On brother Nibley and taking potshots at “the rich”

October 3, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 2:08 pm   Category: Money and getting gain,Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures

One of the popular sports among many Mormons is taking potshots at “the rich”. Hugh Nibley seems to have really gotten the ball rolling on this sport (perhaps unintentionally?) with some of his excellent essays found in the book Approaching Zion. Using many of Nibley’s arguments, some Mormons seem to immensely enjoy lobbing theological grenades at the ever-nebulous and faceless group, the rich. We have been discussing this very topic in the comments over at my recent post about the camel and the eye of the needle teachings in the New Testament.

The problem is that nobody seems to be willing to define the term rich. What makes one officially rich? Is it net worth? Is it annual income?

Are you among those who actually believe that being poor (please define poor too, btw) is morally and spiritually superior to being rich?

I have mentioned elsewhere that I have a Nibley hangover lately and it is things like this that have given it to me. It was fun to ride a high horse and look down on “the rich” for a while after reading his stuff but falling off that high horse seems to have given me a Nibley headache or something…

[Associated radio.blog song: ABC - How To Be A Millionaire]

43 Comments »

  1. Nibley said somewhere in “Approaching Zion” with regard to figuring out if you’re rich that “more than enough is more than enough”.

    Does that help? :-)

    Comment by Mark N. — October 3, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

  2. Rich is a comparative term, defined only by its context. I think all nearly all Americans are “rich” by third world standards. I guess that means that American Latter-day Saints are in a lot of trouble…

    Comment by Jordan — October 3, 2006 @ 2:36 pm

  3. Mark – No it doesn’t. (Though that pithy one-liner does inevitably get pulled out in these discussions so I’m glad you got it over with straighway.) “Enough” could mean “I’m not dead from starvation yet” after all.

    Jordan – Exactly the problem I have with this subject. Almost everyone see the rich as some undefined “them”

    Comment by Geoff J — October 3, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

  4. This is why the Book of Mormon is so important to understanding the doctrines presented in the Bible. When we read the parable of the needle’s eye and the warning to the “rich” in conjunction with Jacob 2:17-18, we can see that it does not really matter what “rich” means, the important issue is willingness to share whatever substance we have with our fellow man and to put the Kingdom of God first in all of our endeavors:

    17. Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.

    18. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.

    In the parable, the man was unwilling to seek the kingdom of God first by giving up what he had. Thus, it does not matter what “rich” is, it matters what the state of our hearts and minds is with regards to whatever material goods we have.

    Maybe when people blanketly condemn the “rich,” they are really just using that as a proxy for those who set their hearts more on obtaining worldly goods than on blessing their fellow man.

    Now, how they can possibly judge this is another matter. I don’t think they can. For example, I have a very wealthy aunt and uncle who live in a very large home and purchase expensive things. An uninformed outsider might blanketly hurl the “rich” label at them, even meaning it in the sense that they assume worldly things are more important than spiritual things based on my aunt and uncle’s material possessions. However, their outsider’s judgment would be misplaced, since my Aunt and Uncle donate loads of money to all sorts of worthwhile causes, as well as using their money to help less fortunate members of their family and community (we have also been on the receiving end from time to time).

    Comment by Jordan — October 3, 2006 @ 3:15 pm

  5. Mark N (#1),

    Ah yes, the wisdom of tautology. I was glad you added a big smiley.

    Comment by Jacob — October 3, 2006 @ 3:29 pm

  6. Jordan,

    I think that is a very sensible way to look at this. It is similar to the reading I gave the Camel and Needle passage in my recent post — that is that the analogy is really about living the law of consecration and not about net worth or income at all (I still need to post on the nuts and bolts of living the law of consecration too…). But commmenter Jonathan N disagreed with this approach — that is why I wrote this post. I wanted to see if anyone was actually willing to define the term “rich” or if it is really just a code word for “people who have more money than me and who I feel justified in looking down on”.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 3, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

  7. Oh- I hadn’t read that post. But it seems difficult to me to come up with any other reading (besides the one in your post and in my comment), especially when one reads the biblical passagein conjunction with Jacob’s sage advice.

