Book of Mormon Ethics Revisited

Hi, everybody it’s my first post. Newbie that I am, I’m still becoming acquainted with everyone’s positions on various and sundry topics. Sometimes you’re really bright, and sometimes you’re godless heathens; I’m confident my final conclusion will come to rest somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. In short, though, I appreciate that questions and concerns are being discussed in the open free from fear of stoning, burning, and/or excommunication.

I mention this feeler-extending process to explain my initial reaction to TT’s post about Book of Mormon ethics which contains a harsh criticism of the Book of Mormon concept that the righteous prosper. I assume its a given here that one’s opinions of a text or its theological articulations are not to be slighted, so I’m not calling TT a heretic. Frankly, I don’t know who he is or the status of his testimony—he says he keeps his faith, and I’m cool with that. So I hope I’m not misunderstood when I say that his criticism of this aspect of Book of Mormon theodicy is at least somewhat unfair.

To restate, both to make sure I understand correctly and also to (re)acquaint those who may not be familiar with the original post, TT believes that the Book of Mormon worldview, i.e. “The Pride Cycle” (prosperity > pride > wickedness > destruction > humility > righteousness > blessings > prosperity) is problematic. First of all, it seems to be the convenient, indeed, the only explanation for every fortunate and misfortunate event in the Book of Mormon. Secondly (and somewhat related to the first), the view itself, on a corporate level, fails to consider economic and and dynamic factors in the rise and fall of societies. Thirdly, the alleged historical and theological problems are too great to be ignored, i.e. the wicked do not always suffer nor do the righteous always prosper, and sometimes the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. And make no mistake, readers—constructive the critique isn’t. TT even calls the doctrine of a prosperous righteous “incredibly problematic,” “highly suspect,” “one of the worst explanations for the problem of evil,” “harmful in some cases,” and even considers “rejecting it more explicitly at both the individual and corporate level.” Somewhere, a gauntlet has been thrown down.

To explain why I think TT’s criticisms are unfair, it is important to be clear about what is being criticized:

  1. To ascribe the righteousness > prosperity worldview exclusively to the Book of Mormon or to the Deuteronomists is inaccurate. In fact, all of the western world’s historiographers from Herodotus onward held similar views until relatively recently. TT does not imply otherwise, but I mention it lest the reader think that Gibbon, etc. borrowed their perspective only from Hebrew history. The propensity to doubt a natural positive consequence of individual and corporate morality is a relatively new one; it is uncertain whether it will prove as durable as its opponent.
  2. The Pride-Cycle, while a logical observation of Book of Mormon events, is a construction alien to the Book of Mormon text. Rather, it is a creation of church educators to couch the ethical lessons of Mormon and Nephi in modern pedagogy. To speak of the “Pride-Cycle” as if it were Mormon’s or Nephi’s idea is like attributing the Nicene trinity to John’s Gospel; we simply can’t conclude it from the text alone.
  3. Last, let us be certain of what the Book of Mormon does and does not say. While there are many references to the positive temporal consequence of righteousness, none of them assert that righteousness is the only cause of temporal prosperity or that wickedness is the only cause of temporal hardship. Even more foreign to the BOM text is the use of this worldview to explain the problem of evil. No Book of Mormon author attempts to point the figure at wrong choices as the cause of an individual’s suffering or the the world’s evil generally. This is not to say that the idea is not present in Mormonsim. D&C 130:20-21 coupled with D&C 82:10 tells us that we are always blessed if and only if we are righteous. TT seems to be responding to this D&C sentiment and not to the Book of Mormon directly. I myself have always had a problem with 130:21 especially, but only because I know I’ve been blessed even when I haven’t been righteous. But I digress. The point is that when we talk about Book of Mormon ethics, we should be clear about what the text actually says apart from what we infer from it.

To be sure, Book of Mormon authors are exclusively fond of the moral explanation for the rise and fall of societies, but this should not be surprising from a text self-defined as exclusively spiritual. If the authors admit they have ignored economic and political matters, then why should we expect their historiography to conform to our sensibilities? They’ve admitted to an agenda, so to assume that the paucity of economic and political discussion indicates their ignorance of such matters is unfair. At best, their selectivity undermines their thoroughness as historians, not necessarily their perspective’s validity. But even this is unlikely, given their success in engaging soci0-economic and political issues as consequences of righteousness or wickedness.

