First Draft of New “Lay Leadership” Info-Graphic

My “connections” inside the COB sent me this earlier draft of the now official graphic.  The published graphic is far less informational than this earlier, apparently rejected draft.  The official one is pretty much meaningless to anyone not already inside the culture, and if given money to prove such a claim, I could.  But take a look at the earlier one:

Claremont Conference: Paper

Many thanks to Patrick Mason and the group at Claremont for hosting a very good conference.  He managed to bring together what are to my mind altogether opposed persons and principles, without explosion: which just shows that the word “Mormonism” has a definition currently under construction.  We heard that Mormons make good employees, that God is a CEO and so on, mere Romneyism; but also some good thinking on consecration, stories, and inequality.  I’m told that video of individual presentations will be posted this week somewhere (Vimeo?).  Here’s a PDF of my paper:

Corporate Culture DSmith ClaremontGU Presentation

Response To Lawrence O’Donnell’s Lamentable Ignorance

Mr. Lawrence O’Donnell apparently said on MSNBC any number of things about Mormonism, which if the religious party were Jews, Christians, Muslims, or any other group–ethnic, sexual, intellectual, or class–would’ve led to his immediate dismissal.

Not only are his claims demonstrably wrong, as a matter of history; and evil in spirit.  But he shows how ignorant he is of his own proclaimed “socialism,” and so I pretend to give him a little lesson to lessen his ignorance, and perhaps to cool his bile, and maybe teach him tolerance.

He is wrong about Joseph Smith, simply wrong when he calls him a drunk, a criminal, a perpetrator of bank fraud, and an adulterer.  Read a little basic history, Mr O’Donnell, and apply the same rules to your investigation of Mormonism that you would to any other group.  Accusations are not the same thing as realities, as I think you’ll admit; and most of Smith’s accusers were then, and today remain, members of the most intolerant versions of Christianity, believers in six days of Creation as well as in Joseph Smith’s wickedness.  Would Mr. O’Donnell strike at geographers with the vitriol badly learned from Creationists, that he so casually aims in public at Joseph Smith?

Here’s a primer for you: Socialism so called has origins in Christianity, first with the religious orders of the Catholic Church, and later during the Reformation with the Protestants (read After Polygamy Became a Sin, to start with).  Many of these socialists realized that the rule to have all things in common included humans, and thus they could not justify individually “owning” a spouse, but rather agreed that no ownership (or contracts) was valid.  Thus, your blessed socialists were, in fact, more often than not polygamists, just as many biblical figures, and Scots-Irish (presumably your own ancestors) were said to be.

During the 18th and 19th centuries the vast majority of socialists were Christians, and Mormons were among the most ardent socialists in that period, sharing with Gandhi, Milton, Luther, and many other intelligent and tolerant figures in Socialism the notion that polygamy is a far better system for both men and women than is monogamy, which was said to be introduced by Rome, for the purposes of establishing property rights that eventually gave us capitalism.   Mormon women, among the most educated in the nation at the time, were early advocates of women’s rights, and indeed received the Vote in Mormon Utah first among the nation’s women.

During the 19th century the Mormons, only a decade together, not only established on the banks of the Mississippi a city, which in the span of five years rose from a swamp to a rival of Chicago in terms of both power and population, but also colonized much of the American West precisely on principles of Socialism, often quoting the dictum, “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his need.”  Despite murderous persecution, they continued to practice tolerance, adopting as their only creed, “Mind Your Own Business.”  Mormon missionaries quoted socialist thinkers during missions in Europe, and laid the foundations for cities in California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming.  They irrigated the deserts, discovered gold in in California, started the first newspapers wherever they landed, opened the first universities west of the Mississippi, carved roads from granite mountains, and were noted for their thrift, industry, kindness, devotion, and adherence to principles that may be called Socialism.  Mormons challenged by a long fight of non-violent resistance the intervention of the federal government into their own people’s lives and bedrooms, insisting on their right to live as they pleased, so long as it didn’t interfer with the rights of others to pursue their own courses toward happiness.  They lost that fight in 1890, and so we Mormons turned to the remaining power, and became the progenitors of Mitt Romney and Co.  But just as stridently capitalist as Mormons are now, they were equally socialist then, declaring that only those practicing a form of communism would enter Heaven, where indeed the economy is socialist, and yes, Gods are polygamists.  The United Order it was called, and it was regarded as the most exalted living man could achieve, but he couldn’t achieve any of it without woman.  Polygamy, polyandry, and so on was all part of this communal life, as most socialists in their day likewise realized.

