Monthly Archives: March 2021

The Ungodliness of Inequality

A passage of scriptures in 2 Nephi 26, starting with verse 20, again addresses the concept of economic disparity being a keystone of wickedness and unbelief:

“And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor. “

That is the very first characteristic associated with their wickedness – the root thereof being “that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.” Not getting gain from ethical business practices, getting gain from exploiting the poor and those with relatively less power in the society.

These prides are themselves connected to the secret combinations and murders “of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things.” The exploitation of the poor is directly connected to back-room dealings and murders. It does not matter if such things are made legitimate by the laws or customs of men: these things go against the laws and customs of God and His people.

God is contrasted with this power of pride and wealth in verse 25: “… he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.” There is no monetary cost to come unto God, none at all. The cost is in faith and humility and charity. In verse 27, “… he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.”

In verse 29, the sermon returns to the enemies of God:

“He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”

It is not enough for these men to get gain, but that they must also be seen as doing the equivalent of God’s work in the eyes of the world, even as they build up their own kingdom. In the next verse, we are told, “Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love.” These things, these prides, these oppressions, these inconsiderate acts and practices that build up some and hold many down, these are forbidden of the Lord, and they are the first on the list of things that are forbidden. Murder, lying, stealing, cursing, envying, malice, contentions, and whoredoms all follow in a catalog in the next verse. Those are also bad, but the chief among those listed is the pride in setting one’s self up to get wealth and gain as they rule over a nation.

One has to assume that, if these proud and uncharitable men are ruling a nation, that they have made arrangements to make their works of darkness nevertheless legitimized by their laws. Consider that Christ was crucified according to law, not an act of a mob swept up in a moment of violent whims. The apostles were put down according to law – and I’ll note that at the same time, the devout teachers who followed Rabbi Akiva were also martyred by that same law. All these people were preaching against the pride and riches of the powerful, and the powerful had an answer for that ready to go in their unjust legal system.

The catalog of wrongdoing from murder to whoredoms will always be among normal human populations. Such is the way of things. But when committed by individuals, they do not flourish and those who commit those sins have opportunity to repent in a just society. That is why they are mentioned in passing in a sermon targeting the chief evil among men, that which gets their governments to be exploitative and unjust. In an unjust society, built up to ensconce men in power, those wicked things flourish, especially in service to those men in power. And let us make no mistake – “men” here is not a general term referring to all humanity. “Men” is specifically focused on the male segment of the population, which has been dominant in perpetuating unjust and unequal power structures throughout history. There seems to be a special need for males to have specific instruction in how to govern according to the laws of God, and that their tendency to abuse power has been a plague upon humanity from the earliest times.

But God offers an alternative, should we approach with humility and a willingness to let Him prevail over our own prides and desires. In 2 Nephi 26:33, we read:

“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

All are alike unto God – this conclusion to a sermon about the wickedness of pride and wealth gained from oppressing the poor is interesting in that it addresses the very thing that makes the unjust society possible: inequality. Inequalities produce stratified social structures where those in power benefit from the exploitation of those not in power, and that the power itself enforces those inequalities as a means of ensuring the perpetuity of that unjust power. God’s power is just, as it is based upon equality.

Inequality results from men who seek their own gain. Equality results from men who seek the charity of all.

Grinding the Faces of the Poor

Isaiah 3 has the following passages, which are quoted in 2 Nephi 13 in the Book of Mormon:

“The Lord standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. The Lord will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people and the princes thereof; for ye have eaten up the vineyard and the spoil of the poor in your houses.”

The judgment is clearly upon the leadership classes of the people, and it is because they have oppressed the poor. That is underlined in a following comment:

“Ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor, saith the Lord God of Hosts.”

What follows is a description of how an elegantly-clad young woman will be stripped of her adornments and have “burning instead of beauty.” The nation is the young woman, and the fine apparel is the symbol of not caring for the poor.

The comment about grinding the faces of the poor is noteworthy because it is not an individual action, but a societal one. A nation is not worthy of blessings or protection if the weakest members of that nation are exploited by the rich and powerful.

A Forsaken People

There are a set of chapters in 2 Nephi that quote directly a set of chapters from the Book of Isaiah. In 2 Nephi 12:6, Isaiah is quoted as saying, “Therefore, O Lord, thou hast forsaken thy people.” What conditions have led to the Lord forsaking his people?

The first set of conditions deal with the ideas from outside that have caused the people to themselves forsake the commandments of God. But the next set of conditions deal with internal issues: “Their land is also full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots. Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.”

While the adjective “God-forsaken” typically applies to a remote, destitute, infertile, and forbidding corner of the world, the adjective here is attached to a center of civilization and commerce. And the implication of those verses is that God forsakes a people because they have forsaken him.

