Monday, July 13, 2015

Markets in a Zion Society

Early this year I submitted a paper for an MTA-published volume that never materialized. The majority of the article was largely a reworking of my co-authored SquareTwo essay on global poverty and inequality. However, I added the following section on morality and markets:


One of the most prominent and consistent themes throughout the LDS canon is what we may refer to as economic and/or social justice. The revelations of Joseph Smith built a Mormon eschatology around the antediluvian City of Enoch: a just society of "one heart and one mind" with "no poor among them" that was "received…up into [God’s] own bosom" (Moses 7:18; 69). As historian Don Bradley explains, 

Joseph anticipated that when the Saints succeeded in establishing a Zion society, their Zion would be literally united with that of Enoch. The latter-day Zion established through the law of consecration was to rise from below while that established under the prophet Enoch descended from above (Moses 7:62–63; D&C 84:100). Another revelation similarly taught that when the Saints achieved "the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom," that of consecration, God would "receive her unto myself" (D&C 105:4–5).[1]

The people of Enoch’s ancient city are described as being "of one heart and one mind," dwelling "in righteousness," with "no poor among them" (Moses 7:18). This seems to suggest that the city’s prosperity was rooted in the values and civility of its citizens. The Zion society of the Nephite civilization is also described by Mormon as having "no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, no lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness…There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manners of –ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God" (4 Ne. 1:15-17). Economist Lindon Robison proposes that the Book of Mormon as well as other restoration scriptures teach that caring is fundamental to economic prosperity and equality.[2] A wealth of evidence from a diverse range of fields supports Robison’s view that moral values underlie economic activity.[3] However, don’t markets undermine these foundational values? Doesn’t trade condition us to exploit each other, especially the most vulnerable? Recent evidence suggests quite the opposite. Researchers have developed a number of experimental bargaining "games" in order to study human behavior under various conditions. Among these games is one known as the Ultimatum Game. The game provides a certain amount of money to interacting participants. One is given the power to divide the sum between the two. If the other player accepts the division—whether it be 50:50 or 99:1—then both players keep their share. If the second party rejects the offer, both go home empty-handed. The results of previous experiments demonstrate that profit maximization is rarely, if ever, the dominant strategy.[4] Most second party players reject sharply unequal distributions, demonstrating that fairness takes precedence over economic self-interest. Experiments with 15 small-scale agrarian societies—consisting of hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, nomadic herders, and sedentary farmers—found that those whose groups were more heavily immersed in trade and exchange with outsiders were least likely to make inequitable offers.[5] Another study finds that countries with higher levels of globalization—interconnection and interdependence of nations via trade and economic integration—"are associated with greater propensities to favor cooperation with globally distal others compared with compatriots living in the same locality."[6] (This is at both the aggregate country and individual levels.) Behavioral economist Herbert Gintis speculates that "societies that use markets extensively develop a culture of cooperation, fairness, and respect for the individual…Extensive market interactions may accustom individuals to the idea that interactions with strangers may be mutually beneficial. By contrast, those who do not customarily deal with strangers in mutually advantageous ways may be more likely to treat anonymous interactions as hostile, threatening, or occasions for opportunistic pursuit of self-interest."[7] Data gathered by economist Arthur Brooks further confirm the implications of these findings: Americans in favor of free enterprise give more to both religious and secular causes than those who favor governmental redistribution, even when adjusted for age, religion, income, gender, marital status, race, political views and education. Anti-redistributionists are also more likely to give their time to charitable causes and activities, such as blood donations or giving money to a homeless person on the street.[8]

In a recent working paper, law professor Nathan Oman points out, "Nineteenth-century Mormon efforts at Zion building illustrate the dangers of demonizing trade…During the Utah War of 1857, Mormon xenophobia reached a fever pitch, resulting most tragically in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where fear of outsiders led Latter-day Saints to murder an entire wagon train of men, women, and children."[9] It appears that it is anti-market views that breed intolerance, tribalism, and ultimately violence. A 2003 study found that anti-capitalist sentiments were strongly correlated with nationalism and ethnic intolerance among a number of formerly communist countries.[10] Other studies indicate that pro-trade attitudes are negatively related to nationalism, ethnocentrism, prejudice, and a high attachment to one’s own neighborhood.[11] This is probably why the governments of more globalized countries are less likely to violate human rights, including torture, extrajudicial killing, political imprisonment, and disappearances.[12] As one pair of researchers put it, "Our results are clear: globalization seems to liberate, not suffocate…"[13] This expansion of rights embraces the most vulnerable, including women.[14] The increased cooperation and tolerance created by globalized markets leads to a decrease in conflict, both within countries[15] and between them:[16] a point too often overlooked by Mormon intellectuals.[17] 

