"On Being Ill at Ease in the World "

Richard L. Bushman

SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 2 (Summer 2009)





*This talk was originally presented at the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, Clarement, California, May 23, 2009.

The theme of the conference this year indicates our discomfort with exclusivism.   We want to break down walls and shed our narrow parochialism. We are to come down from our perches and mingle with the peoples of the earth as brothers and sisters under God, learning from them and giving to them what we can.  I like that attitude and think we should cultivate that side of our religion.

At the same time there are virtues in parochialism, one of which is a strong and critical perspective.  Mormonism began with announcement that the creeds were an abomination before God.  Can we make something of that?  My suggestion today is that in our enthusiasm for engagement, we not overlook the advantages of distance.  Besides blending and amalgamating, we should occasionally stand apart and look at the world with a critical eye from a Mormon vantage point.  Perhaps we should cultivate a Mormon hermeneutics of suspicion.

Where do we stand, for example, on the great cultural formations of our era in world history: science, democracy, and capitalism?  Are we content to reap the benefits of each of these cultural systems, or should we critique them and even resist?  There are strong reasons for embracing all three; the benefits of science, democracy, and capitalism are widely known.  Are there also reasons for holding back our endorsement and of questioning their premises and functions?


You might think that Mormons would be most cautious about science.  It is really the scientific point of view that challenges all revelatory religions these days.  Science insists on material evidence of truth.  Religion rarely provides any.  My own season of doubt grew out of my encounters with logical positivism in its heyday. Asked how he would reply when God confronted him after death with his failure to believe,  Bertrand Russell is reputed to have answered:   Not enough evidence.  That is science’s question for religion.  Where’s the evidence?

And if scientific agnostics find God and the resurrection of Christ totally unsubstantiated, what about angels, gold plates, and unlearned translation of ancient texts?  Mormonism is the extreme example of the imaginary religious fabrications that agnostic scientists find laughable and even repugnant.  Hume’s contention that the Christian believer’s faith “subverts all the principles of his understanding and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience” applies tenfold to Mormonism. [1]

Is not science then our natural enemy?  Strangely that does not seem to have been the case.  Of the three cultural formations I am considering, science is the one with which Mormonism has had the longest and most cordial relationship.  The sense of a deep compatibility goes back to Parley Pratt and comes down to Mormon transhumanists in the present.  At its zenith in the time of John Widtsoe and B. H. Roberts, Mormon acceptance of science went down to a deep metaphysical level.  For Roberts and Widtsoe (and Talmage) Mormonism’s doctrine of eternal matter seemed to coincide perfectly with science’s assumption that the material was the only reality.  Widtsoe went on to equate eternal progress with eternal acquisition of knowledge through experience, a pattern that followed closely the scientific method.  He envisioned the intelligences as little scientists investigating the universe and discovering the laws of growth and improvement through experience–you might even say through experiments.  Roberts, taking a slight different tack, believed that beginning with what we know from astronomy it was possible to hypothesize the existence of other civilizations on other earths which had advanced to the point they could instruct lower civilizations.  He stopped just short of claiming that God came from such an advanced civilization, but he believed that extrapolations from scientific knowledge brought us within inches of showing that God was an exalted man.  

Pratt, Widtsoe, and Roberts were our scientific enthusiasts, but even more cautious thinkers like Lowell Bennion saw no deep conflict between Mormonism and science.  Writing for college students, Bennion only urged them to recognize that science spoke its own language for its own purposes.  Science did not answer deep questions about the meaning of life.  That was the realm of religion. The two languages, religious and scientific, functioned in separate spheres for distinctive ends.  Bennion’s aim was to reconcile his readers to the differences and promote the usefulness of both. “Even the first chapter of Genesis, which deals specifically with the creation of heaven, earth, and things in the earth including man,” he wrote, “is religious rather than scientific in purpose, emphasis, and method. . . . The student must learn to read the scriptures in the same spirit and with the same purpose and emphasis with which they were written.  If he does, he will be fair to them; he will discover their great religious and moral truths; and he will grow in his faith in God as the Creator of his life.... “ [2]

Bennion offered no grand synthesis of science and religion of the kind Widtsoe and Roberts attempted, but his view seemed solid and wise.  It probably comes closest to the position of educated Latter-days Saints on the question of religion and science right down to our time.