Also, such criticism of Nephi’s and Mormon’s worldview characterizes it as unnuanced moral polarity, when in fact, there are many nuances from the narrative. The best example that immediately comes to mind is that of King Morianton in Ether 10:9-12, who was a just ruler but personally wicked. As a result, it is explained, the people prospered but he was cut off from the presence of the Lord. The tendency for Ether/Moroni to connect a people’s corporate righteousness to that of its king may present another problem, but here Ether/Moroni at least makes an attempt to explain the consequences of a disparity between public and personal life. Another such nuance comes in Helaman 12, where Mormon engages in the very spiritualization TT cautions us against. Although the chapter begins by explicitly describing the temporal consequences for righteousness and wickedness, it ends by extending the theme to spiritual consequences. The Zoramites of Alma 31-35 were allowed to practice their wickedness with a virtually unchecked continuity, and yet Mormon does not attempt to show how “they got theirs” in the end beyond their joining the Lamanites and later the Gadianton robbers (Alma 43:4). The result of their iniquity was apparently more spiritual than temporal.

Therefore, the Book of Mormon worldview is simpler and more vague than TT describes. It is not a systematized theodicy, nor is it an attempt to explain the problem of evil. It is an open delineation of consequences for righteousness and wickedness without a consistent timetable or menu for such consequences. It does not say that the only explanation for suffering is personal wickedness, nor does it maintain that the fortunate must have also been righteous to deserve their fortune (cf. Zoramites). Book of Mormon ethics ought to be taken for what they are and not conflated with other scriptures or with LDS culture.

Nevertheless, you may say, saying that the righteous are always temporally blessed is still a problem. We all know that doesn’t happen, right? I say it depends on whom you talk to, which makes any kind of empirical evaluation impossible. TT is certainly entitled to his opinion, but we shouldn’t infer that there is this wealth of evidence against it compared to a dearth of evidence for it. Obviously the Book of Mormon authors thought there was enough evidence to put in their writings for us to learn from. Also, certain groups today feel that personal ethics and morality have a direct impact on the economic prosperity of a nation. Nathan Lott gave a great presentation about this very topic in the Religious Education Student Symposium two weeks ago. In his paper, “If Ye Keep My Commandments, Ye Shall Prosper in the Land”, he tells of the group Transparency International, a German group dedicated to the internal promotion of business ethics, which assigned all the major countries in the world a corruption index from 2 to 10, 10 being the least corrupt. The corruption index was determined through a survey of 70-120 individuals per country based on questions about ethics in general, but mostly about bribery. North American and EU countries typically score the highest, while African countries score the lowest. Eastern European countries are somewhere in the middle. Nate then mapped the index for each country against the per capita gross national income. Both sets of data are from 2006. Unfortunately, Nate asked me to wait to post the chart, but it showed a linear correlation between the data; as the corruption of a country went up, the GNI went down, indicating that countries with a higher level of integrity were more prosperous. Nate closely connected this with Book of Mormon promises that the righteous are blessed with temporal prosperity.

This is not to say that the procedure is without questions. As Nate concedes, the question remains as to whether strong ethics translate into economic prosperity or whether prosperous countries are able to enforce ethics (which question TI discusses elsewhere). Furthermore, you may argue that there can be no real measure of corruption since it is such a vague and complex concept. Yet this is a two-edged sword. If there can be no adequate measure of righteousness/wickedness than how can one determine that the righteous are not always blessed? What gives the observer sufficient theological or historical perspective to make that kind of judgement call if the parameters are so hard to define?

But assuming TI is right, this would be a considerable piece of evidence against the untenability of Nephi’s and Mormon’s worldview; after all, it seems to work in practice. This is the main problem with TT’s argument, because although (s)he is correct in pointing out that the righteous don’t always prosper and the wicked don’t always perish, this isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen a lot! It is a very subjective evaluation, from either side, based primarily on anecdotal evidence and one’s individual experience. Both sides of the issue can point to instances where it has worked and where it hasn’t worked, sometimes from the same set of historical circumstances. If evidence for or against a position is based primarily on theological or historical interpretive grounds, little can conclusively be said for or against it based on empirical evidence. Nephi and Mormon may very well be wrong, but not for TT’s reasons.

