Scrooge and the problem of force

Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is one of the most horrendous of fictional characters. Asked by two “pleasant,” “portly” gentlemen to donate to the poor, he refuses, saying that if they die it would decrease the “surplus population.” In short, he would rather see the poor die than release some of his money to help them.

But of course as we all know, Scrooge changes by the end of the book. Confronted with his own past and the realities around him, he becomes a beneficent and ebullient donor, a truly changed man. The things that seemed ridiculous to him in the past, helping those in need and being kind to family and friends, suddenly seem of prime importance to the new Scrooge.

But notice that Scrooge is never forced to change. None of the ghosts compel him to become virtuous. No government official comes and takes half of his money and gives it to the poor. Scrooge’s transformation is all about a voluntary change of heart. In this sense, his story is the most Christian story of all: he changes from CS Lewis’s tin soldier into a real man of flesh and bone, a person much more like the Savior himself.

Scrooge’s story would be completely meaningless if compulsion had been involved. We can imagine “Robin Hood” scenarios where “good” people come to take his money and give it away to the more deserving. But such scenarios seem ludicrous precisely because the point of the story is the beauty of Scrooge’s voluntary transformation. Christ does not want an unwilling, forced virtuousness: he wants us to come to Him because we are contrite and anxious to change.

We know compelled change is ludicrous because we rejected such a solution before. Modern-day revelation tells us that Satan offered us a chance to all be saved through the use of force. Instead, we all chose free agency, meaning we all accepted the very common sense notion that forcing us to be good does not change us in the long run. Scrooge forced to give his money to the poor would remain a miserable penny-pincher, resentful and filled with hate. Scrooge offered the chance to be good through persuasion becomes one of Christ’s disciples, a shining city on a hill showing the marvelous power of true Christian charity and love.

There is no true charity without free agency. People compelled to give are not charitable, in fact they are usually the opposite, unwilling, spiteful givers. There is no purity without free agency. People forced to be pure find ways to rebel against all that is good.

Joseph Smith showed us the way: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.” (D&C 121:41–42).

People who would compel others to do something — no matter how good and necessary it may seem to them — must face this reality: compulsion is not part of the Gospel. Forcing people to do what you think is virtuous does not make you virtuous. Just the opposite: it makes you a tyrant.

“When we undertake to…exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” D&C 121:37–39

You may believe that your desire to force others to do what you think is virtuous is “righteous.” In reality, Joseph Smith has shown that “almost all men” begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Are you the exception to this rule?

There is an alternate course: give people freedom. Allow them to learn on their own. We do not want a world of resentful Scrooges. Instead we want a world of the truly charitable, filled with the love of Christ and the desire to go throughout the world helping others because they truly want to.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

34 thoughts on “Scrooge and the problem of force

  1. Nice post. I want to comment on one specific aspect: Satan’s proposal of saving men through force. I once believed this. Most Latter-day Saints do, it seems.

    Then I read Satan’s War on Free Agency by Greg Wright, and I realized how wrong this position is. I consider this book a must-read for every Latter-day Saint. If you’re able to, definitely get a copy. It’s short, potent, and demolishes the assertion that Satan would have saved through force. Short version: he simply attempted (and attempts) to remove accountability for sin, thus destroying agency. Seriously though, the book is well worth reading.

    As for Scrooge, the Mises Institute has had several intriguing posts on the character over the years which raise additional points worth consideration to add needed context, lest we simply dismiss him as a selfish old crank. Here’s one.

  2. “Behold, Satan sought to take away the free agency of man in the beginning, for which cause he was thrust out of heaven, and has sought to introduce the same principles upon the earth; which principles are opposed to me, to my institution and my laws, and to the freedom, the wel­fare and happiness of man, and by which principles the Government of the United States sought to deprive my people of their free agency; and because men have been under the influence and power and dominion of Lucifer, and because tyranny and oppression and misrule, and anarchy, deception and fraud forever prevail?

    “Verily, I say unto you, Nay; and for this introduced my Church and my Kingdom, that pure and righteous principles might be inculcated, and man, by his free agency, yield a willing obedience to my law;

    That’s from a revelation received by John Taylor. While it doesn’t say Satan’s plan was force outright, it seems pretty clear that it involved power and domjnion,etc while the opposite solution propsed is a willing obedience to God’s law.

