Is Poverty Satanic?

February 9, 2006 | 79 comments
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One of the most important scriptural texts for the theological consideration of poverty is to be found in Alma 32. This chapter discusses Alma’s mission to the Zoramites. During a sermon on the hill Onidah, Alma is approached by a group of impoverished individuals who were “poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world” (v. 4). In effect, because of poverty and social exclusion, these people had become an ideal audience for Alma’s missionary efforts. So the question arises: Is poverty therefore a virtuous force, bringing people to Christ who would otherwise reject the gospel message?

In fact, upon closer examination, the text in Alma suggests that the answer is, at the very least, more complex. The critical passage is Alma 32: 12-16, in which Alma explains that poverty has caused these people to become humble and accept the gospel, but that those who humble themselves and accept the gospel without being forced to do so by social and economic circumstances are more blessed. In Alma’s words, “he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty” (15).

Why is it that those who accept the gospel without extreme poverty are more blessed than poor people who also accept the gospel? The text states that one group is “compelled” in the direction of acceptance while the other is not. Hence, affluent individuals, being less compelled by circumstance, have a greater degree of agency with respect to decisions about humbling themselves and accepting the gospel. As a result, affluent individuals are more accountable for these decisions and therefore more blessed when they choose Christ. People suffering in poverty, on the other hand, retain some agency and therefore receive some blessing when they choose Christ — but not as much as if they had been in circumstances allowing a less externally compelled choice.

Within Mormon theology, the concept of being compelled to make a spiritually desirable choice — and therefore losing agency and blessings with respect to that choice — is associated with Satan. Indeed, some program or other built around these ideas is typically presented as having been Satan’s plan in the preexistence. This discussion has argued that poverty plays a partially coercive role in people’s moral and spiritual lives to the extent that, as Alma says, it compels humility and acceptance of the gospel. Hence, there is some reason to believe that poverty is, in Mormon theological categories, a Satanic force in our world.

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79 Responses to Is Poverty Satanic?

  1. Razorfish on February 9, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    I liked the entire post….until the curveball you threw at the end linking poverty “to a Satanic force.” I take your point though that someone in dire poverty doesn’t effectively have the same ability to choose (or sacrifice) as a more wealthy or affluent person. Hence, more blessed is he who believes without being compelled to believe.

    The more I ponder the gospel, it all comes down to “stewardship.” That is when you are entrusted with spiritual knowledge, eternal truths, or wealthy and prosperity – what do you do with it, and how do you exercise stewardship over these things?

    How many of the Savior’s parables dealt with this issue of stewardship? If the inexplicable and incomprehensible promised blessings of the next life are predicated on faithfulness and obedience and “being the good and faithful servant”, then clearly how we manage our wealth and affluence are some of the ways that we can demonstrate our stewardship.

    The reality of how difficult it is to exercise stewardship over possestions and wealth is summed up by the observation that “it is harder for a rich man to enter into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.”

  2. Matt Evans on February 9, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    JNS,

    Like Razorfish I thought this was an excellent post except for the final paragraph. There I think you misread Alma’s message. Alma’s saying the people were compelled to be humble, and that humility kept them open to the possibility of a savior whereas their neighbors riches led them to be proud, and that pride made it more difficult for them to accept their Savior. Alma seems to be saying that a person who has reason to be proud (by the standards of the world) yet humbles themself before the Lord is blessed because they have overcome an extra burden the poor don’t have to worry about.

    Like Alma, I could say it’s good to not be a rock star, because being a rock star makes one proud and unwilling to acknowledge one’s reliance on God, but those who are rock stars yet overcome the praise of the world to accept Christ are more blessed still. It would be logically falacious, however, to argue that this truth makes not being a rock star “satanic.”

    The same is true for every attribute (wealth, fame, good looks, talent) that leads society to reward someone with the vain things of the world.

  3. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 9, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    Matt, I should point out that the specific Book of Mormon language is that poverty “compels” humility and therefore acceptance of the gospel. Does not being a rock star have similar coercive force? If not, then your comparison seems to fail.

  4. Matt Evans on February 9, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    JNS,

    Yes, there are probably too many many non-rock stars to compel non-rock stars to be humble. So let’s think of a different example: serious disability. People with serious disablities are (wrongly) held in low regard by society and are therefore compelled to be humble, which makes them more likely to accept the gospel. But I don’t think we could conclude that having a serious disability is therefore “satanic.”

  5. Frank McIntyre on February 9, 2006 at 11:05 pm

    J,

    I don’t read Alma 32 as suggesting that none of the humble poor could be “more blessed”. I always read it as noting that, among the humble, there are the compelled to be humble and those who would be humble regardless. Those people were all so badly off that they would be humble no matter what, but some people are humble anyway whether they are rich or poor– blessed are they.

    To put it another way. My poverty may compel me to eat ramen noodles. Some poor people (and, as an aside, rich people) eat ramen noodles because they wish to, and would eat it even if not compelled. They receive the blessings of being uncompelled in eating ramen, for the Lord judges the desire of their heart.

    Also, it is hard to see where to draw the line. Is it satanic that I am not as stinking rich as Bill Gates? Surely I am far more “compelled” to be humble than he is (although I admit that the compelling does not seem to have sunk in for me). Is it satanic that I can’t fly, because it reduces my choices? Is it satanic that I can’t blow up buildings by shooting lasers out my eyes, because if I could I would have to exercise more restraint? In a sense, I can agree that all of these limits partake of satan’s plan. On the other hand, it sounds like we are being awfully free with the word Satanic.

  6. Watt Mahoun on February 9, 2006 at 11:08 pm

    Razorfish wrote:

    I liked the entire post….until the curveball you threw…

    …The reality of how difficult it is to exercise stewardship over possestions and wealth is summed up by the observation that “it is harder for a rich man to enter into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.â€?

    Razorfish (cool name :), that’s the first time I’ve ever heard the “eye of the needle” parable as an affirmation. I’ve definitely been hanging with the wrong people. Though I have met a few who firmly believe that it truly is more difficult and, by insinuation, more godly to be economically wealthy. I hop that’s not what you’re really saying here.

    JNS, I think we should give you the code-name “curve-ball”…never mind, it’s already taken.

    I think this is a very interesting question you’re posing. Should strike a note with the god’s way vs satan’s way crowd of mormon libertarians. It’s almost devious in it’s appeal.

    Perhaps another way to see the Alma quote, even though this will take it out of context, is
    as a reference to _all_ forms of poverty not just economic? I think most people could find a type of poverty that they find satanic…and each these has the potential to compel humility. It’s just unfortunate that economic poverty is so broadly experienced and universally ignored by those who have escaped it…this being a type of poverty in itself.