Mitt Romney’s version of Mormonism is only a faint echo of this, but I can see why his faith in the faith of his fathers.  If Mr. O’Donnell would simply read with the sort of intelligence and empathy a few books on Mormon history, written not by evangelical Mormon haters, but by scholars and journalists, I believe he would find a great deal to admire, and to learn from, even in Romney’s faith.  But be careful, Mr. O’Donnell, as you may find that Joseph Smith’s teachings are not only more good-natured and felicitous than you’ll find espoused by your average politico, but also lean a good deal more leftward than your own limp socialism.  You should by no means read the Book of Mormon, either; its explanation why civilizations fall?  That power and wealth become the privilege of the few, but a utopia by contrast as established by Jesus, whose visitation you mock, is where they all have things in common, and there is no poor among them.

Breaking News! Scriptures NOT a Good Investment Guide!

It’s hard to do satire when the Mall People (I can’t think of any better name) say things like the following, as found in the mockingly named Times & Seasons: named for a newspaper which, ironically, was published among a people who chose to build up their economic sector rather than the temple, as commanded by the Lord.  A Time for building, and for tearing down, and signs for all seasons indeed.

Here’s what Nate Oman boils it all down to, you who object to multi-billion dollar malls built by one proclaiming to be the Kingdom of God, Zion, The House of Israel, and all other titles as pertaining to righteousness:

“…by failing to work through the actual economic trade offs involved in the project, her [Jana Reiss’s] argument misses the points of moral and practical judgment, thereby obscuring the nature of the choice that Church leaders made with this project.”

Got it? Reiss’s argument is that the mall itself is a “moral failure,” something of an overly kind way of saying “failure”; as if there was a grade to be given, rather than a work which is either good or evil.

O Man!’s argument is, apparently that Reiss’s piece misses some points, and thus by missing them obscures the nature of the choice.  Duh! It’s just logical! You see, it is as simple as this, as presented in The Beginning:

“The most fundamental question is whether the Church should save a portion of its revenue.”

And so I turned to the scriptures for guidance, and read of the great Council in Heaven, wherein was asked, what shall we do, O Ye People?  Shall we Save a Portion of our revenues, or shall we Save all of them?  And one came forward and presented an investment plan wherein all the revenue was saved, but only after being well laundered; and another said, Spend Me!  And I will Save Them All!  and he was like unto O Man.

It was decided that a portion of the revenues should be saved, and one third withheld in The Slush Fund, and no man could count them all.  But then one among them looked, and was amazed, and wondered aloud, “These aren’t revenues, these are souls.”  And it was decided that this particular Saver needed to have his retirement plan liquidated, and his skills made more marketable, so he was sent to learn how to work, and to see that revenue must be saved, and souls cannot be saved unless savings are invested, but only when invested with minimal profit margins as compared to other schemes.

And there was one, O Man, who under Azael governed the Times & Seasons, and he declared:

“Despite the price tag, from the Church’s point of view the Mall is less a piece of flashing [sic] spending, than consequence of the choices that the Church’s commitment to institutional thrift impose upon it.  As a result of this policy of thrift and institutional restraint, the Church necessarily builds up a massive pool of cash.”

And the cry went forth, as among them of old, Let us baptize revenues in this pool!  O Man answered their call, “If it is not spent, this cash must be parked someplace. The result is that the Church invests this money. The Church is funding the Mall out [sic] a holding company for its investment. From the point of view of the Church’s balance sheet this is not an expense. Rather, it is a form of saving against future expenses.”

