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Political Tuesday: LDS Political Thought: Lesson 2 (1948-49)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 12, 2012

Lesson 2 – Some Political Doctrines of the Book of Mormon

Elder G. Homer Durham

For Tuesday, November 23, 1948

Objective: To learn, from a study of political doctrines expressed in the Book of Mormon, that a government to be good must be composed of good people.

Political theory is concerned with the relation of man and the State. To that extent, political theory is the “theology” of the State and its politics, just as religion explains the relation between God and man. Political theory arose in the Greek city-states and served about the same purposes that religious philosophy serves – explaining, however, state and political activity and helping men to accept and reconcile their individual views with the needs of the State, rather than the needs of the Church, as in the case of religion. A good religious philosophy helps explain tithing. similarly, a political philosophy helps explain taxes. The explanations are usually quite different, but similar purposes are served. A really remarkable religious philosophy, however, goes beyond an explanation of man-Church-God relationships. It explains or attempts to explain the phenomena of all life and objects in the universe. Accordingly, modern man can derive much doctrine (or “political theory”) of great import from the great religions, particularly Mormonism. A sound political theory must meet the tests of “all truth,” including known or future facts. what do the doctrines of the Book of Mormon, for example, indicate for political thinking?

The Nature of Man

The nature of the State, whether it should be total or limited, depends largely on the answer to the question, what is a man? If man is mere animal material, the total State is probably as good as any, with power for its own sake as the highest good. On the other hand, if man has more than animal value, the State should recognize such values.

The Book of Mormon, like other Christian scripture, teaches that man is valuable because he is the child of God. His destiny is not to be cannon fodder or the grist of concentration camps. Man is holy – any man. The State may be powerful, but God, too, is powerful. And man as the child of God must be respected by the State, whether in its criminal code, welfare law, selective service administration, or garbage collection.

“Men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil” (2 Nephi 2:5.) But men, left to themselves and the State, however humane, are insufficient to “save” themselves. “Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.” There is “opposition in all things” (verse 11) and men must strive with all means at their disposal to work out the earth problems – including political problems. But these means, while not discounting human brains, skill, and planning, must yet take into account the true nature of man and the existence of God as a factor in the equation. Humane methods may be all right. But if God and the spiritual forces of the universe be discounted or ignored, such ignorance will lead to material error.

For there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14).

And although God permits man to act for himself (verse 16), he can better act in view of the above facts if he wants the optimum result. Such is fundamental to political theory from the standpoint of Mormonism.

The Nature of Government

The Book of Mormon does not leave things at this point. The book contains a thousand-year profile of the rise, evolution through various forms, and fall of Nephite political institutions. from this experience emerges and interpretation of history more impressive to latter-day Saints than the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx or the civilization-epoch-cycle theory of Oswald Spengler or A.J. Toynbee. This theory insists on the inclusion of God as a factor in civilization, as well as man, and can be stated as follows: when institutions, societies, or individuals conform to the demands of an expanding, growing concept of God’s commands, they are prosperous and happy. When they depart therefrom, disease, decay, war, and destruction follow. Accordingly, King Mosiah says, (chapter 29, verse 10) “Let us be wise … and do that which will make for the peace of this people.” This he interpreted as striving to approximate the government of God – the ultimate standard, “for the judgments of God are always just.” Mosiah (29:10-29) makes one of the best arguments for popular government found in scripture. One-man rule would be all right if the man would always be good. But such is not the case. Moreover, if one man holds all power, and he is evil, a most bloody revolution is required to throw the resisting tyrant out. Therefore, choose representative judges, he admonished, and let them follow majority views. But, said he, the people must bear the responsibility, “And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time the judgments of God will come upon you!”

The Welfare of the State

How, then, can government be kept “good,” aside from the fact that its construction and operation recognize God’s existence and man’s sonship? By the people remaining “good” and by their voice demanding the good!

But people, by God’s act, are free to do or be good or evil! Goodness cannot be forced! How, then, secure the public welfare? Here the book of Mormon takes its stand with President George Washington who stated in his Farewell Address that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” Thus, when Nephite society was in a state of breakdown, similar to modern Europe, Alma the chief Judge (Alma 4) launched no public relief program, “seeing no way that he might reclaim them (his people) save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.”

And thus in the … ninth year of the reign of the judges … Alma delivered up the judgment-seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy (Alma 4:19-20)>

The roots of the social and political maladies of mankind are thus to be found in the people’s morals. Political remedies, accordingly, the Book of Mormon teaches, must get at the roots. To merely deal with the effects of problems will only aggravate the fundamental causes. Alma, chapters 45-63, tells another, longer story of the Nephite patriot, Moroni, and “the title of liberty” while IV Nephi depicts the ideal results that can be obtained if men will but pursue truth. Both accounts are worth rereading.