So in short, I completely agree that the worldview described by TT is problematic. I just think it’s a different view than that of the Book of Mormon and the one I attempted to defend above.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Thank you! This is the sort of detailed conversation that I long for!

    A few comments;
    1. To ascribe the righteousness > prosperity worldview exclusively to the Book of Mormon or to the Deuteronomists is inaccurate. In fact, all of the western world’s historiographers from Herodotus onward held similar views until relatively recently. TT does not imply otherwise, but I mention it lest the reader think that Gibbon, etc. borrowed their perspective only from Hebrew history. The propensity to doubt a natural positive consequence of individual and corporate morality is a relatively new one; it is uncertain whether it will prove as durable as its opponent.

    I certainly agree that this view is not confined to BoM, Bible, and 19th c. historiographers. However, I am less convinced that this was a pan-Mediterranean trope appearing equally in Heroditus and Joshua. The reason is because there are two totally different concepts of “righteousness” at work in Hebrew and Greek historical works at this time. In fact, my hunch is that “righteousness” isn’t the operative value at all in classical Greek historiography, but “wisdom.” These categories function entirely differently because the former sees divine intervention into history, while the latter is relying on “naturalistic” categories to explain success and failure of different societies. I admit that I haven’t really looked into the genealogy of this topos, but my hunch is that it is largely absent from most Greek and Roman historians, including even Josephus. I suspect that it really enters Western historiographical discourse with someone like Eusebius, who is writing to justify the newly emerging Christian empire.
    That this method has been abandoned in modernity is not simply the folly of us short-sited moderns, but because it isn’t empirically verifiable (more on that below).

    2. The Pride-Cycle, while a logical observation of Book of Mormon events, is a construction alien to the Book of Mormon text. Rather, it is a creation of church educators to couch the ethical lessons of Mormon and Nephi in modern pedagogy. To speak of the “Pride-Cycle” as if it were Mormon’s or Nephi’s idea is like attributing the Nicene trinity to John’s Gospel; we simply can’t conclude it from the text alone.
    3. Last, let us be certain of what the Book of Mormon does and does not say. While there are many references to the positive temporal consequence of righteousness, none of them assert that righteousness is the only cause of temporal prosperity or that wickedness is the only cause of temporal hardship. Even more foreign to the BOM text is the use of this worldview to explain the problem of evil. No Book of Mormon author attempts to point the figure at wrong choices as the cause of an individual’s suffering or the the world’s evil generally. This is not to say that the idea is not present in Mormonsim. D&C 130:20-21 coupled with D&C 82:10 tells us that we are always blessed if and only if we are righteous. TT seems to be responding to this D&C sentiment and not to the Book of Mormon directly. I myself have always had a problem with 130:21 especially, but only because I know I’ve been blessed even when I haven’t been righteous. But I digress. The point is that when we talk about Book of Mormon ethics, we should be clear about what the text actually says apart from what we infer from it.

    Fair enough, as long as you can demonstrate otherwise.

    To be sure, Book of Mormon authors are exclusively fond of the moral explanation for the rise and fall of societies, but this should not be surprising from a text self-defined as exclusively spiritual. If the authors admit they have ignored economic and political matters, then why should we expect their historiography to conform to our sensibilities? They’ve admitted to an agenda, so to assume that the paucity of economic and political discussion indicates their ignorance of such matters is unfair. At best, their selectivity undermines their thoroughness as historians, not necessarily their perspective’s validity. But even this is unlikely, given their success in engaging soci0-economic and political issues as consequences of righteousness or wickedness.

    This seems to be in tension with your 2 and 3 since here you are explaining why they employ this theme, but above you said that they didn’t employ it. Perhaps the emphasis here is on exclusively and only cause? If so, I am willing to grant your point, again, if you can supply convincing examples.

