Does Anarchism contradict the 12th Article of Faith?

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December 8, 2008 by The Mormon Worker

When many Mormons learn something about Anarchism, they often feel that Mormonism and Anarchism are incompatible because of the 12th article of faith which asserts that Latter-day Saints are supposed to sustain their rulers. This is certainly a valid point to make, and I would like to briefly respond why i do not feel that Mormonism and Anarchism are contradictory. Governments constitute a stage in the progression of mankind. Because governments are based on violence and coercion, if possible, we should try to move beyond such a system, replacing them, as far as possible, with a society based on mutual aid and cooperation. Such cooperation could involve worker owned factories and cooperatives, unions, trade confederations, and other forms of direct democracy. That is what an anarchist society would consist of, rather than consisting of authoritarian corporations which exploit labor and are able to influence government to promote the interests of a narrow elite, rather than of the population as a whole (ie. invade Iraq or Vietnam).
Though governments can often serve positive functions (such as passing laws limiting the work day to 8 hours), Anarchists feel that moving beyond governments would lead to a society with less poverty, less crime and less oppression. Such a society is in accord with Mormon doctrine which calls for economic and social equality (ie 4 Nephi). Much progress has been made since the US government was initially formed (ie abolition of slavery, civil rights movement, womens’ suffrage, labor laws), and yet more progress is needed. When people wonder if Anarchism is against the basic tenets of Mormonism because of the 12th Article of faith, they are ignoring some basic Mormon doctrines and history. The 12th article of faith says that Mormons believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law. This does not mean that a better political/economic system than the one we presently have cannot be established. Mormons are challenged to build a Zion society, where all things are held in common, and where everyone is equal in temporal things. Mormons are also challenged to renounce war and proclaim peace (D and C 98). A society in which some degree of economic equality exists and where we do not fight offensive wars for material gain is impossible to achieve with the current system we have.
Those who wonder if Anarchism is compatible with Mormonism also feel that Mormons can never oppose the government or break the law because we are supposed to be subject to rulers as the 12th article of faith suggests. History shows that Mormons often opposed the US government in the early years of the religion’s existence. Examples include Joseph Smith raising a militia to fight the Missouri state militia, Brigham Young non-violently resisting the US Army as it marched to invade Salt Lake City, Mormons deliberately practicing polygamy (and going to jail for it) after it had been banned by the US government. Obviously, if the government asks us to do something that is contrary to the basic commandments of the Gospel, obeying Christ trumps obeying the government. Surely no Mormon would have been justified in, say, gassing Jews in Natzi Germany, simply because the German government told them to, and because the twelfth article of faith tells us we should be subject to our rulers. That article of faith is just a general rule Joseph Smith felt Mormons should follow most of the time. It was neither a commmandment, nor a revelation from God. Joseph wrote the articles of faith in response to a query from an Illinois newspaper about what Mormons’ basic beliefs are. They are simply his opinion. He never claimed they were direct revelation.

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11 thoughts on “Does Anarchism contradict the 12th Article of Faith?

  1. measure76 says:

    LOL. Instead of justifying Smith’s writings away, (and how could the church founder not clearly understand church doctrine,) Just admit that the church isn’t worth fixing. Be a true anarchist, and reject the ultimate authority that is GOD. Become Atheist, rejecting ALL authority of every kind.

    Just my two atheist cents.

  2. Grégoire says:

    Dear Measure,

    LOL. Instead of justifying Smith’s writings away, (and how could the church founder not clearly understand church doctrine,) Just admit that the church isn’t worth fixing.

    As a fellow atheist I’m intrigued by your responses (and LOLling a bit myself). I don’t want to pretend to speak for the author. I’m just curious as to how you reconcile your pretended dislike of the LDS church, and the fact that you’ve recreated it in blog form.

    About ten years ago, one of my cousins invited me to an “ex-Mormon” gathering in Calgary. I went, only for curiosity’s sake. I realized when they ‘blessed the sacrament’ of liquor and corn tortillas that these doofuses had not left Mormonism at all. They simply inverted and reconstructed it. After the ex-Mormon sacrament meeting, one of the attendees joyfully told me that they were going to reenact a blasphemous temple ceremony later that summer, and encouraged me to attend. ‘Thanks’, I thought, ‘but I never had the inclination to go to the spookshow in the nice building, so I doubt I’ll make it to the gathering you’re holding in your living room’.

