Posts Tagged ‘James E. Talmage’


Wealth, Tithing and My View of “The Lord’s Financial System”

It is often said, among LDS faithful, that tithing is the “Lord’s Financial System,” or something that conveys the same meaning.  It’s seen as the way we build chapels and temples, finance the administrative functions in the Church (i.e. all that goes on inside the Church Office Building) and pay the bills required to keep all of it running.  There is, it goes without saying, a litany of things required to keep something with 14,000,000 members (approximately) running.

Further, it is argued that the church would simply cease to function if tithing – at least according to the official interpretation – ceased to roll into the church’s financial coffers.  Gordon Hinckley said as much when he argued that the income from the Church’s™ business interests would “keep the Church going for only a very short time.”[1] In this same speech, Hinckley stated that tithing was none other than the “Lord’s law of finance” and the epitome of “simplicity.”  Hinckley further contrasted the simplicity of the “law” of tithing with the “complexity” of our current income tax structure.  Men, Hinckley argues, derive unfathomably complex “laws of finance” while the Lord operates in simplicity.  I actually tend to agree with his argument regarding simplicity, though not for the reasons he asserts.  But, perhaps one should wonder whether our modern day interpretation of tithing is accurate.  I’ll get to that later.

Elsewhere, other church leaders affectionately refer to tithing as “the best investment,” arguing that “if you always pay an honest tithing, the Lord will bless you.  It will be the best investment you will ever make.”[2] Ignore that grammar, focus on the conclusion you draw from that statement.  An investment is nothing more than money laid out with the expectation of profit.  If we apply that logic to the gospel, then we’re left with the conclusion that we invest tithing [money] with the expectation that the “windows of heaven”[3] will be open and we’ll be blessed [profit].

The Promised Land that Isn’t

In a commencement address to BYU graduates this past summer, Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy stated the following:

“You who graduate today stand on your own riverbank or your own ocean shore, on the edge of your futures. You look off into the distant years before you, searching the horizon for your own promised land that flows with milk and honey. In a sense, we all do, every day.  … unemployment is higher than it has been in many years. Unresolved wars and stifling deficits obscure our view of tomorrow. … One could lose heart, seeing a future that awaits but doesn’t entice. It could look like a land of promise without much promise. But the Lord always offers each of us a promised land. You can be sure of that. The promised land—your promised land—really is there. If you follow the admonition of the Lord, you really will inhabit that rich land and harvest its blessings—milk, honey, and all. Everything you have learned at BYU points toward a land laden with promise, luxuriant in opportunity, and waiting with wonder. … the promised land today is not likely to be a place like it was in Old Testament times or even for the pioneers. Instead, the promised land is a way of life.”[4]

Later, Clayton argues that the generation has no equal in terms of training and preparation.

“Today you cross a modern Red Sea or River Jordan as you graduate from BYU and move on. No generation has been better trained or more richly prepared for its future.”[5]

This is merely one example where we’re taught, today, the idea that the doctrine of gathering is no longer.  Today we’re instructed that the promised land is merely a way of life that comes about when we take advantage of our training and preparation.  Then, as we take advantage of those things we’re promised a rich land and harvest – “milk, honey, and all.”  I’ll leave the meaning of that verbiage to the reader.  It seems to me, though, that Clayton is suggesting that wealth, among other things, is waiting for those who use the preparation and training the church gives.

When I read that this past summer I was taken aback, unsure of the logic of relating the promised land with a way of life.  Granted, for a people who’ve been toiling in Babylon for 180+ years, perhaps it’s to be expected.  After so many years have ticked away on the calendar of life, at what point to we start forgetting about Zion.  Approaching Zion, a collection of a number of Hugh Nibley essays, was published over 20 years ago.  It’d be hard to argue that those 20 years have produced a better understanding of Zion and/or a Church™ that is closer to Zion.

And yet, on one hand, Clayton is correct.  The way we live our lives is the start of something and it necessarily begins with us.  No one else can lead our lives for us.  No one else can dictate what we do, choose or are.  That lies – and necessarily so – with us.  It’s a matter that is strictly between us and Christ.  And yet, that is merely a starting point.  Whereas Clayton (and many others) imply that this way of life is an end all and represents Zion – after all, Zion is the pure in heart and can be found wherever we are.  Zion, it is correct, is the pure in heart.  However, to suggest that Zion is found wherever we are ignores an integral part of Zion.  Namely, retuning to Approaching Zion, Nibley argues the following:

“[Zion] is not a society or religion of forms and observances, it is strictly a condition of the heart.  Above all, Zion is pure, which means “not mixed with any impurities, unalloyed”; it is all Zion and nothing else.  It is not achieved wherever a heart is pure or where two or three are pure, because it is all pure – it is a society, a community, and an environment into which no unclean thing can enter. … It is not even pure people in a dirty environment, or pure people with a few impure ones among them; it is the perfectly pure in a perfectly pure environment.”[6]

It should be said that I tend to agree with Nibley on this.  It’s one thing to say that Zion begins with the pure in heart, and an entirely different thing to suggest that Zion ends at that point without discussing the doctrine of gathering, which just happens to be one of those “lost” doctrines.  Lost in the sense that, today, it’s largely ignored and when it is taught it’s taught in a way that disavows any real communal gathering, instead focusing on such gatherings as take place in church buildings on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  This would be all well and good, were it merely described and labeled as a precursor, but with teachings like what Clayton shared to BYU graduates, it seems that the idea of a precursor is nowhere in sight.  And that, to me, is most unfortunate.

“Money … Should Be Used as a Means of Achieving Eternal Happiness”

Previously, I shared a portion of a transcript which related the idea that the promised land, today, is one which gives us material blessings – food, money and wealth.  This, however, isn’t a new idea or teaching.  It’s been around for eons or, at the very least, centuries.  The goal of our existence, it would seem, is to create, engender and facilitate the growth of wealth.  Just now, as I opened up Yahoo.com, the lead article was little other then how we can go from “mowing laws to building multi-million-dollar businesses.”[7] The subject of that article recounted how he “was always motivated by making money” – from selling night crawlers as a kid, to mowing lawns, to selling multi-million dollar businesses.  The first comment to the story reinforced this idea:  “…oh how I wish I could replicate what you did,” while others laud him for his hard work.  The interview retold in that article isn’t actually that bad, and I can see myself in a lot of the things this man shared.  After all, all too often we’re told that our hard work is what is needed in this economy – stop siphoning off all that is the welfare state and get to work, you lazy bum!

Indeed, it has been said:

“You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known.  All around you is competition.  You need all the education you can get.  Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world.  That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you can education and proficiency in your chosen field.”[8]

Others have reiterated the idea that we must “complete as much formal, full-time education as possible” and that any funds we use on such education is “money well invested.”[9]

While Hinckley compares our true worth with education and monetary value, Ashton tells us that we must “repent” in order improve our “money-management skills.”  In this same talk, Ashton reiterates that we simply must “teach family members early the importance of working and earning” money (emphasis is mine), not to mention the importance of “involv[ing] yourself in a [life] insurance program,” while also counseling us to “cope with existing inflation.”[10]

But, ironically, this is not all.  Ashton concludes his thoughts on money with this beauty:

“Money in the lives of Latter-day Saints should be used as a means of achieving eternal happiness. … God will open the windows of heaven to use in these matters if we will but live close to Him … .”[11]

Hugh Nibley once related the following story on this topic:

In my latest class a graduating honors student in business management wrote this–the assignment was to compare oneself with some character in the Pearl of Great Price, and he quite seriously chose Cain:

Many times I wonder if many of my desires are too self-centered. Cain was after personal gain. He knew the impact of his decision to kill Abel. Now, I do not ignore God and make murderous pacts with Satan; however, I desire to get gain. Unfortunately, my desire to succeed in business is not necessarily to help the Lord’s kingdom grow [a refreshing bit of honesty]. Maybe I am pessimistic, but I feel that few businessmen have actually dedicated themselves to the furthering of the church without first desiring personal gratification. As a business major, I wonder about the ethics of business–“charge as much as possible for a product which was made by someone else who was paid as little as possible. You live on the difference.” As a businessman will I be living on someone’s industry and not my own? Will I be contributing to society, or will I receive something for nothing, as did Cain? While being honest, these are difficult questions for me.

They have been made difficult by the rhetoric of our times. The Church was full of men in Paul’s day “supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5) and making others believe it.  (Leaders and Managers.)