    You seem to be asserting here at least that the BoM authors aren’t doing historiography at all, but supplying a spiritual account. Again, this also seems to be in tension with your previous assertion that this theme was an ubiquitous historiographical staple until “recently.” The secular/spiritual distinction you offer is attractive, but if such distinctions are operative for these authors, their lines are very different from ours. Modern readers are always surprised at the level of warfare discussed in the BoM. I’d be interested in looking at this issue of selectivity a bit more, but it seems to me that most (if not all) of the time the political, economic, and military events are read through this historiographical lens. What is selected then are not historiographical themes, but the data that fits the thesis which drives the whole text.

    When you turn to the “nuances” in the text, I thin that there is something interesting here. However, rather than subtle clarifications of the overall theme, I tend to see these as stray data which work to deconstruct this narrative element of the Book of Mormon. I am all for deconsructive readings because they show the richness of the book and offer theological resources for rethinking problematic themes dialogically.

    The problem with your concept of “nuances” is that it maintains the unitary, monological view of the Book of Mormon which erases and suppresses difference, rather than showing how the BoM can be read against itself to problematize its own worldview. I tend to see these examples as proving my point that such a worldview simply cannot account for the real complexities of historical circumstance. When the Zoramites prosper or the BoM authors are forced to spiritualize this theme, it is evidence of seepage in the text, gaps that produce alternative readings, not simply minor revisions of main argument. Not even the careful editing of Mormon can sufficiently sift through the data to get his own story straight. Inasmuch as your reading of these examples is correct, they serve to deconstruct the BoM’s main plot device.

    As for Transparency International, the method as you describe it is: The corruption index was determined through a survey of 70-120 individuals per country based on questions about ethics in general, but mostly about bribery.
    This is far from a scientific indexing of righteousness and prosperity. I have three major critiques: 1) The survey is based on a series of subjective factors and seems more like a push-poll than anything. For instance, how these (statistically insignificant) people answered based on their perceptions of levels of corruption. Arguable, the corruption that goes on in some US companies is much more severe than that which goes in other countries. My guess is that what the survey tells us is that wealthier countries perceive themselves to be more “ethical” while those less-wealthy countries perceive themselves to be less ethical. How those perceptions map onto reality requires much more data than this survey offers.
    2) The survey seems to assume what is considered “ethical.” Depending on the context, “bribery” is a perfectly acceptable cultural norm. It is no different from tipping your waiter. In some places, it is simply a matter of survival because government pay takes into account your “alternative” sources of income. In other ethical systems, the class divisions perpetuated by wealthy businesses are profoundly problematic. My suspicion is that the Book of Mormon authors would be appalled at the rich/poor gap our so-called “business ethics” have produced.
    3) The notion of “business ethics” is not what the BoM had in mind. Rather, it was pride and mistreatment of the poor. Yes, there are instances where “trust” is the major issue, but I have a hard time drawing ahistorical parallels to the cultural values expressed in the BoM’s view of “righteousness” and those of contemporary “business ethics”. The student paper assumes at the outset that “ethics” are universal and transhistorical and that “righteousness” corresponds to this particular kind of ethics. What if we were to use tolerance of homosexuals as the measure of righteousness? Would our righteousness/prosperity index look the same?

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    Interesting discussions.

    I suspect one thing to point out is that the “pride” cycle as presented has two components. One is what one might call natural consequence. i.e. pride as a human psychological phenomena tends to lead to activities that undercuts prosperity. The second is a spiritual one. Pride as a spiritual phenomena causes one to forget God and lose spiritual blessings. I think we have to be careful not to conflate the two.

    I’d also add that the second phenomena probably only applies to peoples God has established a covenant with. (i.e. how it applies to Romans, Greeks, or others is irrelevant)

    The former one in naturalistic terms is the most intriguing. i.e. is the pattern of the Book of Mormon a naturalistic economic or psychological phenomena? I don’t know. I’d caution using modern (i.e. industrial age and after) economics to make the case. It may well be that productivity due to technological innovation means that the pride cycle is undermined somewhat – or at least made much, much more complex.