    The idea consequence free choices, which would also subvert agency certainly, sounds like it would be part of that plan too. But I am not ready to give up on the reality Satans desire to bind and compell others to follow him simply because a persuasive book was written. Not bashing the book or the ideas in it as I think it likely represents some aspect of Satans plan as well…

  3. The interesting thing about Scrooge in his miserly old ways is that he is not portrayed as living the high life while others suffer. He says, “I don’t make myself merry at Christmas and I cannot afford to make idle people merry.”

    For all his amassed wealth he doesnt spend it even on himself and works in the same cold office Bob works in.

    The interesting thing about Scrooge then is how similar to Satan’s character he is at the beginning… he seeks for all men to be miserable like himself.

    It’s the change in heart, as pointed out, that fills him with a desire to raise up and bless the lives of those around him.

  4. That the government tax code is even a primary factor holding us back from the charity filled world you look forward to in your last paragraph, especially since people pay $0 taxes on dollars given to charity already, is one of those most empirically hollow frauds of libertarianism.

    Another one is lecturing our relatively representative and transparent government on the proper use of force. Taking the writings hosted by the Mises institute at face value, the libertarian prescription is a brutal free for all where might makes right (due to an unwarranted supposition that property rights are both natural and self-evident).

    Whatever our current social ills (about which we largely agree), libertarianism is a worse cure than the status quo, rooted a it is in the brutal pseudo-scientific (i.e praxeology) Modernism of Marxist-Leninism.

  5. I also question the libertarian utopia even though the principles we agreee on cross paths. No government will endure that is not based on consecration with God at the head (whether in belief/ideology or intact). So in this sense libertarianism would be leading us to a false promised land. Incidentally, the same can be said for captialism ans socialism…bummer

  6. I agree that voluntary giving is of course better than compulsive giving. But I don’t think that is the point of The Christmas Carol.

    The Christmas Carol, like many of Dicken’s novels, contains a muckraking aspect regarding the evils of capitalism during Industrial Revolution in 19th Century England. Dickens novels in turn contributed to the backlash that gave rise to Socialism.

    When the Ghost of Christmas Present opens his cloak, he reveals two sickly children. “They are your children. They are the children of all who walk the Earth, unseen. Their names are Ignorance and Want. Beware of them, for upon their brow is written the word ‘Doom.’ They spell the downfall of you and all who deny their existence.”

    This is one of Dicken’s most powerful metaphors. He is in effect saying that Scrooge is responsible, and will be held accountable, for the ignorance and deprivation in which his society exists, and of which he is doing nothing about. Other novels talk about the evils of the capitalism in which Scrooge participates, particularly with regards to children.

    It’s a much stronger message than voluntary encouragement for charitable giving. It is God, in the form of supernatural ghosts, warning Scrooge that he will be punished eternally unless he changes his ways.

  7. Nate, there is no doubt that Dickens describing many of the horrors of 19th century England, and he did so with a very sympathetic eye to many poor characters. But he also had a sympathetic eye to many rich characters (note the two wealthy gentleman voluntarily raising money for the poor at the beginning of “the Christmas Carol” are one example, but there are literally dozens of examples in his literature, including Scrooge’s first boss Fezziwig). Dickens was not a Socialist and would never have imagined a world where the government takes half — or more — of your income. He was not describing the “evils of capitalism” (the word “capitalism” was not common in Dickens” day); he was, like all good novelists, telling stories with real, believable characters who make both good decisions and bad.

    But more to the point of the post, Nate: do you believe you have the authority to compel others to be virtuous in the way that you personally favor?

  8. Geoff, I think that there is an element within the Christmas Carol that supports your point about voluntary giving. When Scrooge asks the men asking for donations: “Are there no workhouses, are there no prisons?” Perhaps we could say that Scrooge has decided there is no incentive to give, because government institutions already exist for these people.

    Regarding your question, I don’t really believe there is anything virtuous about paying taxes to care for the poor. Unless we do as Jesus said, “give your cloak AND your coat.” So if we pay above and beyond what we are compelled to give, then there is virtue.

