Satan’s Counterfeit or Convenient Deception?

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February 15, 2009 by Jason Brown

debs_campaign1This post may be about 50 years too late, but it is an idea that has been knocking around in my mind for some time and I want to get it out, even if it’s in a rough and unreferenced form. A theme that frequently comes up in my analysis of LDS culture is the messy overlap between LDS doctrines, Americanism, and the Political Right. For example, in a previous edition of the Book of Mormon seminary manual, Ezra Taft Benson cites examples of contemporary “Secret Combinations.” It seems strange that the ones he mentions were all associated with left-of-center organizations such as labor unions or dissident elements of society such as gangs and the mafia. No mention was made of corporations, the KKK, or any other right-wing organization (My assessment of Contemporary Secret Combinations is forthcoming). This short article is a rebuttal to the oft cited but rarely thought through Mormon folk-belief that Communism is Satan’s Counterfeit for the United Order. Enjoy!

In a 1966 Improvement Era article, Marion G. Romney wrote an article entitled “Socialism and the United Order Compared.” The article is illustrative of the red-scare paranoia that frequently passed as LDS doctrine during that time. This line of thinking led to the pervasive Mormon folk-belief that: Communism is Satan’s Counterfeit for the United Order. I have always been fascinated by this idea, and have marveled at the consistency with which Mormons can recite the narrative. It goes something like this: Communism is Satan’s corrupted version of the United Order. On the surface it may look like God’s plan because it seeks a world of equality and social justice, but just like Satan’s plan in the pre-existence it forces people to be equal and deprives them of their God-given rights of private property and free agency. This doctrinal generalization is then used as a convenient mode of dismissal of all things left of center. It would seem more likely that the Satan’s Counterfeit Dogma is a product of the John Birch Society, not the LDS cannon. For example, this argument was routinely used my church leaders to denounce the redistribution of wealth by the “welfare state” and as further evidence of a communist takeover of the American government. It is a strange irony and convenient tactic for these cold worriers to renounce the role of government in the redistribution of wealth and social equality and in the same breath to uphold our government as the highest good in cases of legislated morality and patriotic loyalty. If the Constitution is an inspired document, then it would seem that the state is an appropriate vehicle for the transformation of society. In addition, whose agency is being violated by the redistribution of wealth by a democratically controlled government?

Now, please do not assume that this article is a defense of Russian Communism. IT IS NOT! Russian Communism was arguably not even Communism, but fascist, totalitarian state capitalism. What I want to suggest, staying within the LDS notion of Satan as a real agent in earthly spiritual politics is that perhaps Satan did not simply “inspire” Communism as a means of destroying people’s agency, but to poison the hope of a world based on solidarity and cooperation by equating the Soviet experiment with Communism. If by tainting the principles of cooperation, unity, equality, and justice with the coercive nature of Soviet Communism Capitalism seems that much more appealing, liberating, and just; then the deception is deeper than we had thought. Opposing Communism and anything that even remotely resembles it then becomes a moral imperative and defending the virtues of the capitalist system an equally laudable virtue.

Hugh Nibley once wrote that Satan was a master manipulator of symbols, and that once one had control of the symbology you controlled everything. If you wave the flag of Christianity you are a Christian, even if you do not live up to its principles. The same goes with Communism. The Russian symbology of a workers utopia was crushed under the tentacles of Moscow.

Now, here are the words of an American Socialist named Eugene Debs; it would seem that this form of Socialism is far from the tyrannical, and borders on the saintly. This quote comes from a court transcript in which he is being accused of Sedition. To the judge, Debs said,

I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence. Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free” (My emphasis, Sept. 18th 1918).

So, in his defense of the United Order, I would applaud Brother Romney’s renunciation of Russian Communism , but I would add any economic or social system which denies people of their agency might qualify as “Satan’s Counterfeit.” As Brother Debs points out above, Capitalism is just as guilty as Communism for depriving people of their agency and the opportunity to live a full and productive life. Once again, it is important to disentangle the political persuasions of past Church leaders in order to discover the true principles of the Gospel, namely that as Latter-day Saints it is our Christian duty to uphold not only personal freedom and agency, but also equality, justice and cooperation.