    A more interesting question would be to ask if there is a phenomena that is similar among more primitive groups. I suspect it is simply because resources are much, much more finite than they are in the modern world. (Although some would argue that after avoiding such issues for centuries that we’ve reached a degree of usage that has returned us to finitism – with perhaps disastrous results in the coming decades)

    Put an other way the pride cycle in its naturalistic form is simply folks living beyond their means. And in primitive societies the consequences of that are much more immediate and devastating.

    Now where I think an interesting study ought be made is in terms of class structure in more primitive cultures as is relates to the pride issue. i.e. is there a fundamental issue of either social disparity resulting in societal breakdown or facilitating external enemies to have better luck conquering. Then there is the economic issue and whether the administrative classes become so inefficient that they don’t do their job leading to economic issues or that the lower class are persecuted such that they lose their productivity.

    I don’t know the answers to this. I’d be interesting to know.

    The issue of corruption is even more interesting. The problem with corruption isn’t just that it is a hidden tax. The problem is that it tends to increase uncertainty in the economy and thereby have a much more detrimental effect on productivity than a tax would. When corruption gets handled by more violent means then there are even greater loses in productivity.

    An other question here would be whether if in ancient cultures given a natural level of corruption a pride cycle increases the greediness of the bribes and punishments thereby resulting in a much, much multiplied decrease in productivity. I suspect it does although I don’t have the evidence to support that.

    Having said all that I think the more interesting issue is the spiritual one which seems harder to analyze.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    I really like this post. You tactfully engage the issues head on, and raise some great points.

    I’m going to have to be honest, however, and say that I’m bothered by Nathan’s paper. I don’t see how it cannot but conclude that Africans are less righteous than Americans, while assuming a universal context for bribery and GNI (despite the caveat you provide in his defense). You don’t really believe that Africans are less righteous than Americans do you? I think this line of reasoning embodies the issues TT was trying to raise in the earlier post.

    I understand your concern: Yet this is a two-edged sword. If there can be no adequate measure of righteousness/wickedness than how can one determine that the righteous are not always blessed?

    But I don’t think the answer is to equate it with GNI. I think you hit it dead on in raising the question of whether the BoM puts forth as simplistic a vision of the pride cycle as we’re taught. I find it interesting that the verse in 2Nephi 4 which mentions living after the manner of happiness is preceded by the death of Lehi, splitting from their family members, the manufacturing of weapons, and the fighting of wars.

  • http://sundaypage.wordpress.com/ jondh

    General comments on Nate’s paper:

    Smallaxe: I don’t see how it cannot but conclude that Africans are less righteous than Americans, while assuming a universal context for bribery and GNI.

    I disagree. The only thing you can conceivably conclude, if any conclusions can be made, is that bribery is more prevalent in Africa than in the US, and that it shares a relationship with the per capita income. To conclude that Americans are more righteous than Africans goes outside the poll. TT is right to point out that this is a far cry from a general indexing of righteousness, if indeed such an indexing could be made.

    But I don’t think the answer is to equate it with GNI.

    What would you equate it with? Personally, I think prosperity in the Book of Mormon is only vaguely measurable, but if I had to measure it, the GNI is as good a choice as any.

    TT: This is far from a scientific indexing of righteousness and prosperity. I have three major critiques: 1) The survey is based on a series of subjective factors and seems more like a push-poll than anything. For instance, how these (statistically insignificant) people answered based on their perceptions of levels of corruption. Arguable, the corruption that goes on in some US companies is much more severe than that which goes in other countries. My guess is that what the survey tells us is that wealthier countries perceive themselves to be more “ethical” while those less-wealthy countries perceive themselves to be less ethical. How those perceptions map onto reality requires much more data than this survey offers.”

    TI’s methodology is thoroughly documented on its website. The polling was contracted to reputable companies such as Gallup International. The polling questions were designed to measure the respondents’ perceptions, not influence their opinions. Nevertheless, I’ll grant you that much more data is required.

    The survey seems to assume what is considered “ethical.” Depending on the context, “bribery” is a perfectly acceptable cultural norm. It is no different from tipping your waiter. In some places, it is simply a matter of survival because government pay takes into account your “alternative” sources of income. In other ethical systems, the class divisions perpetuated by wealthy businesses are profoundly problematic. My suspicion is that the Book of Mormon authors would be appalled at the rich/poor gap our so-called “business ethics” have produced.