Not only, are the “windows of heaven” assumed to mean financial prosperity, as shown in Ashton’s last quote, but we’re also instructed that whatever money we earn here on this earth should be used to achieve “eternal happiness.”  It’s as if money could, indeed, buy happiness.  It is true that it’s all too easy to pick and choose statements from Church™ leaders on these subjects, but I’m specifically not trying to do this.  Statements like these are everywhere and can be found in virtually any general conference – I found the above quotes within less than two minutes on LDS.org.  The Church™, it would seem, is merely reflecting the world we live in.  Given how easily the lost-doctrine of gathering was abdicated during the Great Depression, members across the world were forced to live and adapt to the Babylonian society around them.  Now, approximately 80 years later, there’s nary a blip on the radar when we link money to the “windows of heaven” and suggest that wealth and prosperity are not only necessary, but recommended courses of action for all of us.

Wealth Can’t Possibly Be All That Bad, Can It?

That’s a good question.  I’ve long thought that there wasn’t anything wrong with being wealthy, of having more than was needed.  Nearly every American is likely viewed as “wealthy” by those living in Africa, where per capita GDP is somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 annually.  True, their “expenses” are likely less, but if you thrust an average citizen of Liberia[12] into an average American neighborhood odds are they’d be shocked at the bounty they’re confronted with – that is until they acclimate to their surroundings.

Avoiding those nuances, the scriptures decry wealth, riches and everything in between.  Nephi, for example, states, “”wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world.  For because they are rich they despise the poor.[13] In other words, the very fact that you (or I or anyone) are wealthy demonstrates your sinfulness.  In order to become wealthy, you have to despise the poor.  Or, at least that’s how Nephi phrases it.  Paul[14] seems to suggest that anything beyond food and clothing is more than we need.  Jacob tells us that we should be share all of our substance with those in order that there are no poor among us.[15] In other words, we’re supposed to give away all of our excess wealth until all are equal.  Excess wealth, by definition, is anything above and beyond our basic needs.  Joseph Smith was told that the entire world is in sin because we’ve allowed people to possess more than others.[16] Further, the Lord himself stated that when we fail to impart our portion to others, we assure ourselves of being counted among the wicked and experiencing the torment of hell.[17] Elsewhere Christ reiterated that we’re not to lay up any treasures at all while here on earth.[18] The love of money is the root of all evil[19], but what exactly is this love?  Strong’s Concordance suggests the Greek word used in this instance is Philarguria and derives from what we know today as avarice[20] and greed.  Others, still, have defined this “love of money” as little more than “the desire to have money in the bank.”

Elsewhere, again, Christ deplored the mentality we have to set aside those things which ensure our bounteous living.  In giving this, perhaps one of His most poignant parable, Christ responds to a fellow who was hoping Christ could convince his brother to share an inheritance with him:

“And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?  And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of acovetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.  And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:  And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to abestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, aSoul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, beat, drink, and be merry.  But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy asoul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?  So is he that layeth up atreasure for bhimself, and is not rich toward God.”[21]

Later on in that same chapter, Christ reminds us to sell what we have and give alms.[22] But, before continuing on, it might be instructive to pause and re-read that last bit of Luke 12.  The parable is of a rich man who was, once again, richly blessed – so much so that he found himself with no room to store his goods.  So, like any normal human, he decided that it was in his best interests to build bigger and better storehouses (yes, plural) for his goods.  Then, after laying up his goods in his newly built retirement account, he can say to himself, “Soul, thou has much goods laid up …,” it’s now time to rest and enjoy.

Perhaps it’s also instructive that the Lord’s prayer reminds us that we’re to pray for our “daily bread[23],” an oft overlooked reminder that we’re truly dependent on the Lord and no one else.

Moroni, similarly, condemned our day, practices and churches – especially with regard to our use of money.  In ripping us up and down for our selfish ways, he stated:

“Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.  And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.  For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.  O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?  Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?”[24]

In other words, we think we’re pretty special, wear what we consider to be special clothes, our churches (yes, all of them) are polluted because of this pride and, unfortunately, we love our money, material possessions, nice clothes and our fancy chapels/churches more than we love the poor, needy, sick and afflicted.  And, because of these behaviors, we’re considered both polluted and hypocritical.  No mincing of words there.

A similar article on this subject suggests that there’s a rather simple test to decide whether our hearts are set on riches:  do you possess or desire costly apparel?[25] I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s a significant indicator.  I’d also expand that question to include imparting our substance to the poor and needy, among others[26].  The original author also suggests that “for each excess penny (i.e. the smallest unit of monetary measure) one has to decide whether he will accumulate it, or give it away.”  Likewise, it’s impossible to simultaneously accumulate excess and give it away to the poor, hence the Lord’s injunction that we can’t serve two masters.  Either we’re serving Him, or we’re serving ourselves (via riches and money).  Indeed, serving the Lord implies that we’re focused on the present and our present needs.   When we concern ourselves with future needs and obligations – from a monetary perspective – we’re forgetting these teachings and, unfortunately, despising the poor.

So Just How Does This Relate to Tithing?

Thought you’d never ask.

As discussed previously, tithing is synonymous with the “Lord’s law of finance” or the “Lord’s monetary system,” or even the “Lord’s revenue system.”[27] Paying your tithing, per our current interpretation of Malachi 3:10, will result in the “windows of heaven” unlatching themselves and dumping material blessings down on you and your loved ones.  In fact, James E. Talmage went so far as to say that the blessings of tithing are “beyond estimate, as gaged by the coin of the realm, [and] are assured unto him who strictly conforms to the law of the tithe because the Lord has so commanded.”[28] When it comes time to paying your bills or paying your tithing, tithing comes first.  When it comes to feeding your family or paying your tithing, tithing comes first.  Why?  Simply because we’re promised blessings in the form of the “coin of the realm” (i.e. our currency).  Tithing is, after all, fire insurance.  In fact, Marion G. Romney, as a member of the first presidency, once stated that “tithing is worthwhile as fire insurance.”[29] Indeed, Romney continues, “tithing is, in a very real sense, a form of fire insurance – insurance against burning, both in this life and in the life to come.”

That’s the logic these days.  And it’s the same logic that’s been around for decades, if not longer.  It’s the way I was raised and the way I thought for many, many years.  Only recently have I began to see a movement afoot, if only a cyber-movement which is beginning to challenge the status quo.  More and more, various blogs and writings have started to call into question both the way and the method with which we pay our tithes – and rightfully so, I believe.

WeepingForZion, after sitting through a Sacrament meeting where the speaker reiterated that we pay our 10% tithing no matter how hard it may be for us, discussed D&C 119 and stated, “…there is no tithing without consecration, as consecration is the beginning of the tithing of the people.  However, we have left that law out and made tithing a law to itself.”  One of the comments to this entry replied with an interesting analysis on 3 Nephi 24:7-12 and 4 Nephi, following which that author replied:  “… the true principle of tithing is only made possible by consecration.”[30] Zo-ma-rah, in discussing the differences between D&C 119 and the “law” we preach today, responded, “if there is a contradiction between the Lord’s Word and what a prophets speaks then the Lord’s Word trumps everything.”[31] PureMormonism likewise has discussed tithing frequently in recent months, shedding light on Daymon Smith’s book (The Book of Mammon), wherein he points out, “When instituted by Joseph Smith in the 1830’s tithing wrought a very small revenue stream, and it was designed to be small in order to prevent just the sort of dominating ‘Church’ that now governs and patrols, steals the very name, and surveys and takes and gives what it believes best to congregations.”[32] It should go without saying that others[33] have discussed tithing in past years, but the frequency with which the topic is being discussed in recent months has given me some food for thought.

What I would like to focus on, though, is the point emphasized in Daymon Smith’s book – shared by PureMormonims – namely, that tithing was meant to produce a very small revenue stream.  When Lorenzo Snow gave his talk on tithing back in 1899 the impetus for his talk was to help alleviate the financial struggles of the church – not enough tithing was flowing in to cover the obligations the institution was taking on.  A CES manual suggests that members simply stopped paying tithing because they feared the federalistas would confiscate whatever property they gave as a tithe.  This same manual further states that “the Lord revealed to President Snow” that the church needed to pay a “full and honest tithe” in order to rid the church of its debts.

