The Approaching Zion Project: What is Zion? A Distant View

May 15, 2013 | 98 comments
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Previous installments here and here. You can read Chapter 2 of Approaching Zion here.

Another confession: I had a really hard time with this chapter. And it’s not just because I read it sitting in an airport waiting for a plane that was delayed for an hour and a half. Rather, it’s because of the way Nibley speaks of the wealthy. Certain of his descriptions feels to me, so laughably one-dimensional—so moustache-twirling, tying-the-heroine-to-the-tracks—that I find myself fighting both his prose and my instincts to not just dismiss his entire piece out of hand.[fn1]

For example:

There are exceptions, but they are dangerously rare, for wealth is a jealous mistress: she will not tolerate any competition; rulers of business are openly contemptuous of all other vocations; and all those “how-to-get-rich” books by rich men virtuously assure us that the first and foremost prerequisite for acquiring wealth is to think of nothing else—the aspirant who is guilty even of a momentary lapse in his loyalty, they tell us, does not deserve the wealth he seeks. (52)

The city I live in is filled with McCormicks and Pritzkers; if you go to a museum, if you go to the ballet or the symphony, you’ll see their names and the names of other wealthy philanthropists. These people use their wealth to be comfortable, it’s true;[fn2] they also use their wealth to support artists and public parks and other things that, at best, provide warm glow and reputational returns to them. Heck, a partner at the law firm I used to work for (not as wealthy as the McCormicks or the Pritzkers to be sure, but still wealthy) skipped several days of work every summer to attend each performance in the Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart series.

That is, wealth is clearly not inherently a jealous mistress, and the wealthy are not inherently contemptuous of all other vocations. By grossly exaggerating his stereotypes of things with which I have some familiarity, Nibley puts a real impediment in front of my buying his story.[fn3]

Which is a shame, because again he raises some material issues, eliding many of the details, but raising issues we need to grapple with.

The Cold War

The rhetoric in this chapter had a very Cold War feel to me: Babylon, he tells us, is “the exact opposite of Zion in all things” (30). In the same way that Zion is pure, Babylon is pure evil, and “Babylon and Zion cannot mix in any degree; a Zion that makes concessions is no longer Zion” (30).

I wasn’t terribly old when the Berlin Wall fell, but I did spend some formative years living in the twilight of the Cold War. And, with its two superpowers and mutually-assured destruction, the Cold War provided stability to the world. There may have been skirmishes that didn’t involve the U.S. and the USSR, but those were sidelights, not really worthy of attention on the main stage. The U.S.-USSR conflict represented a real, existential threat. And, in that context, I understand thinking of Zion and Babylon is equal, opposite enemies, enemies that cannot mix.

Today, though, we no longer live in a bipolar world, defined by two superpowers that could, at the push of a button, absolutely destroy each other. We live in a unipolar (or maybe multipolar) world. I remember, years ago, reading an article that described our world as less stable. That said, we don’t face an existential threat. Sure, terrorists can hurt a lot of people. Maybe they can hurt a lot lot of people. But the U.S. doesn’t face imminent destruction.

And, based on our belief that the Church will fill the Earth, that the Millenium will come and Satan will be bound, I’d say Zion probably doesn’t face an existential threat; incursion of Babylon into Zion can, of course, do significant damage, hurting the residents of Zion, and possibly pulling some from its safe environs. But I’m not convinced that Babylon is the equal opposite of Zion.[fn4]

Oil and Water

Zion and Babylon cannot mix, Nibley assures us. The Zion “that makes concessions is no longer Zion” (30).

That said, those of us who live in the world can’t help but interact with Babylon (whatever that is). And, in fact, we have been encouraged to be inclusive, loving and interacting with all of our neighbors, Mormon or not, presumably of Zion or Babylon.

So, then, how to reconcile a Zion that cannot mix with Babylon with a Zion people who love our neighbors, whoever they are? If we truly practice Elder Ballard’s doctrine of inclusion, Zion cannot be a place that excludes others. Rather, it seems to me, the mixing has to be in our heads and our hearts; we cannot mix a desire for Zion with a desire for Babylon. And, maybe in this way, the Cold War vision works. It’s not that we have to separate ourselves; instead, we have to sanctify ourselves.

But there’s more: it can’t just be ourselves individually—Zion is not me, Zion is us, a city, a community.

And it’s here that I wish Nibley had moved beyond general ideas (because, though he believes in a real, tangible Zion, he sticks with generalities as he describes it) and mischaracterizations of the wealthy and the merchant class. Because here we have a real issue, one with which I’ve struggled and one with which I’ve seen others struggle. That is: what is our lodestar as we act in this world and attempt to make ourselves Zion people and people capable of building Zion?

I’ve been in lessons at Church where people—often successful, comfortable people—try to figure out how they can be charitable, Zion people, how they can live the law of consecration. Do we give to the beggar on the street? What constitutes materialism?[fn5] The discussions are generally deeply unsatisfying, often ending with an injunction to pay an honest tithe and a generous fast offering. That’s clearly not enough, but it’s an understandable conclusion to come to. The scriptures and prophets are clear about 10% + generous other contributions. But beyond that, we have no limited explicit guidance.

Our inability to definitively answer these questions may be a feature, not a bug, of the world we live it. That is, finding the answer may be less important than wrestling with the question. Still, the discussions I’ve participated in are even unsatisfying in terms of the wrestling; they often seem shapeless and pro forma. Nibley condemns consumerism and conspicuous consumption but, at least thus far, he hasn’t provided a framework with which to evaluate these questions.[fn6] The best guidance I’ve seen on this point, frankly, comes from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity:

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words,  if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc. is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.

Even this doesn’t actually get to a solid framework, but it suggests criteria against which we can measure how we’re doing, charity-wise. And having a framework, without a definitive answer, probably is the best possible world, because then we can struggle with the question of how to be a Zion person/community in a structured (and, hopefully, fruitful) manner.

Becoming sufficiently charitable isn’t the end, of course. The selflessness and altruism that come with being truly charitable aren’t a sufficient condition to arrive at Zion, it seems to me, but they are, nonetheless, a necessary condition.

Miscellany

  • The chapter is full of quotations from Brigham Young. But Brigham Young was immensely quotable and often self-contradictory; I would like to have had the quotations contextualized.
  • Nibley vacillates between Zion being a place that people build and a place that God delivers and removes, but that cannot be made by human hands. In the end, he seems to conclude that we have to work to build it in order that God send it.
  • The idea of rhetoric, as opposed, I assume, to Truth, plays a big role in this chapter. Nibley sees words and labels as distorting our vision of Zion, and as distorting our priorities.
  • Nibley displays his priors as he privileges artists over the businessperson; he says, “Granted that those who acquire wealth are sometimes people of superior talent (though for every real artist, or poet, or composer in America, there are at least ten thousand millionaires) . . . .” But I don’t see any reason that the artist is inherently morally superior, at least for purposes of Zion. Both can be focused on Babylon, and both must give up that focus to come to Zion.

[fn1] One of my law professors put it roughly this way: I believe every word I read in the New Yorker, except when they write about something I know about. (Note that it may have been the New York Times; it’s been a while since I was in law school.)

[fn2] Or, at least, I assume it’s true; they don’t often ever invite me to their parties.

[fn3] I wonder if that’s part of the reason Approaching Zion is so arresting to young, left-leaning, thinky types: without the additional life experience that comes as we leave home, leave college, enter the workforce, and increase our social circles, they can skip over the inconsistencies and mischaracterizations of the world as it exists and instead focus on the world as Nibley believes it should be.

[fn4] Of course, Nibley’s still not entirely clear about what Zion is, so saying that Babylon is its opposite doesn’t provide a full definition of what constitutes Babylon, either.

[fn5] (I ask as I sit at a nice computer, with my nice tablet computer by me and my nice smartphone charging behind me.)

[fn6] Maybe I’m just being dense, and his framework is to give up anything beyond necessities, but I don’t think that’s it.

***

Note: Because of my work schedule, I’m unlikely to get an AZP post up next week. I hope to get back to them, with Chapter 3, the following week.

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98 Responses to The Approaching Zion Project: What is Zion? A Distant View

  1. David Scott on May 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks for the discussion, Sam.

  2. Eric Facer on May 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Nibley,like so many other academics, often sees the world in very simplistic, black and white terms. Many professors have never confronted the challenge of running a business or resolving political disputes between parities that equal parts good and bad.

    I don’t know what Brigham Young quotes appear in this chapter, but I do recall, from Turner’s recent biography of the prophet, that when President Young attempted to institute the United Order, there was one prominent leader who flatly refused to transfer title to his property to the Church—the Prophet himself. He didn’t have confidence in others to run the numerous successful business enterprises and investments that he had created. If you’ll forgive the play on words, I think his actions were “prophetic.”

  3. Old Man on May 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks Sam, but I think your ananlysis of Nibley’s thought is overly simplistic. It wasn’t the Cold War that caused him to see the world in Zion vs. the World terms. It was the temple endowment, much ancient writing (including scripture) and his life experience in WWII.

    Eric’s characterization of Nibley as merely another “academic” is way off the mark. Nibley is inherently anti- academic in the sense that he is anti-academic establishment. And Nibley faced the world in such real terms that I would argue that Nibley is the realist and that those who ardently support modern political and economic structures are those who have sold out to the illusion of the great and spacious building.

  4. Sam Brunson on May 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Old Man, I certainly agree that I’m not doing full justice to Nibley’s thoughts in these posts; that said, wherever his Zion v. Babylon thought comes from, it has a Cold War resonance to me.

    Eric, I know plenty of academics with simplistic worldviews, and plenty with complicated ones. Nibley’s seems nuanced and careful in a lot of ways; though he seems to have been a polyglot, though, he can’t be expected to be familiar with everything. One of my problems in reading this chapter, though, was that some aspects of my familiarity ran up against some of his unfamiliarity.

    I don’t think that diminishes the importance of the questions he asks, or of the process he works through. It may call into question some of his answers, though not necessarily. I’m still trying to work through his (and my) thought, and I’m doing it in real time (that is, I haven’t read ahead when I put these posts together).

