Zion: A Distant View

Posted: January 19, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

As I was sitting in the library today their internet connection went down.  And it wasn’t one of those “down for 2 minutes” kind of down.  It ended up down for several hours.  As I was sitting there wondering what to do – go home or study – I flipped open a copy of Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion.  A book which I had only plucked off the library shelf a mere hour or so earlier.  Not sure I was wanting to delve into Nibley’s writings, I semi-randomly flipped the book open to page 52 and began reading.  Paragraph after paragraph seemed to roll off the pages relating precisely to topics I have studied only weeks prior, both echoing sentiments I have felt as well as answering questions I was myself posing.  Therefore, in spite of myself, it was with great interest that I read what was being shared about Zion.

In that vein, I shall transcribe and share what Nibley so aptly shared (spans pages 50-63 of Approaching Zion). I thought about mixing this post together with my words, but really don’t think that it does much justice to what Nibley so eloquently wrote.  The problems he decried those many years ago remain even more prevalent today, if not more so.  We are so far from Zion, the view so distant, that it scarcely seems imaginable.  The teachings on Zion have been, if only mildly, corrupted to the point where we no longer believe in a physical gathering where we can live the laws of a Zion, instead placating ourselves with a Zion that’s but a mere shell of what we yearn for.  We’re told that Zion is wherever you are, it’s where you live, it’s in your heart.  This is true, to a degree.  Zion does begin in the heart, where you live.  However, I see this as a means to an end.  At some point we will have to leave Babylon – fully and completely – and exit stage right if we’re to ever advance as we simply must to attain what others have looked forward to for so long…but alas, I’m left alone with these thoughts, pondering, myself, the next step.  It’s in this spirit that I share these words from Hugh Nibley:


In Zion, all are “of one heart and one mind … and there [are] no poor among them” (Moses 7:18), thus showing that equality extends into all fields, as it must also be in the preparation for Zion: “For if ye are not equal in earthly things, ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.  For if you will that I give you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves” (D&C 76:6-7).  “And you are to be equal … to have equal claims … every man according to his wants and his needs … every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all the things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:17, 19).  Well, there is a great deal of this.  In the words of the Prophet Joseph, “The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings which always come from faithfulness and concerted effort, never attended individual exertion or enterprise”[1] (a statement I do not recall having heard from the stand for some time).  This was a hard lesson to learn: to come down to earth.  “The Latter-day Saints, in their conduct and acts with regard to financial matters, are like the rest of the world.  The course pursued by men of business in the world has a tendency to make a few rich, and to sink the masses of the people in poverty and degradation.  Too many of the Elders of Israel take this course.  No matter what comes they are for gain – for gathering around them riches; and when they get rich, how are those riches used?  Spent on the lusts of the flesh.”[2] As to the idler eating the bread of the laborer, “I have seen many cases …,” says Brigham, “when the young lady would have to take her clothing on a Saturday night and wash it, in order that she might go to meeting on the Sunday with a clean dress on.  Who is she laboring for?  For those who, many of them, are living in luxury.  And, to serve the classes that are living on them, the poor, laboring men and women are toiling, working their lives out to earn that which will keep a little life within them.  Is this equality?  No! What is going to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on this earth.”[3] “The earth is here, and the fullness thereof is here.  It was made for man; and one man was not made to trample his fellowman under his feet, and enjoy all his hearts desires, while the thousands suffer.”[4] Regardless of who works and who doesn’t, no just father is going to order one son clothed in robes and another in rags (D&C 38:26).

Of course, the man who devotes himself to the tiring routines of business should be rewarded, but should all others be penalized who do not engage in that particular line of work?  “Where, then, is your great ability?  In your pockets – in the god so much adored,” says Brigham with contempt; there is other work to be done and far greater:  “But take the men that can travel the earth over, preach the Gospel without purse or scrip, and then go to and lay their plans to gather the saints.  That looks like the work of angels.”[5] Granted that those who acquire wealth are sometimes people of superior talent (though for every real artist, or poet, or composer in America, there are at least ten thousand millionaires), “those who are blessed with superior abilities,” even in business, “should use those blessings … to administer to others less favored.”  Our gifts and talents are to be put at the disposal of the human race, not used to put the race at our disposal.  “Instead of this,” Brigham notes, “man has become so perverted as to debar his fellows as much as possible from those blessings, and constrain them by physical force or circumstances to contribute of the proceeds of their labour to sustain the favoured few.”[6] That is not Zion, but that is what we have.  Should we settle for it?

