Getting Everything Wrong (Even What He Gets Right)

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

The October 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine features as its cover article a lengthy, provocative, at times insightful, but mostly wholly tendentious anti-Mormon screed by Chris Lehmann, entitled “Pennies from Heaven.” Lehmann’s thesis basically boils down to 1) Mormon doctrine conveys a particularly pure version of the “prosperity gospel,” in which the tightly organized collective acquisition of non-speculative wealth (mostly gold or land) is held up as the ideal characteristic of God’s chosen people, and 2) this ideological mix of piety and material plenty has spread through the Tea Party movement and into the mainstream of the Republican party, with Mormon presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman being exemplary contributors to this continuing economic conversion. This thesis–both parts of it–is, to put it plainly, complete balderdash. At one point Lehmann, in criticizing the Tea Party, speaks of their “tortured and largely confabulated vision of the Founding Fathers” (p. 36); the exact same sentence could be used to describe how he treats what he calls “Mormon economics,” or indeed how he treats Mormonism itself. Even when he touches on an important point or two that could contribute to a thoughtful story about the unfortunate alliance between much of contemporary American Mormonism and the G.O.P.’s free-market fetishization, he still manages to get the actual argument wrong.

In short, Lehmann’s piece is the very model of the modern, high-brow anti-Mormon essay: one which purports to wrestle with a heavy and challenging thesis, of the sort which the much-discussed “Mormon moment” makes relevant to public discourse, and while so doing does manage to generate a fair amount of insight…but then shines that illumination in overwhelmingly false directions, ones that the author apparently has neither sufficient awareness nor ability to be able to double-check. Alan Wolfe’s “White Magic in America”, a fascinatingly wrong-headed excursion through Mormon history from more than a decade ago, in which Stephen R. Covey’s organizational mantras presented the theological key to understanding the faith, is another example of such intellectual confusion; Lehmann unintentionally aspires to that level of baseless thesis-mongering, and he very nearly reaches it. Rebutting Lehmann, therefore, requires more than just pointing out all the ways which many of his claims are wrong; you have to talk about how he misunderstands, or just plain misses out on, all the claims that he actually gets right.

Not to say that you can’t write a long piece focusing just on what he gets wrong; Hal Boyd did just that for the Deseret News, and he did a thorough job of it too. Very simply, Lehmann’s reading (assuming he actually did read it, which is doubtful) of the “prosperity cycle” in the Book of Mormon is patently ridiculous. Even if some libertarian economics professor with good Mormon connections says that the dramatic tale of the Nephite people developing themselves economically, and then suffering tragic reversals as they grow in pride and selfishness, and then ultimately ending their existence as a people in, as Boyd puts it, “utter destruction,” is really just an example of the “business cycle” in operation (p. 34)…well, that doesn’t make it true. It’s just not true, on any reading of church history, that Joseph Smith’s purported “awe of gold” (forgive me for not taking seriously such thoroughly discredited works as those of Fawn Brodie and John L. Brooke here) became part of “a theology of New World abundance” (p. 35). The Book of Mormon can, of course, be read in all sorts of diverse ways, as any scripture might be. But Lehmann is simply making stuff up when he draws connections from the Book of Mormon–building upon such misreadings as the notion that Jacob 2:17‘s reference to “your brethren…[becoming] rich like unto you” is comparable to some Kiwanis Club notion of corporate do-gooding, whereas it is actually a condemnation of wealthy Nephites who dressing in fine clothes, putting on airs, and failing ” to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:19)–to the idea of a whole religion that draws its adherents together through a promise of God’s approval of material wealth. The fact that the American Mormon economic thinkers he cites “don’t really experience any such tensions” over the idea of wealth accumulation (p. 37) is an indictment of those Mormon thinkers themselves and the American Mormon political culture in which they are doing their thinking (and not even an accurate one, at that; Lehmann makes no mention of influential Mormons like the liberal Democrat Harry Reid or the quasi-socialist Hugh Nibley), not an indictment of the religious texts at the heart of the faith. Lehmann’s statement that “one scours the endless, incantatory pages of Joseph Smith’s revelation in vain for any suggestion that wealth complicates the lives of believers” (p. 34) only demonstrates, as Boyd shows at length, not only Lehmann’s utterly flawed grasp of what “Joseph Smith’s revelation” includes, but also that the man probably never so much as cracked open one page of the Doctrine and Covenants (which is, you know, only part of the standard works for the church).

Well, I could go on, but the point is made: there is no solid foundation to Lehmann’s allegations about “Mormon economics.” What is more disappointing, though, and what makes a particularly frustrating example of high-brow anti-Mormon writing, is that he’s not just making things up–there is something real to what he’s observing. American Mormons do tend, by and large, to think about wealth in ways that are different from many other Christians, to say nothing of many other Americans. For reasons that have at least as much to do with our church culture’s development through a history of political persecution and geographic isolation as with anything in our scripture, many American Mormons are infatuated with ideas of self-sufficiency, individual responsibility, and independence from government. Lehmann aligns this perspective with the prosperity gospel and the Tea Party (pp. 36, 41), and in making that alignment he’s advancing an electorally plausible, if theologically flawed, argument. But it’s the wrong argument to make. The right argument to ask–and which he would have asked, one suspects, if he hadn’t been primarily interested in simply holding up Mormons as money-obsessed villains at a time of great economic distress and disagreement–is why that alignment has any plausibility at all, given the distinct groundings which separate Mormon economic thought and practice from most of modern-day capitalism. Asking that kind of question might have opened up important lines of inquiry about both Mormonism and capitalism itself–but of course, doing that wouldn’t have given him much of a punch line.

What are the “distinct groundings” that I’m talking about? Lehmann asserts, repeatedly, that Mormons festishize tangile, material assets: Joseph Smith hunted for gold and set up a bank; Brigham Young set up vast business cooperatives; and Mormonism produced the flaky and bizarrely high-selling economics guru Howard Ruff, who has been urging people since the 1979 to fight socialism by investing in land and gold (pp. 35, 37, 39-40). There is something to that, of course: my father surely wasn’t the only Mormon conservative who read Ruff and Cleon Skousen, picked up material from the John Birch Society (strongly promoted by former church president, Ezra Taft Benson), and as a result invested in a small canvas bag full of gold and silver bars which sat in our basement for who knows how many years. But he’s missing the point, even when he all but states it clearly. The economic thinking which has emerged from the Mormon church in America has tended to be “deeply corporatist,” full of joint-stock companies and cooperative welfare plans, and premised upon a kind of pioneer ethic: Lehmann quotes Kim Clark, former dean of the Harvard Business School, as saying that his whole outlook begins with being brought up in a home where the children were expected to “make our bed, do the dishes, do our chores, and go to Church” (p. 38). You do what you’re supposed to do; you remain part of what you’re supposed to remain a part of. What is all this? It is, in a word, non-speculative. It is a vision of an orderly and sustainable and faithful and economically sound life that doesn’t admit much, if any, of the sort of risk, ambition, complex creativity, and appeals to profit upon which modern finance capitalism mostly operates.

