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,
Nope
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."





NOTES

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."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2015 Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference



I recently had a paper presented at the 2015 Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference at the LDS Institute of Religion and Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. Unfortunately, I was unable to personally attend, but my friend Adam Miller was kind enough to read the paper on my behalf. The title is "'At This Time, A Friend Shall Lose His Friend's Hammer': An Eschatological View of Work." This paper has a lot in common with the one I presented at the Faith & Knowledge Conference in February and the Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference last year. However, there is a new emphasis on eschatology:


Abstract: Despite the Platonic ideal, people do not spend the majority of their time in the act of deep contemplation. Instead, they are performing the seemingly menial tasks of daily life. This largely consists of one’s form of employment. Similarly, implicit within the dramatics of apocalyptic prophecies and eschatological visions is the continuity of the mundane. In building the Kingdom of God, Church leaders from Brigham Young to John Widtsoe continued along the path set by Joseph Smith whose theology collapsed the traditional distance between the sacred and the secular. Furthermore, they argued that continual progression gave meaning to the eternity. Finding meaning in the lone and dreary world of day-to-day work has been a point of increasing interest among management experts and organizational theorists. Their findings yield fruitful insights into human well-being and consequently Mormonism’s doctrine of eternal progression. This paper discusses how the positive psychology underlying concepts of flow, mastery, engagement, and progress provides a powerful lens through which to realistically view human progression towards Zion, life in the age to come, and eventual divinization.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Magical World of Miyazaki

Miyazaki

I recently watched the documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness about famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. I was both inspired and saddened by the mesmerizing, yet cynical Miyazaki in the throes of his last film The Wind Rises. But one scene in particular that stood out to me took place in a seemingly small hotel room as Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki awaited a press conference following the release of the film. Looking out the hotel window, Miyazaki beckons the camera over. Peering over the rooftops, Miyazaki's imagination begins to take hold. Pointing to a building, he says,

From that rooftop, what if you leapt onto the next rooftop, dashed over to that blue and green wall, jumped up and climbed up the pipe and ran across the roof and jumped to the next? You can, in animation. If you can walk the cable, you could see the other side. When you look from above, so many things reveal themselves to you. Maybe race along the concrete wall. Suddenly, there in your humdrum town is a magical movie. Isn't it fun to see things that way? Feels like you could go somewhere far beyond. Maybe you can.

The conversation was spliced with various clips from Miyazaki's films, often matching the very actions he was describing. It was thrilling to see Miyazaki take the mundane and make it magical. Enchanting the ordinary strikes me as very close to--if not the same as--sacralizing the mundane. Perhaps we are our moral and creative best when we do so.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Finding Meaning Within Chinese Factories


We, the beneficiaries of globalization, seem to exploit these victims with every purchase we make, and the injustice feels embedded in the products themselves. After all, what's wrong with a world in which a worker on an iPhone assembly line can't even afford to buy one? It's taken for granted that Chinese factories are oppressive, and that it's our desire for cheap goods that makes them so.


So, this simple narrative equating Western demand and Chinese suffering is appealing, especially at a time when many of us already feel guilty about our impact on the world, but it's also inaccurate and disrespectful. We must be peculiarly self-obsessed to imagine that we have the power to drive tens of millions of people on the other side of the world to migrate and suffer in such terrible ways. In fact, China makes goods for markets all over the world, including its own, thanks to a combination of factors: its low costs, its large and educated workforce, and a flexible manufacturing system that responds quickly to market demands. By focusing so much on ourselves and our gadgets, we have rendered the individuals on the other end into invisibility, as tiny and interchangeable as the parts of a mobile phone.

Chinese workers are not forced into factories because of our insatiable desire for iPods. They choose to leave their homes in order to earn money, to learn new skills, and to see the world. In the ongoing debate about globalization, what's been missing is the voices of the workers themselves.