    You just can’t get around the coercion thing. We all will one day, soon or later, be coerced with a knowledge of the truth. It just so happens that in this world, economic poverty is particularly poignan. Now, all you good believers, what does the doctrine teach about this world? Whoes world is it? Yes, I believe that poverty is part of Lucifer’s plan and dominion.

    Thanks for the thoughts, J.

  7. a random John on February 9, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    Is it satanic that I can’t blow up buildings by shooting lasers out my eyes, because if I could I would have to exercise more restraint?

    Frank you are just begging for the snarkernacle to come after you now.

    I for one use my eye lazers for constructive purposes. Like eye surgery.

  8. Seth R. on February 9, 2006 at 11:35 pm

    We tend to make unwarranted assumptions about the downtrodden.

    I’ve run across the attitude that suffering somehow makes a person morally superior.

    This is simply wrong. Suffering is just as likely to make a slimeball as it is to make a saint. Poverty and ignorance can create a humble people. Or they can create a vicious and brutal people (look at Sudan).

    We need not place the poor on a pedestal. God requires the same things of them that He requires of all of us. They have just as much chance to fail miserably as we do.

  9. ed on February 10, 2006 at 2:36 am

    Ether 12:27:

    …I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

  10. NFlanders on February 10, 2006 at 2:41 am

    JNS, this a very thought-provoking post.

    It seems you are arguing that poverty is satanic because it takes choice (free will) away from the poor. While I agree, it seems like this is relatively unimportant compared to the sheer amount of suffering caused by near-universal poverty in our world.

    To me, yes, poverty is satanic, but for so many more reasons than free-will.

  11. a random John on February 10, 2006 at 3:57 am

    Satan did a pretty poor job using poverty against those Alma 32 folks given that the poor ones converted. Maybe he was concentrating of the rich ones?

    More seriously, I think it is hard to a financial state as being satanic. Obviously destitution is generally bad because it causes suffering and limits your choices. However I’m not sure that wealth has a much better track record when it comes to the potential for destroying lives.

    I’m sure someone can find the Brigham Young quote where he states that he fears the prosperity of the saints.

    How you decide react to your financial status is going to influence your life more than the financial status itself.

  12. Toby Read on February 10, 2006 at 8:41 am

    Why not just build Mormon rich a rameumpton and let them tell the world how superior they are because of their wealth and humility?

  13. Adam Greenwood on February 10, 2006 at 8:48 am

    I’m with you up until the end. Poverty is Satanic because it is suffering and diminishment, not because it influences people to choose good. It would really up-end the Plan of Salvation if we decided that our trials were Satanic because they benefited us spiritually.

    I think poverty is no different from Neil Maxwell’s cancer. The experience itself was awful and evil, but the results he saw in his character were good. Beauty from ashes and honey in the carcass of a lion.

  14. Susan M on February 10, 2006 at 10:05 am

    So Satan uses poverty to…make people more likely to accept gospel?

  15. Costanza on February 10, 2006 at 10:23 am

    Satan sometimes does things that he believes (falsely) will result in the destruction of the plan of salvation but which actually work to further the plan. I don’t know if poverty fits into this category, but it has me thinking of Moses 4:6

  16. Seth R. on February 10, 2006 at 10:43 am

    OK. So the poor in the book of Alma gained some benefit from being downtrodden.

    You can’t say the same about the “stiffnecked” Children of Israel in Exodus. Doesn’t seem that slavery really improved them much.

  17. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 10, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone. A quick clarification; when I called poverty “satanic” in this post, I don’t necessarily mean that Satan as an actor produces poverty with the goal of leading people to the gospel. Rather, the point is that, according to the Alma discussion, poverty partially coerces people into righteousness — and coersion into righteousness is not something that Latter-day Saints favor.

    Ned, I agree that poverty is primarily evil because of the suffering that it produces; in fact, that’s a standard theme of my economics and the gospel posts. However, perhaps the prototypical response to those kinds of posts is that any institutional response to poverty involves coercion and is therefore unacceptable. My real point here, as Watt perceived, is that poverty as a state is also coercive.

    Frank, I also want building-destroying eye lazers.

  18. Frank McIntyre on February 10, 2006 at 11:20 am

    J,

    As is clear in the text, humility from poverty does not compel one to do good, only provides you an opportunity to repent. But if you don’t it is not going to save you. Thus one is not compelling someone to “do good” and then thinking that they are saved thereby. Note the crucial _sometimes_ in verse 13:

    13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.
    14 And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?

    Alma is comparing “blessed” and “more blessed”, not good and bad. I think Alma would be astonished to hear your reading that these people’s trials should be abolished in the name of “free will”. Alma doesn’t even begin to suggest such a thing. Their humility combined with their free will brought them to repentance!

    Nor is it Satanic when God afflicts people to encourage them to come unto Him. That action on His part is explicit throughout the Book of Mormon.

    FInally, my eye lasers are spelled with an “s”. “Lazer” eyes are cheap knock-offs produced in East Asian sweat shops.

  19. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 10, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Frank, I agree that there is a partially uncoerced choice involved in accepting Christ, regardless of social status; that’s a point I’ve made throughout. Nonetheless, where does the justice lie in assigning “blessed” status to some and “more blessed” status to others? As far as I can tell, this differential is only comprehensible if some people are making a freer choice than others. Hence, if we value the maximization of individual freedom, as Mormons are often said to do, then the elimination of poverty and other coercive social conditions would seem to be a priority.

    Justifying poverty in the name of divine justice runs up against another Book of Mormon prohibition: Benjamin’s instruction that we never decide that another person has in some way earned poverty.

    Thanks for the warning about the eye lasers; I will immediately contact my eBay seller and cancel the lazer purchase.

  20. Bookslinger on February 10, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    I think JNS grabbed the wrong end of the stick on this one. And, just a hint of leftist liberation theology is peeking through in his “compulsion = evil therefore poverty = evil” .

    There are several instances when the Lord, the Spirit, or an angel compelled or constrained obedience too. The Lord didn’t give Moses an option to turn down his calling. Nephi was constrained to kill Laban. And the angel basically told Alma Jr “repent or suffer and die.”

    I think JNS has misread that passage of Alma.

    In verse 12, it’s not the poverty that compels them to be humble, it’s that they were _cast out_ and _despised of their brethren_.

    The chain in verse 12 is this:

    Poverty -> despised by brethren -> cast out -> humility -> wisdom.

    There’s almost a chiasm there in v 12, and the thought occurred to me that it may have been edited out by Mormon’s abridgement.

    It’s rather clear to me that if the poor Zoramites had been allowed to continue in the synagogue of the rich Zoramites and fully fellowshipped as equals in that false church, the poor Zormites would not have been open to and ready for Alma’s message. Or, if Alma’s arrival had been delayed, and the poor Zoramites had eventually built themselves a nice plain and simple church, (they knew how to build, as they had just built one for the rich Zoramites), they would have had their own religious community, been established in it, and rejected Alma’s message with “we already got a church.”