  5. Russell Arben Fox on May 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Another nice collection of thoughts, Sam. Let me throw out a couple of responses:

    Wealth is clearly not inherently a jealous mistress, and the wealthy are not inherently contemptuous of all other vocations. By grossly exaggerating his stereotypes of things with which I have some familiarity, Nibley puts a real impediment in front of my buying his story.

    This is a common complaint about Nibley (made by one of the above commenters as well): that he goes overboard with ridiculous, clearly inaccurate, black-and-white, all-or-nothing characterizations. I won’t pretend such a complaint isn’t accurate; Nibley obviously does do all of those things. However, I would insist that he doesn’t do them nearly as much, or nearly as completely, as many of his detractors would like to believe, and that is partly because they lack the willingness to consider the depths of Nibley’s critique. To cut to the chase: you talk about the McCormicks and Pritzkers, and the great works their foundations have supported, and from that you conclude that obviously wealth didn’t make those individuals contemptuous of others. To which I ask: really? Is that something we can actually know? If Nibley’s reading of the scriptures suggest that those with great wealth simply cannot avoid being the camel which attempts to force itself through a needle’s eye, that the possession of such riches so regularly poses an obstacle to one’s ability to live a life of charity and decency that Jesus frankly calls for such wealth to be given away, immediately (Matthew 19: 21-22)…well, should we really dismiss that just because, you know, we know rich people, and they ain’t that bad? My suspicion, obviously, is that Nibley wants us to consider the possibility that, if we Mormons want to build a world where there is no poor, we’ll need to build one where there are no rich either. (But this is an old blog argument, of course.)

    The rhetoric in this chapter had a very Cold War feel to me: Babylon, he tells us, is “the exact opposite of Zion in all things” (30). In the same way that Zion is pure, Babylon is pure evil, and “Babylon and Zion cannot mix in any degree; a Zion that makes concessions is no longer Zion” (30)….Based on our belief that the Church will fill the Earth, that the Millenium will come and Satan will be bound, I’d say Zion probably doesn’t face an existential threat; incursion of Babylon into Zion can, of course, do significant damage, hurting the residents of Zion, and possibly pulling some from its safe environs. But I’m not convinced that Babylon is the equal opposite of Zion.

    I think this is a really valid and important insight, that Nibley’s critique of American Mormonism is shaped by Cold War perspectives. A possible problem with it, though, is that Nibley is other essays is pretty contemptuous of the us-or-them mentality of the Cold War, and in particular of the Cold Warriors with abounded in Utah conservative circles from the 1950s through the 1980s. So if his rhetoric about Zion-Babylon was borrowing a kind of Cold War absolutism, then the result was a thematic incoherence in his writing. Another possibility, though, beyond any incoherence which his own exaggerations may lead him into, is the one you go on to note: that he’s framing the absolute distinction between Zion and Babylon in terms of the two loves which characterize the human heart, the love for God or Mammon, the love for the City of God or the City of Man. In this case, as you write, “the Cold War vision works.”

    Our inability to definitively answer these questions may be a feature, not a bug, of the world we live it. That is, finding the answer may be less important than wrestling with the question.

    I think Nibley would strongly agree with that sentiment.

    Nibley vacillates between Zion being a place that people build and a place that God delivers and removes, but that cannot be made by human hands. In the end, he seems to conclude that we have to work to build it in order that God send it.

    I think your compromised sentence at the end puts it well. To be engaged in building something means that we have made it our personal and collective aim, not necessarily that we know exactly how to build what it is we are building, or even know when we will have built it, assuming we’re even able to. This is a theme which (I think, anyway) becomes implicitly clear as you read more and more Nibley: namely, that he thinks we are being called to be something, to do something, and that it is not within our calling, much less our abilities, to know the how or why and which way of that being and doing. This points us, in a round-about way, towards grace: we’re going to commit ourselves in living in such a way that we may build Zion–a place with no poor, a place of equality and humility and simplicity and holiness–and of course we’ll fail, and probably fail badly, but that’s no excuse not to keep building, not to keep serving. Those who run about emphasizing the need to means-test this or ensure the proper revenue-stream for that before we began are missing out on the free lunch, on grace. Let us start building Zion, and at some point, as we continue endlessly to serve one another in the midst of the wreckage, God will reveal it to us.

  6. Sam Brunson on May 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Thanks, Russell. You’re right that I conflated two ideas when I referred to the McCormicks and Pritzkers (and other wealthy arts patrons). Like I said, I don’t get invited to their parties, and I don’t know if they are personally contemptuous of others. I do know, though, that they are not singlemindedly focused on wealth, at the exclusion of everything else. Whether because they love the arts, for purposes of noblesse oblige, or because their tax attorneys advised them to, they have at least developed other interests. (I think of this in contrast to the books I used to see advertised in airplane magazines that offered the three-page summaries of great literature so busy businesspeople could pretend some familiarity with them.)

    But I also know some wealthy people (if I assume that I’m middle class, like everyone assumes they are) or everybody I know is wealthy (if we’re looking at wealth on a global scale), and I know (to the extent one can know) the hearts of some of them. And some are very not contemptuous of other professions and goals. But, of course, I conflated the two ideas in my post.

    I’m excited to see his explicit take on Cold Warriors; like I’ve said, I’ve read some of his BoM and other ancient stuff, but I’m doing Approaching Zion in more-or-less real time, so I don’t know what comes next.

    And thank you: I love this idea:

    and of course we’ll fail, and probably fail badly, but that’s no excuse not to keep building, not to keep serving.

    As a recovered (or, at least, -ing) perfectionist, and the father of a budding perfectionist, this is, I believe, essential to keep in mind so that we don’t become paralyzed in our attempt to build Zion.

  7. Eric Facer on May 15, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    “Rulers of business are openly contemptuous of all other vocations.” –H. Nibley

    “People are beginning lately to see that we are destroying the environment and that something must be done about it, but then the lawyers play their games and stall and stall, getting richer all the time.”–H. Nibley.

    As Sam said: “By grossly exaggerating his stereotypes of things with which I have some familiarity, Nibley puts a real impediment in front of my buying his story.”

    Nibley was blinded by his own biases and misconceptions. He often oversimplified complex situations and thereby undermined the credibility of his more thoughtful, nuanced arguments.

  8. JLMerkling on May 15, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Regarding how we give and how we evaluate giving i recently read Ken Stern’s book “With Charity for All.” http://www.scribd.com/doc/119789819/With-Charity-for-All-by-Ken-Stern

    http://www.bing.com/search?q=with+charity+for+all+by+ken+stern&qs=AS&form=QBRE&pq=with+charity+for+all&sc=7-20&sp=2&sk=AS1

    One of the things he observed from the data is that rich people tend to give to non-profits that benifit them(NY Met, MOMA, Etc.) or create charities that the cna put thier name on, even if tere is one already opperating.

    Additionaly as income goes up the proportion of income given to charity goes down.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/rich-people-charitable-giving_n_1819142.html
    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2682730&page=1

  9. Publius on May 15, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Brigham Young was immensely quotable and often self-contradictory

    Nibley: “[T]here never was a man more undeviatingly consistent and rational in thought and utterance.” (Educating the Saints)

  10. Eric Facer on May 15, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Publius, that quote from Nibley’s “Educating the Saints” is priceless.

  11. Sam Brunson on May 15, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Eric, like I said upfront, there are some things about Nibley’s writing that impede my buy-in; still, I’d like to (principally) discuss his underlying ideas, and not be sidetracked too much by the imperfections in his argumentation style. Because I think the problems of building a Zion community in our imperfect world are very real, even if I don’t see the World and Zion as binary opposites. And I know that I don’t think hard enough about the place that Zion has in my own life; I’m hoping to explore those ideas, with the help of Nibley and other denizens of the bloggernacle.

  12. Eric Facer on May 15, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    That’s a fair point, Sam, and I think what you are doing is an interesting intellectual exercise, though it is one, I think you will agree, that needs to be approached with the understanding that we really don’t have a clear idea as to what Zion was, or will be, like. The scriptures provide very little insight, and I would classify virtually all of the musings by latter-day prophets on this subject as speculative, at best.

  13. Rameumptom on May 15, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Sam, I think your discussion of the Cold War was very simplistic. Events like the Korean and Vietnam wars were major events, as well as the Killing Fields of Cambodia. That Stalin killed tens of millions of his own people may not seem to have mattered much to some, but it devastated whole parts of the Soviet economy.

    Yes, rich people are more than black and white. Still, he is looking at the rich from decades ago, or even a century ago, when robber barons were still quite prevalent and revered. Even in the 1980s, “Greed is Good” was a statement that could easily resound on Wall Street. Remember, the US Government used to help the rich break up strikes, sending people to prison for striking, etc. Of course, the politicians received much help in elections. Tammany Hall was a very real and powerful organization, run by the rich in New York.

    today, for every Huntsman that donates millions to charity, there are as many (or more) rich guys with bad wigs saying “you’re fired.” If you look at the changes made by Congress in the last 20 years, you will see that many choices have enriched the wealthy, while impoverishing the middle class. Why is it that the Federal Reserve is spending OUR money to prop up rich banks and corporations, while many are still unemployed, and rising prices are becoming a hidden tax because of it. I could go on, but Nibley does make a point we should not ignore.

  14. Jax on May 15, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    I agree that Nibley’s viewpoint was from the Temple Endowment. As such you shouldn’t be looking for HIS statements on how to do it… you should be reading the D&C where God tells us how to do it as we’ve expressly told in the endowment and covenant to do.

    I can’t read D&C 78:6 without thinking that Nibley’s view was much closer to what we should be working for that the view of those of us currently neck deep in businesses/wealth creation now. If we take the scriptures as our guide then “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” should tell us we should at least TRY to do something different since what we have done obviously isn’t getting us any closer to what we’re supposed to be.

