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~ Thursday, August 25, 2005
Wow! Check out the new Book of Mormon blogging phenomenon!
~ Saturday, November 20, 2004
This noble experiment has blossomed into something better. I've transferred over to timesandseasons, quite possibly the most xxx but xxx LDS group blog ever.
~ Monday, October 11, 2004
I think there’s a complex of scriptures that get distorted into a divine warrant for a hermeneutic of suspicion towards our leaders. Captain Moroni says that he seeks not for power, but to pull it down. Doctrine and Covenants 3 contemplates even the prophets, let alone lesser leaders, falling into carnal and wicked paths that lead to destruction. And D&C 121 tells us that it’s the nature of men, as soon as they get a little power, to exercise unrighteous dominion. These three texts, in the wrong hands, are proof that we ought to be wary of leadership and authority, even priesthood leadership and authority. In a recent thread over at Times and Seasons, someone uses D&C 121 for that purpose.
That use is a misuse. Captain Moroni writes what he does to assure his superior Pahoran that he, Moroni, may be angry about Pahoran’s perceived deficiencies but he isn’t using them as an excuse to self-aggrandize. Doctrine and Covenants 3 is a warning to the prophet, not to his followers. To the extent it is aimed at them it is to reassure them that God will strip the authority from a prophet who relies too much on himself. And Doctrine and Covenants 121 is a warning to those who possess power, not to those who are subject to it.
God has not told us to be suspicious of our leaders. Far from it. He has told our leaders to be suspicious of themselves.
~ Tuesday, November 04, 2003
The sin/crime discussion also made some interesting points about secular punishment being justified as a way of lessening divine punishment. I have two points to make in that regard:
1) Perhaps secular punishment can partially replace divine punishment. As long as offender X gets Y amount of punishment, it matters not from whence the punishment comes. It may not matter even if punishment is supposed to have an educational and redemptive function instead of and in addition to the retribution it administers. The old doctrine of the blood atonement for murderers apparently fits into this category.
2) Perhaps secular punishment can lessen divine punishment by deterring malefactors from committing crimes. Essentially, this proposition merely restates my "necessary voluntariness" idea, since it requires that there be some element of wrongfulness in bad acts apart from the desire to do them. If the desire alone were the wrong, then being deterred from committing a crime would in no wise lessen my punishment.
I drafted a statute to make my point that necessary voluntariness ought to be the sin/crime distinction. Nate Oman countered.
Section 1. Of their own free will and choice, everyone shall love and
serve God with all their might, mind, and strength, and not for fear of the secular
Section 2. Violation of the foregoing shall be punishable by a maximum $50,000 fine and up to 2 years in prison.
Nate Oman’s Counter:
"I don't see why this law would be nonsense. Clearly, one cannot comply
with section 1 if one's only motive (or primary motive or partial motive)
is to avoid the sanctions of section 2. I assume that this is what Adam
means when he says that the law is nonsense. On the other hand, there is
embedded in this argument a particular view of the criminal law. It
implicitly assumes that the purpose of criminal sanctions is to modify
behavior. This is not the only view of criminal law that one can
adopt. For example, if we see the criminal law as being retributive, we
really don't care whether or not the sanction changes people's behavior. A
retributivist might be happy that people commit less crime as a result of
criminal sanctions, but this is not strictly speaking necessary for the
theory to be justified. All that is necessary is that the person being
punished DESERVE to be punished. Now it may be that a person who violates
section 1 does not deserve the punishment set forth in section
2. Resolving this question would require that one set forth some theory of
desert, proper punishment, etc. It is not, however, prima facie a matter
of being nonsensical."
In other words, Mr. Oman’s saying that my “necessary voluntariness” distinction is necessarily utilitarian, in that it assumes that punishments and laws are all about the effects they encourage.
You are right that a particular view of punishment and secular law is herein found. However, your retributive justification would eliminate the sin/crime distinction. Every sin could be a crime, punishable by law. Have we then discovered another argument against the retributivist position?