    So no, the poor Zoramites were not ready for Alma because they were humbled by poverty. They were ready because they had been humbled by being persecuted, kicked out of the rich church, had no church of their own, and no sense of belonging.

    The “proximate cause” of their readiness/humility for Alma’s preaching was having just been kicked out of a religious community at the time, not being poor.

    To then claim that the “root cause” was poverty is leftist theology. Because
    in the chain: “Poverty -> Despised by brethren -> Cast out -> Humility -> Wisdom” the evil does not reside in Poverty, the evil resides in being despised and cast out. The evil resided in the rich Zoramites.

  21. John C. on February 10, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    RT, you got me thinking. I put my thoughts here.

  22. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 10, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    Bookslinger, you’re right that social exclusion is also relevant in reading Alma 32. But the link between poverty and being despised is made explicitly in the text; see Alma 32:2. Furthermore, the text sometimes makes a direct link from poverty to compelled humility: “…compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty” (v. 15). In other words, the evil lies in both social exclusion and poverty. Both are identified by the text as proximate causes.

    John C., nice thoughts. I’ll have to, as they say, ponder your ideas a bit. One initial concern — the Alma 32 text is about degrees of coercion. Do you disagree that some people may make, if not free, then relatively free choices in favor of the gospel (in comparison with people in other situations)?

  23. Frank McIntyre on February 10, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    You’ve got yourself a straw man.

    “Hence, if we value the maximization of individual freedom” I agree that one is freer if one is not impoverished. We do not, though, value the maximization of human freedom. Nutty libertarians do, but the rest of us don’t. We value freedom as one of many other things value. So if more freedom were costless, I’m for more of it. But I think what most Mormons (in their best moments) value is saving souls. And in that game, freedom can be good or bad. In the case Alma presents, clearly the poverty was a good thing for bringing them to repentance.

    As for “justifying” poverty. I hope you are referring to somebody else. I’m opposed to poverty. If there is a way to costlessly lower poverty, sign me up.

    You bought these, didn’t you?

  24. Watt Mahoun on February 10, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Bookslinger, while I appreciate your desire to clarify…I don’t think you’ve succeeded in much more than clarifying your own biases.

    By insinuating that there must be some shady and misguided political motive in JNS’s post, you reveal your own unreasoned fear of alternative ideas.

    By seeking to negate the notion of poverty’s evil with an argument about where true evil resides, you clarify a combination of black and white thinking with an apparent desire to diminish your perceived political nemesis through simple antagonism.

    If you can’t agree that poverty is evil, at least give a cogent argument to defend the the disagreement.

  25. Watt Mahoun on February 10, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    Frank wrote:

    If there is a way to costlessly lower poverty, sign me up.

    I’m not sure I get the virtue of this idea. Could you explain?

    I’ve never heard of something worth doing that was “costless”…in fact, I’ve never heard of anything that was “costless”.

  26. a random John on February 10, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    Well my eye lazers “cost less” than Frank’s lasers. Which might be why I can’t use them for destructive purposes. Though I like to think it is really just my benevolent nature shining through.

  27. John C. on February 10, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    I don’t have great faith in the ultimate value of complete or (as Geoff J would put it “robust”) human free agency. To that end, I don’t believe that God is entirely uncoercive. That said, I don’t belive in the value of making judgments regarding the relative “freedom” of the agents making the decision to accept Christ. I believe that God accepts all comers and doesn’t think twice.

    Watt,
    RT (or, I suppose, JNS) is pretty up front about his politics and his ulterior motivations (although, isn’t that rather oxymoronic?). Bookslinger put a distinctive (and excessively sinister) spin on it, but such is there. Poverty, like so many enduring degenerative conditions, is, I believe, amoral. One’s reaction to it is morally important, however.

  28. Serenity Valley on February 10, 2006 at 1:59 pm

    Watt,

    Yes, that’s a bit skewed. I rather think that one of the major reasons we are commanded to eliminate poverty is that such an action would be of great cost to those who are not poor. Putting aside the obvious benefits of eliminating poverty–that is, the poor would cease to be poor–the cost would itself be a direct benefit to those who pay it. If the rich abandoned their wealth in order to benefit the poor, they would in effect be casting away a major source of temptation (i.e., camels and needles) and, further, bringing themselves in line with God’s expressed will as taught in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and latter-day revelation. They would be closer to the perfection Christ has told us to seek.

    If we could eliminate poverty without cost, well, it would certainly benefit the poor. I don’t think it would help the rich all that much.

  29. Watt Mahoun on February 10, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    John C.,

    Such motives are in all of us. The issue is not their existence, but their value.

    As for the “amorality” of poverty…I can see this being true were poverty a natural and independant state. But if you beleive, as I do, that it is in fact largely inflicted into existence and perpetuated by human failings and false ambitions…then it is itself an evil no less than slavery, etc.

  30. Watt Mahoun on February 10, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Serenity Valley,

    Now I know one reason why RT must love you. :-)

    That was a beautifully inclusive statement on the wisdom of the gospel. It reminds me that there is much to gain from our faith.

  31. John C. on February 10, 2006 at 2:13 pm

    Watt,
    To my mind, you are conflating issues. To the person who grows up or exists in poverty, I would argue that poverty is essentially amoral. I agree that those who seek self-gain via the poverty of others are engaged in morally dubious activity.

  32. Watt Mahoun on February 10, 2006 at 2:18 pm

    John,

    And by that same reasoning, a person who grows up in slavery could arguably experience slavery as amoral. But experience it that way or not, we are free to decide for ourselves of its morality, and then to act upon it.

  33. Serenity Valley on February 10, 2006 at 2:22 pm

    John C.,

    I’d take that a step farther. The Book of Mormon tells us quite explicitely that economic inequality is evil–I’m at work, but I’ll look the citation up during my lunch hour. Therefore, those who have more than others but allow the perpetuation of inequality are complicit in evil. Which is a sin. And so not only seeking self-gain at the expense of the poor, but also continuing to be rich (or even being less poor than others) when poverty exists, is a sin.

    Full disclosure: I’m currently one of the less poor. Yes, I think that makes me a sinner and a hypocrite. What can I say, other than that I’m working on it?

  34. Frank McIntyre on February 10, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    SV and Watt,

    The benefits to the rich should be included as a benefit that acts against the cost. Thus, if giving up wealth is a net benefit to the rich, I am for it, as it is, on net, costless! I should try to be more careful in my language, but whenever I say costs, I mean not just accounting or financial costs but the total net cost (subtracting benefits) of psychic, spiritual and physical costs (which are the “economic” costs).

