Taking the Book of Mormon Seriously

July 14, 2006 | 59 comments
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Over at BCC Taryn has an interesting post on the Book of Mormon and socialism. Her basic claim is that the Book of Mormon endorses socialism. At one level, I think that she is absolutely correct, on another level I think that the claim is vacuous. I am skeptical that the reference to socialism has a great deal of traction because it is not entirely clear what we mean when we say “socialism” and the devil, as they say, is in the philosophical details.

The Book of Mormon’s attitude toward poverty is actually conflicted. We have very strong denunciations of indifference to the poor through out the book that largely track the sort of thing that one reads in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. On the other hand, we have instances, such as Alma’s ministry to the Zoramites, where poverty is presented as an affirmative spiritual good. I think that a fair reading of the Bible is that it denounces the mistreatment of the poor, but basically operates on the assumption that poverty itself is ineradicable. In contrast, as Taryn points out, Restoration scriptures — notably the Enoch stories of the Pearl of Great Price and 4 Nephi — take the elimination of poverty as being a real possibility. This is part of the reason why the Book of Mormon’s conflicted stance toward poverty is so much more interesting than the Bible’s stance. The Biblical discussions of poverty can — I believe — ultimately be read as a condemnation of the mistreatment of the poor. This allows one to simultaneously exalt the virtues of poverty. The Book of Mormon, in contrast, sets forth poverty as a virtue while also advocating its eradication.

The second issue has to do with the nature of the Book of Mormon’s objection to poverty. I recently read a very interesting book by Samuel Fleischacker entitled A Short History of Distributive Justice. While Fleischacker fudges the argument in places, I think that on the whole he makes a very good case for the proposition that our current understanding of distributive justice — namely that people have a right not to be poor — is very recent, finding its beginnings in the French Revolution and not really getting fully philosophically articulated until John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Fleischacker is not, of course, making the claim that concern for the condition of the poor is new, or even that the language of justice in reference to the poor is new. For example, one can believe that the mistreatment of the poor is unjust without thinking that justice requires the elimination of poverty. Likewise, one can make arguments for the amelioration of poverty that have nothing to do with justice.

Fleischacker’s point illustrates the basically muddled way in which Mormons of both the political left and political right discuss the Book of Mormon. Good children of the liberal enlightenment that we are, our political thinking almost inevitably hinges on the distinction between the right and the good, state and society. There are certain things that are required by justice and these are the concerns of the state. There are other things that, while good and even morally obligatory, are not required by justice and hence are not the concern of the state. Arguments over poverty and the redistribution of wealth then get couched in these terms. We have disputes about whether the presence of poverty is unjust or whether the forcible redistribution of wealth is unjust. We are all, however, arguing about the demands of justice, and drafting the Book of Mormon into the service of our arguments.

I suspect, however, that the Book of Mormon is rather more radical than this. Following Fleischacker, I think that one cannot find within the Book of Mormon an argument about distributive justice. There is — to be sure — a very strong polemic against social inequality and a call for the amelioration of poverty. This call, however, is not made in terms of distributive justice. Rather, it is made in terms of sinfulness and righteousness, charity and forgetfulness of God. The great mistake of politically liberal Mormons is to ignore this fact. The great mistake of conservative Mormons is to think that this means that such things are not the concern of the government. Both of them are in the thrall of enlightenment distinctions that the Book of Mormon simply does not share.

What does this mean? It means that if you are going to take the Book of Mormon seriously as a political document you will likely have to abandon enlightenment categories. This means that neat distinctions between state and society, public and private are going to fall away to the consternation of both left and right. Conservatives will no longer be able to take refuge behind absolutist conceptions of property rights. At the same time, liberals will not longer be able to raise notions of privacy and personal choice as arguments in favor of government abstention from “personal” decisions. This is not a matter of saying simply that the Book of Mormon is fiscally liberal and socially conservative. That characterization assumes that the Book of Mormon is properly understood using the terms popular among political pollsters. Rather, the Book of Mormon inhabits a different political universe, and entry into that universe will require repudiating most of the ways that we currently think about politics. Without a willingness to do so (and most Mormons most of the time — myself certainly included — simply lack that willingness), we are just proof-texting for a favored ideology basically unconnected to the scriptures.

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59 Responses to Taking the Book of Mormon Seriously

  1. RoastedTomatoes on July 14, 2006 at 10:34 am

    Nate, a great post.

    I think you’re perhaps a bit out of focus on the Book of Mormon’s politics, as well. The Book of Mormon isn’t so much anti-poverty as it is anti-inequality and anti-wealth. The same is true of the restoration scriptures more generally. It isn’t poverty specifically that needs to be eradicated, it’s material inequality–although the implication in some texts is that eliminating inequality will produce social abundance allowing everyone to have sufficient material goods, although none to have real luxuries.

    On my reading, however, the Book of Mormon and restoration scriptures are, in fact, ambivalent about the adequacy of coercive responses to private decisions. Many texts throughout support the idea that people can’t be punished for their beliefs, for example–although the Book of Mormon contains a couple of examples of the government punishing people for their beliefs. Furthermore, with respect to religious principles accepted by some but not by all in a society, the restoration scriptures are emphatic that the only acceptable punishment is excommunication.

    I agree with you that there are a wide range of socialisms–just as there are a wide range of approaches to capitalism. On the other hand, I disagree that calling the Book of Mormon socialist is vacuous. After all, the Book of Mormon takes the socialist side on the one issue that divides all forms of socialism from all forms of capitalism–the desirability of material inequality.

  2. Jack on July 14, 2006 at 10:39 am

    Awesome!

    From the likes of Skousen all the way across the spectrum to the likes of Nibley the scriptures have been abused by a crazy, almost rash, need to prove one’s ideology. That kind of silly proof-texting has (imo) lashed unnecessary burdens on the backs of the saints. For shame.

  3. bbell on July 14, 2006 at 10:54 am

    I agree with the jist of this.

    As humans we tend to read the scriptures thru our own politically tinged glasses. This is human nature I believe. Focus on what backs up our own political views and ignore the verses that seem to oppose our own views. HF and Jesus are not the ” local political chairmen in the sky” Their message is not political its spiritual and 2006 western political labels are not applicable.

  4. Nate Oman on July 14, 2006 at 10:59 am

    RT: I think that you are probably right about the fact that the restoration scriptures are more concerns with inequality than with poverty, although I do think that the Enoch story is about the end of poverty rather than the end of inequality — something the text is silent on as I recall. Of course, I tend to read the scriptures through the lens of my own concerns, and I find poverty much more troubling than inequality.