Perhaps not. We can reconcile retributivism and the sin/crime distinction by taking the common retributivist position that retributivism only specifies the maximum punishment. Utilitarian and other factors can then justify giving a lower punishment. Presumably utilitarian factors would justify Zero Secular Punishment in the case of the Might, Mind, and Strength Act.
One criticism of modified retributivism is that some versions of retribution theory imply that victims have a right to punishment, that the punishment is _owed_ the victim, and owned by them. But in this case the secular law can permissibly ignore the claims of the victim, because the victim is God and fully capable of extracting his own punishment, soon or late.
We’ve been having an online debate about the distinction between sins and crimes, viz., the idea that society and government shouldn’t punish every instance of clear sin. Kaimi Wenger relies heavily on the distinction to justify his ACLU membership. Matt Evans, although fairly un-ACLU in his outlook and disposition, also recognizes it and finds scriptural support: “The Nephites recognized the crime-sin distinction, as evidenced by Alma 30:7-11.”
Matt suggests a couple of ways to distinguish sins and crimes. First, he suggests that sinful acts of commission are crimes, while sinful acts of omissions are not:
"The line between sins that are crimes and not crimes that most accords with examples in scripture is that sins of commission should be prohibited but that people shouldn't be coerced to avoid sins of omission. Mormon said that the Nephites had no law against a man's belief, but that murderers, thieves, and adulterers were punished for their wickedness. (Alma 30:7-10, also D&C 134:8-9).
. . . .There is also no suggestion that failure to follow affirmative commandments (i.e., Mosiah 4:15-19) was punished by secular power, whereas commission of negative commandments was punished (i.e., (Alma 30:10"
He offers another possibility, analytically distinct from the first. In that view, all sins are crimes unless the commandment that the sin breaks only has religious meaning if adhered to voluntarily.
"Similarly, tithing and offerings should not be compelled because they only have religious meaning if they are voluntary, whereas no prophet has suggested that laws against murder and theft negate the religious value of refraining from killing or stealing . . . . But Mormons should base their decision on whether to enact blue laws based on the religious question of whether the law would drain the religious meaning from the act."
I generally reject your omission/commission distinction. It isn’t self-explanatory.
I am intrigued by the idea that certain commandments have no value unless obeyed voluntarily.
You do make the distinction between acts (or omissions) that are bad in
themselves regardless of intent, and acts and omissions that are only valuable
because of the intent involved. You argue, and I think rightly, that the act
of adultery is still a wrong, even if the intention of adultery remains and the
party remains restrained only by the law. I generally accept this argument,
but wish to point out its far-reaching implications. First of all, it clearly
and indisputably justifies welfare (the act itself is good, though the payer
lacks good intent because he's being forced). Second, it justifies nearly
all moral regulations except belief and the making of covenants. Thus, the law
could permissibly require church attendance on the grounds that hearing the
sermon would still benefit the hearer, even though they were compelled to come.
We could even offer the Book of Mormon as evidence, where it records the
compelled teaching to the Lamanites and later the Gadianton prisoners. As long
as belief itself is not impelled, this view appears to justify most everything.
In fact, moral regulation becomes instrumental: is compelled church
attendance more likely to lead to conversion and salvation, or will people
resent the compulsion and stop their ears, while disrupting the meeting for the
rest? Likely the latter, I suspect, but I could be wrong. In which case,
bring on the church parade. The whole inquiry is, ultimately, what kinds of
compulsion will make more likely the voluntary making of moral choices.
Because of the foregoing, I generally favor moral regulation that punishes
_public_ acts of immorality while still leaving a black market of immorality in
which the truly determined can choose their damnation. The general public,
meanwhile, still recieves a societal validation of a moral norm and is
encouraged to choose wisely. Likewise, the best welfare regulation, IMHO, is
that which _requires_ that one donate money and time, but leaves it up to the
individual as to how they do it. The element of choice is involved and is
likely to influence the will.
~ Thursday, October 16, 2003
God has not ceased to be a God of miracles . . . . And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust These words rebuke me. God rarely blesses me with miracles and revelation, and I do not doubt that my unbelief is to blame. In consequence, I've decided to undertake the experiment described below.
