The Irreconcilable Triangle of Mormon Political Values

December 16, 2011 | 97 comments
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FOX News was on while I stood in line at McDonald’s last night. I noticed that the guy being interviewed looked distinctly Mormon (apparently we have a distinctive look), so I walked over to see what was up. The guest was Connor Boyack, and he was talking about how, of all the political ideologies, Mormonism is most compatible with Libertarianism.

The Mormon-Libertarian connection is nothing new, but it fits in with something that’s been on my mind lately — competing “goods”. Or, in Elder Oaks’ words, “good, better, and best”.

As I see it, there are three cardinal points of political virtue that we wrangle over in the church:

(I think the role of authoritative church statements in this triangle is fascinating. Boyack reaches out to Pres. Benson for support, and others have done the same in support of Libertarianism with words from church leaders extending back to Brigham Young. But not Joseph Smith, I don’t think. Joseph’s statements are, perhaps, generally too pro-government to be used as ammunition there.)

Now there might be better names for these than the ones I’ve chosen, but I think “freedom”, “purity”, and “charity” convey the point effectively. By purity, I mean those values that come down to an intrinsic sense of “rightness” — things that are not arguable, but that are right (or wrong) because God declares them to be that way. Gay marriage is as good a political issue as any to exemplify what I mean by purity. Arguments of gay marriage pit the “purity” camp against the “freedom” and “charity” camps.

When there is moral strife over the appropriate policies of government, I believe it essentially comes down to a question of ordering these three principles into “good”, “better”, and “best”. By and large, we recognize that all three of these are valid principles. The question is, when they conflict, which do we privilege?

A few more examples:

  • Government-mandated health care, with the “charity” camp in favor and the “freedom” camp opposed.
  • Drug laws, with the “freedom” camp in favor of legalization and the “purity” camp opposed.
  • The death penalty, with “purity” (we need to punish wrongdoing) against “charity” (it is a cruel punishment). I’m not sure that “freedom” has a clear position on this one.

I don’t mean that these three are the only considerations in developing governmental policy; only that they are the three moral considerations. A non-moral consideration (and perhaps the single most weighty opposing force to the triangle) is economics. For example, immigration isn’t an issue between the corners of the morality triangle (at least not most of the time — there are some racist arguments that make an appeal to “purity”, but I’ll ignore those here). It’s an issue between the “charity” corner and the economic question of what services we can afford.

In fact, economic concerns are so weighty that I’d place them as a forth point, the pinacle of a pyramid, competing with the three moral values in the triangle:

My own weightings of these three values have shifted over the years. One of the biggest changes for me was due to the time I spent serving as Elders Quorum President in a rural Oregon ward. Up to that point, I’d spent essentially all my life in relatively affluent areas. I grew up in suburban California, went to school at BYU, and served a mission in Japan. This ward in Oregon was my first experience really seeing the effects of unemployment, poverty, and lack of opportunity.

When these families and individuals, some active in church and some not-so-active, came into hard times, the ward members reached out and made up the difference. I’d never seen charitable service to such an extent. Perhaps that same level of service occurred in my other wards and I just never saw it because I hadn’t been in a position of authority, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that the particular economic situation of this ward created an atmosphere of service — one of both independence and interdependence. Regardless, those experiences shifted purity down and charity up in my moral weighting scale. I saw that the most serviceable weren’t necessarily the most “righteous”, and realized that the service counted for a lot more than the righteousness, at least to my heart.

Ultimately, though, what I find interesting in this is the idea that virtues compete with virtues. (That would be a fun Young Women’s lesson — “Let’s have the YW values battle it out and see which one truly stands for moral dominance!”) There’s not a solution that satisfies all three corners of the triangle in every situation. How does that reality fit into our concept of heaven? If heaven heaven because God has figured out the trick of how to satisfy all three corners simultaneously? Or is heaven the place where the limitations of morality are navigated as best as can be, recognizing that even God can’t satisfy all three?

97 Responses to The Irreconcilable Triangle of Mormon Political Values

  1. Sonny on December 16, 2011 at 2:28 am

    Dane,

    Unfortunately I won’t have time to read your post until tomorrow morning, but upon a quick scan I saw the words libertarian, Fox News, gay marriage, mandated healthcare—-any one of which in a post will likely generate 100+ comments!

  2. John C. on December 16, 2011 at 8:22 am

    How about a little fire, scarecrow?

    Luckily, we know from the Book of Mormon what happens if we let any of these three (or four) values dominate:
    1. Freedom – Korihor
    2. Purity – Zoramites
    3. Charity – Anti-Nephi-Lehis
    (4. Money – Pride cycle (over and over again))

    Well, one of these things is not like the other…

  3. Jax on December 16, 2011 at 8:52 am

    I think in terms of politics Money is the obvious trump card – it wins all. With the catchphrase “it’s the economy stupid!” isn’t difficult to see either. Year after year the #1 issue in an election is the economy – who will make us rich?

    I did like John C’s comment (2), it was a fun way to point out that even if you have all righteousness but have not charity then your hope/faith is in vain.

    I saw that the most serviceable weren’t necessarily the most “righteous”, and realized that the service counted for a lot more than the righteousness, at least to my heart.

    I was glad that “righteous” was in quotes in this sentence. I would submit that those with the charity WERE the righteous even if they lacked the payment of tithing, nice sunday dress, or answers to Sunday School questions.

  4. Ray on December 16, 2011 at 8:57 am

    I would prefer to live in King Benjamin’s world that Connor Boyack’s.

  5. Dave on December 16, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Very interesting post. It looks to be along the lines of Jonathon Haidt’s moral foundations theory (http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php).

    My take is that in a the fallen world, as long as we fall somewhere on that triangle, we are justified. It’s when we take positions or behaviors that are outside the triangle that pose problems. Challenges of the mortal world are difficult and have no single solution–hence the spectrum. As a society approaches Zion (and probably with the help of Satan being bound), the triangle gets smaller and smaller until the three points become one. That is a celestial society as I imagine it. By virtue of the beings the members of such a society have become (godly), we all will have the same insight into such issues.

  6. Darren Andrews on December 16, 2011 at 9:35 am

    I’ve seen these kind of thoughts before and I understand where the author is coming from, but I think that there is an error with this kind of thiking. I also think that if you look at what Church leaders have said you will see more consistency than you think (Joseph Smith specifically, for example, sought to do away with licensing laws for the stated purpose of the people being free – few LDS today would, unless they are libertarian, decry licensing laws). Years ago, before I’d studied what Church leaders had said on matters of a political nature, I took the view that if something was immoral it should be illegal (well, more or less). However, when I looked at this more deeply I saw that the principle was not about enforcing goodness, but about preserving the right to choose. I would strongly recommend Mark Skousen’s “Persuasion vs Force” (and President Hinckley’s words praising that article) as an example of what I mean.

    But back to the “error”: that of conflict. We tend to think of government as a unitary thing these days. But that is not how the Founders saw it, or how good government functions. It functions by means of a vertical separation of powers (in addition to the horizontal one), going right down to the family and individual. What libertarian principles do is set forth the foundation of the central or federal government. Communities might then, under that freedom and by mutual consent, form compacts in which they live according to their own values. This preserves agency and allows all to live by the values they so choose. The government is thus stripped back to its proper role of preserving property (and, by extension, life and liberty) and leaves people to associate and live according to their own beliefs and values without directly affecting others. There is no irreconcilable conflict.

  7. Joel Nelson on December 16, 2011 at 9:40 am

    In my opinion, the pyramid presented in this article is not an accurate representation of reality. A more accurate representation of a moral pyramid is this:

    Purity
    —Charity—
    —–Freedom—–
    ——-Agency——–

    Agency is the base of the pyramid, because without agency, freedom is moot. Without freedom, charity is impossible to use, and without the use of charity, purity is hollow and meaningless. We can’t have true purity without charity, we can’t have true charity without freedom, and we can’t have freedom without agency.

    Agency is given to all men, outside the influence of governmental intervention. However, if we fail to recognize our agency, the value of freedom is gone and we might as well live under the rule of tyrants. If we have no freedom, the virtue of charity is lost because we have not voluntarily chosen charity. And if the virtue of charity is lost, purity is gone because it is the virtue of charity upon which purity is built.

  8. Jake on December 16, 2011 at 9:44 am

    I find this post very interesting, and I agree that there are always competing values that must be weighed, and to that extent I really liked it and appreciated the chance to think and ponder. I must disagree on a couple of things- one fundamental to the post, and the other tangential.

    1) The charity corner does not need to be oposed to the economic or any of the others so long as I see it as a personal duty. People get confused, and I think the author does here, when they assume any charity must be governmental which is not what King Benjamin teaches. Even in the example of the elders quorum that was not the government getting involved. I can believe that smoking marijuana or homosexuality are wrong and still give to a pot head or homosexual in need. I can be kind to them, and I can also help them if they need food or shelter. Same with government mandated health care. I can oppose it for “freedom reasons” and give it to others through personal means for charitable reasons. Hence Benjamin’s (I use him because a previous poster said they preferred his world to Boyack’s) statement that if we don’t have enough we just think to give in our hearts.

