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The Bulwark’s November Blog Review

Oh say, what is truth? ‘Tis the fairest gem
That the riches of worlds can produce,
And priceless the value of truth will be when
The proud monarch’s costliest diadem
Is counted but dross and refuse.
Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire;
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies. ‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.
The sceptre may fall from the despot’s grasp
When with winds of stern justice he copes,
But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast,
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.
Then say, what is truth? ‘Tis the last and the first,
For the limits of time it steps o’er.
Though the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

—John Jaques

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The John Adams Center addresses the intersection of “faith, philosophy and public affairs.” Increasingly the discussion of these matters is taking place on the internet. While much valuable information and serious argumentation appear online, we also see a profusion of questionable claims and weak reasoning that often go uncontested. The John Adams Center has resolved to do what it can to raise the level of discussion on blogs and other internet sites that deal with our issues, beginning with those sites of special interest to Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Though keenly aware of our own fallibility, we intend to stand as a “firm-rooted bulwark” of rigorous thinking open to revealed truths, providing an evaluative overview of relevant internet activity, recommending serious and sound contributions (“fairest gems”) and fairly but frankly calling attention to what seems to us defective (“dross and refuse”). Along the way we may amuse ourselves and others from time to time, deliberately or not. Below you will find a review of such internet discussion.

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By the John Adams Center Editorial Board

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The Mormon Moment

Joanna Brooks is back to reading tea leaves at her Religion Dispatches column, indulging speculations that J. Willard Marriott and Jon Huntsman Sr. were released from their callings as general authorities as part of “the Church’s desire to underscore its non-involvement in the Huntsman and Romney campaigns.” After all, Brooks points out, the former candidate is Jon Huntsman Sr.’s son and the latter’s first name is Willard.


Brooks, however, left general conference convinced that the Brethren were responding to this “Mormon Moment” by strategically placing messages “asserting the centrality of Jesus Christ to Mormon belief and practice” in the Sunday “prime time” slot. While we were not aware such an opportune slot existed (or that such messages were unique to this conference), Brooks is right to point out the efforts the Brethren are making to educate members on how to portray the Church and share their beliefs with others. Elder Russell M. Ballard’s articulation on the importance of using the proper name of the Church was one such example.

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As much as Church leadership is grasping the importance of the “Mormon Moment,” Brooks cannot help but attack it for once institutionalizing a “racist ban” barring blacks from the priesthood, even while attempting to defend the Church against Christopher Hitchens’ attacks. With friends like these, who needs enemies? What is remarkable about Brooks’ defense is that she points out that the Church allowed blacks to receive the priesthood from the 1830s through the 1880s (she’s right, by the way), and that “the Book of Mormon provides no direct rationale for LDS anti-black institutional racism.” Brooks seems to not only be arguing that the priesthood restriction was “racist” (a word that drips undoubtedly too easily from her pen), but that it was a form of apostasy from the religion’s founding revelations and scriptural canon, only to be reversed in 1978.

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At the heart of this Mormon Moment is presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Brooks was full of condemnation and then praise for something she was sure Romney would not do, but then actually did do to confront what she is right to see as the bigotry of Evangelical leader Bryan Fischer. Kudos to Romney for standing up against a man who argued that the US refuse citizenship to Muslims strictly on the basis of their religion. Kudos to Brooks for admitting when she was wrong.

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Interfaith Relations

While she does admit she was wrong on this particular issue, it’s her line of reasoning that is especially interesting. Mormons are all too eager, she says, to make nice with Evangelicals, and nowhere is this more evident than in the political arena, as it was with the key 2008 Proposition 8 — “not one of our proudest moments, to be sure,” she quips. Brooks does not understand why Mormons and even the LDS Church might want to form relationships with “openly anti-Mormon evangelical Christians all the time,” even though making friends with secular liberals pushing an agenda diametrically opposed to her Church’s counsel (and good reason) apparently makes perfect sense to her. One wonders why she is so much more interested in lashing out at anti-Mormon Evangelicals than the truly vicious attacks of prominent liberals such as Maureen Dowd. It seems the work of distancing oneself from one’s roots “in a conservative Mormon home” in order to identify oneself as “an award winning writer and scholar” is never done.

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Though a political relationship between members and Evangelical Christians for political purposes is bound to have its tensions and even limits, it is the most effective way to combat the real moral issues now facing our society. Fortunately, men like Jeffress do not speak for all Evangelicals, including Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Pat Robertson, who have all expressed their appreciation and even admiration for the LDS Church’s willingness to join them in the public square. Evangelicals are not nearly as universally hostile toward Mormons as Brooks might have us believe. Somehow we doubt Brooks is comforted by such good faith collaborations.