There were many who pondered, who is this OMan, that can turn an extragavent vanity of gluttonous spending into meritorious thift and prudent saving?  This Fountainous Hall of True Religion and Tiffany’s, this wonder of Celestial Retractions!  Who turn all this, like water into wine, into a Great Pool of Parked Cash? Surely this man must be sent to Save, for who among us would actually call dumping five billion souls into a massive hole an act of saving, and of restraint? O Man! Then there was like unto OMan, who stood and calculated, and said:

“it is important to realize that saving by definition will limit the amount of resources devoted to the poor – and everything else that the Church supports. I am willing to entertain that this might be the right thing to do. My wife has done humanitarian work in Haiti, and the suffering there and elsewhere is appalling. Given such suffering, a policy of institutional thrift on the Church’s part may be open to criticism. But framing the issue in terms of saving children in Haiti versus an expensive shopping mall misses the issue.”  What is the issue?

All of Pandaemonium clamored, and shouted, and raged for there was a basic rule that no soul was wise enough to criticise the Church, for it was in all things, through all things, and shows contempt for all things.  What is the Issue?  Not Feed My Sheep or Build My Mall, But some other mystery.  The issue is: there can nothing wrong with whatever our imaginary abstraction called The Church does, with money given it out of charity for expressly stated purposes: NOTHING WRONG.  But this was not the stated issue.  Silence was called for, and O Man replied:

“The real question is whether there should be saving at all.”  Should we save any, or should we not save any?

“Once one opts for savings, however, that saving will necessarily be invested in some profit making activity.”

And there were some few profits in those future days, not as many as hoped for, but this was OK.  Because what we lack in profits, the word went forth, we gain as charity, and so O Man explained,

“What the Mall reveals, however, is that with regard to its saving the Church does not actually behave as a profit maximizing institution. It feels a sense of obligation for Salt Lake City and wants to improve the city. It does this by taking money from its investment portfolio [i.e., Lord’s Sacred Funds] and putting it in an asset — a shopping mall — with a higher level of risk and a lower level of return than it would normally obtain. In other words, the shopping mall investment doesn’t actually look like profit maximizing behavior to me. In economic terms, I think it is safe to assume that the opportunity costs of the investment in the Mall are higher than the expected return on that investment.”  And many wondered, for profits should be maximized, Super Sized, and goodly endowed.  But O Man saw their wonderment, and that they understood not his words, and he said:

“Given that this is the choice the Church is making, I think that the there are two major questions.”

One asked, is it, Why are these the choices, and not some others?  And another asked, is it should they preach repentance, and faith in the Lord Jesus, or should they teach us shopping, and protect the temple from the least of these?  And O Man raised his hands, and silence reigned, and he taught the multitude:

“The Church leadership clearly feels a sense of obligation to Salt Lake City, but the Mall actually reveals that it is a rather weak sense of obligation. The $1.5 billion price tag of the Church’s investment is not the right measure. Rather, the measure is the foregone marginal profit of placing the saving elsewhere, say an investment account at Goldman Sachs. Hence, the Mall indicates some sense of local obligation but not a strong or overwhelming sense of local obligation.”  Many nodded their heads, and agreed: some, but not strong or overwhelming.  The right measure is indeed the foregone marginal profit of placing the saving elsewhere.  So he continued,

“The second question is whether the Mall will actually be effective in revitalizing Salt Lake City. I think that you can make perfectly good arguments about that [sic] this project is a bad idea, but it seems to me that these are ultimately questions of practical judgment, i.e. what will be most effective, not moral judgment.”  Yes! It is not moral judgement that is in question ultimately, they realized, but rather what is most effective in establishing a higher rate of foregone marginal profit, relative to all other imagined possibilities of investment profiles, which thus and ergo indicates that the Church feels “some” obligation to Salt Lake City, and is clearly not making many profits therein.

