Capitalism As Religion, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 13 2012 @ 1:25pm


A reader writes:

You're onto something. I was the lone non-Mormon in my high school rock band. We practiced at the home of the bass player (whose brother, by the way, had been asked to play guitar for the Osmond brothers, which his parents did not allow). His father was an imposing figure whom we all sort of cowered in the presence of. One evening the father walked in while we were practicing. We all stopped immediately, afraid our volume had crossed a boundary. But he just wanted to chat. At one point he jokingly said, "I hope you boys aren't taking drugs…" To which his son joked back,"No Dad. We only sell them." The father smiled and replied: "Well that's OK. Profit is Christian."

Another dissents:

As one of many individuals interviewed for this article who truly wants more transparency in our faith and more emphasis on caring for the least as outlined in Matthew 25, I hope that you would be fair and acknowledge that the current capitalist business nature of the church is not how it began, contrary to your assertions.

This is our faith and our heritage just as much as those who currently run the church. You can read an article by a fellow Mormon and friend that discusses the change in our history. Many of us Mormons are well aware of the current trends and unhappy about it and wish there was transparency and a return to the more egalitarian aspects of our history. Many of us feel strongly that the current business nature of the church is at odds with our scriptures and history.

The Book of Mormon repeatedly condemns those who put vanity and money before helping the least. It claims that the church will one day love money and commercialism more than the downtrodden and needy (Mormon 8). It repeatedly warns members that you can be "cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them." 

So Mormonism does see a conflict between God and Mammon. It is rather that the current corporation claiming to speak for Mormonism thinks there is no conflict. 

The Book of Mormon clearly charts how groups comparable to modern-day corporations will obtain "the sole management of the government" destroy the "regulations of the government" and thereby "trample the poor and meek under their feet" while the "guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money” so that "they might get gain and glory of the world." The Book of Mormon condemns societies with inequalities in wealth where people are "distinguished by ranks, according to their? riches and their chances for learning" where some are "ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches. And thus there became a great inequality in all the land"

Yes, Mormon theology does link the temporal and spiritual, but not in the way you describe. Joseph Smith did not promote capitalism but quite the opposite – a utopian society where everyone pooled their resources and had all in common (similar to what we find in the book of Acts). At the very heart of the Book of Mormon we find Jesus establishing a new way of living where "they had all things in common among them; therefore there were not rich nor poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift." In one of Joseph Smith's revelations to church members we find this which condemns the business practices of men like Romney who represent the worst of Mormonism and its current mask:

I…stretched out the heavens, and built the earth and [that] all things therein are mine. 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… have decreed… that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare…Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

Even tithing did not always function the way it does in the current church, acting as a tax to enter the temple and receive blessings. At one time in our history it was collected in the form of food and other items shared in the community. Even later, when it became monetized, it generally stayed local and helped those in need. The current system is just that – a current system – which came about in the past 50 years as the church tried to become more like corporations and less like a church dedicated to following the itinerant preacher of Nazareth.

Once upon a time, the LDS first presidency proclaimed things like this in 1875: "One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced…..wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals." Now, they build high end temples to crass commercialism. This is not the Mormonism I grew up in and love. 

Another cites more scripture:

As a non-practicing Mormon (and longtime Dish reader) I wanted to call your attention to something largely missing from discussions of Mormonism, wealth, and capitalism, namely the communitarian heritage of the faith.  Joseph Smith recorded this revelation in February 1831 (contained in Section 42 of the book of scripture known as the Doctrine & Covenants):

And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.

And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose.

And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church, that they cannot be taken from the church, agreeable to my commandments, every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property, or that which he has received by consecration, as much as is sufficient for himself and family.

And again, if there shall be properties in the hands of the church, or any individuals of it, more than is necessary for their support after this first consecration, which is a residue to be consecrated unto the bishop, it shall be kept to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.

Therefore, the residue shall be kept in my storehouse, to administer to the poor and the needy, as shall be appointed by the high council of the church, and the bishop and his council;

And for the purpose of purchasing lands for the public benefit of the church, and building houses of worship, and building up of the New Jerusalem which is hereafter to be revealed—

That my covenant people may be gathered in one in that day when I shall come to my temple. And this I do for the salvation of my people.

This came to be known as the Law of Consecration and ultimately led to the establishment of several (short-lived) communal orders as detailed here. But here's the real kicker, and my candidate for the most intentionally overlooked passage in all the Mormon canon, from D&C 49:20: 

But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.

I wonder if a reporter has the balls to ask Romney about the compatibility of that statement with his own celebration of massive wealth and soaring economic inequality. I'd also like to thank readers for this invaluable feedback. Let's keep this conversation going. Unfiltered feedback at our Facebook page.