Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Screwtape Letter On Mormon Politics - by John Matos


Dear Wormwood,

After so many years of moving the Church to the right of the political spectrum, Church members are beginning to discover the distinctly left of center teachings, history, and scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What are we conservatives to do? Some may point to influential right-wing leaders among the LDS community like Mitt Romney, Orrin Hatch, or even to our hero of the far-right, Glenn Beck, and say “The Church is firmly conservative and will remain so, so why worry?” To this I can only respond, “Open your eyes!” Mormons are beginning, little by little, to realize their own radical history, their own history of egalitarianism, their past leader’s exhortations for economic equality, and worst of all, the revealed scriptures that warn against materialism, individualism, war, and inequality. Why, in just a few short years, such groups as the LDS Left have seen their numbers grow and grow, even establishing a quarterly newsletter disseminating this information to those who may have gone so long unaware of it!

Now that I have hopefully scared conservatives into realizing the precarious condition our ideology is facing among the LDS population, let me reassure you that we have ways of preventing further enlightenment concerning LDS radical history, teachings and revelations. I would like to propose some solutions that will once and for all rid us of the pesky problem of a growing left leaning membership and firmly establish the wavering right-wing, conservative, and reactionary elements of LDS culture.
First we must consider what the dangers are that right-wing ideology faces among LDS membership. We must identify them so that we may confront them and eliminate them, beginning with the least dangerous and working our way to the most dangerous. The tricky part is that attacking them directly may bring attention to them. After decades of explaining away, dismissing, and then ignoring these elements of Mormonism, we have created a climate in which most members are not even aware of their own liberal and leftist roots. The challenge we face is preventing the rollback of this absence of self-awareness while making absolutely sure that in the process we do not reveal them to others who remain in blissful ignorance.

The least dangerous to our dominance in LDS political life is LDS history. This isn’t because LDS history is free of liberal, leftist and radical moments however. To the contrary, early LDS history is chuck full of such moments. Joseph Smith himself ran for President of the United States with a platform that included such liberal elements as peace through diplomatic efforts rather than war, prison reform and the elimination of the death penalty in all but the most extreme cases. Even worse, his platform included the establishment of a national bank.(1) As you may be realizing, how could we call prison reform “weak on crime” and denounce the nationalizing of the banking system as “Communist” or “socialist” without simultaneously slapping the founder of the LDS Church with the same labels? Now you see the danger, but do not fear. Over the years, we have dismissed these aspects of Joseph Smith’s ideology by simply not mentioning it, and over time the result has been that few people even know where to find this information.

Another example of successfully hidden history is the story of Nauvoo. Many LDS conservatives have been successful in not only covering up the liberal aspects of the city of Nauvoo, but have emphasized the market economy aspect of that period in LDS history so much, that many believe Nauvoo to be the prime example of LDS capitalism. Little do they know that large tracts of land were set aside by the city of Nauvoo and collectivized. The poor and the needy were then able to tend these large tracts of land to support themselves and their families.(2) To us, this smacks too much of land reform, one of the key features of socialism… found in LDS history no less! What is even more sickening is that it was successful! How disgusting to think of the poor and needy being allowed the dignity and opportunity to work and use land that should have been the private property of a more deserving capitalist!

The same is true of other aspects of LDS history. For instance, many have heard about the Law of Consecration, but what they know is so mixed up with conservative culture that they completely misunderstand it. Why, ask almost any member of the Church about it and you will often get the response that God himself withdrew the commandment, wisely replacing it with the Law of Tithing instead. It almost makes you laugh, such nonsense, but hold your laughter if you can, you do not want to inadvertently reveal that this is false. Of course, we know that the commandment still stands, and that blessings will be (and are being) withheld for not adhering to it. But who needs blessings when you are rich and powerful? With our right-wing agenda in full swing, we can create our own blessings and everyone else can fend for themselves.

We also know that even after the Church failed to live up to the Law of Consecration, the Church attempted other steps towards a more egalitarian society. Funny thing is that this also has become very convoluted as generations have passed. In fact, most members think that the Law of Consecration, the United Order and the LDS cooperative movement are all one and the same, not even aware that they were not attempts at the Law of Consecration, but were attempts to establish communities based on economic equality rather than individualism and competition. For the most part, members are unaware that each one was in reality a separate attempt to establish economic equality and to form an alternative to the capitalism that LDS leaders saw developing in the eastern United States and were warning the members against.(3) By letting them believe that all three attempts are the same thing however, and with the idea firmly established in LDS culture that the Law of Consecration is something that has been given up on until the millennium, Saints are left believing they have no responsibility to look for more egalitarian social systems.