The prophet Isaiah spoke of a future period in which "the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the tops of the mounts...and all nations shall flow unto it...for out of Zion shall go
forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:2-4). As The Jewish Study Bible elaborates, "The prophet does not imagine a future without borders or distinct nationalities. International conflicts will still occur, but nation will no longer resolve them through warfare. Instead, nations will submit to arbitration at Mount Zion."[18] New Testament scholar Ben Witherington notes, "When Isaiah envisions the eschatological age, or the last days, he does not envision a massive work stoppage. What he envisions is a massive war stoppage, if we may put it that way. The point of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is so that the weapons of war may be turned into the tools of work. When Isaiah envisages the final or eschatological state of affairs, his vision of shalom, well-being, peace, is not of a workless paradise, but of a world at peace worshiping the one true God and working together rather than warring with each other."[19] In other words, what we call the Millennium will consist of prosperity and peace by means of productivity, innovation, and trade.

In an overview of Adam Smith’s "invisible hand," historian Peter Harrison finds that the phrase’s most common use in the 17th and 18th centuries referred "to the manner in which God exercised providential control over the course of history by subtly influencing human actions in order to bring about his ends...The second pattern of usage also refers to God’s providential action, but in the context of his superintendence of the natural world."[20] Just as the laws of nature were originally seen as "exemplif[ying] design, so too...did the laws of morality." For Smith and his contemporaries, “the general laws of the moral, as well as of the material world, are wisely and beneficently ordered for the welfare of our species."[21] The pro-social, poverty-reducing aspects of the market system are almost virtually ignored in discussions about Zion. Yet, as the world continues to become more interconnected through globalized markets—perhaps evidence of the providential invisible hand—the closer it will move toward a Zion society. 


The word limit kept me from going into much detail about some of these studies, but I thought it was worth reproducing here.


1. Don Bradley, ""The Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism": Joseph Smith’s Unfinished Restoration," Sunstone (April 2006): 39.

2. See Lindon J. Robison, "Economic Insights from the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1:1 (1992): 35-53; Robison, "‘No Poor Among Them’," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14:1 (2005): 86-97, 130.

3. Paul J. Zak, "Moral Markets," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 77 (2011): 212-233; Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy, ed. Paul J. Zak (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

4. See Joseph Henrich, "Does Culture Matter in Economic Behavior? The Ultimatum Game Bargaining among the Machiguenga of the Peruvian Amazon," American Economic Review 90:4 (2000): 973-979.

5. Foundations of Human Sociality: Economic Experiments and Ethnographic Evidence from Fifteen Small-Scale Societies, eds. Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles, Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles, Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis, Richard McElreath, Michael Alvard, Abigail Barr, Jean Ensminger, Natalie Smith Henrich, Kim Hill, Francisco Gil-White, Michael Gurven, Frank W. Marlowe, John Q. Patton, David Tracer, "‘Economic Man’ in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies," Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (2005): 795-855; Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles, Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis, Richard McElreath, "In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies," American Economic Review 91:2 (May 2001): 73-78.

6. Nancy R. Buchan, Gianluca Grimalda, Rick Wilson, Marilynn Brewer, Enrique Fatas, Margaret Foddy, "Globalization and Human Cooperation," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:11 (2009): 4141.

7. Quoted in Ronald Bailey, "Do Markets Make People More Generous?" Reason (Feb. 27, 2002).

8. Arthur C. Brooks, Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide – Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 56-57.

9. Nathan B. Oman, "Doux Commerce in the City of God: Trade and the Mormon Ideal of Zion," William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-289 (2014): 25.

10. Hilde Weiss, "A Cross-National Comparison of Nationalism in Austria, the Czech and Slovac Republics, Hungary, and Poland," Political Psychology 24:2 (2003): 377-401.

11. See Kent L. Granzin, Jeffrey D. Brazell, John J. Painter, "An Examination of Influences Leading to Americans’ Endorsement of the Policy of Free Trade," Journal of Public Policy & Marketing 16:1 (1997): 93-109; Anna Maria Mayda, Dani Rodrik, "Why Are Some People (and Countries) More Protectionist Than Others?" European Economic Review 49 (2005): 1393-1430.