    2)I am as much of what most of the right would call an “open border” supporter as anyone I know, but I think you are a little disengenuous about the motives of those who oppose illegal immigration. It might be a purity thing, but it is not because of racism. In the view of anti immigrants, people who cross the border illegally have broken the law, as such they should be punished by being returned to their homes, and they should not be rewarded by being given legal status. Now, I don’t think that is right myself- in my opinion it is a minor infraction and we can let them stay after paying a small fine, but we should at least recognize their “pure” motives. Also, based on the church’s statement I think you could put the “pro” immigration philosophy into the charity camp as much of what the church said referred to respect and brotherly kindness. So I think your triangle works there too.

    Again, nice post.

  9. Aaron Stevens on December 16, 2011 at 9:55 am

    As a libertarian Mormon, I just wanted answer your query as to whether we can look to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s incites to validate our views. Joseph Smith said it better than any of the other prophets when he said “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” Really that is at the heart of the LDS libertarian thought.

    In addition to this is another little thing he taught about called agency. We fought an entire war in heaven over it. Satan wanted to create a world that forced everyone to do the right thing. Jesus believed in a world where we could be gently persuaded and convinced, with the help of the spirit, to discover the right choices on our own. LDS libertarians simply reject any entity that continues the work of Satan here on earth by forcing people to do the “right” things against their will.

    I applaud the great sense of charity you discovered in your Oregon ward. Charity truly is very important and I hope that we can all cultivate it in our hearts. We also know that without it we are nothing. But when is charity really charity? It is when we give of our time, talents, resources, and ourselves willingly. Many Latter-day Saints may feel that supporting legislation that helps the sick, poor, or unemployed is an act of charity. However, they do not realize that they are inadvertently forcing many others to give who would not choose to give if the law did not require it. Not only does it undermine those person’s agency, but it also creates a sort of counterfeit charity in society. What good is the virtue of charity when those who give do it unwillingly? That is why I believe such relief should come from our churches and other non-profit organizations. The funds they use to help others is purely from individuals who give willingly.

    I guess my point in posting all of this is that I think you are missing the fact that agency (not so much freedom) plays a much bigger role. Judging from scriptural evidence, I would argue that it is probably the most important consideration when factoring which political ideology best coincides with the church. Just something to think about.

  10. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Haidt identifies the following bases of morality in connection with politics (the characterizations in parentheses are mine):

    harm (consequences)
    reciprocity (fairness, justice)
    ingroup (loyalty, patriotism)
    hierarchy (order, respect for tradition, respect for authority, respect for institutions)
    purity

    He doesn’t identify either charity or freedom as political manifestations of morality. Probably because he was more concerned with the psychological motivations than with the ideas and arguments that were used.

    Arguments of gay marriage pit the “purity” camp against the “freedom” and “charity” camps.

    They do not. We might guess that these are motivating factors, but the actual solid arguments on either side don’t usually fit these categories. In fact, sophisticated arguments usually try to show why the other sides motive is advanced by their position. So you have the ‘Conservative Case for Gay Marriage’ arguing that SSM helps preserve the honored place of marriage in our society and promotes bourgeious stability, while conservatives tie SSM into a trend towards constraining religious freedom where it conflicts with the privileging of homosexuality.

  11. Tim on December 16, 2011 at 10:32 am

    “I would prefer to live in King Benjamin’s world than Connor Boyack’s.”

    I would too. (Google map “King Benjamin Court, South Jordan, UT, to see why).

    I really like the triangle concept. Finding the proper balance is perhaps our hardest task in this life.

  12. Darren Andrews on December 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

    I think “balance” is something that needs to be applied to our attitude, but never to our beliefs. We should espouse what is right and refuse what is wrong. Of course, it is true we may be forced into a situation of limited options. But in theory these attributes mentioned in the article are not in conflict. As a previous poster stated, we must put liberty (the physical extension of the lawful exercise of agency) as the foundation or else all the other virtues are eroded or, at least, rendered impossible to practise.

  13. Sgarff on December 16, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Interesting post. The way I see it, the Savior prioritized these cardinal points in Matthew 23 when He spoke of the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In the same passage He decries those who devour widow’s houses. it seems to me that charity, is therefore the most important consideration.

  14. Steve Evans on December 16, 2011 at 11:10 am

    There’s one part of your post that I found most objectionable. Guess what it is.

  15. Frank from iCaucus on December 16, 2011 at 11:13 am

    You wrote: “Government-mandated health care, with the “charity” camp in favor”

    This is not correct. The Charity camp is not in favor of government mandated health care because “Government mandated health care” has nothing to do with “charity”, and is in fact the exact opposite of charity.

    Allow me to explain:

    Helping the poor obtain health care YOURSELF with YOUR resources is charity and compassion. Advocating for the government to provide the poor with health care is lazy and relieves you of the responsibility of being charitable.

    There will always be people who need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered. If YOU are charitable and compassionate you will help them to the best of your ability, but you get no moral credit for advocating for “the government” to do it for you.

    There is great joy and growth in helping people. There is no joy and no growth in demanding other people do what you think is right.

  16. Dane Laverty on December 16, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Sonny (#1) — Ha! :)

    John C. (#2) — Great examples of what I’m talking about here.

    Jax (#3) — That’s true about money. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Another way to visualize the relationship between the political values and money is that the values describe the way we want the nation to work, and money describes the limitations in our ability to get there. Money matters because it represents our capacity for achievement.

    Ray (#4) — Me too, but that’s just my weighting of the values.

    Dave (#5) — I agree that as long as we’re somewhere inside the triangle, we’re probably doing reasonably well. But I’m sure that the truly righteous will end up in the charity corner ;)

    Darren Andrews (#6) — I don’t know what you mean by a “vertical separation of powers”. Can you elucidate?

    Joel Nelson (#7) — I disagree entirely. Charity is very possible, even if it’s enforced. When I needed funding for college, I received help from both the family and the government, and the money from one wasn’t any more or less effective than the money from the other.

    Jake (#8) — You’re right that the corners don’t need to be in conflict if you redefine them! But charity means assisting others (as I have it here), and freedom means letting people do what they want. And most of the time, what people want is not to assist others. So there is some tension there.

    Aaron Stevens (#9) — I think that we think we know more about Satan’s plan than we actually do. We in the church like to talk about how Satan’s goal was to remove agency, but I’m not sure that we have the support of scripture or revelation to support that position.

    Adam Greenwood (#10) — You’re the second person to mention Haidt now. I’ve never heard of him, but I’m very interested in the five bases that you list. I’ll have to check that out.

    Tim (#11) — Yup.

    Darren Andrews (#12) — That’s great in theory, but what do you do in practice when you have conflicting commandments? What do Adam and Eve do when they are commanded both to replenish the earth and abstain from the fruit in the garden? You do your best to figure out which of the competing values is most important, and go with it.

    Sgarff (#13) — Yup again :)

  17. Dane Laverty on December 16, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Steven Evans (#14) — I wish I knew you better than I do. I have no idea.

    Frank from iCaucus (#15) — Charity, as I use it here, is about helping people who can’t or won’t help themselves. That’s all. Government health care is all about charity.

  18. Dane Laverty on December 16, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Frank, Joel, and Darren, to put it another way, if freedom were a sufficient basis for charity, then we wouldn’t have any government programs because the people with access to resources would already be helping the ones who lack access to resources. But that’s apparently not the case. People are selfish. I’m selfish. You’re selfish. It’s part of being human. So we try to compensate for that through community agreements (that’s what taxes and government programs are — a group of individuals who say, “I can’t do this on my own, but if we all chip in maybe we can.”)

  19. Darren Andrews on December 16, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Anything done by government uses force (that’s what government is) and therefore cannot by definition be charity. I think this has been made quite clear if we read what Church leaders have said. But beyond legal plunder, and the baleful effects on the free market/property rights, there are other effects which government welfare brings about. This Apostle explained it well:

    “These systems [public welfare] rely for their financial resources upon public treasuries which are fed out of the taxation of the people. The donor thus becomes not a voluntary giver but a compelled giver. Between him and the beneficiaries of his contribution there is no bond, hence the character building value which attends voluntary responses to the cry of the need is lost…On the other side the beneficiary of aid paid under the mandate of law is all too likely to forget the sense of gratitude which should well up in the heart of one man who receives voluntary rendered succor. Instead he is all too apt to fall into the habit of thinking that he is getting only what is of personal right his and in that spirit to become demanding and grasping for more and greater bestowals…”(Albert E. Bowen, Apostle, Church Welfare Plan, 1946)

    @Dane – Adam and Eve exercised that which was the most crucial foundational attribute – agency ;)

  20. Mark B. on December 16, 2011 at 11:30 am

    I think Steve’s upset that you called that tetrahedron a pyramid. He’s big on pyramid schemes, and wants them kept pure.