On the liberal wing of Mormonism, compatibility with science is self-evident.  What about the conservative wing led by Joseph Fielding Smith?  President Smith feared that evolution would undermine the entire religious account of creation and eventually render the atonement unnecessary.  His fear drove his relentless campaign against Darwinian evolution.  To this day, his book speaks for a large segment of conservative Mormons who are apprehensive about evolution. 

But are they alienated from modern science?  Without question President Smith had evolution in his sights when he wrote Man, His Origin and Destiny but he was not as anti-scientific as we sometimes suppose.  In phrases like “true science” and “pseudo-science” or the insistence that evolution is only a hypothesis there resides an underlying respect for science.  The commonly used term “true science” indicates a wish to embrace science as a legitimate, knowledge-seeking enterprise, with the reservation that it sometimes goes astray. 

Joseph Fielding Smith, it will be recalled, drew on the work of scientists who claimed to have assembled scientific evidence to refute evolution.  He did not hide behind the bible and assert its overpowering authority to invalidate scientific findings.  He did his best at answering the evolutionists scientifically, showing his valorization of scientific inquiry properly conceived.

The same is true up and down Mormonism.  Mormon objections to science are all particular, not general. The scientific enterprise as a whole is never discredited, only its errors in particular realms where it contradicts Mormon belief.  The work of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies is entirely predicated on the value of scientific inquiry. Although the FARMS scholars all affirm they believe because of spiritual experience, they expend their life’s blood on using scientific reasoning to support Mormon belief.

Mormon culture then, if not Mormon belief, is intertwined with science on many levels.  We would be untrue to our tradition to repudiate science as a method for gaining knowledge.  Mormons are into science in a big way, and that has important consequences.  It means, like it or not, that we cannot simply throw out uncomfortable findings–about second Isaiah, evolution, or the DNA evidence of Indian origins--when they happen to contradict our scriptures or doctrine.  We may disagree, we may make arguments, we may suspend acceptance, but we must take these results seriously.  If we attack them, we must use scientific rules of evidence.  At times we may simply acknowledge contradiction: science and religion do not here agree.  But when we reply we must use good science, not faulty reasoning or flawed evidence in order to protect our religious convictions.

At the same time that we accept science, we must not mistake science for God.  Science is not absolute truth.  It is a thoroughly human enterprise, a particular point of view, as Bennion argued.  It is not the sole method for understanding the world. It is one perspective on the world.  I remind us of these by now commonplace foundations of knowing so that we will never allow science to pontificate on every aspect of life.  As Jim Faulconer argued yesterday, objective science cannot tell us all we need to know to live decent, rewarding lives.  We require other kinds of knowledge and reasoning to create a good life.  The immense success of science does not excuse us from reasoning on our own toward ways of acting and thinking that are conducive to human flourishing, and for most people that reasoning is religious.


Mormons have a much more ambiguous relationship with democracy than we do with science.  We are both the most democratic of churches and the most authoritarian.  We are democratic in our distribution of priesthood widely among the laiety and the elimination of a clerical class; we are authoritarian in our investment of great power in the president of the Church whom we accord access to God.  If there was ever a vicar of Christ on earth, it is the Mormon prophet.

Although Mormon democracy occasionally finds its way to public acknowledgment, we are far more often seen as blind followers of a dominating religious authority.  Living in two cultures, the Mormon and the democratic, we can easily become confused.  Is obedience a virtue?   Mormons consider it a primary virtue, while the phrase “follow the prophet” sounds positively ominous in democratic culture.  Follow the prophet to what–to doomsday? In democratic culture we debate everything leaders propose.  Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.  In Mormonism we submit.

Given these stark oppositions and contradictions, how are Mormons to relate to democracy?  Should we embrace it or keep our distance?  Should we resign ourselves to living by different sets of rules in the two realms?

