Monday, December 20, 2010

King Benjamin on helping the poor

Mosiah 4:16-19 (from King Benjamin's discourse):
 16And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.   
 17Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—     
 18But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.     
 19For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?   


  1. I forget why I originally posted this, but perhaps it was around the time that the increasing gap between rich and poor in the United States was getting publicized. I teach a class on world literature in which we read (among MANY other things) "The Communist Manifesto." In connection with that, I posted some thoughts at the following URL:
    (I'll copy what I have there in another comment).

    Since then, I've thought further on the subject. I realize, of course, that for true economic fairness and harmony to exist, people's hearts will need to change. But I think it makes no sense to wait till that happens (or till "everyone joins the Church," as some Latter-day Saints might say) to do anything about economic unfairness and distress. My most recent time reading through the Book of Mormon, I noticed in Mosiah 21:17 that Limhi "commanded" the people to impart of their substance to help those in need. This was not just a free will offering (though I truly believe free will offerings are of the highest importance) but a requirement made of members of the community to help those in need. That's part of what being a member of a community means--accepting one's responsibility to contribute to the care of others, just as one accepts one's responsibility to keep certain rules and in other ways contribute to the general welfare.

  2. From

    LDS scripture on economic inequality (plus some thoughts on Marxism)

    Doctrine and Covenants 104:18

    Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

    D&C 49:20: But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.

    D&C 70:14: Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.

    D&C 78:6: For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things; . . .

    See also D&C 56:16-18; 2 Nephi 9:30; Mosiah 4:26.

    D&C 56:16: Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! (See also verses 17-18, which show the dangers of envy, resentment, and greed on the part of the poor: “Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands! But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.”)

    2 Nephi 9:30: But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.

    Mosiah 4:26: . . . for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.

    Comments on Marxism

    Marx was simply wrong about some things and probably had too much confidence that he had discovered the "objective," "scientific" truth. (Some of what he says now strikes some of us as pseudo-scientific.)

    On the other hand, he was reacting to genuine evils (which certainly haven’t been overcome in today’s world).

    The scriptures generally, and especially the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, condemn economic inequality and exploitation and propose a united, cooperative, (what has been called "communitarian") approach to social and economic life. [See scriptures above.]

    But the means the gospel proposes for achieving a more just and equal society are quite different from those proposed by Marx.

    Also, Marx’s overall violent and angry tone and some of Marx’s ideas seem to me incompatible with the gospel. For instance: (a) historical determinism; (b) the idea that moral values, ideals, and laws are merely the expressions of the economic interest of the ruling class; (c) the idea that human nature is merely the product of social and economic (material) forces; (d) the assertion that there is no God, no afterlife, etc. (But even some of these ideas seem to me partly right: e.g., supposed "moral values" and even religion have often been used to promote the interests of the ruling class.)

  3. Brigham Young and others on economic inequality:

    “The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice. Under such a system, carefully maintained there could be no great aggregations of either real or personal property in the hands of a few; especially so while the laws, forbidding the taking of usury or interest for money or property loaned, continued in force.

    "One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it more equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both State, and National, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin.”

    - Brigham Young, Daniel H. Wells, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, Lorenzo Snow, Franklin D. Richards, Brigham Young Jr., George A. Smith, John taylor, Orson Hyde, Charles C,. Rich, Erastus Snow, George Q. Cannon, Albert Carrington (Tullidge 1886: 728-29).

    (see )

    I had been unaware of this precise material until a few months ago, though I had heard years ago that Brigham Young had seen a connection between "secret combinations" and corporations. I believe corporations can do much positive good. But there's much to be said for them operating within legally enforceable boundaries (as they do, for the most part). And there's still that serious concern, raised by Brigham Young and others (above), about the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

  4. This is a follow up on the first comment above (and repeats some of its content). Somewhere, during 2012, I posted the following in response to discussions about economic fairness and whether it is right to use public funds to assist those in need:

    Ultimately, what matters most is the state of our hearts. But one expression of that state is our ability to come together as communities to help those in need. And the idea that the only kind of help we can give is private and voluntary contradicts both the scriptures and common sense. (Our roads, police forces, and many other services are paid for with tax money, which by its nature is not voluntary.) One scripture I’m thinking of is Mosiah 21:17, where Limhi commands his people to contribute to the support of widows and orphans. These were apparently not merely voluntary contributions, but were expected of everyone as part of their community responsibility.

    And note that in Limhi's case members of the community were required to contribute--not just to roads that everybody uses--but specifically to the support of widows and orphans. They were required to do it not as a denial of their agency but as a condition of being part of the community.

    Certainly, it's better not to be compelled to be humble (or to repent or to be charitable). But living in a community means having to do certain things. The alternative is to suffer certain consequences (civil disobedience means willingly accepting the consequences for breaking laws one believes to be unjust), moving to a different community, or obeying while trying to change the laws. The Church normally advises this last approach and does not condone refusal to pay income taxes (whether for social programs or for the military).

    Part of the trick is how to do WILLINGLY and from the heart things one (a) believes to be good and (b) is required by law to do--for instance, obeying traffic laws or contributing to the general welfare by paying taxes, including to help those who are suffering or in need. Jesus said that if you're required by a law court to give someone your coat, give him your cloak too; and if someone compels you to go a mile, you should go two miles with him. "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." Could that mean that the answer to how to be charitable when the law requires us to assist those in need is to meet that requirement and then do EVEN MORE than we're required?

    (P.S.: I think I'll make this a separate post on this same site.)