  15. Eric Facer on May 15, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    I believe it is a mistake to overemphasize the charitable predilections, or lack thereof, of the wealthy. Bill Gates, for example, has given a billion dollars to a foundation (his foundation, to be precise) that is clearly engaged in many good causes. But I seriously doubt that his foundation will have a more profound impact on the lives of others as has the company he founded. Think about all the industries that have been created with Microsoft’s products, the employment opportunities his company has provided, and the innovations in science, medicine and business that have been spawned by Microsoft software. Steve Jobs, by contrast, gave very little to charity during his life and yet the positive impact he has had on the world economy and the lives of much of the earth’s population is immense and will be felt for years to come.

    So, before you join Nibley’s campaign to confine the wealthy to the third circle of hell, consider where we would be without their contribution to our society and economy.

  16. Paul on May 15, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Sam, I’d wager that the discomfort you feel is just what Nibley would have wanted (short of your really sorting out what really is surplus and giving it to the poor). I’ve really enjoyed reading your responses to his essays. Thanks.

  17. BHodges on May 15, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    “finding the answer may be less important than wrestling with the question”

    This is problematic to the extent that it may prevent actual lifting up of hands that hang down, etc. Easier to say than to do, of course, but still, having no poor among them is a mark of Zion, so positing that they always need to be there to remind us to be charitable seems self-defeating.

  18. Jax on May 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Eric (15) I sure read that post of yours as saying “don’t be mad at the wealthy, they have helped us all become wealthy” That might not be what you meant but that is how I interpret your repeated nod to their aiding “the economy” and “employment”.

    There has been and never will be anything done that couldn’t have also been done if money didn’t exist. The labor could have been used in all the same ways to create the products, buildings, discoveries, foods, etc. Money is used to organize that labor, but a “zion” community could have organized it just as well without it.

  19. Raymond Takashi Swenson on May 15, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    I didn’t see any reference in the post or the comments to Nibley’s history. His grandfather Preston Nibley was very wealthy, and became a counselor in the First Presidency. His parents were pretty well off and helped provide an exceptional education to Nibley. Nibley himself, though, demonstrated time and again that he was not interested in financial wealth or the appearance of wealth, and his free time was devoted largely to recreationg in the outdoors. He is certainly thinking about his own wealthy grandfather when he speaks of the rich, and refers to him explicitly in his essays about respect for God’s creation of the natural world because much of that wealth was accumuklated by cutting old growth forests in Oregon.

    The “bipolar” vision of Zion vs Babylon is one that was cited by Neal Maxwell on several occasions, in which he indicted those who ask for a mansion in Zion, but want to retain a summer beach house in Babylon. For that matter, the aphorisms and parables of the Savior about the rich, were often loaded with hyperbole, including the “camel through the eye of the needle” metaphor you cited. It seems to me that Hugh Nibley is in good company here.

    My sense is that there are some very rich people who are true philanthropists, and actually place the wellbeing of other people ahead of their own financial benefit. The Huntsman family, the Sorensen family, Mitt Romney and his wife, appear to be people who give priority to expressing love for others ahead of the accumulation of greater wealth. But I don’t think that fact invalidates the image of the typical ultra rich man as someone so afraid of losing wealth and status that it is his life focus. The Mormon examples, and others of other faiths, highlight the magnitude of what the very rich need to do so their lives please God.

  20. Sam Brunson on May 15, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Blair, I think that’s right. RAF expressed it better than I did—it’s not that the process of figuring out how to build Zion substitutes for lifting hands that hang down. It’s that we’ll fail as we attempt to build Zion, but our process of trying to build Zion is the point. It’s not that other people are objects for our theoretical learning; it’s that, in the process of imperfectly trying to eliminate Babylon, we begin to sanctify ourselves and our community.

  21. Aaron on May 16, 2013 at 7:02 am

    We Mormons love escape clauses and no bigger escape clause exists than the idea that it is not money itself that is evil but the love of money. I’m sure Mitt Romney had very good reasons for putting so much money in offshore and secret accounts, but the dear man was never guilty of loving his money…was he?

  22. H.Bob on May 16, 2013 at 7:46 am

    RTS, you’ve got Preston Nibley confused with Charles Nibley. Charles was Hugh’s grandfather and made his wealth (along with the Eccles family) in lumber in Oregon. I have a hard time not reading some personal experience into anything Hugh says about the rich. His interactions with his grandfather are more likely the basis of any black-and-white observations of the rich than any other factor.
    Charles was interesting as well; he was called as Presiding Bishop mainly for his business acumen, and remains one of the few FP counselors ever called without also being called as an apostle. Read into that what you will.

  23. brian larsen on May 16, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Sam, RE: your footnote number 3.

    I appreciate your efforts overall to argue for complexity, but this footnote, for me, greatly deflates your ethos. It reads like you are suggesting left-leaning youngsters are naive and unable to distinguish complexity–revealing that your own conceptions are at least as biased as Nibley’s, resulting in my hesitation to “buying in” to much of what you have to say.

  24. Sam Brunson on May 16, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    brian, did you read the comment and post I linked to? Before accusing me of ethos-deflating, you might take the time to understand the conversation the footnote comes from.

  25. brian larsen on May 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Sam @24

    Of course I read them first. Before accusing me of not reading them, you could have simply asked and then waited for an answer.

    After re-reading both your prologue and the comment you cite, I still find no justification for your footnote number 3 other than bias. The comment you cite has nothing to do with with being naive or unable to distinguish complexity. On the contrary, you admit your own biases coming in and then continue to project them on Nibley on those of a varying political persuasion–all while complaining about Nibley’s.

    If you have found my view that you have damaged your ethos in your footnote as not worth your defense, so be it. We could argue this ad infinitum–I was simply uncomfortable with what I perceived as a low-blow. By all means carry on with your skeptical project.

  26. Sam Brunson on May 16, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    brian, then let me spell out what I intended: Approaching Zion seems to be a life-altering book for some. And those for whom it is life-altering seem, generally, to have discovered and read it by the end of their undergraduate career.

    Far from a low blow toward youth and liberal political leanings, I’m positing that younger readers—many of whom have not (yet) worked on Wall Street, many of whom don’t know a lot of wealthy people, many of whom haven’t had to struggle with the conflict between earning more than somebody else and creating an equitable society—are able to ignore the assertions that trip me up. It isn’t because of naivete or that they’re unable to distinguish complexity—rather, they can more fully engage with the complexity of Nibley’s thoughts because they can more comfortably skip over the impediments that I’m finding sprinkled through the text.

    That said, of course I’m biased. I’m reading Nibley through the frame of my experience and trying to engage him through that lens. I have no desire to hide my biases (though, frankly, I sincerely doubt you know my personal and political preferences). But the most important thing, imho, is to engage with Nibley’s ideas. YMMV, of course.

  27. Cameron N on May 16, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Aaron (21), I think that’s pretty difficult to judge. The reason people do that, like Milton Friedman said, is that noone is more frugal with money than the earner themselves. Not wanting to waste money is much different than loving money.

  28. John Hancock on May 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    #3 Old Man, #14 Jax, #16 Paul – spot on, amen, and exactly.
    If we removed all of the Nibley commentary in this chapter, the Lord’s plain statements would still challenge and stretch us. The simple answer to the question that Nibley asks from the very first pages of this book, “What is Zion?”, is too easily overlooked: “Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion — THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.” (D&C 97:21) What does it mean to be pure in heart? How does one attain unto such a state? If the Lord’s statements and Nibley’s commentary aren’t challenging enough, I guarantee that Elder Oaks’ answer to this question in his book “Pure in Heart” (http://www.amazon.com/Pure-Heart-Dallin-H-Oaks/dp/0884946509) will test even the purest of hearts.

  29. John Hancock on May 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    As for the numerous quotations from early church leaders, some of my favorites in chapter 2 were the following gems offered by Brigham Young, “I am more afraid of covetousness in our Elders than I am of the hordes of hell. Have we men out now of that class? I believe so. I am afraid of such spirits; for they are more powerful and injurious to this people than all hell outside of our borders. All our enemies in the United States or in the world, and all hell with them marshalled against us, could not do us the injury that covetousness in the hearts of this people could do us; for it is idolatry.” “Whether you can see it or not, I know that this people are more or less prone to idolatry; for I see that spirit manifested every day, and hear it from nearly every quarter.” Brother Nibley didn’t mince words either: “All my life I have shied away from these disturbing and highly unpopular- even offensive – themes. But I can not do so any longer, because in my old age I have taken to reading the scriptures and there have had it forced upon my reluctant attention, that from the time of Adam to the present day, Zion has been pitted against Babylon, and the name of the game has always been money- ‘power and gain’.”

  30. Sam Brunson on May 16, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Jax (18), at least in the first two chapters, as much as Nibley inveighs against money, he hasn’t yet suggested eliminating it (though it wouldn’t shock me if, at some point, he argues that a Zion society doesn’t include money). I actually suspect that, without a fungible and liquid medium of exchange, such as money, many of the advances we enjoy wouldn’t have been possible. (For an interesting discussion of what money means, I highly recommend this podcast.)

    In fact, I suspect that, if we were to enter into a Zion society (with or without money), our (meaning middle-class American Mormons’) material standard of living would go down. To the extent that we don’t focus on material gain and remunerative work, we’re clearly not going to be able to consume what we currently consume.

    And this is the part of Zion, only hinted at by Nibley thus far, that I think we tend to ignore when we talk and think about Zion. We assume that we’ll be living the same way we live now, except we’ll be of one mind and heart without contention. But the world we live in provides some very real benefits, benefits, if we believe Nibley, that we’ll have to do without in Zion. That is, leaving Babylon for Zion involves trade-offs that we will have to make.

    Aaron, I don’t know how much value there is in speaking poorly of Romney and other wealthy Mormons. (The flip side is, I don’t know how much value there is in revering them, either.) If we’re serious about Zion, we need to eliminate our own jealousies and unrighteous judgments so that we can be of one heart. Nibley seems to me to be suggesting introspection, not judgment.