Lehmann essentially passes over the Mormon church’s entire history of cooperative economics and attempts at local consecration practices; he reduces it all to a couple of sentences about how one early Mormon leader, before his conversion, had been an evangelical socialist. That’s a huge flaw, one of many such flaws, in his article. However, consider what he does identity from out of those decades of Mormon economic history: the fact the the Mormon church has a tradition of binding its people together, and together they build things. Real things. Irrigation canals, food banks, welfare farms–indeed, hundreds of communities all throughout the American West. Well, now if you want to believe there is such a things as “Mormon economics,” and that those Mormon economics fits right in with the paranoid, anti-government, economic-independence mindset of the present-day Republican party…doesn’t that present something a little strange? Why all this joining up, and building up, of fairly staid corporate forms? How does that fit into a modern capitalist state when most of the wealth being created in the country is being done under the terms of (and, for that matter, most of it exists in the hands of) institutions of speculation and investment and rapid growth and turn-over? Since the financial meltdown of 2008, if you’ve been willing to listen to some of the confused voices of the left, or listen even more carefully to some of the most marginalized voices on the right, you’ll will have heard this exact point made again and again: the real problem isn’t so much (or isn’t just) capitalism, but an unregulated, over-sized and over-grapsing, too-big-to-fail, government-entwined capitalism. This would seem to suggest that the Mormon economic argument, if there really is one (and some of us would desperately like it if our fellow church members recognized or remembered that there is such an argument out there), ought to be one that uses its supposed “obsession” with material, practical, personal and possessable and shareable wealth to critique the world of Wall Street bankers and corporate CEOs from the right (or even from the left, though that ship has, unfortunately, probably sailed). I mean, we are talking about a world where economics has become an abstract and elite game in which we all are, in essence, expected to embrace our dependency, and–whether we admit it to ourselves or not–pathetically beg for either big government to let loose with money to save the banks and hence our credit card interest rates (because I’m buying all my groceries on credit now anyway), or for big business to free itself from public obligations and redistributive taxation (because who needs libraries and school teachers and public parks anyway?) and start some of that wonderful “job creating,” preferably right here where I live. No, neither of those attitudes seem particularly Mormon–at least, not the corporate, cooperative, tangible, practical, material, debt-avoiding, pioneer-oriented Mormonism that Lehmann unintentionally touches upon in his article. And that suggests an even greater paradox: the prime Mormon candidate for president, the focal point of so much of this attention, is Mitt Romney, who…made his millions in equity-fund management? Who pioneered a whole industry of leveraged buyouts, corporate take-overs, and economic restructuring? And who, of course, strongly supported the TARP bank relief bailouts in 2008? How odd. How…un-Mormon, perhaps?

Alan Wolfe did a slightly better job with a later, second high-brow essay on Mormonism, “Mormons and Money,” which plowed somewhat similar ground to Lehmann’s. But in that essay, Wolfe didn’t dig into–and thus, like Lehmann, unintentionally (if wrongheadly) expose–any kind of purported Mormon economic ethic. He focused on the notion that Mormonism is a practical religion, a “this-worldly” religion, and hence that we tend to be organizational people, people who build, and thus like those who build well. Romney has certainly built well–and, if he becomes president, he’ll no doubt be able to build even more grandly. Lehmann’s clumsy attempt to show that the crackpot right-wing is, in some fashion, irreducibly Mormon, accomplishes really only one good thing: it presents the thought that maybe, just maybe, not all economic building fits into the corporate vision (a vision which, I would insist, even if Lehmann leaves it out, includes a healthy dose of equality and humility) of Mormonism. Which would imply, if you can believe it, that Romney’s financial success, and his possible success in winning over Republican party primary voters, may be happening exactly to the degree he, and the people who are supporting him, have forgotten an important lesson of this hypothetical “Mormon economics.” Now that would have made a fascinating, provocative article. But Lehmann would have had to have actually done some reading first if he wanted to write that one.


  1. Steve Evans says:

    “a small canvas bag full of gold and silver bars which sat in our basement ”

    Your dad’s a leprechaun??

    Seriously, I don’t think the gold fetish is more widespread among Mormons than any other religious group — I strongly suspect it follows other socio-cultural markers. Lehmann is just wrong, or at least had a burden of proof that he didn’t bother to try and satisfy. What a stupid article.

  2. observer fka eric s says:

    Thank you. Lehmann probably should not submit his piece to the Claremont call for papers.

  3. Glad to see you tackle this article, RAF. It was a trainwreck from start to finish. I’m tempted to link to a youtube of that famous line from Billy Madison about Billy’s wrong answer.

  4. Fantastic, RAF. I couldn’t agree more with all of your points.

    After teaching D&C at BYU over the summer, I was amazed at the depth of a theology of economics found in those revelations–a theology that makes Lehmann’s caricature of Mormon scriptures laughable, and which makes most LDS economic views today sadly ironic.

  5. Steve, I would agree that it’s just plain silly to think you can build a line from Joseph Smith or the BoM or really any aspect of Mormon teaching all the way to the gold standard and other right-wing shibboleths. Mormons who thought that way–Ruff and Skousen and others–were thinking that way because that’s how white, middle-class, American anti-communists tended to think in the 1970s. I do think that you can, and Lehmann could have, drawn a line from some elements of Mormon thought and practice and a certain kind of Mormon economic ethic, one that probably overlaps with gold-hoarding. But he focused on the entirely wrong issue in order to make such a connection, even assuming he was inclined to do so, which he probably wasn’t.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    RAF, sure — he could have gone the survivalist/apocalyptic angle which I think plays well with gold-hoarding, food storage and government mistrust, but he didn’t.

  7. I’ve always thought of the idea of prosperity accompanying piety (and hard work, which is also pious) as predating the Mormon church. Isn’t it Puritanical or something?

    Skousenism/Bircherism is a particularly entertaining offshoot, but certainly “American Exceptionalism” and the idea that modern American society is under attack by anti-Christian forces (because these are the “last days”) is not unique to, or originated from, Mormons.

    BTW, today Tea Party Nation emailed its membership an article claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood might be infiltrating the Boy Scouts of America. Something that Skousen might have alleged, but with a different bogeyman.

  8. I always assumed that part of the rise of the Skousen/Benson extreme anti-communist world-view in the church was partially the result of a continued move toward assimilation and running from the church’s early communitarian style commandments. It seems that through all Mormon scriptures, the promised blessings of “riches” are either explicitly or implicitly spiritual blessings (here, here, and here) The only verse I’ve found in Mormon scriptures that promises physical wealth is in Jacob 2:18 but if you take it in context with verses 17 and 19 it’s clear what you’re to do with the riches you’re blessed with. It’s almost pointless to show all the other scriptures which explicitly command the rich to use their riches to help the poor.