    JNS,

    As I laid out in 5, I think you are misreading. According to you, the poor who are humble and repent cannot be called “more blessed” because their poverty compelled them. But this is only true for some of them, we’ll call them BP, for blessed poor. Another group is MBP (more blessed poor). These people are humble and repent, but it is not because they are compelled to be humble. They would be humble anyway. Thus they are more blessed.

    Your thought experiment is to say that we can make the poor better off by making them not poor. But by definition, if the BP were not poor they would not repent and so they would not even be blessed. So that actually makes them worse off. On the other hand, the MBP would repent when rich, because we defined them as those who would repent regardless. In your model, they start out as only blessed and end up more blessed. I think this is wrong because I think Alma considers those people more blessed to begin with, because they weren’t compelled.

    So in an income transfer scenario, the BP are unblessed (damned?) and the MBP move from blessed to more blessed. Thus, even if we accept your shaky interpretation, you have an ambiguous spiritual gain from welfare payments, because of the losses to the BP. Incidentally, if you do this through an institutional program, you also make the rich poorer, thus causing them to become less blessed because they have less choice. But the net gain is still ambiguous.

    Obviously, I am simplifying to (I hope) make the point clear.

  35. Bookslinger on February 10, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    JNS, I admit I’ve met more humble poor than humble rich in my life, both in and out of the church, but that’s only because I’ve met more poor. Nowadays, I’m not sure which group has the higher per-capita measure of humility. I believe our welfare state has fostered arrogance along with the sense of entitlement among our nation’s poor.

    I want to emphasize that Alma’s statement that Poverty -> xxx ->xxx -> Humility is not universal. I’ve met plenty of arrogant poor both in this country and in South America. Even here in the US, most of my life has been spent living in lower and lower-middle socio-economic neighborhoods.

    When on my mission in South America, I paid perhaps too much attention to attitudes, living conditions, and politics. I was fortunate to serve in areas covering the entire spectrum of socio-economic strata from grinding poverty, to middle class, to upper class. Before and after formal missionary discussions, and while trying to drum up appointments, and just normal interaction, I learned much about their attitudes and history and politics.

    I agree with you about the need to “fix” poverty through spreading the gospel, humanitarian service, promoting education, fostering economic development, and through political means. Yet your vocabulary and proposed methodology (you’re RT on ldsliberationfront.net, right?) smacks of the communists, and the leftist liberation-theology wing of the Catholics, and the holier-than-thou-throw-money-at-it-gringo-hand-wringers who have made things much worse in South America.

    The billion dollars (literally over 1 billion dollars) that the US gave the country where I served back in the 80’s was literally wasted, and it absolutely made things worse. The projects that the money started were never finished, and it fostered more of an attitude of dependency on their part, along with fueling more corruption, and more hatred of gringo meddling.

    I really love what the church has started to do over the last 10 -15 years or so in doing tangible community improvements overseas such as drilling wells, etc. I also think the Perpetual Education Fund is marvelous, and have contributed to it.

    When I was in S.A 20 years ago, I was very frustrated that I was limited to preaching the gospel and couldn’t do such hands-on things as cleaning up, clothing and feeding the small children whose parents let them run around naked, dirty, and malnourished in the first two villages where I served. It just wasn’t in the missionary program. Looking back, maybe I could have improvised, started something, and then recruited members and non-members to take it over.

    I’m glad the new missionary guidelines specifically include community and individual service.

    Maybe I was 5 to 10 years ahead of my time.

  36. Watt Mahoun on February 10, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Frank wrote:

    “The benefits to the rich should be included as a benefit that acts against the cost.”

    Now I see your point…it’s about net costs. I think this is much more clear and I think you make a good point. I do have a couple of lingering concerns:

    1. There’s an assumption that all things balance out in the net result, making it “costless”. I think this not well founded.
    2. Even if there theoretically is no net cost in removing poverty in the grand, over-arching, view… this idea ignores the individual and short-sighted view: that giving up the trappings of wealth for the benefit of eliminating is a painfully costly process. Only later, after the sacrifice perhaps, is the balanced or “costlessness” of the transaction perceived.

    Which leaves JNS and SV’s points still open: what do we have to do to realize that the immediate cost in worldly wealth must be paid? One way is to realize the truth in the idea that poverty is evil. This helps to motivate…which I think is a healthy form of coercion. :-)

  37. Frank McIntyre on February 10, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    And as a follow up, nowhere does Alma actually say that you have to be rich to be more blessed. In fact, he specifically says in 25

    “For I do not mean that ye all of you have been compelled to humble yourselves; for I verily believe that there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might.”

    Thus one can be poor and still be uncompelled humble. These are the more blessed poor, and here it clearly puts them in the uncompelled category, hence the more blessed category.

  38. Frank McIntyre on February 10, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    Watt,

    1. I could have said “costless or net beneficial” but that would have taken longer to write and I’d have had to explain it. But of course you are right that things will not exactly balance out.

    “Which leaves JNS and SV’s points still open: what do we have to do to realize that the immediate cost in worldly wealth must be paid? One way is to realize the truth in the idea that poverty is evil. This helps to motivate…which I think is a healthy form of coercion. :-):”

    We need faith, Christlike love and a willingness to follow the prophets. It seems much like any other form of Christlike activity in that regard.

  39. John C. on February 10, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    To all,
    What is exactly do we mean by “more blessed”?

  40. Serenity Valley on February 10, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    John C. said,

    “RT (or, I suppose, JNS) is pretty up front about his politics and his ulterior motivations (although, isn’t that rather oxymoronic?). Bookslinger put a distinctive (and excessively sinister) spin on it, but such is there.”

    Just as an aside, I want to note that the causal theory implied here is off. Having inside information, I can say confidently that JNS’s religious thought here is not influenced by his politics. Rather, his politics are influenced by his religious beliefs.

    John, I don’t think you were saying anything offensive. I just want to clarify for those readers curious about the overt political bent of our website.

  41. John C. on February 10, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    “his politics are influenced by his religious beliefs.”
    That’s actually how I understood it. I apologize for mischaracterizing.

  42. Paul Mortensen on February 10, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    I have to say that unless someone can come up with a superior formulation of the problem than what Frank did in #34, then the issue is pretty much settled.

  43. a random John on February 10, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    Frank,

    Why is it that the MBP as you call them happen to be poor? Why aren’t any of the rich in this same state of humility given that we are assuiming that some of the poor would still be humble if they were rich? A bit odd that all of these people just happen to be poor isn’t it?