  31. N. on May 17, 2013 at 3:34 am

    #4 SB- ” though he seems to have been a polyglot, though, he can’t be expected to be familiar with everything”

    I think you meant “polymath” and not polyglot, though I think he was that as well.

  32. aeon on May 17, 2013 at 7:06 am

    John, i had not heard about Elder Oak’s book. Thanks a lot. I found this interesting article online on the subject of materialism from the same book.

    http://emp.byui.edu/SATTERFIELDB/Talks/Covet%20Greed/Materialism%20DHO.htm

    On tithing, d&c 119 is pretty clear. But in the Lord’s view, tithing is not only v4 about the 10%. Tithing means all the surplus one can give (v1).

    This is a revelatary story on collecting “surplus” by B Young.
    http://scriptoriumblogorium.blogspot.fr/2012/06/brigham-young-on-collecting-surplus.html

    I totally agree that our standard of living would lower but our happiness, or the happiness of the pure in heart should go up.

  33. Doug Hudson on May 17, 2013 at 7:22 am

    The problem of “a reduced standard of living” is a misconception that hinders efforts at wealth redistribution. The wealth disparity between the very rich and very poor is so great that the very wealthy could very easily make a dramatic impact on the standard of living of the poor without noticeably affecting their own SOL.

    The real difficulty in wealth distribution is the lack of necessary infrastructure. For example, the US and Europe have been pouring money into various poor countries for decades, often with little or no effect–because warlords steal the aid, or because the country doesn’t have the leadership to use it effectively, or simply because some problems can’t be fixed by throwing money at it.

    The main issue in building Zion is not a question of greed, to my mind, but a question of long-term, cooperative planning. Of course, such planning quickly runs afoul of nationalism and racism.

  34. teelea on May 17, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Doug–For details on long-term, cooperative planning, I highly recommend the book “Working Toward Zion” (http://www.amazon.com/Working-Toward-Zion-Principles-United/dp/1562362445) by James Lucas and Warner Woodworth. It more or less picks up where “Approaching Zion” left off, with a brief history of how the modern economy evolved, the Church’s relationship with that economy over the years, and how we as Church members can implement aspects of consecration in a global economy. It was published some 15 years ago, when the economy was booming and well before our current economic crisis, so it would be interesting to see how an updated edition would differ, but its principles are still sound. (And Hugh Nibley wrote the Foreword to it, so it bears his stamp of approval.)

  35. Jax on May 17, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Sam, my first thought in response to your reply was similar to Doug in #33, but I quickly abandoned that when the thought came that what I (and each of us) really need to answer is whether I would accept a lower SOL in order to live in Zion. Is there a specific luxury we now have that is too precious to give up for Zion? I suspect that if the choice were openly presented to us that many would in fact choose the life of luxury, meaning that from our point of view now the benefits of “Babylon” outweigh the benefits of “Zion”.

    Do you disagree?

  36. Dave on May 17, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    We mingle in Babylon Monday through Friday 8 to 5, then spend evenings and weekends striving to make a little piece of Zion at home and at church (with our families and with our ward community). That seems like a fair summary of what most Church leaders seem to counsel us to do. No LDS leader excoriates us for being regular citizens in society or for holding jobs, or for working in professions that Nibley sneers at. Nibely’s ideas seem strangely out of touch with both the views of the LDS Church and with reality. He yearns for an ideal society but gives few particulars except that doctors, lawyers, and business people are not welcome (I guess it’s just farmers and professors in his ideal society) and that its citizens are all pure in heart (so I guess it is pure farmers and professors).

    But the LDS Church gave up this sort of society-building thing a century ago. Consecration never worked. Instead, we build up the kingdom within Babylon, not apart from it, using tithing contributions rather than consecration. It’s working pretty well.

    Nibley’s line of thinking leads to a monastery, a righteous refuge in the wilderness where those who really want to Zionize themselves can be entirely separate from the world. That sort of religious impulse has been around a long time and is practiced in other denominations. But that has never been an avenue of religious life that the LDS Church has endorsed or practiced.

  37. Eric Facer on May 17, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Dave, thanks for the reality check. Nibley’s Zion is largely a product of his fertile imagination. The scriptures provide little in the way of detailed information regarding the structure and operation of a Zion society. And they certainly don’t say that the price of admission is a reduced standard of living. While some of Nibley’s musings are intriguing, in the final analysis they are speculative at best.

    I’ve always been perplexed by those Latter Day Saints who readily acknowledge the correlation between effort and reward in matters spiritual and intellectual—D&C 130:21 (you want a blessing, then abide by the law that will produce that blessing; D&C 130:19 (“And if a person gains more aknowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the cadvantage in the world to come”)—but feel that when it comes to material possessions, that wealth redistribution and the elimination of all economic differences is the order of the day. Even if such a utopian vision could be realized, it would hold little or no appeal to me. Frankly, it sounds exceedingly boring.

    I’m not rejecting the notion of a Zion society; rather, I’m saying that there is little we know about how such a community would function and that many of Nibley’s ideas, and those expressed by others, appear unworkable and are certainly unattractive.

  38. Sam Brunson on May 17, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Jax, I think that’s right.

    Dave, my biggest issue up until now is his binary; I actually don’t buy that I work in Babylon from 9-5 and then I return to try to make a Zion at home. The impulse for a separatist Zion seems to come from eras where the Lord’s people are under attack (or at least perceive an attack); today, we risk, I guess, assimilation, but face no existential threats.[fn]

    [fn] Other than zombies, of course.

  39. Jax on May 17, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    Dave (36)

    You are spot on that the Church abandoned all efforts to build Zion long ago. That is precisely Nibley’s issue… Our scriptures are still full of the mandate to build it, we still make covenants in the temple to keep it, specifically a covenant to follow it as outlined in the D&C… and yet most (all?) don’t even make an effort at it with just a shrug of their shoulders saying, “Eh, nobody else is, so I don’t have to either.” That is Nibley’s point! That attitude and lack of effort to live up to our covenants is why he calls it our condemnation.

    In almost comments of almost every post that is even slightly controversial we read again and again how we don’t think our leaders are infallible. But when they don’t do something that we don’t want to really do ourselves we gladly point to them and say, “See, we don’t have to REALLY do that because they don’t.” BUT MAYBE THAT IS THEIR FAILING TOO!!! Whether the Apostles do it or not, we will still be accountable for our faithfulness to our covenants.

  40. John Hancock on May 18, 2013 at 2:04 am

    #32 aeon – thanks for providing the link on materialism. Crystal clear, clearer than Nibley IMHO. Obviously material wealth is neither an indicator of righteousness nor a sign of depravity. As with all things the Lord provides (in other words, everything) wealth is to be used for His purposes, be it in large sums or a widows mite. Since it is clear that everyone here is a huge fan of Brigham Young, how could we forget this pearl: “The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.” Even with all of these clear warnings against idolatry, I won’t pretend that I don’t empathize with Tevye’s classic response in Fiddler on the Roof: Perchik – “Money is the world’s curse” Tevye – “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.”

  41. ji on May 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    I think we are already and actually building Zion among us, one day at a time and one Saint at a time.

  42. H. Bob on May 18, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Eric (#37), perhaps it’s because we also have read D&C 104:15-16, which says: “And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.” Hm–wealth redistribution, and just before that other scripture that the captalists enjoy about the earth “having enough and to spare.”

  43. Cameron N on May 19, 2013 at 12:49 am

    Is that a monetary meaning though, Bob? I would assume a dualistic answer, ‘Yes, and…’

    We already live this law as we serve those in need, contribute to the PEF, other causes, consecrate our possessions to service and sacrifice, and of course general authorities make a literal consecration. The objection you refer to isn’t to redistribution, it is to compulsion toward it by temporal authority.

  44. John Hancock on May 19, 2013 at 1:58 am

    #41 ji – excellent point. A kind word here, an act of service there… even the most miniscule effort in the life-long quest to emulate Jesus Christ is a step toward Zion.

  45. Old Man on May 19, 2013 at 10:29 am

    Eric Facer has consistently made comments which lead me to believe that he either hates Nibley or despises consecration… First, we shouldn’t listen to Nibley, he is just a simplistic academic. Second, Nibley is blinded and biased. (Eric, you obviously never met Hugh.) Third, the scriptures don’t tell us enough about Zion or consecration that we can understand what is going on, so why live it? Fourth, business and capitalism do more good than humanitarian effort. So any sort of “utopian” scheme (like consecration?) is not needed. All capped off with demeaning comments about Nibley and a proclamation that any sort of material equality would be “boring,” etc.

    Some direct questions for Eric: Why are you so passionately (and frequently) commenting on this post? What’s your beef? Why the interest? Your worldview is appearing to be blindly ideological… I imagine you to be some rabid libertarian/ capitalist that gives both ideologies a bad name. Please explain yourself. You probably deserve much better than my overly simplistic summary and imagination.

  46. Sam Brunson on May 19, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Old Man, this will be the one warning on this series: I’m not going to tolerate any insults, calling into question somebody else’s righteousness, dedication to the Gospel, or anything like that. I’m perfectly happy with vigorous debate over Nibley’s ideas, my ideas, or the ideas of anybody else on this thread. But I have no interest in watching these threads devolve into name-calling and insults.

    So please, engage each other’s ideas, but please do it assuming that everybody here is interested in the progress of Zion, even if someone else’s vision of Zion differs from yours.

  47. Steve Smith on May 19, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Great observations Sam. I too am taken aback by Nibley’s seeming categorical denouncement of the wealthy. Nibley’s weakness as a thinker on political economy and the ideal society is really exposed by the quote that you provided; he appears to be assuming that all businessmen are of the “get-rich-quick” ilk who have no interests other than their own wealth. While I agree with characterization of the “get-rich-quick” crowd, they number only a very small fraction of all the business people out there; and in fact, business people, as well as the wealthy, are an extremely diverse crowd. I imagine if this is Nibley’s reaction to a number of folks, probably involved in business, who either directly or indirectly devalued what he does as an academic.

    Another one of Nibley’s weaknesses, so it appears, is that he doesn’t address the fine mechanics of how an ideal society would run. What is money, wealth, value, and fair distribution? He’s not engaging these questions.