The doctrine of united together in our temporal labors, and all working for the good of all is from the beginning, from everlasting, and it will be for ever and ever.  No one supposes for one moment that in heaven the angels are speculating, that they are building railroads and factories, taking advantage one of another, gathering up the substance there is in heaven to aggrandize themselves, and that they live on the same principle that we are in the habit of doing.  No Christian, no sectarian Christian, in the world believes this; they believe that the inhabitants of heaven live as a family, that their faith, interests and pursuits have one end in view – the glory of God and their own salvation, that they may receive more and more … We all believe this, and suppose we go to work and imitate them as far as we can.”[7]

“There are men in this community who, through the force of the education they have received from their parents nad friends [i.e., this is an established ethic among us], would cheat a poor widow out of her last cow, and then go down upon their knees and thank God for the good fortune he had sent them and for his kind providences that enabled them to obtain a cow without becoming amenable to any law of the land, though the poor widow had actually been cheated.”[8] Here, please note, the defense of immorality is legality:  if it is legal, all is well, even though the law has been contrived under pressure of interest groups.

God recognizes only one justification for seeking wealth, and that is with the express intent of helping the poor (Jacob 2:19).  One of the disturbing things about Zion is that its appeal, according to the scriptures, is all to the poor:  “The Lord hat founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it” (Isaiah 14:32).  Of course, once in Zion, no one suffers from poverty, for they dwell in righteousness and there are no poor among them (Moses 7:18).  The law of consecration is a minimal requirement, for “if my people observe not this law, … it shall not be a land of Zion unto you” (D&C 119:6).  Here our rhetoric engages in a neat bit of sophistry that has always been popular:

Elders of Israel are greedy after the things of this world.  If you ask them if they are ready to build up the kingdom of God, their answer is prompt – “Why, to be sure we are, with our whole souls; but we want first to get so much gold, speculate and get rich, and then we can help the church considerably.  We will go to California and get gold, go and buy goods and get rich, trade with the emigrants, build a mill, make a farm, get a large herd of cattle, and then we can do a great deal for Israel.”[9]

I have heard this many times from friends and relatives, but it is hokum.  What they are saying is, “If God will give me a million dollars, I will let him have a generous cut of it.”  And so they pray and speculate and expect the Lord to come through for them.  He won’t do it:  “And, again, I command thee that thou shalt not covert thine own property” (D&C 19:26).  “Let them repent of all their sins, and of all their covetous desires, before me, saith the Lord, for what is property unto me? Saith the Lord” (D&C 117:4).  He does not need our property or our help.

Every rhetorician knows that his most effective weapons by far are labels.  He can demolish the opposition with simple and devastating labels such as communism, socialism, or atheism, popery, militarism, or Mormonism, or give his clients’ worst crimes a religious glow with noble labels such as integrity, old-fashioned honesty, tough-mindedness, or free competitive enterprise.  “You can get away with anything if you just wave the flag,” a business partner of my father once told me.  He called that patriotism.  But the label game reaches its all-time peak of skill and effrontery in the Madison Avenue master stroke of pasting the lovely label Zion on all the most typical institutions of Babylon:  Zion’s Loans, Zion’s Real Estate, Zion’s Used Cars, Zion’s Jewelry, Zion’s Supermarket, Zion’s Auto Wrecking, Zion’s Outdoor Advertising, Zion’s Land and Mining, Zion’s Development, Zion’s Securities, Zion’s Bank – all that is quintessentially Babylon now masquerades as Zion.

There is a precedent for the bit of faking – a most distinguished one.  Satan, being neither stupid nor inexperienced, knows the value of a pleasing appearance – there are times when it pays to appear even as an angel of light.  He goes farther than that, however, to assure that success of his masquerade (given out since the days of Adam) as a picturesquely repulsive figure – a four-star horror with claws, horns, or other obvious trimmings.  With that idea firmly established, he can operate with devastating effectiveness as a very proper gentleman, a handsome and persuasive salesman.  He “decoys” our minds (a favorite word of Brigham Young) with false words and appearances.  A favorite trick is to put the whole blame on sex.  Sex can be a pernicious appetite, but it runs a poor second to the other.  For example:  we are wont to think of Sodom as the original sexpot, but according to all accounts “this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom”: that great wealth made her people cruel and self-righteous.[10]