> While on my mission, I was struggling with the fact that I had had some
> revelatory experiences, but frankly, not that many. I couldn't really tell
> my own thoughts from spiritual impressions, unless the experience was quite
> Then I was given a challenge by someone that was designed to "break the ice"
> with God, so to speak. He said that I should pray at least 15 minutes a day
> for a month. He said that at first, I would be shocked to find out how
> short my prayers were, and that I would have a hard time coming up with
> enough to say in that amount of time. While I prayed and listened for
> answers, thoughts would come into my mind about things I should be doing.
> Some of them would naturally be things that I already knew I should be
> doing, like reading the Book of Mormon every day, etc., so I wouldn't know
> whether the thoughts were coming from God or myself. No matter, he said. I
> should just start trying to do those things, because if I already knew I
> should be doing them, then why should God give me any more instructions
> before I started trying to do what I had already been told? He said that as
> I started doing this, I would notice more things popping into my head. I
> would start being "given" thoughts about what to pray for, and I would
> receive instructions that I could not have foreseen coming. I would start
> to notice that many of these impressions would be objectively confirmed "the
> same day or soon." He promised that within a month I would have the
> experience I needed to start distinguishing between my own thoughts and
> Well, I gave it a try (I actually went for 30 minutes a day), and it worked
> exactly like I was told. So, I think the bottom line for distinguishing
> between revelation and other sources of thought is simply experience. You
> have to perform experiments and sort it out for yourself. However, God will
> give the true seeker more objective experiences to help in the process.
~ Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Stephen R. Marsh weighs in, especially on the role of children in a Zion experiment.
He first mentions that a community of telecommuters lacks a raison d'etre.
> Harder are things such as relevance. A balanced commune of
> telecommuters? Ok, how is my neighbor relevant to me if I am
> self-supporting? Does he exist to focus my charitable urges more directly
> on a specific neighbor? If not, what is his relevance (or her
I disagree with the implicit suggestion that Zion is primarily a method of 1) coordinating work and 2) caring for the poor. These are certainly important, and any Zion experiment should certainly include mutual assistance and community labor. But the most important thing is living in community. Starting with telecommuters, esp. with people who can work as contractors, allows the most basic element of community--continuity. That community can become a Zion community if the members view their income and assets as property of the community and manage them as such. That community can also become a Zion community if they engage in labor together--building, gardening, and so forth, even if not economically productive.
As labor, especially knowledge-labor, becomes less dependent on location, it should be possible for dedicated people to use much of their potential spending power to purchase the great good of a Zion-like community.
Marsh then addresses the child question. Setting up children can be a problem, but the biggest problem is that the new generation doesn't understand the Zion and wants out.
> But, the real problem is creating a utopia that works for the children of
> those who join. A number of interesting utopias worked for those who
> joined, but not for their children.
> The background and life experience that make one person happy and
> content in such an arrangement are hard to impart to the children who grow
> up in it. Generational survival is the hardest hurdle. Which is true in a number of places.
> I'm reminded in my studies of an early LDS man, one I'll call "D." He was rich, hard working and
> generous. By the end of his life he had shared all he had started with
> with others. He pioneered a number of places. While other grew rich, he
> grew poorer over time. When Brigham Young was asked about why he called on
> D to sacrifice over and over again, he stated that D was willing to serve
> where others would not and where God had a need.
> D's children grew up secure in their father's self-image. Many of the
> grandchildren grew up poor, without social connections and very bitter
> about not being one of the Cannons in Salt Lake (whose true story is
> neither here nor there, they are used only as the grandchildren saw
> them). The grandchildren now have grandchildren, some general
> authorities, some not (obviously) and with a mixed view of their progenitor. It made
> a fascinating study and one I'd like to be able to publish (though it
> looks like it will have to wait until the bitter people have died).
> How do you fit in those who are not "up to grade" with
> the founders and how do you make the entire project appealing to the
> children and the grandchildren so that your grandchildren's
> remember your grandchildren and satisfied and fulfilled rather than
> bitter at what the parent's utopia cost them?
Good points. Orderville first fell apart when the teenagers started wanting jeans like the surrounding individualists had. The 4 Nephi utopia dissolved with the passage of generations. And Enoch's Zion never dissolved because it was caught up to heaven, where presumably childbearing ceased.