  48. Sam Brunson on May 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Steve, he does elide detail. That said, (a) I’ve only read the first two chapters, so details may follow, and (b) these are basically a series of transcribed speeches he gave, not carefully crafted academic analyses. It may be enough to point out problems, even if he doesn’t have the solution.

    Again, though, I don’t know where the ~20 years represented by the book will eventually arrive.

  49. Mariah on May 20, 2013 at 2:41 am

    A few questions sparked by Sam’s post and the many comments:

    1. Can’t the charge of generalization be levied against every prophet, and the Gods themselves? Aren’t the scriptures full of generalizations, like Isaiah’s wo-chapter upon wo-chapter upon wo-chapter? Here are some other brief examples: Deut. 31:16, 29; Isaiah 48:4; Matt. 19:23-26 JST; 2 Ne. 9:30 (“wo unto the rich”); 2 Ne. 12:5 (“all gone astray”); Hel. 12:1-2, 4-6); 3 Ne. 2:1-3 (“the people”). Why generalizations? Could it be the BIG picture? the unending déjà vu of things? a perpetual warning? a scriptural perspective?

    2. Is Nibley’s generalized diametric a Cold War hang-over or an intense familiarity with history and with scripture, especially, the Book of Mormon? as in 1 Ne. 14:10 “two churches only”; 1 Ne. 15:35 “to dwell… OR to be cast out”; 2 Ne. 2:27 (“Liberty and eternal life OR captivity and death”); 2 Ne. 9:28; 2 Ne. 10:16 (for OR against); Moro. 7:12 (definitions of good and evil). Does this world of opposites (2 Ne. 2:11) require opposing superpowers to manifest bipolar? Or are all nations and individuals, in every age, inherently bipolar in their own ways—by the very nature of telestial existence and testing?

    3. If we did a scripture search of the words: “rich,” “riches,” “gain,” and “poor,” where does God’s condemnation weigh the heaviest? Let us stack the scripture chips. Do they too, mischaracterize the wealthy? What does prosperity seem to perpetually bring? Might not that be termed “inherent”? Have we fallen into the great déjà vu deception concerning the direction of wealth redistribution? What if the “spoil of the poor” (2 Ne. 14:13) and the ““oppression of the poor” (Hel. 4:12), etc., etc. are because “the wealth of their labor” has been siphoned upwards to create riches and leisure for others? And wasn’t the rich young man good, yea, almost perfect (Matt. 19:20-1), except he couldn’t meet his last and great test: to sell all he had and give to the poor? What is the purpose for seeking riches (Jacob 2:19)? Does building libraries, venues etc. to memorialize one’s name and achievements count? Maybe so, maybe not—God will know. Perhaps He has told us already?

    4. Does Nibley ever posit the idea of an existential threat to Zion? Isn’t his position (like 1 Ne. 22:14) that the existential and prophetic threat is to Babylon AND to every soul? Will we or will we not be “pure in heart” enough to abide the law of Zion (or in other words, exist in / inherit it)? (Ref.: D&C 88:22) And if “straight is the gate and narrow the way … and few there be that find it” is true, then won’t Babylon be the big winner in the long run, but the big loser in the end?

    5. Isn’t the framework for dealing with wealth essentially three-fold? 1) to know what God has said (as in paragraph 3 above); 2) to be honest in all our dealings; and 3) to seek and follow personal spiritual directives. In other words, life choices often seem to have both general and specific answers. Nibley, like much of scripture, frames the general. The specific is individual and personal and is not always governed by the general or by formulas and equations, but rather by the Spirit. Though frankly, formulas and equations are not as risky or taxing as the Spirit. Maybe that’s why we often prefer them.

  50. Old Man on May 20, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Sam,

    Mariah made an excellent point. It appears to me that the group most guilty of bias against the scriptures would not be Nibley but those who insist on embracing capitalism so tightly that they react to Nibley’s general statements, especially when Nibley is paraphrasing scripture when doing so.

    Why do so many Latter-day Saints rabidly (from my perspective) defend capitalism and capitalists? Even when a casual reading of the scriptures reveals serious problems with this position?

  51. John Hancock on May 20, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    My comments are awaiting moderation, although I’m not sure why. :)

    [Admin: The comments are now posted. Comment numbers earlier in the thread might not match up anymore.]

  52. Chadwick on May 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    I am possibly very out of my league in commenting here and I’m sure the ignorance I display at this topic will shine forth, but a few comments:

    Old Man #3: “And Nibley faced the world in such real terms that I would argue that Nibley is the realist and that those who ardently support modern political and economic structures are those who have sold out to the illusion of the great and spacious building.”

    It’s my understanding that the Brethren, particularly President Kimball, but also current church leadership, strongly believe the current political and economic climate in the US is the best we can currently hope for. Care to comment on how that fits into your statement above? Am I missing something?

    Trust me, I’m not champion of the current system, but the Brethren seem to believe in it. I’m not ready to cast them as members of Babylon, however.

    Eric Facer #15: I like what you’re selling here, but I’m not sure we should toast and congratulate those who, through their ambition to build wealth, helped others by creating industries without number. Sure, independent companies have created significant wealth by creating apps for the iPhone, but I’m not sure that makes Apple a charitable company by default.

    Dave #36: I don’t think of my job as Babylon, nor do I think of my home as Zion. I don’t serve mammon from 9-5, or in my case, from 8-8 most days. I still try and emulate the savior among clients, coworkers, and, well, myself. And home is not all Zion-building. It often involves mundane chores, wasting time watching the telly, and pursuing other activities not necessarily in line with building Zion. I think Zion and Babylon are deeply parts of who we are, and are not easily cast aside based on our location and/or vocation.

    Jax #35: I appreciate this comment. Excellent way to think about it. What would I not part with to go to Zion? And it may not even be something tangible. After all, the early Saints weren’t required to give up creature comforts to go to Zion, merely give up enmity. Yet they failed quite terribly. I think it’s going to be much harder for me to give up my pride and judgmental nature than my iPad, when it comes to it.

  53. Eric Palmer on May 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I first read Approaching Zion and Atlas Shrugged around the same time as a young man. I struggled for a time to come to terms with which worldview was correct. The longer I live, the more convinced I am that Nibley is right. I am as much a Republican partisan as he was a Democrat, but this discussion is not really about politics, it’s about personal righteousness. Zion is the pure in heart. What Nibley pointed out very often is that if we read the scriptures (both ancient and modern), purity is not just about sex, but about money too. Latter-day Saints seem to want to give greed and selfishness a pass and just focus on sexual sin, but the tithing question is just as important as the chastity question, and just as much of a minimum. If we are pure in heart, our motives are pure. We do things for the right reasons. We are Christian in every sense of the word. It’s funny that we feel comfortable saying how we don’t want to consecrate, but we’re uncomfortable saying how we struggle with any other sin. But we all struggle with something, and that’s OK. Living righteously is difficult. We all get to repent.

  54. Jax on May 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I’m firmly on Nibley’s side in an argument about lifestyles…but I’m going to take a stab at answering Old Man #50 about defending capitalism.

    It isn’t capitalism that is so hugely important, it is the freedom to do what you want, to keep what you produce and dispose of it as you will. Within that system you can make a personal decision that you will practice consecration. As long as the US has a system of economic freedom, we would be free to bind ourselves by covenant to give our surplus to our brethren. In almost any other system that surplus is syphoned away to do what the state thinks best, rather than what the scriptures/prophets/revelation say is best.

    So we should be defending capitalism because it is the system we need in order to make a free choice to be righteous. A gov’t forced socialism isn’t portrayed as good in the scriptures either, it is only the free exercise of righteousness that brings us the rewards we seek. We should be freely choosing a socialist society amongst ourselves, and allow all other men to practice as they please. Free to join us or to keep for themselves.

  55. Old Man on May 20, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Chadwick (#52),

    Care to cite a source?

    Eric Palmer (#53),

    Amen.

    Hi Jax (#54),

    But don’t we already bind ourselves by covenant to give all to the Kingdom in the temple endowment?

    And many LDS demand absolute freedom to do what they want with their property to the exclusion of the needs and rights of the community. Is there a balance?

  56. Chadwick on May 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Old Man:

    I’m very new at this. Not sure how to provide links (or if I’m allowed to), but here goes:

    http://ldsfaq.byu.edu/viewQuestion.aspx?view=294b38b0-fd03-4df2-adc0-787ca4c2a04b

    and

    http://www.latterdayconservative.com/quotes-about/capitalism/

    I’m sure I can find more if you want them. There are always quotations to prove just about any point. If you’re unaware of the favorable view most US LDS have toward capitalism, then I suppose your experience in the church has been different from my own.

  57. Jax on May 20, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Yes Old Man, we do bind ourselves to do it… but most of us don’t. But we have the freedom TO do it if we choose. If we had a gov’t run economic system we wouldn’t be able to do so freely. In a capitalist system we are free to obey and be blessed, or to disobey and be damned.

    The LDS people who demand the freedom so the can live in luxury with their excess to the exclusion of the community are NOT living the law of consecration; obviously. The covenant isn’t to live as a capitalist: but capitalism leaves us free to live our covenant (or not) as we choose. That is precisely why Nibley calls Zion our glory or our condemnation.

  58. Old Man on May 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Hi Chadwick,

    None of the provided quotes would be considered doctrinally binding on Latter-day Saints. So is this bias towards capitalism more of a cultural “opinion” of leaders or the product of doctrine/revelation?

    Coincidentally (or not), both authorities cited in the links (E.T. Benson and D.O. McKay) are products of the Cold War experience, as was Nibley. Should we pass off on their thoughts as many propose to do with Nibley’s because they were so obviously influenced by that era of conflict?

    Jax,

    But LDS Americans seem to move far beyong praising capitalism for it’s connection to freedom, to the near worship of the capitalists themselves. And any criticism of the excesses of capitalism or capitalists is viewed as “leftist” or outside of doctrine, even when scripture is permeated with such ideas. We both know that American “liberals” like Nibley often seek a limited brand of capitalism, one in which government regulation protects human beings from the very excessses that a complete “laissez faire” plan would create, and it is these same excesses scripture condemns.