    Comment by Jordan — October 3, 2006 @ 4:18 pm

  8. Geoff,
    I’ve never witnessed a transition from Nibley groupie to free thinking enlightenment. Impressive. He was always a passe soft headed socialist naked emperor to me and I never understood his groupies. I remember on my mission even Elders without testimony were shocked to hear me say Nibley was a big fake. You’ve renewed my faith in the power of reason and critical thinking.

    Comment by Steve EM — October 3, 2006 @ 6:29 pm

  9. You know who is rich?

    Anyone with more money than me.

    Comment by Seth R. — October 3, 2006 @ 6:34 pm

  10. There’s an honest answer Seth. As I mentioned, I suspect that is how most people actually define the term.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 3, 2006 @ 8:27 pm

  11. Steve EM,

    I still like the majority of Nibley’s essays very much. I think he is quite inspired and anything but soft headed (though there may very well be something to the socialist charge). I have just concluded that he asks a lot of leading questions about “the rich” and leads all sorts of people down a non-charitable path when it comes to judging those who have more money than them.

    Perhaps I’ll post on some specific essays at some point. For instance, his “Zeal without knowledge” (which is in Approaching Zion) is a masterpiece I think. The church is better because of it. But I do think there is danger in taking everything he says as the truth.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 3, 2006 @ 9:27 pm

  12. I know who is rich. All of us. I’m not exactly a communist :-) and I couldn’t possibly live the total law of consecration / united order or whatever (please forgive my lack of terminology), but until we all have the same level of comfort and access to proper food, medical care, education, living conditions, clean water, and so forth, anyone who has more substance than another is “the rich.”

    I’m babbling, but allow me to let this out; last week and this week I’ve been undergoing a major spiritual crisis dealing with the fact that I am a “have”, and I am living amongst (and even with) the “have nots”. This has been terribly hard (cue violins), and it’s sort of some weird guilt. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination rich in terms of America. We don’t own a nice house, have no pension plan, etc., but compared to our housekeeper, we have so much. We pay her a competitive salary, give her room and board, and still, I feel terrible buying myself anything or going on vacation. Am I supposed to give up family vacations because her family that she is helping to support is poor? I don’t know! Maybe I am! But, of course, this is a major downer, and most people aren’t confronted by the reality of having someone in your house come crying to you every so often about how they are suffering because they don’t have enough money, problems are mounting, etc. I sound callous, but I am giving her a job and food and all that. We have lent her more money than we’ve ever lent to anyone in our lives, and yet… the unfairness of it all is a harsh and ugly reality. I’m not sure how far I need to go — sublimate every and all personal desires of my own until I have nothing and give no financial support to my own family?

    It’s a hard call, but I think until we all have the same and none of us is lacking, we are all rich and need to examine ourselves very closely and figure out what it really means to be like Christ. We’re all guilty!

    Comment by meems — October 4, 2006 @ 4:49 am

  13. meems,

    I think that is a one way people define “rich”. At least that approach is not as hypocritical and self-serving as the “anyone who has more than me” definition that seems to be so popular. However the approach you are currently using tends to lead to a lot of self flagellation and can even lead to self loathing I think. That is problematic.

    One thing that dawned on me as I explored the path that you are currently exploring is that by that definition even Jesus was rich. So my thought was that if it was ok for him to have more money and comforts than others who were in his community then that fact alone must not be a sin after all.

    The problem with that approach is that the only solution is to make oneself as poor as the poorest person on earth (or at least as the poorest person in your extended community). But that is a totally untenable solution. And God doesn’t seem to want that at all. As I read the revelations I have concluded that being a “have” is clearly not evil — but it does carry responsibilities. (This is true for having knowledge or talents or money/stuff too. I think that is what the Law of Consecration is all about.)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 4, 2006 @ 7:57 am

  14. “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” D&C 59:21

    I’ve railed against riches on many occasions, but it’s not really the riches I’m opposing so much as the attitude that accompanies them.

    My feeling is that most of us are far too complacent in our attitude towards our worldly possessions. Too often protestations that “money isn’t evil” is simply a shallow attempt to avoid feeling uncomfortable about our own wealth. It’s the pat answer that gets thrown out in Sunday School to soothe troubled consciences.