    Has anyone written extensively on the church’s shift from missionaries serving without purse or script, to post-New-Deal modern welfare “self-sufficiency”? It seems to me that the shift to the modern welfare system and the push for self-sufficiency has played a major role in members feeling more justified with keeping wealth amassed in banks in the name of self-sufficiency instead of using it to help the poor and needy. I’d love to be pointed to some historical research on that topic. If there isn’t any, maybe I’ll try looking into it more… after grad school.

  9. RAF: As you intimate, this article is all the more frustrating because the author pretends to have tried to be thorough and fair–and he tries to sell his conclusions as high-minded and well-thought-out–when, as you point out, his interpretation of Mormon doctrine cannot be based on anything but the most superficial and flimsy interpretation of Mormon scripture.

    Certainly, it would be accurate to observe that many Mormons (unfortunately) got caught up in the American headlong rush toward endless acquisitiveness of the 90s/2000s (and before), and certainly there are Mormons out there who are disciples of the gospel of accumulation and consumption and who purport to base their economic beliefs on their Mormon roots. It cannot, however, be anything but immediately clear that the religion presented in the Book of Mormon is one of economic sacrifice, that Mormonism (the real Mormonism, not the one promulgated by those whose opinions do not represent the church) teaches that our duty has nothing to do with becoming rich and everything to do with succoring the poor, and that riches are, at best, something which “moth and rust doth corrupt [and] thieves break through and steal” and, at worst, the corroding influence that fells both individuals and civilizations. Everything from Jacob’s sermon (which Lehmann, as you point out, quotes absurdly), to King Benjamin’s address, to the economic principles underlying the post-3-Nephi Zion, to the reasons for the destruction of the Nephite civilization at the end of the BoM, make it clear that the Book of Mormon is, if anything, a telling indictment against our rush to accumulate more stuff. Indeed, for me as a believing Mormon, one of the surest signs the book really was written with our day in mind is that it preaches so powerfully against consumerism and the empire of greed that can so quickly overtake a prosperous society. That many members of the church have missed that warning (though Hugh Nibley and others have tried, again and again and again, to get us to see) is difficult to dispute, but to imply that a careful reading of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the words of Joseph and Brigham, demonstrates: “Not for Mormons the queasy business about the camel going through the needle’s eye before a rich man enters the kingdom of heaven. [But that] Instead, paradise it pretty much set aside for the enterprising rich, whose upward mobility is thought to persist in the three-tiered scheme of the Mormon afterlife” and that “one scours the endless, incantatory pages of Joseph Smith’s revelation in vain for any suggestions that wealth complicates the spiritual lives of believers,” is scurrilous.

    As someone who reads and rereads Nibley’s indictments of Mormons’ materialism and who does his small part–as a very orthodox, church-going, “active” Mormon–to first check my own consumerist impulses and to then help pass the messages along, this article strikes me as terribly unfair and inaccurate. I know I’m preaching to the choir–but I wanted to get this off my chest :)

  10. *one clarification: In talking about “disciples of the gospel of accumulation” and such in the above reply, I do not intend to refer to any particular person mentioned in the Harper’s article. I do not know any of them personally and do not intend judgment; I only mean to say that even if there are Mormons who believe the things that Lehmann says they believe (and I think there are), that does not imply that those people represent Mormon doctrine.

  11. A fair critique, RAF.

  12. The article was apparently picked up during a short stay in hell. The only problem is the copyist didn’t stay long enough.

  13. Chris Gordon says:

    So I committed an intellectual transgression by reading the review before reading the original. Worth reading the original or is it just going to elevate my blood pressure?

  14. Russell (5) I’d posted over at your blog but I wanted to say something here as well. I think you overstate the place of anti-communism from the 50’s. While that’s definitely a major contributor I think you have to ask whether there was anything within Mormonism acting as an incentive towards that way of behavior or thinking. I think there was within the 19th century traditions of Millenialistic thinking. Further while Mormons were hardly alone in teaching self-sufficiency (the survivalist subculture got along quite well among non-Mormons in the 60’s through 80’s) I think it really did gain an uniquely Mormon view. You hinted at that in your essay when noting the Mormon persecution history. But I think the combination of that persecution complex along with the problems of Utah isolationism did give a place to an uniquely Mormon mindset.

    Once again I don’t think it explains everything – there was a lot more going on especially in the wider American culture. But to me the real problem in Lehmann’s essay is one of oversimplifying and overgeneralizing. There’s just far, far more diversity within Mormon thought than outsiders sometimes notice. While Lehmann gets so much wrong about Mormon economic ideals (and ignores the theological place of free will in it all) his greatest error really is in painting the whole culture with such a brush.

  15. markshelby (7), it’s interesting since this “prosperity gospel” was taught about at BYU when I was there in American Heritage. There I think what was taught was an oversimplification of Calvinism. The idea that God had already predestined people for success so if you were successful then obviously you were chosen by God. It was taught as an important root at the origin of American culture and identity. But what wasn’t taught was the idea that this was a good thing. (We can debate how accurate this portrayal is as well – I think it’s overly simplistic as well as being a bit unfair to many Calvinists)

    I don’t know if American Heritage is still taught that way at BYU nor how influential on the Church at large that view was. It always struck me that this “prosperity gospel” was taught as something to ridicule. But then I wasn’t really in the business school so maybe people there viewed it differently.

  16. Chris Gordon, # 13, right there with you. I was about to blame BCC for my intellectual laziness, but then guilt kicked in (I am not prosperous, ergo I am guilty) so I am stopping and picking up a copy tonight on my way home.

    As others have indicated, there is just enough of a whiff of the prosperity gospel around Mormonism that you could almost excuse Lehmann for misunderstanding. However, based on what has been said here, the problem apparently is based on his shoddy research, dressed up as a fake fairness.

    I remember an article during the 2008 campaign that Seattle writer Tim Egan (whose work I otherwise respect) wrote about Romney. There was no facade of fairness there, just tawdry misrepresentation and bile. You can at least respect the honesty in that, as the ugliness was all up front for all to see.

  17. A fair critique, Russell. The Harper’s piece was pretty awful — full of broad overgeneralizations and dubious extrapolations. The plural of anecdote is not data.

    A nitpick (somewhat extended) about your post, though:

    RAF writes:

    “It’s just not true, on any reading of church history, that Joseph Smith’s purported “awe of gold” (forgive me for not taking seriously such thoroughly discredited works as those of Fawn Brodie [linking Nibley] and John L. Brooke here) became part of “a theology of New World abundance” (p. 35). ”

    I think that this statement is unusually sloppy for you.