 

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10 thoughts on “Satan’s Counterfeit or Convenient Deception?

  1. Grégoire says:

    Dear fishstilldie,

    Interesting article. Thanks for posting it.

    In order to separate what you’re calling Russian Communism and what Debs promoted (I’d call it a revolutionary socialism, somewhat similar in theory to what Rosa Luxemburg envisioned, but I’m not an expert on either) you’ve got to define them.

    Marxism-Leninism in Russia/USSR went through several specific phases as it developed, all of which which were quite different from the other. Lenin promoted a sort of democratic decentralism, Stalin’s ‘socialism in one country’ theory was close to being National Socialism without the swastika. Krushchev tried to do what Gorbachev eventually did. Brezhnev was a fan of institutional bureaucracy. Outside of it all you had Luxemburg, Trotsky, Ho Chih Minh, Tito, Ortega and others who saw the USSR as a standard model; but in practice went in various different directions.

    Needless to say I don’t agree with your sweeping condemnation of the USSR, but I find criticism of specific aspects of Marxist-Leninist praxis valuable. Any attempt to achieve socialism and communism today would probably best use different tactics and symbols, as we’re in an entirely new world; though we can learn a lot from the successes and failures of the past.

  2. Forest Simmons says:

    Thanks for these insights. As you point out through the Debs quote, there is more than one way to stifle freedom. Capitalism has always resulted in a system of economic bullying.

    Also people in free association can by common consent share wealth and costs equitably. [The word iniquity, used so frequently in the Book of Mormon is at root “in equity.” ] In the 1980’s when indigenous people in Central America tried to farm cooperatively, they were branded as communists and massacred by soldiers whose leaders were trained at “The School of the Americas” at Fort Benning, Georgia..

    So much for respecting agency.

    Debs’ words that you highlighted in bold remind me that Jesus of Nazareth preferred associating with the down and out over the defenders of the status quo.

    “We’ll go to the poor like our Captain of old, and visit the weary, the hungry and cold. We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore, and point them to Zion and life evermore. O Babylon, O Babylon we bid thee farewell; we’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.”

    Capitalism is the economic foundation of Babylon, the antithesis of Zion.

    I remember listening to Elders Romney, Benson, and Pres. Reuben. J. Clark speaking out passionately against “godless communism” in the welfare sessions of general conference (which have long since been discontinued).

    In those days I sometimes wondered if there was another version of communism besides the godless variety.

    The early chapters of the book of the Acts of the apostles tells how the Christians of that time put all of their possessions at the feet of the apostles, and those who held back (like Ananias and Sapphira) were in danger of the judgment. I think most Christians call that version of socialism, “Christian Communism.”

    Is there such a thing as “Christian Capitalism?” Is there such a thing as “godless capitalism?”

    I think that both questions have negative answers, because the answer to the second question is that Mammon (which means money) is the god of every version of capitalism, and the Invisible Hand is its holy ghost.

    No man can serve two masters. Mammon is a very jealous god that rewards its rich devotees with government subsidies and war profiteering, while punishing the weak and simple with the (invisible) iron hand of market discipline.

  3. Great article! But I think it needs a Part II.

    I am interested in a discussion on how we can break free from this “all-American” mindset the church body is holding to like a Capitalist to his money. I am raising soon to be 5 kids in America AND the church and I wholeheartedly feel this “every man for himself” mentality being preached over the pulpit (by well meaning members) and on our airwaves is satan at his most cunning- and we’re eating it up! Honestly I feel it has more to do with a sense of belonging for members and Americans. I don’t think the complexities of right and wrong even cross their minds. Not that they are horrible people or even idiots but just willfully mislead for the sake of being LDS/American- because they don’t even stop to think there is another way let alone that it is still the Lord’s way.