    Utterly indefensible. First of all, there can be no comparison between tipping and bribery; in the case of the former services are provided in hopes of additional compensation and in the case of the latter services are provided on condition of additional compensation. That it is a matter of survival in the face of government allowance may modify the accountability of the parties trying to survive, but does not ameliorate the overall effects of corruption on society. Furthermore, cultural acceptability of any practice does not justify making it morally relative nor does it nullify its socio-economic consequences. Human trafficking, sex slavery, gender-selective abortions, abortion in general, suicide bombing, alcoholism, pornography, torture, and (as you mentioned) intolerance of homosexuals are all acceptable in certain cultures. Would you argue that their cultural acceptance makes them morally acceptable? Would you argue that they have no demonstrable effect on their cultures’ prosperity? Your mention of the gap between the poor and the rich is especially ineffective since that gap is exponentially higher in those countries with the highest corruption index than it is here. Sure, we’re not the EU, but we’re not Somalia either. High levels of bribery and corruption exacerbate the plight of the poor far more profoundly than whatever you’re implying by “our so-called business ethics.”

  • http://sundaypage.wordpress.com/ jondh

    TT: The reason is because there are two totally different concepts of “righteousness” at work in Hebrew and Greek historical works at this time. In fact, my hunch is that “righteousness” isn’t the operative value at all in classical Greek historiography, but “wisdom.” These categories function entirely differently because the former sees divine intervention into history, while the latter is relying on “naturalistic” categories to explain success and failure of different societies. I admit that I haven’t really looked into the genealogy of this topos, but my hunch is that it is largely absent from most Greek and Roman historians, including even Josephus.

    I would certainly not argue that the biblical/BoM view is exactly the same as the Graeco-Roman view; there are obvious differences, as you have pointed out. However, the similarity remains that someone is most often held accountable for success or failure in their own sphere of influence. You may be right that the difference lies more in naturalistic vs. divine consequences, yet I’m not convinced that the classical Greeks significantly differentiated between the two. I might also argue that the Hebrews knew of no more naturalistic consequence than divine intervention. However, since this isn’t really the main point, I’ll concede that differences exist.

    That this method has been abandoned in modernity is not simply the folly of us short-sited moderns, but because it isn’t empirically verifiable (more on that below).

    Granted, but its rejection assumes that there exists a method more empirically verifiable, which assumption I don’t make (see below).

    You seem to be asserting here at least that the BoM authors aren’t doing historiography at all, but supplying a spiritual account. Again, this also seems to be in tension with your previous assertion that this theme was an ubiquitous historiographical staple until “recently.” The secular/spiritual distinction you offer is attractive, but if such distinctions are operative for these authors, their lines are very different from ours. Modern readers are always surprised at the level of warfare discussed in the BoM. I’d be interested in looking at this issue of selectivity a bit more, but it seems to me that most (if not all) of the time the political, economic, and military events are read through this historiographical lens. What is selected then are not historiographical themes, but the data that fits the thesis which drives the whole text.

    Perhaps that’s exactly what I’m asserting, provided that the only acceptable definition of historiography is rejecting moral explanations in favor of political, economic, environmental, and social explanations. This is certainly a valid methodology, arguably even the best one, but to make it the only one reeks of intellectual snobbery. Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni all follow the precedent established by Nephi of explaining socio-economic phenomena from a moral perspective. This is admittedly programmatic historiography. Should we reject its reliability on those grounds? To do so would require us to 1) establish that historiography without agenda is somehow “better” than historiography with agenda, 2) identify such a method, and 3) apply it to known happenings from Book of Mormon history ignored or at least unexplained by Mormon. #1 is theoretical at best, since the whole point of historiography is to have some kind of unifying explanatory lens. #2 is impossible since all historiographers are human and cannot completely buck their own biases, and #3 cannot be done without speculation, given our sole reliance on Mormon’s redactions.