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Gay Issues and the Winds of Progress

Meanwhile, The Salt Lake Tribune reported on the interfaith Circling the Wagons conference in Salt Lake City for members of the LGBT community and their families. One Mormon bishop at the conference caused a stir, chastising the LDS Church and its members and calling the way they had treated gay Mormons an “atrocity.” The bishop described his recent “mighty change of heart” in relation to gay issues that opened his mind, and apologized on behalf of his church for its actions.

I began to see the emotional wounds and scars that many of you have today,” the bishop said, “and I began to ask, ‘Where did you get these wounds?’ And the answer, unfortunately, was in the house of my friends.’”

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If Joanna Brooks is right in seeing the winds of progress (in events such as Mitch Mayne’s calling as Executive Secretary) leading to a LDS Church that views “homosexuality as a naturally-occurring human trait that is not abhorrent to God,” and recognizes “that it is unjust and impossible to expect gay Mormons to abstain from intimate relationships their entire lifetimes,” then this move is further welcome evidence of the spirit of the times.

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If only the Tribune report were true.

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The day after this article appeared in print, no other than Brooks posted an interview with this forward-looking bishop to expound upon this atrocious treatment of the LGBT community. Unfortunately, it was difficult for the bishop to expound on something he never said. While we credit her for being fair enough to bring this out, it’s a sad day when Joanna Brooks has to set the Tribune straight on the gay rights issue.

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The bishop told Brooks that the Tribune report was taken “out-of-context” and that he did not criticize the Church. “In fact,” he said,

 I felt like we needed to support the leadership of the Church in their movements forward with our gay brothers and sisters.”

While “out-of-context” might be a bit too generous, this sounds like a wise bishop, indeed.

Faith and Reason: 1. Progress: 0.

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What is perhaps most enlightening about this episode is how quick the Tribune reporter transformed the remarks of a compassionate bishop into a milestone for the gay Mormon agenda. This conflation reveals how those pushing this agenda view the mainstream of the Church and anyone supporting traditional heterosexual and monogamous marriages. They often see their ideological opponents as backward bigots because their vapid worldview has stripped away any other possibility. Operating within this framework, anyone who says that “we should love all God’s children, including gays” or admits that gays have been treated unfairly in the world, and even by members of the Church, must be pushing the secular liberationist agenda. This is sloppy thinking and a caricature of the powerful arguments available on the pro-family side. We are waiting for the day when proponents of gay marriage can accept that its opponents are fighting to uphold the goods of marriage, family, and clear moral reasoning rather than looking for an outlet for their hate.

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We agree with this bishop that many Mormons could also use “a mighty change of heart” regarding how they view their homosexual brothers and sisters. It is despicable anytime our actions toward individuals become rooted in irrational cultural prejudices rather than reason or doctrine. Mormons are often quick to point out that homosexuality is simply another temptation some individuals face (even if it is a particularly strong one) and not a deterministic part of one’s biological make-up. They would do well to see the corollary of this argument and reach out to homosexuals the way they would to any other saint struggling with temptation.

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Solid as always, (Gay) Mormon Guy is not pleased with “the population of anti/ex-Mormons” who trumpet the message that “the church [is] not a hospitable place for [gays].” It’s a perceptive remark that the voices fighting for equal rights in the gay Mormon community must simultaneously convince members fighting same-sex attraction that the Church, and sometimes even God, does not want them in the household of faith. One wonders if there have been studies on the psychological harm gay activists have caused members of the Mormon gay community. We cannot be sure how these liberal Mormons hold their beliefs together, but it would seem that if you push any of these ideas in the least, there is an irreconcilable tension between the Church’s simple teaching that homosexuality is a sin and Brooks’ notion that “homosexuality as a naturally-occurring human trait that is not abhorrent to God.”

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It seems some Latter-day Saints have uncritically accepted or absorbed such an extreme liberal philosophy, or rather sensibility, that the simple idea of a commandment or a moral standard that conflicts with a human passion or inclination appears to them to be cruel, unequal and therefore illegitimate on its face. Such extreme liberals can only hope for a day in which no tension will remain between what people want and the guidance God gives through his commandments. In a word, they are sure that God must deep down be an extreme liberal like themselves. But then we wouldn’t really need God, or prophets, or scriptures, would we? All desires would appear as equally legitimate, and we could leave it to liberal experts to reconcile all wants and to keep order.