LeRoi Snow, Lorenzo’s son, reported to the Deseret News (the church owned newspaper):

“…the law of tithing had been neglected by the people, also that the Saints, themselves, were heavily in debt, as well as the Church, and now through strict obedience to this law – the paying of a full and honest tithing – not only would the Church be relieved of its great indebtedness, but through the blessings of the Lord this would also be the means of freeing the Latter-day Saints from their individual obligations, and they would become a prosperous people.”[34]

Lorenzo’s exact words, as reported in the Millenial Star, were:

“The word of the Lord to you is not anything new; it is simply this:  the time has now come for every Latter-day Saint, who calculates to be prepared for the future and to hold his feet strong upon a proper foundation, to do the will of the Lord and to pay his tithing in full.  That is the word of the Lord to you, and it will be the word of the Lord to every settlement throughout the land of Zion.”[35]

The CES manual concludes by reminding readers that:

“…the saints obedience to that call eventually brought the Church out of debt … and established a firm temporal foundation for the kingdom of God.  Much of today’s growth in temples, chapels and other buildings and Church programs around the world is the direct result of the temporal prosperity of the Church that came, and still comes, as the result of Saints living the law of tithing.”

To me, these statements raise several questions that should probably be answered.  Namely, (a) Lorenzo Snow reminded members in “every settlement throughout the land of Zion” to pay a full and honest tithe, but what does that mean, especially if he’s referring to the “land of Zion” and, (b) is tithing supposed to be used to fund the vast construction projects of the church – chapels, temples, other buildings, etc.?

As discussed previously, D&C 119 specifically notes that there is no tithing absent consecration.  Likewise, Snow himself declared that his statement was “the word of the Lord” on this issue.  If that is the case, then I find it unfortunate that there is no mention of consecration outside the settlements of Zion and, further, it should be noted that shortly following this statement the church morphed from an “in-kind” donation form of tithing to a cash based system.  Based on the last question, this statement by Snow is essentially asking individual members to pay off the loans the church took out to buy many of the businesses Joseph F. Smith[36] discussed in the Reed Smoot hearings in the early 1900s, among other things.

Biblical Comparison

In order to better understand the purposes for tithing, I turned to the bible to see if it said anything on how it should be used.  In doing so, I came across an interesting article that gives an entirely different viewpoint I thought needed to be brought up.

In responding to Malachi 3:10 (the “robbing God” scripture), the author of this article suggests that the context of that scripture is often lost on us.  He reminds us that Malachi 3:7 tells us how everyone had “gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them.”  But, what were those ordinances and how were they not being kept?  Further, turning to Deuteronomy 14:22-23, Deuteronomy 14:24-26, and Deuteronomy 12:17-19, we read, in each instance, how there was a commandment to “EAT” the tithes.  In each instance the Israelites were instructed to eat their tithes, in a spirit of rejoicing, together with their families, their servants and the Levites.  Or, as the author notes it, “to have fun.”  At no point in these verses did the Israelites leave any portion of their tithes at any appointed place, instead the tithes were to be consumed in “an atmosphere of celebration, sharing, and communion with God.”

Before continuing on, it might be worth reading the entirety of the following verses:

And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.  At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the atithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates:  And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the awidow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.[37]

Based on this scripture (as well as Deuteronomy 26:12), the Levite is allocated a tithe every third year, or, on average, not 10% every year as we currently understand the practice.  Placing this “tithe” “within thy gates” was a way of placing the tithing in a storehouse – indeed, the same storehouse referenced in Malachi 3:10.  But, as referenced above in Leviticus 14, the Levites (the “ministry”) weren’t the only ones with access to the storehouse:  so were the poor AND the fatherless AND the widowed.  This every-third-year tithe was specifically given to bless the widows, the fatherless and those in church ministry.

The original author further states,

“Levites were allocated cities within each tribal land (“within your gates”) in which they were to live with their families and, apart from houses, they were allocated “pasture land”. This pasture land was a part of the storehouse in which the tithes were deposited: some of the tithes were in the form of grain, seed, wine, oil and other farm produce, and some were actually live domestic animals, rather than killed meat. These animals which were received as a tithe were to be pastured till they were taken and killed for food, either by the Levites, or by those in need. Therefore, the storehouse mentioned in Malachi 3 is not the place of worship, but rather a place within each tribal land, easily accessible to the local Levites, the poor and the strangers on their journey.”

Later, in discussing the issue of “increase” as it relates to tithing, an interesting scenario is presented:

“If we check Numbers, chapters 1-3, we will find that there were approximately 30 to 33 Israelites to one Levite. Now, assume 32 Israelites with an ‘increase’ of 100 sheep a year each. If each Israelite would give his tithe of 10 sheep to the Levite, the Levite’s total income would be 320 sheep, of which he would have to give a tithe of 32 sheep to the priests, as per Num.18:26. Each Israelite would be left with 90 sheep out of his ‘increase’. Let’s assume, that was what was needed to feed an average family for a year. On the other hand, each Levite would end up with 288 sheep. If we add the tithe of every third year, the year of tithing, the balance in favour of the Levite would swing even further.

What would the Levite do with all these sheep? If he would use the whole lot to feed his family, the tribe of Levy would become extinct in few generations: they would be dying from overeating at a much higher rate than the rest of Israelites. The second possibility would be that there were so many poor people and strangers, who would consume about two-thirds of tithes, that is, God planned that two-thirds of tithes belong to the poor and strangers.

The third possibility could be that the Levite would consume about 90 sheep, give some to the poor, and be left with a healthy surplus. This surplus sheep would breed and very soon the Levites would have income of their own. By continuing with collection of tithes, they would very soon run out of the pasture land and would be forced to exchange some flock for land. Continuing with this practice for fifty years would probably result in Levites owning all the land in Israel! And then the Jubilee year would come and they would have to return the land to their original owners – back to square one! Would this make sense?

And, of course, there is a fourth possibility: the Levites would consume as much of the tithes as they needed, give some to the poor and the strangers, and sell the rest, get the money into their hands and go and proselyte (evangelise) the world. A real possibility, however, the Word of God makes no mention of it. … The conclusion is obvious: Tithes were not supposed to be used to proselyte (evangelise) the world.

Now imagine, as I concluded from the Scripture, that Israelites give 10% of their income to the Levites every third year only. 32 Israelites with an annual increase of 100 sheep each, would have 300 sheep of increase each in three years. Each one would give 10 sheep (a tithe of the third year) to the Levite, and be left with 290 sheep (for three years) as his increase. The Levite would receive 320 sheep, of which he would have to give his tithe of 32 sheep to the priests, and be left with 288 sheep as his after-tithe income over three years – nearly an EXACT number with which each Israelite would be left. THIS does make sense – this is the principle of equality! … ”

It should be noted that I don’t agree with all of the author’s arguments, but the information is compelling enough that it should be shared.  Returning to Deuteronomy 26:12, this scripture suggests that those tithes (“the THIRD year”) provide the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow with enough to “be filled.”  Paying it every 3 years is somehow enough to satiate their needs.  This suggests that what is given every third year fully provides for each group – none would be left wanting, none would be left poor and, perhaps more importantly, none would be left with gobs and gobs of money to invest for three years and then spend on lavish building programs (which seem to receive funds that were never intended to be used in such a way).

In concluding the article, the author offers the following as the most important points of tithing:

“First of all, it is obedience to God: there is no need to elaborate on this any further.

The second important point is that, through tithing, Israelites expressed their thankfulness to God Who provided for them all those earthly goods that they needed to sustain their lives. Tithe was a token of that appreciation.

The third and important point is that tithing was a vehicle of sharing. This sharing was demonstrated at two levels. Firstly, sharing between the Israelites who received their inheritance from God (the life sustaining land) and those who did not posses such inheritance, the Levites, the strangers and the poor. If we examine the figures, the number of Israelites versus the number of Levites and the percentage that the Israelites were to give to the Levites (one third of 10%) we will find that each would end up with an equal share. This is the principle that was observed in the distribution of manna: one who gathered much had nothing left over and the one who gathered little had no lack.

The second level of sharing was the community sharing, where people would come together with their families and neighbours and share in the atmosphere of joy and celebration before the Lord.

It is worth observing that tithing was not a vehicle to ‘build the kingdom’ or to ‘save the souls’ or to support some other ‘godly’ project.”[38]

When the scriptures discuss the principle of giving and sharing, it speaks of giving and sharing to the poor and needy; taking care of those who have less than we do; alleviating their burdens, their struggles, their perceived injustices.  I’m still looking for a reference on how tithing funds are obligated to be spent on building programs, by the way.