    My point? If you’re going to pretend to be a ‘missionary’, and preach from the pulpit about atheism, then you should take your own advice and quit obsessing about Mormonism so much. Granted, it’s sorta fun to talk about once in a while, but when you make it the focus of your life you can’t expect others to take your sage advice about leaving it behind.

    Be a true anarchist.

    This, right here, is the funniest thing anyone has written on the internet in a very long time. Thanks!

    G

  3. measure76 says:

    Well, I do try to be funny.

    But seriously.

    I blog about the mormon church because I feel it is important to get the truth about the church onto as many websites as possible. I provide one site that helps that goal.

    What is a true anarchist? I don’t know, but it would seem to me that rejecting all authority, including God, would be consistent with what I do know about anarchy.

  4. Grégoire says:

    Dear Measure,

    I blog about the mormon church because I feel it is important to get the truth about the church onto as many websites as possible. I provide one site that helps that goal.

    quid veritas est? as the saying goes…

    What is a true anarchist? I don’t know, but it would seem to me that rejecting all authority, including God, would be consistent with what I do know about anarchy.

    It seems to me that rejecting the authority of a non-anarchist would be consistent with what I know of anarchy, especially as it relates to something he admits to know nothing about.

    As an aside, I don’t think you’re an atheist either. To write daily articles on something you claim to want to leave behind suggests you’re either an adherent of the focus of your attention, or you’re a masochist.

    Most of us concentrate on things we enjoy. Mormonism, as I experienced it, was a profoundly negative, id-oriented, death focused lifestyle. The followers of it tended to be dishonest, gossipy, shallow and people I wanted to get away from. Admittedly, I’ve written about it too. It’s whacky and provides a lot of funny material, but it’s not something I’d constantly focus my attention on. If it were, I’d simply go back to church and be perpetually depressed/distressed.

    Mormonism means something different to every Mormon, of course, and I’m not implying my interpretation of it ought to be yours. My perceptions were coloured by my experiences. (see the first sentence i wrote, in other words).

    Best,

    G

  5. measure76 says:

    That’s why I steal my posts from the RfM (exmormon.org) board instead of writing them myself. Even then, I don’t post daily to my blog, only when I see a really good post to share.

    Your right. Me, nor anyone else, telling an anarchist what to do makes any lick of sense, since the definition seems to be the rejection of authority, and me defining it for someone else is authoritarian.

    Which is why it confuses me so that a Mormon would be anarchist, or why an anarchist would choose to be part of an organization that includes so many extra layers of authority.

    Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten involved, but the Mormonism part of the post drew me in, and the combination of Mormonism and anarchy is driving me batty.

  6. Grégoire says:

    Dear Measure,

    Please see inside text…

    That’s why I steal my posts from the RfM (exmormon.org) board instead of writing them myself. Even then, I don’t post daily to my blog, only when I see a really good post to share.

    Ah, my apologies then. I thought this was like a full time job for you. There are a lot of articles up there all on the same subject.

    Which is why it confuses me so that a Mormon would be anarchist, or why an anarchist would choose to be part of an organization that includes so many extra layers of authority.

    You bring up a lot of good points.

    If you read Proudhon, Makhno, Bakunin, etc., you find that the anarchists of yesteryear don’t want all authority abolished. They just want things decentralized to the extent that regular people have real-world control over their own lives and fortunes.

    The social structure of Mormonism is, in theory, actually pretty consistent with what I gather from reading anarchist political theory. If we could go back in time and visit Deseret we’d find little autonomous communities, where real property and the distribution of wealth was collectively held and organized. You can call it a soviet or a people’s congress or a ward, it would have amounted to the same thing.

    On a personal level I think all you guys at exmormon dot org should quit taking Mormonism so seriously. I’m guessing you live in Utah/Arizona/Idaho and I probably would be pretty annoyed with it all if I lived there still also. Mormons where I live are not taken seriously, respected or otherwise coddled so I’m free to forget about them for the most part.

    Nothing you guys are doing is really hurting the LDS church more than the LDS church is hurting itself. History is already abolishing the Mormonism of today. In 200 years our descendants will look back at the Mormonism we grew up with and consider it quaint, primitive, ridiculous and novel. It’ll be seen in the same way we see our ancestors who feasted in honor of Thor and Wotan, and who sacrificed their captured enemies to the god of the local swamp. If Mormonism exists by then, it’ll probably be something entirely different, hopefully having lost its negative qualities and requirements to take myths as reality.