    But I do believe elected governments have the authority to compel people to pay taxes for whatever social programs they deem proper for the overall good of society. But it is also your right to argue that those taxes are unjust or ineffective. It’s not about virtue. It’s not about eliminating guilt. It’s about doing something to help the poor. The government has a role, the people have a role. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

    You have a good point about the drawbacks of the social welfare state. In Europe there is less private charitable giving in part because the government has fostered a sense that people’s tax dollars are taking care of all of that. Then when the government cuts back, charity suffers, because appeals to the private sector fall on deaf ears. A culture of charitable giving by the populace has not been encouraged through tax deductions, etc.

    But even though I recognize the validity of your argument, I think it’s OK to have a balance. During the Industrial Revolution, Dickens paints a harrowing portrait of poverty and lack of upward mobility in pre-Socialist England. I think Dickens would have been thrilled to see the socialist innovations which later transformed England into it’s current, more “spread wealth” state. I also think we have a decent, working system here in the US, compared to where we’ve been. While it’s nowhere near perfect, I don’t think that eliminating the social welfare state and going back to the 19th Century model is the answer. Serious reforms are needed, but not serious cutting. Serious cutting is a political impossibility anyway. The people believe in the social welfare state.

    The message of the Christmas Carol is a message for both governments and individuals, that we are responsible for our children: Ignorance and Want.

  9. What I don’t quite understand with these takes is that the focus is always on the goodness of the rich person as if helping the poor was primarily about how good the giver is. Don’t get me wrong – worrying about our salvation is important. But if we are concerned about society rather than just the salvation of a few particular individuals then shouldn’t our focus be on how well that society is functioning?

    The underlying logic in these sorts of things appears to be that we should have a horrible society because then there are so many opportunities to be good (whether the individual chooses to or not).

    Now if instead we’re talking about society and how well it functions that’d be a great discussion. Sadly we never seem to get that. Rather we get a discussion of providing maximum opportunities for the rich to be good.

    Fortunately conservative philosophy avoids the twin poles of extremism (Libertarian focus only on the salvation of those already with the most opportunities and liberalism focus on ensuring people pick the right opportunities).

  10. I’d add that the classic charities from the Rockerfellers, Vanderbilts and so forth tended to put money only where the rich thought would be best for the poor – i.e. in arts and so forth. We can’t actually have the poor having the means to make their own choices. There is a certain liberal elitism of deciding for others in many types of charities. Charity as a kind of tyranny rather than simply making a society where opportunity is available for all and individuals can make their own choices.

  11. “What I don’t quite understand with these takes is that the focus is always on the goodness of the rich person as if helping the poor was primarily about how good the giver is.”

    Clark, isn’t this what the Gospel is about, ie, encouraging all people to be better? When I lived in Brazil, I knew a lot of people in my ward who made $200/month. And there were a lot more who made $100/month. The bishop in our ward lived in a hut in a favela and was unemployed for most of the four years I lived there. The people who made $200/month talked a lot about being charitable to the people who made less than they did, because they saw that they lived in a society where millions were poorer than they were, even though by our standards they were ALL as poor as you can get. So, where you see it defending the “rich,” I take all of the message of the Gospel as a message to all of us that we can give more to others. Scrooge is an extreme case: but all of us have aspects of Scrooge in our personalities. The true message is to voluntarily overcome those tendencies and to be happy, generous givers to the less fortunate.

  12. But Geoff the gospel isn’t about just encouraging a small group to be better at the expense of others. That’s what I object to.

  13. The role of force is to change behavior. Charity is about changing who you are. Scrooge changed his character due to new understanding, and his behavior followed. It’s the carrot vs the stick. The problem with sticks is that people get toughened up and then you need bigger sticks.

  14. Clark,
    Your theory seems to suppose that God placed us all in a condition of inequality, so a select few (Gods?) could choose to force everyone to equality, or at least more near to it. Is the point of all this life, so that a few of us can figure it out and require the rest of us to do what we have discovered to be “good”? Couldn’t God have just rearranged the distribution of goods from the start? It would seem God wants us to decide to follow His son, and persuade others to do the same.