As I have said, these aspects of LDS history have become so obscure that there is little danger of them becoming widely known and therefore influential on a large number of LDS members. However, we must not let our guard down. We must continue to pretend these moments never existed, and if we must discuss those periods in LDS history, we must continue to emphasize the spirituality of the early Saints, the persecution they faced, etc. and completely ignore the very temporal efforts and teachings of that time that motivated them in their spirituality and often was the cause of that persecution. While on the subject of persecution, I should also add that we must always keep the pressure on left leaning members of the Church. This is easily accomplished by perpetuating the stigma that has arisen in LDS culture that anything liberal, and especially anything socialistic, is “Satan’s plan”. All it takes is for members to feel that they cannot possibly be “real” or “true” Mormons unless their political views are conservative and right-wing. It probably would help to even make it seem that even centrist opinions are “out of line” with the Church.

Another, more dangerous aspect of Mormonism that threatens right-wing ideology among the membership is the teachings of past LDS leaders. These too have been suppressed and therefore have become more and more obscure, but because the Saints have a tendency to take an interest in their Prophets and Apostles, it is a more serious concern for us. As we speak, members have been discovering a document that has been forgotten for over a century but which has found it’s way to the internet. It matters not that it has been erroneously called the “Proclamation On The Economy”, for the quotes are real quotes. Even more frightening, the endorsement from the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, including such names as Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, Lorenzo Snow, George Q. Cannon and George A. Smith, is very real. This document conveys such dangerous and radical messages as the following:
“The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice.”(4)
It goes on even further to inform the Saints that American liberties are in danger due to the power that wealth gives to individuals and corporations who accumulate it.

Now, obviously, it becomes very difficult to convince Saints who have read such words that redistribution of wealth, and preventing the amassing of enormous fortunes in private hands is “socialist” and contrary to God’s will. For the more studious and curious among the LDS population, it is not hard to find other such dangerous talk. Take the following:
“To serve the classes that are living on them, the poor, laboring men and women are toiling, working their lives out to earn that which will keep a little life within them. Is this equality? No! What is going to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth.”(5)
That one was Brigham Young, sometimes referred to as the American Moses. Just think of the danger of members discovering that this revered and respected leader despised inequality so! Here is another from Apostle Orson Pratt:
"An inequality of property is the root and foundation of innumerable evils; it tends to derision, and to keep asunder the social feelings that should exist among the people of God…It is inequality in riches that is a great curse."
Once again, I advise that those of us that wish to maintain our hold on the LDS community as a reliable source of right-wing support be aware. We must be vigilant and do all we can to prevent the discovery of these teachings. If members do discover the large amount of teachings regarding economic equality, I advise flooding them with early Ezra Taft Benson talks. Since he was a Prophet fairly recently, his name carries much weight, and with it, so do his personal political views. Be careful, however, and do not let on that his Church leaders often chastised him for giving such talks. It also helps to refer to these talks, given before Benson was President of the Church, as being talks given by “the Prophet” or “a Prophet of God” even though this is not really accurate, as the prophetic mantle had not been passed to Benson yet.

Now I must come to the most dangerous challenge to right-wing ideology among Mormons. That is, the scriptures themselves. I know that this seems strange, considering that we often pick through the scriptures to denounce this or that, or to make it appear God is a partisan and takes our side on every issue, but let me hammer this one in…The scriptures are DANGEROUS! Oh sure, we can refer to the Old Testament and find passages to support militarism, war, territorial expansion, capital punishment, even slavery and exploitation, but don’t be fooled! A deeper reading and understanding of even the Old Testament will guide one to many dangerous ideas. For example, early on we find Joseph being praised for increasing taxes to prevent suffering among the Egyptians.(6) Taxes used as a way to help the general population of a nation? Of course, we know that taxes should only be used to subsidize the rich, and that the working classes should be the ones burdened by taxes - not the wealthy, who deserve to be privileged. In the Old Testament, we also read of the world being flooded to rid it of its violent inhabitants.(7) As you must see, it becomes difficult for us to advocate war, the most violent interaction between men, if people realize God is so opposed to violence. We read of Moses’ establishment of worker safety laws in the famous Mosaic Law.(8) We even read of God, through Moses, commanding the Israelites to allow the poor to glean the fields rather than sucking out every profit possible from a harvest, which would be appropriate, as any capitalist realizes.(9)