  21. Steve Evans on December 16, 2011 at 11:30 am

    McDonalds, Dane?? Inside dining to boot!

  22. Darren Andrews on December 16, 2011 at 11:31 am

    So, Dane, you seem to be saying we use force to compel people to do what is right if their own nature does not spur them to do it of their own free will? This certainly is not something I feel is compatible with charity – if we love people, we do not force them to do what is right. We can employ force to stop them removing our ability to choose to do what is right – namely the violation of our natural rights – but no more. Using force to push people toward the celestial wasn’t part of God’s Plan. It was another figure’s method…

  23. Dane Laverty on December 16, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Darren, I think the difference comes down to the form of government. If I were a king forcing you to give your money to the poor, that’s one thing. If “we the people”, on the other hand, decide as a group that this is we need to be giving money to the poor, that’s different. Democratic law is valid because it’s the best approach we have at representing the will of the people.

    Mark B., sorry, my mistake!

    Steve, yeah. I kinda like McDonald’s :)

  24. Aaron Stevens on December 16, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Dane, where is your scriptural support that democratic law makes it okay to force someone to do something they do not want to do. Throwing your justification into the nebulous of “we the people” does not make it okay. God never said something is wrong unless “we the people” agree it is okay. It shouldn’t matter whether it is a King or a majority. Force is force no matter how you look at it.

  25. Darren Andrews on December 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I do not think the tyranny of one or the tyranny of the many makes a great deal to the one who is robbed and compelled. A democratic form of government was rejected by the Framers for that very reason – the violation of property (and its tendency toward chaos or tyranny). They set up republic. Rule by law. I don’t think inspired republics voted on whether or not to do away with people’s rights. Indeed, if we believe in popular sovereignty – the idea that government gains its just powers from the governed – then it can never have the power to take from one group and give to another simply because that right does not exist within the individual. The only way government could thus gain such a power would be to make claim to some higher authority, that is to say – that it derives its authority from God or from some man or group of men that hold themselves to be superior in kind and nature to the governed. As a Latter-day Saint I believe in what Church leaders and the Framers have taught – that all men are equal and that governments derive their just powers from the (rights specifically delegated by the) governed. Redistribution of wealth simply cannot be argued logically. The same morality that applies to an individual applies to a group. The purpose of life requires us to be free to choose. Hunger, starvation and illness may be terrible things, but then so is someone rejecting the gospel – yet we do not force that upon them, though their eternal – and not just their temporal welfare – be in peril. I’d recommend a good study of what Church leaders have taught on these matters over the year – http://www.ldsfreedomportal.net is a good place to start…

  26. ji on December 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    “The guest was Connor Boyack, and he was talking about how, of all the political ideologies, Mormonism is most compatible with Libertarianism.” Maybe someone else could talk about how Mormonism is most compatible with Republicanism, and someone else could address how Mormonism is most compatible with Democratism. And outside the U.S., someone could tell how Mormonism is most compatible with Social Democratism or whatever.

    To answer no. 14, I really wish people wouldn’t try to connect my religion to politics, suggesting that if I’m a good Mormon then I must as a matter of righteousness agree with a particular political philosophy.

    A person can be a good Mormon and also be a good Libertarian. Or Republican. Or Democrat. Or Social Democrat. Or whatever.

    Now, to the real emphasis of the original posting. I don’t know if the pyramid model captures all the tensions, but I appreciate the thought process that went into it. There are always tensions. I’m not sure if one model can fit everyone, as I tend to feel that different persons might have different motivators at different periods in their lives, and I am somewhat fearful of painting a model that becomes normative and applied to everyone. Some people may really have only one driving force — some might have tension between two forces — some might be trying to balance between three — and others might find anguish in balancing four or more competing goods.

  27. Darren Andrews on December 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Of course, officially, the Church respects all viewpoints. And what we can say officially is not ours to lay down. However, if our religion and the principles of the gospel do not inform and lay the base of our political views, then what does? This is something we need to think about as individuals. It’s tragic to see prominent LDS candidates/politicians who, with the advantage of the gospel, simply have not got anywhere near to the same level of understanding of sound and just government as Ron Paul.

  28. brian larsen on December 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Darren, Christ lived under oppressive colonizers who demanded taxes, slaughtered babies, build public roads, etc. – but you believe he needed to live under a more “free” government system, or that he had less liberty than currently you do in order for him to fully develop and enact the gospel? Your definitions of liberty and agency are very, very broad and abstract and meaningless to me.

    Love it, Dane – as always. You ability to simplify things, I think, causes some to believe you naive or un-intelligent. I’ve never thought so. If I am going to err by imbalance, erring in the corner of charity wins for me every time – though in practice, I have a long way to go.

  29. shane on December 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    (Aaron #9) “Many Latter-day Saints may feel that supporting legislation that helps the sick, poor, or unemployed is an act of charity. However, they do not realize that they are inadvertently forcing many others to give who would not choose to give if the law did not require it. Not only does it undermine those person’s agency, but it also creates a sort of counterfeit charity in society. What good is the virtue of charity when those who give do it unwillingly? That is why I believe such relief should come from our churches and other non-profit organizations. The funds they use to help others is purely from individuals who give willingly.”

    I have a very hard time understanding why conservatives continue to make this argument, especially within the church. It makes little sense. The idea that “relief should come from our churches and other non-profits” is silly. The church is not equipped to offer the kind of support people need in the real world. It cannot pay for unemployment, the costs of the elderly as they age, unexpected medical bills or anything else. Conservative Mormons argue that the government should not provide a safety net and then make this argument that the safety net should come from the church and other local organizations. Suppose you lost your job and then had a major medical emergency (heart attack for example), do you really think the church could (or should) pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills? You are 25 and suffer a serious injury that prevents you from working ever again. Do you think that the local ward could (or should) support you for the rest of your life?

    If you have ever been in a bishopric or any other leadership position you know that the church is simply not equipped to help large groups of people in serious economic hardship. I had a bishop who gave me Cleon Skousen’s the 5,000 Year Leap to read to support the argument that the government should not be involved in health care, safety nets, and the like. But then during our bishopric meetings, when discussing how to address the overwhelming welfare needs in the ward, the conversation almost always started with what government sources were available. I do not necessarily blame him because the fast offering budget in any ward is ill-equipped to handle any serious financial issues. But it did nighlight in my how disconnected may conservative members of the church are when they make these arguments.

  30. Ryan on December 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    And most of the time, what people want is not to assist others. So there is some tension there.

    Wow, you live in a completely different world than I do, I guess. I just posted a news article on my FB page yesterday about a sudden surge nationwide of people randomly going into KMarts and anonymously paying off the bills of people who have put childrens clothes or toys on Christmas layaway.

    If you like I’d be happy to email you an exhaustive list of stories that will hopefully convince you that the world is a better place and people are generally better than you seem to think.

    I happen to think that the idea of government coerced charity is unfortunate because it is rife with inefficiency, it creates an emotional barrier between the givers and the recipients, and it is coerced which puts a bad taste in people’s mouths and (in my opinion) discourages additional charity.

    (Side note: I’m actually okay with charitable government programs such as healthcare, but I think when you file your taxes, there should be a base rate for the non-negotiable gov’t services and then if people want to voluntarily contribute additional money to support charitable gov’t programs, they can do so.

    If it’s really what the people want, the project will be funded. Then guys like Warren Buffett who insist they aren’t paying enough taxes, can finally ease their troubled conscience. Heck, if I thought a program was actually well run and beneficial, you can bet I’d pay extra taxes to fund it.)

  31. Brad on December 16, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    The irony of the Mormon experiment is that it did in some ways correspond with the ideals of libertarianism.

    1. It sought to create a just society the membership of which was voluntary.
    2. It sought freedom from the central government, with JS setting up Zion on the Kansas line and BY seeking to create the State of Deseret in the Western Great Basin.
    3. It allowed its members to freely choose whether or not they wanted to take part in its political and socioeconomic order. Those who did not were free to disassociate themselves or were disfellowshipped.

    But alas one wonders had BY’s State of Deseret succeeded in becoming an independent Mormon state if these libertarian ideals would have been maintained, or if it would have morphed into quasi-communist state with BY and successor prophets as vanguards of a very rigid social order.

  32. ji on December 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    From no. 28: “Christ lived under oppressive colonizers who demanded taxes, slaughtered babies, build public roads, etc.” True. And he still lived the gospel WITHOUT changing the government or society. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel for each individual person, and each individual person can choose to adopt it all, some, or none. A Zion society of faithful saints can exist under almost any governmental or societal setting.

  33. Dane Laverty on December 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Ryan, this statement of yours: “there should be a base rate for the non-negotiable gov’t services and then if people want to voluntarily contribute additional money to support charitable gov’t programs”. How do you determine which are “non-negotiable” and which are “charitable”? All of the government programs are charitable, whether it’s Medicare, defense, energy, or transportation.