    Fro D&C 38:

    for your salvation I give unto you a commandment
    (note, what better reason for a commandment! our salvation)

    I have heard your prayers, and the poor have complained before me, and the rich have I made, and all flesh is mine, and I am no respecter of persons.
    (I’ve made some of you rich, and the poor are praying for relief… should be pretty clear what the rich have to choose to do, but notice God made it this way)

    I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches…And I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts.
    (The wealth of this world is nothing compared to what is in store, IF we as individuals seek it, but you can’t receive it unless you use your agency righteously)

    Wherefore, hear my voice and follow me, and you shall be a free people, and ye shall have no laws but my laws when I come..
    (Hear and follow, be free, no laws but the Lord’s laws when he comes. None of this sounds like coericive force to achieve the Lord’s desired aims)

    I say unto you, teach one another according to the office wherewith I have appointed you; And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me.
    (Teach one another, persuade one another… to do what? To esteem your brother as yourself, and be virtuous and holy. I would think that esteeming our brother as ourself means not just being willing to do for others as we do for ourselves, but to actually go and do it. That would seem to imply helping our neighbor as individuals, and that “every man” should do it of their own volition, since we are to be a free people. Not just those who get it and require others to do so).

    What man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?
    Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.
    (Now we get a parable about the inequality in the world. God has no intent for us allow others -who serve him obediently apparently- to be clothed in rags and others to be clothed in robes. If we want to have any part of being united with God, which is what exaltation is all about, we have to be one and choose to exalt the poor by refusing to let them be clothed in rags, etc.

    I don’t see how we can construe the above verses to mean that God placed us in a world with inequality — inequality mostly created and perpetuated by men no doubt, so that a few of us could choose to bind others to do what God wanted in the first place. If God wanted laws that bound men to do things which achieve his results, then he could have done that on his own. But it wouldn’t serve much purpose, as the point is not to prove that God is just but for us to become like God by choosing to become just and merciful in his sense, and pleading and persuading others to be so.

  15. Thanks Geoff,
    But I just can’t help but see the influence of the adversary on both sides of these issues to our condemnation as a people. Instead of actually going and doing — becoming holy and virtuous by esteeming our brothers as ourselves, so many are instead arguing about the means and neglecting to actually go and do.

  16. Chris, I completely agree. I have been reading a tremendous amount of libertarian literature, and there are two large groups of people with different approaches to this issue. The first group is simply promoting selfishness, which is what many people see every time they see a libertarian. I find this tendency of libertarianism repugnant and evil. The other group, to which I belong ideologically, is very concerned about the growing tendency for people to think they somehow have the right to tell other people what to do. Many of the people in this group are religious and are concerned about encroachments on liberty from a religious perspective. The extension of this way of thinking, ie, that people have to right to order other people around, takes us down the road to fascism because you can always justify telling other people what to do because you are smarter, more experienced, more virtuous, etc. And when you point out that one step toward fascism brings you another step closer to a tyrannical world, the natural response of people who want to tell other people what to do is to mock you for bringing the issue up in the first place. This second group of libertarians believes in personal, voluntary giving to help the less fortunate but opposes the use of force (or wants as little of it as possible).

    Now, to be fair, there are also two tendencies within the group of people we should call “proponents of the state as a way of dealing with poverty.” One group simply is appalled by poverty and inequality and wants something done about it. I think this group is mostly well-meaning. They read the scriptures and see warnings about poverty and inequality and say, “something must be done about this — we should get together and do something.” The big problem with this approach, of course, is that it necessarily involves force. It is all about the collective “doing something” about inequality by forcing unwilling participants to do what the collectivists think is best. This violates the first principle of the gospel, which is free agency.

    The second tendency of statists is of course more tyrannical. It is about taking power, getting control, by appealing to the masses in a populist movement that involves the majority taking from the minority by force. This is a truly evil tendency, just as evil as the libertarians who appeal to selfishness. Both of these groups are completely antithetical to the Gospel in every possible way.

    What we need to do is find a balance between the two well-meaning groups. We need to realize that some money is needed to run society, but that the government must be much, much smaller if we truly want to honor property rights and avoid (as much as possible) the use of force against the minority.

  17. Your theory seems to suppose that God placed us all in a condition of inequality, so a select few (Gods?) could choose to force everyone to equality, or at least more near to it. Is the point of all this life, so that a few of us can figure it out and require the rest of us to do what we have discovered to be “good”? Couldn’t God have just rearranged the distribution of goods from the start? It would seem God wants us to decide to follow His son, and persuade others to do the same.