    LDS Conservaties often advocate for laws reinforcing the principles of morality, fighting crime and even supporting the word of wisdom. Why shouldn’t LDS liberals advocate for laws reinforcing the principles of consecration and socially harmful economic practices? Isn’t economic opportunity for the poor and education as important as national defense? If freedom of choice is so vital, shouldn’t we make all taxation voluntary?

    Thanks to all for the discussion.

  59. Jax on May 21, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Old Man,

    Again you are correct. Most American LDS praise capitalism and the luxuries it bring and would completely unwilling to do without them even if Zion where the compensation. They say they want Zion, read the scriptures about Zion, sustain the Apostles who exhort Zion (see Elder Christofferson’s Oct 2008 address “Come to Zion”), and make temple covenants to sacrifice all they have to build Zion… but if that means they don’t have the internet? or TV? or running water? or no sets of “changable apparel” (2 Nephi 13:18-23)?? No way… anyone who stepped up and suggested such a thing would be mocked/ridiculed even though the scriptures support it.

    Why shouldn’t the LDS people advocate for laws mandating they live this way?? For the same reason it wasn’t a good idea for Satan to force people to do the right thing. Forcing someone to do something takes away both the reward for doing it and the punishment for refusing.

  60. Eric Facer on May 21, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Jax, so the scriptures expressly state that some of the defining characteristics of Zion are no running water, only one set of clothes (hopefully we will still be permitted to use deodorant), and no Internet? But wait—you may be right! 2 Nephi 13: 18, 20 does say that “In that day the Lord will take away . . . their tablets . . .” I guess if Nephi says I have to give up my iPad, then so be it. But at least he didn’t say anything about my iPhone!

  61. Cameron N on May 22, 2013 at 12:37 am

    Jax, in fairness I think it is ridiculous to assert that establishing Zion means abandonment of such things (except maybe excessive wardrobes). The same apostles that capitalists sustain are ones that encourage the positive use of such things. Zion isn’t forcibly becoming Amish, although it could be. It is consecrating (read: using to bless others) their use to build the kingdom and go about doing good.

    Running water permits my peak strength and service capacity to increase.
    The internet, used as a tool for meaningful communication, learning, and gospel sharing, is promoted by apostles. Are any of these things necessary? Of course not. But to avoid them is to avoid opportunities. Let us not be deceived by the easiness of our way. It is difficult, but that is part of our test in this generation.

  62. Stephen R. Marsh on May 22, 2013 at 7:41 am

    I was glad to see that some saw the family issues in the Zion analysis of Nibley. It is too bad that no one went further to discuss the fights between parts of the family over what they did as they gained wealth or Nibley’s encounter with a general authority family member (as referenced above) in the Hotel Utah where Charles Nibley told Hugh Nibley that if an angel came in the door Hugh came in, Charles would throw himself out of the opposite window for the shame of the things he had done in pursuit of wealth.

    That sort of history with that sort of end cap had an effect, as did knowing the people he knew. When he then served in WWII and saw the effect that wealth had, how the military moved around to accommodate the wealthy on both sides, and as he dealt with a number of wealthy people, it had an effect.

    That said, I know at least one person who makes eight figures a year who is a wonderful person. But I have known others who were less so. People who felt if you lacked a PhD in the right area, a minimum level of wealth (seven figures in the 1950s), and the right cultural heritage you were not really human.

    All of that said, I look forward to the next installment.

  63. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I don’t think establishing Zion requires the loss of those things. My purpose was to simply point out that if it did require them that most US LDS people wouldn’t be willing to give them up.

    Especially the clothing… do a quick scriptural search of “costly apparel” and see if your “wardrobe” qualifies. How many women do you think would be willing to downgrade to a simpler/less expensive fashion? Or check Mormon 8:39 “Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” How much money for makeup, jewelry, iphones/ipads/?, hairstylists??

    And what is the first thought when you see someone who only owns 1 set of clothes? Someone on the street who is the “hungry, and the needy?” Is it one of aid and comfort and lift them up? Or scorn? “What a loser”, “Druggie/Wino”, “Please don’t touch me”, “you came to church wearing THAT?”

    Zion has been established in times when there was no internet nor interior plumbing. Can it be established with them? probably, but it hasn’t happened yet. And we, the people who’ve covenanted to make it happen, have shown no interest in making happen.

    “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.” That laboring for money fits almost everyone I know. How about you?

  64. Irene on May 22, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Jax said, “And we, the people who’ve covenanted to make it happen, have shown no interest in making it happen.”

    I believe this is true, and if it is, where do we stand in the Lord’s eyes? Do we actually believe he will take this lightly?

  65. Eric Palmer on May 22, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Two things:
    1) I think it’s a good point that economic tyranny (increased central control, high taxes, etc.) are not in harmony with the principles of Zion, for reasons outlined by other posters above. Freedom to do good is good.

    2) To elaborate/reiterate the point Jax (#63) and others have made, 4 Nephi is a good place to look for the story of the fall of a Zion community. One of the main indicators (and/or causes) of this fall was the use of clothes as a class marker, as well the return of tribal/national distinctions, money, nicer churches, etc. There’s a lot more here (packed into a small space) but the thing about wearing costly apparel always struck me. It’s not a matter of “Can’t we have nice things?”, it’s a matter of class distinctions, of brand names, of clothes as a mark of status. Again, it’s all about pure in heart, looking out for each other, fasting, prayers, miracles, etc. Not about the particular set of luxuries we can/can’t do without.

  66. Steve Smith on May 22, 2013 at 11:03 am

    “And we, the people who’ve covenanted to make it happen, have shown no interest in making happen.”

    Hmmm, I get the sense that many within the LDS community are interested in establishing a Zion community, but there are a couple of reasons that there are no serious efforts to bring it about. 1) There are different competing visions about what the Zion community is and the process through which to create it. 2) The LDS leadership hasn’t taken any major initiative to establish a Zion community since Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, especially since the distribution of LDS members now is much less concentrated than it used to be. 3) Many believe that they are already building a Zion community through small acts of service in their individual communities; there is only so much an individual can do.

    ““But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.” That laboring for money fits almost everyone I know. How about you?”

    Money in that context is best interpreted metaphorically as personal gain rather than just colored paper (which the vast majority of people living into different societies throughout the world need in order to survive). What is meant there is that in an ideal Zion society labor for the good of the community should come before labor for individual benefits. And even without a formal Zion community established, I believe that many already do that.

  67. Jason Hardy on May 22, 2013 at 11:29 am

    I almost had an opposite reaction to you, Sam–while you were verging on discarding the whole thing because of its overly broad strokes, I kept finding myself tempted to embrace the whole thing despite its notable flaws simply because it provides a counter to the whole prosperity gospel thing.

    But the flaws, as have been discussed, are notable. I think a single line brought it into keenest focus for me, and it’s more of an off-hand comment than a direct part of his argument: “Years ago I published a number of articles in various journals dealing with the Roman world of the fourth century A.D.” That made me want to ask a number of questions–did Nibley get paid for those articles? Did the publication credits help advance his career? Was that part of his thinking in publishing those articles?

    I have trouble believing those answers are anything other than “yes,” and I’m fine with that. Nibley seems fine with it too–he doesn’t seem to object to having a career, just to certain sorts of careers. But if it’s okay to have a career and to advance, then care needs to be given into what is classified as doing good work and what is classified with chasing the things of Babylon. In that, my frustration is similar to yours–he speaks in generalities and absolutes, rather than acknowledging that difficult lines exist. The line between providing for one’s self and being materialistic is anything but clear, but I’m not sure Nibley helps things by avoiding the discussion of how to determine where you are in the spectrum.

    As far as rich people go (especially philanthropists, since those are the ones I tend to run into), they are a mixed bag. There is arrogance among them, but there is also genuine caring and engagement. They are not, as we might guess, any one stereotype. But I’d be happy to work my connections to the Prtizkers to see if I can get you to one of their parties. Finn went to one once. He had fun. There was a pool.

    #15: I want to speak a little in support of the Gates Foundation. They seem to be quite willing to be nimble and change their programs as needed to get results, and they certainly have the assets to make an impact. Their work on HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases could save hundreds of thousands of lives, and that’s not addressing what they are doing on the economic development side of things. I don’t think the potential impact the foundation could have should be under-estimated.

  68. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I have trouble believing those answers are anything other than “yes,” and I’m fine with that. Nibley seems fine with it too–he doesn’t seem to object to having a career, just to certain sorts of careers.

    Nibley gets into this in a later chapter and says how the entire idea of a career is backwards.

    1) There are different competing visions about what the Zion community is and the process through which to create it

    Valid point, but because we have differeing ideas we should follow through with ANY of them?

    2) The LDS leadership hasn’t taken any major initiative to establish a Zion community since Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, especially since the distribution of LDS members now is much less concentrated than it used to be.

    That distribution is part of the problem IMO. In the US we can choose where we live, right??? So why do we CHOOSE not to live as a group of saints? Then we could really look after each other. There would also be some positive social pressure to stay on the straight and narrow.

    Money in that context is best interpreted metaphorically as personal gain rather than just colored paper

    Do you know anyone who is working for something other than personal gain? Full-time missionaries are the only ones I know who aren’t. Even my friends employed at charities do it for the money and look forward to the day they can stop. President Kimball said this :

    Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life.

    Everyone I know who is working for money, for “personal gain”, is trying to save for retirement, build a portfolio, have a new house/car/boat, hoping improve their own conditions instead of trying to build Zion. Go read Pres. Kimball’s 1976 address The False Gods we Worship and tell me that he isn’t almost 100% correct about the addiction of the US LDS people to material things.

  69. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    *** Typo above: Valid point, but because we have differing ideas we SHOULDN’T follow through with ANY of them?

  70. Irene on May 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Steve said: What is meant there is that in an ideal Zion society labor for the good of the community should come before labor for individual benefits. And even without a formal Zion community established, I believe that many already do that.