    As Mormons, we need to get used to the idea of being uncomfortable with our standing before God. We must NEVER get comfortable with the idea of having worldly possessions.

    Chances are, if you aren’t uncomfortable with your wealth, you aren’t using it properly. If you aren’t painfully aware of your riches, there is no possible way you can be properly thankful for them. In which case, according to D&C 59, you stand in offense before God.

    Comment by Seth R. — October 4, 2006 @ 8:04 am

  15. Geoff,

    I appreciate the stance you are taking against self-flaggelation. But that doesn’t change the words of King Benjamin that we are “unworthy creatures” and stand in “nothingness before God.”

    It seems to me that what you are truly seeking is the line between “humility” and “gratuitous self-loathing.”

    Comment by Seth R. — October 4, 2006 @ 8:07 am

  16. What makes one officially rich?

    Being envied.

    Though I think Meems has it right “I know who is rich. All of us.

    What Nibley was preaching against was not “the rich” as “the other” but “the rich” as us and our choice whether or not to exploit the earth or to husband it.

    He felt that message to be a burden that afflicted him when he would rather write and teach on other topics.

    (I was there for a speech or two by him on those topics).

    If you read him as calling others to repentence, you are missing the point, he meant everyone, all of us, including himself, especially himself.

    Nibley had some core experiences. WWII and the realization of the difference having U.S. Citizenship made. Visiting the presiding bishop in the Hotel Utah and having him state that if an angel came through the door he would throw himself out the window over shame at the sins he had committed by his extortionate use of the earth (a topic of conflict between his mother and grandmother and his father and grandfather in lumbering off old growth forest).

    There are others.

    But he saw all of us torn between the desire to exploit others and the earth for wealth the the command to deal with kindness towards others and with responsibility towards the earth.

    I think that “It was fun to ride a high horse and look down on “the rich” ” is to miss the point, which is why I expect you have a hangover now.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — October 4, 2006 @ 8:36 am

  17. Seth: but it’s not really the riches I’m opposing so much as the attitude that accompanies them.

    Do you think an objectionable attitude always accompanies riches?

    You say we should “NEVER get comfortable with the idea of having worldly possessions” but this still does not explain what we should do instead. Is living life where we constantly deeply uncomfortable about having sufficient food and shelter the solution you are suggesting? That doesn’t sound very useful to me… In fact it sounds like a form of mental self flagellation. Do you really think that being humble entails a perpetual state of serious discomfort? What ever happened to “come unto me all ye that are heavy laden and I will give you rest”? That doesn’t sound uncomfortable to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 4, 2006 @ 9:52 am

  18. Stephen,

    I think you are referring to different essays or different parts of essays than I am. (Nibley wrote and said an awful lot after all.) I also have very much enjoyed Nibley’s concerns about properly caring for the earth and not pillaging it for personal gain. Sustainability seems like a God-like ideal to me. But there is clearly plenty of rich-folk bashing that goes on in other parts of his preaching. That is the stance I am dealing with here.

    I also should point out that the definition of being rich you suggested doesn’t really work. We can’t control who envies us or not. Being envied by someone is not a sin — the one doing the envying is the one the scriptures warn.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 4, 2006 @ 9:58 am

  19. As for positive suggestions, I’ve been thinking of doing a blog post on this for some time. Hopefully I’ll get to it in the near future.

    I don’t know Geoff. Discomfort and comfort are both pervasive themes in the scriptures. How to separate the two is quite a trick. Your guess is probably as good as mine.

    Comment by Seth R. — October 4, 2006 @ 9:58 am

  20. Does anyone remember the general conference where someone taught that we should pay enough fast offering so that we will go without something we otherwise would have bought? Obviously that is open to immense personal interpretation, but I have thought about it a lot over the years. It seems to me that the rich who are in trouble are the ones who will not let God lead them in the use of their riches. Without God, riches are a problem. With God, all things are possible.

    Comment by Hal H. — October 4, 2006 @ 10:56 am

  21. Are we “rich” when we give ourselves all or most of the credit for our success, wealth, etc. rather than being constantly aware that all the things we have are blessings from God?

    But then how do you define poor? Someone who for whatever reason isn’t being blessed?