    I do think that you are on shakey ground if you start reading the Book of Mormon as endorsing modern notions of freedom of conscience and then try to bootstrap this into some sort of reintroduction of the categories of philosophical liberalism. First, the protection discussed in the Book of Mormon seemed to have literally reached only to the issue of belief. For example, there don’t seem to have been problems per se with punishing people for certain kinds of speech. Second, there does not seem to have been any qualms at all about quashing political dissent. (As I recall Ronan and others have tried to read these stories as offering an implicit critique of the actions of Captian Moroni, but I can’t help but thinking that this is simply wishful anachronism.) I actually suspect that the protection of belief had less to do with the sanctity of conscience than with the fact that until very recently the idea of thought crimes was not really possible. Legal codes in general don’t have a particularlly rich sense of psychology, and if you look at ancient legal codes they have virtually no sense of pyschology at all. Accordingly, I suspect that the fact that the law didn’t reach belief had less to do with the sanctity of conscience than with the fact that “thought crime” as a legal category simply didn’t make any sense.

  5. Nate Oman on July 14, 2006 at 11:04 am

    BTW: As for modern scipture and freedom of conscience, I think that the key text here is section 134. It is well established that Oliver Cowdry wrote it, and I suspect that it was largely cribbed from a common appendix to American editions of Blackstone discussing religious toleration. I am not quite sure what — if anything — this does for its authoritative status. It is also worth noting that the definition of freedom of conscience set forth in section 134 is circular unless one has some sort of a baseline for what constitutes inherent criminality, something that it is difficult to find in liberal or democratic political theory and which I suspect goes back to pre-modern natural law concepts. Certainly, later Mormon lawyers offered something along these lines in the polygamy cases. In other words, there is anti-liberalism lurking below the surface of even the most liberal sounding bits of the modern canon.

  6. RoastedTomatoes on July 14, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Nate, the most relevant passage in the Book of Mormon with respect to freedom of belief is: “Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.” (Alma 1: 17) Clearly, the Book of Mormon worldview at least recognizes the possibility of laws regarding belief–if only as a negative. I don’t claim that this means philosophical liberalism applies; the book is profoundly non-liberal. My point is merely that the text is more conflicted with respect to its stance on individual “liberties” than your post recognizes.

    The Enoch story is, I think, one in which an equal society is established, with prosperity following–as in 4 Nephi.

  7. Adam Greenwood on July 14, 2006 at 11:13 am

    “After all, the Book of Mormon takes the socialist side on the one issue that divides all forms of socialism from all forms of capitalism–the desirability of material inequality.”

    Huh? I can hardly think of any form of free market ideology that thinks material inequality is desirable in itself, and lots of persons who believe in free market politics who think material inequality is regrettable and undesirable.

  8. RoastedTomatoes on July 14, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Adam, material inequality is seen as desirable, in most capitalist philosophy, as a way of producing incentives to work and invest efficiently.

  9. Adam Greenwood on July 14, 2006 at 11:17 am

    “now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.â€? (Alma 1: 17) Clearly, the Book of Mormon worldview at least recognizes the possibility of laws regarding belief–if only as a negative”

    “Clearly”? If anything, this passage favors Nate O’s interpretation. Far from recognizing the possibility of laws regarding belief, it seems to regard such a thing as impossible. Not just undesirable, or immoral, but impossible.

  10. Paul Mortensen on July 14, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Nate:

    I think the problem with the approach you outline is that it only works for single issues (in this case material inequality). If one looks at the BoM to analyze only the portions touching on economic/distributive systems then any conclusion one draws from such analysis is dependent upon one of two assumptions: 1) the BoM is a document specifically about economic/distributive systems; or 2) all issues addressed in the BoM carry the same moral/divine value. Both assumptions are obviously flawed.

  11. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2006 at 11:33 am

    “Adam, material inequality is seen as desirable, in most capitalist philosophy, as a way of producing incentives to work and invest efficiently. ”

    Nope. Everybody could get rich at exactly the same rate and competitive markets would hum along fantastically. I’m sure that many people do like to “get ahead of the Jones’”, but that is not inherent, nor is it even part of the basic neoclassical model where the utility of others is irrelevant.

    No, the real difference is between views on the state. That is what gets free market types excited.

  12. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2006 at 11:36 am

    Nate,

    I am all for taking context the right way, but not sure we know Nephite context well enough to assert what you are saying. If the Book of Mormon was written when classical thought placed the earth at the center of the Universe, does that mean that we should not read it as saying the earth goes around the sun?

    In other news, I agree that the Book of Mormon does not come out in strong support of capitalism or socialism or what-have-you. I think it is a stretch to try to use the text to write out how a government interacts with its people. As best I can tell, and as I implied on the other thread, the Book of Mormon seems to treat these questions as second order to the preaching of righteousness and charity.

  13. Adam Greenwood on July 14, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Frank M. is exactly right, RT. You seem to think that if a free market economy produced broad market equality free marketeers would be mumbling to themselves about how their hopes were dashed. Nope.

    Inequality is a by-product of free markets but it is not an aim or a precondition.

  14. Nate Oman on July 14, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    “If the Book of Mormon was written when classical thought placed the earth at the center of the Universe, does that mean that we should not read it as saying the earth goes around the sun?”

    Yes, unless we had really compelling evidence that the Book of Mormon was breaking with the kind of cosmological system that we would expect.

  15. Matt Evans on July 14, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    “[BoM argument against poverty] is made in terms of sinfulness and righteousness, charity and forgetfulness of God. The great mistake of politically liberal Mormons is to ignore this fact. The great mistake of conservative Mormons is to think that this means that such things are not the concern of the government.”

    Nate, I don’t follow you on this point. From this it appears you’re saying that conservative Mormons (a group that includes myself) should expect government to do more regarding “sinfulness, righteousness, charity and forgetfulness of God,” but I hope you’ll elaborate or point to some more specific examples.

    As to your general point, while I agree modern scriptures offer little traction for answering philosophical questions, using the book as exemplary narrative, none of the calls against poverty, by King Benjamin, Jacob, Alma, or any other prophet, included a call for coercion or government involvement.

    Similarly, I agree with RT that material inequality is the real concern, and not poverty per se, because of the second greatest commandment. Everyone in “could not be a happier people” 4th Nephi was surely poorer than the poorest people now living in Salt Lake county.