Returning to the previous points, we rob the poor when we focus on wealth; we rob the poor when we insist that we need to build beautiful churches and temples around the world; we rob the poor when we focus more on our clothing than on sharing our abundance with them; we rob the poor when we think of tithing as solely a mechanism whereby we enrich ourselves, as a means of “fire insurance,” all while non-tithe payers become more impoverished.

The True Purposes of Tithing

Deuteronomy 27:19 provides a thoughtful rejoinder on the true purposes of tithing:

“Cursed be he that aperverteth the bjudgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow…”

Christ, likewise, reminds us:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give TO THE POOR, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”[39]

And:

“Sell what you have and give alms … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[40]

Among many, many others.

In the past, I’ve frequently misjudged the evils of Sodom and Gomorrah, focusing largely (solely, in fact) on their sexual trespasses.  Ezekial 16:49, though, gives us some much needed insight, going so far as to suggest that the following was the iniquity”:

“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister aSodombpride, fulness of bread, and abundance of cidleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”

They had plentiful food, were filled with pride (nice clothing tends to do that) but, perhaps most importantly, they forgot about the poor and the needy.  Much like us today, we focus on our own balance sheets, we review our annual financial condition,[41] and then we give token appreciation for the poor and needy on major holidays (i.e. Thanksgiving or Christmas) while largely forgetting them during the other 363 days of the year.

Daymon Smith noted in his Book of Mammon this same tendency among the Church™:

“Rarely does your money feed the hungry, clothe the poor, or provide for other non-religious forms not published by the Church Office Building or sent forth from the COB.”

“By the time the money comes back from the COB, the Church has generously tithed to the needy from its multibillion dollar revenue stream something on the order of one percent, often in used, tattered clothing and rice and wheat and so on…For all its bluster and public relations about humanitarian aid, The Corporation, in other words doesn’t follow its own rule of tithing.”

Perhaps it’s no wonder why people the likes of Heber J. Grant have lamented that the “heavens are as brass” to them.  When we forget the poor, the needy and the widowed while pillaging church coffers in order to run myriads of businesses we shouldn’t expect anything else.  And, on a personal level, when we reject the poor, needy and widowed while funding our 401(k)’s we shouldn’t be surprised when the Lord looks the other way in our time of need.

It should, perhaps, be noted that almost one year ago, today, the Church™ announced it was adding “caring for the poor and needy” as an “official” purpose of the church.  One can argue the timing of the announcement, but at least it’s there.  Whether that translates into giving away more than 1% of annual tithing revenue remains to be seen – i.e. whether it’s just lip service to quell the feelings many have about the exorbitant investment in things like City Creek Center and other odd investments for a “church.”  Until we refocus our teachings on tithing to discuss giving the majority of that money to the poor, needy and widowed, I’ll continue to have my doubts.  LDSA recently stated that, “Charity is an over-whelming desire and willingness to share all that you have with everyone else.”  I whole heartedly agree and, it would seem, this is the underlying motive behind tithing and giving all of our abundance to help the poor, the needy, the fatherless and the widowed.

Returning to the discussion on one of the reasons why we should be more focused on giving of our substance to the poor, Isaiah penned these words:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him… And if thou draw out thy soul to the ahungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light brise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: And the Lord shall aguide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in bdrought, and cmake fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a dspring of water, whose waters fail not.  the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call and the Lord shall answer…”[42]

I discussed these verses elsewhere and would direct you there for further discussion on those.

To me, tithing used to be about doing something measureable, about purchasing “fire insurance,” about making sure I was doing everything I could to unlatch those windows in heaven, sure of the bounteous monetary blessings that would follow.  To me, tithing used to be about doing something that allowed me to get a temple recommend, about “not robbing” God and about doing my part to fund the massive church building, curriculum and administrative programs.  That is what it used to be about.

No longer is tithing about funding a system that takes that money and siphons it directly into interest bearing accounts that toil in Babylon; no longer is it about financing large real estate ventures; no longer is it about using money to achieve happiness.  Those are misdirected motives.

Now, tithing is in the process of being redefined.  And rightfully so.  Hopefully it’s more than just lip service on my end, too.

“But it is not given that one man should apossess that which is above another, wherefore the bworld lieth in csin.” – D&C 49:20.


[1] Hinckley, Gordon B.  The Widow’s Mite.  17 September 1985.

[2] Child, Sheldon F.  The Best Investment.  April 2008 General Conference.

[3] See 3 Ne. 24:10; Malachi 3:10.

[4] Clayton, Whitney L.  Promised Lands.  12 August 2010.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Nibley, Hugh.  Approaching Zion: What is Zion?  A Distant View.  1989.

[8] Hinckley, Gordon B.  New Era.  April 2009.  Page 17.

[9] Ashton, Marvin J.  One for the Money.  July 1975 Ensign.  Page 73.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Liberia at a Glance.”  GDP for Liberia is actually $170US per year.

[13] See 2 Ne. 9:30.

[14] See 1 Tim. 6:8.

[15] See Jacob 2:17.

[16] See D&C 49:20.

[17] See D&C 104:16, 18.

[18] See Matthew 6:19, 21.

[19] See 1 Timothy 6:10-11.

[21] See Luke 12:13-40 for a more in-depth discussion on this and subsequent teachings on this same issue.

[22] Alms are little more than money or goods contributed to the poor.  See this to begin your study on alms.

[23] See Luke 11:3, Matthew 6:11, among others.

[24] See Mormon 8:35-39 for a good old fashioned lecture.

[25] See SearchingforZion.com for this (entitled:  Wealth and the Gospel), and other articles.

[26] See Alma 1:27, 30 for a good idea on where to start.

[27] Talmage, James E.  The Articles of Faith, 12th edition.  Pages 526, 528-529.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Romney, Marion G.  The Blessings of an Honest Tithe.  Jan-Feb 1982 New Era, page 45.

[30] See What Have We Done to the Poor? for more detail.

[33] See The Law of Tithing (4 Part Series) over at LDS Anarchy for more detail, among others.

[34] Snow, LeRoi C.  “The Lord’s Way out of Bondage Was Not the Way of Men,” Improvement Era, July 1938, 439.  It is interesting to note that this report was given some 40 years after the fact.

[35] Snow, Lorenzo.  Millenial Star, 24 Aug. 1899, 533.  See also this CES Manual, pages 86-88.

[36] An entire transcript of the Reed Smoot hearings and Joseph F. Smith’s responses can be found here.

[37] See Leviticus 14:27-29.  Emphasis is mine.

[38] See The Truth About Tithing – Old Testament Perpective by George Potkonyak to read his entire article on this subject.  In fact, I’d recommend it to just about everyone.

[39] See Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21 and Luke 18:22.

[40] See Luke 12:33-34.

[41] Marsha, daughter of Russell M. Nelson, was once quoted as saying the only time she remembers her father watching television was on New Year’s Day when he would spread out papers and review the family’s annual financial condition while watching football games.

[42] See Isaiah 58:6-12.

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“And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome aherbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with aprudence and bthanksgiving.”
Doctrine & Covenants 89:10-11

It’s 3:27am where I am, as I sit down to write this.  I haven’t yet fallen asleep, and have my doubts that I will.  You see, I’m sitting here thinking about Marijuana.  Not because I have some bizarre infatuation with what some affectionately call the “holy herb,” but rather because I’m beginning to wonder if it is indeed an/the “holy herb.”  For those of you who’ve been here before – and I acknowledge that my writing is much more for my benefit than for others – you’ll recognize that I write from the viewpoint of someone stuck in a strange world.  I practice the modern idolatry of belonging to a church.  Not just any church, mind you, but one mired in a mirage like “cult of personality”.  I say mirage like if only because on the inside that cult of personality cannot be seen for what it is.  Only upon waking up from our idolatry does any of this begin to make any sense.

Layers Upon Layers

It is as if the Lord is smiling down on us, amused at our ignorance.  Even when we think we’re on to something, it’s likely only another layer to a deeply philosophical paradigm which we scarcely begin to understand.  We’re too busy crying from the burning of our eyes as those layers get peeled back, and so we plod along in our ignorance until the Lord allows us to peel another layer back.  And so on.  And so on.  Little by little, clarity comes.

It is within that strange bemusing context that I write this, not really sure how it will turn out and fully acknowledging, at the outset, that this may be one terrible crash landing when it’s all said and done.