12. See Indra de Soysa, Krishna Chaitanya Vadlamannati, "Does Being Bound Together Suffocate, or Liberate? The Effects of Economic, Social, and Political Globalization on Human Rights, 1981-2005," Kyklos 64:1 (2011): 20-53; Indra de Soysa, Krishna Chaitanya Vadlamannati, "Do Pro-Market Economic Reforms Drive Human Rights Violations? An Empirical Assessment, 1981-2006," Public Choice 155:1 (2013): 163-187.

13. de Soysa, Vadlamannati, 2011: 44.

14. See Eric Neumayer, Indra de Soysa, "Globalization and the Empowerment of Women: An Analysis of Spatial Dependence via Trade and Foreign Direct Investment," World Development 39:7 (2011): 1065-1075; Michael D. Stroup, "Separating the Influence of Capitalism and Democracy on Women’s Well-Being," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 67:3-4 (2008): 560-572; Stroup, "Does Economic Freedom Promote Women’s Well-Being?" in Economic Freedom of the World: 2011 Annual Report, ed. James D. Gwartney, Joshua C. Hall, Robert Lawson (Fraser Institute, 2011).

15. See Edward Peter Stringham, John Levendis, "The Relationship Between Economic Freedom and Homicide," Economic Freedom of the World: 2010 Annual Report, ed. James D. Gwartney, Joshua C. Hall, Robert Lawson (Fraser Institute, 2010); Indra de Soysa, "The Hidden Hand Wrestles Rebellion: Theory and Evidence on How Economic Freedom Prevents Civil Violence," Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 11:2 (2011): 285-297; Indra de Soysa, Ranveig Drolsum Flaten, "Globalization and Political Violence, 1970-2008," International Interactions 38 (2012): 622-646.

16. See Indra de Soysa, Hanne Fjelde, "Is the Hidden Hand an Iron Fist? Capitalism & Civil Peace, 1970-2005," Journal of Peace Research 47:3 (2010): 287-298; Erik Gartzke, "The Capitalist Peace," American Journal of Political Science 51:1 (2007): 166-191; Michael Strong, "Peace Through Access to Entrepreneurial Capitalism for All," Journal of Business Ethics 89 (2009): 529-538; Jong-Wha Lee, Ju Hyun Pyun, "Does Trade Integration Contribute to Peace?" Asian Development Bank Working Paper Series on Regional Economic Integration, No. 24 (Jan. 2009); Lee, Pyun, "Globalisation Promotes Peace," (March 21, 2009).

17. For example, economic development and trade receive only brief mention in the volume War & Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives, eds. Patrick Q. Mason, J. David Pulsipher, Richard L. Bushman (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012).

18. “Isaiah,” The Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh Translation, eds. Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 788.

19. Ben Witherington III, Work: A Kingdom Perspective on Labor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), xiii-xiv.     

20. Peter Harrison, "Adam Smith and the History of the Invisible Hand," Journal of the History of Ideas 72:1 (2007): 33.

21. Ibid: 46.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Work's Covenantal Relation to the Sabbath

I've been reading through Jewish theologian and Civil Rights activist Abraham Heschel's The Sabbath in preparation for a church talk on the same subject. During my reading I came across this gem:
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Labor is not only the destiny of man; it is endowed with divine dignity. However, after he ate of the tree of knowledge he was condemned to toil, not only to labor “In toil shall thou eat … all the days of thy life” (Genesis 3:17). Labor is a blessing, toil is the misery of man. The Sabbath as a day of abstaining from work is not a depreciation but an affirmation of labor, a divine exaltation of its dignity. Thou shalt abstain from labor on the seventh day is a sequel to the command: Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work [Ex. 20:9]...The duty to work for six days is just as much a part of God’s covenant with man as the duty to abstain from work on the seventh day.[1]

Placing work and labor in a covenantal context fits very well with my developing theology of work.


1. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning For Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005 [1951]), Kindle edition, 15-16.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Groundhog Day: Salvation in the Mundane

I recently finished political scientist Charles Murray's short book The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead. The book contains a lot of practical advice, but I read it more out of curiosity than anything (given Murray's often controversial academic work). Perhaps the most satisfying element of the book was his ending tip: Watch Groundhog Day Repeatedly. Murray describes the film as "a profound moral fable that deals with the most fundamental issues of virtue and happiness."[1] For him, it acts as an excellent substitute for Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.[2] And I can't really argue with his reasoning:

Director and cowriter Harold Ramis estimates that the movie has to represent at least thirty or forty years’ worth of days. We see only a few dozen of them, ending when Bill Murray’s character has discovered the secrets of human happiness. Without the slightest bit of preaching, Ramis shows the bumpy, unplanned evolution of his protagonist from a jerk to a fully realized human being—a person who has learned to experience deep and lasting satisfaction with life as a whole even though he has only one day to work with.

Ramis’s own understanding of the story he is telling is sophisticated and subtle. That’s why you need to watch the film more than once. You are sure to pick up subtexts the second time that you didn’t get the first time. And you’ll see even more when, after giving yourself a rest, you watch it a third time. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched Groundhog Day, but I’ve always seen something new.

Why is it a good thing to understand this movie so well? Because it will help you live a good life. Absorbing the deep meaning of the Nicomachean Ethics will also help you live a good life, but Groundhog Day will do it with a lot less effort.[3]

This recognized genius of Groundhog Day reminded me an essay by Adam Miller in his book Rube Goldberg Machines. In it, he makes an incredible insight particular to Mormonism:

In general, the complaint about Mormonism is that it is all too mundane.[4] God, for Mormons is not supra-mundane. God has a body? Fingers and toes? He's married? He must, everyday, tie the sash on his white robe? His immortal lungs perpetually expand and contract? Heaven, too, for Mormons, is not supra-mundane. Heaven? Where people are still married, still work, still have children, still change diapers, still share casseroles? Heaven, for Mormons, is what seals our union with the mundane rather than terminates it. Leave it to Mormonism to see the nihilistic claim that there is nothing but the aching specificity of this repetition and raise it to the power of infinity. Leave it to Mormonism to claim that even in heaven we'll have to button and unbutton our shirts, show all our work, suffer papers cuts, and--of course, forever and ever again--breathe.

In the end, Phil Connor turns out to be the Mormon hero par excellence. Let it snow, Phil finally says. Let the weather rain down. Shucked bare of hope for something else, he is able to invert the nihilism of life's repetition into compassion only after its rough-edged iteration has worn his heart smooth. Deprived of reward and consequence--of any hope that his works could save (or damn) him--he, in the end, comes back to the work for its own sake. He attends. And by the time February 3rd arrives, it is clear that Phil has not been saved from the mundane but for it.

"If we go to hell," Joseph Smith claimed, "we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it." If life is repetition, I am claiming, then we must turn our daydreams out of doors and fashion a heaven from it...No one is coming to save you from the grace of the mundane. Jesus came to give this grace not take it away.[5]

Finding salvation in the mundane (and ultimately being saved for it) should change the way we look at both it and the nature of the Divine.


1. Charles Murray, The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 141.

2. As he says to the reader, "But let's be realistic: You won't [read] it" (Ibid.).

3. Ibid., 141-142.

4. "Only taken in the collective do the assaults on Mormonism's heresies reveal their common theme: the disintegration of that distance that separates the sacred and the profane, that defines religious experience as unfathomable mystery, that constitutes religious feeling int he presence of the ineffable, that renders such terms as holiness, worshipfulness, and reverence as constituting the very essence of religion. Such distance comes close to being the sine qua none of all Western religious faith and practice" (Terryl L. Givens, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, 82).

5. Adam S. Miller, Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), Kindle edition, "Groundhog Day."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mowing the Lawn of Eden

I'm always excited to see people recognizing the profound notion of happiness, fulfillment, and purpose being found in the mundane. From The New York Times:

Life is a succession of tasks rather than a cascade of inspiration, an experience that is more repetitive than revelatory, at least on a day-to-day basis. The thing is to perform the task well and find reward even in the mundane...I’ve grown suspicious of the inspirational. It’s overrated. I suspect duty — that half-forgotten word — may be more related to happiness than we think. Want to be happy? Mow the lawn. Collect the dead leaves. Paint the room. Do the dishes. Get a job. Labor until fatigue is in your very bones. Persist day after day. Be stoical. Never whine. Think less about the why of what you do than getting it done. Get the column written. Start pondering the next.

...I am less interested in the inspirational hero than I am in the myriad doers of everyday good who would shun the description heroic; less interested in the exhortation to “live your dream” than in the obligation to make a living wage.