  16. Dan Y. on July 14, 2006 at 12:22 pm

    RT’s assertion might be more correct if it were modified to read, “the possiblity of material inequality is seen as desirable, in most capitalist philosophy, as a way of producing incentives to work and invest efficiently.” In Frank’s hypothetical economy where everybody gets rich at the same rate and things are super dandy, the use of competitive markets (without redistribution) would require that someone who deviates from making optimal choices is going to come out with the short end of the stick.

  17. bbell on July 14, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    “Similarly, I agree with RT that material inequality is the real concern,” Material inequality leads to Pride IMO

    Material inequality occurs in all modern economic systems from Left to Right and is a facet of the human condition as is Pride

  18. Nate Oman on July 14, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    Matt: I doubt that the Book of Mormon actually makes the clear distinction between political and personal morality that is required to make a clean arguments along the lines of charity-is-good-but-shouldnt’t-be-done-by-the-government. The problem with lefties jumping all over this idea is that it means that most of the standard objections to so-called “moral legislation” e.g. laws against contraception, abortion, blue laws, prohibitions on alchohol, etc., go out the window as well.

  19. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Dan, how about instead of “desirable” we try “inevitable”. Of course, I don’t think a Zion society had to support free-riders. I wonder what Enoch’s society did with the guys who would not get into gear? It will be fascinating to learn more about that society when we get more scripture.

  20. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    So, Nate, you are saying we should assume old-school thinking unless there is good evidence of new school thinking? I’m fine with that, but I think there are some real hints (besides the Galilean astronomy) that the Bom was new school in a variety of ways.

  21. Johnny on July 14, 2006 at 2:35 pm

    Great Post Nate!

    I agree that our post-enlightenment categories do not fit will onto the BOM. Yet, once we let go of the distinctions between private and public etc.the BOM does become a political narrative among other things. As a political narrative \”for our day\” I do think that one can rightly use that narrative to critique poverty, inequality and mistreatment of the poor. I also think that certian political systems are more or less compatible with that narrative. Although once someone enters into post-enlightenment ideological discussion we must recongnize that departure as you point out.

  22. Matt Evans on July 14, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Nate, if you’re open to viewing the BoM as an exemplary narrative, as I believe it is intended to be, many clear distinctions can be made. First, there is no example in the Book of Mormon of the prophet-leaders using political power to coerce *affirmative* commandments, such as prayer, missionary work, or charitable giving. They are willing, however, to use political power to prohibit *negative* commandments, such as theft, adultery and murder. And while many affirmative and negative commandments can be written inversely, the prophets always give a commandment one way or the other, with either a “shall” or a “shall not”.

    There is sometimes considerable play in this distinction (are Sabbath commandments affirmative, to keep it holy, or negative, to not work, nor the stranger within thy gate?), but in the BoM every instance of political power coinciding with God’s law is an instance where they understood the commandment to be negative.

    The people of 4th Nephi were not a Zion people because they shared all things in common, there could not be a happier people than they because “of the love of God that did dwell in their hearts.” That love, of course, led each person to share their possessions with, and work for the benefit of, their neighbor.

    Using coercion to feed the poor has always been either a cynical political ploy to win political power (“Stick with me and you’ll never be hungry again!”), or a salve to soothe a greedy conscience by kicking against “The System” (or the Corporate-Prison-Industrial-Complex, etc.) to avoid confronting the person’s personal responsibility to do what love requires: sharing all they have with their neighbors as with themselves.

  23. Rosalynde Welch on July 14, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    “As for modern scipture and freedom of conscience, I think that the key text here is section 134. It is well established that Oliver Cowdry wrote it, and I suspect that it was largely cribbed from a common appendix to American editions of Blackstone discussing religious toleration. I am not quite sure what — if anything — this does for its authoritative status. It is also worth noting that the definition of freedom of conscience set forth in section 134 is circular unless one has some sort of a baseline for what constitutes inherent criminality, something that it is difficult to find in liberal or democratic political theory and which I suspect goes back to pre-modern natural law concepts. Certainly, later Mormon lawyers offered something along these lines in the polygamy cases.”

    Nate, I am in utter despair. How could I have written a paper on Mormon conscience, and not known or thought of things like this? (Or did I, and now I’ve forgotten?) How do you know this stuff? Why are you so smart, and why am I not more like you?

  24. Nate Oman on July 14, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    RW: You are kind, but I suspect that a good candidate for an answer to you questions is that my theory is utter nonsense. The glory of the blogs is that one can make assertions without having to provide, you know, evidence or arguments…

  25. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    Matt, clearly you are a corporate shill who hates children.

  26. Dan Y. on July 14, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Frank,

    “Inevitable” works, but I think “desirable” also works for what RT seemed to have in mind, i.e., “capitalist philosophy” that likely takes as a given that some people aren’t ready for a Zion society. The potential of inequality is desirable in the sense that incentives, without which the competive economy cannot operate, cease to be incentives if ignoring them does not affect the distribution of outcomes. (I’m sure I’m not saying you don’t already know.)

  27. Adam Greenwood on July 14, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Dan Y.,

    I don’t see how ‘desirable’ can be used in the sense you use it. One might say with equal justice that I think stench is desirable because I do not like constipation.

  28. Nate Oman on July 14, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Matt: I think that Frank pretty much sums things up ;->

    I would respond it two ways:

    1. The distinction that you make may in fact be in the text. Granting that it is there does it matter at all in the narrative? In other words, do the charactes in the Book of Mormon seem to be looking for principles for decided what concerns are properly public and what concerns are properly private? Do they even have a conception of public versus private? My sense is that the answer to both of these questions is “no.” That being the case, I wonder if the distinction that you identify is anything more than an accident of the narrative.

    2. I fully agree with you that promising bread and circuses to the masses has been a ploy for demagogues down through the centuries, and that there are all sorts of ignoble motives that one might have for advocating redistribution. On the other hand, one reason one might advocate redistribution is to improve the material condition of the poor. As it happens, I am opposed to lots of modern forms of redistribution because I think — as an emperical matter — they are counter productive. On the other hand, I don’t subscribe to an absolutist conception of property rights (no one really does) and certainly when the scriptures do talk about property (e.g. property rules in the pentatuach or passages in the D&C on concecration and stewardship) they tend to have a fairly non-absolutist conception.

  29. Matt Evans on July 14, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Nate, because the Book of Mormon several times makes mention of political questions (i.e., Mosiah 28, Alma 1, 30, 45-60; Helaman 5:2), we know they were at least mindful of political coercion, and that the principles they followed were probably deliberate. King Mosiah calls on the people to enact good laws in Mosiah 28, and Alma 30:8 speaks of restraints on government power, for example, so we know they discussed the provence of government power even if they approached it differently than we do today. There may be a better explanation, but meanwhile I think we can look for the common element shared by the acts on each side of their church/government line. The affirmative/negative distinction is the one I’ve found to be strongest so far, as I haven’t seen any counter-examples.