    And I hate the Warren Buffett argument. Don’t worry, you’re not the first person to use it. The reason it doesn’t work is that even Warren Buffett doesn’t have enough money to assist the poor and needy in the nation. But Buffett recognizes that, if we all pitch in together, we do have enough. That’s why government mandated assistance and taxes are charitable. They are how we cooperate to meet needs that are bigger than any of us as individuals.

    And the KMart example highlights what I’m talking about our selfishness and inability to serve. Yes, individuals are often happy to spend a couple hundred dollars to help a family out with presents for the kids at Christmas time. That’s sweet, but it’s not the real need. How many of those KMart givers then followed up by assisting those families with education, medical, and housing expenses?

  34. Silhan on December 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    I think there are two different definitions of charity that are being conflated here in the comments: (1) the pure love of Christ and (2) helping others. Using the democratic process to create laws to help others may not fit the first definition, but it certainly fits the second.

    For those who have commented above against using tax money to provide charity (i.e. public assistance), are you also against every other use of tax money? It seems that, to be consistent, your objection would have to be against taxation in general on the basis that it is a violation of individual freedom, and not just against how the tax money is spent once it has been collected.

  35. ji on December 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    From the original posting: “There’s not a solution that satisfies all three corners of the triangle in every situation.” That’s right. But there doesn’t need to be.

    Rather than a single solution that satisfies all tensions, we’re in a world where each individidual person makes his or her own decisions. Out of that seeming chaos, the works of God are accomplished, one person at a time. One person might be more _____ than his neighbor, but his neighbor might be more focused on _____. And the fellow down the street might be more interested in _____. This is good. In the Church, we don’t all have to be super-duper missionaries. Good for those that are, but many of those excellent member-missionaries would be lousy Scoutmasters or clerks or stake presidents. One person might feel compelled to drive a poor person to Church on Sunday and might hate his fellow ward member for not also volunteering to drive, but that other member might be focusing on something else of value to God.

    There is beauty in this diversity of operations. I don’t want a single solution that satisfies all needs. I love the chaos of each person doing good in his or her own way, as a matter between the individual and his or her God (if any). When one person (see the last paragraph of no. 33) recognizes “the real need” he or she should work to meeting that need, maybe while asking for a little help, but all the while still loving his or her fellow saints who don’t help with “the real need.” One work on his or her vision of the real need (relief to the poor), and another works on his vision (driving the poor to Sunday services), and yet another works on her vision (being an excellent and caring teacher in a youth Sunday School class).

    In all the chaos, the works of God are being accomplished. Souls are being saved. And souls are being sanctified. One person at a time.

  36. Dane Laverty on December 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    ji, that’s beautiful and captures perfectly my own feelings on how we resolve the tension as individuals within a society. Thank you.

  37. Aaron Stevens on December 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Shane, I find it interesting that you ask me if it is right that we ask wards to be the ones to pay for someones economic hardship needs. Yet, you seem to imply that it is perfectly acceptable for the government to force the public at large to pay for such things. Just because the public is more capable, doesn’t make it anymore moral. The money churches and other non-profits use is obtained completely voluntarily. Not to mention the fact that more of the actual funds collected are devoted to the specific cause for which they were collected. In contrast, take a look at social security. We all pay into it, but if you are under 30 you should never expect to get anything out of it. That is partially because what has been collected has basically gone on to fund other government programs. At least when I pay my tithing and fast offering I know where it is going to go.

    Also there is a simple force in economics happening which may be causing you to have a more pessimistic attitude towards the ability of non-profits to handle social issues. First, think about how relief was given prior to government involvement. It was the churches and other private organizations which took care of those in need. Health care was relatively inexpensive and those who could not afford it were offered care for free through churches. Since the government got involved, healthcare costs have gone up and charity to private organizations that provided such services have gone down. Government healthcare programs were key in causing costs to rise as they inflated costs in the healthcare sector. In addition, people began to give less and less of their money to charities when the government was taking more and more of what they had. Also, some began to wonder why they should donate to a non-profit organization when the government was already taking their money, supposedly for the same cause, already.

    You may think that I am naive in saying that non-profits are the way to go. Perhaps I am, but I do it based on moral conscience. Again, just because using government force to make everyone contribute is the easiest solution doesn’t make it right.

  38. Aaron Stevens on December 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Please forgive my many typos. It is very late where I am at in the world.

  39. Jacob on December 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Not willing to wrangle with all the comments, so this might be repetitive. But I think the main “goods” triangle with which we must take account is the Pauline faith-hope-charity triad. All the more so as Mormons because it’s repeated nearly word for word in the Book of Mormon, in effect reinforcing its significance for Mormons. Working out the relationship of this triad and its implications seems to me, at least, to be the main work to which we are called as Latter-day Saints.

  40. Believe All Things on December 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    #27 – Thanks Darren. Great point. Economic freedom was important enough for David O. McKay and others to speak to. It’s truly unfortunate that those and other principles are largely ignored if not misunderstood.

  41. Jeremy Nicoll on December 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    One thing I’ve found is that our definitions of “poor” and “good health” are highly skewed because we live in a very rich country. I grew up in a household that for a long time was considered to be below poverty lines – yet still we were richer than 99% of the rest of the world. There were days that I went hungry, where I had nothing to eat and my clothes and shoes often had holes in them. I still consider myself materially fortunate in comparison historically and to most people in the world, though. Please take this into consideration for what I’m about to say next.

    As someone who has had very little early on in my life, I believed that if I was as rich as other people that I’d be happier. At one point, I figured out how to make enough money to start buying things that I believed I needed. BUT: even then I was just as miserable as I was before. The same attitudes, beliefs, and emotions that I had formed during traumatic times still plagued me. Some of them still do to this day. Having more materially does NOT change how a person is.

    The standard of living to which we try to “raise” people in this nation doesn’t really make them happier. It seems to me that you’ve confused materialism with well being. More expensive health care doesn’t make people healthier. Eating well, exercising, avoiding toxins, having healthy relationships with people: these some of the relatively simple things that help people be healthier. People clamoring for access to more expensive healthcare can be explained by the placebo effect: if the placebo is purported to cost more, the placebo is more effective in general.

    It would seem to me that in our quest to alleviate human suffering, that we forget one important aspect: the humans involved. We treat them like problems to be solved instead of people. We do not take into consideration their true needs. Most of us have been trained to suppress saying what we want, and so instead we clamor for what we think those around us would find acceptable. Large scale solutions will rarely be effective for this reason. Individual attention is what is needed in most cases.

    In closing, I will leave with a paraphrase of something I’ve heard quoted in conference a few times (within the past decade): “The world seeks to change from the outside-in. The world tries to take a person out of the slums. The Lord changes from the inside-out. The Lord takes the slums out of the hearts of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums.” Which is more effective: to change a person’s heart or to manipulate their circumstances in attempts to coerce them to be better?

  42. coaldust on December 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    •Government-mandated health care, with the “charity” camp in favor and the “freedom” camp opposed.

    This is definatly NOT charity. Charity is not extracted by force as funding for mandated health care is. Thus, no conflict between freedom and charity in this example.

    •Drug laws, with the “freedom” camp in favor of legalization and the “purity” camp opposed.

    You can have legalized drugs and still be pure — see alcohol. We’ve been through prohibition in this country. To have the drug legal and remain pure is then a personal choice, as it should be. You can choose to force purity and if you succeed you get Lucifer’s plan, no choice and therefore no purity caused by making that choice. Thus, to have purity, you must have freedom. There is no conflict between freedom and purity. (The real problem with illegal drugs is the crime caused by the high prices that result directly from the low supply.)

    •The death penalty, with “purity” (we need to punish wrongdoing) against “charity” (it is a cruel punishment). I’m not sure that “freedom” has a clear position on this one.

    The death penalty is not about punishment. It is about deterrent. The purity, charity, and freedom are all directed to the possible future victims of the perpetrator, giving the possible victim the chance to be be free, seek purity, and give and recieve charity, or in other words, to live.

    So as far as I can tell, these three you name are not in conflict.

    Money is simply a means of trade which may lead to people making choices regarding moral issues but I don’t think it sits on the same plane as the others.

  43. Jeremy on December 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    We all benefit from a healthier, better-educated society. Government using taxes to that end is not coercive, its using resources in wisdom and order.

    The thing I find most repulsive about the attitudes articulated in many of these comments is that it treats the poor not as Christ did, but simply as a moral dilemma for the rest of us to ponder.

    I personally think that when Christ comes and sees the gap between the rich and poor (which he warned us about, over and over again, in the Book of Mormon), and sees the dire situation of the most vulnerable of God’s children, he’s going to be FAR angrier about political excuses for inaction (with lame, pious references to the preservation of freedom), than about any infringement upon freedoms constituted by the use of public funds to help the poor. I can easily imagine Christ saying “Why did you not help the poor!” I find it REALLY hard to imagine Christ saying “Why was the marginal tax rate on the wealthy so high?”