I think for quite practical reasons, we should turn a critical eye on democratic political philosophy.  We should be cautious, even suspicious.

1.  My first reason for doing so is strictly practical.  Democratic values are so dominant in our culture they may pass without scrutiny.  A system that advocates criticism of everything may escape criticism of its own premises.

Egalitarianism is pretty close to being the American religion.  The Declaration of Independence functions as scripture in our society.  I may exaggerate a little, but even if the truth falls short of that assertion, I think egalitarianism occupies enough of a dominant position in our deliberations that we must examine it and not simply embrace it without reflection.  We must think about it reflexively and ask where egalitarianism is taking us.

2.  We must be careful about seeking a goal that runs so contrary to life as it is actually lived–in nature and in society.  Equality does not obtain anywhere.  Inequalities appear wherever you look.  Our society seems dedicated to constructing more and more of them–among sports teams as among contestants on tv shows about cooking or hairstyling.  We rank students according to their test scores and rank the colleges that they so desperately seek to enter.  We rank each other by our publications and award the best positions in the best colleges to the best people.  We rank cars and computers.  From the moment children are born they are ranked on a weight and development scale.  In every aspect of life we impose hierarchy.

Against this overwhelming trend can we really hope to achieve equality? Equality before the law we would hope, and some degree of equal opportunity,but flat out equality in every relationship goes against the world as we know it.  The most serious attempts to achieve complete equalization have ended in violence.  Alexis de Toqueville (b. 1805), who knew well the career of egalitarianism in the French Revolution, meant what he said when he spoke of the tyranny of the majority. Tocqueville feared that Americans were so jealous of their equal standing they would quash every attempt to rise above the crowd.  How far do we want to go in enforcing egalitarianism on the world?

3.  Can we not achieve what we want by concentrating on what we believe are the purposes of equality?  As I read the term, equalization by itself is not an end but a means to some other form of human flourishing.  We object to inequalities because they suppress subordinates.  If suppression is the problem, why not turn our attention to the ends rather than focusing so much on the means?  By ends I refer to such things as justice or individual growth.   Why not seek to achieve those goals rather than burning with anger when we detect signs of inequality?

The fundamental theoretical question is:  Can we achieve equality in the presence of  binaries?  It now seems that wherever there is a marked pairing like male and female or black and and white, there will be dominance and submission.  The historical outcomes of both of these two binaries has been oppressive,  but rather than remedy the ills by obliterating differences, erasing racial or gender distinctions altogether, for example, why not focus on justice and growth?  Why not make very effort to see that historically suppressed populations flourish?  I propose this because I see no civil way to eliminate distinctions, and I see no way to achieve complete equality.  Our attempts will lead either to frustration or disaster.  We need to devise means to good ends without requiring complete equalization.

Mormons believe in the universe described in the book of Abraham where from the beginning there were gradations of intelligence rising from the lowest to the highest. On Abraham’s account, the whole universe is at its foundation hierarchical.  How does this compare to the American conception of each citizen standing on a flat plane of perfect equality?  No one rises up to high office without permission of every equal citizen on the plane.  Each being is created equal according our Declaration of Independence.

I don’t consider the Abraham passage on ranked intelligence to be inherently oppressive,  especially not in the Mormon context of a father God whose whole aim is to make all his children like himself.  He wants them to achieve a fullness, to grow from grace to grace. Yes, there is structural hierarchy and authority, but not necessarily oppression.  The fact that humans use inequality to exercise dominion oppressively does not in itself discredit hierarchy on principle.  The answer is not to eradicate power but to use it beneficently. The whole gospel may be about how to exercise power without compulsory means.

Thus my recommendation is to approach democracy cautiously.


I am more critical of capitalism than either science or democracy.  I think any attempt to overthrow of capitalism, would bring on catastrophe, but if revolution is not the aim, there are reasons to resist.

Historically Mormonism has had a more tortured relationship with capitalism than with either science or democracy.  We have largely embraced science, as I argued earlier, from the beginning; and we were brought up on American democracy despite the authoritarian structure of church government.  We divide down the middle on capitalism, resisting it in the first half of our history and embracing it in the second half.