Thus the State may not accomplish everything! Indeed, the welfare of the State requires a vigorous, moral people. The State, as Hitler’s and others’, may attempt to administer and enforce State morality; but this, probably, only for the benefit of the holders of power. Free men require freedom for moral standards. Free churches and other associations, then, can best minister to this fundamental human need – in freedom and diversity, separate and apart from the State.

Questions for Discussion

1. What are some tests of a sound political theory?

2. What is the Latter-day Saint conception of the origin, nature and destiny of man?

3. If mankind are the children of God, what essential rights should be maintained in organized society? Why?

4. Can a political theory be sound if it ignores the existence of God? why not? What practical difference does it make? Does the particular concept held concerning God’s nature make any difference, or can it be any kind of belief in God?

5. According to the Book of Mormon, how can good government be maintained?

6. How can people’s morality be maintained at a high standard?

7. How do you view contemporary moral standards? In what respects are they high – low? How can contemporary standards be improved?

8. How do you think Alma, the great Nephite Judge, would handle such problems as the atomic bomb, traffic safety, human misery?

Suggested References

Durham, C. Homer: Joseph Smith: Prophet-Statesman, pp. 3-15.

Book of Mormon: Mosiah, chapter 29, Alma, chapter 4.

III Nephi 6:19 to 7:6. (An excellent example of social breakdown and anarchy.)

IV Nephi 1-17. (An inspiring account of what true religion can contribute to the political and social order.)



10 Comments »

  1. Having God, a very specific God, involved in a state’s political life seems to make sense when the people that make up that state are the same religiously and racially and in every other way, but when you have a state that was specifically created to allow diversity of religious belief, it becomes a touch problematic. Whose God are we going to allow in to influence our state? The Anglican God? The Catholic God? The Native American God(s)? The Jewish God? The Muslim God?
    Which? Does any other religion have as much right to be heard as ours? Perhaps the founders’ affection for the religious diversity and tolerance of Masonry was well-founded. Much as we may value the teachings of the Book of Mormon, until the day when all citizens of our nation are members of our church, we have to accommodate, not dictate.

    Comment by ray — June 12, 2012 @ 9:14 am

  2. I recommend C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, in which he discusses the morality common to all the great religions. I see no reason why common moral principles shared by most or all of the religions you name cannot inform our public morals.

    Comment by Vader — June 12, 2012 @ 10:08 am

  3. “How do you think Alma, the great Nephite Judge, would handle … the atomic bomb?” Good question, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what prompted it or how to respond.

    Comment by Capozaino — June 12, 2012 @ 11:08 am

  4. I should install a “like” button for Capozaino’s #3.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 12, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  5. Interesting political theory, and perhaps very Mormon.

    It seems to me this political theory argues that getting at the root of the issues is the only effective way of solving societal problems. Modern efforts at nation building have been more successful in places where corruption (lack of morality) has been kept at a minimum. Since WWII only South Korea comes to mind as an example of that.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 12, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  6. Korea is a particularly interesting example given that it is the most Christianized of mainland Asian nations.

    Much of the historical Christian missionary success was in what is now North Korea. One wonders when freedom of religion will return to that area and whether any of that heritage will have survived.

    Comment by Vader — June 12, 2012 @ 1:15 pm

  7. “How do you think Alma, the great Nephite Judge, would handle . . .” Truman desegregating the Armed Forces in 1948?

    (I think he’d be with Truman – but I’m probably just asking for trouble.)

    Comment by Grant — June 12, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

  8. I’m no Korea expert, but I’m not sure there is a meaningful connection between Korea being the “most Christianized” nation of the Asian mainland and the relatively low level of corruption. Not far off the mainland and you have three contrary examples. Japan also has a low level of corruption and I don’t think they are particularly Christian. Neither is Taiwan which has done a good job of curbing corruption since about the 80′s. On the flip side the Philippines is far more Christian but is certainly struggling with corruption.

    China has an interesting political theory that parallels this. Corruption, government inefficiency, and social disorder (along with weather and astronomical signs) were indications that the the emperor had lost the mandate of heaven, usually because of poor moral leadership. The answer was state sponsored religion, historically Confucianism, to help maintain order. Corruption in China today, however, is rampant.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 13, 2012 @ 6:52 am

  9. Question – Has there been any research/studies/thesis papers, etc., done on the early Utah history with respect to “limited government”. I guess what I am asking is, how would our own Mormon Government History compare to the limited government theory? Just asking!

    Comment by Cliff — June 15, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

  10. I don’t know, Cliff — anybody?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 15, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

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