    Take Care…

  7. measure76 says:

    Well, my background is that I was born in the church, in Washington State, and was continually bamboozled by the church until I was 31. I Did the mission thing, and bought into everything about mormonism.

    If you click on the “My story” link on my blog, I have posted my exit story from the church, and a bit about how I felt I had gained a testimony of the church.

    Is RfM hurting the church? Depends on your definition. LDS church growth in the US stopped in its tracks when the internet came along, and I think a lot of that had to do with RfM and other anti-mormon websites. People can find more information critical about the church now than they ever could before the internet.

    As I’ve tried to state before, with my site the goal is to increase the amount of information available on the internet that is critical of the church.

    I don’t know if my site will ever de-convert someone, but if it can plant some seeds of doubt, or give some revealing information to investigators who are actively being lied to be missionaries, then I’ve accomplished something.

    There’s also the process of dealing with having been involved in a cult for so long, and having to adjust to real life. I can’t talk about it with my family, who are mostly still involved. I need an outlet to speak to other people who are going through this, which is the main purpose my involvement in RfM fulfills.

    Now, I’m just as fascinated as ever, maybe even more interested in church history, and how a few con men almost 200 years ago managed to spawn something as successful as mormonism, and as controlling and cult-like as it is. How did Mormonism survive the collision with regular culture as different levels of the information age and even industrial age changed society as a whole. It even had to clash with commercial culture being formed at a time when not everyone was participating in the cash economy.

    I’m going on way too long for this. As you can see, I am still highly interested in mormon culture, and I also have some desire to try to help anyone I can get out of, or stay out of, mormonism. My hope is that my blog will help that goal, but even going to that, a higher motivation is that I have a record of my favorite posts from RfM, which typically deletes almost all posts after a couple of weeks.

    I won’t comment further on the anarchy issues, as my ignorant comments here continue to show me how little I understand of anarchist philosophy.

  8. Grégoire says:

    Dear Measure,

    Like you, I’m interested in Mormon culture. It’s interesting to note that we both seem to still consider ourselves Mormons, despite being skeptics who don’t believe in a literal God. (I don’t want to speak for you, I just got that from the subtext.)

    I think “cult” is sort of a loaded word which means something different to everyone who uses it. The people who contribute articles on this site don’t seem like the types to kiss ass and keep their mouths shut at sacrament meeting, so I suspect it doesn’t apply to their local leaders. Perhaps it’s a relic of decentralization that they’ve been able to reconcile faith with radical politics, while retaining membership in the one true church.

    Like you, I’m not an anarchist. I do agree with them on an awful lot though, and I think that the world would be a better, more peaceful, and all-round more pleasant place if we dismantled some borders, nationalized the fortune 500, and unionized all the wage slaves at Wal-Mart. If belief in God or the supernatural inspires them in this regard, then I can’t look down my nose at it.

    Good conversation. Take care…

  9. measure76 says:

    Yeah… like it or not, I am a Mormon. That’s how I was raised, and that is the baseline against which all the rest of my life experiences will be compared. For now I call myself an atheist, but maybe one day I or the church will change enough that I can proudly call myself a Mormon Atheist.

    I somewhat disagree on market forces, I think that the private sector does a much better job of running things than the government… not because the private sector is always efficient or corruption-free, but because the government almost always is less efficient and more corrupt than the private sector. But I can plainly see that countries that are far more socialized than the US seem to get along fine.

    Can the world find a perfect government? IS there a possible perfect government? I don’t know.

  10. Grégoire says:

    Dear Measure,

    one day I or the church will change enough that I can proudly call myself a Mormon Atheist.

    Mo Udall (politician from the early 1980s) used to call himself a “Secular Mormon”, and whenever anyone fingers me or I’m forced to explain I use that label. It’s not perfect, but it fits. Most of the time I try and stay “in the closet”, though there’s a certain amount of Mo-dar (LOL!) involved and other LDSsers often suspect my background. I live very much like a Mormon would, I just don’t believe in any of the opium-of-the-people stuff.

    You’d be welcome at my blog, by the way. I posted some anarchist material over there if you want to argue further. I feel like we’re distracting these poor souls at the Mormon Worker from their good works so I’ll leave it here otherwise.

    Take Care…

  11. […] Render Unto Caesar I am always disappointed how this phrase along with Paul injunction to let the powers that be reign supreme is used by many Christians to justify unchristian behavior. Among LDS we often use the 12th article of faith to justify our actions as referenced in this post. […]

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