Our early scriptures rather fiercely condemned inequality in earthly things, while on the practical front, Joseph Smith proposed an economic order whose foundation was the equalization of property.  Mormons were very much on the side of the Revolutionaries of 1848 and critical of big capital through the 19th century. Brigham Young under the influence of Joseph Smith instituted cooperatives to moderate the competitive individualism of capitalism and promote communality.  The early systems came so close to socialism in spirit and intent that twentieth-century apologists had to bend over backward to point out the differences.  Some insisted the united order was actually a purified form of capitalism.

After this radical beginning, twentieth-century Mormons reversed themselves and enthusiastically took up capitalism as part of the drive toward assimilation.  Rather than resist gentile merchants invading Utah by forming cooperatives as Brigham Young did, twentieth-century Mormons bested the gentiles at their own game.  Through the New Deal most Mormons were Democrats and thus critical of the malefactors of great wealth, but after World War II, the swing to political conservatism began.  No one needs to be told that Utah is now the reddest state and that most Mormons vote Republican.

So where does Mormonism stand in relation to capitalism by which I mean the concentration of wealth in the hands of a capitalist class which enrolls labor by paying them money and not out of any sense of mutual loyalty?  I contrast capitalism to the vassal system of medieval feudalism and to the small farm economy of the United States up through the 1840s.  The great point of capitalism is to separate economic activity from all personal ties and obligations, so that economic rationality may rule supreme.  Capitalists chafe under the attempts of government to impose civic obligations on their activity and insist on the right to dismiss their workers as fathers and mothers would never dismiss their children from a family farm.

Capitalism could be criticized from the point of view of Mormon scriptures and of Mormon history.  It could be challenged on principle, but I wish to speak of its practical implications as they bear on religious life.

1.  Speaking somewhat impressionistically, I think that the advance of capitalism reduces receptivity to the gospel.  Rodney Stark has contested this rather self-evident observation but I think he misses critical considerations.  The rather common sense observation that missionary work declines when capitalism arrives is closer to the truth. Mormonism has reaped a harvest of converts during the transition to capitalism.  As villagers left their traditional homes for cities and factories, Mormon missionaries found people ready for the stabilizing influence of the Gospel. They joined in vast numbers in England during industrialization and again in Denmark, Germany and Scandinavia.  The same phenomenon recurred in Latin America and Japan after World War II.  But as these populations settled into established capitalist economies, conversions decreased, the baptismal rate fell, and the Church had to concentrate on strengthening the members and instilling values in the young.

Capitalism may increase the GNP of the nations it inhabits and provide jobs and creature comforts, but we should not think that the advance of capitalism creates conditions conducive to conversions.  Capitalism does not enhance interest in Mormonism.  It does bring experienced Mormons into distant places where they can strengthen local wards and branches. It will not make people more susceptible to Mormon teaching.

2.  We must keep in mind that capitalism is godless.  It does not explicitly repudiate faith in God as communism did, but it does not include faith as one of the virtues of a successful investor, executive or worker.  Capitalism as a system subscribes to Korihor’s creed that one succeeds according to the strength of the creature.  In some cases it has overtly encouraged rugged individualism as a way of life in direct opposition to the communal service called for by the gospel.  The official capitalist view of religion is indifference.  You can believe or not as you wish.  No religion is inserted into its rituals like ground breakings or the closing of deals.  No deal-maker’s tombstone mentions God’s help. Religious symbolism is stripped away for fear of offending potential customers.  Faithful Christians or Jews may thrive as businessmen, but they deal every day with agnostics who care not a fig about God.  Workers in corporate offices live in a godless environment which leads them to privatize their religion.  The atmosphere does nothing to reinforce belief.