  44. JNS on February 10, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    Frank #34, you’re overreading the text, I think, but certainly also missing the thread of the argument here. The argument isn’t about blessing, but rather compulsion and agency. The Alma text states that some people are uncompelled because they would humble themselves no matter what. Okay. So, if we accept that theory of coercion, then with respect to those people the discussion is moot. Then the question becomes what to make of the agency of the others? Are we, in fact, supposed to leave them in poverty so that they will be forced into making a righteous choice that they would otherwise not make? (Isn’t that, actually, Satan’s plan?) In effect, your discussion of relative blessings thus, dare I say it, endorses a plan which forces people to be good.

  45. Ryan on February 10, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Christ seemed rather familiar with poverty and being cast out and being despised of his brethren.

    It worked out pretty well for Him from an eternal perspective.

  46. Frank McIntyre on February 10, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    aRJ,

    There are some rich like that, they just aren’t relevant to the comparison, so I ignored the non-poor.

    JNS,

    I am amazed that you take a bald statement by Alma that they are blessed and try to turn it into a statement that they are not eternally better off. The problem, I think, is that you are assuming that the compulsion is to repent. It is not. The compulsion is a to a certain kind of humility. As Alma clearly states, “sometimes” this humility leads to repentance, in which case, the people are blessed. There is no compulsion to _repent_, because some choose not to, just a preperation of the ground. This is all in the text. Thus the humility humbles them, like a sermon or a trial, neither of which is satanic. They then have the choice to repent.

    And if one is blessed, this is most reasonably interpreted as a statement that one is better off, thus whatever issues of compulsion are being factored in as Alma compares the blessed and the very blessed and the rest (because he is explicitly comparing levels of compulsion). So no, I am not overreading. I’m just reading.

    Under your story, Alma was really saying that God would have preferred that the people were unrepentant and rich to preserve their agency. This is ludicrous and quite obviously not what he is saying. He calls them blessed and congratulates their _choice_ to repent which makes them blessed.

  47. Tom on February 10, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    In a perfectly just world poverty would still exist. Negative consequences follow bad choices. When people are foolish and lazy poverty should be the result. I think most of the poverty in the world is a result of misfortune and is undeserved. But some of it is deserved. That’s why I can’t agree with the statement that Poverty is Satanic.

    Before anyone bites my head off for saying the above I must point out that it shouldn’t matter to us. We should impart as much of our resources as we can spare to the needy and we mustn’t even try to judge who is or isn’t deserving. All that matters is that our brothers and sisters are suffering; if I have the means to help them, I should do so, not because their suffering is Satanic or evil or whatever, but because that’s what it means to love. In a perfectly loving world, poverty would not exist.

    Well, maybe that’s not true. I’ll have to think more about it.

  48. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 10, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    Frank, your theory of the text still doesn’t account for the fact that some people are said to be “more blessed.” How can that be just if the “more blessed” people are not “more accountable”?

    Your re-reading of my position is certainly ludicrous, as you say. As should be obvious, I’m not arguing that anyone should refrain from repenting or that God would prefer anyone not to repent. Regardless of social and economic situation, an individual is always best off to repent and turn to Christ. But that’s the wrong partial derivative. Holding fixed the choice about repentance, it is obvious that improving social and economic situations are a net spiritual gain for the individual, who enters the “more blessed” terrain of the uncoerced.

    The ethical and spiritual imperative is clear, I think. While we should always work to bring about repentance and faith in Christ, we should also always work toward the elimination of poverty.

  49. Matt Evans on February 10, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    JNS,

    We are blessed based on the degree to which we overcome obstacles to accept the gospel. God knows that each of us has unique challenges that hinder our ability to accept him, and he controls for those challenges when judging or blessing us. Someone who has many challenges, like a rich man, receives a greater reward because he overcame greater obstacles. Rock stars, who have, say, a 1 in 100 chance of living the gospel, will receive 50 times the blessings of someone who accepts the gospel in circumstances with a 1 in 2 chance, like me. (Born to temple-sealed parents who loved me, etc.)

    Alma is talking to those at the low-stakes table, pointing out that they many of them will win, and noting that this isn’t because they’re particularly talented, it’s because they were playing decent odds at the humble trough table. Some of them, however, are so talented they could win even against the long odds on Rock Star table (taking “whatsoever circumstances” to it’s end). I don’t think that Alma is claiming, however, that it is better to place long bets on your soul so you can win big blessings should you be the 1 in 100 that doesn’t lose everything.

    You want to see big blessings? Imagine the outpouring of blessings on the 1 in 3,000 Swedes who live the gospel, given all the obstacles of their socialized government. I’d guess that a cross-national comparison of gospel-rejection rates would show rejection rates closely track government spending on social services.

  50. Christian Y. Cardall on February 10, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    JNS, I love your work, but I wonder if you’ll be as excited about possible further implications of the Satanic logic of compulsion…

  51. Harold B. Curtis on February 10, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    I can think of many compelling forces that are not satanic.

    Love
    Hope
    Charity
    Honor
    Virtue

    In each above case, God compels us to live after the pattern represented. Now I don’t have to, but I better if I want the irrevocable blessing promised. Those who submit their will, do it because of the compelling nature of the eternal truth desired. Agency is, accepting the compelling nature of the principle, over the competing nature of natures natural man.

    If poverty compels one to a view that they like the lily must be dressed without toil or spinning through the graces of an Eternal God, who “in the end” wipes away all tears, and robes those humbled, with righteousness, then poverty’s compelling nature can make of those so afflicted and constricted, complete in the end. Poverty’s vale becomes the veil lifted, to make the compelled complete.

    If God recognizes that we have the poor always with us, then He obviously must have a higher purpose for the poor. That higher purpose may be to test the rich. In any case if God has given the poor to always be with us, how can that be satanic? Our refusal to minister to the poor or our doing a mediocre job of it…….now that is satanic.

    Harold B. Curtis

  52. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 10, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    Christian, you’ve done a great job of outlining the traditional Mormon argument against institutional solutions to poverty. In fact, that kind of logic does parallel the logic here; hence, there may be a trade-off between the active exercise of compulsion in institutional attempts to resolve the problem of poverty and the passive weight of coercion involved in unresolved poverty. Unless a non-coercive solution to poverty in the current world situation can be demonstrated, I’m afraid that a trade-off situation is what we’re left with.

  53. Frank McIntyre on February 10, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    “How can that be just if the “more blessedâ€? people are not “more accountableâ€??”

    Come now, this is silly. They are more blessed because they follow the right more readily. They choose better and love God more. Of course that makes them more blessed even with equal accountability.

    “But that’s the wrong partial derivative. Holding fixed the choice about repentance, it is obvious that improving social and economic situations are a net spiritual gain for the individual”

    OK, here is where you have, I believe, missed the point. Alma explicitly discusses how poverty affects repentance! To hold repentace fixed is to ignore the text and engage in an uninteresting (because it is never observed) counterfactual. Why in the world would we want to hold repentance fixed when we know that increasing wealth among the BP leads them to not repent!? The only group for whom that would make sense is the MBP, because poverty has no effect on their repentance. But as we both recognize, it also has no effect on their blessedness. I already laid this out in #34.

