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“With Radio in Our Pocket”: David O. McKay Envisions Zion

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 31, 2010

Then counselor in the First Presidency, David O. McKay gave an extraordinary talk at a BYU assembly on January 29, 1935. The full text is posted here; below are excerpts and a summary.

Building on the text that “Zion shall flourish and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her,” Elder McKay invites listeners to consider a picture of the Zion the Latter-day Saints intend to build.

If we have in mind the physical Zion, then we must strive for more fertile acres; bring from the mountains gold and silver in abundance; found factories to furnish more employment; extend in length and width our concrete public highways; build banks to protect, or to dissipate, as has been the case recently, the wealth we accumulate; transform our vast coal fields into electricity that will furnish light, heat and power to every family; improve the means of communication until with radio in our pockets we may communicate with friends and loved ones from any point at any given moment.

In case you wonder whether he was inspired by pop culture, know that Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio didn’t appear in the comic strip until 13 January 1946, nine years after this BYU address.

Certainly it is difficult to picture the City of Zion without at least some – if not all – such modern necessities and luxuries. On the other hand, it is possible to have all these things and instead of reaping the blessings of Zion, suffer the very torments of hell. If the wealth, for example, from the wide acres is obtained by the oppression of the poor; if the gold and silver be obtained at the expense of human happiness and even of life itself; if in the palatial offices men sit and scheme how to prey upon their fellows, plan to extort money by kidnaping, or other unholy efforts, then all of these advantages will be but a means of making life miserable and unhappy.

Life in Zion, he said, would not be dependent upon wealth, but upon the ideals of the people who lived there: “The foundation of Zion then will be laid in the hearts of men; broad acres, mines, forests, factories, beautiful buildings, modern conveniences, will be but means and accessories to the building of the human soul and the securing of happiness.”

He outlined “four cornerstones” to the architectural plan of Zion.

1. “A firm belief and acceptance of the truth that this universe is governed by intelligence and wisdom,” not “the guidance of an irrational and random chance.”

2. A recognition that “the ultimate purpose in God’s great plan is the perfecting of the individual.”

3. Accepting that “the first and most essential thing in man’s progress is freedom – Free Agency.”

Man can choose the highest good, or choose the lowest good and fall short of what he was intended to be. The scale of human existence – starting from the lowest depths of degradation and rising to the heights of the sublime – indicates how men make use of their power of choice.

4. “A sense of responsibility toward other individuals and the social group.”

There is a destiny which makes us brothers.
None can live by himself alone;
All that we send into the hearts of others
Comes back into our own.

Elder McKay said that “with every progressive age of the world intellectual, noble-minded leaders have sought for a better way of living than that which was current,” and illustrates his point by an examination of the history of the 19th century and the restlessness that propelled nations to social and economic revolution, and of the early 20th century which was a time of political unrest.

We are just witnessing the downfall of monarchies. Rising from these monarchial ruins have come the dictatorship of the proletariat in Soviet Russia, the Fascist regime in Italy, the Nazis of Germany and Democracy as exemplified chiefly in Great Britain and her dominions and in the United States. It 8is apparent that men are seeking for a better form of government than most nations now have. Will they find it? In government by the people, in dictatorship, or in a combination of the two?

The Church of Jesus Christ, he said, was the ideal for economic, social, and political reform: “A careful analysis of the organization of the Church reveals the fact that it embodies all the strength of a strong central government, and every virtue and necessary safeguard of a democracy.”

1. It has the authority of Priesthood without the vice of priestcraft, every worthy man being entitled to a place and a voice in the governing quorums.

2. It offers a system of education, universal and free in its application, the safety valve, and the very heart and strength of a true democracy.

3. It offers a judicial system that extends justice and equal privileges to all alike, applicable to the poor and the millionaire.

4. In its ecclesiastical groupings, efficiency and progress are enhanced because every local group attends to its own affairs, and yet each is so closely united with the central government that every mode of procedure proved useful and beneficial to the people can be adopted without delay for the good of the entire group.

“The Church of Christ,” he said, “has that form of government for which the nations today are seeking. This is because it is patterned after that order which Christ himself established.”

One modern writer

looks forward to a “Great Society in which all individuals will have a fair chance for the joy of living, and personal satisfactions will blend with social responsibility and creative power.”

In the Church of Jesus Christ I see just such a Great Society.