    Of course, it’s true that there are significant problems with Brodie. She frequently connected the dots in questionable ways, and that often resulted in overstament. She is at her least reliable when she is mind-reading Joseph. Her use of sources is also problematic (for instance, her uncritical reliance on the Howe affidavits). I don’t find her assertions about Joseph’s gold complex to be particularly convincing.

    But you seem to be going further. Based on your language, it seems that you’re arguing that the existence of Nibley’s negative review of Brodie means that Brodie has been thoroughly discredited (and in particular, that her claims about Joseph Smith and gold are not credible).

    That claim seems dicey at best.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that the mere existence of negative reviews discredits a work. (Does McMurtry’s negative review mean that Rough Stone Rolling has been “thoroughly discredited”?)

    And let’s be clear — Nibley’s review itself (originally published as a pamphlet) is very much a mixed bag. It does not engage in sustained historical or historiographical discussion of Brodie’s claims. Instead, it mostly attacks Brodie’s methodology, honesty, and character. It contains a large number of “aww, shucks” appeals to common-sense (i.e., “It never occurs to her that there are things, especially if they are of a transcendent and “soul-shattering” nature, which one does not run off to report to the press and the neighbors”) as well as more aww-shucks comparisons, like the famous:

    “We know a butcher who looks just like the great Johann Sebastian Bach, and he walks and talks and eats and breathes—the very things that Bach did—only there is one slight difference: the butcher can’t write music. Brodie’s Joseph is a real enough character—all the details are there, except one: he can’t do the things Joseph Smith did—the only things about Joseph Smith, incidentally, that really interest us. Brodie’s Joseph is decidedly not the man who produced the Book of Mormon; for the former is wildly imaginative, undisciplined, lazy, and short-sighted, while the Book of Mormon is the work (even if you take it as fiction) of an exceedingly sober, self-controlled, incredibly industrious, and well-organized brain.”

    This is nice and homey and great for laughs, but it is not actually a response to Brodie’s historical claims.

    And of course, Nibley ends with statements like “The gospel as the Mormons know it sprang full-grown from the words of Joseph Smith. It has never been worked over or touched up in any way and is free of revisions and alterations.” And

    “The merciless logic of the Mormon doctrine made its strictly amateur missionaries from the outset the bane of the learned cloth throughout the world. What a piece of luck for Joseph! How her chuckle-headed, pipe-dreaming, glory-mongering hero ever produced a doctrine more wholly logical than anything done by a St. Thomas or a Calvin and at the same time as vivid and intimate as the faith of the Primitive Church is one of the more important issues our Sibyl has avoided. Certainly her Joseph is not up to the task, and until a more likely candidate than the Brodie mannequin turns up, we will just have to accept Joseph Smith’s own story of what happened.”

    Given the limits of Nibley’s review, your citation to it might still be warranted if Nibley focused on discreditng Brodie’s particular claims relating to gold. But he didn’t.

    All of which is to say that I think it’s a tremendous overstatement to suggest that a folksy and jingoistic negative review written by a BYU professor as a church-published apologist pamphlet and then republished in a non-academic church-owned journal necessarily means that any of the particular historical claims in _No Man Knows My History_ (including those relating to gold) have been “thoroughly discredited.”

  18. #17: DKL, is that you? ;)

  19. Ben, Ben, Ben.

  20. No such luck, Ben. :) (Remember, DKL would have started out by saying that Jesus should come down from Heaven to bodyslam Russell.)

    But I don’t think one has to be an omniscient BYU dropout turned computer programmer (who once took third place in a Don Johnson lookalike contest) to make the claim that Brodie isn’t just a punchline. Her work is problematic in a lot of ways, but it’s also widely viewed as important and groundbreaking, whether Mormons like to admit this or not. It’s *not* the case that Mormon critics have made Brodie irrelevant. And Nibley’s review in particular is incredibly uneven.

  21. I found Lehmann’s citation of Brodie to be amusingly self-defeating. The particular quote he takes says that Joseph had “a poor man’s love of gold” (I might have that just slightly off, sorry, typing on my phone). This launches an argument that today’s skyrocketing gold prices and gold standard zealotry are direct results of Joseph’s love of gold. But that Brodie quote that launches that argument presupposes that economically insecure people are drawn to gold as a universal rule, so why doesn’t that same universal rule also apply to the rest of society today (in a time of economic uncertainty)? Instead of the obvious that is staring him in the face in his own article, Lehmann decides to concoct some sketchy conspiratorial causal thread from Joseph to the entire present-day global commodities market’s valuation of gold.

  22. Kaimi,

    To put for public consumption here that which I e-mailed you about…

    You’re right, of course, that a bad review doesn’t “thoroughly discredit” a work. All I intended with those links is to gesture towards significant and well-known criticisms of the works in question. So, perhaps I shouldn’t have used so conclusive a language in making that point. But as it happens, I also believe that those takes on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism ARE thoroughly discredited, however, so I don’t mind putting the links in those words.

    A couple of points. First, evaluating Brodie’s work involves us in an unusual situation, in that any attempt to critique from a believing point of view the work of some who rejects that belief cannot help but seem like special pleading. (The same sort of problem plagued those who reviewed Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith, though from the opposite direction, of course.) However, we can take a look at other work Brodie did on other historical figures (Jefferson, Thaddeus Stevens, Nixon), note her heavy reliance upon an exceptionally dated and mostly debunked Freudian methodology, and conclude that, even if she was right about everything regarding Smith’s specific religious claims, her whole psychobiographic approach is widely accepted as having way too many holes to possibly salvage today, and hence we can—and should, even as believers—feel confident in just laughing Brodie away.

    Second, regarding Brooke’s book…holy cow, Kaimi, the book is paranoid dreck. Entertaining paranoid dreck, but still, dreck. The leaps of logic are the sort of thing I’d expect from my average C-level undergraduate, not a peer reviewed book. Quinn makes leaps, but at least he has SOURCES, dammit. Brooke is very much like Lehmann—he saw something, had an idea of what lay behind and what it might mean, and then built a case to prove what he thought.

  23. I know that I am heavily critical of what BBC writes, but I want to chime in with my support on this one. I may be one of those hated right-wing Capitalists, but to say that Mormonism teaches the prosperity gospel is a horrible reading of what the Scriptures teach. I also don’t believe that the Mormon rich ignore the poor and needy, even if they don’t give all of what they earn away. Should they do so is another question altogether and the belief in free will (vs government requirements) is probably one part of this the writer ignores.

    As was mentioned, he completely misread or more likely didn’t read Mormon history. like I said on my Conservative Mormonism blog post
    “Practices went from a near complete sharing of land and capital to a central gathering of excess materials that was then handed out for individual ownership. The constant political, policing, and military engagements against Mormonism took its toll. The economic structure of Mormonism became capitalistic near the time of capitulation of other Mormon peculiarities. A conservative highly capitalistic country forced a more unconventional populace to conform or be disbanded. Historians have uncovered letters and records that prove that was the Government’s ultimate plan.”