...In Camus’ book, “The Plague,” the doctor at the center of the novel, Bernard Rieux, battles pestilence day after day. It is a Sisyphean task. At one point he says, “I have to tell you this: This whole thing is not about heroism. It’s about decency. It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”
Asked what decency is, he responds: “In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists of doing my job.” Later, he adds, “I don’t think I have any taste for heroism and sainthood. What interests me is to be a man.”
In the everyday task at hand, for woman or man, happiness lurks.

The more I look at it, the more I'm convinced that Joseph Smith's elevation of the mundane--and consequently the everyday tasks that come along with it--was one of his most inspired doctrines and deepest insights into the human condition. It is within the boring that we discover, as the article puts it, our "personal sliver of the divine."

I suppose even Eden will need its lawn mowed.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

"Labor Is Worship": Building the Material and Spiritual Temple

My last post looked the possible Masonic influence on early Mormonism's view of work. I offer this post as Exhibit B: Albert Mackey's 1882 The Symbolism of Freemasonry. In the chapter titled "The Symbolism of Labor," Mackey argues that "the Masonic Institution...teaches not only the necessity, but the nobility, of labor." Noting that the Trestle Board is the "symbol of the Divine Law," Mackey declares that "to labor well and truly, to labor honestly and persistently, is the object and the chief end of all humanity." This decree "was originally instituted as the common lot of all," alluding (I take it) to Adam's original command in the Garden of Eden. "To work out well the task that is set before us is our highest duty," he writes, "and should constitute our greatest happiness." God is described as "the
Grand Architect, the Master Builder of the world, [who] has labored from eternity" and "inscribes his plans upon illimitable space, for the universe is his trestle board." The Creation follows the Creator's example:

Earth works with every coming spring, and within its prolific bosom designs the bursting seed, the tender plant, and the finished tree, upon its trestle board. Old ocean works forever--restless and murmuring--but still bravely working; and storms and tempests, the purifiers of stagnant nature, are inscribed upon its trestle board.

While embracing the Benedictine motto of laborare est orare--labor is worship [1]--Mackey was still quite critical of the "old ascetics" because they "went into the wilderness, and built cells, and occupied themselves in solitary meditation and profitless thought. They prayed much, but they did no work. And thus they passed their lives, giving no pity, aid, or consolation to their fellow-men, adding no mite to the treasury of human knowledge, and leaving the world, when their selfish pilgrimage was finished, without a single contribution, in labor of mind or body, to its welfare." While rather harsh and historically inaccurate,[2] the comment nonetheless demonstrates the Masonic commitment to labor and toil. Mackey followed up his criticisms with his most emphatic statement:

Now, this doctrine, that labor is worship, is the very doctrine that has been advanced and maintained, from time immemorial, as a leading dogma of the Order of Freemasonry. There is no other human institution under the sun which has set forth this great principle in such bold relief. We hear constantly of Freemasonry as an institution that inculcates morality, that fosters the social feeling, that teaches brotherly love; and all this is well, because it is true; but we must never forget that from its foundation-stone to its pinnacle, all over its vast temple, is inscribed, in symbols of living light, the great truth that labor is worship...Freemasonry is, it is true, a speculative science, but it is a speculative science based upon an operative art. All its symbols and allegories refer to this connection. Its very language is borrowed from the art, and it is singularly suggestive that the initiation of a candidate into its mysteries is called, in its peculiar phraseology, work.

Mackey interestingly distinguishes Masonry from the philosophies of old, drawing attention to the fact that the institution's phraseology does not draw on the language of the university: "There would have been the sophists and the philosophers; the grammatists and the grammarians; the scholars, the masters, and the doctors. [Masonry] would have had its trivial and its quadrivial schools; its occupation would have been research, experiment, or investigation; in a word, its whole features would have been colored by a grammatical, a rhetorical, or a mathematical cast, accordingly as it should have been derived from a sect in which any one of these three characteristics was the predominating influence." Instead, the highest grade of Masonry is Master of the Work. "Its places of meeting are not schools, but lodges, places where the workmen formerly lodged, in the neighborhood of the building on whose construction they were engaged. It does not form theories, but builds temples." God is not "a divine power" or "a controller of all things...but a Grand Architect of the Universe. The masonic idea of God refers to Him as the Mighty Builder of this terrestrial globe, and all the countless worlds that surround it...[A]nd hence our labor is his worship." According to Mackey, a Mason's duty "as such, in his lodge, is to work."