Great Relief poured forth, for at last all felt that the Church was not a work of darkness, but was again good and right, acting as Jesus would in this world, if he acted in this world, which he doesn’t and so we need the Church.  So, to thunderous clamor, and lightening and amid spinning tornados which seemed to point happily at the Mall, O Man whispered The Great Secret:

“As I see it, at each point the Church was faced with a question of good judgment rather than the stark moral choice that Jana sees between malls and starving children. Should the Church save a portion of its revenues? Should the Church put a portion of its revenues in a sub-optimal investment because of a special duty to the community where it’s headquarters is located? Will the Mall be effective in promoting urban renewal? Thrift, local obligation, and urban renewal strategy.”

Thrift By Spendthrift!  Local Obligation To Build Malls is Charity! And Urban Renewal is Not a PassWord to Making damn sure there is no poor among us!

And with Great Equity, having measured all things to a nicety, confounded not nor unconfounded in his confoundment of foundational questions, he explained, “These are matters on which people can disagree. They are matters on which people can be wrong. Errors about such matters, however, do not strike me as moral failures.”  And the decree went forth that when profits are absent, this is a sign of charity; and when billions are not saved, this is a Great And Marvelous Saving, for all is opinion, and people can indeed disagree, and this is the fullest development of their Real Agency.  Be Free to Shop, blameless O Man!

And O Man answered his people, and many wondered at his saying, for he read the mind of his opponent, and yet admired her in her foolishness:  “Jana Reiss invokes the prophet Amos in her article.  She is trying to get the kind of simple moral clarity that he demonstrated. This, I think, is admirable, and I think that she is absolutely correct in invoking Amos in thinking about our moral obligations to the poor. On the other hand, Amos – and other ancient prophets – are not, in themselves, very good templates for thinking about modern investment decisions.”

Why not, O Man?

“This is because the underlying economic infrastructure in the ancient worlds that they discuss was strikingly different than those that exist in the modern world. The kind of complex investment decisions that the Church faces simply did not exist in Amos’s world.”

Is not that why we sustain modern profits and speculators to guide our savings decisions today?  And O Man answered,

“It does mean that understanding the meaning and application of those norms requires a more nuanced understanding of investment than can be provided by reading the scriptures.”  And all nodded their heads, and said yes, We Can Save a Portion of Our Revenues, and Seal up the Revenues upon the earth, garishifying it, and planting all manner of iniquitious things upon it, and let the Heavens open and close at our command!

But They were all beguiled, and many lost and fallen.

What Time & Season is it when we find ourselves saying things like what Nate Oman, honest to God, actually wrote and posted?

I don’t know anything about Mr Oman, but I think I know that he is the sort of person who maintains that by taking both sides, he is not advocating the taking of the side of evil, nor the side of good: for in some kingdoms, such as in religion, economics, and starving children, matters of morality are not wisely inquired into, but rather these are times when we ought to abide the evil, call it good, and let sophistry be our abiding light.

Mr Oman, the question is this: Is it good for an institution whose mission is the teaching of the gospel, the saving of souls, the redeeming of the dead, and the caring for the poor to spend a PENNY, a MINUTE, or a THOUGHT on anything other than that mission?

The scriptures are indeed a poor investment guide, but not an altogether bad guide, so this church says, to saving souls.  Your scriptures say, warn, declare, and teach: You cannot serve God and Mammon.  Jesus may not know much about modern investment, as you claim: but he seems to think he’s got a plan for urban renewal, suburban renewal, spiritual renewal and creation of worlds.   In your rush to excuse evil for the sake of feeling about the subtle wickedness that informs the “judgment” of “the Church,” you ask the wrong questions, and give no answers.

My Translation of Packer’s Debt-As-Atonement Parable

Inspired by General Conference and the Abomallination of Sinning Chic, I’ve decided to invent a completely different model of atonement, redemption, resurrection and salvation.  If they are right, and they build billion-dollar malls, and say demonstrably false things, then what hope is there for everyone else?