    At root, the mistake you are making is trying to use a policy tool that is irrelevant or harmful to the outcome you wish to track. The more blessed repent regardless. The less blessed would be damned if they weren’t so poor, because they would not repent. So who exactly are you helping spiritually? No one. This is because the relevant parameter is one’s underlying disposition to do good. If income matters, it appears to only matter negatively in the model Alma lays out.

    Lastly, I don’t think you want to use Alma as your poster child for government efforts to save us from our inequality. His actions in Alma 4 were to explicitly abandon the government to combat the sins of pride and inequality. He made no attempt whatsoever to create a transfer scheme, nor did he even mention the possibility to Nephihah. He explicitly states that preaching repentance is how to deal with the problem. That’s not the right message for the politics you’re pushing :).

    “4:19 And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.”

  54. Watt Mahoun on February 11, 2006 at 12:50 am

    Whether it’s through creating political will to end poverty and hunger (TM RESULTS) or preaching the gospel or ladeling soup it’s all the same thing with different means. There is however, no more highly leveraged way to bring an end to poverty than for an affluent society to pool it’s resources/efforts.

    Frank, and others… you may not agree with the belief that people can/should guide their government to act in their behalf on projects where such leverage is beneficial…you may believe that private or religeous approaches are preferable. This may be true, but I am inclined to believe that government exists only as a social contract…and that in the US it’s a secular social contract…to do for the people what they cannot easily do for themselves.

    Should the people decide that eradicating poverty within our borders and without, is in our best interest, what better way than to make it part of the social contract? Wouldn’t it be inspiring if this was the thing that we aspired to as a body politic, rather than the infighting and war making and profiteering that currently obsesses us.

    You may insist, as you have repeatedly, that such hopes are just politics…of the type that need to be pushed…like a drug dealer? But this totally misses the point of politics, which is not meant to be as much an idealology as a process, not an end but a means. So if one is convicted and chooses to pursue the political process to bring about results…you can label that person a politico and thereby seek to diminish his cause, or you can look past the lies and see the ideas for what they are… One way is honest and the other is irresponsible and unjustly jaded.

    Which is which?

  55. Christian Y. Cardall on February 11, 2006 at 8:19 am

    JNS (#52) and Watt (#54), it sounds like you imagine compulsory taxes to be the only institutional or organized means of alleviating poverty. But the Church’s welfare program and the Perpetual Education Fund are institutional, large-scale (even transnational) efforts that are nevertheless completely voluntary on an individual and not just corporate basis.

  56. Watt Mahoun on February 11, 2006 at 8:40 am

    I make a distinction between “only” and “no more highly leveraged”. Did you mean to suggest that my words meant “only”? That is not what I said or meant. I doubt this is the case for JNS either.

    When it comes down to it, the church is just one relatively small church. It may be a player, but it would take a much larger coordinated effort for the task of making poverty extinct. We can reform our government to include/participate in such a task as well.

    It would however require that we somehow get over the idea that we are driven by government rather than the drivers.

  57. Frank McIntyre on February 11, 2006 at 9:23 am

    Watt,

    I am going to defer re-explaining to you what I think you probably understand are the objections many people have to your view in #54. JNS has raised an interesting, specific question that is worth discussing on its own merits. I don’t think I am ignoring his specific arguments in this post at all. I think I have engaged them directly.

    So there is no need to get huffy when I use the phrase “pushing politics”. It is okay for people to have political views. It is no insult to recognize that JNS and SV have strong ones that they wish to convince others of. I think it would be insulting to not see that, given the effort they put into it.

  58. Seth R. on February 11, 2006 at 10:46 am

    The problem is that we’re equating God’s concept of “free agency” with Western liberal society’s idea of “freedom of choice.”

    The two are not the same thing.

    Liberal society defines freedom of choice as freedom to speak for this cause or that cause, freedom to gain knowlege from whatever source you might choose, freedom to do as you will in your private affairs, freedom to keep the property you earn, etc.

    But these things have little to do with God’s offer of “free agency.”

    God’s concept of free agency consists of one choice, and one choice only:

    Will you accept God (through our mediator Jesus Christ) or not?

    Choosing where to send your kids to school has nothing to do with it. Poverty is irrelevant to this choice since the poor are just as capable of embracing the divine as the wealthy. Free agency does not mean freedom to be a happy practicing homosexual or a grasping capitalist. It means freedom to choose God or not. And that’s all it means.

    The poverty-striken remain just as much free agents (in the basic essentials) as the most decadent societal icon.

    Being poor is irrelevant to the central question of free agency.

  59. Paul Mortensen on February 11, 2006 at 11:44 am

    Watt:

    Your comment in #54 does not address the problem identified by Frank in #34. What’s more valuable to the human race: saving souls or eradicating poverty? By eliminating poverty through force you might ensure the latter but at the expense of saving souls. Is that a trade-off YOU would want to make? Would you willingly condemn yourself if it ensured both goals could be accomplished (a bit of a twist on the atonement)?

  60. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 11, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Seth #58, I think you’re missing the original idea here. In the text discussed in the post above, Alma clearly tells us that poverty compels in a way that wealth doesn’t. So we have a canonical text that tells us that poverty partially reduces an individual’s freedom not to choose God. In other words, even using your definitions, Alma explains that poverty reduces free agency.

    Frank #57, I’m not at all insulted that you recognize the existence of my political views. As Serenity pointed out earlier on, the political ideas we’re talking about here for me flow from my religious commitments. But I fully acknowledge that there are other legitimate ways of being Mormon. Furthermore, it’s clear to me that the odds of talking someone into changing her basic political orientation are very nearly nil. But that’s not really what my goal is. My first somewhat less overreaching real objective is to work toward a coherent systematic expression of the theological basis linking our shared faith tradition with political commitments to social and economic equality (a set of political commitments that may be somewhat unusual among US Mormons, but that is far from uncommon among international Mormons and is thus perhaps the modal political orientation of church members today). My second objective is to try to keep the scripturally-based concern with poverty and inequality alive in all of our minds, regardless of political orientation — because we’re all covenanted to worry about this stuff, and because I’m a big believer in dialogue and in pragmatism: I want to talk with all of you and borrow all of your best ideas, regardless of your political orientations!

  61. Watt Mahoun on February 11, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Paul wrote:

    “Your comment in #54 does not address the problem identified by Frank in #34. What’s more valuable to the human race: saving souls or eradicating poverty?”