Ozzy Osbourne

My introduction with marijuana came sometime around my 17th or 18th year on this planet, or at least that’s the one time I remember it.  I grew up in a middle sized Midwestern town, not unlike most of them I’d surmise, where the height of excitement on a Friday or Saturday night was either hitting up the local main drag and cruising for girls, or hanging out at the bowling alley.  By the time I was a junior and senior in high school, the majority of my friends were drinking and smoking on a regular basis or at least on the weekends, and pretty heavily at that.

All the while, I stayed mostly aloof from their retreats to either the bottle or the smokestack, but was nevertheless cognizant of their weekend endeavors.  Though I never partook either one of those things during my high school years (or since for that matter), I was around it pretty regularly.  Regularly enough to acquaint myself with the smells of these intoxicating substances.

Those things, with my group of friends, were natural lead ins, I would guess, into this marijuana business.  Though I don’t specifically remember them experimenting with the holy herb, I’m fairly certain they did.  For that matter, most people in my high school probably did.  Later, during the summer between my junior and senior years, I thought it would be cool (don’t ask me why) to go to an Ozzy Osbourne concert, with Filter also there.  It was an outdoor concert where, I was certain, I could have a good time.  I’m largely blessed with a high degree of naiveté, never realizing the situations I find myself in until way after the fact.  Such was the case with Ozzy and Filter.  The first question that comes to mind is, “What in the heck was a teenager doing at an event attended mostly be middle-aged men and women, long since sober, revisiting their teenage years at the Ozzy concert?”  And that wouldn’t be the last question of that ilk, were one to psychoanalyze the situation to its profound, or not so, depths.  To each question, I would fail to have an adequate response.  Such is the nature of my naivete, or so I call it.

Those were some of my better days, I must admit – head banging to a mostly indecipherably man in his 90s, or what seemed like it in concert, was the supposed epitome of excitement.   My friend, who went with me, and I were likely the odd couple of the crowd – two mormon teenagers head banging to Ozzy, as we sported sleeveless t-shirts, in a crowd comprised almost entirely of men and women old enough to be our parents, if not worse.  And, to make matters worse, we paid to be there.

It was there, in the midst of all these middle aged men and women, that I had my first memory with the holy herb – at least the first one I can seem to recall clearly enough to describe here.  I must state that I didn’t smoke any, nor did my friend, but I distinctly remember that smell wafting up from a row or two in front of us.  To all who’ve either tried it, or have known someone who has tried it, or been around it, the smell is unique to the entire world and impossible to miss diagnose, or so I think.  I may be wrong on this front, given the paucity of my understanding on the subject.  This experience alone would lead me to believe I’d smelt it somewhere else previously, by my other gift (besides my naïveté), would be my ability to forget nearly everything that has happened in my life, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I have trouble remembering the first time I came across the holy herb.  Nevertheless, it was there amidst those who would counsel me on the dangers of such pastimes in any other situation, that I first remember smelling that sweet odor.

Maybe, in retrospect, the second hand smoke of the holy herb is what made the Ozzy concert more tolerable to both myself and everyone else in attendance, because I’m not sure how I made it through those shrill screams back then, but alas such is the joy of youth (and middle age for that matter).

What a Pervert!

From that time until now, a span of nearly 15 years or so, I can’t say I remember having that scent cross my olfactory senses but maybe one or two more times, if that.  It is simply something you don’t come across unless you run in certain groups, and I can’t say I run in those groups.  Like my previous encounter, I haven’t been found attending various outdoor concerts, or any concert for that matter in almost 10 years, so it may simply be that I’m limiting the circles of influence unwittingly.  Whatever the cause, it simply isn’t a smell that one encounters too frequently.

Then, a decision made over a few minutes of reflection once again thrust that sweet smelling herb into my mind.  A couple of weeks back I found myself getting ready to head out a long road trip.  Ever the one in need of intriguing books to keep me awake in the middle of the night as I drive across the wide open expanses of America, I turned to the local library to find a good audiobook or two.  Quite by chance, I picked a rather inauspicious book entitled, Botany of Desire, authored by Michael Pollan.  I’ve held some interest in gardening since my time in Vermont a few years back and noting that the book was about plants, a mild interest seemed to percolate within me.  Turning over the cover to the audiobook I found myself reading of the same interests – namely, plants, gardening and their effect in our world.  So, with some reluctance, I headed for the checkout.  I’m not entirely sure of the reluctance I felt in taking that copy to the checkout register, but there was some reluctance inside of me to even hold it in my hands.  Some may say it was the “good” spirit telling me to put it back, while others might suggest that it was the “bad” spirit trying to dissuade me from finding truth in the most unlikely of locations.  Only then did I realize a second reluctance – that of checking out a book with “desire” in the title.  A title which brought me a small degree of embarrassment as I approached the register.  Not entirely sure of the reasons, other than the dubious title, I sheepishly headed for the door all the while thinking that the young lady who had just looked at the title of the book in checking it out was probably thinking, “What a pervert!”

Perhaps not, but such were the games my mind was playing on me that day.  Not only was I questioning the selection of the book in the first place – not sure if it were going to be something I’d really find interesting listening at 3am in the middle of Nebraska – but I was also questioning the title and what others would think of me in having such a title in my hands.  Yes, I fight that idolatrous beast day in and day out, always conscious of others thoughts no matter how idolatrous those thoughts are.  Having the word of “desire” in any title brings up some rather interesting thoughts for a man, especially parading the book around in a library and making the conscious decision to check it out, but that’s a story for another day and another time.

Some 3,000 miles, and one full month, later, the book still sat unopened in my center console.  By this time, I had finished listening to no less than 6 audiobooks.   Only upon several reminders from my wife to return the book because it was long since overdue did I throw it in my CD player as I headed to Iowa to pick up an old military trailer.  I figured it was now or never, and mostly my reluctance to listen to it was suggesting never was the better option.

So, with no small amount of reluctance, I popped the first CD into my player, and the journey began.

The Good Stuff

I was more than reticent to actually listen to the book.  By the time the book was finished, it was more than 2 weeks overdue.  In reality, I only relented (to listen to it, that is) because I felt guilty about having it so long and not taking the time to listen to it.  So, on this short side trip to Iowa, I blithely slip into my seat and began the journey that may forever alter my existence here on earth.  Never one for hyperbole (ironic, isn’t it), this statement may indeed be true.

The book began with a long and interesting story on John Chapman, perhaps better known as Johnny Appleseed.  Then, this story was followed by an equally compelling story on the Tulip stock market which brought the Dutch economy to its knees in the 1700s (to say nothing of the nuances in all the Tulip varieties which were altogether over my head).  I learned that Johnny Appleseed wasn’t planting trees to give the local kids a good source of Christianity and apples with a healthy dose of Vitamin C.  No, he was planting trees to help establish solid orchards in the expanding frontier of the United States whereby the local purveyors of hard cider and apple jack might have an adequate supply stock.  So began the book.  Good, to be sure, but not the kind of stuff that keeps a man awake through the night.  By the time I had arrived at my destination in Iowa I had just come to the end of the discussion on Tulips and mankind’s desire for beauty (hence the cultivation of the tulip and entire economies devoted to futures contracts of a flower).

Then, finally, on my way back from Iowa the 3rd (of 4) chapter began to play through my speakers.  I wasn’t totally prepared for this chapter, though I knew the book was to speak on it.  That, I suppose, is also due to my forgetful nature.   This time, however, the discussion was neither on apples and Johnny Appleseed, nor on Tulips, but rather on intoxication.  Not intoxication in the form of inebriating beverages, but rather our human search for substances which alter the consciousness which rules our world, intoxication in the form of the great holy herb, or cannabis sativa.

The Gospel Gestapo

Being raised in a Mormon household, with an active, faithful Mormon lineage stretching back several generations, my thoughts are more than influenced through a paradigm heavily tilted to the side of Mormanity.  This is no different than any other person, in reality, as we’re all influenced through various paradigms our parents instill in us.  Like some sort of invisible surgery, our perceptions, realities and thought processes are almost invariably influenced by those entrusted to parent us.

Mostly, this comes out good, as is my case.  Though, in spite of the goodness, there is nevertheless a distinctly dogmatic paradigm through which Mormonism operates these days.  This is due to many factors, but mostly due to the desire to control and correlate the membership.  Any organization of any size instills a certain degree of correlation and control on its membership, and should be expected.  Such is the case today inside Mormonism.  More and more, members are encouraged to believe one set of principles, one set of ideas and one set of thoughts.  This creates the culture of conformity many see inside Mormonism, but also one of unanimity.