  24. Mr. Fox,
    You seem (I may be misreading you) to mock Mr. Ruff and his anti-socialist, pro-land and gold investment strategies (I’d never heard of him before reading your post). It seems to me that a rejection of federal hegemony and an embrace of investment in such things as gold and land is perfectly consistent with “a vision of an orderly and sustainable and faithful and economically sound life that doesn’t admit much, if any, of the sort of risk, ambition, complex creativity, and appeals to profit upon which modern finance capitalism mostly operates.” You also extol the Mormon affinity for building “Real things.” But what could be more real than land and gold?

    I wonder if you don’t have more in common with the Tea Party than you let on. The Tea Party was very much against the bailouts, and it has a general skepticism-bordering-on-hostility towards Wall Street, which they view as being in bed with the government. Note that Romney, who is held up by some as a sort of Randian Ubermensch, is not terribly popular with the Tea Party, and they are downright hostile towards Huntsman. Any author who conflates Huntsman Jr. with the advancement of Tea Party ideas (as you say Lehmann does) knows nothing about his subject other than the fact that both Cleon Skousen and Jon Huntsman are Mormon. Although there are many Mormon Tea Partiers, I wonder if they don’t represent a very different strain of Mormon economic conservatism from the “corporate” variety exemplified by Romney.

  25. MC (24) I’m not sure investing in gold, one of the most volatile markets, is reconcilable with an economically sound life.

    Russell (22) I’d actually defended Brooke and Brodie somewhat on your blog prior to Kaimi making his comments here. (Although I think I misspelled Brodie there – what can I say. I’m sick today.) It’s weird since in someways I agree with your criticisms. I just think you go way too far with them. I’m no fan of either and in particular with Brooke have heavily criticized him. I don’t think discounting the books will do as a response though.

  26. Russell, you’re spot on in your critique of Lehmann’s article. Unfortunately, you could not be more wrong in your snide swipes at John Brooke’s scholarship.

    Might I suggest that your hyperbolic dismissal of The Refiner’s Fire as “paranoid dreck” on par with the sort of papers written by “C-level undergraduate[s]” places you squarely within the camp of those you call out for attempting “to wrestle with a heavy and challenging thesis” but only “shin[ing] that illumination in overwhelmingly false directions, ones that the author apparently has neither sufficient awareness nor ability to be able to double-check”?

  27. Clark,
    Playing the markets, i.e, speculating, with gold is economically unsound. But if you have money to save, buying gold and then putting it in the basement as Mr. Fox’s father did is a safer, more conservative move than putting it in your 401(k). Gold, as with land, will never go down to zero, because it’s value is not illusory, unlike, say, a great number of companies exchanged on the NYSE.

  28. It may be “safe” if you don’t mind your “investment” to effectively be losing money over time. There are far better and safe investments. Having an effective negative saving rate on an investment isn’t much of an investment at all. Even with many 401ks losing half their value that would still be a better investment than gold.

  29. In case it’s not obvious why I say what I say in (28) consider this chart of inflation adjusted gold prices. Had you invested back during the previous gold hype in the late 70’s and early 80’s you’d have earned… Well actually you’d have less money now. Had you taken the value of that gold and invested in an index fund you’d have many times your investment despite the various recessions.

  30. Mock as you wish on Brodie, but her book is a classic and is never going away. The same can be said of “Mormon Doctine”.
    When one of America’s great writers and teacher of writing__Wallace Stegner__ needed help in writing a biography of this good friend__Bernard DeVoto__who did he call for help?__Fawn Brodie.

  31. So I just heard the end of the Radio West rebroadcast of today’s earlier interview with Lehmann. He does not strike me as a very critical thinker. One or two very intelligent callers made a number of even handed challenges, in line with RAF’s, to the idea that Mormon doctrine is a prosperity doctrine. He seemed to avoid directly addressing the arguments, wandering off into other territory, or, in some cases, I almost thought he was capitulating. But hey, at least that check from Harper’s has probably cleared by now.

  32. MC,

    You seem (I may be misreading you) to mock Mr. Ruff and his anti-socialist, pro-land and gold investment strategies (I’d never heard of him before reading your post). It seems to me that a rejection of federal hegemony and an embrace of investment in such things as gold and land is perfectly consistent with “a vision of an orderly and sustainable and faithful and economically sound life that doesn’t admit much, if any, of the sort of risk, ambition, complex creativity, and appeals to profit upon which modern finance capitalism mostly operates.”

    You are misreading me, but that’s probably my fault for not writing clearly enough. What I hope comes through the article is this: I thoroughly dismiss Lehmann’s unsupportable idea that Smith’s experiences, or the Book of Mormon, or any other element of Mormon theology or culture directly leads to the kind of gold-worship he implies. However, there is something particular about how many, perhaps most, American Mormons think about wealth that is worth exploration. It is a way of thinking which emphasizes all those things you quote me as saying…and that fact is, as I commented to Steve Evans in #5 above, a not-insignificant portion of that way of thinking does overlap with the kind of wealth (stable, non-speculative, grounded in material possession and production) which gold (or land, or some other similar commodity) ideally represents. Now, as Clark just commented, in #28-29, for better or worse (I tend to think mostly the latter), gold, like many of once-stable commodities, no longer has the market stability it once did. But leave that aside–my point is that, if there is such a thing as “Mormon economics,” one of the things I think it does likely include is a kind of conservative, corporate, “grounded” sensibility. (I also think it includes a large cooperative and egalitarian sensibility as well, but we can leave that aside for the moment as well.) And it just so happens that such as sensibility–which is, admittedly, much reflected in the Tea Party–actually isn’t represented by Mitt “I-built-an-empire-of-credit-exchanges-and-bond-markets-and leveraged-buyouts-with-these-two-hands!” Romney much at all. Now that is a fascinating, provocative thesis…a whole lot moreso than the one Lehmann gave us.

  33. Bob (#30),

    I never said she wasn’t a good writer; she was. She was also pretty much beholden to a Freudian model of biographical writing that, rightly, strikes us as hilariously dated and unsupportable today. Perhaps in fifty years psychobiography will make a come-back, and Brodie’s account of Smith with (re-)emerge as the definitive one. But for now, even those historians that can’t believe Bushman is actually serious in his beliefs, if they are responsible, can’t look at Brodie and say “Yes, there’s the real scholarship, right there.”

  34. Thomas Parkin says:

    I object to the cover art. Mormons don’t put their hands together like that when they pray. That’s how the Catholics do it when they are praying to their various idols. Mormons fold their arms. Possibly we will clasp our hands together if we must be in some kind of unfortunate anguish. Although even then folding arms is a more preferable way. The Elders of Israel will never be as dainty as the sectarians pictured in that picture, I hope.

  35. Thomas (34), can I say that I find it at best impertinent to talk about Catholic idols while criticizing an article that misrepresents Mormons? Unintentional irony?