But not all long-term Zion considerations need to be resolved by a Zion experiment. Here's the response I sent Marsh:
What to do with the children is another very difficult question. I appreciate some of your comments here.
Since my current model is a Zion community that is, at the same time, an
exemplar to the church but not the way the majority of the members can or ought to live, I wonder if the proper solution for
children might be to have them go out into the world and live their lives. In other words, the Zion experiment would explicitly
rely on outside recruitment to replenish its numbers. Such a model would almost ensure that it couldn't last more than a few
decades, but by then it would have served its purposes. Or, by then the experiment would be ready to try to include the new
I've since thought of another point. Much of the Amish success comes from shoving their kids out into the world for a few years. They get a chance to escape the commune without breaking the commune down, and many see that they don't desire the solitary crowd as much as they thought. Maybe a Zion experiment would sustain itself with the children of its members, long-term, as they came to appreciate what their parents had and try to get back in.
Finally, Marsh suggests several sources for more information
> First, you can look at family foundations and organizations as a model for
> modern tribes. And, the advice of Church leaders about the extension of
> those organizations into tribal type organizations.
> Second, you can read Kevin Worthen's writings on tribes and native American
> rights. Some really fascinating stuff there. I've always liked Kevin, but
> he has had some real insights in his work, beyond what a number of other
> groups are doing (not that they are not trying).
> Third, the setting up of a non-profit corporate foundation, modeled
> organizationally on a congregational church, makes an easy starting place.
> Worker managed firms such as the
> few railroads, the steel mills, and others seem to do quite well. The
> classic law partnership is another, mostly replaced by "eat what you kill"
> environments. Universities come quite close in those that are truly run by
> their faculties.
> The basic model of a worker managed firm (100 to 200 working adults) is
> pretty much worked out. Small worker owned steel mills, Hutterite communes
> and similar groups. We know the basic size of a successful unit or cluster
> (between 100 to 200, more than 200 and the freeloading problem becomes
> significant), the need for basic capital (capitalization issues are
> significant ones), how to handle the need for endogamy (so that several
> generations down everyone doesn't have downs syndrome or other effects of
> in-breeding), creating life-style esthetics (to slow down the consumeristic
> trends), and legal endurance are easy. Many partnerships have models that
> assign partnership assets a basis of zero (ask Welch, over at FARMS, about
> how his firm build a building without creating huge buy-in and buy-out
> provisions with an asset basis of zero -- and others have done that
> too. May have been a problem 150 years ago, but things have evolved).
> It is easy to set up a worker-managed firm, using the government's safety
> net, and using metrics to compensate people based on work. From widgets
> (ok, armatures) to steel, to railroads and small presses, that is done all
> the time. With the Cherokee and direct cultivation rules (you only own
> the land that you are directly cultivating) they were able to do a lot with
> an agricultural model of the same thing, pre-exile. The basic premise is
> that no one can have employees to extend their ability to exercise direct
> control over assets. One may only have partners -- or
> children. Interesting rule, interesting problems caused (the model of
> the man killing off wife after wife by childbirth in order to get rich by
> having many children becomes much more prevalent than the limited
> application in ranching and dairy farming that I see today) . Your
> government controls your banks and your police and regulates things by
> controlling access to capital.
> You can picture the agricultural model. Men are given different amounts of
> land determined by how much they can cultivate successfully. At the end
> of the cycle each year, everyone donates their surplus into the common
> storehouse to be distributed by the judge (or bishop). Large and small
> do not really differ, other than in the amount of the area they can work
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Thus Paul, preaching that Christ has freed us from sins, and allowed us to obey the good directly, instead of obeying rules designed to someday achieve the good.
As the Book of Mormon makes clear, this liberty is not spiritual liberty alone. Because Christ has freed us from sin and taken on him the yoke of all unintended wrongs, we can be free men, ordering our own lives and acting ourselves to determine our governance. In Christ, I can truly claim my manhood and its birthright liberty.
I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free.