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Feminism

 The Mormon feminists are back fighting the important issues of the day. This time Cynthia L. at By Common Consent is frustrated by the archaic chivalry Elder Dallin H. Oaks demonstrated at the Payson Temple groundbreaking ceremony. It was a muddy day and Oaks suggested that the women present not participate so that they wouldn’t get their shoes dirty. Cynthia L.’s response? “No comment.”

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Meanwhile, the Feminist Mormon Housewives are upset by the new Daughters in My Kingdom book recently published by the Church. Complaints range from the white-washing of the oppression of women in the Church to the pink cover (it’s actually blue). Apparently, many of the contributors at FMH were hoping for an official apology for the Church’s general subjugation of women, including, but not limited to, Joseph Smith’s starting the organization instead of a woman, the Society’s autonomy under Brigham Young, and the Church’s opposition to the ERA. President of the General Relief Society Julie Beck has a different idea in mind. She describes the book “as a witness of the divine identity of our Heavenly Father’s daughters,” and the book’s preface says that a study of its pages will reveal that

“Our Heavenly Father knows His daughters, that He loves them, that He trusts them with sacred responsibilities,” namely “build[ing] God’s kingdom on the earth and strengthen[ing] the homes of Zion.”

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Regardless of whether these housewives’ grievances hold water, it is hard to see how finally settling the score on these issues would achieve anything near the magnitude Sister Beck has in mind. But, perhaps, it would be more satisfying to our feminists.

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Reese Dixon at FMH are in full agreement about Republicans’ feelings toward women. Pelosi attacked House Republicans’ attempt to block the funding of abortions in Obamacare, saying “when the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene if this bill is passed. It’s just appalling.” What is appalling is that pro-choice politicians still demagogue this issue in a country where three-fourths of women who have abortions say they made their “choice” because having a child would interfere with their work or schooling and another three-fourths say they simply can’t afford a child. Abortion is rarely about the life of the mother, and this particular bill specifically made exemptions for pregnancies that were the result “of an act of rape or incest; or in the case where a pregnant female… [would be] in danger of death unless an abortion is performed.” To [loosely] use Dixon’s words, it’s a shame the Senate won’t pass and the president won’t sign this “horrific, nightmare, sexist piece of legislation.”

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Religion and Spirituality

President Thomas S. Monson counseled Church members last members to “stand in holy places” during trying times. In the talk he referred to an article in the Wall Street Journal in which Rabbi Jonathan Sacks decries the disintegration of standards of morality in the WestAlthough the Rabbi’s observations are certainly accurate, the prophet points out that we need not “wring our hands in despair.” With characteristic optimism, he assures us that while the world’s moral compass continues to “evolve,” God and His laws will remain constant.

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In the same WSJ article, Sacks finds solace in the work of one that he called the “Tocqueville of our time.” Even if the Rabbi’s appellation is too generous, the Harvard political scientist he describes is making waves with his book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. At Mormon Times, Deseret News staff writer Joseph Walker seems to agree with Robert Putnam and his co-author Campbell’s opinion that most Jews and Catholics look favorably upon members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Romney’s Mormonism is not an insurmountable hurdle for Putnam and Campbell. They contend that if he can win the GOP nomination, the general election will not hinge upon his religion.

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As the real Tocqueville once indicated, most things do hinge upon at least one definition of religion: “There is almost no human action… that does not arise from a very general idea that men have conceived of God, of his relations with the human race, of the nature of their souls, and of their duties toward those like them. One cannot keep these ideas from being the common source from which all the rest flow.”

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With this thought in mind, Daniel Peterson’s recent exhortations for preparation and vigilance are both timely and relevant. In the spirit of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s most recent invitation to brothers of all ages to “unbind” their tongues, Peterson frees up his typing fingers to remind us that Father Lehi’s vision makes it painfully clear how the world will receive members of the Church today.

“And I also cast my eyes round about and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building … and it was filled with people … and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.”

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Peterson reminds us that there were many who tasted the fruit of the tree of life, but “were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.” We can only pray today’s saints will fare better than those in Lehi’s vision.

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Romney and the Mormon “Cult”

Speaking of those pointing the finger of scorn, Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress caused a media firestorm when he announced Gov. Rick Perry by telling those gathered at the Values Voters Summit that they could either vote for a moral man (Romney) or “a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ (Perry). Jeffress left no doubt which one he preferred, infamously calling Mormonism a cult, and then back-pedaling to draw a convenient line between theological and sociological cults. Jeffress’ remarks were despicable, but this sort of anti-Mormonism was bound to surface at some point during the Romney campaign, and Romney should be glad it happened now when so many pundits and politicians on the left and right took glee in going on record against the political use of anti-Mormonism. This record could be useful to Romney during the rest of the primary and especially in the general should he receive the GOP nomination.