    I don’t quite see how you get that from my comments.

    Let me provide an analogy that is structurally identical to what Geoff outlines and maybe it will be clearer. Geoff’s presentation is basically the following:

    1. We should maximize the opportunities for goodness for people.
    2. Compelling people to help others reduces opportunities for goodness.
    3. Therefore we should never compel people to help others.

    Let’s reframe it in a nearly structurally identical way

    1. We should maximize the opportunities for goodness for people.
    2. It is better to choose good in the face of temptation than to choose good when easy.
    3. Having a safe good society reduces temptations.
    4. Therefore we should seek a society that maximizes temptation.

    Now some people might gripe about (2) however I think most say that someone who doesn’t swear simply because that’s the habit of friends isn’t doing as much as someone who refuses to swear when there are many incentives.

    Hopefully you can see the problem with (4).

    Really though that’s not my ultimate point. My point is simply that government shouldn’t be about maximizing people’s charity. That’s a horrible view of government in my view. Few would say, for instance, that we shouldn’t have any police to encourage communities to choose to be good on their own. We recognize that such a decision about righteousness might maximize choices but would lead to an unjust society. So what do we assume that functions of government that benefit certain people should also be done by charity? That’s just a bad argument.

    Now we can and should debate what the proper role of government is. But I fear this appeal to charity is one of the worst ways I can conceive of to do so.

  18. Geoff says, “This violates the first principle of the gospel, which is free agency.”

    I thought the first principle of the gospel was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And then, I can’t see how taxes take away our free agency. Jesus explains in the Sermon on the Mount that our rulers cannot rob us of our agency, because we can “go the second mile,” and give our “cloak and our coat.” No matter how much dominion is placed upon a person, it doesn’t take away a Christian’s free agency to submit themselves to God. Free agency is an unlimited reservoir in the mind and heart of each person, regardless of who their rulers are.

    Biblically, there are good masters, and there are bad masters. But masters in and of themselves are not evil, simply because they have slaves and exercise dominion. The only scriptural proscription against dominion is within the context of priesthood authority, and even there, it is only against “unrighteous dominion.” But even within the priesthood, there can be righteous dominion.

    In the Christmas Carol, Scrooge is warned by angels that he will be chained in hell eternally unless he changes his ways. How is this different than the IRS sending a warning that unless you pay your taxes, you will be thrown in jail?

    I’m not convinced that our hallowed doctrine of free-agency” supports a libertarian viewpoint. I see lots of Biblical evidence against libertarian views, given the nonchalance with which Christ and the apostles treat governments and slave owners. Joseph Smith himself was not an abolitionist, but chose to completely ignore the slave situation. If the gospel really supported libertarian views, then the Mormons would have been first to jump on the abolitionist bandwagon. But we weren’t. In my study of the scriptures, I’ve found that unless governments infringe upon the right to worship as we wish, there is by and large, a great Biblical and LDS indifference about the role of secular governments.

  19. And I also want to say I really think Clark makes an excellent point the logical fallacy inherent in the assumption that government involvement limits opportunities for charity.

    When we raise our children, we at first “force” them to do good things. We drag them along with us as we do charitable deeds. Then the children learn from our example. Likewise, when a society publicly declares “war on poverty” and uses a variety of means to try to eliminate it, including education, welfare, incentives for charity, laws and protections against abusing the poor, doesn’t this teach all of us that poverty is something that we should not tolerate and that we should all work to try and eradicate it?

    But what happens if a government does nothing for the poor, instead reminding people that capitalism takes care of them better than anything else? What kind of message does this send to the populace? Government priorities and propaganda profoundly influence the values of a society, just as parents do to children. Just look at all the mourning for Kim Jung-Il. When a society advocates a completely libertarian philosophy, then the people will adopt libertarian values.

    And Geoff mentioned that there are two different approaches to libertarianism, one which is very evil, and one which was righteous. However, if a government becomes completely libertarian, who’s to say that the evil, selfish version of libertarianism will overtake the selfless libertarianism?

  20. That wasn’t really my argument Nate.

    That said I think we have more than sufficient opportunities for charity in our society. Even if you completely oppose government programs you should quickly see that there are many, many needy people in your communities. The fact that their needs aren’t being met by charity ought inform the discussion.