  30. Russell Arben Fox on July 14, 2006 at 5:21 pm

    Geez, I wish I could have been in on this discussion from the start. But I wasn’t, and I’m not going to be able to stick around to follow it further, either. So, some random thoughts:

    “I am skeptical that [Taryn's] reference to socialism [in the BoM] has a great deal of traction because it is not entirely clear what we mean when we say “socialismâ€? and the devil, as they say, is in the philosophical details.”

    True enough, Nate. But you provide no details yourself. What do you mean by “socialism”? If you reject that Taryn’s belief that socialism is morally affirmed by the BoM, then you must have a definition of socialism in mind. What is it?

    “The Biblical discussions of poverty can–I believe–ultimately be read as a condemnation of the mistreatment of the poor. This allows one to simultaneously exalt the virtues of poverty. The Book of Mormon, in contrast, sets forth poverty as a virtue while also advocating its eradication.”

    I disagree with your initial claim, or at least would demand that you specify which discussions you’re referring to. What you’re looking at in the Bible–the presumption that most people will always be poor, and that’s the end of it–is very much a part of the Old Testament, but not nearly so much a part of the New. Most all Western forms of “socialism,” broadly defined, arguably find their origin in a few passages in the Book of Acts, after all. If this were not the case–if the whole Biblical tradition is essentially quietist in the face of poverty–then it would be dificult to account for, among other things, the profoundly communal and religious tenor of many peasant uprisings throughout the Middle Ages.

    “Good children of the liberal enlightenment that we are…”

    All of us?

    “[O]ur political thinking almost inevitably hinges on the distinction between the right and the good, state and society….Arguments over poverty and the redistribution of wealth then get couched in these terms. We have disputes about whether the presence of poverty is unjust or whether the forcible redistribution of wealth is unjust. We are all, however, arguing about the demands of justice, and drafting the Book of Mormon into the service of our arguments.”

    But we aren’t all talking about the demands of justice. Or rather, not that we don’t talk about such demands, but I am aware of no serious leftist (as opposed to your average earnest liberal) who limits their conversations about poverty to questions of “justice.” Indeed, I’m not clear on why “distributive justice” is being given such a prominent place in your analysis of Taryn’s claims about the socialist message of the BoM in the first place. The very idea of distributive justice betrays a prior assumption that “justice” is a property which obtains between individual persons and particular possessions. Samuel Fleischacker’s work is excellent, but it is also a typical example of liberal political theory in that it assumes a definition of the individual person and their place in society that emerged concurrent to the definition of justice which he wants a explore, a definition which Marx’s articulation of socialism (which is essentially a development of Rousseau’s) tried to contest from the get-go.

    In other words, Nate, while I fully agree with your claim that the BoM’s socio-economic message (or messages) do not fit into Enlightment categories, you seem want to assume that everyone else is stuck in such categories, and thus “taking the Book of Mormon seriously” will require some sort of radical effort, perhaps marked by tragic shortcomings and limitations because of the (inevitably?) liberal world we live in. But who, exactly, lives in that world? Lots of people do, to be sure. But not all people. And someone of them write about poverty all the time, in terms very applicable to Mormonism. (Consider Jim’s attempt to initiate a Mormon dialogue about the radical, socialist Christianity of John Milbank–a decidedly non-Enlightenment prospect that, if the thread is any indication, you were less than fully sympathetic to.)

    “I doubt that the Book of Mormon actually makes the clear distinction between political and personal morality that is required to make a clean arguments along the lines of charity-is-good-but-shouldnt’t-be-done-by-the-government. The problem with lefties jumping all over this idea is that it means that most of the standard objections to so-called ‘moral legislation’ e.g. laws against contraception, abortion, blue laws, prohibitions on alchohol, etc., go out the window as well.”

    This is absolutely correct, Nate; I agree with you fully, both the way you put it here and with the reverse: that is, so long as we should be willing (as both the BoM and statements by contemporary church leaders clearly support) to legislate collectively on behalf of moral truths and goods, then there should be no paranoia about acting similarly in regards to property and poverty (as 19th-century church leaders regularly strove to do through their United Order experiments), given that temporal equality is also a moral good.

  31. Frank McIntyre on July 14, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    Russell,

    Should we also have “no paranoia” about legislating tithing? How about family prayer? How about personal prayer for the downtrodden?

    It seems to me that a line on state/religious action needs to be drawn somewhere. Matt has articulated a possibility that seems reasonable to me. Do you have an alternative?

  32. samdb on July 14, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    Matt Evans (#22),
    Captain Moroni used coercion to enforce affirmative commandments, e.g., defend our homes, our land, and our religion (paraphrased), a duty that he (as a prophet/political leader) appears to have felt to be both religious and political. As you said, virtually any commandment can be stated affirmatively and negatively. As such, I don’t think the distinction makes sense if we are to take the BoM seriously on its own terms. Nate asserts that the BoM gives scant political comfort to liberals or conservatives. While I certainly can cite verses to support or oppose the current war or welfare system, I don’t know that that’s my best use of it. Yes, it mentions political systems, but I’m not sure that BoM political systems are cities on a hill, to be admired and imitated, as much as they are to allow us to see believing people interacting with their faith in good and bad situations.

  33. Adam Greenwood on July 14, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    But in practice, Russell Fox, you are very reluctant to “legislate collectively on behalf of moral truths and goods,” at least that I’ve seen. I suspect that with all of us our intellectual assent has gotten ahead of where we’re really comfortable and the devil is still in the details.

  34. Mark Butler on July 14, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    Defending one’s home, country, and religion from mortal danger is not exactly like legislating one’s religion on, say a foreign country that had no lasting heritage of such things. If you acquire sufficient consent – far more than a majority – you can do an enormous number of things that are not ethical when a country is peacefully and sharply divided. Defending against violence or treason is different.

  35. Matt Evans on July 14, 2006 at 10:31 pm

    Sam, Captain Moroni rose against the Nephite kingmen who had overthrown the government and were occupying Zarahemla. Alma 61:9 says that those who were executed are those who “would not take up arms in the defence of their country, but would fight against it.” Because I think anyone fighting against the government would be viewed by that government as an enemy, it seems fitting that they were treated as enemies (I’ll bracket for the now the propriety of executing enemies that refuse to renounce fighting). Because they had recently overthrown the democratic government and were conspiring with the enemy, I think it’s mistaken to say Moroni was enforcing an affirmative commandment. Moroni’s requiring that they fight with the government or be killed looks like a way to ensure they’ve repented of being an enemy of the democratic government.