    The problem with your concept of “nuances” is that it maintains the unitary, monological view of the Book of Mormon which erases and suppresses difference, rather than showing how the BoM can be read against itself to problematize its own worldview. I tend to see these examples as proving my point that such a worldview simply cannot account for the real complexities of historical circumstance. When the Zoramites prosper or the BoM authors are forced to spiritualize this theme, it is evidence of seepage in the text, gaps that produce alternative readings, not simply minor revisions of main argument. Not even the careful editing of Mormon can sufficiently sift through the data to get his own story straight. Inasmuch as your reading of these examples is correct, they serve to deconstruct the BoM’s main plot device.

    You contended in your first post that we were not to spiritualize Mormon’s account, since he had the temporal success of the Lord’s people in mind. My bringing up these examples was to show that that was not true, and I guess it depends on how each of us read it. You say that the spiritualization is manifest backtracking or stumbling over his standardized explanation that the righteous always temporally prosper and the wicked always temporally suffer. I’m just contending that Mormon never took his explanations to that kind of exclusivity, and that he had a more broad concept of “prosperity” and “suffering” all along.

    Well, so much for historiographical concerns. You don’t seem to think moral explanations for historical phenomena are empirically verifiable. Even if that were true, What exactly is empirically verifiable? I would agree that, for instance, an economic figure like the GDP or unemployment rate is more verifiable than how righteous someone is, but the attribution of cause or effect or relationship to such a factor is outside the realm of empirical verifiability, even if the factor itself is empirically verifiable. We cannot do “historical experiments” so we can’t reproduce the kind of results empiricism demands to determine the relationships needed to establish cause and effect.

    Consequently I would argue that moral explanations are indeed empirically verifiable. Mormon, by observation, concluded that when Nephites kept the commandments of God they prospered, and when they didn’t they suffered. If it’s his concept of what God’s commandments are that you reject, or simply that he has a concept of God’s commandments at all, then you’re right, there’s no way to evaluate the workability of his theories. But that still doesn’t mean they’re wrong or useless.

  • Christian

    Seems to me that if TT denies that pride brings tragedy, it’s not just the book of Mormon that TT denies. It’s reality.

    To be sure, not all tragedies are caused by pride, and pride is probably never the sole cause of any tragedy — life’s more complicated than that.

    The Book of Mormon doesn’t tell us that we need to run off and blame 9/11 on the feminists or the gays or the spammers or on the old people that take too long to move their car after the stoplight turns green. The pride cycle seems to work more rationally than that in the Book of Mormon, and I think we can apply it rationally as well:

    For example, there was a certain kind of Titanic-like hubris to running airline security as laxly as we did prior to 9/11, despite the facility of hijackings, despite the warnings that we were at war with people who had no scruples at all, and despite the fact that Clancy had even laid out how a 747 filled with fuel could be used as a WMD.

    It also seems like prideful oversight to multiply the number and size of our oil-dependent cars when that money’s going, in large part, to people that hate us.

    As in the Book of Mormon, we’re blinded by our riches, by our failure to pay attention to the consequences of our greed.

  • Anon

    This post REALLY troubles me. Of course people in countries with a low GNI would be prone to bribery. I’m more inclined to believe that this is because they are economically desperate, not inherently immoral or unethical. I imagine that Latter-day Saints in third-world countries are also prone to “unethical” practices.

    I’ve read studies that have found that business leaders in the upper eschelons of managment – those whose salaries are the highest – tend to engage in unethical business practices more frequently than others.

    Finally, why does Utah consistently have the highest bankruptcy rates?

  • Christian

    “Finally, why does Utah consistently have the highest bankruptcy rates?”

    I think we have you beat in Nevada.

    “I’m more inclined to believe that this is because they are economically desperate, not inherently immoral or unethical.”

    A lousy government also contributes.

  • smallaxe

    The only thing you can conceivably conclude, if any conclusions can be made, is that bribery is more prevalent in Africa than in the US, and that it shares a relationship with the per capita income. To conclude that Americans are more righteous than Africans goes outside the poll.

    My problem isn’t with TI’s methodology (I haven’t spent enough time looking at it to have an informed opinion, although I’m not sure one can conclude that bribery and GNI are causally related, or at least that bribery is a significant causal factor in GNI), my problem is with Nathan’s conclusions as you stated, “Nate closely connected this with Book of Mormon promises that the righteous are blessed with temporal prosperity.” I don’t see how this cannot but conclude that Europeans or Americans are more righteous than Africans.