    And now I am just rambling. My real question is “what can we do about it?”. Not only how can we teach these truths (gospel and social) to our Brothers and Sisters who would turn the thought and us away but also what can we- as a church and as individuals trying to teach it in our homes- do to shift from the current typical American and LDS model to that of true charity (charity that leaps off the tithing check) and love for our neighbor? Because our fear of big bad Socialism has scared us away from caring for others without concern for who they are. How can we break free of the mentality that those in need are simply looking for a handout?

    Thanks so much for reading my incoherent rambling and for the work you do!

    -Maggie

  4. Grégoire says:

    I wholeheartedly feel this “every man for himself” mentality being preached over the pulpit (by well meaning members) and on our airwaves is satan at his most cunning- and we’re eating it up!

    I haven’t been to a regular Mormon service in twenty years, but I don’t doubt that the LDS church is still preaching conservatism. I don’t think that Mormons are actually eating it up though.

    In 2005 Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote an article which was published in the Salt Lake City Tribune, which detailed the fact that the church had about 5.5 million Americans on its rolls, whereas the number of Americans who actively identified themselves as Latter-Day Saints at that time was around 2 million people. What this implies is that over half the people who started out as Mormons have quietly wandered away.

    I don’t want to presume that everyone who wanders away from Mormonism does so for political reasons. People change religions for a variety of purposes, but I think it’s a factor.

    My real question is “what can we do about it?”. Not only how can we teach these truths (gospel and social) to our Brothers and Sisters who would turn the thought and us away but also what can we- as a church and as individuals trying to teach it in our homes- do to shift from the current typical American and LDS model to that of true charity (charity that leaps off the tithing check) and love for our neighbor?

    You’re probably already doing the most effective thing, which is leading by example.

    Mormonism in my area has pretty much collapsed in the last few years. The stake center I drive by has been closed for a long time. If the LDS Church is to survive (at least outside of Utah) in the foreseeable future, it’ll be due to folks like you, who take the time to reach beyond the business aspect of it (last time I attended I was struck by how similar it looked to a sales convention) and set a good example caring for their neighbors.

  5. Natalie says:

    The mantra while I was in seminary was “Under communism everyone is equally poor; under the Law of Consecration everyone is equally rich.” I grew up with the impression that communism was evil. And then I read about the Law of Consecration and wondered how they were different. When my teacher gave me the above line, I was like, “Ooh! Brilliant!”, and scribbled it into the margins of my scriptures. And then I thought, “Wait, uh….. that doesn’t actually make sense.”

    I think it’s shameful that completely extra-scriptural, political teachings such as this are presented as “doctrine” to students by authority figures who are also responsible for teaching them about important things like the Atonement. I serve in the young womens, and I would never use my position as a spiritual leader to influence someone’s political views. It’s intellectually dishonest.

  6. Forest Simmons says:

    Today our main speaker in sacrament meeting gave an excellent talk on the second article of faith, basing acountability of our own sins on free agency, and reviewing briefly the premortal “war in heaven.”

    But he wanted everbody to know that one of the main things wrong with Lucifer’s plan was that it aimed for, “equality of results.” He said that we could think of that plan as the “no soul left behind plan.”

    I thought of the game of monopoly that has perfect equality of opportunity at the beginning, but inevitably results in inequality of results.

    The closing prayer reaffirmed our rejection of the “no soul left behind plan.”

    It’s true that the “No Child Left Behind Plan” is a rigid plan based fundamentally on Skinneristic Behavioristic disregard for individuality, and in that sense similar to what Lucifer proposed.

    But our speaker did not clarify that the plan of salvation is a real plan for saving everybody except the few eternally rebellious. The so called “no child left behind” program leaves lots of children behind, but the plan of salvation lets nobody fall through the cracks.

    2 Ne. 26: 25 “Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.”

    I had a conversation with an orthodox protestant colleague about the economic meltdown. I suggested that perhaps now we could understand the purpose of the periodic debt release provision of the Law of Moses.