Even prized scriptures for us conservatives, such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah - which we use to denounce homosexuality - is in jeopardy if one were to read on in the Old Testament. Several books into the Old Testament, in a book called Ezekiel, the Prophet Ezekiel informs us that Sodom was destroyed because it lived in abundance but chose luxury and idleness, refusing to help the poor and the needy with their wealth.(10) Because of such a passage, many Saints have come to think that perhaps the intended rape of God’s servants that we previously read about in the story of Sodom’s destruction was more about violence than sexuality.(11) From this they may even come to believe that God loves all His children… even the gay ones! Now that is a dangerous idea that challenges our position if I’ve ever heard one! They may even come to believe that perhaps God does not require the brutal destruction of homosexuals, but rather the destruction of those that increase the suffering of his less fortunate children. Dangerous ideas I tell you, and they must be prevented!

If we were to go on into the New Testament, we discover Christ to be a peaceful man, averse to violence, loving all God’s children, even denouncing businessmen just using the free-market principles of supply and demand to earn money in the temple.(12) We read of Him teaching that it is difficult for the wealthy to enter heaven - even more difficult than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.(13) We find him teaching a young man to give all his possessions to the poor,(14) but worst of all… we find him providing free healthcare while he travels!(15) Oh the horror!

If one were to read on further in the New Testament, they would come across the accounts of the early Christians living a communal life, sharing their wealth no less!(16) We even find Paul advising the Saints to withdraw from those that would have us believe that earning more and more wealth is godly. Not only does he teach this (which stabs right into the heart of our conservative way of thinking) but he even goes on to teach that money is the root of all evil!(17) This man, holding such an important position as Apostle of the Lord, teaches such heresies as economic equality, claiming that the abundance of the wealthy should be used to supply the wants of the poor.(18)

The most dangerous of all, however, is latter-day scripture. Today, many Saints are oblivious to the economic nature of the scriptures right before their faces, but because it is right in front of them, our ideology is that much closer to the dangers I speak of. To emphasize this point, let me quote from one of the LDS Church’s own historians, Leonard J. Arrington:
“A considerable part, if not the bulk, of the revealed scripture of the Mormons dealt with temporalities. Of the one hundred and twelve revelations announced by Joseph Smith, eighty-eight dealt partly or entirely with matters that were economic in nature. Out of 9,614 printed lines in Smith’s revelations, 2,618 lines, by actual count, treated “definitely and directly of economic matters.”(19)
Of course, that would be fine and dandy if we were talking about free-market, capitalist economics, but we are not. All throughout the Book of Mormon we read of how God punishes societies that do not use their wealth to help the poor and the needy. We find scriptures that advise whole civilizations to use their riches to help others rather than prudently advising that riches be used to create more riches for the investing class. Rather than learning about the “freedom” that a free-market creates, we learn about how the accumulation of wealth leads to corruption, the stripping away of democratic society, and eventual destruction. On the other hand we learn that when these societies established social relief for the less fortunate, not only did they not turn into Communist tyrannies, but the people lived in freedom and happiness! Not only is this ridiculous, but dangerous I tell you!

In the Doctrine and Covenants, what has been specifically referred to as revelation directly for this dispensation, it gets even more specific. We learn the specifics about establishing egalitarian law under revelations about the Law of Consecration.(20) God Himself speaks as very radically on the subject in the Doctrine and Covenants! Listen to this exact quote, not from some Church leader or historical account, but an actual revelation from God Himself: “It is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin."(21)

How can we possibly have our fellow members reading such words, and words from the Lord no less! We must act quickly before LDS members start to become aware of just what this means!

We also come across commandments from God concerning war that are very contrary to our ideology. Not only do we find passages where we are told that we should not go to war unless God reveals that we should, but we even read that in reality we should renounce war altogether!(22) Luckily, few people have realized that renounce means to literally turn away from it and never come back.(23) On this we have lucked out and can still rely on American Saints to “rally around the flag” as we prefer to call it. Of course, it’s not really rallying around the flag and the principles it stands for that we are asking, but to rally around the bombing of this or that nation for this or that reason, and thereby feed the military industry and the pockets of the wealthy.