  36. Russell Arben Fox on July 14, 2006 at 11:44 pm

    Frank,

    “It seems to me that a line on state/religious action needs to be drawn somewhere. Matt has articulated a possibility that seems reasonable to me. Do you have an alternative?”

    Several, any number of which might potentially overlap with or butress one another. Clearly, there is some intuitive sense to the public/private, or negative/affirmative, distinction; it wouldn’t have so may adherents, or such a long pedigree in political philosophy, otherwise. I don’t reject the modern notion of privacy entirely. But why should I privilege that one form of line-drawing? In fact, why draw a line as pertains to the particular content and affects of various goods at all? Why not instead draw lines in regards to context within which those goods are realized?

    For example, the leadership of the church has made it clear that they wish to make certain that only one form of marriage is legally recognized in the U.S. They articulate their wish, for the most part, by asserting that God has revealed that one and only one form of marriage has His approval, and legally protecting that one form of marriage is the best way to secure divine blessings for His children. If we adopt Matt’s criteria, then we are beholden to a methodology which insists that the church’s claim of divine approval and blessing must be reflected in the public consequences of marriage; in other words, we have to show that failing to act against all other forms of marriage will, by allowing a “negative” command to be unenforced, have harmful affects (to individual children, to the future of civilization, etc.) It is this harm, under such a line of reasoning, which justifies public actions and restrictions. Clearly, there are plenty of arguments out there which point in this direction. But just as clearly, a great many people do not find them persuasive. Coming up with harm-based arguments to justify collective restrictions in reagrds to same-sex marriage, as well as abortion, gambling, store closing on Sunday, recreational drugs, divorce, euthanasia, etc., while certainly possible, tends to force one’s perspective down narrow channels.

    Doesn’t it make sense at least in some cases think instead about the common purpose behind such arguments, rather than translating them into terms which privilege an accounting of costs? Say Arkansas has a ballot initiative regarding the definition of marriage. Say further that the leaders of the side which argued for the position pretty much identical to the church’s position on the recent federal marriage amendment were for the most part Baptist preachers, and pretty much never brought up any arguments that had anything remotely to do with how definitions of marriage may or may not hurt this or that individual. Instead, their arguments are overwhelmingly scriptural testimony of God’s will. The ballot initiative passes by overwhelmingly; over 80% of voters supported it. (This is in fact what happened back in 2004.) What are we to make of this? Was this a “state/religious action” that crossed a line because its publicly articulated premises had little or nothing to protecting individuals from a “negative” harm? Or might we call it legitimate because, simply, the people wanted it?

    I’m not suggesting this as the definitive way to assess the proper sphere of public/communal/religious/popular/state/what-have-you action. My populism has limits (just as, I suspect, Matt’s distinction between affirmative/privately-beneficial and negative/publicly-harmful commandments probably does). But throwing these considerations into the mix seems a lot more likely to reveal the basis of at least some of the more egalitarian and socialistic language of prophets both ancient and modern than a rigorous attempt draw lines which prophets and those inspired by them supposedly may not cross on the basis of a libertarian ideology.

    (Incidentally, regarding “legislating….personal prayer for the downtrodden”–doesn’t that happen with every single presidential Thanksgiving Day declaration?)

  37. Russell Arben Fox on July 14, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    Adam,

    “But in practice, Russell Fox, you are very reluctant to ‘legislate collectively on behalf of moral truths and goods,’ at least that I’ve seen.”

    Could be. I’m not in favor of arbitrarily taking away property from wealthy people either, so I suppose I may–at least by lights of my own claimed philosophy–be pretty prudent all around. What have I written about that would fall under this label? Off the top of my head, defending parental notification laws in regards to underage abortion, advocating national service legislation, opposing state lotteries and the legalization of casino gambling, urging a greater presence for orthodox religious discussion in the public schools…I’m sure there are more, but I can’t think of them now. (You might be referring to the fact that I thought the Federal Marriage Amendment was a bad idea. I still do. But I voted in favor of the state amendment in Arkansas which I mentioned in #36. Context is everything.)

  38. Matt Evans on July 15, 2006 at 9:33 am

    Russell,

    The distinction I proposed was based on negative and affirmative commandments, which don’t coincide with “negative harms” or notions of public/private. Affirmative commandments (“thou shalt”) can be public (love thy neighbor as thyself) while negative commandments (“thou shalt NOT”) can be private (anti-sodomy).

    Negative laws are like walls that keep people out (don’t do X, stay out of X), while affirmative laws are walls that keep people in (do X, stay in X). That difference is enormous. We obviously don’t contest the government’s prohibiting us from entering Area 51 like we would if they said we had to remain in Area 51. And just like prison boundaries could theoretically be defined either negatively or affirmatively, so can laws. But just because laws, like prison boundaries, can be defined both ways, doesn’t mean that they are defined that way, nor that there isn’t a proper way to understand them. We define prison boundaries affirmatively because it is easier (prisoner must reside in Utah Correctional Facility Cell #518) while using negative boundaries would require listing every location that’s not UTFC #518 (prisoner must NOT reside in UTFC#222, or Box Elder County, or Nebraska, or Thailand, etc.) It could be done but our intuition and experience tells us prison boundaries are best defined affirmatively. In the same way we can usually look at commandments and see whether they are best understood with negative or positive language.

  39. Russell Arben Fox on July 15, 2006 at 10:17 am

    “The distinction I proposed was based on negative and affirmative commandments, which don’t coincide with “negative harmsâ€? or notions of public/private. Affirmative commandments (â€?thou shaltâ€?) can be public (love thy neighbor as thyself) while negative commandments (â€?thou shalt NOTâ€?) can be private (anti-sodomy).”

    It occured to me sometime late last night that I may have read into your comments more than you meant; apparently that was the case. My apologies. My only excuse is that the “negative/positive” analysis has been so closely associated (at least rhetorically) with discussions of private vs. public harms for so long that it’s easy (for me, anyway) to start seeing them both together.

    Your restatement of your position suggests some interesting possibilities. For one thing, it puts tremendous weight on what might, as Nate suggested in #28, be nothing more than a semantic accident, which very well might take other forms in other translations. For another, does this mean that all Taryn or I would have to do is show you some commandments or warnings regarding temporal equality which are phrased negatively (like D&C 49:20, 70:14, or 78:5-6), and we’ll be good to go?