    His reply was, “It wouldn’t make any difference. After a couple of years, the same people that are rich now would be rich again, and the poor would be poor.”

    I was so flabbergasted that I was speechless. He always showed so much reverence for the Bible on every other subject, but when it came to helping the poor with debt release, that was a different story.

    Did he think that that was just one more defect in the Law of Moses that we can be glad was done away with? God though it would be a good way to help the poor, but it turned out to be a bad idea?

  7. Bob says:

    The first problem is pitting the ‘Left’ against the ‘Right’. In reality when you get to the far left of the spectrum, or the far right, you end up at the same place, Totalitarianism. That is the great deception. People feel they have two choices, Right vs. Left, or Liberal vs. Conservative, etc. But today Satan has set up both roads to lead to the same place. And, contrary to the author’s opinion, Ezra Taft Benson and others have condemned both ‘sides’ for their wickedness. Although it is true the ‘Left’ has been more heavily targeted, and rightfully so as they more openly fight against God, Family, and morality.

    The author shows a significant flaw in thinking when he writes, “In addition, whose agency is being violated by the redistribution of wealth by a democratically controlled government?” This teaches that anything is justified by a democratic majority. We do not live in a Democracy!! We live in a Republic! Did the author just say it is just for me to take your money as long as our representatives were democratically elected? What if the majority decided to put the author in front of a firing squad? Would this be ok? Would agency be violated? After all it was done democratically.

    “Give me Liberty or give me death!” Yes, we should all rather die than violate others rights in order to provide securities and comforts. Reading the comments, many people disagree here. I will give you my food if you are starving. But I will not forcefully take your food for someone else who is starving. Big difference! I can choose to be charitable, but it is not just to force others to be charitable. Our purpose on earth is not to merely exist physically. If it were than a Socialist system that put enough food on the table and a roof over our heads would be sufficient. But it is more important that we learn principles of work and charity (contrary to the comments, socialism has nothing to do with charity).

    “If the Constitution is an inspired document, then it would seem that the state is an appropriate vehicle for the transformation of society.” The Constitution was not created to promote anybody’s idea of social reform. It was set up to protect rights, nothing more, nothing less.

  8. J. Madson says:

    Bob,

    you may want to consider that the flaw in thinking you observe may not be a flaw but a difference in opinion over what is a right. The author may not believe property is a “right” whereas life is.

    As to democracies, yeah the US is a republic which is a representative democracy. We do democracy through representatives because on like the Greek Polis we are large and it would be very unmanageable. But lets not pretend that we are not a democratic form of government.

  9. Jason b says:

    Dear Brother Bob,

    thanks for the comments. Its great to discuss these ideas. This post isn’t my most powerful argument. But I would like to take this opportunity to continue the discussion with you. I can see that you hold some very common LDS viewpoints.

    I tend to agree with you that both right and left ends of the political spectrums have their versions of totalitarianism. Which is why i tend to agree with the anarchist writers more than communists or facists.

    In this article i was attempting to balance the radical views of church leaders who were such staunch enemies of communism. The irony of this fanatical viewpoint which was espoused by members of our own goverment (and today by asswholes like Glen Beck) was that in order to contain one form of totalitariansim we were perfectly willing to support any and all others.

    The quotes by Eugene Debbs suggest that there are valid socialist interpretations and parallels between socialism and the gospel, just as there are with libertarianism.

    I am interested in the tension between obligatory charity. I think you raise and interesting tension. The principle of free agency is a powerful one, but the economic exploitation committed by capitalism is a powerful mechanism for depriving people of agency by conficing them into wage-dependece based on a rigid social hierarchy. This is a common mistake i believe free-marketeers make. They assume that capitalism is simply the free exchange of goods and services, whereas i tend to agree with writers who see capitalism as a dominant SOCIAL system, not simply the ability of level economic playing field.

    i could comment more, but its getting late and i’m tired! respond if you’d like, but keep thinking!

    jason b

  10. If only I had a dollar for every time I came to themormonworker.wordpress.com.. Great read.

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