Thus, I dedicate this short bit, extracted from a very long essay I’m writing on Atonement, to Boyd K. Pennypacker.

A Catholic writer: “It is represented as the payment of a price, or a ransom, or as the offering of satisfaction for a debt. But we can never rest in these material figures as though they were literal and adequate. As both Abelard and Bernard remind us, the Atonement is the work of love. It is essentially a sacrifice, the one supreme sacrifice of which the rest were but types and figures. And, as St. Augustine teaches us, the outward rite of Sacrifice is the sacrament, or sacred sign, of the invisible sacrifice of the heart. It was by this inward sacrifice of obedience unto death, by this perfect love with which He laid down his life for His friends, that Christ paid the debt to justice, and taught us by His example, and drew all things to Himself; it was by this that He wrought our Atonement and Reconciliation with God, ‘making peace through the blood of His Cross’.”

The word “atonement” often yields little more than a substitute for “sacrifice,” with a bit of reverential air breathed in: A-tone-Ment.  Sometimes, it says “Payment,” and other contexts it stands in for “suffering” with a dollop of mystery on top.

And more often than not, the term is used like the Christian “Passion,” to refer to events told in the various stories about the death and resurrection of Christ.  Perhaps, you say, it means all these: payment of suffering offered as a sacrifice, dramatically as in a medieval execution pageant?  Perhaps.  Mystery did mean long ago, a play.  But can we find some alternative to the endless soft-spoken commentary, teary sermons, and empty explication, which more often than not introduce “philosophies of men” into scripture, using Christ as a foundation for these creeds declared “abominations” and those doctrines “all wrong”?

The “religious” terminology of being freed of debt maybe appealed to poor Christians long ago, but when proposed by the wealthy in the prosperity gospel, it seems to take on a different, um, tone.  Let us strip atonement-as-debt-payment to its bare linguistic bones, sans nice words.

This is what Packer really means, in that saccharine film shown in seminaries around the world, where the servant gets into debt with a money-lender:

God speaks and gives us advice; when we run contrary to his word, we accrue a debit in his accounts book.  A single debit—accepting from an imbecile some petty theft of fruit lifted from an unfenced orchard—put the first man into arrears, overextending his means, and forcing liquidation of his life savings.  Such payment still doesn’t reconcile the accounting, and so the debt is passed onto children and their children, added to by their own debts.  This debt also makes them wildly spendthrift, by the way.  There was no amortization of this debt, it was no mortgage and keeps building.  An eternal lien is placed on every soul, with no forbearance.  Oh, and God knew all along such debts would accrue without acquittal, like a loan shark chumming the casinos for desperate gamblers; he as our financial advisor directed us to take on this plan.  And, yeah, he also runs the debtor’s court, and sends folks to debtor prison: life sentence.  But God was hedged, with his son as collateral in this scheme.  In order to keep his accounting books correctly, because he likes it so, God duns Man one last time.  Man accepts his finance terms.  Thus God pays himself with the only one not in arrears, his own son (or himself).  One might wonder if the son was free of debt because he wisely keep himself free of the father’s entrepreneurship.  But the father asked him to submit to torture unto death, because that is the only currency he accepts as payment for all the bills we’ve not paid, these being the price of living in his interest-laden world.  All is right with the world, finally, and the son, realizing the absurdity of it all, doesn’t do unto us what his father, for the sake of keeping a good book, did unto him.

And this version is supposed to give us faith unto repentance?  Or was it fear and guilt?  Sure, Jesus comes out alright, but what about the Father?  Who could love such an incompetent or conniving father that created this mess: knowing how it would turn out he proceeds as if surprised by it all, like a Ponzi-schemer stunned by the zero in the bank, blaming his debonair yacht captain for not also returning a handsome investment; and then he cruelly extorts his own creation for mucking it all up, for sinking his ship; thus he punishes the only good one in the whole batch?  There must be a different story.