3.  One possible reason for the decline of religion in advanced capitalist countries is that corporate capitalism creates a society of its own with immensely powerful incentives that substitute for or even displace religion.  In this world, success replaces salvation.  What comes to count in this world is rising in the corporate ranks.  What is more thrilling than a promotion or a raise?  These are the moments that cause the heart to rejoice and that diffuse a sense of fullness.  The movies about the hollowness of professional success and the lasting importance of family and service all go to show how in reality success counts for everything.  The stories of realization demonstrate how hard it is to resist the blandishments of corporate success.

In return for that success, the corporation demands one’s loyalty and time.  Sixty-hour work weeks are common place.  Long hours on weekends can be expected.  Clayton Christensen tells of his employer’s astonishment when he informed them that he never works on Sunday. They nearly fainted when he told them he never works on Saturday either because of his family.  It seems like a miracle that Christensen could get away with these demands.  We know that only someone with his extraordinary capacities and efficiency could make it stick.

The corporation thus encroaches on both the time and the inner loyalties of its members.  In extreme forms, as in Japan, a business becomes virtually a church.

4.  We must also recognize that corporate values invade our families in the form of consumerism.  Buying things, finding deep satisfactions in shopping and owning, is an integral component of capitalism.  Capitalism will not work without ardent consumerism.  When you combine the whole family’s wish for things with the corporation’s control over promotions and the time of workers, capitalist values can be seen to have infiltrated a large part of our lives.  Our sense of worth and our basic confidence to a remarkable degree are formed and regulated by capitalistic values and institutions.

Capitalism is all the more insidious because it promotes virtues that we admire like hard work and attendance to duty.  We feel like getting ahead in the corporate world parallels our improvement as persons.  When we succeed in some measure in our work, we have demonstrated our virtue.  When we meet someone for the first time in church, we want to know what they do.  By which we mean what is their work.  Our judgment of them as a person is based on that knowledge.  We rank them higher if they are higher up the capitalist food chain.  Our recent bishop in Pasadena felt unqualified for his calling because he was a truck driver in a ward full of lawyers and doctors.  Everyone dismissed his reservations but understood why he reacted that way.

I am hard pressed to know how to combat these tensions between church and capitalism, save to recognize and resist them.  The General Authority most aware of them to my knowledge is Boyd Packer.  He has been more sensitive than most to the hidden advantages of the high income wards in comparison to low income wards.  He has backed the equalization of expenditures to minimize class differences between wards.  He is very conscious of the arrogance of academics and artists and wants to tame their pride.  His famous talk on the weekend after the news of bank failures came out seemed to welcome a return to a simpler life with curtailed income and reduced wants.  A depression seems worth it, he seemed to be saying, if it reduces the power of economic striving and competition.

But he fights a powerful tide.  One wonders if we all must be brought down to break the grip of capitalist values on our lives.  Will world capitalism have to be shaken to its foundations or perhaps dismantled for us to return to simple faith?


These three encounters with contemporary culture are meant to explain what I mean by being ill at ease in the world.  My recommendation is that we make the most of our discomfort.  Our very unease prepares us to reflect on and criticize the verities of our time.  Mormonism should engender a high level of cultural criticism–not criticism directed against the Church from the vantage of some secular viewpoint but criticism of the broader culture from the vantage point of the Church. 

We had such a critic in Hugh Nibley.  To my knowledge none has arisen since.  We direct all of our criticism against ourselves.  I am encouraged by the news of the new journal SquareTwo, one of whose editors is Ralph Hancock: this journal seeks to bring Mormonism into the public sphere.  Ralph and I may disagree on our politics, but I certainly endorse his wish to look outward.

About a year ago, Kaimi Wenger and I put up a web site entitled “Mormon Review.”  It was meant to provide a forum for commenting on books, films, art, politics from a Mormon perspective.  Our hope was that Terryl Givens would write about movies, Jana Reiss about devotional books, Kathleen Flake about contemporary politics.  So far there is not a single entry.  Perhaps other blogs unbeknownst to me are serving this function.  I hope so. 

I think we want to make the most of our distance and unpopularity in modern society. Programs like Claremont Mormon Studies and this society are breaking down the barriers between Mormons and the rest of the world.  Hurrah for them. But before we lose sight of our peculiarity and distinctiveness, I would like us to leverage our parochialism in kind but trenchant cultural criticism.  Perhaps that project is starting right here.