    Russell (33), it’s been years since I last read Brodie and when I did I agreed there was something to the psychoanalytic criticism. However since it has been so long I’m somewhat loath to come to her defense (or really trust my criticisms of her) That said, I’m not sure it’s unfair to try and determine intents in historic figures. Does Brodie sometimes make whoppers of interpretation? Sure. Does that mean it’s all bad? Hardly. As I said I think the criticism of being dated is pretty strong.

    With regards to the use of Brodie though I have to admit that it seems pretty uncontroversial. The problem is that it’s divorced entirely from the rest of Joseph’s life. But I think Joseph’s constant poverty almost certainly affected his ideals of heaven and the City of God he sought to create. Does that justify the silly use to which that is put in the Harper article? Of course not. It is interesting that if Joseph valorized gold in his youth the gold he found had its value in its words, not its metal. Something I’ve long thought must have been an interesting lesson for the young man. Of course the Harper’s article misses the forest for the trees seeing only the worth of gold the metal. An error Joseph himself did not make.

    It’s interesting looking at what one might call a contemporary recreation of Brodie’s approach in Vogel. Vogel is unapologetic that he’s offering an naturalistic account of Joseph. Thus it’s a different tact than say Bushman takes. For each of us as believing Mormons this means he consciously excludes from consideration truths we feel are important to understand Joseph. Yet is it surprising he does this? Of course not. While we can criticize his conclusions – especially about Joseph’s intents and thoughts – from the naturalistic position he writes from it’s a fairly defensible reading. A wrong one but not a bad one. (If we can make that distinction) Now Vogel is doing better than Brodie but once again I think that this in large part is because Brodie is so dated.

  36. Thomas Parkin says:


    I have, as usual, my tongue so far up in my cheek I’m surprised anyone could have missed it wriggling around.

  37. Thomas Parkin says:

    *puts on mr. serious hat*

    Really, I love being absurd. It is a defense mechanism.

    Harpers may be ‘middle-brow’, but it is an old and well respected rag. The kind of place where one would like to find a little more rigor. One would like to trust in the good faith of its chosen authors. Instead, we get served up this kind of nonsense – and, for me, it calls even more into question everything I read. I may know enough about Mormonism to see this rat. But what about all the subjects that I know little or nothing about? Almost everywhere one looks, belief and / or career enhancing ideas over-determine observation. It makes for a whole intellectual world of absurdity, and my response is to be even more absurd.

    RAF’s critique is thoughtful, and the kind of thing that needs to be done. In my perfect world, an article like this would be mocked to the ground.

  38. Sorry Thomas, sometimes those things don’t always come across in internet talk. Heaven knows I’ve had my tone misinterpreted frequently. My apologies.

  39. Thomas Parkin says:

    No worries, my brother.

  40. #37: Couldn’t agree more about the flawed and frail foundations (yay alliteration!) of everything we know about just about everything. I haven’t been involved personally in very many news stories, but for those I have been, I’ve found the media coverage to be nearly universally flawed in substantive ways. It really does make you wonder about all the articles you read where you don’t have a personal knowledge to play fact-checker.

  41. “Had you invested back during the previous gold hype in the late 70′s and early 80′s you’d have earned… Well actually you’d have less money now. Had you taken the value of that gold and invested in an index fund you’d have many times your investment despite the various recessions.”

    Obviously the worst time to invest in anything is when it’s being “hyped”. If you had sold all your stock during the bubble of the late 90s and bought gold, you’d look like a genius. And I agree that anyone who’s buying gold now is investing foolishly, for that precise reason. But I still think it’s hard to dispute that gold is more “real” than much of what passes for “wealth” on Wall Street.

  42. It’s not real at all. There’s nothing inherently valuable to gold unless you happen to make electronics. It has no more inherent value than printed paper. It’s value is completely due to people assigning it value due to it’s place in older economic systems and due to its industrial use and the constrained nature of its production. But you could take nearly any other commodity and most of the same features can be found. What makes gold better than investing in lithium? Nothing. It’s just a historic romanticism peddled by people pushing a kind of millennialist pessimism.

    Now if you are knowledgeable one certainly can invest in commodities. Inherent to commodities are a lot of problems that make it a much more difficult investment than the stock market. Although there are some features of commodity markets which make them better than stock markets. (After the crash several economists were suggesting that stock markets be somewhat remolded after the manner of commodity markets to avoid some of the problems that led to the recent crash) In general though I think most financial advisors advocate gold mainly as a short term hedge rather than a long term investment.

  43. I’m not even going to venture a theory as to what it means, but it seems relevant to this discussion that Utah has the lowest level of economic inequality in the country (see pp. 10-11):

    Click to access acs-08.pdf

  44. “There’s nothing inherently valuable to gold unless you happen to make electronics.”

    If people stopped demanding gold for things such as jewelry (which is its primary use), it would be a first in human history. People who could afford it didn’t stop wanting gold jewelry during the Great Depression or any other economic depression. So long as people (especially wealthy people) want gold, it will have value. No, I don’t get it either, but again, we’re going on thousands of years of human history here. If you’re saying gold has no “inherent value”, you’re bringing into question whether anything beyond food and shelter has “inherent value”, which strikes me as more a philosophical argument rather than an economic one. Does an ipod have “inherent value”?

    “Now if you are knowledgeable one certainly can invest in commodities.”

    Gold is a commodity.

  45. MC (44), yes I know it is a commodity. My point is that to invest is based upon buy low sell high which is harder with all commodities including gold. My further point is that gold has no more inherent worth than any other commodity. People make jewelry with gold but you could point to any other commodity that maintains it’s quality (i.e. doesn’t spoil) and say the same thing. (i.e. people use it to make goods – perhaps some decorative and some functional but what counts is the use) Commodities are a difficult market to invest in and those advocating it simply aren’t advocating safe investing. A safe investment is a diversified portfolio with a reasonable amount of indexed funds.

    But enough of that tangent. I’ll drop it.

    BTW – thanks for that census report. It’s quite interesting.

  46. “My further point is that gold has no more inherent worth than any other commodity.”

    Now that I can agree with. Gold is fetishized when any precious metal will work just as well for the same hedging/investing purpose.

  47. I hope the Claremont call for papers turns out some good thoughtful work. I agree with the OP that the relationship of Mormons with the market is both a fascinating and important topic (I believe to Mormons and non-Mormons a like). If anything this article is complete hooey because it gets the causal arrow wrong. Mormonism didn’t create the Tea Party (really?) but I think it is pretty plausible to believe that Mormon doctrinal interpretations have been dramatically altered and shaped by shifts in economic and political thought. I see the prosperity gospel taught implicitly all the time within the church. We didn’t invent it we have become subject to it, though in fairness I also see it strongly contested as well. We didn’t invent the corporate form but we have come to embrace and mimic it down to the very clothes on our body. This all deserves serious thought by leadership, members and scholars alike. At very least, maybe this type of drivel will motivate others to do good work.