    Comment by C Jones — October 4, 2006 @ 11:54 am

  22. I think my definition of rich has evolved to someone who doesn’t have to worry about having enough money to make ends meet, including having sufficient funds to pay for emergencies, higher education, future missions, retirement, etc.

    Comment by Téa — October 4, 2006 @ 11:57 am

  23. Hal H,

    I do remember someone bringing it up in conference, but I think C.S. Lewis gets credit for making that idea famous (if I remember, the talk made mention of him on that point, but I could be wrong). I personally subscribe to that as good counsel, but a person can give enough in charitable offerings to make sure they go without something and still be rich when compared to the average. That is where Jordan’s comment (#4) works in for me; some people will think his aunt and uncle are to be blamed, even though they give away a lot of money.

    This also seems to be the source of meems’ crisis (#12). I think meems is on the right track, for the most part. We should struggle with these things, especially when there is someone in our immediate circle of influence. It is important to remember, of course, that giving more and more money to the housekeeper is not necessarily a good thing for her (the housekeeper). Bishops have to struggle with this all the time as they try to figure out how to dispense fast offering funds in a way that will help people. It is important to me that the church welfare system dispenses money based on principles which help a person to become self-sufficient. It is a tricky business figuring out how to wisely share our wealth.

    Comment by Jacob — October 4, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

  24. A few observations.

    Anyone who has to sell their labor is not rich, to say nothing of those who make installment payments on anything.

    Money isn’t inherently evil, but neither is it inherently good. It’s an amoral tool of a temporal world that can be used for good and evil. Clear enough.

    Riches denote neither virtue nor vice–you know what they say about the just and the unjust in a rainstorm. However, as Jordan mentioned above, we only know we are rich when compared with others, which in turn seems to suggest that wealth requires inequality to be meaningful. Perhaps this connotation of inequality is what makes wealth a sensitive topic with some who would lead a moral life.

    In addition, there’s probably a notion of entitlement (I work hard for what I have, therefore I deserve/have earned it) wrapped up in there somewhere that could create moral dissonance for sincere tithe payers. Something along the lines of: “If in paying tithing I’m giving the Lord back 10% of what is actually His, what claim do I really have on the Escalade in the driveway?” A legal claim is easy enough to sort out, it’s the moral one that’s squishier. Diverting some of the excess to the Work seems to help a lot of people stake that one out.

    Comment by Peter — October 4, 2006 @ 12:46 pm

  25. Hal – we should pay enough fast offering so that we will go without something we otherwise would have bought

    Unfortunately two meals (or one and a half in many cases) meets this criteria.

    C Jones – First, welcome back! Long time no read. I think that changing the definition of the word rich is a good approach mostly because the strictly monetary usage is apparently impossible to properly define. (I did a similar thing in my recent Came and Needle post).

    Tea – Welcome back to you too. Your definition of rich sounds like a wonderful thing that all the saints should strive for. It sounds like a lovely variety of prosperity to me. But then that idea is at odds with those who love to take pot shots at “the rich”.

    Jacob: It is a tricky business figuring out how to wisely share our wealth.

    Indeed. In contrast to the rich bashers we have the other extreme from 20th century apostles and prophets warning against the evils of the dole. That Heber J. Grant quote gets pulled out nearly yearly in conference still:

    Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people help themselves.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 4, 2006 @ 1:32 pm

  26. Peter,

    Welcome to the Thang. A few responses:

    Anyone who has to sell their labor is not rich, to say nothing of those who make installment payments on anything.

    I tend to agree with you. How many of us actually own ourown homes? The bank still owns mine and will for many years as I try to pay off my mortgage. But this is a very different view of the word rich than most people would take.

    Good thoughts about the “squishier” moral questions too.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 4, 2006 @ 1:55 pm

  27. i can define “poor.” In the US, anyone who doesn’t have health insurance is poor no matter how much money they earn, because they are one accident or illness away from being wiped out financially. Medical bills are the most common reason for bankruptcy.

    Seth R wrote

    As Mormons, we need to get used to the idea of being uncomfortable with our standing before God. We must NEVER get comfortable with the idea of having worldly possessions.