As one reads on, even the Pearl of Great Price speaks of Enoch’s people living in economic equality, with “no poor among them.”(24) So, as you can see, the danger is right on the surface. All it takes is for a few people here and there to start questioning the right-wing culture we have tried so hard to establish, and it could all fall to pieces for us. That is why I am advising that we take the drastic measures necessary to prevent this gradual political education of the LDS population. What drastic measures, you ask? Well, we must continue to prevent members from learning about their own liberal, leftist, and radical history. We must prevent them from discovering the large amount of teachings concerning equality and the devastation of war and militarism. But that is not all.

What else are we to do? We must get members to pick their way through the scriptures, never actually reading them in full, just reading a passage here, an individual scripture or chapter there, but never from cover to cover. If we do not do this, I’m afraid we will be left to the same methods the early Christian apostates resorted to. We would be forced to edit out the undesirable knowledge that the scriptures possess. Having done this, we can rest assured that wars will continue, that our undeserving poor and needy brothers and sisters will continue to be a source of great wealth without us having to feed them, educate them, care for their elderly, provide them with healthcare or transportation, and otherwise alleviate their suffering in any way. Remember though, we must act fast, and whatever happens… we must not allow those LDS members who are already leaning to the left of the political spectrum to discover that we are concerned! Lastly, keep pushing the idea that what really determines whether or not an individual is a “true” Mormon or not, is whether or not they hold conservative political opinions.

Signed,

Screwtape


References:

1. Joseph Smith’s Presidential platform can be found in his campaign pamphlet, “Joseph Smith’s Views”
2. “Great Basin Kingdom: Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900” by Leonard J. Arrington, page 17.
3. “Building the City of God:Community and Cooperation Among the Latter-day Saints” by Arrington, Fox and May, pg. 7
4. Pamphlet from the First Presidency, 1875, can be found in Volume 2 of “The Messages of the First Presidency”
5. “Discourses of Brigham Young” 19:46
6. Story of Joseph’s plan to tax yearly harvests as an insurance against draught begins in Genesis 41.
7. Genesis 6:11-13
8. This includes laws requiring railing to be built upon structures to prevent people from falling, as found in Deuteronomy 22:8 for example. Further correlations between the Law of Moses and contemporary worker conditions are mentioned in Hugh Nibley’s “Work We Must, But the Lunch is Free”.
9. Deuteronomy 22:19-21
10. Ezekiel 16:49-50
11. Genesis 19:4-9
12. Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, John 2:13-16
13. Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:24-25, Luke 18:24-25
14. Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22
15. Examples of Christ healing the sick at no charge are too numerous to list; from healing the blind, the leprous, a woman with an issue of blood, and even raising the dead…all without proof of insurance and at no charge!
16. Acts 4:32
17. 1 Timothy 6:5-11
18. 2 Corinthians 8:13-15
19. “Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints” by Leonard J. Arrington, pg. 5-6
20. D&C 42 & 51.
21. D&C 49:20
22. Section 98 of the Doctrine & Covenants give very specifics about when it is appropriate to resort to war explained in D&C 98:32-48. The passage where God commands us to renounce war altogether is found in D&C 98:16.
23. Definitions of the word “renounce” are as follows 1: to announce one’s abandonment or giving up of a right or interest. 2: to refuse to follow, obey, or recognize any further.
24. Moses 7:18


8 comments:

Matt said...

I read this on my commute to work today. I seldom stumble across something so very full of meaning. Thank you for penning these words. I have lost so many friends from the church that felt persecuted for their left leaning political views, this piece struck home far too well.

The LDS Left said...

Matt, thanks for your comment. We're glad to hear that it struck a chord with you. Our aim with this blog and the corresponding publication is to prevent the exodus of others like your friends from the Church. No one should feel forced out for their political views, but unfortunately it seems to be happening more and more these days.

elisabeth said...

amen

elisabeth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said...

Great piece of writing.

Natalie | The Bobby Pin said...

Interesting post - well written.

I have always felt that the more compassionate peace-not-war, serve-all mantras of the left are more akin to church views.

buncehouse said...

Bravo! Very well done. True to the form and true in word! A delight for my evening!

LauraB said...

Great piece. I'm reminded of a moment in Sunday School this year as I was teaching Matt 6:33 (and more specifically the JST). I was teaching that this is not an "if, then" statement, that we cannot piously come to church on Sunday, and then practice fiscal exploitation the rest of the week. The EQ Pres. disagreed stating that we could indeed emass wealth and still build the kingdom. I asked him which kingdom he was actually building? There was no reply. I've honestly just realized he has not been to my class since. I'm not sure what to do with that realization but I'm sure I'll find some answers in prayer. Again, thank you for the great references and reminders.