In my focus on the economic issues, for a land to be flush with riches and for those riches to lead to people being more focused on them than on their covenants, there has to be an issue with economic inequality. This is not simply a matter of some people who work hard and some who don’t want to work at all. This is a matter of people who gather riches unjustly and the increasing number of poor because the government either permits or is involved in the unjust transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. A phrase used to describe this in the scriptures is “grinding the face of the poor”.

When a person gains wealth from activities where one does no work, there is a high risk of unjust gathering of riches. Raising rents, refusing or skimping on repairs to rental properties, charging interest, lowering wages in real terms, “company store” arrangements that impoverish workers, fine-print contract clauses that lead to exploited loopholes, false advertising, concealment of the hazards of a product, pollution of the environment: all these things potentially constitute worshipping the work of one’s own hands as one forgets to have compassion towards one’s fellow human beings. And, yes, “charging interest” is on that list. Check carefully in the scriptures how it is universally condemned and then how men find ways to justify a little interest here and a little interest there until they have forsaken that part of God’s word… and become themselves a forsaken people.

The Vainness of Men

“O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God.” So the prophet Jacob opens his criticism on the failings of men in 2 Nephi 9. But there is hope for the learned: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” It’s not a curse to be learned, if one is also humble.

Jacob’s next words are for the rich: “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.”

But as with the learned, there is an implied way out for the rich: support the poor, elevate the meek, and put your heart on people instead of things. This would not only be in a personal way, but in a societal way, remembering Jeremiah’s condemnation of the Kingdom of Judah. The structure of the society must be such that the poor and the meek are protected and sustained, even if it means the rich are sacrificing wealth and power in order to do so. If a society concentrates power among the powerful and concentrates wealth among the wealthy, it is running afoul of Jeremiah’s and Jacob’s preaching.

Jacob continues a few verses later: “… and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches – yea, they are they whom he [God] despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.”

In earlier verses, Jacob had preached against liars, murderers, and adulterers, but it is the vainness of learning and riches that Jacob returns to to explicitly call out as those who cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. These are the most serious things to consider, as they are the sins of the ruling classes and, as such, impact the whole of a nation more than the actions of a lone depraved murderer or adulterer. These are the sins that set the tone for a nation and which bring it under condemnation.

Delightsome and Loathsome

One of the starkest sets of verses to involve a white/black dichotomy appears in 2 Nephi 5:21-22. A people is described as going from being “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome” to “a skin of blackness” because of their evils. Even though the white/black is symbolic – future dealings with this people indicate an equality of skin tone and coloration – the symbolism is nevertheless there.

But even though the divisions between the peoples are not based on skin color, there is nevertheless a tribal split, and that tribal split worsens with a history of violence between the tribes. A modern reader finding racist tones in those words would not be too far off the mark, in terms of the hatreds between the peoples.

But a major section of the Book of Mormon deals with an attempt by one tribe to reach out to the other, hoping to end the strife between the tribes. There is no attempt to “elevate” or otherwise change the other tribe. The attempt is to find peace through love and forgiveness. And it works. If the book is a message for our time, it is in teaching us that equating white with good and black with bad – and corresponding thinking that black is made better by making it more white – is wrong, plain and simple. It is a thought pattern that is easy to develop, but one that can blind us to what true love actually is.

A Detour Through Malachi

I decided to read the Book of Malachi today. Right away, there is a condemnation against Israel because of how they do not offer up the firstlings of the flock for sacrifice, but their blind and lame animals – they are withholding from God because they love their possessions more. Once again, a prophet will rail against the people who should know better, but choose poorly.

In Malachi 3:5, in among the sorcerers, adulterers, and liars are those who “oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right”. Here again is a prophet promising doom for a nation that forgets the poor and needy. The part about the hireling in his wages is unequivocally targeting people who are placing profits ahead of people; servants of mammon, not God.

Following that, in 3:8, the prophet asks “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.”

Now, if the storehouses are filled again, the nation is promised a great blessing, that there will be no room to contain it, that the devourer will be rebuked… but, absent these acts of charity, the nation has no such guarantees.

Wickedness That Looks Like Righteousness

Most people assume that someone who attends church regularly, obeys all the laws, and has no secret sins would be a good person. Yet, 1 Nephi 22:23 cites that those who are seeking to get gain, build up power, and who seek popularity “in the eyes of the world” are those who belong to the “kingdom of the devil.”

These people can be attending church services, obeying laws, and not be doing anything illegal, but are still pillars of the community of the kingdom of the devil. They will insist that they are doing nothing wrong, and that may very well be the case according to the laws of man, but in the laws of God, they are doing all manner of iniquity. They are not sharing their good fortune with those less fortunate, they are not sharing their power to protect the weak and vulnerable, and they do not seek after the welfare of others before they think of themselves. I imagine they’d also be among the first to insist that no one is worthy to judge them when people begin to judge them according to God’s law.