It is this box from which I am laboring to extricate myself these days.  Not that the box is inherently bad, but rather I find that the more I read and experience, the more I see a dogmatic box which serves as a limit and control on anyone inside of it.  All one has to do to see this control is walk into any Latter-day Saint meeting and suggest that we should trust our personal revelation, even when (especially when) it contradicts the hierarchy of leaders.  Members cling with increasing vigor to the “church” at the expense of everything else.  This appears to have been the result of the correlation of doctrine within the church, a misguided (if I may) approach to develop unity within the church.  Instead of striving to develop a unity of purpose, we see a striving to develop a unity of doctrine.

Back in the day there is ample evidence to suggest that the early saints were far less concerned about doctrinal differences then we are today.  The next time you bring up a doctrinal difference in your next church meeting, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see a mini-fight break up to quell the perceived rebellion.  Instead of championing the discussion and divergent ideas, the current status quo within the church champions uniformity of thought and belief.  Some view this as good.  Me?  Not so much.  This idea has only recently come to me, though it’s been something I’ve been trying to define in my own life.  I’ve been trying to recognize my role, today, with my varying thought processes when juxtaposed with the official party line.  Like the Greeks of old are fond of saying, the truth lies in the middle somewhere.  On the one end, we have the doctrinal police and the Gospel Gestapo.  On the other, we should have far more people actively reconciling their thoughts and beliefs with the divine.  Though truth is universal, it is also uniquely individual.

Wholesome Herbs

This all serves as a mere prelude – placed out of sequence – to my discussion on the Holy Herb.  The vast majority of Americans, I would surmise, serve as the Dogmatic Police with regards to the Holy Herb.  Inside the church, the Gospel Gestapo play a similar, albeit more authoritarian role.  In the world of religion, authoritarians often use the threat of salvation and damnation to corral rebels and squash dissent.  Such is the scene currently in play before our eyes.

Were I to mention, tomorrow in church, that I think we should all be partaking some Holy Herb on a regular basis, there’s no doubt I’d be reported to “higher” authorities, a misnomer if there ever were one, but that’s neither here nor there, at least not yet.  Nevertheless, that seems to be the view found in Pollan’s write-up on Cannibis, and who is to say he isn’t right.  I certainly was left a little dumbfounded listening to him discuss the natural history of the cannibis sativa plant, and mankind’s search for altered consciousness, but in a very good way.

The scriptures abound with references to God’s creations and suggest that man has dominion over them all, to do as he sees fit.  That’s not a recommendation to waste and pillage, but rather to use with prudence (see D&C 59:20).   The numerous creation accounts all reference the purposes for the myriad creations (see Genesis 1, Moses 2, Abraham 4, etc), but more specifically – especially as it relates to this write-up – the use of herbs.

Adam is told to eat “the herb of the field;” Moses is told to “eat every herb of the land;” Adam is told the “green herb have I given you for all things;” Job speaks longingly of herbs; the Psalms reference herbs as being “for the service of man;”  Isaiah speaks of herbs numerous times, even stating how bones “shall flourish like an herb;” the Book of Hebrews even suggests that the earth brings forth “herbs meet for them by whom [the earth] is dressed;” D&C 59 references how herbs are for our use; the Book of Moses states how “every herb” was created by the Lord, in the context of spiritual and natural creations; and, D&C 89 reminds us that “all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature and use of man … .”  These are some of the many references to “herbs” in scripture, and only give a glimpse of the possible meaning behind their numerous recommendations.

Indeed, the founding father’s, who the LDS church views as pious and saintly and virtually beyond reproach, were well acquainted with the “holy herb.”  Some of them had hemp plantations with thousands of acres of hemp.  Though I have found no hard evidence that they enjoyed the recreational uses of the “holy herb”, there are subtle indications that they were acquainted with its other uses (other then for cloth, rope, sails, paper, etc.).  In one instance, George Washington, as Harvey Wasserman wrote, “[Washington] regrets being late to separate his male hemp plants from his females. For a master farmer like George, there would be little reason to do this except to make the females ripe for smoking.”  The instance of the founding fathers is only to suggest that our modern interpretation of something being a “drug,” and it’s resulting effects on our spirituality, may be entirely misplaced and extremely misguided.

In fact, of note, is the idea that Wilford Woodruff once performed the temple work for the founding fathers and signers of the Declaration of Independence as these men “waited on [him] for two days and two nights.”  Some will be quick to point out that these ordinances have nothing to do with marijuana or this discussion – and they’d be right – but that’s not the point I’m getting at.  What I am suggesting is that our interpretation of good/bad may be entirely erroneous.  I’m persuaded, mostly, that many of the founding fathers – Washington, Jefferson, etc., – must have known of the recreational uses of the holy herb, being farmers and gardeners.  The advantages of the hemp/marijuana seed have been known through antiquity, going back thousands of years.  And yet, today, we believe (largely) that we’d be fit for hell (or worse) if we use the holy herb or partake of it, and it all largely has to do with public and governmental perception.   I really do doubt that there is any eternal punishment affixed to what plants we use/don’t use in our diets, especially after what I found in researching this issue a little further.  Mormons today believe that such an act as ingesting (in any form) such a drug is inherently wrong and evil, but only because it’s been classified as something by the government and society.  What’s interesting, in contrast, is that Mormons (up until the late 1800s) couldn’t have cared less about public perception or the way the government classified this or that.  Now, instead, we’ve been relegated to a group of people content on focus groups, questionnaires and polling to tell which way the wind is blowing.  Now, instead, we’ve become nothing short of “yes men” to those authorities.

Moving on with respect to this topic, and in context of this write-up, one simply must question whether something like the “Holy Herb” is an herb at all and not some noxious weed or thistle meant to torment man.  That is a most useful and pertinent question.

Definitions Defined

Some of you may be familiar, but most likely not, with the work being done over at The Chronicle Project where they are trying to get back to the heart of the Hebrew language as contained in the scriptures.  Hebrew, in their view, is a self-correcting system which we’ve managed to screw up over the years.  In our screwing up of the Hebrew language, we’ve lost – either on purpose or not – the original meaning of the scriptures.  It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that there are those who would “transfigure the word of God” to meet their belief systems.  Of note, Mormons are as guilty of “transfiguring” the word of God as they/we claim others are.  For an admirable article and write-up on this, go here.  After all, it surely must be easier to change a few words or definitions then it would be to change the way you live your life and what you believe.  Scriptures are funny that way, it seems.

In their “reworking” of the original verse of Genesis where the grasses and herbs are discussed, the original words appear to be, “Proceed new growth, the Earth.  New growth, young shoots, that to seed… .”  This would mean, in other words, that the original Hebrew was rendered, “grasses, and a number of other words, the word is a description of all fresh growth or herbage found in a pasture or wild field … .”  According to Strong’s Concordance, their take on the Hebrew derivation of “herb” is just that, “herb, herbage, grass, green plants.”  The word “wholesome” only occurs two times in both the Old and New Testaments, combined.  Each definition, according to Strong’s, suggests that which is “health, healing, cure.”

The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary – a useful tool in trying to understand the wording used primarily around the time of the Restoration of the LDS church – describes “herb” as, “a plant or vegetable with a soft or succulent stalk or stem, which dies to the root every year, and is thus distinguished from a tree and a shrub, which have ligneous or hard woody stems.”  This same dictionary defines “wholesome” as, “tending to promote health; favoring health; salubrious; as wholesome air or diet; a wholesome climate.”

Taking some literary freedom – it is my write-up after all – I would assimilate those words as meaning:  “a plant or vegetable (which dies to the root every year) which promotes health.”  Wow.  That was complicated.  Therefore, according to D&C 89:10, “all wholesome herbs” are ordained of God for the “constitution, nature and use of man…”  Or, in other words, “all plants or vegetables which promote health are ordained of God for the constitution, nature and use of man.”