The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism.  Longhairs, beards, necklaces, LSD and rock, Big Sur and Woodstock come and go, but Babylon is always there:  rich, respectable, immovable, with its granite walls and steel vaults, its bronze gates, its onyx trimmings and marble floors (all borrowed from ancient temples, for these are our modern temples), and its bullet-proof glass – the awesome symbols of total security.  Keeping her orgies decently private, she presents a front of unalterable propriety to all.  As the early Christian writers observed, Babylon always wins:  in every showdown throughout history, Satan has remained in possession of the field, and he still holds it.  Its security and respectability exert a strong appeal:  “When I see this people grown and spread and prosper,” said Brigham Young, “I feel there is more danger than when they are in poverty.  Being driven from city to city … is nothing compared to the danger of becoming rich and being hailed by outsiders as a first class community.”[11]

Brigham Young had this to say on the Puritan ethic, which shifts the burden of guilt from wealth to sex:

When the books are opened, out of which the human family are to be judged, how disappointed the professedly sanctified, long-faced hypocrites and smooth toned Pharisees will be, when the publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of heaven before them; people that appeared to be full of evil, but the Lord says they never designed to do wrong; the Devil had power over them, and they suffered in their mortal state a thousand times more than you poor, miserable, canting, cheating, sniveling, hypocritical Pharisees; you were dressed in purple and fine linen, and bound burdens upon your weaker brethren that you would not so much as help to lift with your little fingers.  Did you ever go without food, suffer with tooth-ache, sore eyes, rheumatism, or the chills and fever?  You have fared sumptuously all your days and you condemned to an everlasting hell these poor harlots and publicans who never designed an evil.  Are you not guilty of committing an evil with that poor harlot?  Yes, and you will be damned while she will be saved.[12]

When the Saints were shocked by growing juvenile delinquency in their midst, who were the real criminals?  Brigham knows:  “I have not the least hesitation in saying that the loose conduct, and calculations, and manner of doing business, which have characterized men who have had property in their hands, have laid the foundation to bring our boys into the spirit of stealing.  You have caused them to do it, you have laid before them every inducement possible, to learn their hands and train their minds to take that which is not their own.”[13] But the respectable appearance will nearly always win, though the Lord has said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

Here are a few notes from Brigham on this clever campaign:  “The devil appears as a gentleman when he presents himself to the children of men.”[14] “The devil does not care how much religion there is on the earth; he is a great preacher, and to all appearance, a great gentleman. … It is popular now-a-days to be religious; it has become the seasoning to a great deal of rascality, hypocrisy and crime.”[15] “The adversary presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and hi sis very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind, uniting himself with popular parties, floating into offices of trust and emolument by pandering to popular feeling, though it should seriously wrong and oppress the innocent.”[16] No atheism here!  “The servants of sin should appear polished and pious … able to call to their assistance … the subtle, persuasive power of rhetoric.”[17] “The devil is an orator,” said Joseph Smith.  “He is powerful; … he can tempt all classes.”[18]

The sorriest thing about Babylon’s masquerade and the switched villains is that there is nothing the least bit clever or subtle about it.  It is all as crude, obvious, and heavy handed as it can be, and it only gets by because everybody wants it to.  We rather like the Godfather and the lively and competitive world he moves in: what would TV do without it?  What other world have our children ever known?  We want to be vindicated in our position and to know that the world is on our side as we all join in a chorus of righteous denunciation; the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearance.  The full-fledged citizen of Babylon is an organization man:  Daniel was thrown to the lions before he would give up his private devotions offensive to the administration to which he belonged; his three friends preferred being cast into a fiery furnace to the simple act of facing and saluting the image of the king of Babylon who had given them wealth, power, and position in his kingdom, to whom they owed all allegiance, when the band played in the Plain of Dura.  For Brigham Young, conformity is the danger signal:  “I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint,” he said, “and do not believe in the doctrine … Away with stereotyped ‘Mormons’!”[19] When, as a boy, he was asked by his father to sign a temperance pledge, he resolutely refused.[20] Youth rebelling against respectability?  No, honesty resisting social pressure and hypocrisy.

Why this highly unoriginal talk?  Because if this is a very important and cosmic part of the gospel, it is also a much neglected one.