  44. Dane Laverty on December 16, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    If I could make one change to this post, I would go back and replace the word “charity” with “mercy”. Charity is just too loaded a word. Mercy makes it clear — giving people things they haven’t earned. That’s what mercy is about at its heart, and it’s what I meant by “charity” in the triangle.

  45. ji on December 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    All this confusion talking about what Christ wants or would do, with one person saying Christ would want it this way (for this reason) and another saying Christ would want it another way (for another reason). All in the name of Christ. Lo, here; Lo, there.

    Is it possible for us to leave Christ out of our public policy arguments. Can’t we support freedom or virtue or charity for their own sakes? I say this as a Christian, and I know that my Christian and Mormon values shape my public policy views. I wonder if we risk using his name in vain when we use it to support our public policy arguments and to intellectually coerce a neighbor into agreeing with us.

    Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind, and let no man put a stumbling block in front of his neighbor.

  46. Jacqueline Smith on December 16, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Good article. The only thing I feel is really missing is the idea of agency. God’s greatest gift to mankind is agency. Charity, Purity and Freedom are only available because of agency. It will be up to each individual (not government) to determine the amount of charity, and purity they are willing to exhibit. To use the health care debate as a “charitable” piece of legislation is incorrect. Force cannot be charity. Charity is from your heart, not from a mandate or law. Agency should always trump all other principles. Conseequences will naturally follow whether in this life or the next.

  47. ken on December 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I haven’t read all of the reply’s so someone may have made this point already. But, it is hard for me to keep it as simple as you have it here.

    It seems that we should add collectivism -vs- individualism. And there is plenty of ammunition for both camps here. We believe in both “self reliance” and the virtue of collective action. BH Roberts felt that his faith compelled him to be a Democrat; Ezra Taft Benson found support for the ultraconservative John Burch in the church.

    If you are looking for a consistent political philosophy/theology, give up. The quest is bound to back you into a corner that you don’t want to be in. Jesus, the Old Testament and Book of Mormon prophets compel me to consider the widows and the fatherless. I they appear to advocate state action to care for those in need. Yet it does not take long before you see abuses that arise in such systems.

    I like to look at most issues series of paradoxes. (I think Givens suggests that Mormons are us the people of the paradox. If it is true theologically why not politically.) There is wisdom in the paradox. It doesn’t make decisions any easier, but “by proving contraries, the truth is manifest.”

  48. Bryan Stiles on December 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I can easily imagine Christ saying “Why did you not help the poor!” I find it REALLY hard to imagine Christ saying “Why was the marginal tax rate on the wealthy so high?”

    When Christ comes and asks me what I did to help the poor I will proudly say “I voted for policies to create social programs. Ticket to heaven please?”

  49. shane on December 16, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Aaron,

    You ask me to think about how assistance was given “prior to govenemnt involvement,” namely by looking back to a time when churches and othe non-profit organizations took care of the sick and needy. During that period (whenever it was), you claim that “healtcare was relatively inexpensive.” And that is my point. Maybe it made sense in 1776 to say that govenerment should not provide a safety net, but look at what the healtchare system looked like back then. There was no such thing as catastrophic medical expenses or any healthcare system to speak of. If I found out I had a brain tumor tomorrow and needed extensive surgery, the local ward couldn’t do much to help me out. In fact, if I lost my job and needed help covering my mortgage and other basic bills for several months while I found a new job, I would be similarly out of luck. Now compound that by the 10 or 15 or 30 members of the ward who have major medical problems and are unemployed.

    Who is to help these people? Because the church isn’t doing it and I am not sure which “community organization” is going to pick up that kind of slack?

    As such, I think it is outrageous in this day and age to claim that there should be no governemnt safety net for the poor, no healthcare, etc. Many of the conservative members of the church who make these arguments (like my father in law) happily collect social security and medicaire benefits. They don’t believe that those government programs should go away, just the ones they don’t like.

  50. Raymond Takashi Swenson on December 16, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    The scriptures tell us that God serves all of these values, maximizing charity/love, the protection of our moral agency, and righteousness/godliness. Our mission on earth consists to a large extent in learning to emulate God in doing this. Clearly, our ability to maximize these virtues is limited by our lack of knowledge, and our own limited power to make a difference in the lives of ourselves and others. Yet we are repeatedly called upon to seek after examples of all of these and other virtues (Article of Faith 13, D&C 4, D&C 121, Mosiah 3, etc.). By definition, since we are not perfect, we cannot perfectly realize any of them.

    While the initial post and comments point to conflicts among these virtues, I think a case can also be made that they often are mutually reinforcing. We show charity to our children by giving them more freedom as they learn and mature. We give a man more freedom when we exercise charity and loan him funds to get an education. Our charity to others is an essential part of ensuring our virtue before God (see King Benjamin’s sermon). By increasing our virtue, we are empowered to perform vicarious temple ordinances that give our ancestors more freedom in the eternities.

    It may be more accurate to analogize these virtues with different factors essential to life: Food, water, air, warmth, etc. A diet of just one thing without the others is unhealthy and excessive, and the value of the single virtue cannot make up the lack of the others. All are essential to our health and happiness, to fulfilling our mission as God’s children.

  51. Bryan Stiles on December 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    On a less snarky more serious note. I actually think we need safety nets. I personally think there is a line to draw between safety nets approaching socialism. Where that line is differs for everyone. I don’t think we can equate political preferences to charity. I don’t think how you vote has any bearing on your level of charity. Especially since if you’re not really rich, it’s not your money that your “charitably” voting away. It’s someone else’s.

  52. kevinf on December 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    My reaction to Conner Boyack writing a book was quite different. I was highly annoyed. I found out about his book because somehow he harvested my email address from one of these blogs, and I got spammed about his book release and autograph signing parties. That definitely violated all three points of the value pyramid above: charity, purity, and freedom.

  53. Lucy on December 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Virtues emanate from God, sustaining and reinforcing each other. Virtue stands in direct opposition to vice. Vice is often a counterfeit of virtue, just like “gay-marriage” and government-mandated health-care are counterfeits. But the greatest virtue is charity, the pure love of Christ. It is a gift from God which enables us to love and forgive those who oppose virtues, such as charity, freedom and purity.

  54. Mark D. on December 16, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    A more accurate description of the three corners of the triangle are anarchy, religious totalitarianism, and economic totalitarianism. Clearly LDS theology does not occupy any of the three corners. D&C 134 rules all of them out.

    We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others

    All three corners of this triangle suggest, in fact, that individuals have no rights or liberties.

  55. roberto on December 16, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    More healthcare, less war on credit. Yes to government sponsoring healthcare for its citizens. Fund fewer military toys for corporations to sell to the government and save my child’s life in surgery without spending everything I have or let lobbyists (Mormons included) kill healthcare?

  56. Jeremy on December 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Saying that we should leave it up to individuals and charities and churches to care for the poor, and keep the government completely out of it, suggests that the government is the only thing keeping individuals and charities and churches from doing so. And that’s simply a preposterous notion. Furthermore, why is voting to use the pooled collective resources of our taxes to provide a social safety net somehow construed as being more sinister (by rightwing Mormons: akin to Lucifer’s plan in the preexistence!) than voting to use the pooled collective resources of our taxes for anything else? (The only difference I can see is that God commanded us pretty clearly to care for the needy, and didn’t say how, but to do it in wisdom and order; he didn’t specifically command us to sell Advil over the counter but not Sudafed.)

  57. Name withheld to protect me on December 16, 2011 at 10:42 pm

    It always amuses me to read libertarians writing about the “compacts” and contracts and such that groups of people would create in the ideal libertarian political world. Completely ignoring the fact that the government we have IS what we citizens have created and negotiated with each other to create to govern us as we see fit. However displeased any one individual might be with their own circumstances or the political kerfuffle of the moment, we as a community of Americans have exactly the political system we have wanted to have. That will evolve in the future, but not in a “let’s go back to the drawing board” sense, and almost certainly not in “conservative” directions, meaning what the backwards-looking set of head-in-the-sand policy positions the GOP currently represents. The forward march of liberal and progressive values isn’t some new, weird thing that’s taking us off the rails, it’s the multi-millennial project of Western civilization. Our nation is what it is now because what it used to be SUCKED for way too many people, so we improved it, with old white men kicking and screaming all the way. The problems we have now are nothing compared to where we’ve come from.

  58. Jeremy on December 17, 2011 at 1:50 am

    “The forward march of liberal and progressive values isn’t some new, weird thing that’s taking us off the rails, it’s the multi-millennial project of Western civilization. Our nation is what it is now because what it used to be SUCKED for way too many people, so we improved it, with old white men kicking and screaming all the way. The problems we have now are nothing compared to where we’ve come from.”

    I’m embroidering this and hanging it on my wall. Thank you.

  59. Miri on December 17, 2011 at 2:42 am

    This is a really interesting post, and the comments I’ve read so far are excellent too. It’s too late for me to read them all, though, so I just wanted to say that I love your treatment of the concept. Also, I wish I didn’t, like you apparently do, live in a state in which Fox News plays on the televisions in public places.