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While the circumstances were unfortunate, Mormons realized they had many non-Mormon defenders in the media who recognized in Jeffress’ words an illiberal attack on the spirit of the Constitution’s prohibition against religious tests. Jewish LA Times columnist Jonah Goldberg doesn’t care much about whether Mormonism is a cult.

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From a Jewish perspective, you could say that Mormonism is simply one of the more recent additions to a very long line of cults. From an atheist perspective, it’s cults as far as the eye can see. But from a moral perspective, contemporary Mormonism is squarely within the Judeo-Christian tradition, promoting decency, self-restraint, family values, etc.”

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Anderson Cooper became an overnight hero on Mormons’ Facebook News Feeds after he exposed Jeffress’ rational incoherence on live television.

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Back in Utah, Daniel Peterson refutes Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress’ now infamous fallacy of equivocation in which he falsely conflates Christianity and the historical Christianity of the Nicene Creed. Peterson continues: “We Latter-day Saints cheerfully acknowledge — indeed, we proclaim — that our faith isn’t part of the traditional Christian mainstream. After all, if it were mainstream there would have been no need for the Restoration or the mission of Joseph Smith.” The Sutherland Institute’s Paul Mero, LDS Church Public Affairs’ Michael Otterson, and In Media Res Russell Arben Fox also added their insights on this issue.

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Mormon Studies scholar Terryl Givens takes Peterson’s  point a step further in a forthcoming interview with the John Adams
Center, saying “I fear we already go too far in emphasizing that which we share with the Christian world instead of that which sets us apart.” The desire to seek approval and assimilate into the mainstream of Christianity is “a denial of our true identity and to the raison d’être for the very Chruch itself.” Givens, the author of the recently published Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism, favors the Pratt style of handling anti-Mormonism. In 1838, Pratt titled his response to L.R. Sunderland’s attacks against the Church “Mormonism Unveiled,” which was the very title of the first sustained attack against the Church. By choosing this title, Givens says, Pratt was insisting that Mormonism must be unveiled and that Mormons do the unveiling on their own terms. “Instead of running from the charges that Sunderland raised, he embraced them and trumpeted them.”

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Sooner or later, Mormons must realize that they are radically different from mainstream Christianity, and it is those differences that give the faith its savor. We appreciate the unity we share with all our Christian brothers and sisters, but if Mormons try to gain the approval of other Christians at the expense of downplaying its most ennobling truths, we surely risk losing those same treasures.

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As for Jeffress, he knows he is being disingenuous. He is a smart man, and he knows he is using loaded language to mislead his audience and malign millions of people’s faith. If Jeffress did not have ulterior motives, he would simply describe Mormons as being unorthodox or lying outside the mainstream of Christianity. Professor Givens went on to explain that the only sustainable definition of “a Christian” is someone who believes “Jesus is the son of God and savior of mankind.” If Jeffress wants to use strict adherence to fourth century creeds to determine who is Christian and who is a member of a cult, then Peter, James , John and Paul must also be in this cultish company, along with the other saints of the early church. But, if Jeffress and others are going to insist on this petty word game, then perhaps Mormons should follow Pratt and embrace the charges. If believing the Godhead consists of three distinct beings and that God loves and continues to speak to His children through the revelatory mantle of His prophets makes Mormons a “cult,” perhaps we should embrace the label and appreciate the blessings of the one true and living “cult.”

Of course, we are speaking tongue-in-cheek, but at the end of the day, it does not matter which label criticizers place on Mormons, and Mormons would do well to recognize that and then stop shamefully seeking approval of the mainstream and instead engage these discussions on their own terms.

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On the other hand, however, while Mormons are understandably upset about Jeffress’ remarks, they would do well to remind themselves of the fact that it was Joseph Smith who started this conflict with mainstream Christianity in 1820 when he exited the grove and said that all the religions of the world were wrong and “that all their creeds were an abomination in [the Lord’s] sight.” This is a statement from which Mormons cannot and should not back down. But, Mormons also must take these attacks on their faith and use them to understand, at least in part, that non-Mormons might be similarly upset when they hear Jospeh’s statement. This understanding would go a long way in facilitating honest and productive interfaith relationships.