    There’s no doubt that were Scrooge’s taxes used for helping the poor (or building roads or supporting a military) that it wouldn’t be counted to Scrooge for merit. That said that fact that Scrooge deserves no reward for the actions says nothing about whether the actions should be done.

  21. Nate, I think Elder Uchtdorf said it best.

    “There are many good people and organizations in the world that are trying to meet the pressing needs of the poor and needy everywhere. We are grateful for this, but the Lord’s way of caring for the needy is different from the world’s way. The Lord has said, “It must needs be done in mine own way.” He is not only interested in our immediate needs; He is also concerned about our eternal progression.”

    I’m not suggesting this is arguing for a libertarian method of government overall, but the ideal of the Lord’s way is what I focus my energy and efforts of persuasion on, which is persuading for individuals to have a change in heart and help people rather than to insist that others be taxed to provide entitlements.

  22. Chris, there’s no doubt the poor need spiritual support as well as temporal. I think it quite possible to handle both. To make this a “rather” seems highly problematic.

  23. So, again, we face the real issue here, which is who among us believes he has the moral authority to force other adult people to do what we believe to be virtuous, rather than allowing people to make their own mistakes and figuring out things on their own? Using parenting is a straw man because we all know we have a legal and moral responsibility to care for our own children. But just to use one example, we may believe it is OK (and a good thing) to make our own kids pick weeds in our yards, but this does not mean it is a good thing to make other peoples’ kids pick weeds in our yards, and in fact if you tried to do it you’d probably get arrested.

    People who ignore the moral quandary of force and compulsion are going down a very bad path, imho.

  24. Chris, I agree with Elder Uchtdorf’s basic point, which is that the Lord’s way is different than the world’s way. However, just because it is different, doesn’t necessarily amount to the Lord’s condemnation of the world’s approach. Nephi was commanded to build a ship, and the Lord told him how to do it. But that doesn’t mean that other men who built boats didn’t know what they were doing even though they might have had very different approaches to Nephi’s.

    The world is not concerned about eternal progression. They are concerned about immediate needs. This is very important, as most of the population of the world is not interested in the Celestial Law of eternal progression, but in embracing the comforts and compromises of the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms. It is their choice.

    The church is meant to help people get to the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. But who is going to help out all the people, the majority of humanity, who will not be going there, and who is not interested in the Celestial Kingdom?

    In my mind, there is nothing wrong with a Terrestrial government taking care of it’s own. We shouldn’t enforce Celestial expectations upon a Terrestrial populace. Let’s do our own thing, and let them do theirs. We can invite them to a higher road, but if they don’t take it, we shouldn’t cry out: “wickedness!” God has prepared a beautiful Terrestrial kingdom for them, and they are doing a great job of preparing for that kingdom, by embracing Socialist innovations, building equitable societies, nation building, encouraging middle class growth, the United Nations, and all other such Terrestrial activities. It’s a beautiful thing.

  25. I just read the Christmas Carol last night. I didn’t notice the libertarian subtext, perhaps because it isn’t there.

    Scrooge is shown a series of scenes meant to reform him. He has no choice. The Spirits make him go.

    Marley, at the beginning, tells Scrooge that if he doesn’t change his ways he will be forced to spend the afterlife in chains in a kind of imprisonment or forced servitude.

    The spirits make a point of showing Scrooge that he is mocked, disliked, and isolated because of his behavior.

    The last spirit threatens Scrooge with death if he doesn’t change his ways.

    So Scrooge’s “voluntary” charity is induced by forcible “re-education” propaganda, ostracism, and threats of imprisonment, servitude, and death.

    Granted, the spirits don’t physically move his limbs to dispense charity and inject him with a drug to involuntarily make him happy on Christmas Day. So I guess his actions are purely voluntary in at least that sense.

    If the Christmas Carol is supposed to be about politics, it apparently supports Maoism, not libertarianism.

    But I submit its not about Maoism or libertarianism or politics at all (except, if you read carefully, its against blue laws).

    I’m sympathetic to your point that government welfare tends to supplant private charity, that government taxation for charitable ends does not make the taxed charitable, and etc. But the Christmas Carol doesn’t really make that point.