All of my life I have shied away from these disturbing and highly unpopular – even offensive – themes.  But I cannot do so any longer, because in my old age I have taken to reading the scriptures and there have had it forced upon my reluctant attention, that from the time of Adam to the present day, Zion has been pitted against Babylon, and the name of the game has always been money – “power and gain.”

It has been supposed that wealth gives power.  In a depraved state of society, in a certain sense it does, if opening a wide field for unrighteous monopolies, by which the poor are robbed and oppressed and the wealthy are more enriched, is power.  In a depraved state of society money can buy positions and titles, can cover up a multitude of incapabilities, can open wide the gates of fashionable society to the lowest and most depraved of human beings; it divides society into castes without any reference to goodness, virtue or truth.  It is made to pander to the most brutal passions of the human soul; it is made to subvert every wholesome law of God and man, and to trample down every sacred bond that should tie society together in a national, municipal, domestic and every other relationship.[21]

Cain slew “his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain” (Moses 5:50).  For Satan had taught him “this great secret, that I may murder and get gain” (Moses 5:31).  He excused himself to God:  “Satan tempted me because of my brother’s flocks” (Moses 5:38), and having gotten the best of his brother in competition, Cain “gloried in that which he had done,” rejoicing in the rhetoric of wealth: “I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands” (Moses 5:33).

He felt no guilt, since this was fair competition.  Abel could take care of himself:  “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Moses 5:34).

It was all free competitive enterprise where “every man prospered according to his genius, and … every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime” (Alma 30:17).  This is no mere red thread running through the scriptures, but the broad highway of history.

Commenting on the astonishingly short time in which the Nephites turned from a righteous to a wicked nation, Nephi puts his finger on the spot:  “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 … tempting them to seek [in other words, work] for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world” (3 Nephi 6:15).

I pray that there may be some Latter-day Saints who do not succumb to the last and most determined onslaught of Babylon, which I believe may be coming.

[1] TPJS 183

[2] JD 11:348

[3] Ibid., 19:47

[4] Ibid., 19:46

[5] Ibid., 8:353

[6] MS 17:673-74

[7] JD 17:117-18

[8] Ibid., 6:71

[9] Ibid., 1:164

[10] Hugh W. Nibley, “Setting the Stage – The World of Abraham, (Part 9, continued),” Improvement Era (November 1969): 118, citing references

[11] JD 12:272

[12] Ibid., 10:176

[13] Ibid.,  11:255

[14] Ibid., 11:236

[15] Ibid., 11:251

[16] Ibid., 11:238

[17] Ibid., 11:234

[18] TPJS 162

[19] JD 8:185

[20] Ibid., 14:225

[21] Ibid., 10:3

  1. […] as a people and as individuals and as a nation and as a world, are nowhere near the people the Lord wants us to be. We call good evil and evil good. We’ve become lovers of ourselves and we’ve got itchy […]

  2. Karl says:

    Here’s a recent news article which goes along with Nibley’s train of thought:


    Karl Rabeder grew up poor and thought that life would be wonderful if he had money. But when he got rich, Karl discovered that he was unhappy … so he decided to give away every penny of his £3 million fortune:

    “My idea is to have nothing left. Absolutely nothing,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “Money is counterproductive – it prevents happiness to come.”

    Instead, he will move out of his luxury Alpine retreat into a small wooden hut in the mountains or a simple bedsit in Innsbruck.

    His entire proceeds are going to charities he set up in Central and Latin America, but he will not even take a salary from these.

    “For a long time I believed that more wealth and luxury automatically meant more happiness,” he said. “I come from a very poor family where the rules were to work more to achieve more material things, and I applied this for many years,” said Mr Rabeder.

    But over time, he had another, conflicting feeling.

    “More and more I heard the words: ‘Stop what you are doing now – all this luxury and consumerism – and start your real life’,” he said. “I had the feeling I was working as a slave for things that I did not wish for or need. I have the feeling that there are lot of people doing the same thing.”


    Reading some of the comments, it’s still apparent that he’s viewed as a quack:

    “He clearly wasn’t buying the right things. But good for him, donating it all to charity.”

    “Money can buy happiness, though the poor, too, can be happy of course. Kind of.”

    “Happiness aside, money can ease a lot of the discomfort of life. The man is not wise.”

    “I can’t believe this. I just lost my job 2 months ago and my house is for sale. I will have nothing soon. I am about to loose everything I ever worked for. I hope I can be as happy as this guy. Something tells me that I wont be.”

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