Re-reading the second half of Paul Johnson’s A History of Christianity last week, I ran across this interesting commentary penned by John Wesley. Here’s what he wrote sometime in the late 18th century (quoted at page 368; emphasis added):
I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any renewal of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger and the love of the world in all its branches. How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, a religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit as swiftly vanishes away. Is there no way to prevent this — the continual decay of pure religion? We ought not to prevent people from being diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians to gain all they can, and save all they can: that is, in effect, to grow rich.
Wesley locates this process or progression — practicing “pure religion” leads to industry and frugality [which produces riches] which induces pride — in the life of individual believers, which is where I think it occurs, when and if it occurs. Pride is a characteristic of individuals, not of societies. The recent surge in LDS commentary discussing “the pride cycle” as some sort of social dynamic doesn’t seem to recognize that the concept, as applied to societies as a whole, is largely incoherent. Wesley’s quote seems like a nice way to enrich an LDS discussion of the topic. I wish we got material like this in LDS manuals instead of recycled quotes from the middle of the last century.
Note: I corrected the last paragraph to add riches to Wesley’s progression from religion to pride.