[1] David Hume, “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” in  Essays:  Political, Moral, and Literary (1854), p. 108. [Back to manuscript]

[2] Lowell L. Bennion, The Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Provo: L.D.S. Department of Education, 1962 [orig. pub. 1940]), 17-18. [Back to manuscript]


Full Citation for This Article: Bushman, Richard L. (2009) "On Being Ill at Ease in the World ," SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleBushmanIllAtEase.html, accessed [give access date].

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COMMENTS: 4 Comments

1) Commentary by Jeff Kiser, 4 August 2009

I think the point Bushman makes is a good one. Sometimes in the church we are harshly critical of those who might follow one political or economic policy that isn't part of who we feel we should be. How do you respond to a socialist that believes, as a Latter-Day Saint, his is the better system based on scripture? I am a die hard capitalist, and I have had capitalist success. I think Bushman's critique is correct in the sense that he raises the question of acceptance without critical thought. I do believe that his conclusion is not necessarily the correct one in regard to capitalism.

Capitalism does indeed reflect on individual achievement and a form of capitalism often calls upon a dedication to corporations or business. But what would the difference be between a pioneer working hard in a rural setting and the business run by an individual? How would the lack of capitalism have affected US growth into the frontier (note the more stingent economic control of Mexico and the lack of Mexican pioneers in the same region). I would posit that his criticism could be more narrowly limited to corporatism (which he describes clearly) and not necessarily capitalism (which I believe need not lead to corporatism - which can exist under other systems).

Another point I might raise is the direct coupling of consumerism with capitalism. I don't necessarily see it as such. Capitalism is the development of individuals and groups meeting consumer needs. It is consumer driven. The choice resides with the consumer and is promoted either by the capitalist who believes his product is best or through an advertising agency which sells its ability to convince to the capitalist. Consumerism is, I believe, the overriding success of advertising. Such a success can be just as strong when made by a centralized government. Capitalism is individualized. It is a reflection of individual efforts. Corporatism is not. In my view, of course.

On the other hand, I agree more strongly with his stance on democracy. A lynch mob is the most democratic of institutions after all.


2) Commentary by Raymond Takashi Swenson, Lt. Colonel, USAF (Retired), Attorney-at-Law,
4 August 2009

As I read the part of Brother Bushman’s essay considering the contrast between Mormonism and democracy, it occurred to me that I knew of another society in tension with democracy: the American military.

When I was a second lieutenant at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, working inside Cheyenne Mountain to maintain the computer software that keeps track of satellites and debris in orbit around the earth, one of my superiors remarked on the irony that the guardians of America’s freedom were actually inhabitants of a separate society that was very different, in which everyone worked for the government, had limited opportunities to quit or turn down an assignment to a remote or dangerous location, our leaders were chosen by their predecessors, not their peers, to be elevated in rank and authority, our medicine and often housing were provided by government facilities, and our speech with regard to anything directly bearing on our jobs was generally limited and in fact was outright censored if it strayed onto forbidden, classified topics. By the time I was commissioned, joining the US military was a completely voluntary process, but when I had signed up for ROTC it was because the draft lottery of 1969 had placed me and everyone else born on December 29 at position 16 out of 366 to be called up for compulsory service, under threat of imprisonment.

Yet for all of the emphasis on hierarchy and rank, the military distributes a great deal of authority downward, to many of its youngest and least experienced members. A second lieutenant in the field engaging the enemy is often making life or death decisions for himself and others, with no time to consult with higher levels of command. Orders usually consist of “Go to this place and achieve this objective.” How you do it is left up to you.

Not only is democracy held at arm’s length by the military, so is capitalism. The military has a coercive effect on all taxpayers, who are assessed to contribute to the costs of maintaining the armed forces, feeding, clothing and housing its personnel, and arming them with weapons, many of them deployed with the specific hope that they will never have to be used. It does not sell its services to consumers; they buy security with their tax dollars. While the military spends a huge amount purchasing goods and services in the marketplace, the armed forces themselves do not operate on a basis of investment and capitalization and competition for customers. At the end of the Cold War, it required a series of acts of Congress and convening special commissions just to establish a process for disposing of the vast amounts of excess real property held by the armed forces. While some of it was sold at market value, the majority was transferred at little charge to local governments and colleges.