This is how journalist Leslie T. Chang begins her enlightening TED talk (based on her book Factory Girls) on Chinese factory workers. The talk as a whole looks at how these workers construct meaning in their employment. See the whole talk below.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Being Co-Creators With God

During my flight to the University of Virginia for the Faith & Knowledge Conference this past weekend, I finished a small AEI-published book entitled Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing.[1] Human flourishing is one of the major lenses through which I make sense of my religion. One of the most well-known scriptural passages in the LDS canon is God's declaration to Moses: "For behold, this is my work and my glory -- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). To me, "the immortality and eternal life of man" is the ultimate example of human flourishing. According to authors Chris Horst and Peter Greer, entrepreneurship can play an important role in bringing about this flourishing:

Made in the image of God, the imago dei, humankind still bears the Creator's fingerprints. When a mother gives birth or we create something with our hands, we mirror the wonder of creation. In some small but significant way, we have the privilege of being cocreators with God. If we look closely enough, we see this ability to cocreate all around us as: an artist transforms a blank canvas into a masterpiece; a builder assembles planks and raw materials into the structure of a home; a pharmacist synthesizes substances that heal; or a farmer reaches down into the dirt, plants seeds, and watches life spring forth.[2]

This is because "entrepreneurs are in the business of solving problems, not creating them. Their initiatives and inventions--and the businesses that sustain them---meet human needs...When entrepreneurs fulfill their mandate to serve others and solve problems, humans flourish. And to solve these problems, entrepreneurs recruit workers, who can also then experience the dignity of work. At its best, entrepreneurship aims to encourage human flourishing."[3]

This is why I'm interested in the theology of work. When we recognize that economies and organizations are networks of relationships, their place in the larger picture becomes a bit more clear.



2. Chris Horst, Peter Greer, Entrepreneurship for Human Flourishing (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 2014), 78.

3. Ibid., 8-9.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Blessed Are The Laborers?


...And in this moment I am happy.

- Incubus, "Wish You Were Here," Morning View (Epic Records, 2001).



In his book Gross National Happiness,[1] economist Arthur Brooks reports--based on data from the General Social Survey--that one of the key elements for achieving happiness and self-fulfillment is work. This is due to its connection to what Brooks calls earned success: the ability to create value in our lives and in the lives of others. Perhaps there is a reason that the beating of swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is part of the prophetic eschatological hope (Isa. 2:4; Joel 3:10; Micah 4:3). "The point of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks," writes New Testament scholar Ben Witherington, "is so that the weapons of war may be turned into tools of work. When Isaiah [and other OT prophets] 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."[2] Jesus taught, "Blessed (Gk makarios) are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). As I've explained elsewhere, the Jewish understanding of peace (Heb shalom) is not limited to a lack of war or strife, but instead points toward wholeness and a state of overall well-being. Furthermore, the Greek makarios was a word ascribed to the gods, who were free from the frailties and misfortunes of human life.[3] In essence, makarios was the divine life. The Septuagint often used this to translate the Hebrew asre, meaning "Oh the happiness of the one" and describing those with divine approval due to proper religious behaviors or attitudes. Unfortunately, this experiential understanding of the word is lost in the English "blessed." As one pair of biblical scholars explains, "Consequently, we often interpret [Matt. 5:9] to mean, "If you are a peacemaker, then God will bless you." But this isn't what Jesus meant. Jesus meant, "if you are a peacemaker, then you are in your happy place." It just doesn't work well in English."[4] This is because "happy sounds trite..."[5]

Perhaps work is integral to the divine life (makarios) and eschatological peace (shalom).





NOTES  

1. Brooks, Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It (New York: Basic Books, 2008), Ch. 7 "Happiness is a Full-Time Job."  

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

3. It was also used to the describe the dead, the rich, and the wise. See D.E. Garland, "Blessings and Woes," in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 78-79.

4. E. Randolph Richards, Brandon J. O'Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 75.

5. Ibid.