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Religion and Taxes

Elder Dallin H. Oaks testified before the Senate Finance Committee on the essential need to maintain tax-free charitable giving. The recent debt crisis and falling tax revenues due to the prolonged recession have raised the possibility of potentially reducing or removing the tax deduction for donations to religious and charitable organizations. The charitable tax deduction, Elder Oaks said, “is vital to the private sector that is unique to America.” It provides much of the funding for countless organizations like “educational institutions, hospitals, social welfare agencies and innumerable other organizations ministering to the needs of children, youth, the aged, the poor and citizens generally.”

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Elder Oaks continued:

” If the charitable deduction is modified in substance — not in the details, but in the substance — that will be a teaching message that charitable works are less important in our view than the works of government.”

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Apart from making the case for the instrumentality of the tax deduction, Oaks argued that its opposition misunderstood the philosophical foundation of government and taxes:

“Some economists and other scholars contend that this is, in effect, a tax expenditure because tax revenues are reduced by the benefit granted. In other words, because the government could have denied the charitable deduction there is a government expenditure in its granting the deduction and forgoing the revenue. By that reasoning the personal income we think is ours is really the government’s because of its choice not to take it away by taxation. That is surely an attitude not shared by most Americans.”

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Elder Oaks’ testimony was supported by the Sutherland Institute, which argued that the tax code should contain incentives to encourage better behavior from citizens. Taxing charitable giving essentially penalizes citizens for financially supporting private organizations and thereby provides a disincentive to donate. Removing the deduction could cripple many crucially important private endeavors and provide scant revenue in return.

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Utopian Reveries

Dane Laverty’s three-part post on “building Zion-like communities” at Times and Seasons (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) presents a rough sketch of simple community living where most of the fundamental premises of our current society are rejected in favor of . . . simple community living. In an earlier post, Laverty expresses his admiration for “green hill” communities — small, close-quartered residential communities with plentiful common facilities, lovely gardens and green-space. Such communities seem to embody Laverty’s ideal of Zion, a word that he acknowledges “means so many things to so many people.”

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Laverty begins his first post by noting that “communities are difficult and complicated” and that his “ideal community is so dear to [him] that it pains [him] to put it into words.” He then organizes this community around the maximization of six ideals: affordability, space, distribution of labor, cutting edge technology, education and job skills and self-determination.

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Laverty’s second post details what some of the buildings and layout of this ideal community would look like — and we use that term “ideal” loosely. His third post outlines a three-tier system of salary. While $1,000 is the average salary per household, there are three tiers for people to choose from, each in $1,000 increments ($0-$2,000), depending on whether individuals simply want to make a living doing what they love or “spend their time painting sunsets.”  Laverty takes this thought experiment one step further,  explaining that his system would correct our current job market. “The USA provides relatively poor career opportunities for the poor and uneducated. So we have a stratified system where the people at the bottom only have access to dead-end jobs — work that won’t lead to the sort of stable, well-paying middle-class career employment.”

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In reply, and in a spirit of generosity, one can only conclude that these musings are essentially juvenile. Human beings have been thinking about the ideal community almost from the inception of civilization; there is a rich intellectual tradition, both religious and secular, that dates back millennia on the subject. Clearly, Laverty’s views project more of his individual whims of what the good life consists of rather than reflecting a deep understanding of Zion or any concrete idea grounded in reality. The real poverty of Laverty’s posts, however, is in his total silence regarding the detailed discussions of Zion in the holy scriptures. Building Zion does not begin with houses, tracts, or gardening; it begins with faith, devotion, and righteousness. Moreover, the integration of the spiritual with the political, and the subsequent reordering of laws, cultures, mores, norms, and institutions both economic and public in Zion merits far more thought and consideration than silly “green hill” communal planning.

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Deliberative Democracy

Matthew Piccolo’s short article at the Sutherland Daily argues that unlike personal purchases, the average individual’s political decisions are often made in haste and with little study, research, or reflection. Instead of relying on a careful political prudence, many people nonchalantly follow their impulses when it comes to public policy. Piccolo makes a fair, if obvious point, and he’s to be commended for urging us to develop that rare political virtue, prudence. However, an individual’s personal reflection on the great issues is undermined by the fact that in a democracy, your vote only counts as one no matter how much you’ve studied. Study and reflection requires time, initiative, and effort, hence the price to be well informed is rather high for hectic people with plenty of other serious and more pressing responsibilities. For most Americans, politics is a peripheral and ephemeral concern, an occasional task rather than a constant priority. To urge the individual to develop personal prudence is good, but it’s better to encourage deliberative democracy, institutions that enable ordinary citizens to participate in politics while also being educated in the use of their reason.