    This does not make much sense to me. Nothing is more comfortable than the confirmation of the Spirit that something is from God. Are we allowed to be comfortable with other answers to prayers? I would think so. Then why would we be uncomfortable if we pray for a better-paying job and get it?

    FWIW, my family is pretty comfortable financially (and yes the mortgage is even paid off). It’s been 10 years since we had to worry about money, a state that came on rather suddenly. And for those 10 years, one or both of us has had what I think of as a “3-night a week” calling–serving in bishoprics, relief society president, high council, etc. And we’ve had it revealed to us that in our particular case (I’m not claiming this works for everyone!) the financial ease is a blessing so that we can worry about other things.

    For us, we would be more “comfortable” being a clerk or secretary and having far fewer financial blessings, but not having to cringe whenever we walk into the house and see the answering machine light blinking.

    But as disciples of Jesus Christ we do what we are asked to do, and accept the particular blessings that the Lord has for us.

    Comment by Naismith — October 4, 2006 @ 4:24 pm

  28. Sorry, Geoff, guess I don’t load my shotgun on this one… ;)

    I have two more thoughts, one from my Dad and one from my former step-dad’s favorite TV show.

    My Dad is of the opinion that subsidizing people who are trying to better themselves is money saved in the long run. He appreciates the emergency net aspect of welfare along with the hand-up. We’ve certainly had occasion for both in my life.

    And now, for the wisdom of Sanford & Son:
    Lamont Sanford: Pop, that’s what the welfare thing was setup for: for people in financial trouble. What do you think we pay taxes for? We’d just be taking advantage of something that was setup for people like us.
    Fred Sanford: What do you mean ‘people like us’?
    Lamont Sanford: Poor people. The have nots.
    Fred Sanford: The have nots? Well if the have nots could get something from the haves and the haves gave the have nots half of what they have, then the haves would still be the haves but the have nots would be the have somethings.

    Comment by Téa — October 4, 2006 @ 4:32 pm

  29. Naismith,

    There’s a difference between gratitude and complacency.

    Comment by Seth R. — October 4, 2006 @ 4:53 pm

  30. Seth,

    You lost me with your last comment. What does it have to do with Naismith’s comment?

    Comment by Geoff J — October 4, 2006 @ 5:26 pm

  31. Thanks for addressing my concerns. I think you’re right that my attitude at the moment can lead to self-flagellation, and I certainly know that is not what HF wants for me, but at the same time, it’s a tricky business to know, “how much do I give?” and also it’s tricky to deal with the guilt of being born in a middle-class white suburban American neighborhood with opportunities where so many others have it worse. Why me? Why not me?

    Comment by meems — October 5, 2006 @ 12:59 am

  32. I wonder sometimes, did Nibley benefit from his grandfather’s rape of the environment? Was he a trust fund baby? Did grandfather’s money pay for Hugh to learn Latin, Greek, French, German, Arabic, Coptic, etc.? Just a thought.

    I heard a lecture by Nibley once with a question and answer period afterwards. Someone (I presume a student) asked him what profession we should all persue. HN answered that we should all be farmers as instructed in the Garden of Eden. The questioner then asked why Dr. Nibley was a college professor rather then a farmer. Unfortunately, I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t hear the reply.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — October 5, 2006 @ 4:18 am

  33. Geoff.

    The point was that we, too often, don’t make the needed distinction between the two and end up as complacent “all is well in Zion” types.

    Comment by Seth R. — October 5, 2006 @ 7:54 am

  34. I also should point out that the definition of being rich you suggested doesn’t really work. We can’t control who envies us or not. Being envied by someone is not a sin – the one doing the envying is the one the scriptures warn

    But I don’t think that being rich should be something we control, necessarily. I don’t see it as evil or wrong. But I do see it as relative. And the way you know who is rich is you know who is envied, and you also then know what measures wealth.

    I always liked the D&C where it warns the rich — and the poor who envy them.

    Unfortunately, I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t hear the reply.

    With any luck it was a funny one. Too bad you missed it.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — October 5, 2006 @ 3:02 pm

  35. I wonder sometimes, did Nibley benefit from his grandfather’s rape of the environment? Was he a trust fund baby? Did grandfather’s money pay for Hugh to learn Latin, Greek, French, German, Arabic, Coptic, etc.? Just a thought.

