For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.
For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.
PROBLEMS OF THE AGE
Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.
By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner
XI. – Inequalities a Besetting Sin of Present Day Life
Marvelous and multiplied opportunities for the acquisition of wealth give rise to social differences which today threaten the stability of every so-called civilized nation of the world. Inequalities create envy, envy begets hatred, and hatred entails in its pathway the spirit of destruction. Men do not always, in the superior advantages which they enjoy, exercise a wise stewardship. If those who enjoy superior advantages of wealth would so use their property as to benefit others and give others an opportunity likewise to increase their holdings, the difference in wealth would not be so dangerous, so destructive. But there has always been a strong tendency in man towards vanity and false pride that seduced men into the belief that because they were richer they were likewise better than their fellow men. Such vanity has given rise to exhibitions of frivolity and excesses that were hard for the poorer classes to witness and endure.
There is now going on within the United States, and indeed throughout the world, but more particularly in the United States, a propaganda of pride that may have much to do in this country in creating a revolution, if not down-right anarchy. Our newspapers, and more particularly the Sunday editions, are filled with social notes and advertisements which cater to the vanity and extravagance of those who enjoy more money than most of their fellow creatures.
Society Life. – The newspapers are thus giving their powerful support to an increase of hatred on the part of the poor towards the rich. Much of this advertising is harmless. It is of an innocent personal character that touches in a small way the vanity of those who enjoy so-called “newspaper publicity.” Some of this newspaper notoriety is excessively dangerous to the peace of society and the stability of government institutions. When people are poor, and perhaps suffering from deprivations and want, they do not look with much toleration upon the follies of the rich. Some time ago a lady paraded in the newspapers of New York the fact that she had built a $25,000 house as a home for her favorite cats. Society women of wealth had social gatherings in honor of some dog, and thus their vanity in parading before the public such wanton extravagances is giving rise to criticism, and to class hatred.
A Dog Cemetery. – The New York Times of August 19th gives a photographic and written review of a dog cemetery in Westchester county, in which there are more than two thousand graves. The writer says of this cemetery that “on a pleasant summer day there were not fewer than 100 visitors, and that as many as fifteen automobiles would be at the entrance at a time. There has been no saving of expense in the monuments placed over some of the graves; several have cost $2,500; and including the price paid for the plot and other expenses, the total individual expense is frequently as much as $3,000 and $4,000. Arrangements were recently made for a mausoleum ten feet square to be erected, at a cost of $10,000. The lowest priced dog is $10, the highest $250.”
The advertisement of such wasteful extravagance at a time when this country is at war, and when thousands and thousands of its sons may perhaps be thrown into great excavations and simply covered with dirt, is likely to give rise to feelings of bitterness.
Social Functions and Dress. – The modern world is also given to undue extravagance in the matter of its social life, which means excess in dress, in flowers, perfumes, and other wasteful manifestations of wealth. We witness now in Russia the overthrow of a dynasty which has brought upon itself the hatred of the people because of its wastefulness and consequent weakness. The people of that country have insisted on knowing something of the daily habits of the Czar and Czarina, and their courtiers. We are informed that the Czarina spent $25,000 a year in perfumes.
A Poor Defense. – Those who would justify these extravagances contend that such numerous expenditures give employment to the men who raise flowers and to those whose labor contributes to the vanity of wealth. There are things in this world which we call the necessaries of life; there are others which we call luxuries. People perhaps would not object so much to the display of luxuries and vanity if they had enough of the necessaries of life. But when they suffer from an actual want of food; when they are cold in their homes and poorly clad, the exhibition of luxuries whose existence has no other excuse than that of vanity, they grow discontented, and class spirit springs up, and intense hatreds result.
Classification of Society. – the classification of society is contrary to the spirit of Christ and his teachings. Social classification destroys the brotherhood of man and when classification is built upon influences in wealth, it results in social enmities that become very bitter. They destroy the peace of mind and the peace of the world. There is a spirit in all life; there is the spirit of the individual; there is the spirit of the community; and there is the spirit of the nation. As a result of these differences we have individual strife, we have community quarrels, and national wars. What we are witnessing today is in large measure the result of an attempted classification by which one nation would make itself superior, and therefore offensive, to all other nations. Vanity is not merely a harmless sentiment of the human kind. Vanity carries with it an ambition – not simply an ambition to be better than others, but an ambition to domineer over others. It creates an indifference to other people’s suffering, and thus enmity between man and man grows.
The Corrections. – The abuses of class distinction manifest themselves in the grossest injustices of man to man. They become oppressive and human life suffers very greatly from them. As a rule, the process of correction of these wrongs has been by means of wars, famines, pestilences, and such calamities as have reduced the world to a common physical equality. There is, however, a means of correction – a peaceful means. Such peaceful means are found in the teachings of the gospel. The religious institutions of the Latter-day Saints are all intended to establish a feeling of brotherhood, a spirit of humility and a condition that makes fore brotherly love and universal good-will. If men and women performed their duties in the Church as they are prescribed for them, social classes would be quite impossible. Those who flaunt their social life before the public, who strive for class distinction, as a rule are not those who are laboring faithfully in some of the religious organizations of the ward to which they belong. It was notoriously the work of the ministry of Christ and his disciples to establish social equality; for social inequality, if it is not always a cause of certain immoralities, is certainly in danger of creating them. Whatever poisons the human mind in its relationship to the children of God begets conditions that in time become highly immoral.
Revelation. – “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” (Doc. and Cov. 70:14).