Benefits

From a scriptural standpoint, the Holy Herb only need be found “wholesome” to be ordained of God.  Simple enough, right?  Wrong.  At least in today’s bizarre world where bad is good and good is bad.  We’d rather ordain pesticide riddled crops or sugar laced drinks as “wholesome” than we would an herb which has attracted the ire of the drug war.  Rather than launch into a diatribe on the drug war we see bandied about in schools and publications across the nation, I think it best to focus on whether or not the “holy herb” can be deemed wholesome the way used back in 1828 and elsewhere.  And, for all intents and purposes, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

Though I had to meander through the equivalent situation as checking out a book with “desire” in the title in order to find the benefits of the Holy Herb, I nevertheless found many.  Why, as I digress, should I feel ashamed to research a topic – in this case, the benefits of marijuana – in the comfort of my home, away from the peering eyes of anyone else?  It’s not as if I have to check a book out, or buy something in the store, and yet, for some reason, there’s a sense of uneasiness about merely researching a topic.  Odd as it may be, I think the answer is also found in my reluctance to pick the book off the shelf at the local library to begin with – that of deciding whether or not I was ready (or wanted) to see truth in an area of life I wasn’t thinking of.

In thus researching this topic, I have found more than a few benefits.  Below are merely a few of those suggested benefits:

  1. “When the system is hyper-aroused, as in today’s lifestyle, marijuana calms. The significance of this fact cannot be ignored. It explains the increased creativity reported as a part of the marijuana experience, because when both sides of brain processes are heightened, both types of brain activity are greater. The left brain notices more, while the right brain receives more. This is the unification of logic and intuition. The term “expansion of consciousness” is explained physiologically as a “shifting of brain emphasis from one-sidedness to balance” (Sugarmena and Tarter, 1978), which fits precisely with the feeling called “high.” (p. 35)
  2. “When we ingest marijuana, the heart swells through capillary enhancement and is fueled more by more fully oxygenated blood, while, at the same time, its contractions and expansions are greater, allowing for stronger pumping action to the rest of the body (p. 37)
  3. “The marijuana experience itself does not miraculously cure. Instead, it allows the body a respite from the tensions of imbalance, while exposing the mental confusion of the mind. The marijuana experience of balance becomes a learned and, over time, somewhat permanent response as the essential human tendency to homeostasis is reawakened and the natural healing process restored.” (p. 49)
  4. “In a Costa Rican study, it was found that chronic marijuana smokers who also smoked cigarettes were less likely to develop cancer than cigarette smokers who didn’t use marijuana. Since marijuana (smoking, as well as ingestion by other methods) dilates the alveoli, toxins are more easily eliminated with cannabis use regardless of its method of application. … As an aid for all psychosomatic disease, marijuana can benefit the participant, generally because of its health-restoring effects… The fear of marijuana… stems from its limitless potential for treating illness, in that both the pharmaceutical industry and the medical monopoly would lose billions of dollars if marijuana became the non-drug of choice.” (p. 61)
  5. “With the expansiveness that occurs with marijuana, the subject may begin to notice infinite possibilities to raise the quality of his/her life that would otherwise have remained hidden from normal, defensive consciousness. And feelings of health and happiness naturally lead to hope, which of itself can be curative.” (p. 49)
  6. “Marijuana can act as the loosening agent, so that whatever has been banned from consciousness may come cascading forth. To uncover our deceptions without our usual rationalizations can be unpleasant, an experience that has turned many psychologically fragile individuals away from marijuana despite its therapeutic catharsis.” (p. 50)
  7. “To ascend the ladder of consciousness, human beings need as much help as they can get. Levels of consciousness above concerns of personal survival and power are neither necessary for human life, nor visible from ordinary states. Because these higher degrees of awareness threaten the power structure, all paths to them are often outlawed. If we are not taught by some older, wiser person that deep and timeless perceptions really exist (or unless we ourselves fortuitously catch a glimpse of these subjective realities), we remain ignorant of their existence and are easily molded into the lower social goals of materialism, competition, and power. This less enlightened state is expressed by a constant gnawing dissatisfaction. It is the dimension of perennial desire. With each fulfillment of a goal /need / want, another void erupts. In Buddhism, it is the realm of nightmarish, insatiable hunger, which cannot be resolved unless or until the being attains to a less self-centered level. Deep within each of us, an essential need for a higher meaning of life waits to be awakened. Because of its ability to unlock this yearning and allow us a glimpse of the deeper reality, marijuana is feared by the establishment and loved by the user. (p. 66)”
  8. “Marijuana, by its effect on the Automatic Nervous System, enhances both sides of the brain. Through increased Sympathetic action, left brain perception is heightened, while, at the same time, right brain reception is enhanced. This is a physiological fact. More blood, and cleaner blood, is sent to the brain, as in the “fight or flight” reaction. And because of Parasympathetic dilation of capillaries, which signifies relaxation, the blood supply to the entire brain is increased. More blood means more oxygen and consequently clearer and broader thinking. Since marijuana works on both sides of the brain, the most noticeable effect, in our fast-paced mind set, is one of slowing down, which blends the thrusting competitive attitude with the contrasting viewpoint of nurturance to arrive at a more cooperative balance. This experience is, however, not innate to marijuana, but to the mental set of the subject. When we are mellow, tired, and relaxed, marijuana is energizing and affords alertness, determination, and even strength. This variation in the physiological effects has caused great confusion from an either/or framework. And the balancing nature of marijuana (both/and) has not been understood. It both stimulates and relaxes, simultaneously, which equates to an unpredictable variation in effect that is solely dependent on the state of its subject. When the system is sluggish, as with natives in warm climates (Africa, India, South America), marijuana has been used extensively and for centuries to energize it…” (Chopra and Chopra, p. 3)
  9. Marijuana is psychoactive because it stimulates certain brain receptors, but it does not produce toxins that kill them (like alcohol) … . There is no evidence that marijuana use causes brain damage. Studies performed on actual human populations will confirm these results, even for chronic marijuana users (up to 18 joints per day) after many years of use.  In fact, following the publication of two 1977 JAMA studies, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially announced its support for the decriminalization of marijuana.  … Marijuana has the effect of slightly increasing alpha-wave activity in your brain. Alpha waves are … associated with meditative and relaxed states, which are … often associated with human creativity.”
  10. “The term “drug” connotes the concentration of substance to its most powerful form, but marijuana is unprocessed, dried vegetation from a strong smelling annual herb called cannabis.  It maintains its natural complex chemistry of both active and inactive compounds rather than concentration of a single compound. …  The main problem with drugs is their danger, since all drugs are defined as poisonous, depending upon dose, which means overdose can cause death.  … Marijuana has no known level of toxicity.  The amount needed to produce a lethal reaction has been estimated at from eating five pounds at one time, to smoking 40,000 joints in one day, far beyond any physical possibility.  … It does not kill people in overdose or produce other symptoms of obvious toxicity.” (Joan Bello, The Benefits of Marijuana.  Pages 21-22.)

Carl Sagan, of all people, described some of the benefits in an essay he wrote under the presumed name of “Mr. X.”  Only after his death did Dr. Lester Grinspoon publish the piece and reveal the identity of the previously unknown author.  His account is as follows:

I can remember the night that I suddenly realized what it was like to be crazy, or nights when my feelings and perceptions were of a religious nature. I had a very accurate sense that these feelings and perceptions, written down casually, would not stand the usual critical scrutiny that is my stock in trade as a scientist. If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I’m high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say ‘Listen closely, you sonofabitch of the morning! This stuff is real!’ I try to show that my mind is working clearly; I recall the name of a high school acquaintance I have not thought of in thirty years; I describe the color, typography, and format of a book in another room and these memories do pass critical scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that there are genuine and valid levels of perception available with cannabis … which are, through the defects of our society and our educational system, unavailable to us without such drugs. Such a remark applies not only to self-awareness and to intellectual pursuits, but also to perceptions of real people, a vastly enhanced sensitivity to facial expression, intonations, and choice of words which sometimes yields a rapport so close it’s as if two people are reading each other’s minds.

Like others, Sagan discusses that such highs are available through other means (Pollan suggests that such highs are also available through fasting and meditation, and elsewhere), but because of the “defects” of our society and educational system they become inactivated and much more difficult to attain through these other means.  In his book, Pollan discusses how the “natural history” of such mind altering plants to be the “gateway” to a higher consciousness and that many of the historical giants we view as “spiritual leaders” were not discussing mere imagination and visions, but rather the results of “highs.”  Whether this is true or not is left for the reader to decide and peruse in their own studies, but certainly the topic is compelling.

Perhaps, with the word of wisdom, the Lord was providing a simple method whereby we could elevate our consciousness in spite of the poor diet of the modern society and the defects in intellect which find root in our educational systems we are so quick to throw our kids into at the tender age of 4 or 5.  Perhaps, instead of being a drug from which we should run, it was meant to be a “wholesome herb” to which we should turn.

