being attempted by many people — but Joseph Smith rejected that central control logic. He continually spoke and wrote against such arrangements. If he was always against it, how can we justify being for it? We certainly cannot cite him as authority for it.
3) May cites the New Testament Acts 2 story as proof of a need for a united order, but neglects to also cite Brigham Young who makes it very clear that any such practice would have destroyed the church of his time, and he specifically rejected the Acts 2 situation as having any value as a precedent.
The social plans and efforts of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, correctly understood, were brilliantly successful. The â€œfailureâ€? myth is perhaps the worst of them all.
Comment by: Kent W. Huff at April 2, 2004 04:57 PM
“Granted, praying and doing your home teaching will not increase your financial well-being, but following the wise advise of our leaders in matters relating to things financial CAN lead us to an increased prosperity. And when were are more prosperous, we have more to give.
(As a side-note to my tangent remarks: I am still saddened when I see a member of the church whipping out a credit card ”
Yes, the people as a whole prosper in a high trust, high value society.
BTW, some of us are carrying debit cards :)
Comment by: Ethesis (Stephen M) at April 2, 2004 08:37 PM
As I read the origional post, what brigham was apposed to was the fact that the early saints sold all their posessions so that they could be in the temple every day”And all that believed were together and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need. And they continued daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, &c.” they didn’t even bother to work they were being lazy thinking that the lord would provide and that they could just do temple work all day. It was Lazyness not comunism that Brigham was opposed to
Comment by: Adam at May 8, 2004 06:40 PM