  26. Geoff, I thought I had moral authority to force other adults off my land when they trespass. I thought I had moral authority to prevent them from raping, murdering or stealing from me or my family. All of these give me moral authority to compel others to do what is virtuous, by force if need be.

    I take issue with the conflation of government welfare programs with individual charity. Government welfare is intended to and does directly benefit the entire economic spectrum in our country. Welfare provides minimally healthy, fed, and educated workers to the owners of capital. It lessens the spread of disease among non-welfare recipients. It provides demand for the producers of goods when the business cycle is down. It keeps the poorest people in our society from harassing, stealing from, and sabotaging the capital of people like me. None of us are free from the taint of welfare’s benefits. The government has many utilitarian reasons for pursuing social safety net programs that have absolutely nothing to do with charity or compassion.

    So if you want to discuss welfare as a policy, it is dishonest to pretend that it is merely a substitute for private charity or religious compassion.

  27. “We shouldn’t enforce Celestial expectations upon a Terrestrial populace. ”
    Nate, we’re not, which is by and large why the prophets have spoken to the principles on this problem and let the people decide for themselves.

    Here’s an interesting talk, which President Uchtdorf is no doubt aware based on his own talk, which goes back 30 years ago from one who stood on the watchtower:
    http://lds.org/ensign/1976/11/in-mine-own-way?lang=eng

    Pres. Romney ended by quoting Pres. Clark,

    ““This land of ours is a chosen land to Joseph. I believe the promise applies here. In the Book of Mormon we are told what will happen to those who dwell on this land if they do not keep the commandments of God, if they do not worship Jesus the Christ who is the God of this land. He tells what will come to us when we are full of iniquity, and if we disobey that commandment of the Lord we are thus far under the condemnation which the Lord decreed, and we are thus far forward on the road to being full of iniquity.”

    President Clark concluded this particular discussion with this reminder:

    “I have given you what the Lord has said. We may use our agency as to whether we shall obey or disobey; and if we disobey we must abide the penalty.” ”

    I don’t have much to say other than while your aims may be just, since you are not suggesting we do it in the Lord’s way it will not turn out how the Lord would have it. I make it a goal to do what he would do, and try to suggest for others to follow the same path (not mine but his). I think the prophets have made it pretty clear over the decades on this issue what the path is, and the world has departed from it. Maybe society and even some in the church have given up in this regard and so the Lord no longer holds this over their heads as to avoid further condemnation for departing from the word…

  28. Chris, I know that various prophets, and even the Book of Mormon have spoken of the responsibility that secular governments (especially those “in the land of Joseph”) have towards God.

    But I think we have to recognize that God gives varying degrees of light and law to different groups of people. No one would condemn Obama for not being worthy of a temple recommend. He has not been given that Celestial law. But you are right that something is expected of Obama with regards to God. But what is it? How much is expected? How much light has he been given?

    That I believe is the important question. Do we believe, as Evangelicals claim, that the US is a “Christian” nation, and that our rulers are obligated to follow the Bible as a result? Or do we believe that our leaders are obligated to follow the “lesser law” of the Constitution, which, although it is not the Celestial Law, was nevertheless an inspired document? The Constitution has it’s roots, not in the Bible, but in secular humanism, which also can be described as a kind of “lesser law:” a degree of light and knowledge given through the Greek philosophers, and built upon by wise men over the ages.

    God even gives “lesser laws” to His church, like the Law of Moses. And even the church today does not obey the fullness of the Law of Consecration.

    So you are right, societies do have a responsibility towards God. But it’s hard to define exactly what that responsibility is, because God has given lesser degrees of light, and lesser degrees of responsibility to each person, and each society. When we try to impose too much of our “celestial law” upon societies who may not necessarily be under the law, I think we may sometimes be judging them unjustly.

  29. Chris, I’m not quite sure what you are saying. Do you recognize a distinction between what the Lord is trying to accomplish with his Church and Gospel and what the State is attempting to accomplish? Can you reconcile there being a difference between the two?

    Geoff, who is attempting to force people to be virtuous? I don’t quite understand this inability to look at government programs from any perspective except the wealthy paying taxes and what they are giving up (and ignoring even the services they are provided). Please recognize that by your same reasoning we should look at roads, police, fire departments, military and all other government programs merely as an imposition on those who could otherwise do those functions on their own as charity. I have to confess this way of looking at the world is completely inexplicable to me.