    I don’t feel obligated to make such a value distinction. Obviously, the best answer is to look to Jesus Christ where I think we find that such things as caring for the needs of the poor and saving souls are not only _not_ mutually exclusive but complimentary in their importance.

    For I was an hungered and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger and ye took me in. Naked an ye clothed me. I was sick and ye visited me. I was in prison and ye came unto me….In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me.

    “Ye” is plural and can easily be interpreted as families, interest groups, churches, and even governments. In fact, all are valid, all are important. And all such entities will be judged of their worth by the degree of charity unto “the least of these”.

    The only real issue we seem to be having is that I believe that a people can guide their government to assist in addressing the secular concerns of the people and you seem to think this means I believe in erradicating poverty by force. I think there’s some serious baggage behind that assumption that undermines our ability to have rational discussion about political will.

  62. Paul Mortensen on February 11, 2006 at 1:51 pm

    Watt:

    You’re still not responding to Frank’s analysis in #34. What you’re trying to do is push a political perspective. Resolve the problem you face in #34 in a rational manner. If it’s possible I want to see it. Without a legitimate response then the debate is over. Right now I can identify only one line of arguement that potentially undermines Frank’s analysis and I’d like to see if you or one of your like-minded compatriots can cogently express it without resorting to political platitudes.

  63. Watt Mahoun on February 11, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    Paul, I’m sorry that you are dissatisfied with my response, and find what I’m sharing with you to be political platitude.

    When the Savior was asked who will find themselves on his right hand, he answered with the quote that I shared in 61 as found in Matthew 25. The salvation of souls can thus not be understood as separate or distinct from the physical welfare of the human race.

    You may continue to beat me over the head with your demands, but that is my answer.

  64. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 11, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    Paul, as might be expected, I don’t find Frank’s argument in #34 terribly persuasive. His claim is that some people would repent regardless. Fine, so let’s disregard those folks. Then, other people would repent in some circumstances but not others. Therefore, it’s best to put those people in poverty because it will compel them to repent. Perhaps this approach increases observed repentance, although presumably not as much as Satan’s premortal plan (whatever that was) which is said to maximize that quantity. But the point is that it increases observed repentance by reducing individual agency — and therefore doesn’t actually affect the rate of sincere repentance.

  65. Frank McIntyre on February 11, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    “Therefore, it’s best to put those people in poverty because it will compel them to repent.”

    Read the text, it does not compel repentance, but humility. Only some go on to repent.

    “But the point is that it increases observed repentance by reducing individual agency — and therefore doesn’t actually affect the rate of sincere repentance.”

    Not true. Both Alma and the rest of the scriptures make clear that those people are sincerely repenting. You are pulling this argument out of thin air, not from the text. And it is quite wrong. As Alma notes, these compelled to be humble people are blessed for making that choice. No Satan’s plan in sight.

    Lastly, you have missed the crucial point in 34 that in the text the move from blessed to more blessed is not in any way based on one’s income, but on one’s underlying nature, because it happens whether you are poor or rich. This includes the group I call MBP.

  66. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 11, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    Frank, the MBP group is also an addition to the text.

  67. Matt Evans on February 11, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    JNS,

    MBP is Frank’s acronym for those Alma describes in the text as More Blessed People. These people are humble by nature, not circumstance, and for that reason are “much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.”

    Alma goes on to say that the MBP would be humble even if they were prosperous: “For I do not mean that ye all of you have been compelled to humble yourselves; for I verily believe that there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might.”

  68. Matt Evans on February 11, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    I should add, too, that I think this whole post and thread has relied on an erroneous interpretation of “blessed.” I think it makes much more sense to understand Alma as saying “bles-sed,” in the same sense the angel told Mary, “bles-sed be thy name forever.” This use means “revered,” and is not a substitute for “more blessings.” (The angel wasn’t saying Mary’s name would receive blessings, but that it would be revered.)

    Those who would humble themselves even if they were in prosperous circumstances are more _bles-sed_.

  69. Watt Mahoun on February 12, 2006 at 12:57 am

    BTW, I’m riffing-off this post with “Is Taxation Satanic“.

    Thanks for the memories. :-)

  70. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 12, 2006 at 1:22 am

    Matt, the text doesn’t actually say that those who would humble themselves anyway are more blessed — only that those who do humble themselves without compulsion are more blessed. Frank is interpolating when he claims that the poor who would have humbled themselves anyway are MBP.

  71. Frank McIntyre on February 12, 2006 at 8:51 am

    JNS,

    Here is the text in v.25

    “For I do not mean that ye all of you have been compelled to humble yourselves; for I verily believe that there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might.�

    Alma clearly states that they have not been “compelled to be humble” but would be humble regardless. Thus they have not, by Alma’s words, been compelled to be humble.

    In v.15 Alma describes the dividing line between blessed and more blessed as those who repent after being compelled to be humble vs. those who repent no matter what. Clearly this describes the exact same people as in 25, who would humble themselves in any circumstance, which are the MBP (the more blessed poor).

  72. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 12, 2006 at 10:34 am

    That’s clearly a reasonable inference from the text, Frank. But verse 15 says that the more blessed are those who aren’t poor, doesn’t it? Your theory is that verse 25 is an exception to verse 15. But verse 25 doesn’t say that those who would have been humble anyway are more blessed like they would have been if they had not been poor. It only says that Alma doesn’t want to falsely attribute personality characteristics.

  73. Frank McIntyre on February 12, 2006 at 11:37 am

    JNS,

    “But verse 15 says that the more blessed are those who aren’t poor, doesn’t it?”

    This is close to what it says but not correct. 15 says that blessed are they who are _not compelled_ to be humble because of their poverty. And 25 states that those who are poor but would humble themselves anyway are _not compelled_ to be humble. They are humble anyway. Hence, 15’s “more blessed” applies to them because they “humble themselves”.

    15 more blessed are those who
    25 some of you (the poor)

    therefore, some of you are more blessed

  74. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 12, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Frank, this becomes an essentially hermeneutic disagreement. You read inherent personality as the key factor; those with the “more blessed” personality will repent regardless, and thus receive the blessings associated with doing a harder thing than what they in fact did. That’s why you’re able to make the inference that v. 25 is an exception to the v. 15 rule. I, on the other hand, see circumstances as the key factor — because none of these poor people in fact did humble themselves in a situation where they weren’t compelled by poverty. Perhaps they might have done had they been given the chance, but it’s hypothetical. Therefore, I see v. 25 as at most an anomaly — after all, the compelling force was present in every case.

    But at best this is all meaningless with respect to the main argument; what you’ve done is specify a group of people who are uncompellable. That’s fine; we can therefore set them aside and disregard them — my argument still stands for the rest.