    Do you really believe MANY already do that? That they labor for the good of their community BEFORE their own needs are met? You really know these people, because I don’t. I have been a member all my life, and the only counsel I have heard from the top to the bottom of the leadership ladder is that we need to take care of our own needs first, then our families, and then we can reach out to others.

  71. John Hancock on May 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Great discussion. I am looking forward to the discussion of the next chapter. One thing that stands out to me thus far is that there are principles that undergird the scriptural precedents of Zion communities, the knowledge and application of which will, in process of time, lead to the building up of the Kingdom of God on the earth and the establishment of Zion. Elder Christofferson identified a few of these principles in his 2008 conference talk “Come to Zion” (http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/come-to-zion?lang=eng), namely unity, godliness, and charity. What I have been able to gleen from this discussion, Elder Christofferson’s talk, and the examples of previous Zion communities (such as Enoch’s band and that of Fourth Nephi) is that the defining characteristic of a Zion people is charity, the pure love of Christ. In Elder Christofferson’s own words: “Zion is Zion because of the character, attributes, and faithfulness of her citizens.” (see Also 4 Nephi 1:15) In my view, the simple dichotomy between Zion and Babylon is this: Zion is built up upon the principle of charity, where hearts are knit together in unity and love, whereas Babylon is characterized by idolatry and pride. Knowledge replaces zeal as we follow Elder Christofferson’s clear exhortation: “We will become of one heart and one mind as we individually place the Savior at the center of our lives and follow those He has commissioned to lead us.”

  72. rb on May 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    @65, was the problem with “costly apparel” with the people who bought the clothes or those who could not afford the clothes and resented the people who could afford the clothes? The problem may not have been with the people who could afford nicer clothes and thus wore nicer clothes. Nothing wrong with that. The poorer may have been guilty of greed and envy and allowed those feelings to pollute their environment.

    Also, why would one look to Church leaders for affirmation of a particular economic system? They seem infinitely adaptable to whatever economic circumstance they find themselves be it American, Scandinavian, Mexican, African etc. Is there some evidence their particular views about an economic system are better than anyone else’s view? President Monson has spent his life in Church leadership. What evidence is there he even understands, or has any reason to understand, how the American economic system functions or if it is preferable to some other model? Same questions applies to other Church leaders going back in history. Why look to them about whether capitalism is a preferable way to structure an economic system or what is the proper balance of free markets and government regulation, if there is any.

  73. John Hancock on May 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm

    I should say, knowledge informs zeal, not replaces.

  74. Chadwick on May 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Re Jax 63:

    “I don’t think establishing Zion requires the loss of those things. My purpose was to simply point out that if it did require them that most US LDS people wouldn’t be willing to give them up.”

    Source? I know approximately 60,000 young LDS folk, those presumably most tied to trendy wardrobes and fancy i-gadgets, that gladly accepted a call to lay such things aside in pursuit of the kingdom of God. If missionaries are willing to do it, what makes us think their parents are so unwilling?

    My guess is that many of Saints would be secretly relieved to no longer have to dress a certain way and have a really good excuse to finally unplug. But that’s just my guess. I have no source for my thought.

  75. Chadwick on May 22, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Re Old Man 58:

    You asked me two questions. To answer the first, does it matter?

    To answer the second, well considering that Nibley was not a prophet but McKay and Benson were prophets, I’d think that matters just a little bit in picking who to discard and who to not discard.

    Again, not saying I’m discarding anyone. Just saying that such a litmus test does exist, and could be used.

  76. JLMerkling on May 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    @72

    From the looks of it the issue was the Pride of those wearing the costly apparal.

    2 Nephi 13:22

    22 The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping-pins;

    Alma 32:2

    2 And it came to pass that after much labor among them, they began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel—

    Alma 1:6

    6 And he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel, yea, and even began to establish a church after the manner of his preaching.

    Mormon 8:37

    37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.

    4 Nephi 1:24

    24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.

    Helaman 13:28

    28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.

    Alma 1:27

    27 And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.

    2 Nephi 14:1

    1 And in that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach.

    Alma 4:6

    6 And it came to pass in the eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.

    I note elder Holland Mentioning this in a talk on modesty( “Our clothing or footwear need never be expensive, indeed should not be expensive”) allong with a detailed examination of what an overattention on appearance does to our souls. http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2005/10/to-young-women?lang=eng

  77. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Chadwick,

    You asked your question and cited #63, but in #68 I mentioned missionaries and how they do work for something other than personal gain. But even that isn’t really accurate, is it? I live “in the mission field” and have missionaries in my home almost every week… MOST of them have their hearts set more upon their girls/cars/education/jobs/computer games/ipods back home than they do on the work at hand. “MOST” is not an understatement.

    Mormon 8:35-37

    35 Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. (this is to us LDS people specifically)

    36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.

    37 For behold, ye do love amoney, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.

    “The adorning of your churches…” I lived in Pleasant Grove, Utah for a time; right in the middle of what many call Zion; and there was one particular affluent ward up on the hill. they sent out a lot of missionaries. They also bought themselves really nice black leather bound hymnals to use instead of the standard green versions. They would gather the green ones before each sacrament and set out the leather ones. Then when sacrament was over they would collect them again and put out the green ones so that no other ward/group used THEIR hymnals. That’s why I don’t think their parents would give up their luxuries… most aren’t affluent enough for this level of snobbery, but my experience tell me their hearts are in about the same place.

  78. Irene on May 22, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Also regarding missionaries — there is some status in the church for returned missionaries, and some stigma for those who don’t serve. It may not be a tangible possession, but it does bring the praise of the world, at least the world most important to them. This is true for adult couples also. I’ve heard many of them recount the numbers of missions served, usually followed by the recounting of being blessed to have the money to do so. How many of these folks would serve if there was not social compensation for doing so? Many are called, but few are chosen.

  79. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Irene,

    For the first time ever I have met a couple making REAL sacrifice to serve. They are in our area now and don’t know if they will have a home to go back to in a few months, but they wanted to serve and did it at a REAL sacrifice, rather than just the spending of surplus money that had been saved. The rare exception, but they are out there.

  80. Irene on May 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Yes Jax, I have met a (very) few of the kind of people you describe. Zion will eventually be comprised of people who truly want to follow Christ, and ONLY Christ. They are the few, and I pray I will have the heart and mind to be among them. I pray daily to know the Lord’s will for me personally. I also try not to judge, but I do a lot of observing, whlie striving to learn and grow.

  81. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    Irene,

    I hear you… Like all other US LDS people, I often find myself much more in love with my “stuff” than I ought to be, and am frequently asking that my heart be willing to just let the stuff go in service of my Lord.

    It was REALLY hard the first time I got fired for bearing my testimony. Someone asked what I believe and I told them. Company didn’t like it and out I went. But I figured if I was serious about being a witnes “at all times and all places” then that included work – even if it was against the rules. After some real soul-searching I decided that I would do it again… that if being a good person/good Christion/good Mormon meant that occasionally my ability to feed my family was at risk, then so be it. I wouldn’t trade money for carnal security. True to his word, the Lord has never let me or my family go without true necesstities. And I even have a computer too!

  82. Chadwick on May 22, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Jax #77:

    With all due respect, how exactly do you know what is in the heart of a missionary? Did they specifically tell you they care more about cars and girls than serving the Lord?

    I personally think you would be surprised by what the members of the church will do when explicitly told to. But the church has watered down its message over the years. I think the mere fact that active members pay an honest tithe shows at least SOME desire to shed themselves from worldly things, don’t you? 10% is a lot of money. Elder Oaks in particular likes to praise the Saints in General Conference for their charity.

    As for your ward in Pleasant Grove, whatever. I can’t comment as I wasn’t there.

    Again, just my opinion.

  83. Steve Smith on May 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    “Valid point, but because we have differing ideas we SHOULDN’T follow through with ANY of them?”

    Because we have differing ideas about what Zion is and how it is to be brought about, it is likely that there is no organic foundation on which any sort of successful grassroots initiative could be undertaken. Sure, you can follow through on your ideas about how to establish a Zion community, but if it is a grand initiative, you may find yourself hard-pressed to find too many followers among the active LDS community.

    “In the US we can choose where we live, right??? So why do we CHOOSE not to live as a group of saints? Then we could really look after each other. There would also be some positive social pressure to stay on the straight and narrow.”

    Sure you can choose where you live, sort of. Most people can’t or won’t just up and move as they please due to a host of financial, social, and emotional constraints. Also, I get the sense that many if not most of the LDS who are conscious of the injunction to build a Zion community believe that it is not necessary to relocate or congregate around large bodies of LDS. Also many LDS do not see living among non-LDS or people with different standards as a threat to their own commitment to stay on the straight and narrow.

    “Do you know anyone who is working for something other than personal gain?”

    What laboring for Zion means is acting more out of virtue than out of self-interest. But you can labor for Zion and for money at the same time. To illustrate my point, all full-time missionaries receive a stipend to live on. Some missionaries pay their own way or have their parents pay (which required laboring for money beforehand), but many are funded through tithing, so in essence they are getting paid. And also the LDS leadership whose religious duties consume too much of their time to maintain a full-time job have their living expenses covered by tithing.

  84. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    Chadwick,

    I’m not saying I think LDS people aren’t faithful or giving; for the most part they’re the best people on the planet!!! I absolutely LOVE spending time with LDS people. I love stake conferences especially when I get to meet so many new people and hear just a piece of their “story.” I LOVE it! But almost never do I hear, “I’m just trying to build Zion.” Almost always I hear about new homes, cars, jobs, etc.

    We are so many generations removed from any attempt at Zion-building that most people don’t even think about it. I was raised in the church and didn’t care about it until I left home. Missionary discussions don’t talk about building Zion at all, and so new converts don’t come in looking for it to happen. It just isn’t high up on anyone’s priority list despite our temple made obligations to seek it, and ample scriptural accounts telling us it is possible and what it should look like.

