3 Nephi 6:12-15 — LeGrand Baker — ‘a great inequality’
The inequality was not a result of the differences in wealth and education. Those differences were already in place. The inequality appeared as a result of the erosion of mutual esteem.
12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.
13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.
14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord.
15 Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.
These verses, in the first chapter of Alma, contain another of those amazingly profound statements that Mormon passes over as though there was nothing extraordinary about it. This time it is his definition of equality.
The notion that somehow all people are equal comes from very deep roots within our western culture. But it always sits in juxtaposition to the cold reality that people are not really equal at all. Let me give you a quick review of the ideas of equality that are a part of our western heritage. George Orwell’ phrase in Animal Farm, may not be an eternal truth, but it is certainly an accurate appraisal of this world’s reality: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
From our present Jewish version of the Law of Moses, we are taught that Jehovah is the God of everybody, but that he loves some much more than he loves others. That was not only true between Israelites and Gentiles, but between Israelites as well. For example, the Law, as we have it, provided that in ancient Israel, if a man were unable to pay his debts, he and his family could be enslaved by his creditor.
From the ancient Greeks we have inherited the tradition of participatory government. But the ancient Greek democracy was limited to the elite.
From the Romans we inherited our notion of equality before the law, but that was also a selective equality, based on wealth and political status.
The New Testament teaches us that we should love one another and submit to authority, and those doctrines were soon turned into a rationale for oppression.
Observing the almost universal use of religion to oppress the masses, the philosopher/historian, Will Durant, believed that religion was an invention of the aristocracy to control and weigh down the masses. He used the Christianity of the Dark Ages to make his point. He wrote that the poor were taught that if they would endure their poverty and be subservient in this world, then they would have glorious mansions in the next world. He believed that this tactic had been used by the elite of every ancient culture, and noted that the upper classes were always eager to guarantee to the lower classes every wealth and pleasure they could hope for in the next world – in exchange for their willingness to tolerate poverty in this world.
Modern egalitarianism is based on that same assumption. Rousseau taught that equality was impossible because the natural human motivation is avarice and self-aggrandizement. He insisted that the best that could be hoped for was an imposed equanimity, with a self-defined and self-appointed moral elite controlling government, and the powers of both production and distribution. Communism and socialism are variations of his thinking. The problem is that when the same group controls government, production, and distribution, a two-cast system is established that belies the whole notion of a self-appointed moral elite.
As I observed two weeks ago, Jefferson believed equality meant that all people had the same innate sense of right and wrong, and upon that principle he justified a government created and elected by the people – believing that a government elected by the masses would have the same sense of right and wrong as the masses who created and elected it. There was nothing in Jefferson’s beliefs that suggested that all people had the same aptitudes or abilities. (See: Gary Wills, Inventing America, Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence). He left it to American rugged individualism to sort out the practical implications of that equality.
Since Jefferson’s time, our society has invented several new slogan-like definitions of equality. They sound good, but have little practical meaning. “Equal opportunity,” and “equal rights” are concepts written into our laws, but not clearly defined; fought over in the courts, but never resolved; and thus they have become great political footballs.
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Into that maze of conflict between philosophy and reality, Mormon quietly introduces the only fully rational definition of equality I have ever found.
26 And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.
27 And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.
28 And thus they did establish the affairs of the church; and thus they began to have continual peace again, notwithstanding all their persecutions.
29 And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.
30 And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.
31 And thus they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church. (Alma 1:20-33.)
The key words are these: “and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, ”
“And thus they were all equal!” The “equality” they experienced was the product of their esteem for each other.
The only true equality between two humans is their mutual esteem. No social, economic, or political situation can alter that reality. For example, a Greek scholar might be captured and made that slave of a wealthy Roman. If the slave is contemptuous of the master’s harshness, the master, in the slave’s estimation, is lesser than the slave, and can never be the slave’s equal. It would make no difference how much authority the master exercised over the slave, in the eyes of the slave, the master can never be the slave’s equal until the slave esteems him as such. The college professor can never be the equal of the wise old farmer, until the farmer esteems him as such. Conversely, the farmer can never be equal to a professor until the professor appreciates the goodness and wisdom of the fine old man. And the cost of a lack of such esteem is subtracted from the richness of the life of the one who withholds it.
Our human condition being what it is, governments are necessary to enforce some sort of equanimity in our legal and economic systems, but “charitable” condescension or patronization are poor substitutes for esteem. Neither the powers of government, its laws, nor the courts can impose an equality of esteem upon any society. It is a product of the individual soul.
Similarly, it is impossible to create a Zion society, by proclaiming it “zion” and inviting people to come in. Rather “Zion is the pure in heart,” which I understand to mean people who esteem others as themselves, and who conduct their lives in accordance to that mutual esteem. A collection of that kind of people becomes a Zion society. But the individuals must be Zion, before a Zion society can become a reality. I can discover no difference between that concept of mutual esteem, and the law of consecration. And I can discover no difference between the law of consecration and love that is called charity. Obedience to the law of consecration is what one does – but only when charity is what one is.
The natural consequence is, “And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted….And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need….”
Thus these people had established and maintained Zion as a subculture withing a culture that was not Zion at all. And their Zion remained viable until the mutual esteem began to disintegrate:
12 Yea, he [Alma] saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted. (Alma 4:12.)
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I wrote this with the help of with Tyson Hill.
Now the question is: “How do I esteem others as myself?”
One tends to define one’s Self in terms of one’s wants and needs. And therefore defines one’s esteem for others in terms of acknowledging that they have similar wants and needs. But what if one defined one’s Self in terms different from that. What if one believed this: “I am a person whom the Saviour loves, and the best evidence that I have that I exist is that I know he loves me and that I love him in return.” I love and accept love – therefore I am.
To the degree that one can identify and define one’s Self in terms of the Saviour’s love, to that degree one runs out of other alternative ways for identifying and defining other people
One can neither love others nor one’s Self unless one is comfortable with one’s Self. That requires faith, which leads to repentance, which leads to an even increasing sensitivity to the voice of the Spirit, which promotes a self-honesty. It is, a never-ending spiral, whose object is to lead one so discovering who and what he is, that he may again, in this world, be true to the law of his own being.