I don’t want to make too big a deal over the prescient detail early in his talk that Zion would be built in a day when man should “improve the means of communication until with radio in our pockets we may communicate with friends and loved ones from any point at any given moment” – but where did he get that? And are we ready to “reap the blessings of Zion,” or “suffer the very torments of hell”?



14 Comments »

  1. Great post, Ardis. Of course President McKay’s tenure spanned those remarkable developments in mass communications. I enjoyed reading in Prince’s biography of President McKay the various efforts regarding radio and then TV, including trying to set up a network of shortwave radio broadcasts. So this image seemed to carry over into some practical efforts on his part.

    Comment by Paul — August 31, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  2. His vision sounds so… industrial. More factories, more mining, more highways. There’s definitely been a shift in perception of industry and conceptualization of utopia/Zion.

    Comment by Ben S — August 31, 2010 @ 9:26 am

  3. This was cool…. what an expansive and liberal (in the classical sense) view of what Zion should be, ever so much more practical than I am accustomed to hearing.

    The one thing that gave me pause was this:

    1. It has the authority of Priesthood without the vice of priestcraft, every worthy man being entitled to a place and a voice in the governing quorums.

    I really hope Zion has a place and voice for women in the government thereof.

    Comment by Coffinberry — August 31, 2010 @ 9:38 am

  4. That is a really cool sermon (and as you note, the prescient note about portable communication is simply fun).

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 31, 2010 @ 10:51 am

  5. Nicola Tesla was theorizing on wireless communication as early as 1903 and was as much a household name as Edison. Telsa was great at promoting grand ideas. I wonder if pocket radios was one of his?

    As for whether having pockets radios (or cell phones) will help us “reap the blessings of Zion,” or “suffer the very torments of hell”, I’ll defer to someone else.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — August 31, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  6. Maybe Dick Tracy didn’t show up till later, but Buck Rogers had “radio phones” in 1929.

    Comment by Steven M. Law — August 31, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

  7. Did he? I haven’t been able to confirm that by googling yet. He had radio in his space ship, and radio contact with ground control, but did he have anything like a personal communication device not part of his space ship?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 31, 2010 @ 1:17 pm

  8. There’ll be room for the “pocket radios” because nobody’ll be stuffing the Deseret News into those pockets anymore.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 31, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

  9. And this was 30 years before Captain Kirk’s communicators. :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — August 31, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

  10. I find Elder McKay’s view of Church governance as a model for the world to be the most remarkable part.

    every local group… is so closely united with the central government that every mode of procedure proved useful and beneficial to the people can be adopted without delay for the good of the entire group.

    Really? Good ideas from the Topeka 1st Ward are readily transmitted to Tooele? I have yet to find the corporate church’s “suggestion box.”

    Similarly, his comments on education and the judicial system strike me as unusual. Free education from the Church? (Maybe he was referring to Sunday School, but by the 1930′s the Church was dismantling it’s network of stake academies.)

    I don’t mean to be critical; I’m just saying that this section raised my eyebrow just as much as the pocket radio comment.

    Comment by Clark — August 31, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

  11. Also interesting: his ideas of what it takes to raise up Zion reminds me of Sis. Dew’s book “God Wants a Powerful People.”

    I’m not a fan of the “prosperity gospel” (where one’s righteousness is rewarded with wealth) but he does seem to be saying that wealth (at least at a macro-economic level) is necessary for Zion to prosper. Very interesting! Thanks for posting the full version; I’ll have to come back later and digest it.

    Comment by Clark — August 31, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

  12. That really is a very remarkable talk. It’s interesting how people seem to combine talks like this with things they’ve heard tithing ends up with the “prosperity gospel” that Clark mentions. They don’t seem the same at all. Building, creating, and developing seem to be equated to speculating, scheming, and accumulating wealth in some people’s minds.

    I do think that Zion, when established, will create a very wealthy society. I just don’t think the individuals will be all that wealthy individually.

    Comment by Martin — August 31, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

  13. Very interesting!

    Comment by michelle — August 31, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  14. I do think that Zion, when established, will create a very wealthy society. I just don’t think the individuals will be all that wealthy individually.

    This seems very possible to me. I’m never quite satisfied with either extreme that seems to come out of speculations of what Zion might look like. There’s a lot of knee-jerk response to the concept of wealth on one hand (making it always a bad thing) and then justification for it on the other end of things (sometimes missing the real need to care for the poor or justifying personal excess). Where’s the balance? Your simple summary strikes a balance that makes sense to me.

    Comment by michelle — August 31, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

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