Comments (10)

  1. Anne Peffer

    November 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Thanks for the entertaining read. I haven’t had smiled so much in a long, long time.
    Finger pointing is fun, isn’t it?

    Here’s my favorite little segment:

    “Peterson frees up his typing fingers to remind us that Father Lehi’s vision makes it painfully clear how the world will receive members of the Church today.

    “‘And I also cast my eyes round about and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building … and it was filled with people … and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.’

    “Peterson reminds us that there were many who tasted the fruit of the tree of life, but ‘were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.’ We can only pray today’s saints will fare better than those in Lehi’s vision.”

    This makes me chuckle because my head conjures up an image of people standing by a random white tree and pointing fingers to mock those they perceive to be in a great and spacious building. It’s hard for me to really believe these tree people in my little visualization have really found the tree of life, but it sure is entertaining to see the look of pleasure they carry on their faces due to their perceived tree-finding successes and consequent senses of superiority. I suppose it may be wrong for me to be entertained by their smirks; I apologize for my sense of humor.

    I also suppose it might be wise for someone like me to pray that the people who are perceived to be in a great and spacious building don’t give heed to those who point fingers from random white trees. I’ll admit that I do sincerely hope these supposed “building-dwellers” fare better than those who consider themselves to be tree-dwellers. What an unchristian thought. Again, my apologies.

    Keep up the good work John Adams Center. I’m looking forward to it.

  2. Jane Doe

    November 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I for one, am tired of Joanna Brooks speaking out on behalf of LDS women. She bears little resemblance to the women I know – as a lifelong member of the church. We are not racist or homophobic. We do not lose sleep over polygamy in the afterlife, or what some dead prophet supposedly said. I am sure that she means well, but as a gender studies proponent, her criticism of the church comes off as condescending and self-serving.

  3. Joel Fifield

    November 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Thanks for the interesting conservative analysis of liberal mormon blogging.

    I really appreciate all that Joanna Brooks does. She certainly holds some unorthodox views that are not shared by the majority of practicing Mormons, but that in itself allows her to build bridges of understanding for the church with outsiders. And her devotion to the faith sends an important signal that we can disagree on things like whether a church policy that denied the priesthood and temple ordinances to a group of people based on their race was racist, while still recognizing each other as essential parts of the body of Christ.

    I have to disagree with your characterization of the Payson Temple dedication. Elder Oaks did not suggest that women not participate in the ground breaking, he specifically excluded them from participating. While I don’t question his sincere concern for the women, I think it’s unfortunate that he didn’t let them choose whether or not to participate, as I suspect that many women and girls would have gladly gotten their shoes muddy to be able to take part in such a significant event. Now if a man had placed his coat down in the mud so the women could help break ground for the temple without muddying their feet, that would be real chivalry.

  4. Mike Tweedy

    November 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Happy to see an LDS blog written by those who have both feet on the ground. From my perspective, it’s a rare thing among Latter-day Saints. More LDS people should be exploring their religion in a profound way, in a way that is not merely emotionally driven. They should be inquisitive, rational, and objective. Your blog can only help that process.

  5. Bob Crockett

    November 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Whereas I like a tax deduction as much as anybody else, a tax deduction for religious contributions is plainly establishment legislation little different than the subsidies given Anglicans and Congregationalists until 1835. It puts government in the business of deciding what is a religion and what is not, and then letting its decision foster the establishment of organized religion.

    And, no, taxes should have no role in encouraging or discouraging behavior. Government is ill-equipped to tell anybody how to engage in socially acceptable conduct.

    Better to drastically reduce the overall tax load on citizens to encourage voluntary cooperation than to create tricky deductions to divert money to places citizens might not otherwise choose. If religion can’t function without a government subsidy then it shouldn’t function.

  6. Allen Miller

    November 16, 2011 at 9:15 am

    With regard to your article on homosexuality, your own homophobia creeps out from under the carpet. According to current Church teachings, homosexuality is NOT a sin. Homosexuals can hold callings, receive temple recommends and participate in all priesthood ordinances. By calling it a sin, you perpetuate the idea that homosexuality, which even the Brethren now recognize as possibly inherent, is by nature evil. This message wrongly preached from pulpits and classrooms and espoused in far too many interview rooms is the source of the emotional damage you lay at the feet of gay activists.

    Words mean things and until members of the Church get the language right, bigotry will continue to permeate LDS culture.