The question arises as to the kind of work. Mackey is emphatic in his belief that "temple building was the original occupation of our ancient brethren. And to this is added the fact, that after a long lapse of centuries, a body of men is found in the middle ages who were universally recognized as Freemasons, and who directed their attention and their skill to the same pursuit, and were engaged in the construction of cathedrals, abbeys, and other sacred edifices, these being the Christian substitute for the heathen or the Jewish temple. And therefore, when we view the history of the Order as thus developed in its origin and its design, we are justified in saying that, in all times past, its members have been recognized as men of labor, and that their labor has been temple building." Mackey then compares the tasks of modern Masons with those of ancient times, explaining that the modern work of Masonry is largely abstract: "But our ancient brethren wrought in both operative and speculative Masonry, while we work only in speculative. They worked with the hand; we work with the brain. They dealt in the material; we in the spiritual. They used in their labor wood and stones; we use thoughts, and feelings, and affections." It is here that Joseph Smith seems to differ, instead fusing the material and the spiritual together. The building of temples and the building of a moral society (a "moral temple" according to the German masons Mackey quotes) became intertwined. Joseph's Zion  and the German Masons' "mystical Solomonic temple" could be said to share the same utopian description: "the high ideal or archetype of humanity in the best possible condition of social improvement, wherein every evil inclination is overcome, every passion is resolved into the spirit of love, and wherein each for all, and all for each, kindly strive to work." And thus the German Masons call this striving for an almost millennial result labor in the temple."

This return to a more ancient form of Masonry fits with Smith's notion of restoring a more ancient form of Christianity and, ultimately, Judaism.


1. This may actually be a mistranslation.

2. See Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005); Thomas E. Woods, Jr., How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2012), Ch. 3: "How the Monks Saved Civilization."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Masonry Stands Up For the Nobility of Labor": Masonry and Mormonism

I'm extremely excited for the forthcoming book by Cheryl Bruno and Joe Swick III titled Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration. Having seen the outline and summary of the arguments, I can say that this will truly help readers understand just how important and intertwined Masonry was to early Mormonism. Granted, I still need to read Michael Homer's Joseph's Temples: The Dynamic Relationship between Freemasonry and Mormonism (which I actually have), but I think Cheryl and Joe's is going to be on a much grander scale than Homer's book. I think these books will be influential in my own work on a Mormon theology of work.

Case in point: the following comes from Albert Pike's 1871 book Morals and Dogma. It describes the 22nd degree: the Knight of the Royal Axe, Prince of Libanus. The excerpt is very long, but I thought it was worth posting. The Masonic view of labor is very similar to what you find in Mormonism (or what was said about Mormonism) and was likely a major influence on its view of work:

SYMPATHY with the great laboring classes, respect for labor itself, and resolution to do some good work in our day and generation, these are the lessons of this Degree, and they are purely Masonic. Masonry has made a working-man and his associates the Heroes of her principal legend, and himself the companion of Kings. The idea is as simple and true as it is sublime. From first to last, Masonry is work. It venerates the Grand Architect of the Universe. It commemorates the building of a Temple. Its principal emblems are the working tools of Masons and Artisans. It preserves the name of the first worker in brass and iron as one of its pass-words. When the Brethren meet together, they are at labor. The Master is the overseer who sets the craft to work and gives them proper instruction. Masonry is the apotheosis of WORK.

It is the hands of brave, forgotten men that have made this great, populous, cultivated world a world for us. It is all work, and forgotten work. The real conquerors, creators, and eternal proprietors of every great and civilized land are all the heroic souls that ever were in it, each in his degree: all the men that ever felled a forest-tree or drained a marsh, or contrived a wise scheme, or did or said a true or valiant thing therein. Genuine work alone, done faithfully, is eternal, even as the Almighty Founder and World-builder Himself. All work is noble: a life of ease is not for any man, nor for any God. The Almighty Maker is not like one who, in old immemorial ages, having made his machine of a Universe, sits ever since, and sees it go. Out of that belief comes Atheism. The faith in an Invisible, Unnamable, Directing Deity, present everywhere in all that we see, and work, and suffer, is the essence of all faith whatsoever.

...[Man's] only true unhappiness should be that he cannot work, and get his destiny as a man fulfilled. The day passes swiftly over, our life passes swiftly over, and the night cometh, wherein no man can work. That night once come, our happiness and unhappiness are vanished, and become as things that never were. But our work is not abolished, and has not vanished. It remains, or the want of it remains, for endless Times and Eternities.