    Once again we can debate what services the state should or shouldn’t provide but this line of reasoning just isn’t the way to do that. It’s not even an argument for libertarianism. It’s an argument for anarchists.

  30. DCL, comment #27, you are making my point for me. Of course you have the right to defend yourself from people who want to take stuff from you or hurt you. And your neighbors have exactly this same right.

    So, let’s say you decide it is important to give money to people you have decided need the money more than your neighbor. And let’s say you hire a group of thugs to go do this for you. They come back with $1000 that they took from your neighbor, and then you go give it to a poor person that you believes deserve this money. Is this morally right, yes or no?

    Clark, you have tried valiantly to change the subject of this post. Your comments have dealt with a lot of subjects that this post is not about. I already answered the questions you raised (which were tangential to the point of this post in the first place) in number 11. Christ calls on all people to be charitable, not just the rich. Haven’t you ever heard of the story of the widow’s mite? ALL people are supposed to be charitable in every way they can, but they are supposed to be charitable voluntarily of their own free will and choice. So, I will try one last time, and then I will give up. Do you have the moral authority to force other people to be virtuous, yes or no? And if you do, what gives you this authority?

  31. It’s very strange that using nothing but persuasion to encourage others to live up to what the Lord wants is being labeled as “imposing celestial law”. So suggesting that it is not the correct course of action to dole out entitlements we are seen as “imposing” a standard of living on people. And yet the alternative is passing laws in the name of requiring transfer payments and services to others, which includes little to no expectation of self-effort or self-improvement, or if it does it surely isn’t working, and likely having the opposite effect.

    I do not know where to draw the law and I don’t go as far as some to claim that any kind of assistance is bad or wrong. I think in the name of pragmatism, we’ll probably end up doing unprincipled things as a fallen society, just like possessing weapons of mass destruction is the correct pragmatic decision contrary to our principles in a fallen world. But if we’re discussing pragmatism, we also have to look at it from the opposite direction as well. You can’t just say let’s be pragmatic and be “charitable” (although what we do is a far far far cry from the pure love of Christ) via government institution and then ignore the pragmatic effects of those entitlements, based on the overall cost to society — increase costs for all consumers, increase incentive to receive entitlements, decreased incentives to risk, innovate, work, etc.

    The fact of the matter is, we have very real evidences of what an American society looks like where vast entitlement programs do not exist. And it didn’t include people starving in the street, and did include people helping each other and turning to private charities. And I sincerely believe that we’d be even better at helping people in this day and age then we were in the past if we could just get the inefficient, self-defeating bureaucracies out of the way. Pragmatically, the US government has spent $16 trillion on poverty programs in the last 40 years – According to his link http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/08/the-unsustainable-growth-of-welfare

    The problem has grown perpetually worse and I submit it’s precisely because we are not doing it the Lord’s way.

  32. Chris, I shouldn’t have said “imposing Celestial Law.” What I meant to say was that we judge people unrighteous when we measure them against Celestial Law, if that law is not given to them.

    Your last comment makes sense to me, and I absolutely agree. Pragmatism is the language of secular government. Yes, we do live in a fallen world, it’s difficult to know where to draw the line, and yes, our efforts are bound to be imperfect and backfire.

    What we do in the church (regarding welfare) can certainly help to inform policy makers and voters about instituting better methods of government welfare. Many secular and non-religious politicians already have ideas about reforming welfare in ways that look similar to the way our church does it. But when discussing welfare outside a church context, we should use the language of pragmatism, rather than the language of righteousness and wickedness, which the secular world cannot understand, and which may not apply to them in the same ways it applies to us.

  33. Sorry Geoff – honestly wasn’t trying to change the subject. I guess I misunderstood the point you were after. I had, however, already said you can’t force people to be virtuous. To me this is just a logical necessity. To be virtuous is to act in a way where you are praiseworthy. But one can’t praise someone for doing something they have no choice in, just like we wouldn’t blame someone who did something but couldn’t have done otherwise. To me the issue isn’t charity but just the nature of just deserts.

    I think the point about force being used against Scrooge by God with the ghosts and whatnot is a good one though. Of course I also wondered that about the angel and Laman and he still chose to be bad. So to me it’s more of the nature of degree rather than an absolute thing.

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