    Personally, I think prosperity in the Book of Mormon is only vaguely measurable, but if I had to measure it, the GNI is as good a choice as any.

    First let me clarify that me initial post was about the relation of GNI to righteousness (not necessarily prosperity), in case you glossed over it. Assuming this is an accurate interpretation of the BoM for the time being, do you understand the implications of what you are saying? The righteous shall prosper, prosperity is measured by GNI, therefore those with highest GNI are the most righteous. Is this the logic you subscribe to? I guess I would attribute economic conditions which faciliate the growth of GNI to things beside righteousness (although righeousness may be one factor). If this is an accurate depiction of the BoM, I would have to disagree with it; and I believe this is what TT was getting at in his original post. One could easily imagine a situation where let’s say politicians are “bribed” to accept a large contract from an American company rather than from a French company, which brings in more jobs for America and raises the GNI.

    Would you argue that their cultural acceptance makes them morally acceptable? Would you argue that they have no demonstrable effect on their cultures’ prosperity?

    I know this was address to TT, but I think TT and I see eye to eye on this. You cannot assume a universal morality, nor a universal notion of prosperity. What was right for the Nephites and Lamanites is not necessarily what is right for us (although there may be significant overlap). Similarly what is right in Africa is not necessarily what is right in the US (although, again, there may be significant overlap). “Bribery” here may be “paying off a government official to get some brass plates so my people have a record of their covenants” there (would they have “prospered” without them?). This isn’t to say that the situation degenerates into relativism, just that it’s much more complex than applying a universal blanket assesment.

  • Secco

    The Pride-Cycle, while a logical observation of Book of Mormon events, is a construction alien to the Book of Mormon text. Rather, it is a creation of church educators to couch the ethical lessons of Mormon and Nephi in modern pedagogy. To speak of the “Pride-Cycle” as if it were Mormon’s or Nephi’s idea is like attributing the Nicene trinity to John’s Gospel; we simply can’t conclude it from the text alone.

    An excellent point, and perhaps a solution to many of the previous comments. The pedagogical oversimplification simply isn’t supported by the Book of Mormon text. Examples abound: Abinidi gets burned at the stake, Alma and Amulek see innocents cast into flames, and 4 Nephi describes 120+ years of the wicked getting richer and richer while also getting more and more wicked (see esp v 24-49). With 120+ years spelled out explicitly, it is hard not to imagine that at least a full generation of people were born, grew up, and died seeing that being wicked is how to “prosper.” Mormon laments this, but records it nonetheless.

    I can only interpret these texts as suggesting that the Book of Mormon statements that the righteous will prosper must refer to a cultural or corporate prosperity, not an individual one. 4 Nephi suggests a time course of >100 years before these cycles are corrected. Linking GNI or whether one’s priesthood leader is wealthy or not with righteousness is not only an oversimplification, it seems to be flatly contradicted by the examples given by the text.

    Perhaps this is indeed, as TT says, an instance of the examples “deconstructing the main plot device.” But I would propose that instead this is our own unwillingness to read the text, and instead superimpose an incorrect “plot device.” We’d rather have the pedagogical CliffNotes version. Actually reading the text simply and overwhelmingly refutes our simplistic equating of material prosperity with righteousness, doesn’t it?

  • Secco

    Sorry about not knowing how to use the xhtml tags properly. Still learning…

  • Erick

    For what it is worth, prosper is a bit vague also. This may be perspective, but I have tried to never equate the professional sucesses and accumulation of wealth in this world with compliance to gospel law. Essentially the promises given from the scriptures, temple, doctrines, etc of the LDS Church are that righteous living comes from overcoming the things of this world, and makes us heirs to the riches and positions of that kingdom which is not of this earth. Suffice it to say, a casual purvey of the economic disparity among people seems to suggest that no correlation exists. More to the point, a lesson from more sacred material suggests that the “prosperities” mentioed here (wealth/power) are just the tools Satan employs to pursue his agenda’s. A little less academic and a little more traditional Mormon, I know. But if we strip Mormonism of it’s core, than all it is is a competing philosophy.


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