  7. admin

    November 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Lots of apologies in a brief space from Anne, who has almost mastered the ironies of finger-pointing. & Thanks for the encouraging words from others. Jane (a clever pseudonym?), I certainly respect your appreciation of Ms. Brooks, and in fact I agree that she provides an important perspective and some reasonable opinions on many things. Of course we reserve the right to disagree with her, and even to poke fun a little when she (like so many others) simply assumes that the more educated and enlightened ones must see things her way. Allen: define “homophobia.” If a homophobe is one who fears the consequences of the legitimizing of homosexual activity in our society, put me down as a homophobe. If homophobia means one who believes homosexual ACTIVITY, like other non-marital sexual intercourse, is a sin, then you can sign me up again on that one. If a homophobe is one who believes that we are better off socially, religiously, personally honoring the norm of heterosexuality and thus understanding homosexuality as unfortunate — there again, I’m your man. You won’t intimidate me with the label “homophobe.” –rch

  8. admin

    November 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Allen, words do mean things. Let us say there remains some ambiguity about the very meaning of the word “homosexuality.” Merriam Webster says it is defined by “erotic activity with another of the same sex,” while the Oxford dictionary defines it as the state of being “sexually attracted to people of their own sex.” Clearly the behavior of the person is the key difference here. We were using the former definition in our post. If this is the definition you are also employing then we are in agreement about the Church’s stance.

    I fear, however, that gay activists in the Mormon community are getting mileage with this ambiguity, saying that the Church is not against homosexuality and rarely bothering to state what is meant by this term. On this question, Elder Oaks has said (now available at the Same-Gender Attraction section of the LDS Newsroom: http://newsroom.lds.org/official-statement/same-gender-attraction), “The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression. The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted.”

    I am happy to use the term “same-sex attraction.” This term makes more sense to me than saying things such as “I’m a non-practicing homosexual.”

    Joel, it seems obvious to me that Elder Oaks would have not excluded women had they insisted that they didn’t mind the mud. Would his gesture have been better understood and appreciated in another era? Undoubtedly. His intent, however, seems clear once you consider the body of his words and deeds regarding and toward women. This makes me less quick to take offense.

    — Brandon Dabling, JAC Editorial Board

  9. Guy F. Burnett

    November 17, 2011 at 7:21 am

    I disagree with Mr. Crockett on tax policy for a number of reasons.

    First, tax deductions for religious charitable contributions is not “plainly establishment legislation” intended to establish government religion or preference for a religion. The 1st Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Since tax deductions would obviously not prohibit a religion from being exercised (indeed, the opposite), the question comes down to tax deductions as a form of Congress respecting an establishment of religion.

    The Supreme Court has held that a law violates the 1st Amendment by virtue of the three-part “Lemon Test”:

    “Three … tests may be gleaned from our cases. First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion” (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971).

    The claim that charitable deductions put “government in the business of deciding what is a religion and what is not, and then letting its decision foster the establishment of organized religion” is not representative of the deduction issue. A deduction is not a government providing money for, or advancing, a religion – on the contrary it is not providing money for or advancing anything. One could argue about “not paying” vs. “receiving funds” as the definition of providing money, but there is an inherent difference between the two (cf. Dallin H. Oaks’s testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, page 4). If the government was giving money directly to the LDS Church because of its religious faith, and the money was to be used for religious ceremonies and rights, and was denied to other faiths, then it could rightly be seen as establishing and advancing a religion. However, as the government is not requiring the LDS Church to pay taxes on charitable donations, it is not establishing or advancing any religion – instead it is providing an incentive for people to make charitable donations.

    The question naturally follows, what is being done with these charitable donations? Oaks points out that charitable donations, both religious and private, “are responsible for tens of millions of jobs and innumerable services that benefit our citizens at every level.” This being the case, charitable donations play a vital role in the nation, and are not solely religious in nature. Keeping the charitable tax deduction for both private and religious institutions is an important way the government shows its support for these types of organizations in the community.

    Another point I disagree on is that it’s “Better to drastically reduce the overall tax load on citizens to encourage voluntary cooperation than to create tricky deductions to divert money to places citizens might not otherwise choose.” This presupposes that with a reduced tax load, the government would still be able to function and provide goods and services for the nation at the current level of output. This is simply not possible and government programs would have to be cut under such a reduced tax load (unlikely). Perhaps the government could assume those things that charitable organizations provide such as: “private educational institutions, hospitals, social welfare agencies, and innumerable other organizations ministering to the needs of children, youth, the aged, the poor, and citizens generally” (Oaks). However, this would require a drastic increase in taxes, which would not reduce the overall tax load. Reducing overall taxes would also not necessarily encourage people to spend money any more charitably than it does now. The way incentives work in the current system seems to be the best way to encourage charitable spending as it provides something for the community (supra), as well as the individual (tax break).