  40. Christian Y. Cardall on July 15, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Nate (#28): In other words, do the charactes in the Book of Mormon seem to be looking for principles for decided what concerns are properly public and what concerns are properly private? Do they even have a conception of public versus private?

    A description of Morianton’s rule in Ether 10:11 suggests a distinction between public and private as far back as the ancient days of the Jaredites:

    And he did do justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms; wherefore he was cut off from the presence of the Lord.

  41. Christian Y. Cardall on July 15, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    I suppose it could well be Moroni’s distinction instead of of the Jaredites’.

  42. Nate Oman on July 15, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    “If you reject that Taryn’s belief that socialism is morally affirmed by the BoM, then you must have a definition of socialism in mind. What is it?”

    I am affraid that I don’t have one handy. I am honestly not sure what to make of the various descriptions of communitarian economics that one finds in the scriptures and in Mormon history. There seems to be a fair amount of institutional variation among them, and they seem to have met with differing degrees of success. Furthermore, given the rather horrific results of some socialistic experiments in the last century or so, I am inclined to caution.

    “Most all Western forms of “socialism,â€? broadly defined, arguably find their origin in a few passages in the Book of Acts, after all. If this were not the case–if the whole Biblical tradition is essentially quietist in the face of poverty–then it would be dificult to account for, among other things, the profoundly communal and religious tenor of many peasant uprisings throughout the Middle Ages.”

    I suspect that we have substantial historical disagreements here. First, I don’t think that there is anything in those passages of Acts to suggest that the arrangments spoken of where aimed at the eradication of poverty as a social phenomena. Furthermore, many of the communal experiments that those passages spawned were actually about the valorization of poverty rather than its eradication, e.g. the Franciscans. Furthermore, the various peasant revolts of the Middle Ages frequently shared this valorization of poverty, indeed it was precisely this fact that the made the papacy so uncomfortable with the Franciscans and their more radical supporters among the peasantry. Don’t get me wrong. I think that all of these movements were concerned with the treatment of the poor, and the improvement of their lot. Some of them my have even had eschatelogical aspects that led to imminent millenial expecations about the end of ALL pain and suffering with the return of Christ. Furthermore, I agree that some modern socialists trace their spiritual roots back to such movements. However, I think that you will be hard pressed to find the notion of secular, administrative poverty eradication as a political program prior to the French Revolution.

    ““Good children of the liberal enlightenment that we are…â€? All of us?”

    Well, all of us except for you and Adam.

    “Samuel Fleischacker’s work is excellent, but it is also a typical example of liberal political theory in that it assumes a definition of the individual person and their place in society that emerged concurrent to the definition of justice which he wants a explore, a definition which Marx’s articulation of socialism (which is essentially a development of Rousseau’s) tried to contest from the get-go”

    Here, Russell, I think that you are letting your urge to bash liberal political philosophy get the better of you. The claim that you level at Fleischacker as a criticism is more or less the central thesis of his book. In other words, he agrees with you.

    “In other words, Nate, while I fully agree with your claim that the BoM’s socio-economic message (or messages) do not fit into Enlightment categories, you seem want to assume that everyone else is stuck in such categories, and thus “taking the Book of Mormon seriouslyâ€? will require some sort of radical effort, perhaps marked by tragic shortcomings and limitations because of the (inevitably?) liberal world we live in. But who, exactly, lives in that world? Lots of people do, to be sure. But not all people.”

    Would it make you feel better if I exempted you from my criticism? Look, I think that my critique holds true for most American Mormons. Even if they don’t by into the wholly atomized version of liberalism that you set up as your target, I do think that the “common sense” of their political intuitions is basically philosophically liberal. As for those that are not liberal, I am more than willing to concede that they do not fall into the sorts of difficulties in their BofM hermeneutic that I point out. This does not mean that they are without hermeneutic difficulties. Nor does it mean that they are not with out other difficulties of the sort that I tried to talk about on the Milbank thread.

    As for the inevitability of liberalism for Mormons, I actually do think that given our time and place Mormons don’t have the luxury of being anything other than liberal, except perhaps in enclaves such as Utah where we can function as a church rather than a sect. The alternative, of course, is to disolve Mormonism into the Christian Church universal and assimilate ourselves to some sort of Milbank-ian project of Christian communitarianism. No thanks.

    At the end of the day, I am not advocating quietism, just humility and the realization that the scriptures may be doing more than affirming the political philosophy that we found attractive after reading Rousseau (or Locke).

  43. Michael McBride on July 15, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    In the sense of an economic system, socialism is most simply defined as collective ownership over the means of production. Collective here can mean local workers’ unions or by the state. Some people add to the definition, e.g., collectively run distribution of wealth. Exactly what “having all things in common” means is not clear w.r.t. these definitions, so to me it is an overstep to claim that the 4 Ne or Enoch or early NT Christian people were socialist.

    If the discipline of economics is good at anything, it is good at identifying the role that incentives play in all walks of life. And one problem inherent in socialist systems is that they have difficulties designing institutions that generate incentives that can keep the system working.

    I think this is where the BoM makes a simple yet important claim: to yield a desirable distribution of wealth first requires people to change. Extrapolating this to my words, once people have changed and they place value on things other than themselves and their own consumption, then the incentives problem will be less severe. This is not a copout, and we can still try to form institutions to achieve desired outcomes. Yet, the BoM gives no guidance as to what those institutions might be–especially in 21st century America. Its focus is on changing society through changing people’s preferences (like ETB’s cleansing the inner vessel).

  44. Nate Oman on July 15, 2006 at 8:24 pm

    If all things are in common, why isn’t the lesser (means of production) included in the greaters (all things)?

  45. Michael McBride on July 15, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    #44: “If all things are in common, why isn’t the lesser (means of production) included in the greaters (all things)?”

    Because doing so assumes that “all things” really means literally all things, and this could be forcing a reading on the text that the writer did not mean to be made.

    For example, suppose each Nephite had his/her own plot of land and worked it individually. Each also tended to eat their own food. Yet, they shared their food quite liberally–especially during drought or famine, and they helped eachother work fields when necessary. If I’m Mormon trying to save space on the plates and also trying to send a message about sharing and helping your neighbors, I might refer to this as having all things in common even though they really didn’t have collective legal ownership. They just shared. (I mean, do you think that having all things in common implies that they all shared the same clothing, too? I don’t think so. So this tells you that you can’t take “all things” to mean literally ALL things.)