  75. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    No, it doesn’t. Your argument falls apart with respect to the rest, because you think their partially coerced humility and subsequent repentance doesn’t matter at all, because they were partially coerced, but as Frank points out the Book of Mormon does call them blessed.

    I think you are making two fundamental mistakes:
    First you appear to believe that the ultimate desirability of the entirely free choice for God means that only partially free choices for God have no moral value, that the person who so chooses is no better off than they were before. This appears to contradict the scriptures, the need to come to a fallen world as part of the plan of salvation, and much of the program of the church. Because you see partially free choices as without moral value, any kind of experience that affects us would appear to be “coercive” and therefore Satanic in your scheme.
    Second, you appear to believe that, assuming partially free choices have no moral value, they also have no value in preparing us for the ultimately free choice. This appears to contradict God’s little-by-little, those whom I love I chasten approach.

    You are also making some mistakes just in relation to poverty, I think. When Alma says the poor were compelled to be humble, you are interpreting that to mean that they had no choice at all. Then you are reading it more largely as if the poor always and everywhere had no choice but to be humble. As Bookslinger points out, this is not so. I think poverty makes one more likely to be humble, but there is still an element of will involved. Same with the decision to repent one makes once one has become humble. The truth is that all sorts of things in this world have the kind of coercive effect you talk about–sickness, injury, death, disappointments of various kinds, unhappiness–they all *force* us to reevaluate who we are and where we’re going, and sometimes lead us to God. You could put any of these into your original post and it would read exactly the same and be wrong in exactly the same way. Its just that if your post was titled ‘Trials are Satanic because they sometimes lead us to repent when we wouldn’t have otherwise,’ you and everyone would have realized we were off on a wrong track.

  76. Matt Evans on February 12, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    “If your post was titled ‘Trials are Satanic because they sometimes lead us to repent when we wouldn’t have otherwise,’ you and everyone would have realized we were off on a wrong track.”

    Nice summary of 3274 comments of disagreement, Adam!

  77. J. Nelson-Seawright on February 12, 2006 at 8:07 pm

    Adam, I think you’re somewhat off track here. The Book of Mormon explicitly states that these individuals are partially coerced and that they have lost the opportunity to choose a more blessed state. In effect, the book clearly explains that poverty partially erodes human autonomy. This calls for vigorous action to eliminate poverty.

    You’re going over the line, as well, in your redrafting of my argument. Where I emphasize partial coercion, partial freedom, and differential free agency, you construct a point of view that sees “no moral value” and “no choice at all.” Clearly, the idea you’re responding to doesn’t really represent the perspective I’m thinking about.

    With respect to the various kinds of trials that you discuss, I think you’re falling into an equivalence trap. There are certainly trials in life that are as coercive as Alma defines poverty to be, but the vast majority are not. Extreme poverty is a substantially greater challenge, for a broad set of reasons, than most kinds of sickness, injury, disappointment, and unhappiness. With respect to death, poverty means that death comes earlier and more often. Trials are Satanic just to the extent that they are coercive enough to erode the autonomy and agency that allow the full blessings of a moral choice. Alma tells us that poverty does this; no canonical source that I am aware of says the same for any other kind of trial.

    Thanks to everyone who has participated in these comments for a fruitful discussion! It’s helpful to know how others will respond to this argument, as well as to see the points that will seem vulnerable or that may require further consideration. By taking this idea seriously, you’ve all been most helpful in encouraging its development!

  78. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    “The Book of Mormon explicitly states that these individuals are partially coerced”

    Yes, and it approves of the results of their coercion. If we really disapproved of poverty bringing people to God, we would simultaneously try to eradicate poverty and also avoid preaching to the poor. Alma preached to the poor.

    “and that they have lost the opportunity to choose a more blessed state.”

    There’s no indication of this in the scriptures. Frank and others have sufficiently rebutted it, but I’ll repeat what they said. What Alma actually seems to say is that if these people hadn’t been poor, they wouldn’t have been humbled and repented. Far from their poverty denying them blessings, it made what blessings they were able to get possible. Notice how many of the rich among the Zoramites listened to the word and thus entered the “more blessed state”? Zip.
    Also, your view makes salvation a one time event. The poor Zoramites accepted the gospel but in a less blessed way, and that’s that. I think its more consistent with the scriptures to see salvation as a series of choices and commitments, so the poor Zoramites were perfectly able to enter a more blessed state with time: either because they became wealthier later in life, or achieved positions of prominence in the church, or because the church didn’t belittle them for their poverty, they reached a state where humility would have become more difficult for them. Salvation is a progressive act. It is true that ultimately the completely free, Abrahamic-trial sort of choice is superior, but most of us aren’t ready for that yet. In Alma 32, if the poor had been rich they would not have repented at all.

    “There are certainly trials in life that are as coercive as Alma defines poverty to be, but the vast majority are not. Extreme poverty is a substantially greater challenge, for a broad set of reasons, than most kinds of sickness, injury, disappointment, and unhappiness.”

    You’re making a sort of idol of poverty. Trials are trials, whether they make other kinds of trials or not. I see no reason to assume that poverty makes people turn to God more than other kinds of trials. And even if you had a point here, you would still be saying that all trials are Satanic to the extent they lead us to God, only less so than poverty.

    “Trials are Satanic just to the extent that they are coercive enough to erode the autonomy and agency that allow the full blessings of a moral choice. Alma tells us that poverty does this.”

    No, he doesn’t. He says that poverty changes the preconditions and assumptions under which our agency operates. Alma 32 shows riches as being just as coercive as poverty, except away from God instead of toward him.

    “Alma tells us that poverty does this; no canonical source that I am aware of says the same for any other kind of trial”

    Really? The scriptures are full of trials that turned people towards God. Leprosy, wandering in the wilderness, invasion, famine due to drought, being struck blind, losing the gift to translate, being excommunicated, etc.

    “Thanks to everyone who has participated in these comments for a fruitful discussion! It’s helpful to know how others will respond to this argument, as well as to see the points that will seem vulnerable or that may require further consideration. By taking this idea seriously, you’ve all been most helpful in encouraging its development! ”

    My two cents: You’re never going to get anywhere telling people we should get rid of poverty because it gets people closer to God. You’re much better off accepting that poverty is one kind of trial among many and using that to your advantage. You could point out to people that death, disease, and other calamities bring us closer to God, yet we still struggle to reduce them and mitigate their effects, because they are evil in se; and there’s no reason not to do the same with poverty.

  79. Matt Evans on February 12, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    “Trials are Satanic just to the extent that they are coercive enough to erode the autonomy and agency that allow the full blessings of a moral choice. Alma tells us that poverty does this; no canonical source that I am aware of says the same for any other kind of trial.”

    Helaman 12:3 “And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.”

    From that list poverty appears to be one of the more mild afflictions the Lord uses for his purposes.