  48. We didn’t invent the corporate form but we have come to embrace and mimic it down to the very clothes on our body.

    Such a great comment — thanks for that.

  49. 34 I know Thomas was being silly in his comment but I think the issue of the cover art rather neatly serves up everything that is wrong with the article. This probably reveals more about my propensity for absurdity but when I got my Harper’s out of the mailbox I was a) delighted to see Mormons on the cover and b) immediately confused by what the joke was supposed to be. Were they saying that their conservativism was naive and they resembled a boy’s choir? Were they saying that in their economic focus they were becoming like the Catholics?
    I think it is clear now that they just didn’t know that Mormon’s don’t pray like that.
    I am sensitive to prayer in particular because having been raised a Bahai in small towns like Winnemucca it really stands out when the Mormon half of your class bows their heads, the Catholic half goes palm to palm and my brother and I placed our outstretched arms palms up in front of us. It never occurred to us to do otherwise, even though we would dearly have loved to fit in better- but we just.didn’ It wasn’t who we were.
    Which is another problem- I think for the majority of Americans their knowledge of Mormonism stops at “magic underwear” and polygamy. I tried reading a novel written by a non-Mormon about Mormons and the character kept referring to “the Heavenly Father.” The book had other problems but I couldn’t get past the definite article- having never heard a Mormon use it before. The BOM musical is successful, in part, because the creators knew their subjects.
    The Harper’s article is interesting to me because it reveals what some Americans believe about Mormons. And what do they believe? Whatever they are told, apparently. If I were the church PR I would be cranking out those “And I’m a Mormon,” ads in double-time.

  50. Now if you are knowledgeable one certainly can invest in commodities.

    Leaving aside who the “you” and the “one” in that sentence refer to, it seems that the “knowledge” required to invest in commodities is a knowledge of the future. If you’ve got that, you should do marvelously.

    Or, the other option is to have a good friend to eat all the losing contracts. Hillary, anybody?

  51. Mark, that’s called hedging! Just make sure your swap counterparties have good credit ratings.

  52. We didn’t invent the corporate form but we have come to embrace and mimic it down to the very clothes on our body.

    I’m not sure that’s right. For one most corporations don’t dress in suits. There’s frankly a lot of diversity amongst corporations. Go to Apple Computer Inc, one of the largest corporations in the world. See how many people wear suits. Go to Microsoft and see the same. More significantly though what happened is that through most of the 20th century everyone wore suits. Heck, it used to be that people would frequently wear suits to family dinner. With all the social upheaval in the late 60’s that started to change and by the 80’s suits became more associated with clean dress at work. But honestly all that happened was that Americans in general started dressing more casually.

    One can debate about the issue of whether one should dress casually for Church. (I think not, but clearly most other Protestant Churches have moved to embracing causal dress) One can also discuss whether Mormon missionaries should dress casually or should be more profession. But really what we’re discussing is not corporations but the question of the change in general American dress standards that Mormons appeal to be at the tail end of. Rather than point to this as corporate dress (since it isn’t) I think we should instead ask when the culture thinks its appropriate to dress better.

  53. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    Rather than run away from the caricature present in Harper’s, why don’t we just embrace it? There’s a lot of truth to it.

    I like that cover art. Those look like real Mormons even though we don’t pray like it.

    This is what it’s like to enter into the mainstream. We have made it. We are on par with Catholics, Jews, and Evangelicals.

  54. #49: crazywomancreek,
    I believe Mormons use to pray with their hands raised toward Heaven until WWII. Because of the German army salute, folded arms became the manner of prayer. But I yield the floor to anyone who knows differently.

  55. Clark, modify his comment to read “corporations circa 1950s” and he/she has nailed it.

    In any event, it’s not just a debate of business suits vs. casual dress for Church. It’s the fact that the reason for the business suits is to emulate corporate management. This is substantiated by the fact that “Sunday dress” for Mormon women is not business suits appropriate for the boardrooms of corporate America but that is still the absolutely required dress code for Mormon men in leadership positions.

    (And, by the way, there might be a few outliers but dress code for boards of directors of America’s corporations is still business suits, even if day-to-day employees of those companies are wearing dockers and polo shirts in their cubicles.)

  56. 54 I have heard that as well and don’t know if it is apocryphal or not. I want to clarify that I am not trying to be precious- like the dbag who claimed to not get the joke, “When Freud was Jung he was a schizophrenic,” because, “um, actually, it’s pronounced “yoong”- not “young.” I just honestly didn’t get the point the cover was attempting to convey because the clasped hands looked so out of place. Is that just me? If it is, I really need to get out more.

  57. #56:cwc
    I have seen photos of the Sacrament being blessed with arms raised.

  58. John F (55), but that’s my point. In the 1950’s that wasn’t corporate dress. That was male dress for nearly all non-physical labor jobs. It was the general dress until the 70’s and 80’s. To call it corporate dress is to miss the overall trends in fashion and why they changed.

    To argue that this is an emulation of corporate America rather than an issue of respect and seriousness requires a strong argument that I don’t think has been offered. As I said it fails because (1) corporate America doesn’t dress that way and (2) it ignores why they once did and why some still do.

  59. Thanks for writing this. Lehmann clearly hasn’t read anything, or has chosen to ignore what he has read, on the Law of Consecration and the United Order. From my point of view, I agree with a number of other comments that the “causal arrow” should be the other way around. I think early Mormon political economy had more in common with the likes of Charles Fourier and Robert Owen than Adam Smith…

  60. Who knew that the Koch brothers were Mormon? Their organizations have had a lot more to do in shaping Tea Party thought than any Mormon doctrine

  61. #52


    The suit and tie and especially the white suit and tie is a direct expression of large corporate dress standards circa-1950. The current casual dress standards at many companies such as a Apple and the rest of Silicon Valley were in direct symbolic opposition to what the business suit stood for. I provide two pieces of additional evidence for the basic claim on the clothes. First, the church was and is still in many ways culturally hegemonic in propagating this dress code. I have lived in France, Japan, the Midwest and the east coast of the US. While there are definitely differences there is a tangible pressure and push for Mormons in the these places to follow these symbolic standards whether it is Europeans being told that once they enter the BP they have to retire their colored shirts (no normal person wears white shirts in Europe to dress up even in corporate work. Pink was the power shirt color of the ruling class when I was there) or Polynesians in white shirts and lava lavas. You are right that the underlying value expressed by this dress code is respect and seriousness, but it was its association with corporate america and elite that created the association of white shirts, suits and ties with respect and seriousness. As mentioned by John, the fact that we have held onto this symbol while the changing casual dress codes have been apparent across our sister religions also speaks to the underlying cultural symbolism we tend to place on clothing and I might even argue the 1950s society we have come to fetishize to a certain extent.