  60. Darren Andrews on December 17, 2011 at 5:57 am

    Perhaps the most important thing is to avoid strong views on the subject of politics until – through prayer and study of the scriptures and the words of modern-day prophets – we have come to an understanding of the principles and spirit of the matter. I will only say that the revelations of God do contain all the answers to our political questions and confusions. I am of the mind, as was Brigham Young, that there must come a day when LDS are as much united in their political views as they are their religious views, because in reality the two are very much part of the gospel.

  61. Jason Echols on December 17, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Haven’t had time to read all the comments, but the OP reminded me of a former classmate’s piece from a while back that riffs on Haidt…

    “For liberals, morality is pretty much about harm and justice. To decide whether a policy is wrong, they want to know whether any one will be hurt by it and whether it will be fair to all those affected. Conservatives care about harm and justice too, but they also care about three things that liberals tend to ignore: purity, respect for authority, and loyalty to the ingroup.”

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/experiments-in-philosophy/200804/how-ideology-colors-morality

  62. Jettboy on December 17, 2011 at 10:55 am

    I am happy that, according to some research, Mormons are becoming more Conservative. That is progress.

  63. Chadwick on December 17, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Ji re #45:

    Love, love, love the post. Indeed, who among us can really know what Jesus would do. Have any of us met him? Talked to him? We have a handful of secondhand pages of scripture written years after the fact telling us what he did, and yet we all use that as ammunition to support our way of doing things as being the ONLY way of doing things. Thank you.

    For anyone to speak about what Mormons are or should be is just ludicrous. The Brethren have stated over the pulpit that there is good in all political parties. Why the need to pick the only true socio-economic way of life when the Brethren have endorsed all of them?

  64. Owen on December 17, 2011 at 11:52 am

    #60 is just strange. Politics is about allocating resources and power, not right answers. If we are ever of one mind on politics it will be because we’ve really and truly shut our brains off. And since #60 is oblivious to this fact as well, even churchgoing Mormons aren’t even remotely of one mind about what our religion is or should be.

  65. Alison Moore Smith on December 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Dane #17:

    Charity, as I use it here, is about helping people who can’t or won’t help themselves. That’s all. Government health care is all about charity.

    Total equivocation, Dane. Charity simply doesn’t MEAN “taking someone else’s earnings by legal mandate to ‘help people who won’t help themselves.'”

    Charity: the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need; help or money given in this way

    #18

    If freedom were a sufficient basis for charity, then we wouldn’t have any government programs because the people with access to resources would already be helping the ones who lack access to resources. But that’s apparently not the case.

    That’s beside the point. If you have decided that charity isn’t enough, you still can’t rename mandating redistribution of resources “charity.” Rather than try to couch the act in an erroneous term, call it what it is and deal with it. Make the argument that there aren’t enough actual charitable contributions that YOU think need to be made and make the case that taxing to provide those needs is the best solution.

    OTOH, I think there are a very specific problems with forced redistribution. A few:

    (1) The government is lousy at efficiency and good at waste, so resources don’t go nearly as far

    (2) The government is good at cronyism and in directing “donations” to organizations that benefit the politicians involved

    (3) The government is bad at managing fraud and doesn’t have a huge interest in doing so, given it’s not their money anyway

    (4) Funneling MY money into YOUR favorite “charitable” cause, means that I have less to give to MY favorite real charity

    (5) Funneling MY resources to a mandated entity removes my ability to use my unique talents, skills, understanding, connections to do good with those resources

    #28

    …demanded taxes, slaughtered babies, build public roads, etc.?

    Sounds like the country I live in. Except they just FUND the places that slaughter babies.

  66. Lucy on December 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    #57 / #58 “The forward march of liberal and progressive values isn’t some new, weird thing that’s taking us off the rails, it’s the multi-millennial project of Western civilization.”

    “Forward march” sounds familiar… is that Marx? When it comes to Western Civilization, I suggest we listen to this “old white man” instead: http://newsroom.lds.org/article/the-restoration-of-morality-and-religious-freedom

  67. Alison Moore Smith on December 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Jeremy #41:

    The standard of living to which we try to “raise” people in this nation doesn’t really make them happier. It seems to me that you’ve confused materialism with well being.

    Great points. My husband lived for three years as a child in Samoa and then served a mission there. The average income was a couple hundred dollars — and some of the happiest and most content (and loving and accepting) people (as a group) we’ve ever met. (And, yes, that’s where we want to go on our “old people” mission.)

    They lived in huts with no running water or walls. Used outhouses. Ate mostly what they could fish or gather, with maybe a few small animals.

    In most of America, the wouldn’t be allowed to build the huts they use, because they violate safety and zoning regulations. And a toddler running around without a diaper would be neglect. And on and on.

    If I WANTED to help a family build a home, I couldn’t do it. I’m not licensed and insured and the engineering requirements are vast — and expensive. So I gave money to Habitat for Humanity. And they spend 100 times more than I gave sending me elaborate requests for more money.

    In so many ways we’ve regulated and mandated people out of the ability to care for themselves, in part by claiming that their ability to care for themselves isn’t sufficient and demanding that we intervene and demand more.

  68. Alison Moore Smith on December 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Jeremy #43:

    We all benefit from a healthier, better-educated society. Government using taxes to that end is not coercive, its using resources in wisdom and order.

    Coercion is “persuasion to do something by force or threat.” Of course taxing is coercive. You can reasonably argue that a particular tax is necessary or that the good it derives OVERRIDES the problem with the coercion, but it’s still coercion.

    Dane #44:

    Mercy makes it clear — giving people things they haven’t earned. That’s what mercy is about at its heart, and it’s what I meant by “charity” in the triangle.

    Dane, the problem is that you want to use a word that you think no one can argue with, even though the word doesn’t fit what you’re really talking about. Your position IS arguable, and using warm fuzzy words for things they don’t mean doesn’t change that.

    Mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm” or “an event to be grateful for because it provides relief from suffering” (i.e. tender mercies).

    We all agree charity and mercy are good. We don’t all agree that government coercion is a means to that end — and even in cases where it might be, we don’t all agree it’s the BEST means to that end.

    Health care IS a great example of this problem. Supposedly everyone has a “right” to it now. And how much do they have a “right” to? If I need a mutli-organ transplant, I’ll just call you cruel and heartless if you don’t want to pay for it. Who cares if that money could save a hundred thousand starving children, it’s not FAIR if you don’t give it to me, you big meanie.

    But, then again, any of you who gave away all the money over about $7000 you made this year, please step up and take a bow!

    I’m off for the holidays. Best to all of you.

  69. Tim on December 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    As someone who’s at times not been able to afford health insurance, worried about coming up with enough money to get to a job interview, and certainly not had enough money to consider even a simple vacation–and at other times had enough money to have health insurance and afford a long backpacking trip through Europe–I can say that raising the cost of living does indeed contribute to happiness.

    Debt increases worry and sometimes contributes to unhappiness. Not having health insurance increases worry and contributes to unhappiness. Not having a decent job definitely contributes to unhappiness.

    There might not be a big difference (or any difference) between levels of happiness in the rich and the middle class, but there is a big difference between those living in poverty and those who are not. It’s hard being happy when you’re too worried about you and your children being evicted from your small apartment because you can’t pay the rent.

  70. brian larsen on December 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Alison #65 in response to my #25: Perhaps we “fund the places that slaughter babies,” that’s totally up to variant definitions. Regardless, the point I made in #25 still stands. Your “quick, smart answer” doesn’t rebut anything I said, but perhaps you weren’t trying to; however (given your penchant for arguing in such a way) it’s hard to feel you aren’t trying to flaunt your great “insight” as a refutation of someone else (and an aggrandizement of yourself.) Enough said. I’ll leave others to address your responses to them.

  71. Sonny on December 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    #66 Lucy,

    Yep, you have broken the code and revealed the conspiracy. Any attempt at correcting abuses in society over the years ultimately has been based on a Grand Marxist Plot.

  72. Bryan in VA on December 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    William F. Buckley said, “I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.”

  73. Chadwick on December 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    I remember sitting in EQ a few months ago and the discussion took an ugly turn toward the evils os socialized medicine. I rather meekly raised my hand and added that Brother so-and-so, who was not present that day, had lost his job 6 months ago and had yet to find one. They were two months pregnant when the loss came, so they were now 8 months pregnant, no insurance, and with a baby less than a month away. I firmly stated that I was more than happy to live off $50 less a month for them to have a baby without going into debt. It sure did seem to quiet a lot of people when a real life neighbor could be seen as benefiting from such an evil program.

    Also, Allison, bully for the poor people in Samoa. Unfortunately, India is also a poor country. But not all are poor. So many of the poor are miserable there. Because they see the rich every day, they work for the rich every day, and they see no viable way in which their lives can be improved to a raised standard of living. When everyone is poor, like some islands in Samoa, no one is poor. But when some are poor and some are not, well, it’s difficult. Not all of the poor are in a blissful state, I can promise you that. I saw the way the lower castes looked at the upper castes every day. It broke my heart.