...To work is to try himself against Nature and her unerring, everlasting laws: and they will return true verdict as to him. The noblest Epic is a mighty Empire slowly built together, a mighty series of heroic deeds, a mighty conquest over chaos. Deeds are greater than words. They have a life, mute, but undeniable; and grow. They people the vacuity of Time, and make it green and worthy.

Labor is the truest emblem of God, the Architect and Eternal Maker; noble Labor, which is yet to be the King of this Earth, and sit on the highest Throne. Men without duties to do, are like trees planted on precipices; from the roots of which all the earth has crumbled. Nature owns no man who is not also a Martyr. She scorns the man who sits screened from all work, from want, danger, hardship, the victory over which is work; and has all his work and battling done by other men; and yet there are men who pride themselves that they and theirs have done no work time out of mind.

...There is a perennial nobleness and even sacredness in work. Be he never so benighted and forgetful of his high calling, there is always hope in a man who actually and earnestly works: in Idleness alone is there perpetual Despair. Man perfects himself by working. Jungles are cleared away. Fair seed-fields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal, the man himself first ceases to be a foul
unwholesome jungle and desert thereby. Even in the meanest sort of labor, the whole soul of man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the moment he begins to work. Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, and even Despair shrink murmuring far off into their caves, whenever the man bends himself resolutely against his task. Labor is life. From the inmost heart of the worker rises his God-given Force, the Sacred Celestial Life-essence, breathed into him by Almighty God; and awakens him to all nobleness, as soon as work fitly begins. By it man learns Patience, Courage, Perseverance, Openness to light, readiness to own himself mistaken, resolution to do better and improve. Only by labor will man continually learn the virtues. There is no Religion in stagnation and inaction; but only in activity and exertion. There was the deepest truth in that saying of the old monks, "laborare est orare." "He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small;" and can man love except by working earnestly to benefit that being whom he loves?

"Work; and therein have well-being," is the oldest of Gospels; unpreached, inarticulate, but ineradicable, and enduring forever. To make Disorder, wherever found, an eternal enemy; to attack and subdue him, and make order of him, the subject not of Chaos, but of Intelligence and Divinity...Let the weary cease to think that labor is a curse and doom pronounced by Deity, Without it there could be no true excellence in human nature. Without it, and pain, and sorrow, where would be the human virtues?

...Duty is with us ever; and evermore forbids us to be idle. To work with the hands or brain, according to our requirements and our capacities, to do that which lies before us to do, is more honorable than rank and title. Ploughers, spinners and builders, inventors, and men of science, poets, advocates, and writers, all stand upon one common level, and form one grand, innumerable host, marching ever onward since the beginning of the world: each entitled to our sympathy and respect, each a man and our brother.

...Masonry stands up for the nobility of labor. It is Heaven's great ordinance for human improvement. It has been broken down for ages; and Masonry desires to build it up again. It has been broken down, because men toil only because they must, submitting to it as, in some sort, a degrading necessity; and desiring nothing so much on earth as to escape from it. They fulfill the great law of labor in the letter, but break it in the spirit,: they fulfill it with the muscles, but break it with the mind...Even when [the labor's] end is hidden from him, it is not mere blind drudgery. It is all a training, a discipline, a development of energies, a nurse of virtues, a school of improvement.

...The great law of human industry is this: that industry, working either with the hand or the mind, the application of our powers to some task, to the achievement of some result, lies at the foundation of all human improvement. We are not sent into the world like animals, to crop the spontaneous herbage of the field, and then to lie down in indolent repose: but we are sent to dig the soil and plough the sea; to do the business of cities and the work of manufactories. The world is the great and appointed school of industry. In an artificial state of society, mankind is divided into the idle and the laboring classes; but such was not the design of Providence. Labor is man's great function, his peculiar distinction and his privilege.

...What is there glorious in the world, that is not the product of labor, either of the body or of the mind? What is history, but its record? What are the treasures of genius and art, but its work? What are cultivated fields, but its toil? The busy marts, the rising cities, the enriched empires of the world are but the great treasure-houses of labor. The pyramids of Egypt, the castles and towers and temples of Europe, the buried cities of Italy and Mexico, the canals and railroads of Christendom, are but tracks, all round the world, of the mighty footsteps of labor. Without it antiquity would not have been. Without it, there would be no memory of the past, and no hope for the future...It honors the Worker, the Toiler; him who produces and not alone consumes; him who puts forth his hand to add to the treasury of human comforts, and not alone to take away.