    Actually, they managed to go bust, so no, he didn’t.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — October 6, 2006 @ 7:51 am

  36. Nibley’s writing is so naive on these issues that it’s taken me years to get over my bias against him to actually appreciate his interesting insights on other issues (and even some of the issues hidden behind his off-putting tone/attitude on these issues). The issues of wealth, stewardship, choice of profession, economics, etc. all deserve far more consideration than Nibley’s dismissive diatribes on these topics….

    Comment by Robert C. — October 6, 2006 @ 11:34 am

  37. (#12) meems seems to have best captured Nibley’s approach to this question, which is really one of self-examination. And any discussion of Approaching Zion ought to include consideration of “Working Toward Zion” by Jim Lucas and Warner Woodworth.

    As for a definition of “rich,” the scriptures speak in terms of comparative wealth and willingness to share, and how much more specific than that we can get is up to each individual.

    I haven’t heard any “pot-shots” at the rich in church; the far more common discussion is admiring how successful so-and-so is. Likewise, I’ve not heard the term “rich” being used as “just a code word for ‘people who have more money than me and who I feel justified in looking down on,'” as Geoff put it.

    The scriptures are replete with discussions about being rich, as they are with many other obstacles to spirituality. One of the best is in Jacob, where he explains the legitimate reason to seek riches:

    2:17 Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
    18 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
    19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good-to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

    Like Nibley, the scriptures seem to ask us to look at ourselves, and our society, and ask whether we seek riches to do good, or to accumulate bigger portfolios, bigger and more houses and cars, and more exotic vacations?

    Comment by jonathan n — October 8, 2006 @ 4:42 pm

  38. jonathan, thanks.

    Peter, Anyone who has to sell their labor is not rich, to say nothing of those who make installment payments on anything.

    So, the orthopods I depose who are making 2-3 million dollars a year right out of residency, since they sell their labor, they are not rich.

    My parents served a mission in the Kenya Mission, most of it in Tanzania. To have enough to eat so that you had visible body fat, that made you rich.

    In Korea, where my dad was a kid (before the Korean war), any American was rich. Now, having been back for a mission there, my parents remarked that the reverse is almost true. Korea is much more prosperous now.

    I remember a friend, Bill Jackson, remarking that he was rich — he could buy fresh bread any day of the week without a ration and without waiting in line.

    I really think it is relative.

    Myself, I’ve chosen work that gives me free time. Unlike most of my peers, I have my weekends off, I go home at 5:30 almost every night, I don’t have to start work until 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. I walk my daughter to school every morning. I actually take my vacation. In terms that matter, I am rich, though I make a good deal less money than some of them.

    Interesting thoughts here.

    When my wife graduated, a lot of people expected us to move out of the ward, buy a pricier house, etc. We didn’t, and it still makes me think.

    But I think we are all rich.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — October 8, 2006 @ 7:52 pm

  39. Amen, jonathon n. That verse 19 is a hard one for me to read: are those the reasons I seek more money? Mostly I want to take care of my family, pay for braces for my kids, give them a good education, send them on missions. Oh, and eat well and buy books. I also want to accumulate food storage and other supplies, and it seems like our (mine and my husband’s) responsibility to provide for ourselves when we’re old and not leech off of society or our kids (though I wouldn’t feel too bad about leeching off the kids some).

    However, we here in the U.S. live remarkably well compared to the majority of the rest of the world, and while I’m taking care of my immediate family, I think I also have a great responsibility to give. I feel pretty strongly that we’re not supposed to wait until we have no money worries, or until our house is paid off, or until we have savings, before we help those less fortunate than we are. As long as we’re going out to eat, watching movies, living in heated and/or air-conditioned comfort, we need to remember those who aren’t. There are people living in “houses” with dirt floors and leaky roofs, who don’t have access to clean water. I don’t suggest that we should all dive down to some common level, but that we should always be trying to lift others up. I’m also not suggesting that we can all live at the same level, or that our national and international governments should try to enforce that. I am saying that we, as individuals, must try. Our souls are at stake; the way we treat the poor will matter a lot, even if they’re not directly in our line of vision.