    The US government is lousy at administrating welfare because they pay people to administer it. Unlike the church, that has people willing to work for free, the government pays its people. If maybe some fellow Mormons would like to volunteer their time to the local government’s charitable function, things would change. Until then, we’re stuck with the model we have.

  74. jader3rd on December 17, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    I use the phrase gospel dichotomy.

  75. Name withheld to protect me on December 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    #71: Yeah, like ending Segregation. So Marxist. Way to go being out ahead on that one, conservative Mormons. In other words, shame on us. I have two daughters, one disabled and one biracial, who would have been profoundly unwelcome in Mormon and other white communities fifty years ago. Not to mention being females, which would mean being pigeonholed and belittled all of their lives. Like I said, life in the US used to totally suck compared to what it is now. Everyone who wants to get back to the “good old days” when people were moral and everyone worked an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage is either profoundly ignorant of history, a poor white person with rich white ancestors, or just plain gullible.

    It amuses/frightens me how little “We the people” seems to mean in US political discourse anymore even though it still plays out at every level of government and bureaucracy in this country every day. Every time someone talks about “the government” as if that were some “them” as opposed to being us (when we vote and participate in other ways) or people just like us, our friends, and our neighbors (who are representing us as elected officials and serving us as government employees ie “bureaucrats”), I want to gag. I see the logic of this “government is coercive” perspective, but only in the same way I see the logic of Marxist criticism. Both have utility, but it is a niggling utility that falls tragically short of offering as powerful a lens on American governance as those three words, “we the people.”

    And “the US government is lousy at administering welfare”? I bet that compared to anyone else doing it on the same scale with the same kind of populace (conveniently there isn’t anything to compare US welfare to in scope and challenges), our government is doing pretty friggin awesome at it. Church welfare is a completely different animal and would run into exactly the same kinds of problems if run in that larger environment. Everyone has to be served by the government, not just church members or compliant non-members, and there are constant demands to reduce overhead, which means less personal care. The whole “welfare is so wasteful” mantra is a nonsensical comparison to a fantasy version of the world. It lacks any baseline and twists the normal need for continuous refinement into some huge existential question, as if our nation would stand for one second for going back to the human rights nightmare of the early 20th century.

  76. Sonny on December 18, 2011 at 12:29 am

    Name Withheld (75),

    I’m not sure if you caught my sarcasm or not.
    I was mocking the association of Marxism to any and all Governmental action to correct societal abuses– an association made by far too many of our brothers and sisters imo.

  77. Jason Echols on December 18, 2011 at 7:35 am

    It’s pretty hard not to chuckle in the general direction of Utahns who whine about socialism as long as Utah keeps its DABC.

    Link: “Although Lockhart used the word ‘privatization,’ she conceded the state won’t relinquish control…”

    Link: “The state operates 42 full-service retail stores open to the public, and two club stores that only service licensees.”

    Link: DABC needs a business model focused on revenue

    Step up or stand down. Until then, why should anyone take libertarian/conservative whining seriously when you can’t even be bothered to call your legislators and get rid of the DABC?

  78. Eric on December 18, 2011 at 11:41 am

    The key to reconciling the points on this triangle is to remember that all human interaction should be voluntary. Government law should be geared towards appropriate responses to acts of aggression between individuals or groups. The example of homosexuality is a perfect example: personally, I oppose homosexuality on purity grounds, but I can not write laws that forces one who is homosexual to act heterosexual. Likewise, it is aggressive force to pass laws that state what drugs a person can use, but it is perfectly moral to pass laws that state that a person’s fines are higher if the accident they caused was made worse by their being ‘high.’ Again, from a purity standpoint, I oppose drug use, but I believe that a person is free to destroy themselves physically.

  79. Darren Andrews on December 18, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Socialism/welfarism/the welfare state/”social democracy”/communism/ or whatever the collectivist practice may be called at any time or in any place, has been quite clearly taught to be something we should avoid by Church leaders. You won’t find a single quotation supporting it. It is indeed a strange thing that some LDS are so sympathetic toward it. It is a violation of both the commandment not to steal, and to not covet.

    I strongly disagree about politics not be founded on principles as absolute as those of the gospel. Politics is no more a matter of opinion than physics, though people may sincerely have differing views on it. It’s not enough for use to be sincere, we need to be right. We need to understand that it as much our duty to search our and understand the principles of sound government, as it is to understand the doctrines of the Kingdom.

  80. Name withheld to protect me on December 18, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Way to be with the times, Darren.

    Handbook 2, 6.2.4:

    “Leaders may also help members receive assistance through community and government agencies.”

    13.6.9

    “In many parts of the world, health and accident insurance coverage is available to Church members through employer-sponsored, personal, or government programs. Where such coverage is available, members are responsible to access all available benefits provided through it if they incur an injury during a Church activity.”

  81. Darren Andrews on December 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    It’s called the Samuel Principle.

    Truth doesn’t change.

  82. Name withheld to protect me on December 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    #76 yeah, I totally got your sarcasm. My comment was just poorly phrased. I was just continuing from what you said.

    The whole chicken little attitude in the church about any kind of increase in collective sentiment at the expense of individualism ala McCarthy was just like the explanations for the priesthood bad (curse of Cain), anti-evolutionism and anti-science attitudes (earth is only 6 K years old because some crusty pre-Mormon Christian did some Old Testament-based addition), and blaming Eve. Certain individuals borrowed ideas from outside the Church and then those ideas gained power because they played to people’s fears and/or need to be accepted as normal. Benson had the attitudes he did because his ancestors were driven out of the country to Utah and because of what he saw as a result of Stalinism, which isn’t even remotely any kind of socialism or communism. The attitudes of the anti-communist period have little or no value when talking about modern liberal democracies and the welfare states they necessitate.

  83. Darren Andrews on December 18, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    Have you studied evolution? Dating techniques are not reliable. I’ve no idea how old the earth is, but it *could* be 6000 years. I like some of the work of Michael Behe (and James Perloff has raised some cogent points too).

    I think the problem is that many of us too easily go along with worldly ideas – Darwinistic evolution, old-earth theories, collectivism – without thinking for ourselves. Ezra Taft Benson warned against the ideas of Marx, Darwin and Keynes becoming prevalent in the Church. That the ideas of these three men have become more accepted in a world that has become increasingly wicked, well you’d think that might sound alarm bells…

    But this is off-topic maybe, or maybe not. It all comes down the to the principles and truths we espouse and how we measure those things. I find so many people just seem to measure things by what they’ve learned in the halls of academia or the politically-motivated science and historical interpretations of our day.

  84. Tim on December 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Darren Andrews,

    I don’t know about Name Withheld, but I’ve studied evolution, both as a hobby, and in many, many college courses, including a couple of courses at BYU. That’s right–a portion of your tithing goes to teach evolution.

    As far as a young earth and evolution, even Michael Behe admits that the earth is ancient and that significant evolution does occur. In any case, your question “Have you studied evolution?” would be a lot more potent if your own studies of evolution went beyond reading the works of intelligent design/creationists, and preferably included actual college courses on the subject. As your tithing already goes to BYU, might I recommend the evolution courses there?

  85. Darren Andrews on December 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    Maybe it’s those who study Darwinistic evolution who need to read a little more about ID? My point in mentioning Behe was that he questions the idea of one species becoming another (which the scriptures also strongly question quite specifically). As I said, I’ve no idea how old or young the earth is; the point was that clinging to it being very old (an idea put forward initially by those who wanted it to be very old so their theories on evolution would “fit”) is no different to clinging to the idea of the days of creation being 1000 years (or 24 hours) each. I’m not sure there is any evidence to suggest it either way. You’ll find scientists involved with dating methods will disagree over the reliability of such techniques (certainly beyond a few thousand years at least).

    Why would a college course be more accurate than those who espouse other schools of thought on the matter? Theology is a course, but riddled with many false concepts and ideas about God and doctrine. Ultimately a curriculum course is just another interpretation. As for BYU, I think they are given some leeway in what they teach, and it should not be seen as necessarily “truth”.

    Besides, this isn’t really about *what* we believe, but *why*. We are quick to lap up ideas that have worldly stamps of approval upon them or, apparently, the voice of the majority. But truth is not so easily identified. It takes effort to find truth and it seldom exists on the surface. Both extremes, in my view of the life-origin debate, are almost certainly wrong.

  86. Tim on December 18, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Darren,

    I’ve studied quite a bit of creationism and ID (and have in fact read Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box,” along with numerous other pro-intelligent design stuff). I’m quite familiar with it, and have the background in biology to understand where intelligent design goes wrong.

    In any case, I’m not interested in discussing this issue with someone who wants everyone else to study things from their point of view but is unwilling to reciprocate. Quite frankly, if you’re not willing to do an honest study of evolution from a scientific (and not an intelligent design or creationist) perspective, there’s no point in discussing the issue with you. The best way to do an honest study of evolution is to take a college-level evolution course. You can’t do an honest study of evolution by reading anti-evolution (i.e.–pro-intelligent design/creationism) stuff any more than you can make an honest study of Mormonism by just reading anti-Mormonism stuff.