...God has not made a world of rich men; but rather a world of poor men; or of men, at least, who must toil for a subsistence. That is, then, the best condition for man, and the grand sphere of human improvement.

...If wealth were employed in promoting mental culture at home and works of philanthropy abroad; if it were multiplying studies of art, and building up institutions of learning around us; if it were in every way raising the intellectual character of the world, there could scarcely be too much of it. But if the utmost aim, effort, and ambition of wealth be, to procure rich furniture, and provide costly entertainments, and build luxurious houses, and minister to vanity, extravagance, and ostentation, there could scarcely be too little of it. To a certain extent it may laudably be the minister of elegancies and luxuries, and the servitor of hospitality and physical enjoyment: but just in proportion as its tendencies, divested of all higher aims and tastes, are running that way, they are running to peril and evil.

...To aid in securing to all labor permanent employment and its just reward: to help to hasten the coming of that time when no one shall stiffer from hunger or destitution, because, though willing and able to work, he can find no employment, or because he has been overtaken by sickness in the midst of his labor, are part of your duties as a Knight of the Royal Axe. And if we can succeed in making some small nook of God's creation a little more fruitful and cheerful, a little better and more worthy of Him,--or in making some one or two human hearts a little wiser, and more manful and hopeful and happy, we shall have done work, worthy of Masons, and acceptable to our Father in Heaven.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"I Don't Want to Go": Or, Having an Existential Crisis in Barnes & Nobles

I recently finished journalist Christine Kenneally's The Invisible History of the Human Race for a kind of unofficial book club I accidentally started at work (I was joking when I suggested it...). I enjoyed it for the most part, especially since it was the first book on genealogy I'd ever read. In the very first chapter, Kenneally describes an experience her husband had years ago:

When my husband was a graduate student, he had to physically brace himself every time he walked into the university library, as the sight of all those books, written by all those people, about so many more people, with references to even more people who had written many more books about other people, was too much to contemplate. Or rather, what was too much was the multiplicity of the books plus the intrusive realization that he would never in his lifetime be able to read them all. Hundreds of people blithely stepped over the library's threshold all day long, but for [my husband], to catch a glimpse of the library's immense holdings was to come face to face with his own mortality.[1]

I had a similar experience about a month or so ago in Barnes & Nobles. It started out small. I walked by a section of Best-Selling or Classic Literature (can't remember which), pausing to note how few I had actually read. This caused a slight increase in my breathing tempo, but I calmed down as I made my way to one of the store's comfy chairs. After reading an article on performance compensation in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, I began my serious browse. Before I upgraded to an iPhone, I would write down book titles on small scraps of paper as I perused the numerous sections in the store. Now I snap a picture of the cover of any book I find interesting for future reference and serious consideration. Having gone back through my photos from that day, I count 9 book covers. Nine. And I only browsed the new books tables,
the business section, and the rather small psychology section. But what really hit me was when I started riding the escalator down to the lower level. As descended, I had a somewhat aerial view of the bottom floor. The shelves of books expanded further and further out the more I came down. It was only when I had a full view of the lower floor that I realized I would never read all of the books in view. Panic set in. How many wrong ideas were rattling around in my head solely because I hadn't gotten to one of these books? What if those ideas stayed there all my life? It was a reminder of how little I know. An uncomfortable uncertainty set in. If I were Belle, the Beast's gift would've freaked me the hell out.

Furthermore, it got me thinking about why I wouldn't get to all the books: I'm going to die. As the quote above put it, I came face to face with my own mortality. Do I believe in an afterlife and eternal progression? Sure. But the chance of being wrong still looms, especially when you're looking at a wealth of knowledge you know you don't possess. It made me feel stuck. I didn't want to leave the store. And I didn't want to leave this life. I've been trying to turn this realization into a regenerative process; an embrace of epistemic humility. Some would experience this situation in just such a way: the realized ignorance and amount of unread books would be exciting. Boredom could never set in because there would always be something new to read or learn. Life is an incredible adventure, with the universe and its mysteries waiting to be explored.

Unfortunately, that is not my experience. All I keep thinking is "I don't want to go."


1. Christine Kenneally, The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures (New York: Viking, 2014), Kindle edition. Chapter 1: "Do Not Ask What Gets Passed Down."