    W.r.t the socialism definition specifically, having in common doesn’t imply common ownership over means of production. Suppose each person privately owned his/her own means of production (shovel, pick, stone tools, etc.), but that they share these means liberally. This sounds like a great place to live–a tremendous community–seriously. But this is an informal and commonly understood sharing arrangement that is not equivalent to common ownership.

    Another example from our time: you could say that my wife and I have all things in common, but that doesn’t mean they we have common control over those things. I have my books and my tools and my computer, and we do share them, and she has her books, etc. She does not have equal say over exactly how my books will be used even though we have them in common in one sense.

    Before someone attacks me, let me say that I’m not just some economist against institutionalized common property arrangements. My understanding of JS’s Zion included such an arrangement to varying degrees, and I am excited about the prospect of such an arrangement working. The market is not even close to being a perfect allocation system. But you’ll have to look elsewhere than the BoM to learn the proper legal arrangement of a better system.

  46. markn on July 16, 2006 at 2:41 am

    I wonder what Enoch’s society did with the guys who would not get into gear?Since the people were of one heart and one mind, there were no people who wouldn’t “get into gear”. : )

  47. Seth R. on July 16, 2006 at 8:18 am

    Probably just exhiled them from the community.

  48. Mark Butler on July 16, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    It’s gotta take a pretty strong wind to do that.

  49. Clark on July 16, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    I think Michael makes a good point. The frustrating part of the ideals of both the Nephites and Enocheans is that we have only a few words. It’s hard to figure out what they were actually doing, let alone whether it could be translated to our own economy. (After all if you are in a small community of hunter-gathers it is probably easy to be fairly equal than when you have say our economy)

  50. Jonathan N on July 16, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Clark, I don’t think it’s hard to figure out what they were doing. They were doing the same thing we’re doing today, except more of it.

    Alma 1 explains that people gave voluntarily to ease the burdens of others. The givers were productive but not greedy; “they did all labor, every man according to his strength,” but “they did not wear costly apparel.” They had an abundance of all things, but they were liberal in sharing to whoever had need.

    There are plenty of people today who live well below their means in order to share with others. It’s true (as evidence by the McMansions that increasingly dot the Salt Lake and Utah valleys) that there are many who have lost sight of the Zion ideal, but I don’t think it’s because there is a lack of words in the scriptures that explain how a Zion society would function.

    There is a culture within the Church (as well as within the larger society) that places more value in sharing with the less fortunate than in buying bigger (and more) houses, cars, and toys. Whether that culture is growing or receding may be unclear, but I hope it’s growing and I trust that some day, we’ll wake up one morning and realize that we’re already living in Zion (even if much of the Church, and the rest of the world, is not).

    As one example, the world’s greatest health problem has shifted from starvation and malnutrition to obesity. The earth produces far more calories that humans can consume.

    Intellectually, more people everywhere have more access to more information than ever before in history. There are but few pockets of the world that lack internet access, for example–including access to lds.org and related sites. In this sense, we could say that earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, as Isaiah prophecied.

    So I don’t follow the concern about changing the legal system, or even the nuances of public policy, to facilitate a Zion society. We have Zion among us already, and it’s only a question of whether we’re part of it (by sharing) or we oppose it (by spending our resources on ourselves).

  51. Matt Evans on July 16, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    Russell,

    I think the answer to your question is found in the passage you cited from D&C 70: “In your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.” The blessings from being equal are vitiated when it is compelled. Only when people give voluntarily (or “not grudgingly,” a higher standard still) do they receive the promised blessings. It’s all about love, and no one has yet figured out how to induce love with the fist.

  52. Mark Butler on July 17, 2006 at 1:51 am

    Jonathan N (#50),

    I think the scripture “ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth” more accurately characterizes the current state of mankind than the one you paraphrased. The world is strikingly lacking in the “knowledge of the Lord”. Even we as members of the Church often seem to have a rather narrow conception of what that means.

    When young men see visions, and daughters prophesy, such that their understanding reaches to heaven, and before whom the understanding of the wise and prudent comes to naught, then I think we may say that Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled. (cf. Joel 2, D&C 76)

    Does anyone really think our current educational regime, secular or religious, is capable of turning out young men and women who compare to the greatest minds of the age the way Daniel did as a young man as a matter of course?

  53. Jonathan N on July 17, 2006 at 10:47 am

    Mark, I suppose it’s a matter of seeing the glass half empty or half full. The world is awash with truth, including all forms of scientific truth as well as spiritual truth. Never before in history has it been possible, or even conceivable, that a person could have access to all of the world’s knowledge, yet we are already taking it for granted.

    Some years ago, I went to Turkey to work on a project. Before I arrived, my hosts had researched Utah and the LDS Church, and despite being Muslim, they were fascinated by the idea of a living prophet. We had some interesting discussions. So I do think the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord; I don’t think the scripture requires that all people take advantage of that knowledge.

    It’s true, as you point out, that many do not take advantage of the opportunities. People reject the gospel, people reject knowledge, people reject good health practices, people reject their own families–but at the same time, people have more opportunity than ever before.

    I see this the same way that I see people in the Church who sit around hoping for Zion someday, not realizing that Zion already exists if they care to join it. There are plenty of people already who see visions, who prophesy, and whose understanding reaches to heaven.

    Daniel is a good example of my point. It was not an educational regime that made him exceptional. If anything, the educational regime he was in taught him the opposite of what he knew to be right. I don’t understand why you would expect any educational regime to “turn out” young people who would compare with Daniel.

  54. Mark Butler on July 18, 2006 at 2:18 am

    Jonathan, I agree that the world is awash with facts. I also agree that the Internet, by and large, is a wonderful thing. I could only dream of this type of network back when I had a second hand acoustically coupled 300 baud modem and it took 20 minutes to download a 30KB file, if no one picked up the the phone or talked too loud in the room. When an Xmodem download got out of sync, it did not recover too well. What can you say about a world where the state of the art in network communication is Kermit? Or perhaps UUCP if you are *really* lucky. Where you envy the people who live five miles to the south because they are in local calling range of all the really good BBSes. (And whatever made KSL put a “911″ in the phone number for their BBS anyway? I almost got in trouble once because of that.)

    The problem is that by scriptural standards the type of stuff the world is awash in is a large collection of facts. More significant truths are available, (and have been for a long time), but so very few take them seriously. To hear even of LDS scholars who treat the scriptures as a guide to the higher knowledge or truths of their field, instead of an archaic collection of barely comprehensible principles they are embarassed to talk about in public, seems a rare event. The gatekeepers of every field of study are defacto atheists.