    I think that the same cultural malaise for Zion that affects the average LDS person also strongly affects our stake presidents, General Authorities, and even the Apostles. And I think it is something that each of us as individuals will have to answer for…

    “Why did you continue to promise to build Zion but never even try? I told you that if you didn’t live up to EVERY covenant that you would be in Satan’s power, didn’t I? If you’d tried, I’d have helped you succeed. Why didn’t you take it seriously?”

    Going to be hard to answer to tell you the truth, even for me! :)

  85. Steve Smith on May 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Come on Irene (70), you get what I mean. Many people devote much of time, energy, and resources to noble causes, and this to me is building a Zion society.

  86. Steve Smith on May 22, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Jax and Irene, I think part of the problem is that you’re maintaining a very idealistic and untenable view of what Zion is and what it means to be engaged in building a Zion community. It is almost like you are saying that money (in any shape or form) would have no place in Zion at all (are we to use a barter system in a Zion community?). And while I’m sorry that you were fired for “bearing your testimony,” you’re sending the wrong message about what sacrifice is or what it is supposed to be. Because I imagine that in most cases there are ways of being sincere about your beliefs and keeping your job and friends at the same time. And I think it would be bad policy on the part of the LDS leadership to encourage people to go to extremes just to stand up for the LDS cause. Irene, you claim that you are trying not to be judgmental, but you seem to have a cynical, if not misanthropic, view of the LDS community as if whatever sacrifices they may have made or are making to edify the lives of people around them are really never enough. Is a Zion society supposed to be guilt-driven? I think that in the ideal Zion society there would be an optimal balance of prodding people to work and appreciating their efforts rather than a constant stream of guilt-tripping.

  87. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Steve Smith,

    I think part of the problem is that you’re maintaining a very non-chalant view of Zion and what it means to be engaged in building a Zion community. Pres. Kimball said that when he looks at the LDS people and what is required of them he is/was appalled and frightened. I don’t feel sorry that I was fired, why should you. I’m not sending the wrong message, unless that message is take the scriptures seriously. Sacrifice is doint what is right no matter the cost. For me that meant I’d lose my job. For others it has meant losing their lives. I don’t expect others to do the same. How could I expect it of them? Especially when they get on blog posts and tell others how they don’t really need to take our covenants seriously, because it just isn’t convenient or practical.

    I wonder how convenient it was for Abinadi to be burned? Or how practical it was for Enoch? Or for Christ to atone for us? Because we all know that unless something is convenient and/or practical then it isn’t worth having and should just be discarded until it is easier, right?

    I’m sorry to hear you think it would be bad policy for LDS leadership to encourage people to keep their sacred oaths. Because while it IS convenient to promise to “always remember Him” it just isn’t practical when there is all that money to be made, entertainment to be enjoyed, and time to waste.

    I know many people have made great sacrifices, and that we make more a people than almost any other group on earth. But since exaltation is our goal, and Jo. Smith told us that the faith necessary can only be gotten by the sacrifice of ALL things, perhaps having given up some isn’t quite enough.

    And as I’ve tried to point out, I’m not excluding myself from my critiques.

  88. Steve Smith on May 22, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Jax, you have a very absolutist view of what the right thing to do is. But here you have a problem, and I’ll explain what it is. You seem to think that people must resort to extremely austere and risky ways of life to fulfill their sacred oaths to God. However, such insistence on is not likely to resonate with people. And without converts to your point of view, with whom are you to have a Zion community? Bear in mind, based on your view of what sacrifice needs to be, you could attack the LDS church leaders for their lack of willingness to go or to send missionaries to places where their lives might be endangered, such as Chad or North Korea.

    Also many could argue that your getting fired for “bearing your testimony” wasn’t actually the right thing to do. Of course I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the incident, but could have you expressed your beliefs in a more friendly way that wouldn’t have offended your coworkers? Was your job pushing you to do things that were against your religious standards or immoral? If yes to the first question and no to the second, I think that it could be argued that putting your family’s welfare at unnecessary risk simply because you felt the impulse to assert your beliefs in a defensive, or perhaps even offensive manner, was the wrong decision. My point is not to try to declare that or to convince you that you were wrong in doing so, but to show that our understandings of what the “right” is or what constitutes fulfilling one’s sacred oaths are relative. And sometimes we need to take the time to persuade others that our actions and beliefs constitute to the “right” and to be slow to insist and condemn.

  89. Steve Smith on May 22, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    “take the scriptures seriously” – Once again, that means different things to different people.

  90. Rb on May 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    @76, do you really need to be told by an Apostle how to dress or how much money-even elliptically-to spend on clothing? I think an Apostle has much more important and relevant things to teach about. Perhaps there are members besides BYU students whom the Church has to instruct how to dress. If so, we are far, far removed from any semblance of a Zion society. Really, you need advice from a Church leader about how much money to spend on clothing? Stop wasting our leaders’ time with such silly nonsense.

  91. Cameron N on May 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    Ironically, today with digital credit and scale of economies, it is possible for people across the wealth spectrum to be distracted by vanity.

    Steve, I think you’re extrapolating Jax’s comments a bit unfairly. Based on the limited information he supplied, I don’t think such extrapolation is fruitful. Our understanding of what is right may be subjective and imperfect, but I think it’s a healthy approach to give other members of the church the benefit of the doubt and assume the Spirit guides them on whatever path is best. Stranger things have happened than someone getting fired for sharing beliefs, and the Lord has used occupational constraints to try many people in the past.

  92. Jax on May 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    I read Hebrews 11 recently with my family Steve. Perhaps you should too.

    Here are just he last few verses:

    32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

    33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

    34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

    35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

    36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:

    37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

    38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

    How sad it is that some of us think they can “obtain promises” (verse 33) like the people of old, and recieve the “better resurrection” (verse 35) with them, without being willing to show the same faith that they had and endure the same afflictions that they did. Seems like Jo. Smith said something about that in the Lectures on Faith about the same time he was saying that the faith necessary for exaltation required the sacrifice of ALL things.

    I think that it could be argued that putting your family’s welfare at unnecessary risk

    Their “welfare” wasn’t put at risk, Steve. They weren’t in physical danger, they weren’t contracting diseases because of my actions, they weren’t going to go hungry and cold. The only thing put at risk was my income… that same damnable money that we’ve been talking about. And when it really came down to it I had a choice between money and truly being a witness at ALL times, and ALL places. I choose the latter and am glad I did. Because when I did lose that source of money I truly did witness the miracles God had promised to send; over, and over, and over, and over again as I’ve tried to continually serve God rather than mammon.

    And none of your attempts to convince me that serving mammon/money is really the best way to serve God are not going to work. You can keep singing to yourself that “all is well in Zion”, but some of us know better.

    Thanks for the posts Sam. I look forward to the next chapter and future discussions.

  93. Irene on May 22, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Bravo, Jax! Thanks for your comments. I am also looking forward to chapter 3, Zeal Without Knowledge — a classic. Thank you, Sam, for your work on this series.

  94. Steve Smith on May 23, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Jax, once again your absolutist approach to the concept of sacrifice is getting the best of you. And based on it I might as well criticize Brigham Young and succeeding LDS church presidents who in the end didn’t appear willing enough endure the “sacrifice of all things” to establish Zion. For BY caved into the pressure put on him by James Buchanan and abandoned the establishment of the State of Deseret in 1858. You could also argue that BY and his successors also caved into pressure from miners to open up Utah to trade with the outside thus compromising their policy of self-sufficiency (a move that ended up saving the LDS community in Utah economically). LDS church leaders would eventually abandon polygamy due to pressures placed on them by the US government. The FLDS certainly believe that early church leaders compromised their values and weren’t willing to make a necessary sacrifice, but look at who has a bigger following now.

    Also Joseph Smith’s assassination, as glorified as it is in LDS rhetoric, was probably unnecessary and may have been averted if he had not destroyed the Nauvoo Expositor printing press. The two hundred deaths in the Willie and Martin handcart companies could have been avoided had there been better planning and management of the migration. Yet oddly enough this tragedy is presented in LDS rhetoric as some sort of necessary “sacrifice to God.”

    Oddly enough the policy of the current LDS church leaders appears oddly much more pragmatic than idealistically ascetic and self-denying, as you seem to think the nature of sacrifice should be. As for your scriptural examples of sacrifice, what’s to say that these instances weren’t more the product of brash defensive maneuvering that incurred unnecessary suffering on themselves and their community than a necessary sacrifice to help forward the cause? There is not enough information or context to tell.

    The paradox of absolutism is that its overwhelming effect appears to be that it compromises Zion by inflicting too much pain on it more than it is helping to forward it.

  95. Steve Smith on May 23, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Also, this idea that you keep suggesting that money is somehow inherently evil or unnecessary is absolutely absurd. Did God rain down manna upon you and your family after you were fired or something? Clearly you had to rely on money to provide for yourself and your family at some point. And even if your family was sustained by public or private welfare, those systems are run off of money. So you see, you could say that God is paradoxically using money to bring about his miracles.

    Again I’ll reiterate that the perpetuation this grandiose vision of Zion as a perpetual act of self-abnegation and self-flagellation does more harm to the cause of Zion than good. The modern LDS church has achieved a lot by some compromise and pragmatism. It’s not trying to make martyrs out of its leaders in order to foster a sort of romantic self-sacrificing spirit out of its members. But there are many religious movements that do that (radical Islam for instance).

  96. Mariah on May 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Eric #60
    Perhaps the new (and everlasting?) technology will surpass our tablets and iphones (D&C 130:9-10) in ways we cannot imagine, which is highly likely considering Isaiah 55:8-9.

  97. John Hancock on May 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    #96 It doesn’t look good for Kindle owners though (see Isaiah 50:11). :) I’ll gladly trade all the technology in the world for urim and thummim (see D&C 130:8), a white stone (Revelation 2:17), and whichever liahonas or items of curious workmanship belong to Zion. :)

  98. Stephen R. Marsh on May 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Well, you managed to generate a post for me over at Wheat & Tares.

    Thanks.

    http://www.wheatandtares.org/12014/on-the-wealthy/