As to science, the ubiquitous TV recruiting ads for the Air Force emphasize that the futuristic is the everyday in the service that flies planes and missiles. On the other hand, the theme of Army and Marine Corps advertising is personal strength and achievement and the mystique of the unity of men under arms. The armed forces are full of scientifically designed technology for communications, detection of enemies, guiding weapons, locating and deploying forces, but the people who operate this technology are most concerned with leadership and teamwork and self sacrifice, the esprit de corps—literally the spirit of the body of fighters. It is at heart a spiritual endeavor, with a mythology all its own.

They are not mercenaries, fighting for profit. While they often find aspects of their work exciting, it can also be both deadly dull and simply deadly, on alternate days. Especially in the all-volunteer US military, there is a shared spirit of self-sacrifice on behalf of their fellow Americans and the principles of democracy, free enterprise, and freedom of thought and exploration that animates these men and women to sacrifice aspects of all three. It is a paradox, but a scientific, egalitarian and capitalistic America needs this reversed mirror image to defend it from the enemies of all three of those qualities.

Could it be that America also benefits from having other contrary societies within itself, like the Mormons and the Amish, who are in tension with many of the main streams of opinion and behavior, that help to make it the best America it can be? In an era when many of those who most stridently demand “diversity” are also insistent on uniformity of opinion, could it be that opposition from within itself contributes to the health and ultimately survival of American society?

An aircraft flies through the dynamic balancing of opposing forces. The “wind beneath your wings” is not a beneficent lifting hand, but a lifting force that arises in opposition to your effort to push through the air. The case might be made that the Mormons have been lifted to heights of achievement through their course against the prevailing winds of American opinion. But perhaps there is some role reversal, too. Perhaps America in general is lifted by the dynamic energy generated by crossing the magnetic field lines of embedded societies that refuse to go with the flow.


3) Commentary by Mark Pickering, 12 August 2009

I sympathize with Bushman's remarks on science and democracy, and with the spirit of his remarks on capitalism. However, I think Bushman has erred in treating capitalism as a comprehensive doctrine or theory of life. It is no such thing--it is only an economic system. Capitalism does not dictate anything about how one should live one's life. All it does is set the conditions for the allocation of scarce resources. Of all economic systems yet tried, capitalism allows the maximum free choice of the individual. And that is nothing to sneeze at. Of course, those who care about nothing but money can get it under capitalism like under no other system yet known to us. But capitalism compels no one to do anything. It merely creates incentives. Allow me to note that a capitalistic society is entirely compatible with living the law of consecration in any of its forms. While a given legal regime may or may not enforce the contracts upon which a given United Order is founded, one is certainty free to give his or her wealth to the Church or to anybody else. Under any other system known to us this is more difficult.

While Bushman is right to note that the introduction of capitalism has some correlation with the decline of religiosity around the world in the last sixty years, I do not think capitalism is to blame. What is to blame is prosperity. And capitalism facilitates prosperity like no other system yet known to us. While prosperity seems to have always had the effect of leading people to Hell, it also has good effects. Consider, for example, the low infant mortality rate, the long life span, the educational opportunities that the righteous enjoy along with the wicked right now in the United States. What prosperity does is allow people more full choice over their own lives. And if it so happens that more choice leads to more wickedness, shall we blame choice? Capitalism is the fertile soil in which both the wheat and the tares grow higher than in any other soil. If the tares end up being more plentiful or higher than the wheat, is the soil to blame? What does it say about the wheat if it cannot compete with the tares when the going is good?