The Fog of Possessions

1 Nephi 17 has an interlude in which the family of Lehi is able to enjoy a rest from the rigors of the wilderness. They live in an oasis of sorts, lush with food. But Nephi is commanded to prepare for the next leg of their journey and that is where the complaints come from Laman and Lemuel, who would rather not keep moving. In their criticism of Nephi’s plans, they then reach back to their original status back in Jerusalem:

Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance: yeah, and we might have been happy.

The objection isn’t truly against whether or not Nephi is guided by God, but that Nephi is not guided by the god of Laman and Lemuel’s creation, their possessions. Being with the things of the world is happiness in their view. And as for the wickedness associated with the love of the fine things, they say:

And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his word; yea, and our brother is like unto him.

The brothers consider only outward, social aspects of belief as sufficient for righteousness, as such a view affords them ample room in their hearts to love and worship their possessions. It’s very easy to say “I truly love God!” while clinging tightly to one’s luxuries. The possessions create a fog, where one cannot see what is happening in the heart. The fog also blinds the eyes from seeing the wickedness done in denying aid to the poor, the widows, and the orphans.

Clearing the fog would give them eyes to see that it is their responsibility to work for a more equitable world, even if it means they have less possessions as a result of that equality.

The Great and Abominable Church

Abominable… I’ve had that word in a different form, back in Jeremiah, referring to the love of wealth. Will it be used in the same manner as Nephi describes his vision of “The Great and Abominable Church”? Let’s look at the quote in 1 Nephi 13…

… I beheld this great and abominable church; and i saw the devil that he was the founder of it. And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots.

So, yes. It is. And the church is not a specific organization: it’s all the enemies of the greater good of humanity. That’s their uniform and their desires. They’ll say and do anything to acquire those things. Modern Americans always want to focus on the harlots, in their obsession over sexual mores, but in so doing, they lose sight of the first things mentioned, the trappings of wealth. Given that America also obsesses over conspicuous wealth, it makes sense that Americans would want to pass over a condemnation of their desires – especially when those desires are equated with being part of the devil’s church:

And the angel spake unto me, saying: “Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church. And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.

A note on the word “harlot”: it’s not exclusively female. It’s wrong to only associate women with that word, especially when the origin word referred exclusively to men as idle rogues. Over time, it came to mean anyone who was idle and promiscuous – morbidly rich, in other words. This is not an exchange of sex for money for survival. It’s a wantonness born of a lifestyle devoted to and dressed out in excessive piles of cash.

So, it is these people devoted to wealth and idle living who also take any teaching critical of them and twist the words to either divert the target of the words or to change their meaning entirely. Look at how Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all universally condemned lending at interest as something one only does to one’s sworn enemies in their original teachings. As time went on, loopholes were both opened up and forced upon others to justify lending arrangements within those religious traditions – and that is the great and abominable church at work.

Wealth and the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life vision in 1 Nephi 8 is one of the most oft-cited passages of The Book of Mormon, due to its powerful symbolism and scope. Basically, the good will persevere hardships to arrive at a tree of life, where they partake of the fruit. Of those who partake of the fruit – associated with keeping covenants, doing good, having faith – some remain at the tree and others become ashamed and wander off.

They become ashamed in large part due to the mocking from people who chose not to endure the path to the tree of life, but instead sought to travel through mists and hazards to a “great and spacious building”. Those are the only adjectives directly associated with the building, implying a vast palace-like structure, such as an inhabitant of Jerusalem would be familiar with. The people in the building are assumed to be wicked because they mock those who strove to arrive at the tree of life – but their wickedness is confirmed with the statement that “their manner of dress was exceedingly fine.”

The wickedness is directly connected with the wealth. People who fall victim to the mists and hazards are not the ones making a mockery of the righteous. They may have had wicked intentions, but their impact is not affecting others in a spiritual way, it would seem. But the evil that grows out of a lust for the things of the world, that is the evil that makes direct attacks on those who choose to be righteous. And it is known by the fine apparel of the people making the attacks.

The great and spacious building houses all the greatness of the world; those in the building are masters of the militaries, governments, and concentrations of wealth in the world. They know that many seek after their false treasures. They mock those who seek after enduring treasures in heaven. While we know of people who are good servants in government and business, it is important to call out the differences between them and the wicked: look at who remembers the poor and who seeks to increase the benefits given to the wealthy. Look at who seeks to place oppressed minorities on equal footing with their oppressors and who seeks to maintain or extend that oppression. Look at businesspeople obsessed with the welfare of their employees and those who are obsessed with their profits.

There is no commuting between the tree and the building. Recall Jeremiah’s condemnation of the temple being full of robbers when the wealthy were in it. “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve” goes all the way back to Joshua and Moses. Christ taught one cannot serve both God and mammon, and mammon is not some Middle Eastern deity. Mammon is earthly wealth, and is the foe of the righteous. The love of money is the root of all evil, and that is clearly stated in the vision of the tree of life in 1 Nephi 8.