Mormonism and Nature.

November 20, 2003 | 7 comments

Christians have applied the unique resources of their faith to understanding the environmental question, with varying degrees of sophistication. Ad campaigns have asked whether Jesus would drive an SUV (see here and, comically, here), while scholars have drawn on the resources of scripture and of doctrine. It is well. Christianity ought to infect the culture, even the banal culture. I applaud, at the least, the intent of these efforts.

What about us? We’re not just another brand of Protestant. We have some unique ideas to bring to bear, I trust.

To what sources does a Latter-day Saint turn to answer the question, what must be done with respect to nature?
Ultimately, only God can answer the question with authority. The Latter-day Saint must either seek personal answers from God, or rely on the received answers of prophets whom God has confirmed to the individual Latter-day Saint. Nonetheless, it is in the Divine Purpose that a soul must study, think, and try to reach a conclusion before turning to God for confirmation. (, e.g., D & C 8:2-3).

In light of all this, and because I’m interested in environmental law, I’ve talked a professor into letting me do a survey of Mormon sources, some weightier than others, for constructing an environmental ethic. The project’s ambitious, so for now I’m doing little more than surveying the field and drawing a few tentative conclusion.

These are the Latter-day Saint sources that I will consider:
· Latter-day Saint scripture specific to treatment of nature (e.g., D & C 104:17—“The earth is full, and there is enough and to spare”)
· The writings and teachings of Latter-day Saint prophets and authorities (e.g., Spencer W. Kimball, “Listen to the Prophets,” Ensign, May 1978, 76—“The spring of the year reminds us, too, of the need to garden . . . .; it brings human nature closer to nature.”)
· The non-authoritative thoughts, arguments, and reflections of Latter-day Saints (e.g. issue 4 of IRREANTUM, which is devoted to environmental reflections; Ball, Terry B., and Jack D. Brotherson, “Environmental Lessons from Our Pioneer Heritage” (1999), BYU STUDIES 38:3:63; King, Arthur Henry, “Nature and the Bourgeois Poet” (1986), BYU STUDIES, 26:3:80; PAUL ALAN COX, NAFANUA: SAVING THE SAMOAN RAIN FOREST (1997))
· Latter-day Saint history, especially the “desert blossoming as the rose.”
· Unique Latter-day Saint beliefs that may implicate the relation of man to nature (e.g. the belief in the salvation of beasts)
Since Latter-day Saints are in many ways God’s jackdaws—we seek truth wherever it may be found—I will also turn to Christian sources to evaluate their applicability: (My professor, John Nagle, wrote a great article on Christians and species protection called Playing Noah, 82 Minn. L. Rev. 1171 (1998).)

Other sources that I already have identified include:
o Tom Alexander, Stewardship & Enterprise: the LDS Church & the Wasatch Oasis Environment, 1847-1930, Western Historical Quarterly 1994 25(3): 340-64
o Tom Alexander, Sylvester Q. Cannon & the Revival of Environmental Consciousness in the Mormon Community, Environmental History 1998 3.4: 488-507.
o A NEW GENESIS: A MORMON READER ON LAND AND COMMUNITY, (Terry Tempest Williams ed., 1998)
o Jared Hickman (Harvard), Jack Welch – David Whittaker – George Handley – Samuel Rushforth (BYU)
o The articles that John Taylor, a Mormon prophet and avid fisherman, wrote for angling magazines
o The remarks that Joseph F. Smith, a Mormon prophet, made denouncing hunting {Was it Joseph F. Smith? I can’t remember).
o D. & C. 89 on eating meat sparingly
o The story of Joseph Smith and the snake killers at Zion’s Camp

So, fellas, my question to you is: can you think of anything juicy I’ve left out?

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7 Responses to Mormonism and Nature.

  1. Renee on January 30, 2004 at 11:27 pm

    I don’t know of anything juicy you left out but I’ll make a comment anyway. :)

    On the whole, I believe the LDS pay little deference to nature, other than admiring it. We are far more concerned with our appearances than delving into – and applying – the principles of respect for nature. This isn’t unique to the LDS, it’s prevalent everywhere. I blame it on industrialization. If we still had to actually produce and nurture or hunt our food, build our homes, etc, we probably wouldn’t be so blase. My grandfather was an “old school farmer” who was extremely careful with his methods of planting, handling pests and so on. He knew that he would suffer the consequences rather quickly and strongly if he did not respect the land and his livestock. What goes around come around. Nowadays, we just hope it comes around for another generation and not back to bite us.

  2. Archie Davies on June 23, 2004 at 5:27 am

    Close to nature, can nature sustain man’s greed? Everything has a price, comfort, modernization, all tend to debilitate our natural enviorment. The real question of life is, can man progress without damaging the spiderweb of nature and/or the enviorment? A spider can repair his web, can mankind become a spinner of nature’s web and thus correct the damage to the enviorment that is the price for his comfort and modernization?

  3. lyle on June 23, 2004 at 9:57 am

    Renee: On the whole, I believe the LDS pay little deference to nature.

    Lyle: Speak for yourself. LDS = a reism used to describe _all_ LDS. Obviously untrue.

    I for one, drive a motorcycle (50mpg) & own a toyota prius (50-60mpg) for when I need to take passengers, i.e. my godchildren, to church on Sunday, mutual on wed., etc.

    I’m sure that plenty of other testimonials could be found. Perhaps you should look into BYU’s recycling program. Probably one of the most efficient & large in the country.

    Archie: You seem to consider man as _outside_ of nature. Neither She nor He has ever been so. God placed us at the top of the _nature_ hierarchy. Do “we” (another bad reification) mess up? Yeah. Do we also co-exist in many great ways? Yeah.

  4. Nate Oman on June 23, 2004 at 11:30 am

    Archie: It is good to see you commenting here. Heather and I miss you a great deal.

  5. Heather Oman on June 23, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    Archie–good questions. I’ve wondered them myself. If you want a good book about man and nature, read “Botany of Desire”. It has some interesting insights about how nature and man co-exist that I had never considered before.

    And I second Nate’s comment–it’s good to see you commenting here, and we do miss you–very much!

  6. Rob on June 23, 2004 at 1:04 pm

    Glad to see this early T&S thread come back since I missed it in the early days.

    As for resources, I would add scriptural comments on the eternal nature of animal spirits (D&C 77, Abraham 3, etc.)

    King Follett discourse on eternal intelligences also ould to give us a greater appreciation for all living things.

    Though we often don’t think of animal spirits and intelligences, there is nothing in the texts to merely limit to humans what we know about intelligences. Once you see the world as filled with eternal intelligences, each placed in their own sphere for their own joy and progression, it makes the Lord’s command to Adam (to take care of the Earth) much more rich and wonderful. We have a stewardship for the earth that is more than just taking care of God’s creations (like a museum curator), we are invited to share in God’s work to advance all his creations.

    Pretty darn cool. A view you don’t get from traditional Christianity, and something that could give Mormons the strongest environmental claims of any Christian religion.

  7. lyle on June 23, 2004 at 1:17 pm

    Archie: wanted to clarify that I liked your comment; and was seeking to clarify/highlight a distinction…not to criticize/jump on you. :)
    Esp, I rather enjoyed your analogy. :)


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