4) N. Wayne Eschler, Ph.D., 17 August 2009

I agree with Professor Bushman’s assessment of capitalism. I also agree with Jeff Kiser’s distinction of capitalism and corporatism. I am interested in the fact that when the Lord invited men to buy “stock” in the Nauvoo House, he limited the amount any one person could acquire. The Lord also appears to have left the strategic operation of the Nauvoo House with the prophet.

While capitalism, contrary to Mark Pickering’s claim, is a perverted view of true economy and is in a very real sense religious, the most egregious form of capitalism manifests itself in corporatism. All of the forces of corporatism are with the stock holder. The stock holder makes the most money not from being profitable and serviceable as a business, but with constant high rates of corporate revenue growth. When revenues and hence earnings fail to grow, stockholders immediately demand cost cutting. And ergo “you’re fired”!

Small private businesses can make long term profits without the constant pressure of growth by share holders. They can and are more likely to consider long term profitability than short term growth. They can find other ways of cutting costs rather than from wholesale manpower reduction that results in so much human misery.

Having said that, capitalism as envisioned by Adam Smith and promoted faithfully in our society is founded on a moral, hence religious, assumption that every person acting in her own best [read selfish] interest with all facts known to all parties, will result in a fair society where everyone has equal opportunity to achieve satisfaction in the market place. While Pickering’s claim that it creates more freedom than other forms of economy has truth compared with the others that man has created, it certainly does not exceed the one that Joseph Smith envisioned.

In summary, my main reason for wholeheartedly agreeing with Brother Bushman is manifest in the responses that I have heard and seen. As Mormons in Utah especially, we truly do believe that the size of our homes and the cost of our automobile is a barometer of our righteousness. We have literally bought into Satan’s plan. As Hugh Nibley so often and correctly pointed out, there is nothing wrong with the quiet life of just having enough for our basic needs. We don’t need an economy, or an economic system that encourages constant growth and creation of wealth and so many metrics of success based upon accumulation of wealth. Every argument for capitalism is an argument for just that. As some point out, capitalism itself is may be neutral, but Satan has used it to seduce us away from true values and measurements of success.

We too easily convince ourselves that great inventions and advancements in technology could only happen under capitalism, because that is where they did happen. But who knows what would be invented in God’s economy? We know that many great things, such as electricity to rural America, postal delivery to everyone, education of the masses and so on, did not and would not have happened under pure capitalism. We also see much of suffering, and grinding on the faces of the poor in our capitalistic society. So to argue that capitalism as a philosophy is correct is a stretch. To argue that some great things have occurred because of capitalism is accurate. Zion will be founded on different principles, with different purposes than capitalism. We failed to get Zion, and likely still are failing to have Zion established because of our rigid insistence on capitalism. Brigham Young’s advisors aptly pointed out that the people would fly to pieces if the true economy of Zion where introduced. And so it never was, nor has been.


5) Richard Chun-ling Chiu, 14 November 2009

Reading the above article and the several initial replies, I find myself constrained to mention something that we all probably assume is already understood. But sometimes the things that we all presume to already know are the most in need of being mentioned. I cannot say with any certainty that this is such a time, or that what I am about to mention is what is most needful to remember, but I will mention it anyway.

Membership in the Church, adherence to the doctrines of the Church, and obedience to the authority of the leaders of the Church are all voluntary as a matter of established practice and revealed doctrine.

I do not wish to impute that anyone has forgotten such a fundamental truth in this discussion. However, I find it disturbing that I can find no mention of it even though the issues raised do present significant questions about the exercise of moral and personal agency relative to different philosophies which may seem to contradict the demands of our chosen faith.

In my view, to the extent that any philosophy, be it of nature, politics, or economics; increases our freedom to act as individuals, it is necessarily more compatible with a faith that can only be practiced through free exercise of our agency. I would argue that Science, Democracy, and Capitalism do not have perfect records when it comes to preserving freedom. But I am at a loss to find any serious alternatives for their respective spheres which are better...or even very nearly as good.

We may all agree that Mormonism is a better philosophy than any other, but it is not a natural, political, or economic philosophy, nor can it readily replace any of them without losing the essential characteristic of being a personally chosen system of beliefs, associations, and practices. It is important to remember that.