  87. Raymond Takashi Swenson on December 18, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    To Darren Andrews: Profesdor Behe’s books Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution do NOT assert that new species cannot come into being through random mutation and batural selection. Rather, he asserts that there are a large number of biochemical mechanisms in living organisms that lack any gradualist pathway of development that meets the Darwinian requirement that each stage be small enough to be a ctedible random mutation, plus the requirement that each minir change still be significant enough to confer a survival advantage that establishes the genome changes as a permanent heritage.

    We are told by God that certain things are true, but have also been told by God that he is withholding many additional truths until the Second Coming. Therefore thinking you know all truth, and that your own knowledge sets boundaries on what can be learned through disciplined and honest study if nature, is invalid.

    Physics tells us that other stars in our own galaxy are a hundred thousand light years away. We can literalky see billions of years into our past by looking at distant galaxies and the microwave background radiation that dates to the rapid inflation that began the expansion of our observable universe. God told Moses that the background on our own earth’s creation does NOT describe the larger universe, where other inhabited worlds are at different stages of their progression. Nothing in any other passage of scripture outside Genesis 1 and 2 even suggests God operates on a limited time scale. His name is Eternal, not “Mr. Six Thousand Years.”

    To Name Witheld: I grew up in the ancient 1950s as a “mixed race” child and one of my junior high and high school friends was a paraplegic Navajo. I observed no prejudice toward either of us from all the “old white men” who were bishops and stake presidents and seminary teachers in our lower middle class neighborhood innSalt Lake County. Those “white men” served missions among Japanese, Hawaiians and Tongans, Mexicans and American Indians. “Old white men” like Spencer Kimball literally embraced the minority people who joined the Church and ended the anomaly of withholding ordination from Blacks when it was given freely to people of all other races.

    When my fatherband mother and I first came to Utah from Japan, whete I had been born during the Occupation, apostle Matthew Cowley, who had known our family in Japan, was assigned to speak in my grandparents’ stake confetence. He called us up out of the congregation and introduced us to the members their, peopke who had been propagandized during the war to hate the Japanese and resent the loss of sons who died in the Pacific. But the teachings of a prophet ensured that we never experienced prejudice there.

    I don’t know Cowley’s political leanings, but he did not need some politician to teach him love and tolerance toward minorities or the physically challenged. He and most other Church leaders were out ahead of flawed men like JFK and LBJ and Earl Warren. People who worship political leaders as saviors are out of touch with reality. The effectiveness of Martin Luther King and other leaders of the Civil Rights protests was due to their appeal to the Biblical values that most Americans already supported. The government officers most instrumental in those changes never apoligized for their own role in accepting and even using racial prejudice in their earlier careers. Warren as AG and then governor in California was as responsible.as.anyone in that state for the summary imprisonment of a hundred thousand men, women and children, without trial, for the “crime” of being Japanese, at the order of liberal icon FDR.

    Faith in the progressive project of politicians is based on need and hope rather than any consistent and reliable virtue and selflessness exhibited by such men and women.

  88. Name withheld to protect me on December 18, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    I guess you’re lucky neither of you were bearing the mark of Cain then. I’ll spare us all trotting out all the GA statements against civil rights and such or all the stories of those who were shunned. It’s just a little to depressing. In 2011 our chapel is just now being made accessible for wheelchairs.

    I’m glad you didn’t feel discriminated against.

    Darren, believing the earth is or could be only 6000 years old should be listed in the DSM-IV. You might as well believe in leprechauns. If believing basic science is “giving in to the world” then the crisis the church is facing with young people leaving is only going to deepen. You can only teach people the sky is green until they walk outside and open their eyes.

    And be sure to avoid hospitals, because basically anything they do for you is going to be based on research that relies on the very sciences you decry.

  89. Darren Andrews on December 19, 2011 at 7:45 am

    *Sigh*

    I question modern views, and am ridiculed. I realize there is much we cannot know. We need to look at the evidence and decide for ourselves. I’m just saying we should have open minds and be wary of relying upon the prevailing teachings of the world at any given point in time. That is not how truth is discerned or found. We have a wealth of knowledge in the scriptures and from modern-day prophets on political, scientific, moral, etc. matters. If we pay heed to that first and run the teachings of the world through that filter, then we are less likely to be deceived. The Adversary controls this world today, and truth is not something he likes to have taught in the mainstream of society – religion OR otherwise. We need to open our eyes and minds.

  90. Dan on December 19, 2011 at 10:04 am

    isn’t what Connor doing priestcraft? Selling religion for money?

  91. chris on December 19, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people…And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me.

    Freedom
    Charity (esteem as himself)
    Virtue
    Holiness

    Seems like there is a way to navigate them all.

  92. Owen on December 19, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Darren, there is no benefit to laymen “deciding for themselves” about science. Learning what the pros have figure out yes, rehashing with an eye towards rejecting the bits that don’t fit with some political or religious ideology, no. The science that is taught at BYU by men and women who have been interviewed by GAs to get their jobs, whose teaching is subject to ecclesiastical review, and most of whom hold or have held high offices in the church such as bishop, stake president, and nursery teacher, is identical to the science taught anywhere else in virtually every case. “The world” has some bad stuff in it to be sure, but to say that “the Adversary controls the world today” is a gross over-generalization directly at odds with the experience of all of us who work with upstanding colleagues not of our faith in science, academe, industry, and government. You’ll notice that basically everything in the way of technological, political, and social development that has made the spreading of the Gospel possible has been created and carried out by non-Mormons. We didn’t single-handedly invent the printing press, the PC, the Internet, video technology, write much of the music in our hymnbook, translate the Bible, cure the major childhood diseases, or about a million other things–the light and knowledge God sheds on his children seems to be pretty evenly spread around. We don’t have a corner on the market for anything but priesthood authority. Revelation can certainly help us understand the big picture, but as often as not our imperfect understanding leads us to reject or misunderstand the light and knowledge God is revealing to us in other ways, for example by inspiring geologists, physicists, and cosmologists to demonstrate to us all irrefutably that the earth is not 6000 years old. We learn important truths about God and his works from that fact, and gain nothing from questioning it but irrelevance.

  93. Lucy on December 19, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    #87 “Faith in the progressive project of politicians is based on need and hope rather than any consistent and reliable virtue and selflessness exhibited by such men and women.”

    Yes. True. The same could be said for faith in the sometimes arbitrary definitions of “facts” or “science” or “reason” or “freedom” that get tossed around as synonyms for truth. I am as opposed to Bible bashing as I am to Origin of Species bashing, but neither religious voices nor secular voices should be excluded from civil discussions in the public sphere.

  94. Dan on December 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    What Owen said in comment #91 at 2:16pm. Fantastic comment, man

  95. chris on December 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Whoa… I’ve got no problem with teaching and learning about evolution, etc. etc.

    But does anyone elses irony indicator go off when some strange corollary of evolution being taught at BYU speaks to its truthfulness? There are actually a lot of things taught at BYU.

    Strange that people can jump through so many hoops about what dozens of Apostles had to say about various types of governmental activities, and those can be excused left and well… left, but suddenly when it comes to evolution, the mere fact of someone being interviewed by a general authority is supposed to bolster it’s truthfulness?

    I see no problem with learning about it, because that’s where all the evidence points with regard to the science of the day. I see a huge problem with insisting that aspects of our faith must conform to it, and we use it as a scientific lever on truth to say certain things in the scriptures must be wrong, etc.

    A lot of things are and have been taught at BYU that were the things the scientific community was studying that turned out to be wrong. Whether or not a GA interviewed someone is the most pathetic appeal to authority from a group who generally scoffs at appeals to authority as a means to end debate.

    More importantly, it makes sense to say, feel free to study as that’s a field that mainstream science is studying and it shouldn’t be out of bounds, as evidence by BYU.

  96. Jeremy on December 20, 2011 at 1:00 am

    “We have a wealth of knowledge in the scriptures and from modern-day prophets on political, scientific, moral, etc. matters. If we pay heed to that first and run the teachings of the world through that filter, then we are less likely to be deceived.”

    Nonsense. The “wealth of knowledge” that we have is complex, intricate, paradoxical, and sometimes self-contradictory. It is a waste of our agency and an abrogation our identity as eternal intelligences to look to the Ensign to tell us whether evolution is true or not. For most of our interactions and our search for knowledge beyond the relatively narrow scope of gospel doctrine, there is no “filter.”

    “Do not have the temerity,” Elder Hugh B. Brown said, “to dogmatize on issues about which the Lord has seen fit to remain silent.”

    (Elder Brown, of course, was a democrat.)

  97. palerobber on December 30, 2011 at 5:30 am

    Allsion Moore Smith #65

    Sounds like the country I live in. Except they just FUND the places that slaughter babies.

    thinking of bombing some clinics, Allison? or are you content to just inspire others?