    And thus we see, as Peter prophesied, that people are ever learning – lots and lots of facts – but rarely, if ever, coming to a knowledge of the most significant truths to be had – the ones the scriptures only reveal to those who take them very seriously.

    Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:

    But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

    But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

    For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

    Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
    (1 Cor 2:6-14)

    Does the ivory tower have the slightest hint of the knowledge of the Lord here described? Indeed, they had far more knowledge of the Lord in the “dark” ages, than they have today. Religion has become a hiss and a byword, and theology hardly worth mentioning. The theology of one of the greatest theologians of all times, William of Ockham, hardly merits a mention in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This is the age of the atheists – a time of more widespread ignorance of the knowledge of the Lord than we have had for millennia.

  55. Jonathan N on July 18, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    Mark, I see your point, but I don’t think that there are different “truths.” I think all truth belongs in the same sphere. As the scriptures say, there is no truth in Satan, who is the father of lies, but the Spirit of truth is of God. So we should be seeking truth in all fields, until the day that we can know all things.

    So much of religion is manifestly untrue, both from our perspectives as LDS and from what you would characterize as worldly perspectives. It’s like the people who deny the truth of evolution, citing religion to contradict basic scientific principles that we each rely on every day, whether we accept them or not. Why not include scientific truths within the scope of religious truth?

    Why should a search for truth focus on traditional theologians, when so much of what they have taught simply isn’t so?

    What we ought to embrace is all truth, regardless of its source, recognizing that the truths about our eternal natures and our relationship with God are the most important; but too often, we find ourselves clinging to religious traditions that we know are not “true” in a factual sense. Many of these may convey analogies to spiritual truth, in the way that a parable is a fictional story that conveys a true principle about human nature. But we often take the parables (the flood, 6000 year old earth, etc.) as if they were literally true, and hence we absorb falsehood into our belief system. A good example of this in modern times is the geography of the BoM people.

    I also wouldn’t agree with you that people were more knowledgeable about the Lord in the “dark” or “middle” ages than they are now. The modern world focuses more on love, forgiveness, charity, feeding the sick, clothing the naked, etc., than any society during the middle ages did. We see more people today living gospel principles, at least as outlined in Matt. 25, than we have in history. I don’t think there’s even a correlation between living gospel principles and affiliating with churches, as we see many non-religious people providing what would otherwise be characterized as Christian service, while many Christians spend all their time and energy amassing selfish wealth.

    But to the extent religion is becoming a “hiss and a byword,” the cause is religious extremists who advocate their particular dogma at the expense of Christlike living. I think there is still a reservoir of respect among even atheists for religious people who simply practice their religion without proclaiming, like the Pharisees, how righteous they are.

  56. Adam Greenwood on July 18, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    “The modern world focuses more on love, forgiveness, charity, feeding the sick, clothing the naked, etc., than any society during the middle ages did.”

    You’re mistaken, friend. The middle ages was both more vicious and more charitable than we. What we’ve got on ‘em is more wealth, that’s all.

  57. Jonathan N on July 20, 2006 at 1:17 am

    Hi Adam. I’d be interested to know in what sense you consider the middle ages more charitable.

  58. Mark Butler on July 20, 2006 at 3:50 am

    Jonathan N. (#55),

    To take this discussion much further, we are going to have to address the metaphysics of truth. I agree that all truth is one great sphere, however I maintain that sphere is a synthetic sphere largely of divine authorship, built on top of a handful of natural laws which he did not author (the ones preventing ex nihilo creation and necessitating a suffering atonement for example).

    Now it does not take any particularly great imagination to discover natural laws, because they are necessities, by definition, everywhere and everywhen present. Divine laws and ordinances are another story – in practice revelation is required to understand the details of what God has ordained.

    Universities are pretty good at ferreting out natural laws, and analyzing the compositions of men (and women), but in this day and age they hardly bother to analyze and understand divine laws and ordinances. Whereas in medieval times, theology was the primary occupation of universities. Law and medicine were secondary, and law was often seen as an adjunct to theology.

    Now scholars like Ockham and Aquinas had some errors in their understanding, but the idea that secular and religious knowledge should be divided into separate spheres was something they explicitly opposed. Their raison d’etre was precisely the opposite – to integrate religion, theology, and natural philosophy into a uniform whole. And that was hardly new with them. Every decent Greek philosopher had the same aim – the Christians just added revelation to the mixture, making their grand syntheses much more powerful – indeed powerful enough to serve as the basis for the greatest civilization the world has ever known, a civilization that now lives on borrowed light. The Enlightenment itself was largely based on spiritual ideals, not some sort of atheism as in the fables so many secularists propagate these days.

    Listen to what the scriptures have to say:

    And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.
    Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them.

    And because of the mercies of the Father unto the Gentiles, and also the judgments of the Father upon my people who are of the house of Israel, verily, verily, I say unto you, that after all this, and I have caused my people who are of the house of Israel to be smitten, and to be afflicted, and to be slain, and to be cast out from among them, and to become hated by them, and to become a hiss and a byword among them—

    And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them.
    And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel.
    But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel.
    (3 Ne 16:6-13)

    The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant—

    And after that ye were blessed then fulfilleth the Father the covenant which he made with Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed—unto the pouring out of the Holy Ghost through me upon the Gentiles, which blessing upon the Gentiles shall make them mighty above all, unto the scattering of my people, O house of Israel.

    And they shall be a scourge unto the people of this land. Nevertheless, when they shall have received the fulness of my gospel, then if they shall harden their hearts against me I will return their iniquities upon their own heads, saith the Father.
    (3 Ne 20:26-28)

    For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other—either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.
    (1 Ne 14:7)

    The words of Jesus Christ with regard to the the Gentiles, Western Civilization, the Gentile heritage of Christianity in particular, are manifestly apparent. Namely that the Gentiles will be blessed because of their belief in Jesus Christ, to the pouring out of the Holy Ghost upon them, making them powerful above all nations, to the degree that they become a scourge unto the house of Israel.

    And yet, unless the Gentiles persist in that belief, and repent and come unto Christ, at some point in the not so distant future, the fulness of the Gentiles will come in, and the Lord will proceed to do a truly marvelous work and a wonder among the house of Israel, and all the Gentiles who will come unto the covenant, a work which shall be manifest in the eyes of all the people.

    This day has not quite come yet, but no doubt soon will be. As the Lord has said:

    For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.
    And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.
    (Isaiah 62:1-2)

    Behold, I will hasten my work in its time.
    (D&C 88:73)

  59. Mark Butler on July 20, 2006 at 4:01 am

    That should be “the Gentiles were blessed because of their belief in Jesus Christ”.

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