Though I may have lost some of you in all that talk, I feel it necessary to discuss these benefits.  What I see from the above information is the epitome of a “wholesome herb.”  There are, from what I could gather, a pile of other benefits.  Somehow – which is way beyond the scope of this article – we’ve come out with a misguided understanding of an herb which grows annually and which has numerous restorative and health-promoting qualities, the essence of what a “wholesome herb” is.

Dangers

I’d be mistaken not to discuss potential dangers when discussing such a topic, though I must confess that the “evidence” of alleged dangers was far from convincing.  Some sources suggest that marijuana is the “root of many mental disorders,” such as panic attacks, delusions, depersonalization, paranoia, etc., while others suggest it is a “gateway drug,” and responsible for “loss of motivation, increased heart rate and diminished inhibitions.”

If you know me, I’m generally disposed to believe alternative websites much more than “establishment” information channels.  So with that in mind, I went searching some of these alternative sites to see if they had anything good, or bad, to say about the Holy Herb.  Mercola.com was mostly against marijuana, at least in its smoked form, while Natural News had a number of favorable articles on the subject.

Of those articles favorable to the subject, NN made this keen insight:  “Transcending political controversy and stigma surrounding the subject, the second largest physician group in the country [American College of Physicians] has endorsed the use, reclassification, and further study of medicinal marijuana…”  Also in this article, it discusses one of the common “dangers” of the herb by stating:

To date, the most serious argument for potential damage done by cannabis is harm to the lungs caused by smoking. The paper notes that this problem has already been overcome by a technology known as vaporization, in which the active constituents are efficiently released into the lungs without burning the plant.

Another myth dispelled by the paper is that marijuana acts as a ‘gateway drug,’ leading to the use of more harmful substances. “Marijuana has not been proven to be the cause or even the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse. Opiates are highly addictive, yet medically effective … There is no evidence to suggest that medical use of opiates has increased perception that their illicit use is safe or acceptable,” the group [American College of Physicians] states.

The paper also cites significant evidence that cannabis relieves the nausea, vomiting and wasting that accompany cancer, AIDS and other diseases, while lessening the pain associated with multiple sclerosis and many other conditions.

The paper, as written by the American College of Physicians, can be found by clicking here.  Elsewhere in various pieces of literature, the supposed anxiety, paranoia and other effects of plants have been noted to be the result moreso of the set and setting related to the drug (i.e. the time, place and culture in which the marijuana is consumed; some have noted that the set and setting is more important than anything else.  For example, if one were to partake of marijuana in a context of fear of the authorities (i.e. getting caught), then the user is much more likely to experience anxiety and paranoia).  This is admirably discussed in Pollan’s book (see page 151-152 for a more in depth discussion).  This is no different than any spiritual encounter, if one could call a “high” a spiritual experience.  Set and setting are as important as anything else.

How Did [we] Get Here?


One of my absolute favorite songs happens to have had its birth in the 1980s.  Not one for 1980s music, mind you, this one song is the exception to that rule.  That song, entitled, Once in a Lifetime and performed by the Talking Heads (who were probably high on something during many of their recordings), contains some lyrics which epitomize not only this issue, but life in general.  Here are those lyrics:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack,

You may find yourself in another part of the world,

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,

You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife,

You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?

You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead?

You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?

You may say to yourself, my God, what have I done?

Those words come to me as I write this.  “My God, what have [we] done?”  The more I peel back the layers of this onion called life, the more I realize how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Yes, I just used two metaphors in the same sentence, and the meaning they provide is a propos.  Though I shouldn’t be surprised with what I find as God allows layers of the onion to be peeled back, the level of deception our world has reached is likely beyond compare.

I could choose (and probably should) to pontificate on the reasons why the rabbit hole is so deep and why there is deception at every turn of the road, but I think no reason is more clear than a simple scripture which is found in no other place than D&C 89.  That scripture reads, “In consequence of aevils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of bconspiring men in the last days, I have cwarned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation— …”

Some of you reading this may think I’m crazy for suggesting that the drug war on marijuana is thanks to conspiring men.  If so, so be it.  Here I have laid out what I believe to be a mere tip of an iceberg discussing the benefits of a “wholesome herb,” and yet arrests for marijuana – for the mere possession – represent the vast majority of drug related offenses.  According to some sources, between 30% and 40% of the nationwide prison population comprises people arrested for “victimless” crimes, such as possession of marijuana.  Regardless of the end result, one must wonder why this particular herb is the source of so much ire from the bureaucrats who have staked their careers on its criminalization.

Doctrinal Police


So, how would this information play out amongst the Gospel Gestapo?  Most likely, it’d be like mud wrestling a 500# alligator, or trying to outrun a hungry lion when you’re as slow as a sloth.  In an age where doctrinal differences are tantamount to apostasy, odds are the outlier will be rejected, and in record time.  Especially in this instance.  While we could debate the purpose or goals of correlation, the end result is a quashing of divergent ideas.  In today’s context, one can profess their belief that the “holy herb” qualifies as a “wholesome herb” and, as such, is ordained by God, but it could have interesting consequences.

Some authors have addressed this topic (not the “holy herb,” but rather the doctrinal police) in the conversation of movements versus institutions, or peoplehood versus religion, and quite convincingly I might add.  Interestingly, the internet has a divergent set of opinions on the issue, at least as it relates to medical marijuana within the Mormon community.  Many simply fall back on the “legality” or “illegality” issue – stating that if it’s illegal, then we follow what the government says.  While others fall back and merely rely on what the “brethren” say about the topic (thereby relying solely on the office as a means for the authority of the statement, and not the truthfulness of the statement itself), or what this or that Ensign article stated, and some used logic to prove/disprove the idea.  I’m more easily swayed by the latter types, as that seems to fit D&C 121’s call for “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned…” as a way to work out differences, and not by “power” or “influence” (appealing to what the “Brethren” have stated), and as such would recommend you seek those sources out if interested in a further discussion.

As an interesting aside, James E. Talmage (of Jesus the Christ fame) once took Cannibis Sativa over a several week period as a way to test its effects on the human system (for scientific purposes).  Here is what he stated in his journal:

March 22. This being Saturday, was the day I selected to study practically the effects of Haschisch. This evening, after work and all was over, I took at 3 doses each an hour after the preceeding, 5 grains solid extract Cannabis Indica. At this writing—midnight—5 hours since last dose, I have experienced no effect whatever. The effect is said to be widely different in different people.

March 23. Sunday. Spent quietly. Have had no result to be noted of my physiological experiment yesterday ….

April 5 … Took in all 15 grains. No effects.

April 6. Sunday … Continued my experiment by taking 20 grains Cannabis Indica and the effect was felt in a not very agreeable way.

Try completing that experiment within the walls of your own home (interestingly, Talmage’s experiment would have included general conference weeked – April 5th and 6th) and you’ll be run out of town by everyone not named Batman Bin Suparman.  That’s simply the name of the game.  Regardless of what you believe, or the true interpretation of D&C 89 on the issue of the “holy herb,” it simply doesn’t matter.

Conclusion

All of this is merely a way of stating that (a) we should be enjoying the “wholesome herbs” God has given us and (b) Cannibis Sativa is a “wholesome herb.”

Now, whether or not I actually ever partake of any is another story entirely, but the knowledge is there and I shall see where it leads.  It sort of reminds me of the “mild drink” discussion and alcohol.  It’s too bad I loathe the taste of the stuff, otherwise I’d be glad to comply with the recommendations set forth on “mild drinks” in D&C 89.  For those interested in that aspect of D&C 89, you should read this wonderful entry on Pure Mormonism’s blog, entitled, Too Bad I Don’t Like Beer.  It does a far better job discussing the issue then I ever could hope to do.

To all who’ve read this far, congratulations.  I apologize for the layout of this post, but do encourage all reading to seek out two additional sources on the topic, as they have more information, detail and thought provoking material than I could ever hope to write here:

(1)    Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire

(2)    Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes:  The Authoritative Historical Record of Cannibis and the Conspiracy Against Marijuana

Perhaps a future article will delve into the conspiracy noted by Herer, as related to the “conspiring men” discussed previously from D&C 89.

Lastly, please do not take my word as anything from which you base your decision on this issue.  Make the decision consciously, but make it between yourself and your God.  Leave me out of the equation as all I do is muddy the view.