    I would also casually refer to the evidence of what happens when women violate the female dress code of floral skirts etc. Wearing professional clothes to church by women is still subtly or sometimes not so subtly sanctioned, at least in the US. See what happens if women where their pant suits to church or nice professional slacks. People notice. The women doing it feel it and know it. They are violating a code. I just talked with one sister who showed up to teach relief society a few weeks ago in a pair of professional work pants and a blouse. It caused an uproar which included serious complaints to the bishop and stake president which resulted in meeting with the bishop to tell her that wearing pants to church was NOT appropriate etc. etc. Anectdotal? Maybe. But I have seen this happen more than once. In my, very progressive ward I know the women are acutely aware of who has the gumption to where pants or their professional garb to Church. Even those that do know it carries a hefty symbolic weight and a good segment of the relief society casts a jaundiced eye. Point is when women bring a symbol of corporate and professional work, one that symbolizes “respect and seriousness”, they don’t get the same reception precisely because the corporate/working overtone are not as legitimate for them in many if not most wards.

    In any case, dress is a more trivial if evocative example of corporate values and practices working their way into the church. Correlation and the corporate logic used to administer the Church is more important. I won’t defend all of Daymon Smith by any means, especially some of the most cynical bits, but I think in general he has a compelling and important point. We need to be reflective of these tendencies and ask what part of the corporate logic and system serve us well and what parts might threaten us as a religion. I am not sure that ultimately Zion looks, feels or operates like a 1950’s vertically integrated corporation, but today’s Zion certainly does. That should at least give us pause, no?

  62. uhh wear…wear pants. not where. sigh….

  63. #61: rah,
    My only side point on the 1950s is ” The Man in The Gray Flannel Suit”. It showed a corporate values push back. And the 60s were on their way.

  64. #63 Good call! And we are still fighting the 60s and the hippy aesthetic through our institutional fatwa on facial hair.

  65. The suit and tie and especially the white suit and tie is a direct expression of large corporate dress standards circa-1950.

    It just isn’t so. Proof? Look at Church dress prior to the 1950’s.

    Look at pictures from the 20’s and 30’s. Note how most men not doing physical labor are dressed.

  66. Just to add. Want to see something really freaky? Go look at pictures of people in the depression. They’d come to the soup lines in suits! (see here for example) I think people just have forgotten how common suits were, even in the 19th century.

  67. Clark,

    It isn’t about what it was but what about what it became symbolically. The meaning of symbols change overtime of course. I think it might even be fair to say that today’s white shirt in the Church, for example, has taken on a its own symbolism of righteousness and purity through a lot of past rhetoric by leaders to that effect. In fact, I am beginning to buy your argument that suits and ties in the 1950s and before didn’t bring to mind corporate values specifically. I think you have an insight about how the suits, ties and white shirts are about “men not doing physical labor” well before the 1950s. Such dress was one way to distinguish yourself and your work as being of the non-laboring classes. Maybe we don’t mean to invoke corporate values or norms by our suits, ties and white shirts. However, within the overall context of the current organizational culture in the church it does fit nicely as an artifact of such values. Also, because the world has moved away from this more generalized symbol of respect maybe it has become more striking and carries a more distinctly corporate/professional tone then it did in the past. That would be interesting.

    More generally, given the interesting injunctions in the Book of Mormon that explicitly caution us that the use of clothing to create and enforce class distinctions is a sign of being on the wrong end of the pride cycle institutionally, I think it appropriate to find ironic how symbolic clothes is in the church is and has been for a long time down to controlling the shirt color of the bishopric. I have basically stopped wearing a tie or a white shirt to church for years now knowing full well it is an almost juvenile symbolic act. That’s the thing about norms and taken for granted values and assumptions. They are hard to see until they are violated. I would still maintain that you can predict with a fairly good deal of accuracy both the political diversity and degree of orthodoxy in a ward by the simple proportion of white to colored shirts on the men in sacrament meeting. Not that shirt color is perfect indicator of an individual’s leaning but the overall proportion is a good indicator of how strong orthodox and conservative norms are (subtly) enforced.

    Again I think there are way more important issues than dress standards and symbolism. But it is interesting to kick around if you are into the sociology of culture and that type of thing.

  68. rah–when we blessed one of our babies in church, a friend sitting next to me leaned over and pointed out that every single man in the congregation who was not wearing a white shirt was in the blessing circle. Anecdotal, for sure, but would support your theory :)

  69. I believe that the casual dress of the IT industry (T-shirt and jeans, except on laundry day when it’s T-shirt and shorts) is not mere California fashion, but a deliberate and intentional denial of institutional status, a rejection of corporatism whereby your title or educational pedigree entitles you to respect, rather than the Silicon Valley idea that knowledge, hard work, innovation, and alacrity and team spirit are the key to success.

    Maybe the converse is true: Mormons embrace a suit culture exactly because it reaffirms the idea that respect for authority is a good thing, indeed that authority itself is a good thing, and that uniforms are a useful (if imperfect) sign of consent to the belief that a well-ordered group is more healthy and productive than creative chaos.

  70. Romney / Huntsman 2012 says:

    I picked up a few copies of this magazine because of this article. I read it and I don’t see why people are so upset about it.

    It’s decent prose, almost 100% true, and nothing that we haven’t heard before. I would think that BCC readers would have accepted a long time ago that Joseph Smith had a treasure-hunting background (remember when we all read “Rough Stone Rolling” in 2005?). And the Salem gold venture was an embarrassing disaster for Joseph Smith. I thought that serious-minded Mormons learned a long time ago to admit that Joseph Smith made mistakes.

    Yes, near the beginning of our church, we tried some social living, the Law of Consecration, but we clearly abandoned it. Lehmann acknowledges this clearly in the article.

    The most interesting part of the article was when Lehmann described a 1979 book by a Mormon self-help guru named Howard Ruff. I guess Ruff thought the country was about to collapse financially. Of course he was wrong.

    Today Tea Partiers, and a lot of Mormons, act like America is going to collapse. 30 years from now we will look back and laugh like we can laugh at Ruff.

  71. “Gospel Standards,” a collection of Heber J. Grant’s teachings and comments has a chapter entitled, “Mormon Economics.” Its point of view is cooperative benefits, not prosperity.

  72. #61
    “The suit and tie and especially the white suit and tie is a direct expression of large corporate dress standards circa-1950.”

    In the Church, the encouragements to wear white shirts and suits came out in the late 1960s as a counter to the developing counter-culture. I was there to note them. A little later, in 1971 as they told us in the old Salt Lake City Mission Home to avoid the appearance of evil and to wear white shirts and business suits, I asked myself which of those two I was to do.

  73. Along the lines of what was started in #34, when have their been red bound scriptures? Me thinks someone was using the film Orgasmo to learn about the Church again.

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