    It was also stated that “taxes should have no role in encouraging or discouraging behavior. Government is ill-equipped to tell anybody how to engage in socially acceptable conduct.” I would argue both of these are false.

    First, taxes are part of the long arm of government. Taxes shape and encourage behavior in many ways. Aside from the deductions already mentioned, there are those for the arts, education, and philanthropy. The tax rate itself also encourages either spending or withholding money on the part of the individual, as was tacitly acknowledged in Crockett’s last paragraph by stating that a reduced overall tax load would encourage people to voluntarily cooperate in charitable donations. Taxes and tax laws have always encouraged or discouraged behavior – but what that behavior should be is the better question. Oaks and others of that ilk think it should be to encourage charitable donations to religious and private institutions which provide not only jobs and community assistance, but moral benefits to the government and populace.

    Second, the government has always been telling people how to engage in socially acceptable conduct, and is far from ill-equipped to do so. Indeed, that is part of the government’s function. The basis of American law can be traced to the Decalogue itself, placing restrictions on such social behavior as murder, stealing, lying, etc. The government also prohibits such non-Decalogue behavior as rape, incest, kidnapping, assault, battery, etc. Each of these are laws the government has created purely for society, as man in the state of nature would have no use for them, especially if he did not live in any society. Government also regulates religious practices. For example, illegal drugs are not allowed in religious rites, neither is animal or human sacrifice, child molestation, polygamy, etc. To advocate a total lack of government control in socially acceptable conduct is to not take the argument seriously, and is to invite far more trouble than any society has ever experienced. As James Madison so astutely pointed out, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But, of course, this is not the case. One might argue that there should be reduced government control in socially acceptable conduct, which thing is in harmony with liberty, and is a different argument altogether. However, no one would dare advocate the government living by the maxim “anything goes.”

    Finally, religion can surely function without a government subsidy and without a deduction allowance. It does so in other countries throughout the world. However, when the relationship is mutually beneficial in more ways than one, a deduction is a boon to the government and the nation. Religious organizations encourage cooperation amongst citizens. These organizations also provide a moral compass for many citizens which is something a government must have (without it, a police state would be the only possible way for any government to function). Religious organizations also produce a host of charitable services for citizens and communities which the government does not provide. The deduction Oaks and others wish to retain is important because it benefits the government, the nation, and the individual citizen.

    As taxes do, and always will, encourage behavior, the message sent out by a government that allows for charitable religious tax deductions is that religion and religious activities are a good thing in the life of a nation.

  10. P. Hogan

    November 21, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Anne Peffer,

    Your candor here is appreciated. Undoubtedly the authors are gratified by your amusement. No need to apologize. We respect bald faced non-anonymous belittlement of those who enjoy the fruit of “random white trees.” Even misguided courage deserves respect. I imagine the tree lovers would be entertained by more Book of Mormon imagery. I can visualize you going forth in the spirit of secularism to spread the gospel of atheism, flying from congregation to congregation of co-dependent Mormon Stories disciples like Nephi of old (Heleman 10:17). Why sit still with the “building dwellers” when there is so much work to be done in the mist of darkness? So many believers; so little time.

    Unfortunately your abnegation of the “random white tree” is accompanied with good old fashioned prejudice – abundantly transparent to any astute observer – against those who find value in the love of God. Perhaps over time you will come to see that the smiles on the faces of tree dwellers have nothing to do with you personally: “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things… and the most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:22-23). Just as a humble suggestion, you might not want to mistake confidence in God with a sense of superiority. After all, if you take the time to visualize an anthropomorphic God worthy of your faith and devotion, the chances are this God will be superior to you. Well, perhaps. However, such visualizations may distract your task at hand and require introspection and reflection.

    Perhaps it is best we refrain from such banter in the interest of avoiding unchristian dialogue. I should now be the one apologizing. But like you, I deliberately made my points first. You might also consider that tree dwellers build communities on much more than shared values statements and emerging technologies: they build on the love of God. If you ever feel the yearning to return to the tall white tree in your backyard, or to experience the joy of those smiling souls with fruit in their hands, you will be welcomed back with open arms. In the meanwhile, keep hoping that your building dweller friends can find joy in a world without the love of God. Perhaps much joy is possible in such a world, but not “…exceeding joy. Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness” (Alma 27:18). We’ve seen all this before — many, many, many times. Thank you, again, for your candor.

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