    Geoff, I don’t think it’s very useful to try to define “rich” and “poor,” except to ask “How rich am I?” I think everything the scriptures have to say about wealth, riches, prosperity, etc., is meant for us. Maybe even specifically us as citizens of the United States. Bottom line: If we’re eating, living in a house, and clothed, there’s something we could be doing for the poor. (The poor being defined as “anyone who has less than I do, especially if it’s basic needs”.)

    Comment by Erin — October 8, 2006 @ 8:22 pm

  40. Jonathan: I haven’t heard any “pot-shots” at the rich in church;

    Good point. I actually never hear them at church either. And I agree with you that it might be more likely to hear hints at the opposite in a normal church setting. I was talking about the Mormon blogging world when I said taking pot shots at the rich is a popular sport. I see such things pretty regularly around the bloggernacle.

    One of the best is in Jacob, where he explains the legitimate reason to seek riches:

    This comment is question begging since we have not defined what riches means yet. What do you mean when you say “seek for riches”? Do you mean get a job (any job) that pays money? Even if it is providing food and shelter for yourself and your family? Or does seeking for riches mean something else entirely as you are using it here?

    I think it is highly likely that the key to that passage from Jacob is the time and energy we spend in our “seeking” rather than the riches part. That is, the problem is not specifically in seeking “riches” (whatever that means) but in seeking anything that is not God. Lest you think I’m making that up, Elder Maxwell and President Faust have repeated this quote in their sermons:

    If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 8, 2006 @ 10:45 pm

  41. Erin: I feel pretty strongly that we’re not supposed to wait until we have no money worries, or until our house is paid off, or until we have savings, before we help those less fortunate than we are.

    I very much agree. My solution to this is to give a generous fast offering every month. Of course “generous fast offering” is also undefined here, but hopefully we each individually can counsel with God and agree on a generous offering that is not a reckless or imprudent offering.

    But I believe we should not beat ourselves up for using our resources to feed and and clothe and shelter our own families at any time; even though there are starving people in the world. I am thinking of that verse in 1 Timothy about caring for our families:

    But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 8, 2006 @ 11:12 pm

  42. Thank you all for the interesting dicussion. I have nothing much to add, but have been mulling this topic over in my head for years. Am I justified in buying the TV? The car? The house? How much is too much? Years ago we were so embarrassed over a new car we had just purchased that the stake president (a good friend) took me aside and scolded me. He said there was no need for us to feel that way in our circumstance.

    No, it wasn’t a Lambourgini or a Jag. It was the very bottom end Lexus. But it was the first time we had purhcased any car that had more than Consumer Reports-style function and cost efficiency. To some extent, it was an indulgence to accommodate my husband’s commuting.

    Since then we have sometimes scrimped and sometimes overindulged. It’s not always easy to tell the difference at the outset.

    Comment by Alison Moore Smith — October 10, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

  43. I am really rich. As the economy gets worse and worse, the richer and richer I feel/appear.

    I am currently not receiving any income, neither is my husband. We have been laid off for several months!

    We bought a home 10+ years ago for $14,500 (manufactured home, three bedroom, two bath). It is paid off. Our total monthly expenses are $450.

    We have food storage so no grocery bills (I DID buy 3lbs of apples today on sale! What a treat!). I am riding the bus instead of driving ($35 for 4 months of bus fare), but I don’t have to BE anywhere.

    We can pay our bills with no income for well over a year. I know MANY others with huge homes and mortgages, fancy cars, cool toys, etc, who are struggling more than we are; not just struggling, but losing everything. Somehow, they never could afford to buy food storage. They can’t feed their families. They are extremely poor and needy.

    We also got extra clothing when we could as well as games, books, bicycles, etc.

    We can go out to eat a few times per month, although we now share an entree instead of buying two, and usually get take-out instead of dining in.

    Do we pay much tithing? Not anymore. This is where I worry. Many people now have NO income and more people need assistance. I trust the money will come somehow. I hope more people are prepared nation-wide than they are in our ward (about 10% of active members), but I doubt it.

    We are RICH! We feel SUPER rich! If ye are prepared…

    Comment by Ellen — March 7, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

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