Mosiah 23: 13
Alma 58: 40
Alma 61: 21
~ Monday, October 13, 2003
Others abide our question. My wife alone is free. She once again has proved herself to be a from a better plane of existence.
She's presenting at the nursing school of St. Mary's, the all-girl sister school to Notre Dame. Her topic is a history of our child, her cancer and other ailments, and her medical experience. Her message is that the nursing they do will pass, but the examples of love and joy they give can endure forever. To each nursing student she will give a slip of paper, on which is written:
"You can do nothing better for your patients than to
live a chaste life,
believing that although this is a fallen world,
God has created a plan
to turn corruptibility into incorruptibility."
It's outside my normal course of reading, but 4 Nephi has preyed on my thoughts lately. I wish I could live in a time when great things were afoot, and people wanted to be more than casually good. I would like to build Zion: "And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift . . . .and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God."
If telecommuting ever takes off, it may be possible. We'd start with a small band of LDS professionals who, either because they telecommute or because they do contract work, are in a position to live in one place for a while. Eventually, who knows, if the thing takes off, the community might regularize itself as a sort of consulting business, along the lines of the law firm down South that makes it money doing temp work for other law firms. If the thing works and the community gets larger, it could try to bring in LDS people to fill the other positions that go to make a functioning town.
Such a project is worthy of a man. Like any such project, it is not without difficulties.
1) A doctrinal difficulty: is it OK to try and live like Zion without direct revelation? In other words, would it be enough to want to do it or ought the project only go forward with church sanction? Living Zion is tough--is it even possible for it to go forward without divine sanction and therefore help?
I think that the Kingdom of God is best served by members who are scattered throughout the world, living life in its various communities. But I think those members would be well served to know that a Zion-like community existed, and that it worked. The Saints would better serve and better sacrifice if they had a model and an ideal.
In any case, revelation often comes through experiment. If nothing else, if some of us experiment on the word (written concerning Zion), the experience for good or for evil will give church leaders valuable information about Zion and its workings in the modern day, and may serve them as a vehicle for revelation. A zion experiment best serves all these purposes if it is _not_ associated with the church, with its need to present a united, coherent front to the world.
2) Membership difficulties: Finding willing people should be difficult enough, but worse when one considers that one wants the project to succeed. The hard-working, self-abnegating Saints who could make such a project succeed are the conservative sort the least likely to volunteer for a mad, wildcate experiment such as this. How can a Zion experiment, especially one not officially sanctioned, avoid self-constituting itself as a mixture of the heterodox and those, like myself, who are not-intensely practical?
3) Organization difficulties: No one has done this in a long time. How do we set this up? First, church history offers several different models of organization, any of which could be useful. Second, the last decade or so has seen a revival of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communalism. The experience of these groups, and to a lesser degree the experience of secular efforts like that of the kibbutzim, surely will help in our inquiry. Third, the experiment will have to respond flexibly.
Here are some preliminary areas of concern:
A) Proximity: must the members all live together? If so, then the Zion experiment would have to happen in the country, or at least on the outskirts of a town. Buying up an apartment building or a suburban street may defy anyone's abilities.
B) Community relations: the anonymity of an urban environment would lead to less outside opposition, although it would also limit, say, teenagers abilities to do work for the Zion experiment, unlike outsiders.
C) Legal organization: some of the early attempts at Zion in this dispensation foundered on the unwillingness of the law to see people put much property in and get nothing in return, without the benefit of a legal corporation or some such entity to mask the transaction (see Zion in the Courts, reviewed by Mr. Nate Oman). Today, in a much more complicated legal environment, questions of tax, insurance, survivor's rights, rights upon quitting, etc., take on enormous importance. On the other hand, the legalization and formalization of the United Order often killed the remaining enthusiasm for it. (See Arrington et al, Building the City of God)
D) The degree of communalism: Is a complete leveling of income desirable, or should the experiment consist of some joint ownership and communal labor along with a private safety net scheme? These questions could become more acute if the experiment survived its initial stage in which the members were mainly professionals
These are all the difficulties. The promise of the plan, however, is that of living in an organic community, among long-term friends whom one loves because one has sacrificed for them and recieved sacrifice, and with children who have grown up being of some use.